Monday, November 30, 2009

Why I Love Cats

I had to post twice in one day. I simply could not resist showing you this video of the "Surprised Kitty." I also don't like ending things on odd numbers, so I had to bump this month's total to an even number. Anyway...



How can you not love cats after watching this? As one person said, it makes you believe in humanity again.

'Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful'

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful -Luke 6:36

I never expected to come across a post idea during my usual after class routine. I check my emails, Facebook, and the news. On usatoday.com, there was an article that caught my eye: "Inmates assist ill and dying fellow prisoners in hospices."

Whoa, I thought. Some pretty powerful and wonderful things are happening...in prisons of all places. A prison was one of the last places I expected to be a house of compassion for others. Inmates were one of the last groups of people that I had ever expected to display and practice Christlike behavior. It's funny how God does things like that...blow your mind away and you find that all of your previously held expectations mean nothing. When it is a negative turning into a positive, I like it when that happens.

Anyway, the article is about hospice programs in prisons. Inmates, most of them "lifers", help take care of other inmates: the elderly, sick, and dying ones. They go through training and receive basic hospice care information, and then they take that knowledge and compassion for others and help out their fellow man.

Some of these inmates have committed murder. Some are in life for multiple armed robberies and whatever else constitutes life imprisonment. I know that what they did to end up in prison is wrong and they need to be punished. They also, however, deserve forgiveness. Doing good things to try and be good again isn't the only step to righting wrongs, but I'm not a judge. Only God can do that. I do feel that what some inmates are doing is beautiful, and I think God is pleased with the good work, love, and compassion that is very evident through these inmate hospice programs. Mercy is a powerful thing. If we could be merciful to others like the Father is merciful to us, the world would be a kinder place I think.

Prisoners are on the bottom of the societal hierarchy. Not many people care about them or even give them a second thought. I'm guilty of that too. So they can only rely on themselves and each other for help. Look at what has happened! I learned that prison isn't full of fights and shady deals and dark cells. There is peace, light, and compassion inside too. Sometimes the bad is bigger than the good, and the good is hidden away.

One inmate, Ted Durbin, "b
athes them, provides other personal care and often squeezes skeletal hands as their bodies succumb to shriveled livers or stomach cancer. It's the best job he has ever had, he said."

Durbin's quote ended the article. "'This program has brought me to my own existence, my own humanity. When I was young, I didn't care about nothing. This gives me something to care about.'"

How awesome is that? God sure opened my eyes today. Read the full, wonderful article here. After I read the article, I thought of the following Gospel passage from Matthew 25: 34-46. It is one of my favorites and a good passage to meditate upon:

"Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they will also answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sabbath Sunday #3

I hope that your Thanksgiving was wonderful and full of turkey and awesome stuffing. Mine was! In light of the recent holiday, my Sabbath Sunday post for today is about my second trip to NPH El Salvador this past June.

I was thinking of all the things that I am thankful for, and the children of NPH are very much a big part of my life. Here is NPH Reflections.

Monday, November 23, 2009

God is Bigger Than the...Leaf?

Have you ever heard that Veggie Tales song "God is Bigger Than the Boogie Man"?

God is bigger than the Boogie Man
He's bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV
Oh God is bigger than the Boogie Man
and He's watching out for you and me


I thought of that song while I started thinking of blog ideas, and even more so after I picked up a very beautiful leaf the other day.

Ever since the leaves started falling off the trees, campus has been covered with them. Blankets of yellow, orange, and red! Some places you could barely see the concrete beneath your feet. I don't know what kind of tree it is, but there is this really massive one with equally massive leaves. I had been harboring a secret desire to take one, but I still hadn't mustered the courage to endure the weird stares that I knew would come my way. On Friday I was on my way to meet a friend for my birthday lunch, and I remembered that I saw a girl walking across the street with a big leaf in her hand. I didn't think she was weird. I wanted to thank her for opening up the leaf carrying door for me, actually!

I probably went through a good 10 leaves before I found the perfect one. I know I looked ridiculous bending over every couple of feet, picking up and examining the monster sized leaves. I didn't care though. I met up with my friend, anticipating her reaction. She just laughed at me, said it was totally something that I would do...carry a leaf around, and all was well. Although I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get in the cafeteria with my leaf, so I hid it under my jacket when I walked in.

I don't know why, but I'm very enamored by this leaf. I mean, it is bigger than my hand! You may think this is silly, but I can clearly see the beauty of God's creation and His love in this one leaf. And I like that.

In a way, it makes me feel good knowing that even though this leaf is at its end, I haven't forgotten about it. God hasn't either. So naturally, when we humans are coming to our ends, God isn't going to forget about us. The end, death, can come anytime and not just at old age. This realization has made me appreciate life more, especially coming off of the heels of my 19th birthday. It is, in the official lingo, my last kid/teenage birthday. I don't really like that because I want to be a kid forever! My friend said not to worry, you can make every birthday a "kid" birthday. Bless her and her wisdom and witty one-liners. I am getting older, but I am not going it alone.

"Do not cast me off when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength fails." -Psalm 71:9

"Do not wait for old age to offer yourself to God. Offer Him the flower of your youth, which will be pleasing to Him and which He will accept with the greatest of love." -St. Catherine of Siena

God is bigger than both the Boogie Man and my favorite leaf. Jesus conquered death, and so He is bigger than that too! A comforting notion, don't you think?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Leftovers #3

This is the third and final installment of the Leftovers series. Don't cry because it is over, smile because it happened. It was originally posted on April 23, 2009 at the old Blessed is the Kingdom blog.

In the first post I forgot to name the horses that are pictured. Bubba is the very emaciated Palomino just below. He did recover but his arthritis was just too bad, and he was humanely euthanized. I miss him. The other horse farther down is Cary Grant. He was a part of the group that was stalled for forever; he is Secretariat's son/grandson (can't remember which). He is now living in a loving home. I miss him a lot as well.


Love One Another As I Have Loved You


I'm a volunteer with an organization called Horse Haven of Tennessee (HHT), and HHT's main reason for existing is to care for abused and neglected equine from all over East Tennessee. In the two wonderful years that I have been there, I have seen some pretty gruesome and terrible things. One horse was dragged behind a pickup truck because the owner didn't have a horse trailer. Another horse was left tied to a tree with no access to water for a very long time, and in the process of being tied up, he became blind. A group of horses were left in stalls, standing in their own filth for weeks. The stalls had no windows, so the horses literally never saw the light of day. While I never go out on calls, I do see the horses once they arrive at the barn. Some are so emaciated that I can count ribs and put my fingers in between them. Some arrive with rain rot all over, which is a fungus. A few have some behavorial issues.

My experiences at Horse Haven have not all been bad. I do see horses in their worst possible state. I do however see them recover, and they are happy and full of life. It's amazing what a little food, attention, and love can do to an animal that has gone without those essential things. HHT gives these horses a chance when they would have none otherwise. HHT's other goal is to adopt the rescued horses out to loving families. All of the horses eventually find a good home, but there are those rare occasions when some horses must be humanely euthanized. A handful have even been returned by the courts to their former owners.

The pictures I'm including show just how far they have come, how much they have improved. They are all beautiful animals, each with their own uniquely wonderful personality. This blog idea came to me when I was looking through my "before and after" pictures of the horses. If we can't respect other living creatures, how can we expect to respect our fellow humans?

Jesus said, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Sometimes it seems that we aren't doing a very good job of this, especially now amidst war and economic troubles. I even have a hard time practicing this great commandment at school. It's human though. We aren't perfect. When we have a terrible day and all we want to do is be mean to that person who just gets under our skin, we should stop and think. Or, when we dislike someone just because they believe differently or don't look the same, we should stop and think. We should stop and think about that person as a person of Christ, a fellow brother or sister. Jesus came for us all, He loves us ALL. Why can't we at least try to do as Jesus did?

Just as old and sick horses need to be taken care of, so too do our old, sick, poor, and hungry brothers and sisters. We should love one another as Jesus loves us.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sabbath Sunday #2

In keeping with Blessed is the Kingdom's "no blogging and resting on Sunday" experiment, here is my second Sabbath Sunday post.

It's about my cat and her impressive mediating skills. Yes. The reason I chose this one to share is because I went home this weekend and got to see my cat! Simple enough!

Check out Tink Tink the Mediator.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Leftovers #2

Part deux of the lovely Leftovers series! First posted on Blessed is the Kingdom on April 17, 2009.


Simple Reminders

I know this is a week after the fact, but today I was thinking about the reading of the Passion during the Good Friday service. Being a member of the crowd means you have to read certain tiny parts. What I had forgotten from years past was that the crowd had to read, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" I remember how I felt the first time I said those words out loud, and it was not a good feeling. I felt terrible inside.

I kept wondering, why does this bother me so much? And then it hit me like a hammer. Even though we were not around for the actual Passion, we still take part in it every day. Every time we choose sin, we say the words, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Sometimes we don't even realize that we say them.

Now, when I feel temptation coming on or I know that sin is going to rear its ugly head, I remember what will happen. The words "Crucify him!" are going to echo through my thoughts. And I don't want to hear them. Hearing them is painful. It's like I'm standing there at the foot of the cross, throwing things at Jesus, or simply that I am condemning Him.

Fast forward to the Veneration of the Cross. I had been to the Good Friday service before, but I had never altar served during the service. As a server, I had to wipe the spot where the person venerated, which may have been a kiss or a simple touch of the hand. Because of where I stood, I could see everyone. Every person practically did the same thing, which was kiss the feet of Jesus. It wasn't until this one woman came forward that I really felt the power and passion of the emotions in the room. As she leaned forward I saw her say a little prayer, and then I saw the tears in her eyes. I couldn't believe myself, but I had to choke back my own tears. That woman's faith opened up my eyes to what was happening. It was powerful. After saying "Crucify him!", we were honoring His sacrifice. The gift of the cross. Through the veneration of the cross, we both remember and thank Jesus for what He did for us sinners.

Throughout the veneration, the congregation sang "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kindgom." I thought it was a very fitting song for the whole evening. The criminal who said those beautiful words while on a cross next to Jesus pretty much sums up how I feel. Especially how I felt after the Good Friday service. Even though I am a sinner, Jesus won't forget me. There will be a place in God's kingdom for me, for us all...if we but just ask and pray.

Remembering the words "Crucify him! Crucify him!" and the woman's tears serve as my reminders of what I do when I sin, and also remind me of the gift that was given to us all.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Leftovers #1

I am doing a very small series of posts. Actually, it is only going to be three. They are not related in the least bit, except for one small detail. They're all the beginning of my blogging adventure. My friend Fr. Christian asked me to be a guest blogger while he was hiking it up on the Appalachian Trail back in April.

So I happily agreed. These posts were only on his old Blessed is the Kingdom blog, and now I want to share them with you in the more than likely probability that you've never seen them before (unless you have ventured into his archives). If you have seen them, great and enjoy the refresher. If not, awesome! This series installment is titled Leftovers. (But they're not really leftovers, just first-time slash archive-ers). The following is from April 14, 2009.


Trudging...


A month or two ago, I came to the realization that I had never skipped a day of high school. Being a senior, it was weird that I had not participated in that right of passage. However, after a lengthy and comical conversation with my good friends Fr. David Boettner and Melanie Thomas, I decided that I had to skip school and do something fun. Fr. David suggested a hike, and Senior Skip Day was born.

Last week on Holy Thursday, the three of us hiked to a place called Huckleberry Knob, which is about a 30 to 40 minute drive from Tellico Plains. The higher and higher we drove through the mountains, the more snow we saw. We were absolutely amazed. Down in the valley it was 50 degrees and sunny. At 5500 feet, snow still blanketed the ground from the weather system from days before! We pulled off into a tiny parking lot and began our journey on foot.

The snow-concealed path was slippery and a few inches deep in other spots. We followed the path and some deer tracks until they both ended, and then the real journey began. No longer guided by man's invention, we meandered across a wide, flat, seemingly harmless field. All of a sudden, the three of us gave a little shout as we sunk down to our knees in snow. After we collected ourselves and stopped laughing, we kept going. What we had thought would have been a relatively simple hike had turned into one that really made us work our legs. We weren't walking easily across the terrain, we were trudging through snow. Quoting movie quotes is an obnoxious habit of mine, and while hiking, the following exchange from the movie
A Knight's Tale popped into my head:

William: Oi sir, what are you doing?
Chaucer: Uh... trudging. You know, trudging?
[pause]
Chaucer: To trudge: the slow, weary, depressing yet determined walk of a man who has nothing left in life except the impulse to simply soldier on.

Merriam-Webster's definition is "to walk or march steadily and usually laboriously." Ironically, the example they gave was "
trudged through deep snow."

Trudging became the motto of our hike. Anytime we stumbled into a particularly deep snowdrift, we would simply "trudge on." Our hike was slow, slightly weary, but definitely not depressing. While surrounded by God's boundless beauty and amidst faith discussions, we most certainly found that we had plenty in life to keep us moving forward. The difference between us and the Chaucer character was that we were trudging with God, and not alone.

There are times when the only thing we can do is trudge. Times when all we feel like doing is trudging. Trudging can be a miserable experience. We may want to give up, throw in the towel; there may be nothing to move us forward. However, when we trudge with God, it can be a pleasant experience. Because of Him, we have something to "soldier on" for, we are able to move forward. When we feel like giving up, God is right beside us, helping us through our difficulties.

So with God at your side, trudge on my friends.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Keep Breathing

Today has been full of a myriad of things. Happy and depressing at certain points of the day. This post probably won't be very coherent. I'm just sort of writing whatever comes to mind, with no intent to make it fit together. It's just one of those days where order isn't a priority, know what I mean?

I just listened to a song that I can always count on to help me out. Help me when I just don't understand anything in the world. Why do we do the things we do to each other, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? Why do we think it is our right to judge? Only God can do that, and yet here we are condemning each other with hateful words and sentencing people to die. I know I'll never be able to understand everything in the world, much as I would love to be able to do that. I guess that's all a part of the mystery of God.

This song helps me when I just feel crummy, like no one cares...like a lost child in a big crowd. In reality I have beautiful friends and family members that constantly do things to show that they do care.

Today it rained. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world sploshing around in puddles. Feeling it hit my face, drop after drop. Most everyone else around me whined and complained...Boo rain. I reveled in the wetness. I even enjoyed the leaf mine field.

If I sound blue, it's probably because I am. I've just accepted the fact that sometimes I have those days. Don't worry though, tomorrow will be a better day. I just have to stop moping around and remember that while life sucks sometimes, it doesn't do good to dwell on the negative and sad things in life. It does good to pray, to love, to laugh, to keep breathing, and to remember that there is a God out there who loves us in spite of our sinfulness and brokenness.

It also does one good to listen to a little Ingrid! She's great!

"Keep Breathing" written and sung by Ingrid Michaelson

The storm is coming but I don't mind
People are dying, I close my blinds

All that I know is I'm breathing now

I want to change the world
Instead I sleep
I want to believe in more than you and me

But all that I know is I'm breathing
All I can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing now

All that I know is I'm breathing
All I can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing

All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing now

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sabbath Sunday #1

My friend and fellow blogger Fr. Christian Mathis over at Blessed is the Kingdom has come up with a wonderful idea. It is a way to help those of us in the blogging sphere to more fully celebrate the Sabbath Sunday.

By choosing not to work on a new post and instead linking to an old favorite that deserves a second run through, I am freed from the pressure to write a new post. I don't get mail saying "Ashley write a new post NOW" but sometimes I just feel this inherent need to write one all the time, but I know that I can't force something to come out of my head if it isn't there or ready to begin with in the first place.

So here is my first Sabbath Sunday post: Prayers Close to the Heart. It's about a gift from a friend that helps me remember to say my prayers. I chose this particular post because it is still very much relevant to me. It was also in the first month of my blog so not many (I assume) have ventured that far back in the archives.

Enjoy your lovely Sunday!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Home

It's a Friday night on campus. It is also Homecoming here at the University of Tennessee. What did I do? I watched a movie with friends, and now I'm holed up in my room with a cold. I sneeze and cough every couple of minutes. Living the life, right?

My windows are open, and I can hear everything that is going on on the strip. People are sure excited about Homecoming and football here. It is so bizarre. And I love to people watch, don't get me wrong, but even these silly characters are throwing me for a loop.

When I swiped my card to get in the dorm, there was a girl standing in front of the elevators. She walked over and pushed the down button as opposed to the up button. In my building you can't get to the basement unless you are a maintenance guy or staff. She obviously wasn't. Plus, there are no dorm rooms in the basement!

Hmmm. I wondered, she is quite a character with her brown paper bag and wrong button pushed. We walked into the elevator together, and she still had yet to recognize my existence even though I was 3 or 4 feet away from her. Then the doors closed, and I could smell the alcohol. She was also on the phone with some dude who apparently hung up on her a lot. She gave him an earful in the short elevator ride that we shared together. She got off on the 3rd floor and I on the 5th. I'm sure I'll bump into her sometime again.

Obviously she was inebriated. Intoxicated. Wasted. Whatever word you would like to use, I'm sure it would fit her current state just fine. College is a very interesting place to say the least. While others enjoy booze, I'm enjoying Nyquil. While some (but certainly not all of campus) is out pre-game partying, I am inside blogging.

I am by no means normal, but tonight I sure feel normal. It's a nice feeling sometimes, normalcy. Here at UT there is never a dull moment. I am glad to call this place home. It's filled with interesting characters, sketchy elevators, pointless assignments, good cake, and awesome friends.

I would like to share another music video with you. I'm only posting it because of the song and less about the video itself. Once again I was foiled by the no embedding police, so you'll have to click on the link.

I bet you didn't think that sound would come out of his mouth, did you? I sure didn't the first time I heard just the song and then watched the video afterwards. With a cold, I think I sound an awful lot like him when I sing in the car! Enjoy Marc Broussard's "Home" here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NC1v5trmB1E

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Arrival to Netherfield


Today has been a very good day. It was filled with much laughter, happiness, silly things, good food, and great friends.

Increasingly I find myself becoming inexorably happy with the tiniest little thing. And I like that feeling. In spite of the crazy world that we live in, happiness abounds. Some days you have to work to find it, and other days it is a constant flowing entity, enveloping you in its warmth.

I'm not sure what lingo to use because my day is not yet over for me. At least the 4th of November is but I am still awake in the wee hours of November 5th. So this day, loosely using the word day, is still moving at a sluggish pace now as I try to write this all out before my head hits the keyboard.

Some new-found friends and I stayed up to celebrate my best friend's birthday. At midnight she finally turned 19! How did a bunch of college kids spend the evening? Well, we watched a part of the movie Luther and had a discussion (in lieu of the usual Wednesday Bible study), followed by evening prayer, then we just sort of chilled in the chapel at the Tyson House (the home of Episcopal-Lutheran ministry on campus).

The best part was just learning more about these new friends of mine and sharing stories with them, lying in the pews or on the floor. The two guys played the piano while the three of us girls listened and talked. As I was walking back to my dorm, I kept hearing this particular song from one of my favorite movies, Pride and Prejudice.

"Arrival to Netherfield" has essentially summed up my day, and that's when I realized my state of inexorable happiness. God is good. God is great! How can you doubt the existence of such a wonderful Creator? I know that there are plenty of reasons that people have, but I can't find one today. I actually haven't been able to find one for a long time. It makes me feel good, maybe I'm finally doing something right.

He has led me to beautiful places and introduced me to beautiful people that have truly brightened and enriched my life. For that, I am more thankful than mere words could ever say.

I'm going to go all cheesy on you and coin my new favorite phrase. "It's been one of those Arrival to Netherfield days." I hope you have one too. Maybe you'll have a shorter name.

Happy Birthday Katie Ann!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Treadmill-Dance Skills

What better way to start off my favorite month than with one of my favorite music videos of all time? I was not able to embed it from mtv.com, vh1.com, or from any of the good quality versions on youtube.com, so you'll just have to click on the link below. Please do.

The link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTAAsCNK7RA

OK Go is an awesome band, and their video for the song "Here It Goes Again" just makes me happy every time I watch it. I wish I had the treadmill-dance skills that they have. Then I would be cool.

I'm tempted to try this out at the gym.