A Baptism for Liam, an Epiphany for Me

I’ve been to Baptisms before, but today’s was special because it showed me something important about myself as well as celebrating the new faith of my friends’ first child.

It showed me that I do want a family life and I do want a Catholic marriage.

My friends Jenni and Ryan celebrated their first child, Liam. He was born on Ash Wednesday into an Irish Catholic family! They have been close friends of mine since high school, when all three of us went to youth group together. They’ve never missed a birthday of mine! They are both responsible but are silly enough to keep each other laughing, too.

Being there with our other mutual friends– also from youth group– was wonderful. They all have families now, and their kids were playing together in the back yard. I’ve seen them all be pregnant. I’ve been to their weddings and showers. I just felt so grounded and comfortable today with all of them.

A statue of the Blessed Mother was in the left corner of the yard and I found her presence very comforting. I found out it was passed down from someone in their family. My own Godmother has a similar one in her front yard. I’ve always hoped that one day when I hopefully own a home I will have one as well.

I spent the afternoon just catching up with our friends, getting to know both their families better, taking pictures and eating great food! It was wonderful to see them together as parents as well, knowing they prayed and planned for this blessing in their lives. They both have this wonderful, relaxed glow about them. And a big reason for that is their marriage is grounded in a strong friendship and shared Catholic faith.

If I’ve had doubts about whether religion is truly a deal-breaker for me in a relationship, today they were dissolved. Jenni has always been my voice of reason, reminding me that it’s not an unreasonable expectation and showing me that it’s possible in her own marriage. I’ve dated enough Atheists and people who profess no faith. They were all good men but there was definitely something elemental missing. I am unabashedly a woman of faith.

And the highlight of the day? Of course, it was holding Liam. He was so calm and cuddly. He felt comfortable with me and I got to take a few pictures with him. And for me, holding a baby is so natural and it just makes my day. To know this little being trusts you enough to relax and let you hold them is such a good feeling.

I will know when I’m in the right relationship and I’m genuinely happy single for the time being.

I’ve almost renounced my faith in the past because I wanted so much to be compatible with a man who was not religious. I am more confident now and will not compromise my religion again for the sake of being in a relationship. Now I recognize my faith is not only fundamental to my my identity, but my happiness.

Run Like a Child: A Training Epiphany

I changed my mind tonight about running at the gym. I used to think it was a cop-out to run on a track or in the gym. I like trails, twists, hills, variety.

But I saw a video today in a running support group I belong to on Facebook that inspired me:

This man lines up on the sidewalks of NYC behind a blue chalk starting line to see if passers by will engage him in a spontaneous race. They do, and he clearly holds himself back so they can win. Then they all receive medals at the end. They were all so ecstatic!! I liked that it was diverse: children to older adults who maybe were athletes once. There was a whole line for the challenge!

But my favorite was watching the children. They were squirming to start, and several races were with multiple children and then groups of teens as well. It was pure PLAY for them!! They ran as FAST as their bodies were able, arms pumping hard, bolting ahead of the dude instigating this video. They ran with ragged breath and a giant smile on their faces.

And I was so happy!! I realized that they were teaching me something. I NEED to run like that. I need to remember that running is STILL PLAY– that it’s fun.

So tonight I switched up my run. It’s now dark earlier. Instead of running outside, I went to my health club and ran the track. I set a time instead of distance and told myself I would run as hard as I could for that amount of time.

And I LOVED IT! I was breathing hard, sweating. Because the track was smooth I didn’t have to worry about tripping on anything in my path. It’s on a carpet. I never run like that because I’m always in my head. What’s my pace? How far have I got left? Do I like the song playing?

I realized this a great way to do speed work and interval training.

Tonight I realized that running indoors at a health club isn’t weak at all. In fact, it’s inspiring. It was packed! Seeing so many others working out gave *me ideas on workouts I could try myself, especially on the machines I am clueless about using.

I resolve to do this type of speed training once a week– without worrying about maintaining a pace. I can run safely in a well-lit, smooth area without tripping. And seeing others pass me up also motivated me to keep it moving when I got tired.

I’m learning to design my training the way I like it.

I’m proud of me.

And hopefully I’ll learn eventually to run like I’m playing Red Rover, straining to break through the chain of my friends joined hands.

Indomitable Annie: A Five Star Re-Make

“What if you have no cards?” Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) asked her temporary guardian, Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx.)

“You bluff,” he answered.

They were flying in his personal helicopter above New York City.

That’s the moment I remember most about this new re-make on the 1982 original movie.

Why? Because the relationship between the business tycoon and this young girl is both believable and inspiring. It’s clear that they were meant to be family: they share the same go-get ’em mentality. Both are opportunists- but Annie’s agenda is pure. She just wants a better life for herself, and to help out her friends when she’s able. She never forgets her roots and isn’t corrupted by fame or instant wealth.

She also sees right through any attempts at manipulation and calls it immediately. She reminds the adults trying to hustle her that though she may be a kid, she deserves respect and will not be forced into anything that doesn’t feel right to her. She will not be used as a PR prop. Rather, she agrees to play along to help the mayor’s campaign– but only on her her terms. She requires that Stacks get to know her. She is not bought or dazzled by paparazzi.

The best thing about Annie is her refusal to be defined by her current circumstances. She does not see herself as someone rejected by her parents or society– but someone waiting for what she knows she deserves: a family that will cherish her. Even when people try to label her an orphan, she corrects them: “foster kid.” She doesn’t attach easily to Stacks– she reminds him he is not her real father. He realizes he needs to earn HER respect and cooperation: something new for a man used to being surrounded by greedy fans and “Yes men” paid to meet his whims.

Annie cannot be bought. Thus, she wins HIS respect. And he finds that, probably for the first time since he was a boy who idolized his workaholic father, he values a human connection more than money.

The movie is a Republican fairy tale– with a heart! Republicans always get a bad rap, but they’re not evil. Just motivated, which is why they are successful in business. From the first scene, it’s clear that Annie is a smart kid, capable of navigating the city streets alone. She has plans. She has dreams. She’s the leader at home, where is she one of a small group of foster kids (not orphans)– run haphazardly by Miss Hannigan.

I’ve never much liked Foxx before this movie– he always seems arrogant. But he played his role so well that I even changed my mind about the actor himself. It’s clear that once he stops his denial about his genuine love for Annie, he is ready to step up and become a devoted family man.

Annie’s optimism and unrelenting kindness changes him.

Annie also refuses to be bullied by Hannigan and escapes at her first opportunity without fear.

And contrary to the bad reviews of Diaz, I think she claimed this role of Miss Hannigan and made it hers. She starts out as openly verbally and emotionally abusive– a desperate alcoholic. She throws her self at every male who enters her lair, and it’s cringe-worthy to watch. But there’s obvious pain and palpable regret behind her negativity. She was once a promising star, now faded. She, too, feels trapped by her circumstances. To begin she hates Annie, who represents what she herself will never have: joy. She singles out Annie the most for bad treatment and talks badly about her. Clearly, she sees Annie as a threat.

So what if she can’t sing like Carol Burnett? Rather than try to do the impossible and copy the master, she had the courage to do her own interpretation. She more than conveys the anguish behind the character’s hostile facade. As she sees Annie holds no resentment toward her, even she begins to change for the better. She puts down the bottle, sees herself as valuable, and begins treating others better.

The girl is downright unstoppable.

I loved the music! It’s more urban, with complex arrangements. It reminds me a lot of the “RENT” movie, which I love as much as the Original Broadway Cast version now. Not all of the songs are included, but I think this team found the heart of the songs and did them justice.

I don’t compare them– it’s that good. This movie stands alone.

I won’t ruin ALL the plot twists for ya. This movie teaches us about faith, love, ethics and sacrifice.

Go and see it. It will make your day and remind you to believe in your own potential, and that of everyone.

It exudes Christmas spirit.

This is a film everyone can enjoy, and LEARN something from. And that’s a big statement from me, because I’ve been a hardcore fan of the 1982 movie since it’s release. It was one the of the first movies I saw, and I STILL HAVE my vinyl record soundtrack! I wore out my first cassette tape of the soundtrack.

I can’t wait to see it again! And buy the soundtrack.

What’s Wrong with Religion?

It’s fashionable these days to identify as “spiritual, not religious.”

But I ask, what’s the taboo on claiming a religious identity?

If you have any religion, good for you. If it makes you happy, that’s what matters.

I’m aware that for many people, religion has been a radically different influence in their lives. They have good reason to distance themselves from it and to be suspicious of anyone associated with it.

But for me, prayer and Mass and the Sacraments have been the bedrock of my life.

I’ll tell you what I know.

I cherish all the benefits of religion: tradition, structure, discipline, dogma, family heritage.

Religion is more than a belief system, it’s a tremendous supportive network. It’s a rock in the storm of life.

For many, I think the term itself implies some sort of zest beyond what is acceptable.

But in my life, a devotion to religion is, and always has been, normal. Both sides of my family, plus my step-mother’s family, are all Catholic. Irish, German and Italian! I’m a cradle Catholic who attended Catholic school till I decided to transfer to a public school after my freshman year. I wanted some variety.

My parents always took me to Mass on Sundays. The idea was if I was too sick for Mass, I was too sick to do anything else. As a child, I thought of it as boring. But now I’m thankful– my parents cared enough to instill a respect for routine and specifically, religion, in my life. We prayed over meals– though quickly! I know many parents say their children can choose to be religious when they are 18. But I think it’s sad that many are not raised with religion as children. If you’re raised without it, it seems the majority never understand the beauty and power of having that as part of your life. If you’re raised without religion, you’ll most likely continue as an adult without it. Or you’ll spend your life as a spiritual nomad, looking for a denomination or religion that seems to fit you. At least if you’re raised with SOMETHING, you have a starting point. You can choose to leave it and join another, or you can reject it entirely, or dedicate yourself to developing a deeper relationship with it. In my case, I rebelled for awhile in college by not going to Mass.

But I never stopped praying. I never stopped loving Mary, or the Saints. I kept close friendships with nuns and the priests my family had known for decades. And they helped guide me.

When you’re raised with religion, it feels natural to participate in it and share it with others. I feel a peace with other Catholics that I treasure. It’s like having a giant extended family. I love that in almost any city, I can find a Catholic church. I’m lucky that my religion is often in the majority.

I grew up surrounded my nuns and priests, especially since my favorite aunt was a Catholic nun. Reflecting as an adult, I’m both surprised and somewhat sad that she didn’t talk about the Bible to me. But for 10 years, she took a leave from her convent and lived with us. She was a living example of Christ’s love. She was FUN.

She had no enemies. She never said a bad word about anyone. We never prayed the Rosary together, although we did pray often. She just exuded a gentle and steady love. When she moved back home with her community, she would send me prayer booklets, icon cards, and religious cards for my birthday, holidays. In college, her e-mails and care packages helped sustain me when I was desperately homesick. What little money she had, she was always sending me little gifts. She was always telling me that I was special and that God has a wonderful plan for me.

We kept in touch with cards by mail and often prayed over the phone together. She’d pray the Guardian Angel prayer with me. She was a gifted listener. When I would feel afraid or nervous, I’d call her and cry and just talk it out. She didn’t often give advice but her calming influence always reassured me. She would always remind me to be kind, to give the person who had upset me the benefit of the doubt. To consider why they may have acted that way– without malice. When she died in 2010, it was if a light in my life had been snuffed out. It was a Dark Night of the Soul for awhile.

But that loss of her only drove me closer to the faith I’d shared with her all my life. Now I feel she’s a guardian angel to me herself, protecting me and reassuring me still. Now I pray to her. I keep her close to me by being more resolute as a Catholic. I remember all the times she asked me to go to Mass with her and I said I was too tired and didn’t want to get up that early. She was never angry and always accepted my decision– but she never stopped asking.

Now I see it was something she wanted to SHARE with me. It’s harder to find people now to go to Mass together.

I realize now what an act of love it was for her to want to go with me to Mass. And I feel bad that I bypassed so many opportunities in my life to do that with her.

And now, on my own, I’m starting to want to delve deeper into Catholicism. I’m beginning to read The Bible more. I’m feeling closer to the Blessed Mother, praying to her more often. I’m feeling a desire to pray the Rosary, though it’s intimidating.

I even have a Non-Denominational friend who wants to learn to pray the Rosary with me. How beautiful is that?!

If you weren’t raised with religion, please try to open your heart and consider it.

You might be shocked by the peace you feel. And if you are afraid to pray, that’s why we have so many prayers.

Just read it out loud and I promise, God will hear you. Here’s one you can try:

The Guardian Angel Prayer

“Angel of God,
my Guardian dear,
to whom God’s love
commits me here.
Ever this day,
be at my side
to light, to guard,
to rule and guide.

Amen”

He always does, even if He doesn’t answer right away.

Boy in a Batman Vest: A Surprise Dinner Guest

God reassured me today in a moment when I was feeling vulnerable.

Right after my self-defense class, I went to dinner and ordered soup and grilled cheese. I was going to read my class workbook and go over what I’d learned. I was sitting in a booth.

And I was happily interrupted.

The table to my right had a family with two small children. The boy had a black Batman vest with a hoodie– the yellow and black logo on the upper right hand side. He came over to my table shyly, and introduced himself.

I’ll change their names.

The boy was Mark. I told him he could sit with me if he wanted. His mother apologized at first, but I assured her I enjoyed the company. She said it was fine, and there were a couple other adults at her table. He was so proud of his wicked Batman vest– especially the hood! Then his sister came over, Missie. I didn’t ask their ages. She was quieter, but sweet.

Mark picked up my key chain, which has a silver Mary and Jesus on it. He was fascinated by the swiveling pieces and liked the pictures inside. I don’t consider it my job to talk about that with a child, especially when I have no idea what their religious background, if any, might be. But I merely said that it was a lady, Mary, and her son, Jesus. He asked me about the buttons on the key faab– what do they do?

Then he wanted to draw a picture on the place mats. He showed me what he had drawn of his family. Then I told him I’d draw his Batman symbol, and he was happy about that. Missie was drawing too, she was the younger of them. Mark came over and sat by me and watched me draw.

It reminded me of when I was a little girl, and my Dad would draw bats for me. I drew them just the way he did!

He was thrilled with the Batman logo, and then I drew a regular bat. He made a drawing of me– I loved it. But I asked him, “Where’s my hair? It looks like I’m bald!” So he drew some spikes on there for me. I asked if he would write my name on it for me– he did. I showed him how, in capital letters. He worked very hard on writing the letters and I was impressed.

I drew a little portrait of Missie, she recognized herself. “That’s me!”

The mother and her family was ready to go, and I thanked the mother for letting her kiddos hang out with me. The kids said goodbye, and I finished eating my dinner.

When God is with you, you’re never alone. And children really do make the best company sometimes!

Greek Dancing with Nico: My Favorite Little Boy

I’m Catholic, German and Irish, but I’ve got the soul of a Greek Orthodox woman! I’m loud, I’m a big hugger, I have big hair, and I LOVE DANCING. I love eating meat. I love PEOPLE. Before I was sober, my shot of choice was Metaxa– I loved the reactions on people’s faces when they tried it the first time.

I stopped by the Greek Fest in Joliet tonight, to see my friend Catt- who was working.
I saw her son, Nico, who is two and will be turning three next month, running amuck and joined him. We were in a pavilion and she was working the bar. Her husband, Vic, was watching him.

Nico is the most friendly little child I’ve ever met. He’s got curly light brown hair and pale skin and bright blue eyes with killer lashes. He just exudes love. And that’s because he has two parents who are very close to their families, Greek and Italian. They have a strong marriage– they are best friends. They talk all day long. They are a team. Nico is always with his family, getting plenty of cuddles and attention and supervision.

And WOW, does Nico like to move around! I tried to take pictures but gave up because he moves so fast every picture I took is blurry. I decided to forget about pictures and just enjoy keeping up with him.

I tell you, playing with kids is the best exercise imaginable. I worked tonight and I was tired, I didn’t think I’d stay long. But once I saw Nico, all my energy returned. We were inseparable.

First, we just ran back and forth, racing and yelling with our arms up. Then, we tried Greek dancing. We danced together, and with a little girl and her mom. I picked him up, and we kind of slow danced– he held his right arm out and grabbed mine. I just followed him wherever he went, but made sure he was safe.

He’s so confident!!

But my favorite part was when we just went off together and hung out on the grass. Catt and Vic let us because they trust me. They know I would never let anything happen to him, and when he’s with me, he’s safe. We didn’t go far– I stayed where they could see us. He wanted to sit down. So I convinced him it’d be better to sit down in the grass– over by a tree. And he just followed my lead, and it was such a natural interaction.

I’m trying to write before I forget the best parts!

But we laid in the grass and looked at the sky. I raised one leg, he raised his. We made a game out of it. I put up both my legs, then he did. He left one up, I did the same thing. We were just imitating each other.

Then we sat up, and I picked him up and we looked at the tree. I showed him the leaves, and he reached out and touched them. And he knew that his shirt was blue, and I asked him what color mine was ? Green. He knew that he’s a guy, and I’m a girl. He knew about the sky.

I was just in awe.

And then we got up and I started just crawling forward. And I growled, and he growled. He followed next to me, and he kept up with me!

And he had this little yellow toy, a tiny little man. Maybe an astronaut? I’m not sure what he was, but I noticed he was gone. I think I had referred to the toy as his “guy,” earlier– he has a great, quick, memory.

“Where’s your guy?” I said. And it was dark, but we went through the grass, retracing our steps. “My guy!”

And it wasn’t long before we passed a few benches and there the toy was, sitting on a bench. Nico picked him up and took him with him in his tiny hand.

I was so happy he hadn’t lost his little toy.

I told him we had to go back because I was tired and had to leave.

“No!” he said. He looked sad.

My heart felt bigger than the moon!

I picked him up and took him back to his dad, Vic. Nico was saying goodbye to the girls– all the girls wanted a kiss from Nico. They were friends of Catt’s, people who know the family and who were also volunteering. He stood above them all, tall– he knew his power. He kissed them and they all said goodbye.

Catt was finished, and they walked with me as a family to the parking lot.

An older woman was driving a golf cart just ahead of us.

Nico is so smart– he ran and jumped on the back ledge. He wasn’t afraid. Catt was right behind him and laughed at his ingenuity. The woman was driving slow, of course.

Nico saw a shortcut to walking, and he took it!

Vic was looking around for a moment, “Where’s Nico?” We pointed and Vic turned and saw his son right there and was amused at his confidence.

The woman slowed down and stopped, and Nico climbed over to the seat. Catt encouraged him, waving and smiling. The woman driving was positively charmed.

Nico does that– he just enchants people with his energy, his happiness, his physical affection.

We reached my car and I said goodbye to them all with hugs. They asked Nico to give me a kiss, and I squatted down, offering my cheek. Not pressuring him.

But Nico went out of his WAY to kiss me on the lips! It just fit into my heart.

“That’s the most romantic thing that’s happened to me in months!” I said.

And it’s true.

That’s why children are so pure. They have no agenda. They just LOVE you. They accept you, they notice your feelings, they’re in tune with what’s around them. They express themselves with their whole bodies.

God bless that little boy. I don’t see him often, but when I do, he runs to me. As if I’m family! He remembers me. He singles me out, when so many people wanna play with him. He’s sad when I need to leave. He’s just so easy to be with– my little buddy.

Catt and I have always been sisters, since we met. She’s three years younger than me, but we are both silly and loud and have a crazed imagination. That’s what bonds us— making up silly things together– we call it “Vision.” It’s always fun when we get together, and she’s always easy to talk to. She never tells anything I tell her. She’s sentimental. We both have dark hair and eyes– more than any of my other friends, people have often asked if we’re sisters.

And we are! But I have to say, Nico is the best “Vision” she’s ever come up with.

And because of him, I’ll sleep wonderful tonight. Because I ran hard, laughed, WROTE ¬†and now I’m absolutely exhausted!