Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Ubi caritas Deus ibi est

Well, folks - I'm officially in the new house. Yesterday was a rough day for me: little sleep, my parents headed home, and I was an emotional mess. I didn't get much sleep because my dad, selfless man that he is, was pounding away on some reducer and quarter-round at 1 am - so that the floors were officially done ... when he and Mom hit the road just 5.5 hours later.

When I woke up at 1am to my dad hammering away, the Holy Spirit had queued up this song to play: Ubi Caritas.
Ubi caritas et amor
Ubi caritas Deus ibi est.

Where true charity and love exist, God is there.

This photo, take on Saturday night, is my dad figuring out how vinyl plank flooring fits together and installs. Six hours later, he came back to the apartment: flooring fully 4am...just so that I could move my stuff into my new house 6 hours later.

Where true charity and love dwell...

When I awoke yesterday morning after a very fitful few hours, that song continued to fill my mind and my heart. Ubi caritas et amor...Deus ibi est.

I wanted to recount just some of the ways that people have showered me with love and charity in this move:

When I realized that Home Depot couldn't install flooring with 2 weeks notice, I texted my friend whose brother does drywall - and he learned how to install floors (he did the first floor and started the second floor);
When I painted and had some amazing helpers who even brought lunch: Trevor & Dustin, Leslie, Brian & Kim and the kids;
When I Chad tore out the carpet on the first floor and carted it away for me;
When Williamston Glass came and gave me an estimate to reglaze my windows and when scheduling the appointment, she said, "You must have made an impression. He came back and told his me, "We need to take care of her;"
When Uncle Fred painted the second coat on my kitchen on a Monday night;
When Linda packed up my kitchen over 2 days and came back to clean;
When Mom & Dad drove 22 hours to spend 72 hours with me - finishing packing, learning how to and then installing a floor, unpacking, purging...
When Kimmi, Nate, Charles, Tim, Chastin, Jordan, Scott, Lonnie, Fred, Alex, Karen, Chad, Grant, and Brian helped move all the stuff out and into the house in less than 3 hours from a 3rd floor apartment, 
When Dean cooked us all a delicious meal to cap off the in and out of moving day,
When Mom, Linda, Polly, Karen, Karen, Kim and Brenna helped with the unpacking....

A toast to new chapters and Dan Kiesling: Clear eyes, full hearts: can't lose.

When it came time for my parents to drive the eleven hours west, I could hold back tears no longer. My heart is full to bursting with such love and true charity shown toward me. As I reflected on this and the song continued to play, I realized this is the theme of my house.

Ubi caritas et amor Deus ibi est.

Where true charity and love dwell, God is there.

Abide. Abode.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What Grief Feels Like: Wave Pool

For those of you who are not my Facebook friends, here's a piece of news for you: I bought a house! It's a quaint little 1900 house in my favorite Michigan hometown. It's hard to believe I signed almost two weeks ago - and will be fully moved in less than a week.

The day of the signing, I posted on Facebook that I was feeling very overwhelmed. People kept asking me if I was excited, and honestly, I felt anything but excitement. I felt mostly overwhelmed. Like you've taken me to the edge of the sand, shown me the ocean, told me that something exciting is just beyond that horizon...but, I don't believe you because all I see are the waves.

My Facebook memory that day had pulled up a quote a friend had shared from 1 Peter: May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus abound as you grasp more and more the hope of our call. Two years ago, while we were going through Dan's treatment - I saw those words as a prayer we should pray for all those when we are tempted to say trite, worthless lies like: God doesn't give you more than you can handle. Stop saying that - and start saying, "I will pray for you that even in this overwhelming circumstance that the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus will abound for you that you will come to know with more assurance the hope of our call, of his firm love for us and our security in that love" - because that is the only thing worth meaning.

I digress. I posted that asking for my friends to pray for me as I prepared to sign for my house. ...and all the stress I had felt gripping me for the previous two days melted away - and I felt overwhelming peace before, during, and after the signing. SUCH PEACE. Amen. God is good.

So, now it is crunch time. It is get the shit in the boxes time. Moving starts at 1:30 pm on Sunday (if you're looking for a fun time for a couple hours. I promise I'll make it worth your while).

...and tonight, while I started packing the bathroom closet, I got bowled over by this:

Those are beach towels - which for any of our Tucson friends might look familiar. For those new to our story, our Tucson home had a pool. (which was impossibly to keep blue. IM.possible.) We loved hosting our friends and family when they visited in the pool - and kept towels on hand for those in need. 

I pulled seven beach towels from the top shelf and placed them in the box...thinking about Tucson. ...and then thought, "when will I ever need this many beach towels in Michigan?" ...and that thought began a spiral into the what was, and what will not ever be wave pool. 

Wave Pool. If you've been to a water park, you've ventured into the wave pool. It's tolerable - a little constant motion of the waves moving you back and forth...and then, as you get a little deeper, it gathers force pushing you back and pulling you deeper, water breaking against your body.

I mentioned via text to my friend Leslie that I felt a little weepy. I tried to explain why...and then the tears came. Once they started, it became a sob. ...and then gasping sobs, holding onto the door frame while your whole body grieves for what has been lost - both what was, and what will not be. 

I hadn't experienced that level of grieving for a while. ...not since returning from Ireland - so (exactly) three months ago. 

Beach towels.
and curtains. 

"They" say that you don't know what will trigger you...and I guess that's true. ...and there's no need to try to figure it out. What is needed is that you let yourself enter into and endure the wave pool. Because you know what happens in the wave pool? It subsides. It stills. It is not constant. It is not forever. ...but, you have to let yourself feel it or you will not reach the stillness of healing.

Yesterday's Gospel reading (Luke 12:13-21) is the parable of a man with an abundant harvest who decides that he will build bins and storehouses, as a way to ensure that he will never be in want - and will never have to rely on God again - because he has provided for himself and ensured his provision for years to come. The warning to him comes: "You fool, don't you know that this very night your life will be demanded of you, and the things you have prepared - to whom will they belong? So it will be for all who store up treasures for themselves, but are not rich in what matters to God."  

That reading, especially that line sat with me. As my grief wave began to still, I remembered, "for one's life does not consist in possessions." ...I don't need 7 beach towels. I don't. There are people who do; these are nice towels. They should be shared - and used - and not stored in boxes growing musty and dusty. 

One's life does not consist in possessions. 

Use your possessions to make memories with people. People. 
Be rich in what matters to God: people. 

My people, may grace and peace abound to you through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Give Thanks in all Circumstances....really?

The reminder of October 6 and its significance to Dan & my relationship combined with the Friday night Alpha session, "Why do we pray?" prompted me to think about thankfulness in all circumstances.

One of the main lessons from the retreat I'd been on the weekend before Dan and I broke up was "give thanks for all things in your life," a la St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:18.

On Friday night, as we talked about how we respond to God when our prayers don't seem to be answered and handling the feelings that come. Since I'd just reflected earlier on how I'd thanked God for dating Dan in the wake of our break-up, this idea of thanking God for whatever comes our way was fresh. Suddenly, this thought popped into my head: "I've never thanked God for Dan's death."

The next morning as I spent some time in prayer, I sat in my living room thinking about this. The more I thought, the more I realized that I couldn't do it.

"God, I am thankful for the life we had together.
I am thankful for the time we had together.
I am thankful for the LIFE you gave us in the midst of all that uncertainty and the disease.
I am thankful for the person Dan was, his faith, the lessons he taught me, for his love and the way that he loved me.
I am thankful for us.
I am beyond thankful that in the wake of his death, you have become more present to me than ever. I am thankful for how you have carried me.
I am thankful for the ways you have provided for me in the past year+.
I am thankful for the people you have brought into my life since Dan's death.
...but, I just...I'm not thankful for his death
...and even for all the good that may come, God...still...I can't. If you want me to be thankful for this, then you'll have to change my heart."

That evening, I went to worship and adoration.  The event had been fine. Not mountain-moving, but time with Jesus is always good. Toward the end, I was thanking God and talking to Dan about just how crazy it was that I was no way could I have guessed nine years ago, as I was thanking God that He'd brought Dan into my life (even though he didn't think he was man-enough for me)...that 9 years later, here I would be - a Catholic, doing a super-Catholic thing, adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

...and then, I thought about my morning prayer. ...and I heard,
"I'm not thankful for Dan's death, either. I don't expect you to be. I'm not thankful for anyone's death."

Hear that.

Many of us who have experienced great loss will wrestle with trying to understand God's goodness in the wake of what comprehensibly does not seem good. At all. Ever. No matter how much life may come in the wake...that death was not good. We need to hear that God does not look at death as a good thing. 

God doesn't will death - but it is allowed. Death is the natural consequence to sin; sin is separation from God. Sin cannot exist in the presence of Divine Holiness, Life itself. ...and, death is the ultimate consequence: separation from life. We will all experience death because we are human; the presence of original sin, the consequence of fallen humanity. Death is that awful consequence.

...but, it is not the final say. Jesus came to destroy death and the barrier it created to our eternal existence with the Divine. Jesus came and died to destroy death. Jesus' resurrection is our sign that death has, eternally, been destroyed - and our life, united with God, has been restored.

Now, united to Jesus through baptism and faith in his life, death and resurrection: death is simply a room we will pass through onto life: united with the One who destroyed death.

We don't have to be thankful that death exists. We don't have to be thankful that death has separated us from those we love. We can be righteously angry that death exists.

BUT: we must also acknowledge that death is NOT the final word because of Jesus. Death need not separate us from the love of God that it is in Jesus. Death need not separate us from the ones we have loved. We CAN rejoice and be thankful that Jesus has destroyed eternal death and separation in his body, through his death. We can be thankful that this is NOT the end. We can return to joy (rejoice!) again and again and again because JESUS.

Friday, October 6, 2017

I wish I had someone to love me

There's this Dubliners' song, "I wish I had someone to love me," that is currently tearing at my soul. I learned of the song through a book I just finished, Ireland Unhinged, when the author included this line:

Meet me tonight in the moonlight
Meet me tonight all alone
I have a sad story to tell you
I'm telling it under the moon,

Well I wish I had someone to love me
Someone to call me her own
Someone to sleep with me nightly
I’m weary of sleeping alone

Those lines reminded me of an image a friend shared looking out over Dun Laoghaire:
 ...and this week, I've been trying to create this beautiful image as a creative outlet/escape.
But, that song - it is so achingly sad - that I almost can't bear thinking about the image.

...and then, this morning, while reading those Facebook memories, I realized what day it was: October 6.

October 6, 2008.

The day Dan and I broke up.

Immediately, I was back in that place. Back as a 28-year-old feeling the aching crush of hopes dashed wondering, "when?" When will someone ever love me?

Our relationship up to that point was going out on dates to get to know each other. We met April 29, and Dan asked me out that evening. Our first date (dessert) would have been May 3. So, by October, I mean we probably should have been figuring out what we're doing here. We went out on a date every couple of weeks or so. We talked on the phone some.... but, what were we doing? There was so much ambiguity. I wasn't really even sure if he liked me.

At this point, it just felt to me like we were at an impasse. It seemed like there was something separating us...but, I couldn't quite articulate what. The weekend prior, at a retreat, the speaker asked if there was anything in our heart/lives that was keeping us from God - and I knew that mine was Dan. ...but, like not Dan himself - the idea of Dan: the relationship.

I was a 28-year-old woman whose major life goal was to be married and be a mom. Sure, I had experienced some success in my career - but that had never been my priority. My benchmark for "life success" was to be in a loving, committed relationship: marriage, and raising the fruits of our love. ...and I was a 28-year-old woman who had been in ONE sort-of serious-ish relationship since college. ...and somehow managed to go out on a first date or two about once a year.

And then came Dan. Dan: the first person to EVER ask me out as soon as he met me. The first person that I had gone out an a first date with where I wanted a second date - ever. (the person I'd been in a relationship with before we'd been friends for YEARS before deciding to be in a relationship, and so, I don't even think there was a date. weird.)  I loved talking to Dan. I enjoyed getting to know him. ...but, I kind of got this vibe that he didn't really know where to put me...friend zone? girlfriend?

...and I realized that I was also at an impasse. I wanted him to like me more than I wanted to be honest with him. ...I don't know how to say this exactly - but I was afraid of being rejected by him (because I so desperately wanted a relationship - to move forward with my life) - so I was afraid to be my whole self - to reveal my whole heart to him.

So, there we were on October 6, sitting in my friend's living room, realizing we were at an impasse.
I knew he came over that night to break up with me (the Holy Spirit intuited it to me - so I had prepared my heart). When he finally got around to saying that he didn't think we should date anymore, I nodded. ...and then my entire mind went blank.

We stared at each other for awhile, as I waited for something to come into my mind to say.
What are you afraid of?

"What are you afraid of?" God, why would I say that? I don't even know what that means. What are you afraid of? Like...with us? in general? I don't get it. I can't ask him a question that I don't even understand myself. that's, like, super weird. Come on, God. don't make me ask this."

...and still nothing in my head except: What are you afraid of?

Finally, Dan (perhaps a little exasperated) said, "Do you have anything to say?"

So, I finally relented and said, "I guess. Um...what are you afraid of?"

He looked at me, "What am I afraid of? Like....?"

I shrugged my shoulders, "I don't even know; ...I just feel like God wants me to ask you that question."

"Like in life? or with us?"


...and then, it was like the floodgates opened and the impasse was decimated from the rush of the water.

Dan shared that he was afraid of disappointing his family, of not living up to expectations - feeling this weight to be something - to be successful. ...and with me, he just didn't feel like he was the right person for me - that he was enough for me.

And, finally, I said (exasperated), "I've just been waiting for you to figure out how amazing I am!"

He sat up straighter and looked at me and said, "You are amazing. ...and you deserve to be with someone who can love you."

...and I think that is when I started to cry. To be seen, to be known, to be loved for who you are (and who you want to be) - that is the greatest gift. That is what my heart had been yearning to find in another. ...and here was this guy - who was both articulating what I wanted to hear, and at the same time refusing to be the one.

...and I started to cry, too, because, though I never would have acknowledged it, I loved him. Not like you LOVE the person you're going to marry, but...the fresh kind, the new kind of love where you realize that you genuinely LIKE this person: who they are and the life that they bring to your life - and you want to be around that person just for those reasons (and a billion more)...

He looked at me, "Why are you crying?"

"Because I genuinely liked being your friend. ...and I will miss you...I will really miss you."

"We can't be friends?"

I shook my head. "That doesn't work. I just don't know how I would do that."

You see, Dan had been friends with every (save but one) girl he'd dated. I'd dated one other person - and it had been impossible for us to remain friends.

We parted ways that night - not knowing what the future would hold. I remember lying in my bed that night as a train rumbled past, praying, "God, if it's your will, please bring him back. Please, please bring him back." 

The next day, I lamented to my dad, "Dad, I just wish someone would love me!"
(emphasis on every word in that sentence) :) 

He replied, "If that's what you heard, then you weren't listening. He didn't say that he didn't love you; he said that he didn't think he could. ...and he told you before you were too invested - that is actually a very loving thing to do. He could've just dated you for a year - and then broke up with you. Or worse, married you."

I thought about those words all day as I nursed my broken heart. That night, I spent time thanking God for Dan. He might not have been the one, but he showed me that I was desirable enough to ask out right away; that there are men who still do that; someone who actually recognized my value...and if God could do that once, He could do it again.

...and now, here it is: October 6, 2017.

nine years later...and my heart feels so much like it's in that same place again.

My heart, this deep trove of feeling...bursting with treasured memories, and longing for hopes of a future...I look at this picture, and I swear I am there, and I feel every ounce of this song: 

I am standing on the edge of this pier, staring at the expanse between us, and feeling every bit separated from the bustle of Dublin. Just the moon and me.

Meet me tonight in the moonlight
Meet me tonight all alone
I have a sad story to tell you
I'm telling it under the moon,

Well I wish I had someone to love me
Someone to call me their own
Someone to stay with me always
I’m weary of being alone

Sunday, September 24, 2017

I'll be here for you

Friday morning, I had a weird experience. Prior to my morning shower, I moved my (big - one of the liter sizes) bottle of shampoo from the back left corner of the tub to the front right corner so it was next to the conditioner and body wash. During my shower, after squirting the shampoo into my hands, while lathering up, I thought, "Hmm. I don't know if I like that there. I should move that back..." and proceeded to then get caught up in other thoughts all together taking me to different lands.

I turned around to rinse, opened my eyes - and saw the bottle of shampoo returned to the back left corner where it had been sitting - prior to me moving it that morning.

What? Did I do that? could I have done that? My hands were busy the whole time...



It reminded me of a moment this spring when I'd used the last of the toilet paper on the roll. I took the empty roll off, and thought, "Eh, I'll do that in the morning. I'm going to bed now," and put the metal thing back in its place.

When I woke up the next morning and walked into the bathroom, there was a new roll of toilet paper in its place.

What? Did I do that? I sleep-walk now? ...I don't think so.... I don't usually get up in the night to use the bathroom - and when I do it is a full-wake up process.

Thursday night, I'd had a conversation with a student about "mysterious occurrences" and a talk she'd just listened to about a nun who'd recently died and the order started to experience some "strange behavior" - i.e. the candles being blown out at the same moment in Mass every time. A priest recommended they commit to praying for her for 30 days. On the 30th day, the candles went out again - but this time at the giving of the Peace...signalling her spirit was now at peace.

So, Friday's occurrence made me wonder: have I not been praying enough for Dan? I thought that I'd received my confirmation that Dan was, in fact, at peace with our Lord.

So, this morning, I offered up my Mass for Dan, for his peace, to be fully united with Jesus.

Now, it seems worthwhile to mention that while in Ireland, I had such a strong sense of Dan. I was receiving his gift of a song in my heart, and I just felt very much like he was leading me - and leading me on to someplace new...into a place of embracing more of me...of a future... But upon returning, I haven't sensed him like that. So, the last two months in that regard have been quiet of his presence, but quite full of life.

I settled in to listen to the readings:

Reading 1IS 55:6-9

Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call him while he is near.
Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
and the wicked his thoughts;
let him turn to the LORD for mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.

Responsorial PsalmPS 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18

R. (18a) The Lord is near to all who call upon him.
Every day will I bless you,
and I will praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
R. The Lord is near to all who call upon him.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
R. The Lord is near to all who call upon him.
The LORD is just in all his ways
and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.
R. The Lord is near to all who call upon him.

Reading 2PHIL 1:20C-24, 27A

Brothers and sisters:
Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. 
For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. 
If I go on living in the flesh,
that means fruitful labor for me. 
And I do not know which I shall choose. 
I am caught between the two. 
I long to depart this life and be with Christ,
for that is far better. 
Yet that I remain in the flesh
is more necessary for your benefit.

Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

I remain...for you.

It is better for you that I am here, Jessica.

Pray. Hope. Do not worry. (St. Padre Pio): reflect upon this was my penance this morning.
Do not trouble yourself with the why, Jessica. Only know that I am here for you. ...I was moved to tears.

Today's Gospel reading focuses on the generous love of God displayed in Christ Jesus. The generous, unmerited - based on no works or no amount of effort - love - and God's right to shower it freely on everyone based on His right as God...and our only work is to receive with an open heart.

During the Our Father, the high school boy next to me did not hold my hand. Holding hands during Mass, especially during the Eucharistic Prayer portion was one of my favorite things to do with Dan. Sometimes, during the Our Father, my open hand will feel a bit heavy - like Dan is holding my hand.
Immediately today, I felt Dan's presence. The presence of love spoke right to my heart, I am here for you. Inaudibly, I prayed the Lord's Prayer; my heart completely overwhelmed with the love of God.

I am here for you.
Those words instinctively evoke our wedding song, "I'll be Here for you", written by Robert Earl Keen. The beautiful, aching lyrics - that seemed to me melacholic for a wedding, but somehow accurate for life when we married - reaching fulfillment in our life together.
I'll be the light to guide your way onto same place new... 'Cause better days will come again; clouds will break, your heart will mend. ...I'll be where I've always been, I'll be here for you.  

The truth that God was leading me to this Mass I'll detail in another post. But know, that this experience with Dan was helping to prepare for me what he is asking me, to accept one of the hardest teachings of this faith - this life: unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it bears no fruit. All those hopes and dreams, the desires that I have longed for since childhood, I must not simply take them to the Cross; I must put them on the Cross. I must let them go and die...accepting that the generous love of God for me is exactly enough in this moment. He may choose to resurrect them - and He may not...and I must accept that this is love. ...and LOVE is generous and enough- and Jesus, who is the embodiment of love, is enough for me...and can fill every area in the way He lovingly, generously chooses. ...and it will be good.

I only need to look. Look at the story of us. Perfectly imperfect. Extraordinarily ordinary. Ethereally earthly. Terrestrially transcendent.

Buoyed by Hope. To remind me of His great, immense, all-encompassing love for me, he allowed Dan to press into that veil - and to remind me that he (Dan) is here. and, He (Jesus) is here. Here. Right in middle of where you are. where I am. ...and generously holding out the invitation that today, we can take His hand and He will lead us onward.

Onward and Upward!
(as F.C. Parrish, Jr., my friend & mentor, would close every class)

Friday, September 22, 2017

A-ha Moment of the Week

In my professional development class, we learn about Strengths - Gallup Strengths to be specific. Students complete the student version of StrengthsFinder, a guest speaker comes* and helps us process the meaning of our strengths and what that looks like in strengths can be utilized in the workplace/learning environment...and how strengths impact the type of work we choose do, and who we want to work for.

[*a guest speaker because I'm not currently a Strengths coach. Emphasis on currently...come December, I'm planning to spend 4 days in Boston completing the training! ...and if you know me at all, you know I am SUPER excited about it!]

If you know me at all, I am right there alongside students discovering new insights about my Strengths. I LOVE this part of class. LOVE it. Hands-down my favorite part - because I love connections.

The past two weeks, I've had a great time learning from Bridgette Voisinet, Director of Organizational Development for NorthStar, as she led us through the Strengths exercises. She shared an aspect of Strengths that I hadn't been exposed to before: the domains. ...and let me tell you what, it was the biggest A-HA moment of the week!

 All 34 themes arranged by domain type.

I'm curious to know your thoughts...where do you think my Strengths lie?

I've taken this assessment 3 times, once 10 years ago and twice in the past year (though I can't find one of my results). Typically, results don't change much - except in the event of a MAJOR life change. So, my strengths from the last 5 years: Ideation, Individualization, Adaptability, Positivity, WOO; Adaptability, Connectedness, Strategic, Input, Responsibility.

...and where do those Strengths fall?


See which one is least? Executing...which is why getting into action is my biggest challenge. Why implementing a plan happens with great effort. Why I felt last week like my life just spins its wheels without making forward progress....


I need Executors to make the plan happen, and I need Influencers to advocate for/support my idea. 

...also, is it any wonder how I ended up in my line of work? ...or the type of work that I long to do? it is not.

Also, I have just loved this week sitting in an appointment with each of my students and helping them put into words how their strengths connect with each other - identify why that is significant to an employer - and just gain insight into them. Again, knowing my strengths - of course, I love that. There is just something so powerful in being to identify WHO YOU ARE - and hearing someone else say THAT IT MATTERS.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Ireland: Days 3 and 4

Maybe you've wondered why I haven't been blogging for awhile. Well, we're 4 weeks into the school year, so my brain is a bit on auto-pilot. But, also - I've been hung up on wanting to finish documenting my Ireland trip - but, for some reason I've been hung up on Day 4. Thankfully, the iPhone makes really cool compilation videos of your pictures. Without further ado:

This video is "Day 3" also known as July 18.

Day 4, July 19 -
We drove into the beautiful Ring of Kerry,
we went round, round, round -
and Dan's driving, it was scary.
and it turns, turns, turns
the Ring of Kerry...
the Ring of Kerry. 

 The highlights of that day:

I didn't write anything of consequence that day. I can still see it vividly, but as for feelings - as for words...nothing. But, I feel like it was a turning point day.

I didn't write anything because I was busy living. I was consumed with the present. Soaking up the sun - golden on the coast, light illuminating the grass on the hillsides and bringing forth an incandescence.
the purple.
the wind.
the light.

Not pictured:
the laughter of four friends taxiing in and out of Killarney.
the hilarity that never stopped...
the white Laurence Fishbourne and the "randy" American,
the surprise spotting of Nigel on a night off - and his sudden disappearance,
learning the true lesson of "Mind yourself," when narrowly escaping (getting hit by) a coach

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Giving Thanks...

We are reaching the point in the semester where it's starting to feel like there are too many balls in the air. Too many demands on my time. Too many directions to go - and everything needing attention RIGHT NOW.

These are the times when, even in the midst of such busyness, my mind goes into overtime, wondering, "Are you really doing the essential thing? Are you trading great for good by being pulled in so many directions? Are you even making any forward progress in your life, or are you just whirling about in circles - moving but not advancing?"

For me, what then happens is that I do two things: compare and question. I get jealous of those whom I view as being really good at the essential: who seem to just exude purpose and peace - they know what they are about and they are pursuing that single-mindedly and whole-heartedly. They aren't whirring about in circles. They are just doing that one thing and killing it.

What then happens in my heart is a restlessness. Am I in the right place? Am I saying yes too much? What is my essential? What am I about? What do I want most?

I could very easily put that into words yesterday: purpose and love. When I say purpose, what I really mean is direction and focus. For me, this is deeply connected to love. I have a very deep heart, but a wide skill set. I used to tell Dan that I can go anywhere and do anything; it was perfect for him who had a very specific work focus. what now? This may be my biggest internal question. What do I do with my skill set? My heart? What am I made for? Who am I made for?

I am not completely lacking in purpose, of course. Or direction. Or focus. Or love. I do know the One who is Love himself; who is Life; who is the Way. I know that.

This morning's edition of Jesus Calling was perfect for me. Reminding me that the Lord inhabits the praise of his people - and how do we get to praise, but through gratitude? There is a lot of uncertainty in my world. Yes. But, there are so many people that I am thankful for. So, I spent time this morning reconnecting with my God through thanksgiving. Expressing thankfulness even in the midst of uncertainty builds trust and brings a deep peace.

The set of verses from Romans has a very special meaning for me. When I was fresh out of college, I was very disheartened. I felt forsaken by God: how was I 23 and single? I was supposed to be married. I was supposed to be following in my mom's footsteps. How was this an ideal life? How was this fair? How was this good? How was this loving?

So, I asked God. ...and through a few weeks, he showed me the end of inability to save myself. In recognizing my smallness, at this point of humility, I began to realize that He is God and I am not. So, who am I to dictate to the Creator what I am to be? Who am I to say that where I am is not where I am meant to be? If I trust that God is loving, then I am here through love, for love, in love. I am not left alone.

How do we get to the place where we can surrender in trust to this Love? Gratitude. Specifically stating all that you are thankful for - even when you might be struggling with fear of the unknown. "I am thankful for this, even if it doesn't turn out like I want. I am thankful for this person and for this gift they have given me in this moment. I am thankful that you provided the opportunity to know them."

So, Miss Jessica: purpose and love. This is exactly what you were made for - and if you want to find, you know Who you need to seek. ...Adoration seems to be in order.

Monday, September 11, 2017


September 11.

The day Americans proudly proclaim, "NEVER FORGET!"
We share a Facebook post.
We post a status or respond to another's about where we were.
...and then we move on.

As a person shaped by great loss, there's something about the phrase, "Never forget," that bothers me. I see people use it when they give a shout-out to a loved one who has passed away, proclaiming that they will never forget. ...and there's part of that saying that feels false to me - because in the living of life, we do forget. We do live our lives without consciously remembering events that shaped us. I am not suggesting that we haven't been changed, but I think there is more power in remembering than posturing we've never forgotten.

To remember suggests that we are circling back to this moment in time, and we are once again, giving it space in our life to shape us.

Seven years ago, the day after the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I wrote this blog about responding to the remembrance.

Do I remember where I was? Sure, because I've written it down and Facebook reminds me of previous posts where I've detailed it. Where I was, though, when I learned of a plane flying into one of the Twin Towers is not nearly as important as the response.

It was the strangest day.

I tuned into the radio on a Tuesday morning - a golden, first-of-fall morning.
Oh my God, came in a horrified whisper from the commander of Camp Dodge.
I turned into the parking lot to board my bus to campus.
What? What was happening? The South Tower? What?

In the air of confusion, I boarded the bus.
No one said a word. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
I walked into my classroom; no one knew what was happening - but a few knew something did.
My teacher carried on with class as normal.

It seems impossible now to imagine something went on as normal.
But now that I'm a college professor, I get it. That time before class (and this was a 9am) - we are in our own little world. It's rush-rush-rush to be ready (at least for me) In the morning? What am I, Dan Kiesling? 

At the next class, Ballroom Dance, the situation became clearer.
I thought we danced. My friend from that class thought we watched coverage on a TV cart.
I do remember that after, I walked in a bewildered daze to the Memorial Union -
coverage displayed on a big screen... I was seeking clarity,
but there was no clarity to be found in the moment. Too many pieces.
Too many pieces to bring the puzzle into focus...
and at that time, we were okay with that. America hadn't yet demanded insta-answers. The competition for ratings and scooping and reporting half-a-story hadn't permeated the media 

In reflecting now, what I remember most was the brightness of the September sun.
How can it be so gorgeous when such a horrific event has happened?
How can time stand so still here when such chaos is reigning in others?

I know now the answer is it just does.

We ask where were you?
But I think we should ask, how did you respond? What do remember about the days after? 

In the bright, eerie stillness of a Tuesday afternoon, I rode the bus back to my apartment.
I sat down at my desk, and I spent hours immersed into a study, Woman of Purpose.
 How do you respond to the daze of uncertainty? I plugged into the Divine Consciousness.

That time immediately after, what do you remember?
I saved so many newspaper articles as we learned more - thinking future generations will need this.
I didn't realize that in the course of 16 years, we'd consider them obsolete news sources.
I remember feeling uncertain, but also profound peace.
I remember people praying, working, seeking, gathering, searching for answers...
a humility of heart present in each of us, unifying the nation, 
when "Where you when the world stopped turning?" captured each of us.

That time of softness - I think of it now with wonder.
We stopped. 
We considered ourselves, our place in this world.

The response as diverse and as divided as America:

Sixteen years have passed, and I wonder where you are today. 
...where I my response.

When we read in the Old Testament, we find not a call to "never forget," but a plea to remember.
The act of remembering causes us to reflect - and reflection then leads to a response. God asks his people to remember, so that they respond in relationship anew.

what would we be like if we remembered that humility of heart?
how would we respond
to each other,
to those who disagree,
to our neighbor,
to our enemy.

Would I be jaded? Would I ignore? Would I walk on by, diverting my eyes?
Would I act?
Would I give?
Would I speak?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Pilgrimage Day 3: the Dingle Peninsula

Featuring the third day of our pilgrimage (July 18), I'll share my journal musings interspersed with pictures of our trek through Dingle - where we met a dolphin, Fungue (foon-gie), who's single.

We are heading to Dingle today. This part (the traveling) is more settled (than County Clare). The hills are really beautiful - like a patchwork of green - with little hedgerows of bushes dividing small tracts of land. The amount of trees here remind me more of Michigan - just not as tall.

There is something about the Irish spirit that I feel like I am trying to discover...
like their secret to endurance,
their commitment to endure,
to press on,
their fidelity to the land,
to each other,
to family and heritage
Part of me wonders if when our people left the land, if they felt like they lost part of themselves - and that is why we see such cases of depression and addiction in Irish families...this yearning, this fighting spirit with nothing to fight for because they've reached a place of freedom...but have left behind all they knew - a deeper part of themselves than they realized....

I think that what I was hoping for was a feeling that I would recover myself...part of my heart, my self that I have lost - a sense of history, of place, of home.


And I think that's why what that bartender said last night about me not being a real Irish woman and drinking a half pint hurt so much. Because I was hoping...expecting, like, people to just love me - to welcome me. And instead it was like, you're not one of us. You don't belong in Ireland. Real Irish stay. Real Irish dig in. Real Irish lean into the pain, and they take the hard road.

It makes me wonder how people feel about those who left.

It's like the Prodigal Son -
both sons are hurting -
one longs for home, the other is bitter toward the one who left - neither forget, both hurt...
both are changed by the leaving -
only Reconciliation can heal.
Only humility of spirit,
owning what you are and what you're not,
turning toward home with a humble, open heart -
hoping for a loving reception by your Father -
to be welcomed home.

Lisa (my roommate) and I took a wild ride on Fungue, the dolphin who is single & read to mingle.

If you use the force, you can see the lightsaber in my hand. That middle island is featured in the upcoming Star Wars movie. 

Our group capturing the view

Father David and Mama Sarah

I am not Ireland.

I'm more...and I'm less...
but in my heart is a longing for freedom and for home,
a spirit terrified of being still too long - or forgotten,
but questions my own strength and courage.

We all are feeling our way through,
fumbling forward,
pressing into the future,
but with eyes looking back,
and a heart yearning for home.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Ireland, Day 2: Cliffs of Moher, Burren, and Limerick

Today, we went north of Limerick, first to the Cliffs of Moher and then on a walk in the Burren. The Cliffs are part of the Burren, a protected Arctic landscape. The views were astounding. The Cliffs are 700 feet high, rising out of the Atlantic Ocean and stretching on for 5 miles. We were absolutely gifted with gorgeous clear weather and a high of 75! Literally - once in a lifetime views!

Irish cows grazing RIGHT NEXT to the path, which was right on the edge of the Cliffs. (They were fenced in)

Cow selfie! (can you tell I work for an Animal Science department? I was SO excited to take a cow selfie)

The gorgeous stone fence along the path.

Irish cows are happy cows. How could you not be with this view - and that delicious lime-rich soil?

As we drove along western Ireland, I was really struck by how much the views reminded me of home (southwest Iowa). Rolling hills, rural landscape, the various shades of green and gold...beautiful.

This area of Ireland, County Clare, is home to traditional Irish music. I made a note in my journal that the little fishing village of Doolen has pubs that ALWAYS play traditional Irish music. That day, we were treated to our first Nigel serenade: a traditional Irish song (in Gaelic) about the county fair. (How appropriate as my family at home were gearing up for the fair!)

[Now an interjection for my deep thought of the day]

Why are the Irish [songs] so melancholy?
Such sadness in their music, but their countenance so jovial?
 They know.
"Suffer in this life, Pamela; so you won't have to suffer in the next!" (Pamela's Irish grandmother) 
They let themselves be pierced by life - but,
have found their God in that sorrow,
and that joy effuses out.
...and when they don't, they find solace in drink and song -
and when they do, they remember through song and drink.
Life is short. Enjoy what you can. Find joy where you can.

The Burren: geographical, geological, biological, agricultural, historical natural wonder. Our guide here, Tony, was phenomenal. He was a true Irishmen - poet, scholar, soulful, humorous, serious. To have spent more time with him exploring the land - and we still would just be scraping the surface. Nigel kept referring to this as a "cursed" landscape, which I thought meant very little could grow here. However, upon doing a little research, I discovered the word is karst. I hope you'll forgive me; with the brogue, it's very easy to see the confusion. :)

The limestone bedrock - no topsoil here.

Look! I found Michigan in Ireland!

Our group enraptured by Tony's tales

A side wall of a stone famine house in the Burren. Can you imagine trying to grow anything on that landscape?

The two side walls of the famine house. Can you picture an entire family living in a house that small?
 It was fascinating to listen to Tony speak of the famine. Many of us (Americans) are somewhat familiar with the story because we have familial ties to Ireland. But, there was so much more at work than just "the potato crop went bad 3 years in a row." These little famine houses held an entire family. They burned peat "logs" to keep warm; smoky, hazy fires - and they kept those fires burning through the night. The ventilation was poor; they were limited to the foods they could grow for themselves; they were charged outrageous rents and had to sell nearly everything they grew to stay on the land; their health was poor; they were poor. ...and yet, the more they were crushed, the more they increased and spread.

[connection from the daily Mass readings of the Israelites in Egypt to our pilgrimage] It is fascinating to me - to think of the effect oppression has on the oppressed group: just in terms of numbers. The Israelites grew more numerous than could be counted while in Egypt. The Irish, while oppressed under British rule, numbered 8 million at the time of the famine.

That night, we were on our own in Limerick city. My new friends: Lisa, Clare and Sarah (the mother-daughter duo from IOWA), Emily & Kevin (and their exchange daughter from Spain) and Glen went out for dinner at a pub on the river. While there, we spotted Milton - a man pulled from the audience during our castle dinner. ...and like I would do, at one point later in the evening, happened to yell, "Milton!" and then we just waved. and laughed awkwardly...and then watched him walk outside to his friends and tell them that he was just spotted by people from last night's dinner.

So it is with Jessica.

Musicians - not Milton. I'm not that creepy.

Remember that adorable little half-pint picture from Day 1?

Well, my new friend Clare kept telling me ALL DAY that a half-pint is actually called a "Lady's Pint." Well, now of course I want to be thought of as a lady, and as culturally appropriate, so later in the evening, I went to the bar to order a "Lady's Pint" of Smithwicks Red.

No sooner had the words come out of my mouth then the bartender said, "That's sexist."

Beg pardon? Still trying to win some adorable points, I said, "No...that's sexy."

"NO, that's sexist - because in Ireland, women drink a real f---in' pint."

*hangs head in shame; places tail between legs*  "oh."

Then Clare told him that he hurt my feelings - and he said, "To be a real Irish woman, you're going to have to get thicker skin."

*knife turns. salt pours into wound.*

Now, for a Limerick:

On a Monday night in Limerick,
I encountered a bartender - a bit of prick.
"It's sexist," they say,
"to order a Lady's Pint." Touche.
To be Irish, my skin must grow thick.