Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pope Francis: One Year Later

One of the great things about the Catholic Church is its deep sense of tradition. One of the worst things about the Catholic Church is its resistance to change.

Pope Francis, who celebrates his one-year anniversary as the Holy See on March 13th, has left many of us Catholics believing that change is not only inevitable but also welcome, even within the Church. 

As many of you know, I often harbor skeptical thoughts about the Church and religion in general.  I imagine others feel the same way about their own spirituality.  Questioning beliefs and the motivation behind religious doctrine doesn’t make you a non-believer, it makes you smart.  When we ask ourselves why we are following a certain belief system, we are more likely to create a stronger commitment to our actions, thereby giving them greater meaning as opposed to simply “going through the motions”.  Personally, I don’t need Church doctrine or Bible verses to motivate me to treat others with compassion.  I help others simply because I genuinely like people. And this is what draws so many of us to Pope Francis: his genuine love for people – not just those who live the way he thinks they should live, but all people.

When Pope Francis was first elected there was, of course, much speculation on what his election meant to the Church.  Many Europeans and Americans enjoy the luxury of concerning themselves with more esoteric questions regarding the direction of the Church as we move further and further into the twenty-first century.  However, while the position the Church takes on issues such as homosexuality and women’s leadership roles under the new pontiff affects the lives of many of us residing in developed nations, the fact remains that a vast majority of our brothers and sisters still struggle to find food and clean water – not to mention health care – for themselves and their families in areas of the world where much of the population identifies itself with the Catholic Church. The challenge for today’s Church, then, is to address modern world problems while still working to ensure basic needs of survival are met for the millions of people throughout the world who, despite the affluence of many of the world’s super powers, still live in extreme poverty.

So far, Pope Francis has demonstrated he is willing to address all of these concerns, and he is doing a fine job of it, too.

The week following his election, I took notice of the new pope’s influence among all Christians, not just Catholics, when a friend of mine who serves as a youth minister at a local Baptist church said to me, “What do you think of your new pope?  My wife absolutely loves him!”

You know when a statement like this was made to me by a Baptist?  How about never?

Suddenly I realized that this new world religious leader represented Christ to more than just the members of the Secret Society, AKA, Catholics.  This pope is shaking things up and uniting people of all faiths (and non-faith) all over the world.  Pope Francis reminds us that Jesus didn’t tell us, “If you do such-and-such, then I will love you.”  Jesus said, “I love you.”  Furthermore, Jesus told us, “Go, and love one another.” Period.  He didn’t say, “Hey, as long as they follow the rules and live the way you tell them to live, and look like you, then it’s OK to sit down and have dinner with them.”  NO! In fact, that’s what the Pharisees did, and, if I recall correctly, Jesus told us, “Live not as the Pharisees do.  Instead, live as your heavenly father says to live, and love one another.”  (Granted, I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the point).

And, now, over two thousand years later, we find a pope who tells us:




Our new pope is a man who refused to reside in the Apostolic Palace and also recently said that the Church could tolerate some types of non-marital civil unions in order to guarantee property rights and health care.  He also admonished the Church to apply its teaching against artificial birth control with “much mercy”.  And, while the pope maintains he is “a normal person, not a superman”, during his first year as leader of the Church Pope Francis has brought reform to the Vatican’s financial system, washed the feet of Muslim prisoners (encouraging cooperation and compassion among the world’s religions), proclaimed that women’s roles in the Church need to be increased, and criticized capitalism and trickle-down economic theories.

In short, it’s been a very busy year for the 77 year-old Holy See and one filled with hope and inspiration for Catholics as well as other believers (and even non-believers).  Pope Francis has emerged as a leader who aspires to listen to the people – and inspire them to work toward ending poverty, war, hunger, and hatred throughout the world.

This is a leader even I can follow.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

God Is....

Once again I have the honor of guest posting over at Joy in the Journey, a blog about adoption.  Joy in the Journey's mission is simple: to provide support and information for families before, during, and after the adoption process. The blog hopes to unite families by sharing anecdotal stories as well as valuable links for those needing assistance with any aspect of their adoption experience.  It also reminds us that we are never alone on our journey - we not only have a strong, loving, and helpful community but we also have God as the common thread that connects us all.  Today I share a tiny bit of my personal journey involving my belief in God and the hope of Jesus.  I hope you will take a minute and hop over to read my story, leave a comment, and, if so inclined, add Joy in the Journey to your blog list. Thanks, as always, for reading my little musings. I hope they inspire you to go out into your own communities and work to make a difference in the world around you.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

25 Fun Facts About Harry Potter

Getting ready for the midnight premier of
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
In honor of October’s National Harry Potter Month (OF COURSE I made that up. Smashing idea, isn’t it?), I thought I’d share with you some Harry Potter Trivia.  Feel free to thank me in the comments section below for advancing your knowledge and love of all things HP….

1.  The name, “Voldemort” comes from the French words meaning, “to fly from death” (and don’t forget that the “t” is silent.  What with it being a French word and all).

2.  “Mundungus” (as in Mundungus Fletcher) is actually an archaic Spanish word for “stinky tobacco”.

3.  As of 2008, Harry Potter books had sold over 400 million copies and translated into 67 languages.

4.  The Sorcerer’s Stone was originally published in the UK as The Philosopher’s Stone.  The U.S. publisher asked J.K. Rowling to change the book’s name to make it “sound more exciting”.

5.  Speaking of J.K. Rowling, her publisher encouraged her to only use her initials instead of her full name so that her books would be appealing to both male and female readers.  Additionally, the “K” refers to her grandmother’s name, “Kathleen”.

6.  The Harry Potter franchise holds the record for most fan fiction parodies – over 500,000.

7.  “Dumbledore” is an early Modern English word for “bumblebee”.

8.  Harry Potter books are the first children’s books included on the New York Times Bestseller list since E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web in 1952.

9.  “The Elephant House”, a tea and coffee shop in Edinburgh, is known as the “birthplace of Harry Potter”.  It was there that J.K. Rowling wrote the first two books of the series.

10.  The Latin words, “Expecto Patronum” translate to, “look for the guardian” in English.

11.  Most of the torture scene between Bellatrix and Hermione (Deathly Hallows) was cut from the film in order to keep the movie from receiving an “R” rating.  In fact, the scene was so intense that after they completed the filming, Helena Bonham-Carter (Bellatrix) approached Emma Watson (Hermione) to make sure they were still on good terms.

12.  Daniel Radcliffe, a self-professed prankster, once changed Robbie Coltrane’s (Hagrid) cell phone so that all his messages were in Turkish.

13.  Michael Gambon, the actor who portrayed Dumbledore after Richard Harris’s death, once auditioned for the role of James Bond.

14.  Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall) has been nominated for an Oscar six times, and has won twice.  She was also awarded a DBE (Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 1990.

15.  “I get sent Bibles.  I have a collection of about 20 of them in my room.  People think I need to be guided.”  Emma Watson

16.  The London Sun claims that Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) is related to John Proctor, one of the accused witches in the 17th century Salem Witch Trials.

17.  Helena Bonham-Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange) is the great-granddaughter of the former British Prime Minister, Herbert H. Asquin, and has two children with Tim Burton, her partner since 2001.

18.  After he signed to make the fifth Harry Potter movie, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) was named Britain’s richest teenager.

19.  On his audition tape for the first Harry Potter movie, Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) performed hip-hop lyrics he wrote to promote himself for the role of Ron Weasley.

20.  In 2009 Emma Watson was named “Highest Grossing Actress of the Decade” by Guinness Book of World Records.

21.  Daniel Radcliffe was in a relationship with Rosie Coker (a member of the production crew during three Harry Potter films) for two years.

22.  Radcliffe also voiced the cartoon parody of Edward Cullen in “The Simpsons”.

23.  Voldemort cannot love because he was conceived under the effects of a love potion.

24.  If a muggle came across Hogwarts, it would appear to him as an old building with a sign reading, “Keep out: dangerous building”.

And, finally,

25.  J.K. Rowling is the first person to become a billionaire by writing books.

So, there you have it:  twenty-five fun facts about Harry Potter.  Hopefully this list will help you win first place in your next Trivia Night gathering!

What is your favorite Harry Potter book or movie?  Do you have any other trivia nuggets you’d like to share?  Did I list anything you didn’t already know about the HP franchise?  Leave me a comment in the section below!


*All information was gathered from Tumblr, Wikipedia, IMDb, and the websites Pleated Jeans and Random Facts.  Hopefully they’re at least mostly true….

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Ten Things of Thankful: Things That Make Me Go, HMMMMM….

Golf gives me freedom to procrastinate
I woke up early this Saturday morning, sent the men off to a golf tournament, and sat at my desk with the intention of pouring out my creative self onto the computer screen.

Instead I spent three hours perusing Facebook, checking out the latest promotions on zulily.com, and playing myVEGAS slots.  Hey, at least I ate breakfast (twice), made my bed, gave the dogs their much-needed doggy fresh breath treats, and remembered why I enjoy writing for my blog. 

Here on the blog I endeavor to inform you, the reader, about the various acts of kindness performed by individuals and organizations that take their compassion and gratitude for life and share it with others around them.  Since I personally find these groups and their missions inspiring, I share them with others in the hope that even more of us will seize opportunities we see and use our talents to make someone else’s burden a little less cumbersome.

Today I decided that my propensity to procrastinate can sometimes actually be a gift instead of a curse (or sign of laziness).  After spending two hours scrolling through my Facebook news feed I determined that this week’s Ten Things of Thankful post will be a celebration of some of my favorite organizations that work to bring happiness and quality of life to others.  So, without further ado, I bring you Ten Things of Thankful: Groups and Individuals That Make Me Smile (and a whole lot of others, too).

10. State Farm created the “Celebrate My Drive” campaign.  This “contest” encourages drivers to commit to safe driving techniques by giving them a brief quiz to take and then allowing them to vote for their favorite high school.  This year Joplin High School, with the help of local State Farm agent, Kyle Hickam, has enrolled in the competition.  Winners compete for up to $100,000 in grants and a chance to see Kelly Clarkson in concert.  Please consider taking a few minutes to visit the “Celebrate My Drive” site, commit to safe driving practices, and vote for Joplin High.  Voting runs daily now through October 26, 2013.

9.  “This way, towards bravery where youth are empowered.  This way, towards acceptance where humanity is embraced.  This way, towards love where individuality is encouraged.”  This statement adorns the front page of the Born This Way Foundation website.  Born This Way Foundation is an organization developed by Lady Gaga and her mother that works to foster a safer, more accepting society where teens can celebrate their individuality and unique gifts and make a difference in the world.  BTW Foundation not only provides support through an online community, but also connects communities with local organizations and resources that will help them empower their youth to make positive, safe choices.  And, hello?  IT’S LADY GAGA.

8.  KaBOOM is a national non-profit group dedicated to helping increase play among American children.  Founded in 1995 by entrepreneur Darrell Hammond, KaBOOM’s mission is to ensure that every child in America has access to play.  Last August KaBOOM partnered with the Kansas City Chiefs to build a playground for Joplin School’s Beacon School, an alternative school that works with special needs, behaviorally disordered, and severely autistic children.  And if the work KaBOOM performs isn’t enough to get you revved up about this organization, take a minute to read Mr. Hammond’s personal story on their website.  It, too, will remind you that anything is possible once you put your mind to it.

7.  Speaking of kids, play, and schools, Art Feeds has partnered with students at Joplin High to promote the student-initiative, “Color Estes” project.  Following the May 2011 tornado in Joplin, Art Feeds recognized the healing impact of art and creativity in helping children cope with the loss and confusion they faced in the aftermath of the deadliest storm ever recorded.  Now, students from Joplin wish to help share this powerful form of therapy with students of Estes Park Elementary in Colorado after September flooding destroyed vast areas of their city.  The organization is seeking donations to help provide art packs to over 500 students as well as transportation to Colorado so they can distribute the packs to kids and help provide instruction to local volunteers.  If you haven’t done so already, take a moment to check out their site, make a donation, and then share their mission with your friends.

6.  Bright Futures USA is a national non-profit headquartered here in Joplin that holds another special place in my heart.  The mission of Bright Futures is to help meet kids’ basic needs in order that they can attend school and focus on learning.  Bright Futures partners individuals, businesses, and faith-based organizations with community schools in an effort to combine resources to help give kids the tools they need to succeed in school.  And when kids succeed in school, we all succeed.

5.  No list of do-good organizations would be complete without a shout-out to TOMS.  Come on, you know about their one-for-one initiative, right? Go, visit their website.  Buy cool shoes or fun sunglasses.  Give someone else a pair of shoes or the gift of sight without leaving your home (or changing out of your pajamas.  Don’t judge.)

Art, Joplin, and One-for-One. A pretty good combo...

4.  Last year the coolpeeps at Art Feeds were named finalists for VH1’s annual Do Something awards show.  During the frenetic voting process, another group, Together We Rise, captured my attention – and heart.  TWR works to help improve the lives of children living in foster care by providing them with sports equipment, bicycles, and other basic necessities in an effort to create a sense of normalcy in an otherwise often chaotic life.  The most important of these to me?  Giving kids suitcases so they don’t have to carry their belongings from place to place in a trash bag.

3.  Are you still skeptical about the notion that one person can make a difference?  Then clearly you didn’t watch CBS’s Evening News this past week when they aired a piece about Dan’s Coffee Run.  Watch the following video about a Michigan man who puts a smile on cancer patients’ faces each week when he arrives at the Michigan Cancer Center loaded up with specialty coffee drinks.  And then use your own procrastination powers to head over to his Facebook page and learn about more ways you can help him continue his mission of spreading kindness and hope to others.


2.  I often tell people I’m on the school board for all the perks.  Sometimes these “perks” come in the form of access to spirit gear such as t-shirts, coffee mugs, or pens.  Most of the time, though, the “perks” I enjoy are much more significant:  invitations to events in our school district such as the annual Academic All Stars celebration or graduation.  This past week I attended a special awards assembly hosted by Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s deputy superintendent, Ron Lankford.  The special guest of this assembly, Lowell Milken of the Milken Family Foundation, traveled to Joplin from California to name Missouri’s sole 2013 Milken Educator Award winner: Joplin High Social Studies teacher, Tobin Schultz.  It was truly an exciting moment to witness, first-hand, the announcement of such a prestigious award to a very deserving teacher and mentor.  I have two teachers who inspired me in high school and beyond: my math teacher, Mr. Padgett, and my English teacher, Mrs. Proctor.  Who inspired you to pursue your life goals?

1.  And, finally, I want to introduce you to the organization that inspired me to write this post in the first place.  The Do It ForThe Love Foundation was developed by Michael Franti and his partner, Sara Agah after they met Steve and Hope Dezember prior to Michael’s April 2013 performance at the Wanee festival in Florida.  “Do It For The Love is a wish-granting organization gifting people who are living with advanced stages of life threatening illnesses live concert experiences and meet-and-greets with their favorite artists.”  Grab a couple tissues and watch the following video.  You won’t regret it.

What groups or individuals inspire you to use your talents and gifts to help make the world around you a better place?  Be sure to share in the comments section below - there's always room for more to celebrate!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

ColorEstes

Two of my favorite organizations working together
Art heals.

Creativity provides an outlet through which we can safely and honestly express our emotions – fear, anger, sadness, anxiety, confusion, just to name a few - following a tragic event. It also allows us to find beauty in a world where, at that particular moment in our personal history, none exists.

Joplin residents experienced this need for creative expression after the May 22, 2011 tornado.  Writers wrote, singers sang, musicians composed, painters painted, photographers photographed.  Everywhere we looked, art graced the city’s walls, sidewalks, galleries, homes, and schools. 

One organization that led efforts to help children heal after the storm was Art Feeds, a local non-profit organization that has turned global in their efforts to help children grow and heal through creative expression.  And, one of the cool things about Art Feeds and the success they encountered through their therapeutic programs is that not only did elementary aged kids benefit from their efforts, but high school kids did, as well.  By volunteering their talent and time to facilitate programs in grade schools in Joplin, kids from local high schools also experienced much-needed post-storm healing. 

They also learned the significance of helping others during a time of need.

Following the floods that devastated a portion of Colorado earlier this fall, Joplin High School and Art Feeds have teamed up to help provide therapeutic art classes and lessons to students of Estes Park, CO.  Together they are hoping to raise funds to supply art packs to over 500 students at Estes Park Elementary.  Additionally, they will provide instructional support to help volunteers empower kids to express themselves through creative outlets in order to assist in the healing process.

And this campaign is led entirely by students.

Please take a moment to watch the following video – produced by students at Joplin High School – and learn about how the Next Generation is changing the world around us. 



P.S.:  The students need to raise $9,700 to help with expenses for the art packs and transportation.  Please consider making a donation or sponsoring an event today

I thank you, the students of Joplin High School thank you, and the residents of Estes Park thank you for your kindness and generosity.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bike Ride for Brain Cancer

The beautiful Katy Trail in Central Missouri
My friend is battling brain cancer.

Less than a year ago she experienced severe headaches and, after a doctor’s visit and some scans, she learned she had a brain tumor.  Post-surgery tests revealed the final blow: the tumor was malignant.  She was 34, and until then had never experienced any symptoms or signs of anything abnormal in her health.

Intensive, aggressive chemo treatments rendered her unable to continue working, which, in turn, left her with little funding and income with which to support herself during her treatment.  

Her body reacted swiftly – and sometimes dramatically – to the chemo.  Her hair fell out.  She gained weight.  Her insides twisted, knotted, and sometimes exploded as the poison that she hoped would kill the cancerous cells pulsed through her body and left her weaker and more exhausted than she had ever felt before.  And that was only after the first four rounds (she has a total of twelve scheduled).  A long road lies before her as she fights to regain her health – and her life.

Tomorrow a group of people who know Anna – and some who don’t – will embark on a three-day bicycle journey to help raise money for her therapy and awareness about her diagnosis.  Their ride will take them from Springfield, MO through the heart of the state, past Jefferson City, and into St. Louis.  It will be hot.  It will be tiring.  They will pass through quiet, sparsely populated towns, climb rolling hills and craggy mountains, pedal along lake shorelines, escape narrow misses from impatient motorists, and finally enter our state’s largest and busiest city in order to help relay the message that Anna is fighting for her life every day.  And, while at times they will ride in solitude, they will also come upon stretches of highway that will be full of the life and company that will encourage them to keep going until they achieve their goal.  They will experience great fatigue, camaraderie, exhaustion, exhilaration, despair, support, and sore butt cheeks.  And they will emerge stronger and more humble than before they left the comfort of their homes.
 
It will be both nothing and exactly like what Anna has endured these past six months.

I can’t ride with them – and chances are you can’t either (but if you can, please do!).  However, what we can do is make a donation.  Simply go to "Her Brain Tumor" on rally.org, a site where you can safely contribute to help the cause.  While you’re at it, visit and "like" their Facebook page, 340 Degrees, to receive updates on both the bike ride and fundraising efforts.

Thank you for helping make a difference in someone’s life.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Ten Things of Thankful: Work, Dog Breath, and Jimmy Buffet (What?)

The time is running late for posting my Ten Things of Thankful this week, and, if I’m being completely honest here (which I usually am, because, why not?) my writing commitment this week has been less than stellar.  I started the week with really good intentions: to participate in this month’s BlogHer NaBloPoMo.  After all, the theme is “serve” – and what better theme to focus on for a blog that claims to “work to make the world a better place”, right?  Except I got lazy.  Well, and also I got a little busy at work.  So, I will start afresh by naming the things I am thankful for this past week and plan on getting back on the blogging wagon by perusing BlogHer’s prompts and writing at least a couple posts next week that address the various aspects of volunteering and serving others.

So, without further ado, I now present my Ten Things of Thankful as of September 7, 2013:

10.  Thank goodness my migraine finally went away.  Otherwise I would tell Dyanne to take her TToT linkup and put it where the sun doesn’t shine (don’t judge – have you ever experienced a migraine?)

9.  I’m thankful we rented our vacant office space (this is one of those “work” things that kept me from writing last week – and for good reason.  I am now breathing much more freely.)

8.  I’m thankful we hired a new intern.  (Shout out to Keegan!)  He will be a fantastic addition to our office staff.

7.  Speaking of work, I’m thankful that the hubs and I work so well together.  I’m thankful that he not only asks my opinion about so many aspects of the business but actually respects – and utilizes – my answers and suggestions.  Who knew a law office would benefit from the input of a marketing/writing chick?

6.  I’m thankful that my favorite dessert destination, Cupcakes by Liz, makes gluten-free and sugar-free options.  Just give her a heads-up and she will have a delicious treat available for you.  Seriously, I’ve avoided the temptation to stop in there all summer only to learn that she is prepared to meet all kinds of dietary needs with delectable creations.  Now THAT is customer service!
Simply the BEST cupcakes. Ever.

5.  I’m thankful that the vet’s office successfully cleaned my old lab’s teeth.  The dog is 11 years old, and, as we all know, there is nothing worse than doggy halitosis – except maybe old doggy halitosis (did I mention he eats his own poop?) 
Yeah, he's cute. But don't let him breathe on you...


4.  I’m thankful I only watched the first half of today’s Florida-Miami football game.  Yuck.

3.  I’m thankful I paid someone a compliment the other night.  This person thought I was angry from an incident last winter, but I’m not, and it was up to me to clear the air.  I’m glad I figured that out.

2.  I’m thankful for technology for, without it, I never would have enjoyed the following conversation with my mom the other day:

Mom (via text during her visit to Key West): Not what it was 40 years ago.  I am pre-Jimmy Buffet.

Me:  Jimmy was playing the bar circuit then. You could have made HIM my step-dad….

Mom:  I wish.  But Joe wants to know why you don’t think he’s as good as Jimmy.

Me:  He is, he is!!  Plus, you would be divorced from Jimmy by now (his track record not good, you know) leaving you available for Joe so no worries….

Mom:  OK, he feels better.

*Please note that I love my step-dad. But, hey, Jimmy Buffet in the early '70's???

1.  I’m thankful I don’t write a political blog.  Because, if I did, I’d tell all of you who live in Missouri to please call your local representatives’ offices and ask them not to override the governor’s veto of House Bill 253.  While I agree that states need to determine what to do when there is a budget surplus (which is what this bill attempts to address), and legislators should always look for ways to entice new industry to our state, tax breaks should never come from proposing cuts to funding for public schools or mental health services.  I remain hopeful that a solution can come from more in-depth discussion surrounding this bill and compromises reached that will help make our state stronger both economically and educationally.  That is all I have to say about politics for today :-)


And with that, I am outta here.  Hope you have a great week – and, please, tell me what things YOU are thankful for today!  You know you want to….

Ten Things of Thankful