There are many people who gave up lots of good things for Lent. Some of them gave up their vices because it took them away from meaningful relationships, especially with God, and some, because it was good for their health. I can only imagine the number of people who gave up things like soda, fast food, chocolate, candy, alcohol, and other similar things for Lent. I hope it has gone well so far since we are in the home stretch!
And then there are people like me who gave up things that are a huge part of our current technical world. I gave up Facebook for Lent.
Facebook? Yes, Facebook.
Honestly, I didn't know what I was going to give up for Lent until Mardi Gras. I had been praying about it, but I couldn't come up with anything that represented a good enough sacrifice. (Although, I'm sure God would have been okay with my heart and desire being in line with his will.) I was watching TV, not sure what I was watching, when it hit me like a ton of bricks.
You see, I checked Facebook all the time. I shared articles on Facebook, shared my thoughts, connected with old friends, made new friends, and discovered many others around the world like myself. All that was great, but I was spending too much time on Facebook.
To put this in perspective, let me make a confession: instead of praying as I first woke each morning, the first thing I did was reach for my phone and check Facebook. It was also my source of news since I do not watch news on TV regularly anymore. I checked Facebook when I was bored. I checked it to see if anyone commented on a status, and I used its chat function to speak to many friends. Checking Facebook was the last thing I did before I went to bed.
Checking Facebook on multiple devices has become a regular activity for many youths. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)
That's serious! What was wrong with me? I guess I was addicted. And I think that is why I was elated to give up Facebook for Lent. And to make sure I didn't use it, I uninstalled the apps from my phone and tablet. I let my Facebook log in stay on my devices because there are some apps and sites used my login. Where I could, I simply disabled the function to post on my behalf.
That was the easy part! I didn't realize how many articles and videos I shared on Facebook until I couldn't do it anymore. So I turned to social media sites I had neglected for sometime including LinkedIn and Google+. Sometimes, I didn't share as much, but that's because each site has its own unique voice. But, in the end, I freed up time. Time I could spend praying, healing, resting, helping others, and working on much neglected projects.
Will I go back to Facebook after Easter? Yes, but I have learned to temper my use of social media and balance my interactions online and offline. We all have to learn this balance. As almost equal parts introvert and extrovert, I find the online world very comforting, but we all must look up from our computer/tablet/phone screens and enjoy what is right in front of us.
What did you give up for Lent? How difficult was it? What did you learn about yourself? Leave a comment and let's discuss!
April 18, 2014 10:54
By Wendy Stewart
It offers free water in real glasses as part of its charm. It's a simple act of kindness that means a lot.
During the second part of this post, I'll highlight another simple act that happened at the end of the same week, and it's about a group of students from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute visiting the Franciscan Center for the first time.
My sister, Maria, is a member of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute's Air Force JROTC. Last week, she and others members of the corps, made their very first trip this year to the Franciscan Center. They didn't know what jobs would be in store for them, so I decided to tag along and see what these kids would get to do.
If you've never been to the Franciscan Center at 101 W. 36th Street in Baltimore, you might not know it services as many as 700 clients per day. That includes a range of services from free lunch, computer/job search help, clothing, a food pantry, and help with essential services such as utilities and obtaining a state ID.
Far from a revolving door of charity, the Franciscan Center aims to get clients to a place where they can be independent and live decently. We all deserve some human dignity, right?
Until this point, all I knew of the Franciscan Center came from their website, newsletters, and the collections we run throughout the year at my parish, Saints Philip and James (collecting money for turkeys, collecting winter clothing, and participating in the Souperbowl of Caring). It was amazing to see how everything comes together there for only a few hours each day.
Usually, people talk to the clients and the volunteers to get their perspective on groups coming in to volunteer. I did that. Clients said it was great to have the kids there and it gave them hope for future generations. For the kids, I got the sense they had been looking for something like this all year. A way to help people and put a smile on their faces at the same time. After all, the students did volunteer to come!
The Poly Cadets were placed at various stations for lunch service as well as in the food pantry and the clothing area. That day, clothing was set out for women and children and the lunch included pasta with meat, veggies, bread, and Cafe Latte flavored greek yogurt. The students' jobs included handing out napkins, taking trays when clients were done, keeping count of clients as they came in, and assisting clients in the dining room with other needs (such as carrying a tray if someone was burdened with lots of bags and such).
Laura Rochevot '14 waiting for clients in the clothing center.
After having a talk with a couple of clients, which included a very spirited discussion of all things science fiction, I decided to get lunch for myself. And that's when it hit me: I was closer to the poor by breaking bread with them than by volunteering.
What I came to understand was, that for me, it isn't enough to donate time, money or goods. Those things are necessary and must continue in order to help the poor and marginalized. But some of us are called to live a life a little bit closer to the poor. Call it my own vow of simplicity or poverty since I don't belong to a religious community. In being with the poor, and using my own talents to share stories like this with you, dear reader, I have found myself closer to God.
Does it have to be this way for everyone? Of course not! God created us all to be able to help people in different ways. The point is that when you find your special way of helping others, everyone wins and the joy that only God can give can be yours.
So, it was a simple act of kindness on the part of Poly's AFJORTC to come and volunteer, but their kindness and willingness to serve changed at least one life that day - the one I least expected - my own.
Many thanks to Christian and Debbie at the Franciscan Center
who hosted me and the cadets. Also, I'd like to thank the following cadets and officer who volunteered last week: Maria Stewart '14, Laura Rochevot '14, Jaleel Daniels '14, Nishae Deramus '15, Ashelle Henry '15, Trey Huff '14, Katesha Culp '14, Dkhrya Mcfadden '14, and Major Gauert, USAF.
April 02, 2014 05:10
By Wendy Stewart
Many times, it's the simple things that put a smile on our faces and keep us
going day to day.
Sure, there are many terrible things going on in the world and even in many
of our own neighborhoods, but we always look for the wee, small things to make
Last week, I was fortunate to experience this twice. Instead of trying to
squish both stories into one post, I'll give them the space they are due and
give you a two-parter.
First up, my long wait for the bus helps me find a selfless act in a local
Actually, the place is called Canteen. You may have passed it going north on
Charles Street as you approach North Avenue. They don't have a sign yet, so you
kind of to peek in the window to see how many people are in there.
The atmosphere is nice and comfy and the staff is friendly. That's not what
drew my attention. It was the area on the counter with some tall glass bottles
filled with water. The sign above the bottles said you could help yourself to
the water and use the small glasses stacked next to them to drink from.
What a great thing to do! Granted, it wasn't exactly warm that day, but,
it's a place where water is still free. Don't believe me? Try going across the
street to McDonald's and asking for a cup of water without buying something.
Same thing at Target and many other places. You just can't get a free cup of
water anymore. I find that to be truly sad.
When I mentioned this to Madison, the young lady working that day, she was
surprised. She didn't know it was so hard for people in Station North, around
North Avenue, to get a simple cup of water. With that act of kindness now in
some perspective, I hope Canteen will continue to offer free water in nice
I get the feeling the people who run Canteen think much like I do: let's
take more time to help each other rather than stepping on people to get to the
top. I suspect that Canteen will be one of those hidden cool places of Station
North known for just that extra bit of caring and a smile on the faces of those
who work there. And why not? Is it so weird for people to be happy at their
jobs and pass that on to those they meet? I don't think so!
So, when you get a chance and you're heading up Charles Street, stop into
Canteen and see what it's all about, enjoy the atmosphere, and thank them for having
Tune in next time when you'll read about a group of students at the
March 31, 2014 05:03
By Wendy Stewart
Since it is the first full day of spring, I want to officially welcome what I hope to be a positive change in weather. But as I look out of the window from Target, I see the familiar sprinkling of rain that will become a fixture of the spring season. I have to laugh because, when I left home this morning, the sun was out and I saw no hints of rain. That's how it is in Maryland, and that's how spring is.
We have much to look forward to this season, though. We can count on new flowers, Easter, canonizations by the Pope, and school winding down as they play host to proms and graduations.
This spring, I'm looking forward to my sister, Maria, graduating from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute - something she has worked long and hard for! I'm also looking forward to the completion of another school year and my brother, Anthony, advancing to eighth grade. Eighth grade? Oh, my goodness! I feel so old at the ripe old age of 34!
My favorite part about spring? It represents another change in seasons. Another beginning. Another way we can internally and externally reset our lives and get back on course.
The takeaway, here, is that you don't have to finish a school year or mark an official change in your life to take advantage of a time when you can do more and be more. Remember those resolutions you made at the beginning of the year? Dust them off and see which ones you want to give a second or third go 'round!
The thing is, there is so much potential we miss because we hold our heads down and trudge through the daily grind. Now that it's spring, lift your heads up, give thanks for seeing another day, and resolve, not only to be magnificent, but to make each day better than the last. Can you do it? I believe you can. Will you do it? When you're sick and tired of being sick and tired. Then you'll be ready for change. Pray God will give you the strength to persevere and make your heart and mind ready for change.
I'm ready for change! Are you?
March 21, 2014 03:07
By Wendy Stewart
Today was a very anticipated day for fans of "The Hunger Games." It was release day for the second film in "The Hunger Games" movie series, "Catching Fire." As you may remember from last year, many of bloggers, including myself,
took on the subject of the violence portrayed in the first movie.
As we turn our attention to Katniss as she adjusts to life after the 74th Hunger Games, she and her friends find a country on the brink of revolution. Because each district in the fictional country of Panem is isolated from the others, Katniss has no idea how fragile the state of affairs really is. It's been at least 74 years since the Great Rebellion and the institution of the annual Hunger Games. The president of Panem wants Katniss to stop rebellion on her victory tour with fellow victor, Peeta, but it's too late for that.
I have a t-shirt for the movie with the saying, "Every revolution begins with a single spark." I received the t-shirt for Christmas and I have spent days since then thinking about the validity of that statement. As a degreed historian (a BS, but that's still good), I find the idea to be a bit too absolute. And for good reason: nothing happens in a vacuum.
Think about it. It took many events, people, personalities, and such to get to the American Revolution. Oh, sure, people will say it started with the Boston Tea Party or the battle at Lexington and Concord. People will tell you about the first casualty of a war not yet declared, named Crispus Attucks at the Boston Massacre. The reality is many people contributed to the start of this and many other revolutions through history.
Josh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence star in the movie "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (CNS photo/Lionsgate)
I believe that's the wonderful thing about revolutions. While they bring about change and reform, they are never started by one single person at one single point in time. We want to believe that because it's easy. It streamlines our lives and makes it easier to see fixed points in history. Historians know better. And if you're a fan of "The Hunger Games," you also know better.
President Snow points to a couple of actions by Katniss and Peeta during the 74th Hunger Games which inspired revolution in the districts. I believe those seeds had been planted long ago. As each generation lives on, the fear of the president and the Capitol fade. The fear which fades is replaced by hope. Hope that is renewed during each successive Hunger Games. By the 74th, conditions are ripe for revolution. Katniss wasn't the spark, she became the symbol of the revolution. I believe, in the context of this revolution and rebellion, it was due to happen without Katniss. You can call her the spark, but, more accurately, the face of it. Every revolution has a leader, and she will, reluctantly, become that leader.
While some of you may think I'm reading way too much into a work of fiction and great movies, I believe that is exactly what Suzanne Collins, the author of "The Hunger Games" book trilogy, meant to do. I believe she meant to inspire us through Katniss but also to force us to think about issues such as the status quo and what leads to war, revolution and rebellion.
In this crazy, broken world, we see these things all of the time - broadcast on the news as though it were just as it is another day. Syria and the Ukraine are but the latest in a long line of stories of civil war, rebellion and revolution. All of the recent attention on these countries have at least one thing in common: there were signs the people would rebel. Did anyone see the signs? Did anyone warn of possible war? Reality must set in at some point and tell us to find out why. The why will help us understand how to move forward. The why will help us see the signs of war when they come again.
Have you seen "The Hunger Games" movies or read the books? What do you think of the rebellion in the fictional country of Panem as it relates to current world events? Do you think a look into the history of these countries and its leaders could have prevented the problems currently experienced in Syria and the Ukraine? It's time to weigh in and I look forward to reading your comments!
March 14, 2014 04:32
By Wendy Stewart
Wait, it was Black History Month? It sure was. And aside from some civil rights-themed shows on cable, I didn't really notice. Oh, and there were the posters of the usual icons of Black History Month at the local mall (Thurgood Marshall, Harriet Tubman, etc.)
When the month started, I had a conversation with some people about what kids learn in school about Black History Month. Apparently, not much has changed since I was in school. Same people, same facts, same everything. That's sad because it doesn't put students in a position to identify with historical figures. As a former teacher and history major, that's a huge problem.
Take for example, the wonderful actresses Nichelle Nichols and Eartha Kitt. Ask non-comic and sci-fi fans or those under a certain age, and you may just get a blank stare as the kids wonder who they are and why they are important.
And just in case you, dear reader, don't know either, I'll be honored to tell you! Nichelle Nichols is best known for her role as Lt. Uhura on the original Star Trek series. She was the only African American in the cast and, with William Shatner, had TV's first interracial kiss.
When asked if she was ever "ordered" to remain on the show, Ms. Nichols tells about how she met Martin Luther King, Jr., and he insisted she remain on the show. I'm glad she did.
Eartha Kitt is best known for her portrayl of Catwoman during the original run of "Batman" - the first African American woman to play the part. In my world, those are pretty cool things. And since we're talking sci-fi and comics, we can add Freema Agyeman to the list. Haven't heard of her? She was the companion to David Tennant's 10th doctor during the third season of the British serial "Doctor Who." I believe she as the first of African descent to play the main companion role (she is a british actress).
Sure, there are other people in recent history we can all relate to in some way, especially when you add in Catholic notables such as Mother Mary Lange and St. Martin de Porres. Whereever we are in our lives, it is important to realize history doesn't happen in a vacuum. We are all apart of history and it is our responsibility to learn from the past. History can tell us wonderful and not so wonderful things about humanity and what we are willing to do to survive, further our beliefs, and ensure prosperity.
It's truly fascinating - more than simply memorizing names and dates. When we have a clearer picture of the past, the present becomes a little easier to understand and, maybe, this world doesn't seem too crazy after all. We can hope, right?!
March 04, 2014 09:28
By Wendy Stewart
I guess there really is no such thing as a reset after something terrible happens. Many of you read my previous post on the loss of my neighbor
, Ms. Rose. Not long after, on of my aunts, Hilarie, had a heart attack and was hospitalized. She also required surgery. Luckily, she knew the symptoms and she had her daughter by her side until it was time to go home.
I must admit, I did not realize the toll both of these events would have on my psyche. While I looked well on the outside, on the inside I was kind of empty. This was more than my clinical depression kicking in. This was facing mortality, again. Even as a veteran of the military, you never get used to that - ask a Vietnam vet and they'll tell you.
The real problem was that I didn't know how to get back to a productive state. Some people flourish in a routine and mourn and work out their issues that way. Some eat. Some don't eat. Some drink. Some come back to the Church. Some cling more to their faith and become stronger. Other than pray, I didn't know what else to do with myself. I didn't know how I felt and figured it was only a matter of time before I figured something out (and by that I mean I hoped for some prompting from the Holy Spirit).
I got that prompting. I got it in a way I've gotten it before: in that still small voice of God. He said, "Write." When I prayed about my finances, He said, "Write." When I prayed for consolation, He said, "Write." So that was my answer. He didn't say what to write about; that part was up to me. However, my directive was clear. After all, I cannot pretend to know the mind of the Lord, so I trust the direction in which he's leading me.
I have to say, it's nice to be back after such a long silence. I feel like me again. Thanks for sticking with me and this blog! Now, it's off to do more writing!
February 28, 2014 03:27
By Wendy Stewart
To the friends and family of Rosalee Hicks:
First, I am deeply sorry for the loss of Ms. Rose. As she was a friend and neighbor to me, she was also family. Which makes all of you my friends and family.
The thing is, I don't have the words to console you on such a loss, especially for you, Shawn. I was close to your age when I lost my father. Losing a parent isn't easy no matter how old you get.
For that matter, losing a dear friend is never easy either.
Ms. Rose was always there to help, to talk, and to just be her sometimes stubborn self. But no matter what, you always knew that she would do her best to help you when you needed it.
A few days after she died, I had a dream Ms. Rose was in a new body; one free of diabetes and disease and complete. She was happy and clothed in white. I'd like to remember her like that.
Just know God has taken away all of her suffering and she can now be at peace.
May God grant her soul peace and that same peace of comfort to her friends and family as well.
January 27, 2014 03:41
By Wendy Stewart
I don't like the word "resolution" when it comes to the new year. It's like we have waited all year to say something new is going to happen January 1st.
Well, to put it frankly, something new and wonderful can happen each second of every day!
When you decide to do something to make your life better - mind, body and soul - don't wait to make the change until Monday or the first of the month or the first of the year. Do it now! Every second is a new opportunity to excel and decide how you want to live your life.
I'm not going to teach you how to set goals or tell you about how many people don't completely follow through on resolutions. Instead, I want to leave you with the wise words of Doctor Who: Be magnificent!
I believe if you can do that, you'll have pretty good days to come!
January 02, 2014 02:44
By Wendy Stewart
The name of this post is also the name of a Disney Channel Original Movie released in 2000. In this particular movie, Disney does its best at tackling a clash of cultures and apartheid.
The story centers around two young girls: Mahree, a young white South African, and Piper, the black daughter of a U.S. Congressman. When Mahree arrives in D.C. as part of an exchange program, she is surprised to find her host family is black. Piper isn't too happy to have Mahree around either. And this all happens right after the arrest of activist Steven Biko (to put this in historical perspective).
("The Color of Friendship" starring Lindsay Haun and Shadia Simmons/Wikipedia Commons)
As with any movie that tackles such a sensitive subject, Piper and Mahree learn from each other and become friends. Apartheid still remained and events in the United States went on. But that's not the point of the story. The point is to show what can happen when children put aside the hate they have learned from adults and learn to love again.
While the world mourns the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela, I can only say that upon his release from prison and election as President, I was too young to truly grasp the world-changing importance. As I became a student of history and eventually earning my BS in History, I began to understand, with a global perspective, how these events, and the history which brought us to this point.
No culture, empire, or person in the history of the world, save Jesus Christ, is perfect. The world and I will miss Nelson Mandela. I can only hope and pray that we can all gleam something from his life that will help us make the world a better place for all people. Can we do that? Can we bring some social justice back in the world? Can we learn to work together?
I called this post "The Color of Friendship," because, sometimes, we have to be like children. Jesus said that, remember? We can take something like this Disney movie and use it as a jumping off point to teach ourselves and our children how to love again.
December 06, 2013 09:36
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By Wendy Stewart