Note as I finish this early morning on Sunday, Feb 6th: This blog post is really, really long. Sorry. :P I had a lot to say, and this is also serving as a way for me to record things so I don't forget them months/years from now. :) If you read this whole thing, major kudos and thanks to you! ^_^
Where does this story begin? I suppose I will start with how I came to be able to go.
At school this year, I went to the first few meetings of the campus pro-life group. I immediately sensed a great 'lack' in their approach, methods, visibility, and even knowledge. The sense of urgency that I feel underneath it all was nowhere present in anything they said. I recalled the very first meeting at school last year, in Chicago, when we were asked why we were pro-life, and what aspect of the pro-life movement we cared about most (not an easy question). There was nothing like that here. Living in a mostly "conservative" area (I say conservative according to general usage of the word, not actual meaning), being "pro-life" is often seen as the 'default' position. No one really seems to think about it or bothers to look into the issues at hand a little more. This translates into apathy and general ignorance on a large scale. (Though this is encountered everywhere, including in a mostly "liberal" place like Chicago.) At these first few meetings, I was flooded with all manner of ideas I wanted to share and get to work on. But it never happened, beyond me asking about going to the March. It never happened, because I let myself settle for my comfort zone and I settled for mediocrity.
See, the last few months of last year, I slipped into a bizarre, sickening sort of 'apathy' about a lot of things, a sort of 'depressed state', and suddenly I couldn't be bothered to go to meetings and make my ideas known, my knowledge shared, and make the group better for it. My struggle with self-injury and general apathy and disgust with life continued.
By the time the semester ended, I thought of the March again. I looked through a couple old group emails, and discovered I barely had time to maybe go with those going if I asked about the necessary forms. I also wondered if they would be going to the SFLA Conference, so key to the great experience I had last year. So I sent an email for which I never got a reply. I'm not sure why, but I didn't 'persist' and email again, even specific people (not just the group email). :/
Anyway, January came, and my thoughts again went to the March. Talk of conferences and groups traveling kept appearing in my email inbox and Facebook newsfeed. I emailed again, getting the predictable negative answer of "too late" -- this was after going the route of campus ministry, to see if they had a group going (nope). Just those emails alone took a couple weeks. ugh.
I had begun to resign myself to the fact that I most likely would not be going this year.
But then, I am not sure what made me think of it, beyond being told that those going from my campus group were actually going with the KC-St. Joseph Diocese (and unfortunately not to the Conference), I began to look into other area dioceses to see if they had any groups. By this time, it was the weekend before the weekend of all the events. Chances were slim.
I couldn't find any for my own diocese, even though I know they have gone before, nor anything online for Jefferson City. So I thought of St. Louis, being a large city with a very active archdiocesan website, lol. Lo and behold -- they had a whole list of various groups one could go with! Including one that explicitly included going to the SFLA Conference I so wanted to go to!! But the deadline had unsurprisingly long since passed - Jan 1st. But, knowing it wouldn't hurt to try, I sent an email asking if there were any chance at all I could still go.
That was Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Tuesday morning I had an email back saying to "call her asap". That was basically a "yes" in disguise...I could scarcely contain my excitement.
Monday night I had lain in bed, thinking about it all, my frustrations with school and life as a whole, how "Meant to Live" by Switchfoot basically described me (the verses). I cried that night, quite a lot, and begged God that if He really wanted me to go to DC, to please let it happen somehow. Even as late as it was. I longed to get away, to see some old friends, make new friends, to join thousands upon thousands of others who cared about this as much as -and more than- I do, to know that all these people do indeed know our unborn brothers and sisters are human beings. I wanted to learn more things at the Conference -- that conference that opened my eyes to so, so much last year, and through connections to people and organizations on Facebook afterwards, only continued to grow my knowledge and awareness all the year long. I wanted to see Vince again, whose music had truly touched me and changed me, and remains a deep source of comfort and beauty and reassurance for me, much like Switchfoot. Just hearing his voice in a song can transport me to the feelings of last year's March, of all I learned, of everything...it makes me feel less alone, to know there is someone out there like him.
I cried. Yes, I did. Somehow, wrapped up in wanting to go to DC, was a lot of other things inside me. I felt like I needed something 'big' to give me a much-needed boost, to get me up and moving inside again. To trigger motivation in my sluggish blood. It all seemed so silly, how did I know that this year would be so amazing like last year? I didn't. But I could feel it -- that I would be missing out big time if I didn't get to go. I was so mad at myself for not looking into other groups to go with earlier. Yet again, my procrastination was getting the better of me.
But back to Tuesday. That was Monday night. On Tuesday, I nervously/excitedly called her back, the girl in charge, after she had emailed me and even FB messaged me while I was in classes, so concerned was she about getting a hold of me. xD Apparently, they COULD fit me into their group, and needed info, etc. I was ecstatic, but I had to first talk to my parents.
Which was like a big dumpster truck of wet blanket pouring out on top of me. I have never seen such opposition to me going somewhere, such insistent wanting to steer me to another subject, of saying how "foolish" it would be to go with people I didn't know, at so late in the planning, when the weather was acting up, etc, etc. I was baffled and bewildered and hurt. I asked around for a way to get up to St. Louis - I had always known it would be the main obstacle to going, being about a 4 hour drive for us. I couldn't find anyone, not with everyone I asked. Daddy couldn't - and wouldn't.
But then I thought of Greyhound buses and began to do a ton of research on that. I told this to my parents, even more opposition. But I was determined. I hated going against "their better judgment," but if God had managed to save the "last" seat for me with this group, I was going to find a way to get to St. Louis. The only feasible bus up to St. Louis was at 6:40am (gross!) on Friday. I bought my tickets - one for going up there and back, and saw the tickets cost about as much as my dad figured gas would have cost us to and back, which was nice. I gave the girl in charge an affirmative answer. I had already been mentally making a list of things to pack/do in my head (soon typed up). But I avoided telling my parents. I didn't mention it at all Wednesday night. Mom was feeling ill and tired, and I didn't want an argument or to make her feel worse.
But on Thursday, I told my dad, as I had to. At this point, he refused to even just take me to the Greyhound station on Friday morning (the very next day), not wanting the 'fallout' from my mom (who was worried out of her mind about the idea of me going). I lost it and just cried and let out a lot of pent-up frustration about living someplace where I can't go hardly anywhere because we don't have the public transit like Chicago and I detest driving, and how I hated how with this whole deal they seemed to not trust me or anything, unlike last year when they let me live in Chicago and do similar things! Crying before school is not cool. But Daddy did understand, at least, and said he would talk to my mom about it. How I obviously wasn't changing my mind and they wouldn't want me taking a taxi to the station that early in the morning in the dark, etc.
After school, I learned that he would take me to the station in the morning. Mom didn't seem upset when she got home, and I did all I could to reassure her. Everything she asked about, I had already thought of or had already taken care of. I told her about last year. She seemed less worried, which was good.
I couldn't believe it, I was really going! I went to bed exhausted with just a couple hours before having to get up to get ready and finish packing.
So we got to the Greyhound station in good time, only to find out that the bus was running "at least 3 hours late" due to the weather the previous day. I was terrified at the thought of not getting to go. But I told myself -- God brought me this far, when it seemed so impossible. Trust that it will be okay. Just trust.
Well -- it ended up being 4 hours late. At this point, that was the latest it could possibly be for me to still make it to St. Louis on time (Group leaving at 3:30pm).
I was freaking out basically the whole bus trip up to St. Louis. I called and told them the situation. I was met with calmness, "not worried," and that they wouldn't leave without me. I breathed a little easier.
I actually got there about 3:45 (having to take a taxi from the Amtrak station to St. Louis University, with whom I was going). But all was okay. No one was mad or upset, just glad I got there. I soon learned they weren't in any hurry to get to DC - the only things "planned" for Saturday was meeting up with the host families and sight-seeing as per one's own wishes.
It looked after all that God really wanted me to go.
Whew, I feel like I told waaaaaaaaaaay more than you probably wanted to know about just the process of getting to go. But I feel it was needed. The down-to-the-wire, near-missed-nature of it all is necessary. I almost didn't get to go. I still can't believe I got to! It all got worked out the week of. Be amazed. lol. I am! And so thankful.
I also don't mean to make my parents look bad, here. They had every reason to be worried about their only daughter making a spur-of-the-moment trip halfway across the country with people she doesn't know. :P Though frustrating, their protectiveness is understandable.
Part Two: Trip to DC, Saturday, SFLA Conference
I don't feel like going into the whole bus trip itself. I met some boys sitting near me, who were both very nice. We had some excellent conversations about a lot of things - God, religion, pro-life stuff, doubt, sex, marriage, music, you name it, haha. Dinner at Denny's (French toast, eggs, bacon, and hash browns). I had to endure a bus driver who played country music relatively softly all. night. long. I wanted to scream. SO annoying. (Last year, I almost baked to death in the flaming oven that was our van on the ride up. Why this tormenting on the way to DC?? haha.)
But I was going. I was still sort of in shock. I couldn't really breathe until I was on the bus to DC. And I was still trying to calm down and believe I was on it.
I woke up to I think Pennsylvania about 7 or 8 am. We arrived in DC about 9 or 9:30 am. Then came the meeting up with the host families. Not knowing what they looked like made searching fun. (haha) Same with not knowing your house-mates. xD I had managed to meet one the night before, which helped. We were given everyone's cell phone numbers, though. So we did meet up, and I and one girl, Kayla were treated to a personal little "tour" of the area before arriving at the house -- a beautiful historic house built in 1849!! And practically just down the street from the Library of Congress. And also right across the street from St. Peter's Catholic Church. I was, needless to say, very happy. God had smiled on me and gave me not only the trip itself, but a lovely host family with a lovely old house in a lovely location. ^_^
That afternoon and evening, after showering, of course (we all felt gross), was spent wandering to the Mall area, visiting the American Indian Museum, the so very beautiful Library of Congress, going to Saturday Vigil (for Sunday) Mass at St. Peter's, and then going to Union Station for dinner. There, I bought a beautiful green and gold pashmina shawl for only $10. :) I got my dinner from one of the little Italian food places in the food court there....I settled on them because, besides sounding good, I noticed they had prominently set up a "We Choose Life" sign on the wall behind their counter (the sign is one commonly seen at the March, etc). I was amazed at their bold declaration, and wanted to support them monetarily for it. xD Upon ordering and paying, I also noticed the cashier girl was wearing an 'I am Whole Life' sticker right in the middle of her shirt. Amazing. It made me smile as they gave me my calzone.
I also managed to get an overly-large serving of 'Belgian Chocolate Chocolate' ice cream at the Haagen-Dazs there. Don't ask. xD I did actually eat it all, but it took awhile...
I suffered my whole long walk back from Union Station to the house (my arms had grown very achey and tired and hurting from carrying luggage and other stuff), and I felt like just collapsing and sleeping where I fell. :P Not that you needed to know that.
I slept hard that night, not wanting to get up as early as we had to for the Conference. The night before, I had begun sneezing a lot in my room at the house. I wrongly blamed the room. I learned that morning on the Metro to the hotel in Maryland, where the SFLA Conference was being held, that it was not the room at all. Apparently, I had managed to get a cold. Yayyyyyy. -____-
(I then remembered last year, how on the day of the conference, which was the day after the March, I had a sore throat all day and it lingered on for the rest of the week. What am I, allergic to Washington, D.C.???)
The Conference itself was awesome!! I just wish I had the power of shrinking things to really small and lightweight sizes, making carrying them much, much easier for little me. xD They gave us two books right off the bat when you signed in -- Carl Anderson's Beyond a House Divided: The Moral Consensus Ignored by Washington, Wall Street, and the Media and the (large!!) novel Fatherless, by Brian J. Gail, to which he has already written the sequel, Motherless, and is currently working on the final book in the trilogy, Childless.
It was, um, fun, trying to carry not only my coat and purse and scarf around the conference all day, but also food not eaten right at lunch (chips, cookie), those two books, AND all the STUFF you get at the conference!! haha. (Conference booklet itself, flyers and booklets and all manner of things from all the organizations, etc who had tables and booths set up) Not that I'm complaining! ;) Just that I got tired fast from carrying it all. Good problem to have, I'd say. But I really hated suffering my darn cold all day, sneezing and sneezing. Not. Cool. But it could have been much worse.
I did have one really special little moment, when I went over to the table for the Population Research Institute.
I have known about them for around 2 years now, and also attended the workshop at the conference their president, Steven Mosher, spoke at. When I looked at the things on their table, I immediately spotted a beautiful Chinese image of the Madonna and Child, which I recognized from seeing online and loved. (PRI most likely had them because Mr. Mosher has extensive first-hand experience of the massive human rights abuses wrought by China's brutally-enforced one-child policy. Clearly, they are asking for Mary's intercession for China's salvation.)
I gasped softly and knew I had to get one. I was told they were $5 each and promptly began rummaging around in my rather full-of-stuff purse, looking for my wallet. (This while my other arm is full of coat+conference materials+books+STUFF. lol) It was taking longer than normal, trying to get my wallet and cash out one-handed, and in the process of doing this, the other lady who was at the table and also buying a couple of the pictures, placed one in my hand holding all the stuff. I said, "Oh, thank you, but I have to pay for it first!" And she replied that I didn't have to -- she already did.
I was stunned. I don't think this has ever really happened to me before, where someone else pays for something for you, like your food in the drive-thru or while waiting in line, or for your toll on a toll road, etc. I was just simply stunned. But in my surprise, I did say thank you several times, and she just chuckled and said it was nothing. My mother says it is now my turn to 'pay it forward,' so I best be on the lookout for a time I can do something similar!
And now I had a beautiful image of Our Lady that needed a safe way to be carried! (I did manage to find a manila folder to put it in--thank you, kind man who gave it to me.) Thank you, God, and thank you, my sweet Mother, for this lovely little gift.
The speakers were awesome and invigorating. I learned new things - yes - but not quite as much as last year (as it wasn't all so very new), and yet I felt more inspired and empowered than ever to make a stand for life and for human dignity. I learned that although America has the horrible statistic of about 3,000-4,000 abortions every day, China has around 35,000 abortions a day, most of them forced. I think my stomach flipped-flopped. I already knew it was bad in China, but I had never read a number. My heart broke for all the children lost, most of whom are girls.
Kristan Hawkins, Executive Director of SFLA, spoke about the conference's 'unofficial theme' this year of "real social justice." Social justice must begin in the womb, always. This meant a lot to me -- making clear the inherent connection between being pro-life and social justice. I remember when that connection was first made for me, I don't recall how or when, just that it opened my eyes and how I see the world, and truly allowed the Church's rich fabric of social teaching to be unified and synthesized for me, in me. There is no disconnect or 'division' between feeding the hungry, rescuing child soldiers in Africa, building a culture of marriage and supporting the family, or fighting for the unborn child's right to live. It all goes together. As the Church has always taught.
(This is just one reason why I am so thankful for an organization such as Catholics for the Common Good, who truly do know this, and are filling a great need in the Church and society today.)
I might share some of the specific speakers' talks or messages later, especially if videos of their presentations get posted. :)
I was so happy to get to see old friends from school last year, too! It made my heart glad, and the momentary jarring effect of seeing them in person again quickly dissolved to a feeling of normalcy, as if I hadn't not seen them since May. :P
I also want to mention that due to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade falling on a Saturday this year, causing the organizers of the March to move it to the following Monday so Congress would be in session, many of the other associated events conflicted with each other this year. :( This includes the Cardinal O' Connor Conference on Life at Georgetown, which I attended last year, and the Opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which I also attended last year. Sadly, both of those fell on the same day as the SFLA Conference this year, Sunday, the 23rd.
It wasn't until midday on Sunday that I finally relinquished my desire to leave the Conference early and go over to the Basilica for the Mass. I was sad, as it is beautiful -- the enormous, stunningly gorgeous Basilica bursting at the seams with people, to the point that even the side chapels' floors have no more space for anyone to sit, and even the Crypt Church below gets full! The sound of the bells calling everyone to Mass, the longest procession of priests and deacons I have ever seen in my life, watching the Sisters who are there receive Communion (their faces in prayer were so beautiful!), the stirring homily -- yes, I was definitely sad to be missing it all this year. And I was also disappointed to have to miss the other excellent conference. But the ending of the SFLA Conference was extremely good, which I would have missed, so I am now okay with my decision. Hopefully next year it will be better. :)
I left the conference tired but extremely happy. I made my way back to the house on my own, in fact -- two of my housemates wanted to celebrate Truman University's SFLA award win at the McDonald's nearby with their schoolmates, and though I was invited to join, I was too tired to linger and knew I had better get to bed soon if I was going to be able to walk in the March the next day. :P So I went back on the Metro by myself, making me feel like I was in Chicago (sort-of) again, which was nice. I ran into some other bus-mates on the way back, and though I walked one street over too far at first, did manage to get back to the house safe and sound.
I ended up staying up way later than I had wanted, as I got to talking with the other girl staying in the house - Kayla - about the conference and all manner of issues and things we cared about and thought about -- school, education (boredom with), abortion, marriage, manhood and womanhood, world population, the importance of language and words -- you name it, we talked about it. I didn't get to bed til like 2 in the morning. wahh. :/ But talking about all those things was worth it. It got me worked up, which took some calming down...but I'm glad for the convo.
Part Three: the March for Life, beautiful music, and the trip back home
After only getting a few hours of sleep, it was time to get up, and I had to get up extra early to allow for time to finish packing up everything, etc. yay. We had the nice surprise of our host mother coming up to our little "suite" and giving us hugs goodbye, and telling us there were bagels and coffee in the kitchen for us. We all lamented how we didn't get to see much of each other, as we (the guests) were basically out doing something all the time (case in point: the conference on Sunday was from 9:30 am to like 9:30 pm. All day affair.). I still need to send my thank-you note to them for being so gracious and opening their home to us. Then, surprise again, their grown son (I'd say maybe in his thirties?) helped us with our luggage and drove us himself to the Jesuit boys' prep high school and adjacent St. Aloysius Church, where we were all meeting up for loading the buses and for the Ignatian Pro-Life Network's Mass for Life, before heading to the Mall to ready for the March. He was very kind, as well.
The Mass was excellent, even if the music was not completely to my taste for Mass. :P It was, however, much, much better than last year's! One song was a classic, "All Creatures of Our God and King," and we also sang the classic Eucharistic hymn, Adoro Te Devote, with its words by St. Thomas Aquinas as translated into English by Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins! I was happy. I was also happy to find that the priest who gave me Communion did not show the slightest bit of confusion or "disapproval" at me not extending my hands for Communion; he clearly understood right away that I would be opening my mouth to receive, and even smiled! :)
I was also more than pleased to discover that Magnificat, whose monthly devotional publication I was given a birthday subscription to (so unspeakably wonderful, though I'm still working on being faithful in using it), had sent them an entire shipment of the February issue, free, to offer at Mass! My mother thinks they must have seriously considered the fact that young people would benefit from it, as this Mass for Life is offered for the students of Jesuit high schools and colleges who go to the March. In fact, this Mass for Life at St. Aloysius, which I went to last year, was jammed full of people! I thought it was full last year, but this year was teeming! Such a very good thing.
You can find the wonderful homily, given by Deacon Aaron Pidel, S.J., here. He used the Beatitudes as his focus. (That picture on the blog, btw, was taken before everyone had gotten there. Believe me when I say it was packed. You can see people were still arriving.)
Before I forget, I discovered in my Magnificat that morning that the day of the March - the 24th - was also the feast of St. Francis de Sales, one of my favorites who is also the patron saint of writers. All these little connections mean so much and make everything just that much more beautiful. :)
After Mass, our massive group began to make the short trek to the Mall, where everyone would gather for the March. On the way, Kayla and I noticed some people on one sidewalk selling t-shirts and, as we found out, DVDs. It turned out to be the Blood Money documentary whose shocking trailer I had seen over a year ago, and have been wanting to see the whole thing. After being told it was only $10, more than half off its regular $21 (I think) cost, I dug out my wallet and happily got a copy. I highly recommend you to go watch the trailer at the website I linked.
After arriving at the location on the lawn where the Jesuit Rally was going to be held (but not starting for a while yet), Kayla and I agreed to go hunting for a street food vendor, as she was hungry, and I was kind of wanting something warm to eat or drink. I also wanted to go find the signs that Kristan Hawkins of SFLA had mentioned would be available for our taking at the Smithsonian Metro stop. There were 20,000 of them -- one saying "I am the Pro-Life Generation," the other saying "I am an Abortion Abolitionist" -- to be available starting at 9:30 that morning, and I was hoping there would still be one for me at around 11/11:30. :P
We eventually did find a food vendor, and Kayla got a pretzel. In not finding any prices listed anywhere, I asked the lady how much a hot dog was, and instead she took it as me wanting one (oh well, I kind of did). It was $2 and something, not too terrible, being in DC. And it was nice and warm, and ended up being my lunch -- my cinnamon-raisin-English muffin-with-cream-cheese breakfast seemed rather far away by that time, and dinner (on your own before bus leaves Union Station) wouldn't be for several hours yet.
After asking a passerby where exactly the Smithsonian Metro stop was, we went over there and discovered a pile of signs for the March, free for the taking. There were many different ones from different organizations, etc -- I spotted just a handful remaining (out of 20,000!) of the kind I wanted, and claimed one. ^_^ I was happy. (I also managed to take the sign home with me! It is now propped up in my room.)
And I just noticed I say 'I was happy' or 'I smiled' a lot in this post....hmm...oh well. xD
Then we had to make the trek back across the Mall to where the Jesuit Rally was, and in the process passed by many other groups as well as the big main Rally for Life, where there was music and speakers. We passed a Catholic group who had brought a large cross on this little wheeled stand, to carry around on one's shoulder like Jesus, and a statue of Our Lady of Fatima to also process during the March. At one point, I noticed several people over by a little area that had a raised bed 'garden', where birds had gathered. I noticed the birds were not in the least afraid of the people, sitting very near them, and there was also a very unshy squirrel. I wanted a picture, but by the time I went over to get a picture of the squirrel and birds sitting so close to the people, the squirrel had scurried off. :(
It was some time around here that I was told that someone in our group, I forget who, had been flipped off (presumably for being pro-life) by a driver going by. They took it as a compliment, haha. xD
Once our rally started, one of the highlights was definitely when the Sisters of Life spoke to us. I don't recall the sisters' names, but I sure wish that I had video of them! One spoke of the order's charism, and she was so poetic, so beautiful in her description! I wish I could share it with you. She ended on the repeated note that "If you're a Christian, you're a winner! Because Christ has already won. He has overcome sin, overcome death, overcome the world." In all the talk about the battle against the forces of evil, of fighting the Culture of Death, this was very heartening. I am reminded of Our Lady's words at Fatima: "In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph." In the face of this mind-boggling genocide, the likes of which the world has never seen, of the seemingly unconquerable, untransformable culture in which we live, where everything bad is called good, and everything works for the destruction of life, of family, of home, of Truth -- those words brought some much-needed hope, just the way the Conference did, and Abby Johnson's story, and the countless other stories of hearts and minds changed, lives saved, and conversions begun. The daily emails I get during 40 Days for Life campaigns. There is so much cause for hope. And indeed, Sister, we have already won! Because Christ has already won.
One of the Sisters even sang Ave Maria for us, so beautiful. She invited us to sing along, but everyone I think just closed their eyes and let it be a prayerful moment.
Other rally highlights include the poor Jesuit (maybe in his 20s or early 30s) from California, who said that he gets cold if the temperature hits like 50, and he led us in singing some songs, including a Jamaican (?) one about "leaning/singing/walking/marching on the Lord's side" (repeated verses with the action changed) and a spiritual that was commonly sung during the marches of the Civil Rights movement ("We Will Not Be Moved"). I loved when the Jesuits all gathered and sang the Salve Regina, asking for Mary's protection and prayers for the March that day. Serrin Foster, President of Feminists for Life, was supposed to speak to us, as well, but something must have come up, as she wasn't able to. (I had also been told that she wasn't able to be at the workshops in which she was speaking at the Conference the day before, so I hope everything was okay.) Instead, Cayce Utley of FFL spoke to us, and she was also awesome! There was a moment in her talk where I said "Amen!" lol. xD But seriously, it was that good. I wish I had video of her talk, as well, so I could share it. Ben Clapper, Executive Director at Louisiana Right to Life, also spoke to us, and he was extremely motivating. (He and his wife are expecting their second baby, so please keep them in your prayers for a continued healthy pregnancy and delivery!) Yet again -- I wish I could share what he said with you! I will keep my eyes peeled for any video postings of all these.
The final 'treat' awaiting us at the rally was something I wasn't even sure would happen, that is until I heard Fr. Hurley tell us to "stick around" because they had a "musician on the way" who would play for us. I knew instantly who that would be and was positively thrilled to think I would get to see Vince and hear him sing again. :D I won't go into all the details here, but he sang 3 songs for us before the March -- Heart of Love, Rise, and one which I requested, Lost at Sea (all of which you can listen to on the website) -- and apparently me knowing all the words to the songs and knowing him (He said "Hey" to me before starting, which caused every person to my left, especially the girls, to instantly turn in my direction with very curious facial expressions, haha) caused a lot of them to want to know more about him ("Do you know him?" "How do you know him?" "Who is he?" "Tell us more!"), plus the fact his music is so awesome that you can't help but want more of it, so he has some new fans, methinks. ^_^ Which makes me very happy indeed. We chatted a bit after he sang for us, which was so very nice, and consequently made me be quite behind the rest of the group, as they had already gone off to join the March. But I didn't care, I wanted to talk to him. Getting two hugs from him was totally worth it.
Speaking of which, Vince has started a new band -- it includes Jacob of Mae -- called River James! Be sure to check them out! They have been busy working on new music, and already have 2 songs on their website available for free download! Beautiful, beautiful songs...so go download them already! ^_^
At this point, my group -- SLU and Truman students -- had already gone off with everybody else to join the March. Vince headed off in search of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, with whom he was meeting up (you might have heard of them, they were founded by well-known speaker and author Fr. Benedict Groeschel), and I had to decide which direction to go in. I thought I might as well go in the direction of the Jesuits (who had gone to the corner bypassing part of the March route, since it had already started), and they had an easy-to-spot large red banner. But I was so far behind them that catching up in a crowd of that many people was just not going to happen. :P I ended up kind of being in the group from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, ahaha. xD
I have neglected to tell you about the weather. That morning, when we went to the church, etc, it was cold, but not terribly so. It was bearable. However, for whatever reason, by around noon it had gotten bitterly cold. Out came my fuzzy red ski headband to cover my ears. My feet, also, were sooooooooooo cold. I had brought along some of those little packets that will keep your hands warm, and I was so desperate, standing there at the rally, that I went to a nearby bench and put a packet in each shoe. It was slightly awkward having them there, a little lump under the sole of my foot, but it was worth it if my feet wouldn't be so darn cold. It took a little while, but I did begin to feel some heat.
But apparently standing more or less in place for so long at the rally was not good for my feet. (We had even joked that we were freezing in place.) I had my leggings on and knee socks under my pink jeans, which helped my legs...but my feet just had the socks between them and my converse. I guess I didn't plan that very well. xD Once I joined the March, my feet were downright killing me, they hurt so much from being so cold. :( I don't think my feet have ever felt so cold, so painfully cold, in my life. It literally made me miserable, and I no longer cared about taking any pictures, or reflecting on the reason for being there. I selfishly could only think about how horribly, painfully cold my feet were -- every step I took hurt -- and wanted very much to go somewhere inside that was warm. Until we began to walk up a slight hill. It wasn't much of a hill, but it was enough that it required the use of my toes when walking (unlike on flat ground, which doesn't so much), and little by little, I noticed that each step moved the blood through my poor feet, and seemed to trigger the heat packets more and more. And suddenly, very unspectacularly, my feet no longer hurt anymore, at all. My mood instantly lifted, and taking pictures seemed like a lovely idea, and I missed having friends to walk and talk and pray with. :/ (Again, talking to Vince was worth giving that up.)
[Side note: It wasn't until we were on our way back home that, in thinking back on this, I realized something: that was sort of my little 'Via Dolorosa.' I should have offered up my small suffering as I walked for the unborn babies whose lives were in danger of abortion, in reparation for those lives already lost, for their mothers, that they would choose life and find help and hope and healing, for the conversion and redemption of all wounded by and involved with the Culture of Death. I didn't think of it till later, so I hope belated offering-of-suffering is okay... It really was, or could have been, my little Via Dolorosa, of carrying my little cross for the beautiful cause of life. Each painful step could have united me more closely to Jesus as He took His bloody, pain-filled steps to Calvary. I was blind to all this deeper significance at the time, yet still I was afforded the grace of release from my pain. My God, You are much too generous!]
Something funny happened with the March this year. Because of the little bypass we had made in joining the marchers, we seemingly quickly arrived at the Supreme Court. But before you think we were done, something really weird happened. In turning around, trying to weave my way through people on the sidewalk to go and maybe look for my Chicago friends, who last I heard were near the Franciscan University of Steubenville people, the official beginning of the March appeared. What do I mean by that? Well, the March has an official banner, which can be seen here. Very often, some of the first marchers will be women and men who have had abortions or have personal experience of it, holding signs that say "I regret my abortion," "Women do regret abortion," "Men regret lost fatherhood," as part of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign. It's heartbreaking to see, but also hopeful; they get applauded for their courage very solemnly and respectfully as they begin the March. (Many of them also stay to share their testimonies on the steps of the Supreme Court immediately after the March.)
(I also got to see some very somber-looking Orthodox Jewish rabbis at the beginning of the March this year, which was pretty neat to see. Their sad expressions made me think they were connecting the genocide of our unborn children --their unborn Jewish children -- with the Holocaust. My heart hurts.) :(
So, somehow, in a way I haven't the faintest idea of, a LOT of people got "in front of" the actual start of the March!!! o_O How bizarre!!! I really would like to know how that happened. xD I know how I got there; how did all the possibly couple thousand (at least many, many hundreds) others get there??? I mean, I thought I was just "merging" into the March, as did I know the Jesuits; how the heck do you start the March before the actual beginning of it??? I mean, huh?? xD Oh well. It was kind of funny, if weird and confusing.
I made my way back to this one government building with large "corner" steps where a lot of people will stand to take pictures, record video, etc. I even saw some news people there. It's a very convenient stop, and not far at all from the Supreme Court. I stood up there, hoping to catch sight of my Chicago friends. Alas, for all my time there, that didn't happen. They must have been rather near the end of the March! At least we saw each other at the Conference on Sunday. :)
There was an unexpected blessing I received for finishing "early" and being able to stand there. Not only could I now take lots of pics and video, I was given a clear view of all the people as far as my eye could see. Last year, the sheer numbers were overwhelming and amazing. It encouraged me in a way I hadn't felt before. But last year, I only saw all the people as semi-gathered on the Mall, and then in large groups while walking -- no view as I was getting here this year. Standing there, watching thousands upon thousands of people walk by, the stream seemingly unending (it just went on and on and on!), my heart swelled with hope, with praise, with joy. I felt like doing a little happy dance on the spot, of squealing and leaping into the air. The number of people floored me and lifted me up. It was just overwhelmingly beautiful, to see so many standing up for life, for our unborn brothers and sisters. Guess what? The vast majority of them are our age, that is, young people. The face of the March -- though very diverse, filled with every kind of shape, color, age, and size of person -- was clearly one that was young. Preteens, teenagers, twenty-somethings, and thirty-somethings -- we definitely are the pro-life generation!!!
I watched them all go by, hearing them sing songs, pray as a group (very often the Rosary, I would hear the leader's voice announcing which Mystery, or a chorus of Hail Marys), and some boys even brought their drums from marching band. I watched with great joy as I saw a group of young black men, most likely from a school, all singing a song that was perhaps a spiritual, the words saying that "Too many have died, too many have died!" I heard countless chants of young voices: "We love babies, yes we do! We love babies, how about you?" (meant to be chanted back by another group); "Oh oh, oh oh, Roe v. Wade has got to go!" And one that made me giggle in its clever but important truth: "Hey, Obama! Yo mama was pro-life!" (or sometimes "chose life")
In fact, there were so many of us this year, that it was the biggest March yet! Around 400,000 of us were there, filled with hope and determination to speak up for the weakest among us. I am so thankful I could be one of them again this year!!
After waiting as long as I could, I reluctantly left my spot on those steps and made my way to Union Station, where we were supposed to get a bite to eat for dinner before boarding the buses back to Missouri. I hadn't walked but a few steps before a police officer said to me very sternly, "Young lady, you have to stay in the street!" I was rather taken aback by the forcefulness of his voice, and obliged. Gee, officers all in a row there, don't you see all the people on the sidewalk just down the street there?? And what, do you think I am intentionally trying to flout your little rules by walking on the sidewalk? Sor-ry! xD
Anyway, on the way to Union Station, I knew I would pass where the National Pro-Life Youth Rally was going to be held (inaugural year!). I wanted so much to stay and join the rally, listen to the speakers, enjoy the music. But I couldn't, it was 3:30 and we had to be back to the buses by 4:30. I still needed to eat. Most of all, I was bummed that I would miss getting to see Eduardo Verastegui, the famous Mexican actor who played Jose in the award-winning film Bella (yes, the movie to which Jon donated his song "My Love Goes Free"), and who continues to work with Bella HERO and the Hispanic-outreach pro-life/worldwide humanitarian organization he started, Mantle of Guadalupe (website is in Spanish, FYI). He recently announced plans to build the largest crisis pregnancy center in the U.S. That man is so beautiful, and I am sad to think I was so close to seeing him! :(
Though I had to miss out on the actual rally, I did manage to get one of the limited-number-available (first 5,000 people) rally goodie bags!! I was happy. It was handed to me by someone I know (kind of), John-Paul Deddens, President of Students for Life of Illinois. He smiled and said "Hey! I like your sign." I just smiled back and said yeah! (Of course he likes it, lol) I was also handed a copy of The Advocate by Lila Rose herself! I was rather in shock, haha. Didn't expect that! With all she's done for the pro-life movement as founder and President of Live Action, and being only 22 -- just 2 years older than I am -- I feel rather embarrassed to even show my face. She is such an inspiration. I've been wearing almost daily the rally bracelet - purple, it says "Abolish Abortion" and gives the rally website.
The food court at Union Station was positively jammed full of pro-lifers from the March. It made me smile. It was also hard to find something easy to eat where the line was not like hundreds of people long (okay, I exaggerate). I settled on Subway, as its food was portable and could be eaten on the bus (I didn't have time to find a place to sit down, eat it, then find the buses). I was also getting worried, as I still had yet to see a single person I recognized or anyone with an SLU Students for Life blue beanie. After I got my sandwich (hot pastrami), I went outside looking for the buses...not there (though lots of other ones were). I called one of my housemates, who said, "Oh, didn't you get the memo?" Um....what memo??? Apparently I had missed some news by not walking with the group. :P It seems there were just too many buses and coaches trying to wait for their groups at Union Station, so many were turned away and told to wait elsewhere, lol. So ours had gone back to the St. Aloysius/Gonzaga High School parking lots to wait. As I walked there, taking directions from Mary on the phone, I bumped into people from my bus, so I just followed them. :)
It was hard to believe it was all over and here I was back on the bus again. I wanted to go back, to do it all again, to live it all over. There isn't a whole lot to tell about the trip back -- I had some great convos again and even met a new friend, a Philosophy major at SLU-- we discovered we shared an interest in poetry, we talked briefly about the Metaphysical poets, and when I said "Gerard Manley Hopkins" as a favorite, he lit up, and when I named just a couple of my favorite poems of his -- "The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe" and "The May Magnificat," he quoted lines from each. I don't know very many college guys who can do that. :) I asked him what his area of interest was in philosophy, and when he said "oh, Medieval philosophy" I smiled and told him that what I loved most about Medieval philosophy and theology is how it is earthy and transcendent at the same time. He heartily agreed and said it takes the philosopher to 'think' it, but the poet to describe it. Again, I smiled. This was a good person-connection to make. :)
I was also able to write down info/websites on Vince, Army of Me, and River James for one girl on my bus who I remembered from the rally as being interested. ^_^
We ended up arriving back in St. Louis almost a full hour ahead of schedule at about 6 am, even after spending more time than planned at this large gas station/restaurant/convenience store complex we stopped at in Pennsylvania (where there were loads of other buses on the way home from the March, too). This was a good thing, though we were all bleary-eyed as we ate the Krispy Kreme donuts kindly gotten during the night by Kayla and passed around the bus. It gave me more time to request a taxi to come get me via text message (pretty nifty!) while I went into the nearby dorm lounge area to wait with a few other non-SLU people who were waiting to be picked up.
But something very special awaited me as I walked into that building. It was next to an eating area/small dining hall, and workers were already there preparing for breakfast. (The sun was only just barely beginning to come out at 6:30) Music was playing...but it wasn't just any music. My ears perked up right away as I recognized the sound of Michael's voice, and of the song Bad. I stood there amazed and touched by this little grace. It was no random accident it "just happened to be playing" the moment I walked in there. That day was the 25th of the month, and Michael had died on the 25th of June. I knew this was his way of saying he supported all of us, that he was there, too, "for all the lost children."
(Interestingly, in 'Bad', he plays on the word's multiple meanings -- as both "not good" and slang for "cool." Michael is calling out a guy for thinking that behaving badly makes him "bad" (cool); by not behaving badly, Michael is the one who is actually "bad" (cool). I think you can see the connection to what we had just come back from...) :)
Unlike the trip up to St. Louis, the bus was on time! (left about 8:45 am) Hallelujah, I sure didn't feel like waiting around for hours more. I got back home about 1:30 pm after sleeping most of the way. xD
It all happened very quickly, and it still seems rather unbelievable that I went. My heart is filled with gratitude for all the unexpected gifts and graces from my trip, and I pray God grants me the ability to step out of my comfort zone and use what has been given me for good in my community.
Already, I've engaged in a 'discussion' of sorts with a friend on Facebook about all this, when I posted the link to the Expose Planned Parenthood live webcast Thursday night, following this week's revelations (through undercover video footage of Live Action) that PP actually aids sex traffickers in exploiting girls. More info on that here and here. You can still watch the whole webcast. (What's more is that PP gets loads of taxpayer money to commit their atrocities!! Be angry.)
The funny-sad-weird thing about this 'discussion' I had with this friend is that he never once backed up his views that disagreed with mine, whatever they were (he was all mum about it). No matter how much I pressed him to back his views up with evidence, to defend his beliefs to me, he did nothing. And yet he continued to claim that I was wrong, he was right, and he was "strong" in his views. hahaha. It's almost laughable, it's so pathetic. What are you, friend, aware that you would lose this "argument" because you have no evidence to back your claims? Yet unwilling to be open to learning the truth, admitting your error, and embracing life. Wow. Just wow. I feel bad for him. I'm hoping he will change his mind and actually engage in discussion with me, as I could definitely do with stretching my pro-life 'debate' muscles. As an INFJ, I really dislike conflict and tend to avoid it. But these conversations are a must if hearts are to be changed and the truth made known. I think God was letting me toe the waters and flap my wings a bit, He knows it's sticking me out of my comfort zone. I will be disappointed if he cops out (as he seems to have done) and doesn't engage...I was all ready with my pro-life facts and evidence and debate techniques! xD I am very unpracticed in this area, so I hope I did okay this time. I didn't even think it was going to turn into what it did at first. Oh well. (Since most of you who read this are friends with me on FB, feel quite free to go and read the convo for yourself. Like I said, it's on the link I posted Thursday (the 3rd) for the Expose PP webcast. I'd love your comments, actually, haha.)
Also, I began to write this on February 1st, the feast of my patroness St. Brigid. She is, among many other things, a patroness of babies, midwives, healers, poets, and scholars. A most suitable patroness for me, I think. :) I know she smiled on me with the little blessing I received when, though I could not attend Mass that day, I read the Mass readings for the day in my Magnificat.
(FYI to all my non-Catholic friends: The Mass readings for each day are the same for the universal Church. No matter where you go to Mass on any given day, if it is the daily Mass for that day, the Bible readings are the same. They are the same from New York to California, France to Uganda, China to India, England to Rome. You get the idea.)
Each selection, from the Letter to Hebrews, Psalm 22, and the Gospel from Mark, seemed chosen just for me. It was all filled with such great meaning for me. You can find all the readings for Feb. 1st here. Oh, just reading them all again causes me to shiver with gladness and awe. I think perhaps these readings will become a sort of 'motto' for my year. The ones I will return to throughout the year for nourishment, grace, strength. The reading that got to me the most, though, was the Gospel selection. From Mark 5: 21-43 ~
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side,
a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea.
One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward.
Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying,
“My daughter is at the point of death.
Please, come lay your hands on her
that she may get well and live.”
He went off with him
and a large crowd followed him.
There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.
She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors
and had spent all that she had.
Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.
She had heard about Jesus and came up behind
him in the crowd and touched his cloak.
She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.”
Immediately her flow of blood dried up.
She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.
Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him,
turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?”
But his disciples said to him,
“You see how the crowd is pressing upon you,
and yet you ask, Who touched me?”
And he looked around to see who had done it.
The woman, realizing what had happened
to her, approached in fear and trembling.
She fell down before Jesus and
told him the whole truth.
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.
Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”
While he was still speaking,
people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said,
“Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”
Disregarding the message that was reported,
Jesus said to the synagogue official,
“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside
except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.
When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official,
he caught sight of a commotion,
people weeping and wailing loudly.
So he went in and said to them,
“Why this commotion and weeping?
The child is not dead but asleep.”
And they ridiculed him.
Then he put them all out.
He took along the child’s father and mother
and those who were with him
and entered the room where the child was.
He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,”
which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around.
At that they were utterly astounded.
He gave strict orders that no one should know this
and said that she should be given something to eat.
I don't know how to explain what this passage means to me. Only in the past year has it taken on so much meaning for me...I nearly began to cry when I saw it on Tuesday, when I read "Little girl, I say to you, arise" -- words that have come to be Jesus' words to me personally as I struggle with so many things, so many darknesses. He is calling me out of death and into life, abundant life through Him, with Him, in Him.
I, too, have many "hemorrhages" -- the self-inflicted wounds all over my body, outward signs of inner hurt. I, too, long to reach out and touch His cloak. To be wrapped in St. Brigid's cloak, in Mary's cloak, in Jesus' cloak all over. Ohhh...
[Read the other readings, too -- I might write more on them later.]
If I am to fight for the Culture of Life, for Truth, for all that is Good and Beautiful while living in this Culture of Death, I cannot be weary and bleeding and hurting all the time. Wounded warriors cannot fight (or at least, fight very well). I will always be wounded, but if I hide myself in the Wounds of the One nailed to the Cross, if I let His Blood begin to heal my wounds, then, and only then, will I be able to fight untiringly, to persevere in darkness and shadow, to walk on the raging waters of this stormy life to His outstretched arms. Truly, I must sing with Vince as he does in Rise:
Strengthen my ankles, it’s time to walk
Rise up, rise up, my heart’s unlocked
I have been hiding for much too long
Strengthen my ankles, Lord, and unlock and heal my broken, defiant heart. You are calling me to walk on these troubled waters to You, and I have truly been hiding for much, much too long.
"Take courage," You say, "it is I, do not be afraid."
I cannot afford to hide or wait any longer. The time is now to use my voice to serve You, to love You. To let Your music of redemption, hope, and life sing through my voice to all the world. I want my song to be one of Life, of Love. Please don't let me hide any longer. It's killing me inside, and I need Your breath in my lungs tonight and every night, for Yours is the breath of true life.