Tag Archives: Texas

Reaching One Person Per Year: Losing Sight of My Purpose

blog pic

This is a photo I took of three items on the top of my bookcase in my bedroom. I had just moved the bookcase to my room, and I wanted to choose three things that are significant to me right now.

So, I chose a plastic statue of the Virgin Mary, a brass camel, and a rock painted with the Texas flag. Why did I choose these?

The Mary statue represents my desire to get closer to Christ through His mother, Mary. The small plastic figure was blessed by a priest in a nearby church.

The camel represents the past year and a half of my being in Saudi Arabia for my job. It was a very fun yet challenging time. I grew a lot from the experience. It helped me in good ways as well as in bad ways. I am still dealing with the bad effects.

The painted rock represents my mental anguish and my mental battle during these rough times with the Covid-19 isolation. My wife started a hobby of painting rocks, so I decided to paint one.

I chose the Texas state flag because that’s where my family and I have been living for the past 12 years. My children were born in Japan, but they’re basically Texans. I also love the flag because Texas has a rich history. You can read about it here.

Anyway, the real reason I am writing this post is because I was reminded of something last night. A promise that I made to myself when I first started this blog.

See, I was under the illusion that my blog would be a beacon of light in this dark world of ours, that my writings and examples from my life would impact others and turn people from a life of suffering to one of Christian joy and freedom.

But through the years and after countless blog posts, I couldn’t see where I even came close to any of that. In my mind, my blog turned from a righteous ministry/apostolate to a series of whiny posts about my depression and anxiety, offering little to nothing in the way of hope and faith to my readers.

Until last night.

I remember making the vow that I would keep trying to use my platform to reach at least one person a year. To me, that was enough for me to keep it all going. If I could touch the life of just one person in the course of 12 months, then it would all be worth it.

Well, I received a comment from a reader that brightened my whole evening. She said that she was a long-time reader of my blog. A long-time reader! Wow. I was touched. It meant so much to me that someone would take the time to write an encouraging comment on my blog.

I feel that I need to end this post with something positive since at least one person is reading and (hopefully) being encouraged by my words.

So, I’ll end with a quote that my cousin wrote on Facebook recently. Usually I don’t read her posts because they don’t interest me, but this one caught my eye.

Why?

Because I’ve recently been treated very unfairly at work by people who don’t like me. I’ve been an emotional wreck to be quite honest. This Bible passage really spoke to me. It is from Romans 12.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

     “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

       In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

 

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

~t


11 Things I Learned From the Ordination and Installation Mass for the New Bishop of Fort Worth

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the ordination and installation of Bishop Michael Olson over in Fort Worth. I didn’t merely attend: I volunteered with other Knights of Columbus members as security personnel. FWPD made their presence known on the outside of the convention center. However, the diocese didn’t want any demonstrators to interrupt the proceedings or to desecrate the Eucharist, so some of us volunteered inside.

As an “insider” during this historic event — a new bishop isn’t ordained and installed in one’s region very often — I wanted to share 11 things that I learned from working behind-the-scenes at this event.

1. Priests are not always serious

Maybe it’s because I’m a fairly recent convert, but I’ve never seen priests joke around with and make goofy faces at each other. Just before the procession into the arena began, a priest came up to me at the entrance and said comically, “Run away! This is your last chance!” Scared the heck outta me, actually.

2. Seminarians are just regular college guys…

As I “guarded” the seminarians (young men who are studying to become priests) before the procession, they were a bunch of giggling chatterboxes. A priest had to yell at them to settle down, and the young men’s faces displayed the same embarrassed satisfaction that I often see on my six-year-old’s. Boys will be boys.

3. …who love their Starbucks as much as the rest of us

I mean, man, do those guys slug down the lattes. It wasn’t a question of how many were seen with the white cups and the green logo; rather, I had to ask myself how many didn’t have one. But, hey, as long as it’s consumed one hour before communion, right?

4. We are not alone

By this, I mean the Knights of Columbus. One of my security duties was to guard the vesting rooms that contained the personal belongings of the clergy and choir. I saw the vesting room for the Order of Malta which was pretty cool. Even more cool was to see the room for the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Granted, the Knights of Columbus outnumbered these other group 10 to 1, but I hadn’t realized that there were other Catholic fraternal orders out there and that we were all unified with one common purpose.

5. Catholic schools are definitely not dying out

Since teaching in Japan, I had never seen so many young people in school uniforms! It seemed like most of them had volunteered to give directions to people: Everywhere I went, about two students were assigned to every single door in the convention center… and the place was HUGE.

6. Standing for eight straight hours isn’t always a bad thing

I think the secret is to keep busy. I was surprised to know that, while stuffing my hungry face with cheese and crackers during the reception, it was nearly 6:00 pm. Time really does fly when you’re having fun.

7. 15,000 Catholics in one place does not always result in alcohol

I have to admit, I was ready for an ice-cold beer by the end of my duties. Making a quick dash to the reception hall before anyone else (Transporting gifts for the bishop was my excuse!), I quickly scanned the gigantic hall for any sign of beer or wine. Nothing! (The lemonade did hit the spot, though.)

8. If a behind-the-scenes meeting is scheduled for 1:00, it really means 12:30

I was supposed to help guard the priests as they offered communion to the masses. The meeting was at 1:00. I arrived at 12:51. On a tight schedule, I suppose I was considered late. Everything happens for a reason is what they say. I was able to greet members of the procession as they made their way to the arena entrance, though. So, the awesome photo below wouldn’t exist had I been earlier to the meeting.

Lots of bishops!

9. Volunteering makes you feel great

My mind was occupied and my schedule was packed. Somehow, though, I felt like a million bucks. I’ve never been one to show off or to draw attention to myself. But, somehow, being engaged in an activity (church; K of C) that I really enjoyed did wonders for my mind. It said, “I enjoy this and I’m having fun. You’re not gonna take that away from me, Mind.”

Try it! You don’t have to be “religious” to volunteer. Seek out a local food bank or homeless shelter. Opportunities to serve are all around us. By helping others, you help yourself feel good. It’s a win-win.

10. An ordinary convention center can be temporarily converted into a cathedral

11. Alternate versions of the trendy 13.1 and 26.2 car stickers do exist

I saw a car in the parking garage with this sticker on the back. I’m a serious fuddy-duddy who never smiles, but this made me LOL. A refreshing sight since every other car (seemingly) has the real versions.

~t

(photos by Topaz)


Stand by Me

A bench in McGregor (Texas) Cemetery

My sister flew down from Missouri this past weekend. My kids were excited for her to visit because, when any of my family members come, my boys receive “presents.” My sister, Kay, always has fun visiting.

However, this was no ordinary visit.

For the past two years, Kay and I had been talking about driving down to McGregor to visit our aunt’s grave. We kept mentioning it but never made time for the trip. Finally, the stars and planets aligned, so we chose this past weekend for our road trip.

Actually, our aunt died three years ago, but not a single family member knew about it until Kay’s 2010 Christmas card to our aunt was returned to her. Baffled since our aunt had lived in McGregor for ages, Kay did some online investigation and discovered that our aunt had passed away back in March of the same year.

You see, my sister was the only family member who had kept in touch with our aunt and sent Christmas cards to her every season. (Kay has a big heart, obviously much bigger than mine.)

You may be wondering, Why did no one keep in touch with her? Well, my grandfather ruled our family with an iron fist. A shrew self-made multi-millionnaire, he wielded incredible influence and power; we lived in fear of him, referring to him behind his back as The Godfather.

Years and years ago, my aunt met a man and ran away with him to Texas, where they eventually settled in a small quiet town called McGregor. “Leaving the family” against my grandfather’s wishes, he severed all ties with her, excluded her from the will, and told us never to contact her again.

The only memories I have of her have faded a little: going to her house with my mother for coffee; playing with her big, furry dog; rolling around on her shag carpet like I was in the woods; and her trademark cackling at everything we kids did.

So my sister and I were glad that the day had finally come. Only a few hours away from where I now live, our biggest regret was that we hadn’t visited her while she was alive. By traveling there and paying our last respects, however, I believed it would comfort her lonely soul and put a smile on her face as she looked down upon us.

The fresh bread in this Czech town of West always reminds us of our heritage and the kolache that our great-grandmother used to make.

It’s always exciting to take a road trip, especially with a friend or family member. My sister and I are only three years apart, and we have been growing closer as we get older. She suffers from bipolar disorder and a troubled marriage like I do, so it would be the perfect chance for us to, in essence, be counselors for each other.

I made a playlist on my iPod of various dance/pop/R&B songs for the road trip, and we loaded up my car with a cooler full of bottled water (Texas summers tend to be pretty brutal). We set off in good spirits with the music creating a cheerful background as we chatted and took in the landscape of rural Texas.

I told my sister as we left the metro area that everything we were doing reminded me of the movie Stand by Me: Although the purpose of our quest was a somber one, we would have fun along the way, make a few detours, and enjoy each other’s company. Lifelong memories would be formed.

One humorous moment was when we stopped at a small Mexican restaurant along the way for lunch. Kay ordered a margarita since she wasn’t driving, and the waitress asked to see her ID. Having been given such a compliment, my sister quickly gave the waitress her driver’s license. The waitress looked at it and said in a disappointed tone, “Oh. You’re not from here.” She walked away with Kay’s driver’s license without saying another word. My sister and I exchanged puzzled looks. Ten minutes later, though, my sister was happily sipping her strawberry margarita.

Later, as we rolled west on highway 84 toward McGregor, I started to get butterflies in my stomach. This is it, I thought. I hope we find the grave. All we had to go on was what our aunt’s former landlord had told us; nothing on the Internet helped us at all. The city cemetery didn’t have an address or phone number.

Loose gravel crunching beneath the tires, we pulled into the cemetery.

No map. No office building. Just what we expected.

One thing we didn’t expect, though, was the size of the cemetery: It wasn’t a little podunk scrap of land that we had imagined. Rows and rows of headstones and memorials in all shapes and sizes stretched as far as we could see.

St. Eugene Catholic Church in McGregor. I had planned on lighting a candle inside for Aunt Lois, but a wedding was taking place.

“No problem,” I said confidently to Kay. “Look. The dates on the ones near the entrance are as recent as 2012. It’s got to be up front here. See?” I pointed to the next headstones. “2010.”

We quickly found out that there was no organization whatsoever that we could perceive. Gravestones from 1882, 1910, and 1963 were intermixed with ones from the 21st century. Our hearts sunk and reality hit us: We would have to park the car and roam around in the 103-degree (39 C) heat until we found it. Well, Aunt Lois, I thought, we’re definitely thinking of you now. There was no one to ask for help; we were the only ones in the cemetery.

Kay took one vast side of the cemetery, and I took the other. Our iPhones in our hands like walkie-talkies, we began the search. My sister soon texted me: This is like a game. Kinda fun! I smiled.

We both got caught up in pausing before interesting gravestone/memorials. Each one told a story by the engraved pictures, words, and items placed in front. This distracted us from our true mission, but we didn’t mind. I couldn’t help but set vases of flowers and teddy bears upright as I came across them. I apologized out loud before touching these precious items, though. I wanted to do it out of respect, but, at the same time, I felt like I was invading the peace and tranquility of the departed souls.

Two hours later, after numerous breaks under shade trees, a bag full of empty water bottles, and sweat-drenched clothing, my phone rang.

It was Kay.

I prayed in this spot on the church grounds before we drove to the cemetery.

My heart fluttered in my chest. We had texted up until now (don’t ask me why), but she was now calling me. I answered.

Yep. Just as I thought: She had located the grave.

I jogged toward my sister who was standing way back at the far end of the cemetery, not far from where I parked the car (ugh). On our way into town, we had bought four different kinds of plastic flowers at Dollar General because we wanted them to last longer that just a couple of hours.

We planted the four sprigs in diamond formation around the small but gorgeous headstone. I suggested that we have a moment of silence. (I didn’t want to use the word pray because my sister is definitely not the praying type.) I bowed my head as my sister respectfully gazed down at the flat rectangular stone.

In silence, we got back into the car and drove along the gravel trail back to the entrance. Suddenly a thought came to me: We didn’t waste the past two hours wandering under the fiery sun. Aunt Lois had no family and very few friends when she died. To her, the past two hours were like an afternoon of coffee and chit-chat with her niece and nephew in the run-down apartment complex that she called home.

All I know is that Kay and I were the only family members who had made the trip to pay our last respects.

I imagined Aunt Lois smiling and seeing us off at the entrance, her hair in the same beehive style that I remember.

“That was a nice visit,” Kay said as we slowly drove away.

“Yep. It was.”

The Circle of Life: We saw these horses directly across from the cemetery as we left.

~t

(all photos by Topaz)