Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans star in a scene from the movie "Marvel's The Avengers." (CNS photo/Disney)
It’s Sunday night and I’m watching “The Avengers” for maybe the 50th time. Early on in the movie there is a scene between Agent Coulson and Captain America (Steve Rogers) in which they discuss upgrades to Cap’s uniform. Cap wonders if the stars and stripes aren’t a bit old fashioned in this day and age. Agent Coulson replies how this is exactly what might be needed at a time like this.
I think this one scene is pivotal in understanding the thought process behind ordinary people we consider heroes and the superheroes many of us have admired since picking up our first comic book or graphic novel.
Characters such as Captain America (created to be a super soldier against the Nazis), Superman and Batman all have their foes. What makes them last through the decades is how relatable those enemies are to the audience.
Whether our fight is against racism, terrorist, bullies or those who threaten our freedom, we can always look to the superheroes for inspiration.
But what kind of inspiration do we need?
The inspiration many find in comics and superheroes is the understanding how you don’t even have to be a superhero to be helpful or change the world. And while we don’t live in a world where the Justice League, Fantastic Four or the Avengers truly exist, there are real-life examples through history and in our modern day that can equally serve as examples of everyday heroism.
And while there are some people doing great things who are household names (Malala Yousafzai, Blessed Mother Teresa and journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell come to mind), it is not their status that makes them the superstars we have made them. They did the right thing, followed their faith and did not care what others thought of their works or mission. If we could all be filled with such conviction!
While there are many heroes we recognize everyday such as first responders, firefighters, police officers, active duty military and veterans, it is important not to overlook the actions taken by others and encourage them more often. There are too many people who feel their voice is not heard or their call for change isn’t taken seriously. We need to be people who truly treat each other with the human dignity Jesus taught us. As we begin to treat each other with respect and dignity, we can truly begin to make great changes in this world. However, it must start within each of us as individuals. We do not have the luxury of sitting back and letting someone else take the lead. Do as a superhero would do and be the hero in someone’s life.
July 20, 2015 11:57
By Wendy Stewart
It's hard to imagine someone who isn't excited for graduation, theirs or someone else's. After all, this is a moment that marks achievement on a number of levels. Whether it’s leaving the nap time of kindergarten behind, finishing a vocational school, or finally getting the degree you've worked for, there has to be a sense of both excitement and anxiousness. On one hand, you've completed your course of study; on the other you are subject to higher expectations.
I can certainly relate to both!
When I graduated from the Naval Academy in 2001, it was a day I had awaited for four long years.” (At least they seemed long at the time!) I remember being so excited I was running on two hours of sleep knowing it was going to take one hour during the ceremony just to hand out all the 1,000+ diplomas and commissioning letters.
So why did I have anxiety?
I was nervous because in 30 days I would report to my first command and have the lives of others in my hand. I imagine nurses, doctors, lawyers and others go through the same thing.
My brother, Anthony, with his 8th-grade promotion certificate. (Wendy Stewart)
What lies ahead for the new graduate? I have a couple tips:
1. Never stop learning.
This single action will be the key to your success for the rest of your life. Not only will you be years ahead of your peers, but you will become a vessel of our most valuable commodity: information. For those heading to the workforce, experts such as Brian Tracy recommend reading for an hour per day in your field. He also suggests making your commute a virtual university by listening to audio books (non-fiction titles) instead of music. I have found these two suggestions alone to be invaluable.
If you will be continuing your studies, use your newly found free time to keep your brain active much like those preparing for the workforce. My challenge to you is to read in your chosen field as well. If you cannot get a job in your field, then volunteer. If you're too young to work, join a reading challenge or chess group at your local library.
2. Use your library card.
I have heard it said the most valuable card you can have is a library card, and I believe it's true.
The thing about a library card is it levels the playing field. If knowledge and information are hot commodities, and they are, then it only makes sense to go where the information is. This will also save you tons of money.
No matter how old you are, there is something informative and potentially life-changing at the library. It may be a documentary you see, a class you take, an audio or paperback book, or hearing an inspirational speaker. The library has all of those things and more. And did I mention the computers?
Did you know, with your library card, ebooks and audio books are available to you? I am listening to an audio book right now I downloaded on to my smartphone. Yesterday, I checked out some ebooks using a library app on my tablet. The digital world has made information so much more attainable. We would be fools not to use it! So, I really only had two tips because those two are so important they encompass any others I may mention in this post. I pray these two tips will be taken to heart. Nothing kills faster than ignorance and I would like to play a small part in helping spread the word on being well-learned and informed. It truly makes a difference.
What other advice do you have for graduates?
Former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, offering words of encouragement to the 8th grade graduates of
Thomas Jefferson Elementary/Middle School. (Wendy Stewart)
June 09, 2015 11:28
By Wendy Stewart
The Preakness is barely over and there are already whispers about moving the second jewel of the Triple Crown out of Baltimore, possibly to Laurel. Some of these voices were heard on Twitter right after the riots decrying the dangerous neighborhood around Pimlico and how the city was just too dangerous. It was and still is an outrageous thought.
So outrageous it prompted one of my former teachers, Teresa Genaro, to write in defense of Baltimore titled, "Why has this happened?" for theracingbiz.com. Meanwhile, shops are trying to rebuild and reopen, summer vacation is coming soon and we soon face another problem: what these kids will do with their time all summer.
It's no secret there are fewer recreation centers and activities offered at low or no cost. Although some may have the funds to keep their children proactively occupied during the summer, we must remember that so many families in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods such as mine don't always have such options. Camps are expensive, summer school is a punishment, and, in addition to being costly, sports teams can sometimes play too far away. Now, imagine adding those to a home where no one is available to make sure a child gets to any of these programs or makes sure they stay involved.
This is not some imaginary scenario, but rather things I have seen over the years in my neighborhood and as a cheer coach for Pop Warner. When I speak to the kids in the neighborhood and ask why they aren't participating in (insert activity here), their responses are blessedly honest. They express the desire, but acknowledge lack of available time from family members, cost, and issues regarding transportation. Other times, it is simply a lack of knowledge about programs keeping a child out of an activity.
I firmly believe in the power of information and how it and be the difference between a successful and full life rather than one filled with void and regret. Over the past 11 years I have listened to or read countless books on the subjects of business success and personal development. Surprisingly, the concepts transfer from one area to another. One of my favorites right now is by Brian Tracy and is titled, "Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life." It's a simple concept but requires faith and practice. The thing is you could have all you have ever wanted in the world, but if your mindset isn't right, then you cannot move forward.
Such as it is with knowledge and information. Some of us are great at finding and sharing what we have found; others may just need access to the information. This is where my grand idea for helping my neighbors and other city residents (and eventually the nation) comes into play. This is where I get to use my God-given talents and abilities to make a difference.
In that vein, and starting with my fellow veterans, I am relaunching my health coach business. Many have expressed a desire to have a holistic or whole-person approach to help them take charge of their own wellness. I hope you will pray for me and the veterans I serve.
Let me know what you think!
May 30, 2015 07:30
By Wendy Stewart
(Read Part One of this blog, "I cried for my neighbors.")
As I stayed home Wednesday, I finally had a chance to relax a little and not get caught up in TV media coverage. But questions still linger about the death of Freddie Gray and police accountability. While I can’t answer those questions. I can say there are many voices that need to be heard and many actions that need to be done.
First, I would like to say that I do hear everyone’s concerns. I have heard all sides, and while I don’t have to agree with everyone, I will continue to support the right to peaceful assembly. I will not supported sharing your “message” through violence. That’s how misunderstandings happen and messages get lost. Keep it simple if you want to draw attention to your cause, whatever it may be.
Secondly, many people who don’t live in the area are wondering what they can do to help. I have some ideas for you:
1. Keep the conversation going.
When things are troubling we can talk about this rationally like adults and, hopefully, explain to our kids how to be heard, just like the students who marched from Penn Station today, without resorting to violence. Remember that it’s okay to take sides but be careful when you don’t have all of the facts. Reacting out of fear or anger never helps the situation.
2. Participate in a peaceful protest.
If you happen upon a group you agree with and they will be peacefully demonstrating, feel free to join in. Many times, these are are also family friendly and it reiterates what I mentioned in the first point. It’s amazing what people can do when they come together for a common cause.
3. Keep praying.
As I walked the neighborhood Tuesday, I said the rosary and the St. Michael prayer many times. That photo of me from the NY Daily News wasn’t for show. I grabbed one of the guys helping to keep the peace and told him what we were going to do. We happened to be joined but the man in the orange shirt. People were doing lots of talking and shouting but not enough praying. Whether you lead a group in prayer or just remember throughout the day. Prayer is a powerful weapon and we must deploy it often. It keeps us in touch with God and the needs of our fellow human beings.
Image via James Keivom | New York Daily News
4. Keep doing God’s work.
Serve the poor. Volunteer. Donate time or money. Remember, this is what the Church does and we will continue to do. Have you seen the viral photo of the little boy offering water to police officers? Sometimes it’s small actions like that which make a huge difference. Did you hear about the mother and her child (7 years old with cerebral palsy) who lost their home, and her son’s much needed wheelchair, when the neighboring store was set on fire? You can read that story here and visit their donation page http://www.wbaltv.com/news/fire-destroys-store-home-of-mother-disabled-son/32631276. Of course there are shop owners and employees who lost their only means of making a living. Be on the lookout for a spike in need at food pantries and other places serving the poor and marginalized. Be there to lend food and support. Help others find employment and help rebuild businesses around town. No one deserved what happened to them, even if it was a liquor store.
Thing of it all is that we have been so comfortable for so long, that the need for change has kind of exploded in our faces. We are, again, reminded that our livelihoods could be taken away at any time for any reason. We may find ourselves like the one mother, Tracy, whose place of employment for the last four years was looted and she no longer has means to support her three children.
What we decide to do here and now, no matter how you choose to help, will help us rebuild this city, our communities, and strengthen our faith. We must find a way to help each other, no matter where you live. We much continue to fight for the poor and marginalized. We must continue to find ways to uplift and enrich.
Oh, and if you happen to have skills in counseling or mental health, your skills are always needed for not only the kids, but for many who have lost hope. Seek out schools where the counselors might be overwhelmed.
Please leave comments on more ways to help. Especially creative ways that can be done with the family. While everyone may not appreciate the help and attention, I will be the first to say, “Thank you.”
April 30, 2015 09:27
By Wendy Stewart
Since it’s Wednesday, I’m sure you, dear readers, are well aware of why Baltimore City is in a State of Emergency. What you may not know, is that much of that violence was in my own neighborhood; on my own block.
Let me take you back to Monday afternoon.
A friend and I went to Mondawmin Mall to go to Target. As we came up from the subway station, I noticed an unusually heavy presence of MTA police officers and BPD officers (Baltimore Police Department). Many of the BPD officers I saw were usually stationed at the mall due to the high number of students who use the transit hub. But it didn’t really hit us until we went in the mall.
As soon as we stepped into the mall, we saw shop owners rushing to close down their kiosks and stores. Some stores had to wait for approval before closing as the mall had not officially shut down yet. I saw an employee friend and all he could tell me was that something was going to happen, though he did not know what, and everyone was trying to hurry and go home. When we walked out to Target, we could see that was indeed true as carts were used as barricades at the doors.
We were able to get through the mall to get back out and we went our separate ways. I took the bus home and thought maybe they were just overreacting to some perceived threat.
How wrong I was!
After about an hour or so of being home, my aunt and I turned on the news to see what most people saw, kids throwing cement, bricks, bottles and anything else they could find at the police officers. The officers held their line. I wondered if my cousin was up there as he is a school police officer and I prayed he would be safe. I watched as the police did their best to disperse the crowd and clear the Mondawmin area.
Then I saw the looting at the CVS at North and Pennsylvania. I go to that CVS. It’s the closest to me. There is a library right across the street and many busses stop at that intersection along with another metro stop. I wondered how long it would be before my mom and brother made it home safely from work and school.
I watched the store go up in flames and the angry mob, so bent on destruction, make their way down North Ave, getting closer to my street, looting and hurting people along the way.
Then I went outside and saw they were only half of a block up from me at the beauty supply store trying to break in. There were so many people and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I prayed the shop owners were gone so at least they would be safe, unlike the poor owner from just around the corner who had been dragged out and beaten before they looted his liquor store.
When the mob finally broke in to the store, the crowd cheered and the looting began. Those armed to break in made their way to my side of the street to break in to the Fireside North liquor store. We just call it the bar but it was more than that.
Cheers when they broke in but the shop owner was still there. They beat him and smashed the windows of his car. It was right when they started to beat him that I felt the need to go and help. I needed to get him to a safe place. My family begged me not to go up there because I couldn’t help. Anyone who has been in a helping profession knows how hard it is not to step in. I fought for my country. I spent time in the military protecting our rights and the rights of others but I am powerless against an angry mob of criminals and vandals?
I broke down. I had to go inside my neighbor’s house and all I could do was cry. This was so wrong and feeling helpless was the worst. I already have PTSD and this was no help. So I call Father David Mott, OP, pastor of my parish, Saints Philip and James. God bless all the priests, especially those at my parish. He was able to help me get my head on straight and calm down to understand why my family was so adamant I do nothing. After a good talk, I pulled myself together and went back outside.
Crowds were still looting but it wasn’t the juveniles everyone thought was behind this. No, people who didn’t live in my community were driving in to loot and take what they thought they deserved. Some tried to sell it right after they stole it. I heard some younger neighbors (under 30) say the bar owner deserved what happened.
No one deserves that. Never.
Young and old, people came to get what they wanted. Parents brought their children with bags. People with canes and braced arms went in for things. Only a few people managed to call their relatives back from the madness. It went on for what seemed like an eternity. After two hours I could not believe there was anything left to take.
It was shortly after that the bar was set on fire and flames engulfed the building. One of my sisters called 911 to get the fire department. After the crowd cleared, because they started to head back to Mondawmin Mall, it took one ambulance, 5 engines, and one truck to finally put out the fire. For the protection of the fire department, an armored rescue vehicle from the state police stood watch over them. Even CNN was there. Then I heard it was set on fire again.
By 9:15 pm, we were all exhausted. Emotions ran high and I was still in shock and disbelief over what I witnessed with my own eyes. One of my Naval Academy classmates saw one video I posted on Facebook and accurately described it as a war zone - something I thought I would never see.
Sleep only came because I have medicine for that. But I know many who couldn’t sleep, likely out of fear of more violence and being caught unprepared and unable to respond.
They destroyed my neighborhood and my community for what? I’m still not sure but I’m certain whatever message they thought they delivered was lost in the violence. It usually is.
So, I wanted you all to read how things went down around where I live. I will post again on what I think should happen now and what I encountered the day after all of this destruction.
Photos from Tuesday can be seen on my Flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/28692914@N06/sets/72157651841311758/.
Comment below with your thoughts on what I witnessed and how that compared to what you saw of all of this on Monday. Thank you for reading!
April 29, 2015 02:21
By Wendy Stewart
In case you hadn't noticed, this is the time of year when major networks air new and old documentaries and dramas related to the Bible and Jesus in any way shape or form. I think this year has the largest selection as we kicked off Palm Sunday with the dramatization of Bill O'Reilly's book, "Killing Jesus." To come as a two-part miniseries on CBS starting Tuesday is "Dove Keepers," while next Sunday will bring us "A.D." and "The Ten Commandments."
If you have cable or satellite, you'll notice an uptick in documentaries on both of the History channels, National Geographic, and the American Heroes Channel.
That's a lot of programming!
Now, I don't mind the rise in interest, but if you are going to sit and watch any of these shows, remember the program may not present Christianity or the Catholic Church in the best light (unless you see "Secret Access: Vatican because that one is good). Some of these programs exist to try and prove or disprove certain events in the Bible and nothing is off limits. Everything from the Resurrection, the Garden of Eden, Noah's Ark and if there is evidence of a flood, and the destruction of Soddam and Gomorrah.
While I'm a big fan of history and documentaries, I have a few rules I use while watching so I don't throw my TV out of the window:
1. When in doubt, look it up.
If an expert says something that doesn't jive with what I remember in the Bible, I simply pull out my Bible and look it up. Same goes for anything claimed historically. Even though all historically claims cannot be verified with a simple Internet search, it is best to get as far as you can and then consult a priest or church historian. If it's a big issue, someone may have already written about it.
2. You decide.
I remember I'm the only one who needs to accept or reject what is in front of me. Knowing that means I don't have to get caught up in someone's theory or believe it all goes back to a particle in theoretical physics which has yet to be found. Time will test all theories but we are human so there will always be questions. Questions are good; just be ready pray to hear the truth.
3. Change the channel.
Sometimes there is too much misinformation or it is of such low quality that the best thing to do is to stop watching. No reason to torture yourself!
Enjoy Holy Week and drop a note in the comments if you have a favorite movie/miniseries you like to watch each year!
April 02, 2015 04:12
By Wendy Stewart
Each year millions of Americans have to make the decision to do their own taxes. It is not always an easy question to answer, but, I have been doing my own taxes since 1998 or so.
The factors I considered when deciding to prepare my own taxes were the complexity or simplicity of taxes that year and the cost of filing. When I first started, as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, there wasn’t much to consider. I had a W-2 and that was it. I always got a refund and could complete the forms in record time.
After leaving the navy I had new forms to deal with. Schedule C for my business, 1099s, statements from paying tuition, etc. But because more people were starting to e-file, tax prep software got better. Actually, I hardly ever bought the software and used the program online.
Last year, just like the year before, I was falling behind in filing my taxes. Usually I have everything done by mid February. But I had been letting it go until April 15th! That is just insane. So, last year, in an effort to simplify my life, I wanted try a tax prep place. I found that it was going to cost money I didn’t have and I was unlikely to a refund. So why spend the money? I did it myself. And $17.95 later, I neither owed money nor received a refund! I was happy! Mostly happy that it was over!
I know lots of people can be confused by the constantly changing tax laws, the different forms to file, and where to go for help. I have to admit that I am a little bit of a nerd when it comes to taxes. Not only that, but when I received my second bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, my accounting elective was on personal income taxes! Yes I did!
Whether your tax situation is complex because of business, real estate, job expenses, education costs, etc., you have to choose the situation that’s best for you: self preparation or using a tax expert or account. For me, I will stick with self preparation until my situation dictates otherwise. That’s my advice to you, but make sure you still know what’s going in with your money!
February 27, 2015 10:52
By Wendy Stewart
When I was in high school, I attended an all-girls' boarding school in Glencoe. Oldfields School is a small school but there's lots of cool things always going on. We did not shut down for weather very often and we did not get many of the holidays our public schoolmates received. To make up for that, we had a "free day" built into each quarter to give us a break. Sometimes the free day was was used when so many of us were sick we just needed a day to catch up. Other times it was used to buy travel time in inclement weather.
Oldfields School has a snowy setting Feb. 17.
Free days aside, there was another thing to contend with our psychological well-being: cold, dreary winter days. So what do a bunch of girls at a boarding school do to get out of the winter doldrums? We looked to our a Capella group, the Dubious Dozen, to provide relief through song. You know music makes everything better!
When it was time for a moral boost because the weather was so dreary, Dubious, as we were called (I was a member for one year), had one song to do in order to lift winter spirits: California Dreamin' by The Mamas and the Papas.
All the leaves are brown and the sky
I've been for a walk on a winter's day
I'd be safe and warm if I was in LA
California dreamin' on such a winter's day
Sounds lovely right? We thought so which why it became sort of a tradition.
This is the view from my front porch during the latest snowstorm.
Although I don't own a copy of the song, I still remember the lyrics from my time in the Dubious Dozen. When the temperature started to drop and the snow kept rolling in, that was the first song that came to mind.
While we all wait patiently for warmer weather to return, share your favorite warm weather song in the comments below!
February 23, 2015 04:05
By Wendy Stewart
It's been a little over one week since I participated in my very first ever March for Life. I am not really one for crowds and the thought of being in the crowd rather than standing back to observe was a little scary. But, since I was traveling with a group from my parish, Saints Philip and James, and we would be meeting up with the Dominican friars, I figured I was in good hands. Plus, any excuse to take the train is good for me!
A group of people from Saints Philip and James Church in Baltimore, including Dominican Father John Paul Walker and Dominican Father
Dominic Bump, attend the March for Life.
First, let me say that I had not walked so much in a long time. With my pedometer recording over 13,000 steps that day, my feet didn't ache at all. We hustled from Union Station to meet the other Dominicans and I was struck by all of the different groups making their way to the mall. I'm not sure what kinds of people I expected to see because I haven't been very active in pro-life causes (figuring I could leave that to someone else), but the sheer number of kids, students, and families blew my mind. I was overcome with joy and happiness to see people from all over the country take the time and expense to travel for such an important cause. How I wish I could have done that in high school and college!
Another refreshing sight to see were the number of habitat religious. Of course I saw many Dominicans, but men and women religious, Orthodox and Roman Catholic, of all stages of vows and formation (I believe I saw some postulants), all came to show their support for life. Many of these religious were the chaperones for those very same students I mentioned earlier. How inspiring!
Signs, good folks around me to walk and talk with, a common cause, hyped up college students and bands made the March one of the best I've ever done. But I hadn't realized the depth of pro-life until I finally made it home, and this is why I'm still in awe and still mentally digesting all that I've taken in since that day.
I forgot about the people on the other side of the issue. Not because they weren't important, but because I didn't see them until I watched the news. Now I know everyone isn't always peaceful when defending their passions, but I'm glad I didn't run into anyone who was very militant or angry. As I passed signs of support for life from Canadians, feminists, and rape survivors, it was clear to me I needed to absorb more and really walk my talk. In other words, I couldn't just casually mention this in my blog anymore and I know my views on life extend to all people regardless of wealth, status, or anything. But I also had to remember that fighting for life is also important when it comes to suicide in any form.
I certainly cannot hope to cover everything that has been going on in my head so I will leave part one of this series with a question for you: what is one thing you can do every day to support a culture of life?
I'll see you for Part 2: From Pro-Choice to Pro-Life.
February 01, 2015 10:09
By Wendy Stewart
It's always incredible to me when I attend daily mass and hear a theme reinforced the following Sunday in other readings. It reminds me that Scripture is alive and well and can touch us deeply if we keep our hearts and minds open.
For the fourth Sunday of Advent, we were treated to the Gospel reading recounting the angel Gabriel's visit to Mary and her agreement to do God's will (Luke 1:26-38). What an incredible task for such a young woman. As Father John Paul Walker, OP, reminded us at daily mass, it was a task for a young woman only 13 or 14 years old. That's very important.
We often forget in the hustle and bustle of Advent and Christmas that our salvation, the birth of our Savior, was dependent on a teenager's willingness to be the handmaiden of the Lord. Of course, we can't think of her in today's teenage terms because the world is different and life spans are much longer. However, we can hardly imagine the weight of the world on our shoulders at such a young age. Would we have said yes? I bet we all like to think we would. Since Mary was already betrothed (engaged) to Joseph, which carried the same weight as a legal marriage, she must have been aware of the consequences of her agreement on her and Joseph.
Although we have no diary of Mary's innermost thoughts, we do have what is referred to as the Canticle of Mary or the Magnificat. If you pray the Divine Office, you know what I am referring to. But if you don't, I believe this is one of the most beautiful expressions of how confident we should be in saying yes to God. I'll write out the text below, but I leave you with this question on which to meditate: Is God calling you to something and you're afraid to say yes? If so, pray for the courage to follow God and all he has for you!
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour, for He has looked with favor on His lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.
He has shown mercy on those who fear Him in every generation.
He has shown the strength of His arm, He has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of His servant Israel for He has remembered His promise of mercy, the promise He made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever." Luke 1:46-55
December 24, 2014 12:00
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