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Reflections and Updates

It’s very hard to believe that it has been almost two months since Rebekah, Naomi, and I attended the dedication of the Joshua Casteel House in Alliance, Ohio and then myself the IVAW fundraiser in Chicago for the Joshua Casteel Foundation. I intended on writing this reflection of just what wonderful events they both were soon after we returned, but I have entered into a struggle I wasn’t prepared for. If you don’t mind I will share more personally before talking about the events themselves.

Both events coincided with the period of time last year in which things got very difficult in Joshua’s journey, including going from his cancer’s drastic reduction to its re-mutation and spreading, to the decisions to begin chemotherapy and eventually leave for New York for the clinical trial. Also as you all may remember as Joshua’s cancer spread he entered back into the realm of intense pain. He also underwent surgery to fuse bone so that he could have radiation which was an experience of suffering all of its own, as there was a grave mistake in the amount of medicine they gave him. And New York was exceedingly difficult in every way from beginning to end.

What I had not expected nor prepared for was the emotional toll just coming into this season one year later would have on me. Just as I felt like I was making some progress in the grieving process, I found myself re-living last summer, flooded by painful memories and experiencing the anxiety and sadness as if I were going through it all over again. I am functioning during the day pretty well, by the grace of God, but as usual, night time has continued to be my time of grieving, only this present period seems to be even more difficult than it has been up to this point.  Consequently my sleep patterns have plummeted back down to the low point of getting very erratic, non-restful sleep.

My ability to concentrate and focus have not been good at all amidst this time of emotional turmoil and the several times I have intended to write this reflection and update I haven’t been able to focus long enough to get past the first few sentences. Hence, two months have come and gone. Tonight I determined to make some headway one way or the other. So I apologize for the gap in time to hear about these two important events as well as the delay in receiving the thank you’s for all the donations we received. Even though I was able to write many of those they have had to wait to be sent out until this was written as I referred you to the site to read our ‘update’ about the events and what is happening within the foundation. We so want to let you know and see what it is you have given to and become a part of. In a separate post we will upload some pictures and hope that they will also give you a glimpse of the Joshua Casteel House and its ministry as well as IVAW, a group that is working tirelessly to help returning veterans affected by the war.

But in no way does the delay in writing this reflection about the two events represent our gratitude and excitement about the actual experiences, quite the contrary. Both were incredibly uplifting as we were able to meet the wonderful people involved, experience their hospitality and graciousness as well as witness their genuine commitment to what they feel called to do.

On May 18th at the Joshua Casteel House we took part in a Byzantine Mass, which Joshua would have loved. There was even some Arabic included in parts of it. The rituals and symbolism were beautiful. We sang, we shared, and we ate together. Every part was lovingly prepared by those people who are committed to this ministry.

We had the opportunity to hear from Martha Hennessy (granddaughter of Dorothy Day) who traveled from New York to participate in the dedication.  Then we watched an interview given by an Irish reporter/activist about Joshua’s part in some very significant actions taken in Ireland and beyond positively affecting the peace movement internationally, but especially in Ireland. We learned things about Joshua that we never knew and saw that his influence was even more far reaching than we knew about and probably more than he even knew. He didn’t talk about his many trips and speeches at length with us in part because of his busy life but also because Joshua didn’t flaunt his achievements. In contrast he just went about doing what he felt called to do.  You can watch the interview here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RscSobwSZFw&feature=share

It was wonderful to see the house and its ministry firsthand and to see glimpses of him and his passions throughout the house. We spent the entire day with the group and upon leaving remarked how ‘at home’ we felt there, especially with the people. Later a tree was planted in his honor in the garden. I am so thankful all three of us were able to be there and feel like we became part of the family of the Joshua Casteel House. We were able to present them with the plaque with all of the donors listed, along with the donation from the Joshua Casteel Foundation.

The Catholic Worker team is currently looking for a house to use for the staff and for those who may have short term needs. They will continue to serve meals and reach out to the community with the love of Christ and I’m confident and so thankful that our contributions, prayers, and help will have a far reaching effect as they minister to those in need.

The following weekend I spent in Chicago attending an IVAW (Iraq Veterans Agains the War) fundraising event in downtown Chicago. Chad Nicholson, friend and fellow board member for the Joshua Casteel Foundation, attended with me, along with his wife and sisters. It was great to have them there with me. Both Chad and I spoke at the event.

IVAW partnered with the EMPACT series (Everyone’s music politics art and community throwdown) and brought in bands for a night of fun, alongside the important reasons we were all there, to bring to light important issues relating to veterans. In our case that meant talking about the burn pits that were used in Iraq and Afghanistan, raising awareness to the issue and report on current progress in doing away with them. The bands were all great (Chad and family stayed late to hear them all while us moms went home to bed) but we were very thankful that they would choose to make it a fundraiser for our foundation. Again, it was a privilege to meet the very dedicated people who work so hard for what they believe in and who have the courage to take a stand that may not be popular or readily accepted by others.

Another event that took place in May was the University of Iowa 2013 New Play Festival, where writers from the Iowa Playwright’s Workshop present their works. As most of you know, Joshua graduated with his MA in  Playwrighting and also Non-Fiction from the writer’s workshop at the University of Iowa. It was a great honor that they named this year’s reading series in honor of Joshua and he was featured in the festival programs. I attended one of the reading sessions and also one of the featured plays with Naomi and her husband, Travis.  Both were excellent and while being in Joshua’s former environment (he loved Iowa City)was difficult in some ways of course, it was also comforting how at home I felt among the writers and actors, especially in the ‘reading room’ where we had been many times to hear Joshua’s readings.

May was an overwhelming month for sure. One of gratitude for all the honors bestowed on Joshua and in his memory, but also sadness knowing that all the reminders were of a life so well lived with a passion to see real change in the world and of a person so well loved who is no longer with us working to bring about that change. But that is why the Joshua Casteel Foundation exists, to continue on with the passions he lived out of and that we desire as well to see come to fruition. Our hope is to carry on a message of love and reconciliation rather than violence and revenge, encourage justice and truth where injustice and lack of truth or lies prevail, and to give aid where there is none given.  We desire to keep his light shining by letting our own lights shine along with his.

Foundation Updates:

We have now met as a board several times via ‘google hangout’ and are very close to finalizing our mission/vision statements as well as our defining principles and goals. We will be posting them just as soon as they are completed.  This will give you a much clearer vision of the foundation and help you see the directions we are going as well as determining what projects you may desire to take part in.  Chad Nicholson, our resident practicing lawyer, is moving ahead on getting our 501(c)3 non-profit status and we are also building an official website which will make our foundation much more visible and accessible.

We are excited to announce that Travis Thompson, Naomi’s husband, is joining the foundation board.  Travis was more than a brother-in-law to Joshua, he was a confidant as well as a kindred spirit when it comes to literature, writing, and theology.  They had many good conversations and I am confident he will bring much to the table as a board member.  Travis will be taking the place of Mia Alvarado to allow her to focus on a book she is writing using many of Joshua’s writings which is an enormous and complicated task! We’re anticipating this project greatly and will keep you posted on the progress.

Catholic Peace Ministries in Des Moines is planning an annual lecture series entitled ‘The Joshua Casteel Series’ where they will bring in featured speakers to talk on topics related to peace and non-violence, justice and reconciliation. It will be slated for September each year. We are so looking forward to that and hope to partner with them to help in whatever ways we can. It will begin either this September or September 2014 depending on availability of their first chosen speaker. We’ll let you know as soon as we know for sure.

Coming up we will be announcing a project we hope will inspire everyone to promote love, peace and justice in their own communities so look for our announcement within the next month! Thank you for staying on this journey with us – Board of the Joshua Casteel Foundation

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