Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Heartbreak and Responsibility

Today I had my heart broken. No, no guy did this to me. Seriously, guys, no need to threaten anyone because the person who broke my heart was myself. Allow me to explain...

I was very strongly (and justly) reprimanded earlier for not placing God first in my life. Recent weeks certainly felt that way. Before this weekend, I could feel myself unintentionally pulling further and further away. My priorities got messed up. School became my priority... over most things, including food and sleep. I got tunnel vision. I had deadlines. I needed to meet those deadlines. Old habits die hard. My prayer life suffered. I placed more of an importance on finishing lecture videos than taking time out of my day to pray. I still prayed... but not as well or as I often as I had in the past. I made many terrible decisions that caused me to miss Mass. That was all on me. I take full responsibility for my decisions. Were they wrong? Absolutely. Did they make me feel terrible? Of course! Have I learned from them? You bet! In recent days I've been making more of an effort to reprioritize things in my life. Sometimes I fail but I've been praying more and putting that ahead of schoolwork... even with the time crunch.

I had a spiritual direction meeting today. Guess where I was rightly and justly reprimanded. I went with every intention of asking for help. I knew I needed it. Every time I've gotten so busy, my prayer life suffers. I was candid. I didn't hold anything back because I knew that I had to own up to my failures during the past month (plus nearly two weeks) since my last meeting. I was prepared to get strong words said my way. I deserved them I needed them. What I wasn't counting on was being left without a spiritual director.

I don't blame him. I failed. I made my own choices. They were wrong. I understand it. I accepted it. I needed help getting back on the right path. Because I'm very sensitive, I started crying when he informed me it would be my last meeting. I broke my own heart. I failed God. I failed my spiritual director. I failed myself.

I talked to those closest to me after my meeting because I couldn't stop crying. I'm still crying as I type this out. There's a lot I'm leaving out out of respect for someone else. I don't blame them. They were just trying to make me realize that I needed to re-prioritize things in my life. I'd been doing that lately but I guess it was too little too late.

Today I felt like a fraud... like a failure... like I don't deserve anything good. Has that not come across in that post? I know some of you will tell me I'm too hard on myself but that's how I've felt for the past couple of hours. How can I sit here and talk about God and how much I love Him when I can't even keep my prayer life in order; if I don't try harder to attend Mass? I can't keep using physical pain as an excuse to not attend. How can I keep blogging if I can't keep myself in line? What kind of person am I if my spiritual director quit on me? One of my best friends said this has "spiritual attack" written all over it. Either way, this was a huge wake up call to me and it certainly kicked whatever else I needed to re-prioritize everything in my life.

Gratitude? Yeah, I have that. Despite the tears, despite how horrible I feel about myself, despite how disappointed I am in myself, despite finding myself without a spiritual director when I most need one (and I definitely feel like I do need one at this point), I'm grateful for this metaphorical kick in the tush. Good will come of it... even if it'll take some time for the sting to fade.

I'm sorry if I've disappointed anyone else. I'm not perfect. I've never claimed to be. I'm completely flawed. The good intentions are there but I fall short. Again, I've been trying (even more so in these past couple of days)... but it is what it is.

Pray for me, everyone. I'm going to need them as I try to figure out where to go from here.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Confirmation Story: Why I Left the Church Shortly After

It's my confirmation anniversary and the feast day of St. Cecilia, my confirmation saint. (side note: yes, I know it's the feast of Christ the King, too. Trust me, I know.) While today doesn't bring the best memories, I did promise that I would tell y'all the full story of how my confirmation basically led to me unofficially leaving the Church so... here we go.

17 years ago, I reluctantly walked to the Iglesia Santa Cecilia in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico with my parents and my godmother (we call them godparents, not sponsors, in Mexico). I was a 13 year-old who was not happy that she was being forced to be confirmed against her wishes. Yes, I said forced. It didn't matter that I had my hair done or that I had a pretty new blue dress on. I'm pretty sure I was in a bad mood during the ceremony, too. I'm getting a little ahead of myself...

The weeks leading up to it were miserable for me. "No," I told my parents. "I don't want to be confirmed in Tijuana. No, I'm not going to study." If I ever acted out in teenage rebellion, it was over this situation. See, my mother's godmother had a brother who was a priest down in Tijuana. Her godmother pulled strings to get me confirmed at 13 so I wouldn't go through the two years of classes here in the States. "But I want to go to the classes! I want to get confirmed with my friends." No, my parents said. They didn't want to have to take me to classes for two more years. It was a pain to have to do it for my first communion. Besides, I would be "too old" and should be confirmed young, they argued. No matter how much I fought against it, I ultimately had no say in it. I was going to get confirmed whether I wanted to or not... and I really, really didn't want to.

It wasn't that I didn't want to go through Confirmation. I did. I was that little girl who dreamed of being a nun when she grew up. I think I've always loved Mass. I used to sit in the front pew, mesmerized by the priest, the prayers, the readings, everything. I envisioned myself in a brown habit once I was old enough to become a nun. I proudly announced that I wanted to be a nun when I grew up. St. Francis of Assisi and the Holy Child of Atocha were my first favorite saints. I loved my catechism classes leading up to the First Communion. I loved looking like a mini bride on the big day. I didn't mind that we had to celebrate it in a large tent in the church parking lot because the 1994 Northridge Earthquake had badly damaged our parish. Even at 8 years old, I knew what a big deal it was to receive the Eucharist. I looked forward to more classes in preparation for my Confirmation but it was never meant to be.

Did I go to confession prior to being confirmed? No. Did I go to classes? Unless an hour meeting the night before counts (in which they asked me questions I had no answers to), the answer is "no." Did I get to pick out a confirmation saint? No, because they don't do that in Mexico. And so I was confirmed and I was not happy. I ended up unofficially leaving the Church shortly after for two reasons: 1) my uninformed, young mind was mad at my parents for pushing me and 2) my parents said that we were "done." We no longer needed to attend Mass or anything since I was done with the Sacraments until I got married.

I love my parents dearly. They were the best parents that I could've ever asked for. My dad took care of me when I was a baby (while mom worked) and then worked the graveyard shift to support us. To this day, mom says that dad was more of a mom to me than she was because I would be bathed, clothed, changed, fed, and asleep by the time she got home in the evening. My mom taught me to not be afraid of hard work and to always help others. Both ingrained in me the importance of a good education. I don't blame their reluctance to continue attending Mass because I know what led each of them to leave Church in their youth. Still, I'm a little sad that faith wasn't more important in my own life growing up.

I think we went to Mass maybe a handful of times between (my) ages of 13 and 21, mostly for weddings and never for Christmas or holy days of obligations. I didn't pray that often. I considered myself Catholic but I certainly didn't act it. I knew nothing beyond what little I learned in catechism classes when I was 7-8. I headed down a terrible path in my teen years. I've written enough about what made me return to the Church so I won't repeat everything. The "in a nutshell" version for new readers: I fell ill shortly after I turned 21, prayed to St. Jude and he interceded... which sparked the curiosity in me. Bam, back to the faith.

Sometimes I wonder what would've happened if I had gotten confirmed at 16 like I had wanted but I don't dwell on it. Instead, I think about what has happened since my reversion. Once I learned that I was confirmed at a church named after St. Cecilia, on her feast day, I adopted her as my confirmation saint. It makes sense, too, since I've always said that music was my first love and she's the patroness of musicians. It was almost like she chose me, in a way. Her story continues to inspire me to this day. I'm very humbled that God used me to get my parents to return to the Church, with my father's official return occurring the day before my 24th birthday (his birthday present to me) and my mother returning shortly afterward.

As I said, I don't blame my parents for those "lost years." It's not great to think about what led to our time away from the Church for years but I just have to remember that what's important is the fact that we're back home. In a way, I'm glad it happened because it made me appreciate the Sacraments that much more when I returned. It just stinks that I had to go through all of that first. And, of course, this has all made me want to teach my future children about the beauty of the Church and the importance of the Sacraments as they grow up.

And, there you have it. That's the story of how my confirmation led to my years away from the Church. Glad to be back home and grateful to have the opportunity to learn more about Catholicism as an adult. :)

I have a Theology paper due in exactly one week and I want to finish it early so I'm going to go ahead and work on it for a bit. Yes, I know it's Sunday and that it's a day of rest but I'd like to think that God would give me a pass considering how much time I've lost this quarter. Still trying to catch up, folks. ;) If not, sorry, God. I really do want to do well in my courses. And, hey, it's Theology. I'm "working" but it's all still focused on the Church and the faith. I get a pass, right? heehee.

I hope y'all continue having a great weekend!

As always, thanks for reading and God bless! :D

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Peaceful Doubts

Oh, doubts. You were bound to pop up at some point...

Lately I've been experiencing this odd mixture of peace with doubts. I know, it doesn't make much sense. I guess the only way to explain it is to take one of the things I've been doubting and share it... and hope it'll make sense to someone.

I don't know if it's the time crunch (down to the final weeks of the quarter and still trying to catch up on coursework) or what but I've been wondering if I should continue grad school. I should say that I am loving my courses. Despite the time crunch and the little free time I get, I truly enjoy them. I haven't enjoyed myself in an academic setting since I did my junior and senior years of high school in less than a year. Seriously, I finished both in two semesters... and I loved it. At no point this quarter have I said "ugh, I don't want to do this anymore. It feels forced." I had those thoughts ("ugh, I want this to be over") when I did speech-language pathology last year but not with theology. I still love the material, even if the books aren't the easiest, and it's something that I will continue doing (learning about theology) once I'm done... but I'm wondering if I should continue in the program.

With everything that's happened recently, I've had to really sit down and look at where I'm going and what I want. I haven't mentioned anything to anyone but I've had a couple of different career/job paths open up for me. One would have me working within the L.A. Archdiocese. It's something I already have the skills for and don't need to further my education for. Another would not be related to theology (at all) and would not need a Master's degree in either. The third option is also something that I don't technically need a Master's degree for but one that the program I'm currently in would help better prepare me for. The only downside to this last option is that it's quite possibly the biggest risk, career and education-wise, that I could take. I'm the first to admit that I'm not a big risk-taker but I know that sometimes the risk is worth the reward.

Because I feel at peace when I think about the program, I'm trying to dismiss the doubts as things that are trying to derail me again. Sure, grad school is a lot (and I do mean a lot) of hard work but I don't mind the hard work. I actually enjoy it! Yes, I'm going to be rushed for the next three weeks, trying to meet all deadlines. Yes, I'm going to work through Thanksgiving weekend... but there is a sort of excitement in it. Still, a part of me is wondering if I'll have these opportunities later on. 

If I had my car fixed, I would go to the nearest Perpetual Adoration chapel or church (to kneel in front of the tabernacle if I couldn't get to the Adoration chapel) and spend some time in silent prayer. There's too much noise and too many distractions where I live to have some time in silence. I don't see my spiritual director until next week so I guess I can wait for that... but it's still something that's going to bug me for a while.

There's something else, too, but that's going to be for my spiritual director to help me figure out. Let's just say it's vocation related and that I feel a lovely peace in my heart but it's a bit complicated. Peace... with doubts.

Maybe all of this is why I've had a strong urge to go to church as much as possible. If I had my car, I would be attending daily Mass and/or driving to the local parish and parking myself in front of the tabernacle. I haven't attended Mass or gone to confession in two weeks and it doesn't sit well with me. I don't feel comfortable and won't until I do both (confession and Mass). The last time I felt an urge this overwhelming was when there was a big change in my life. I guess we shall see what happens next.

I'm just rambling at this point but I wanted to get it out so I wouldn't go crazy trying to analyze it tonight instead of sleeping. I'm going to go pray the Rosary and do my nighttime prayers before midnight. :)

I hope y'all are having a great week thus far!

As always, thanks for reading and God bless! :D

Sunday, November 15, 2015

"Bad Luck" Friday

I'm not superstitious about Friday the 13th. Yes, this past Friday was a weird (even terrifying) day from start to finish but I'm not going to say that it's all connected to the day because many consider it unlucky. I'll tell you exactly why I don't believe that it was a "bad luck" day.

When I woke up at 4 a.m. (to help mom request an Uber ride to take her to work; she doesn't know how to use apps on cell phones), my entire body ached in an odd way. I tried to sleep it off with a nap but the achiness was still around when I woke up. I didn't know if it was a cold, the flu, or something else. My body was just not feeling great. Since I wasn't feeling well, I wrestled with the decision to go to the chiropractor. My lawyer's assistant stressed that I should not miss any appointments because it could harm my case. I decided to go. I had to request Uber since I was not feeling well enough to endure the bus ride to and from the chiropractor's office. I got to place, had my therapy, and left.

When I came home, I decided to call my car insurance company because I'd received a bill to pay for the month of December. The customer service rep I talked to asked if I was going to get a new car or repair my current car. Since I didn't know, it was decided that keeping my insurance (for now) would be best. I called my lawyer to inquire about the case since I hadn't heard from them in weeks. It was one month exactly (accident occurred on October 13) so I was curious.

I was unprepared to hear how cold the lawyer sounded when she spoke to me. There was no case. Police had determined that the guy who hit me was at fault (he ran the red light) but he had no actual car insurance. The insurance information he'd given was false; the insurance company confirmed that he had no insurance through them. It looks like my neighbor's information (that the guy had no car insurance or a license) was correct. We think the guy has disappeared since the accident. Driving without insurance (which is illegal) and with a potentially fake license? Few would own up to it. Interestingly enough, right after I got the news, my body stopped aching completely. It was like I'd experienced nothing for most of the morning.

So what does this news mean? Well, that I'm basically, financially hosed. Either I get my car repaired (a mechanic that knew my dad is supposed to come over to assess the costs to get my car fixed) or get a new (used) one. With the high cost of living in L.A., tuition and book fees for grad school, other medical payments that have to be made, a stalled GoFundMe fundraiser, and one steady paycheck coming in (mine depends on the amount of work and/or royalty payments that come in each month) we basically don't have enough to do either. We'll find a way to fix this... but it won't be anytime soon.

After talking to the lawyer (and my mom; I called her to tell her the news), I tried to focus on my Philosophy paper due that night (I received an extension due to the accident). I was close to finishing editing it when I heard about the Paris attacks. While it shocked me, it hit closer to home when a good friend texted me, reminding me that his parents are currently living in a Parisian suburb. Seigneur aie pitiƩ de nous. (Hopefully that's correct; my French is rudimentary.) I spent the next couple of hours keeping track of what was unfolding in Paris. Memories of 9/11 came flooding back. I couldn't believe was what happening. (side note: if you're wondering: I did end up finishing and submitting my paper on time.)

I shed many tears that day. It was just an overall overwhelming day with so many events happening at once. However, at the end of the day I was grateful. On a personal level, I have to dig deep and save up for either car repairs or a new car... but I still have my life and my health. Sure, my kneecap that was hurt in the accident hurts when it's cold but that can be remedied by keeping it warm. The material (car) can be replaced, my life cannot. Also, I did the math and we may actually save a bit more for a couple of months without the car. Surely, that will help bring a bit more financial stability (even if it's short lived) that we need.

I worked my tush off and I turned in a paper that I was proud of. Even if the grade isn't the best (I'm sure there was a lot I left out but the 10 page limit didn't give me enough space to write), I'm proud of myself for still working on despite everything that happened that day. If anything, I feel prepared for whatever the outcome. Either I pass my classes and continue or I don't. Either way, I have plans A, B, and C ready for whatever happens. Can't keep this girl down. :)

What happened in Paris is an atrocity. There's no way around that. There were so many lives lost... but so many more were saved by heroic acts of both civilians (such as the security guard who prevented a suicide bomber from entering the Stade de France) and policemen and women who rescued the hostages that weren't killed at the Bataclan Theater as well as in other places. In the aftermath there was mourning and anger... but also a sense of unity and resilience. I know some of my friends have an issue with me for looking at the bright side, even in horrific events such as this, but I can't help it. I see what happened for what it was -- a senseless act of violence against innocent victims -- but I also see the good that came out of it: an outpour of love and camaraderie that no one can take away. On a personal level, it made me realize just how much I love my family and friends yet how I don't say it enough. I know that they know but I should verbalize it more often. Also, the importance of frequent confession was made more glaringly obvious.

I feel like I can't do much in regards to what happened in Paris, except to pray. To pray for the souls of the victims. To pray for their loved ones. To pray for not only Paris but for the world -- there were earthquakes (Japan and Mexico) and other acts of violence (Beirut and Baghdad) either on the same day or close to the date of Parisian attacks. To pray that nations come together and come up with strategies that will help keep people safe; to prevent this from happening again. To pray for those who will risk their lives to ensure our safety, not just American soldiers but all soldiers in the fight against terrorism. I will remember that God is greater than the evil that exists. It may be hard to understand that -- especially for those who were more directly affected by the events -- but knowing that gives some comfort.

I think I'll end the blog post here but before I do I want to say a couple of things. Let your loved ones know how much they mean to you. Be grateful for all the good that exists, not just in your life but in the world as a whole. Pray. Be charitable. Go to confession. Keep God at the center of your life. In all your actions, try to make decisions that will lead you to Heaven. Be good and do good. I'll be praying for you all.

As always, thanks for reading and God bless!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Goodbye, Comfort Zone

Lately I feel like I keep getting inspired (or pushed, if you wish you see it that way) to keep moving forward. This is how my inner monologue occasionally goes:

Me: Okay, God. I think I got it -- why I was being tested. I understand. I'm okay here. Wait... are you pushing me out of my comfort zone again? But I like my comfort zone. Can't I get a break? Please? Not even for a little bit? I shouldn't settle? Yes, I know You're right but... Huh? I need to keeping moving forward? Alright. No, I'm not complaining. I just really love my comfort zone. However, if you want me to keep going, I will. Your will, God... not mine. Yes, I trust in You even though I have no idea what's going to happen in the future.

While the above applies to different areas of my life, my biggest focus has been on my past academic comfort bubble. Coursework these past couple of weeks has been rough for me. I knew grad school was hard but I wasn't anticipating it to be this time consuming. Two books in particular were read ridiculously slow (way too slow for me) because of how complex and verbose they were. The general consensus amongst my fellow classmates (and even my professor) was that the books were not easy to grasp. It wasn't that I was a total dunce (though it occasionally feels that way listening some of my classmates; my goodness, they will do amazing things for the Church). I just had to take my time and try to get through it all as best as I could with a little help along the way.

I'm currently finishing up my first paper, a week after it was originally due. No, it's okay; I had an extension due to the time lost post-accident last month. I didn't want the extension, to be honest. I wanted to meet the original deadline. Remember when I wrote about having academic pride earlier this year? I was dangerously close to going there again but this paper helped me realize it early enough to stop it. I had to humble myself and rein in the pride that wanted to pop up again. Old habits die hard, you know? No, I was not going to have it easy like I'd had in previous years. I was going to have to work harder than I ever had just to finish that paper.

When I accepted this, I talked to the right person and was able to get an extension. Did I want it? No, but I knew I needed it. Sometimes things take time and hard work. This paper was a beautiful reminder of not only that but that it's always best to trust Him. As I got closer to the deadline (prior to receiving the extension) and saw that I was nowhere near being done I said: "If I don't finish this paper, Lord, and if it makes such a difference that it will put me in jeopardy of potentially having to leave the program (side note: paper worth a good chunk of my grade)... it will be because You have something else planned for me. I will accept it. I put my trust in You." Maybe He doesn't want me to give up yet because, despite the stress I put on myself to meet the deadlines, I've felt an overwhelming peace about being in this program. Hard work isn't fun but I do love it. I've never enjoyed myself in an academic setting as much as I have recently. I can't get enough of the works of St. Thomas Aquinas (for Philosophy) nor anything that's been assigned in my Theology course. Am I still behind (in general)? Of course... but I'm willing to work harder now that I'm learning to adjust to my new schedule (which includes thrice weekly sessions for my back and a whole lot of taking public transportation).

The quarter ends in less than a month. I have two more papers and a lot of hard work ahead of me. I might've lost a majority of the first half due to circumstances beyond my control (as well as horrendous lack of time management with a dash of procrastination) but that doesn't mean I can't catch up. I can... with God's help. I hope that by Thanksgiving Day weekend I will be all caught up. That is my hope but only God knows if I'll be able to meet that goal. If not, it won't be because I didn't try. For now it's all about trust and hard work.

There's another area in which I feel God is inspiring me to move forward but it may be too early to tell. For now trust, prayer, and resigning myself to His will is all I can do. Oh yeah, and I need to be patient. As independent and (occasionally) stubborn as I may be, I know that His plans are much greater than anything I could ever plan for myself and I can't wait to see what's in store for me next.

Your will, God... not my own.

Anyway, that's all I wanted to share with y'all for now. I have most of my paper done but I want to add a couple more things to make it flow a bit better so I'm going to go do that. :)

I hope y'all are well!

As always, thanks for reading and God bless! :D