Monday, April 24, 2017

I Have NO Clarity Regarding God's Will For Me

After receiving a poor grade on an assignment I worked hard on over the weekend, I felt dejected. I worked incredibly hard on the paper. I read it and reread it. Edited it and re-edited it. Still, this particular professor (or the TA that nitpicked my paper) thought it was basically poor work. I've had problems with this professor in the past -- my academic adviser and the department chair even got involved the first semester I took him and they took my side in the situation -- but I still pray for him and I still try to look for the good in him. He does missionary work and helps children in third world countries that have speech problems. He does good work and I'm glad he shares what he learns from those trips with us... even if my pride takes a massive hit when things like this grade happen.

I'd be lying if I said the thought "why continue if I'm just going to keep hitting these roadblocks?" didn't pop into my mind. This degree has been incredibly hard to finish. It's not just me; it seems like many (possibly most) of those who go through the program repeat at least one course at some point and some decide to leave the program altogether. For another class, a classmate messaged everyone who is retaking the course for the second time and some have said that they may have to repeat the course again.

The joke that SLP students are on anti-anxiety medication exists for a reason, folks. This is a tough and demanding program and field. Those of you who haven't been reading this blog long enough may not know that this is my second round trying to finish this program/degree. I had to quit and leave the program/school nearly 2.5 years ago when I worked myself so hard to do well that I ended up getting sick... and I've yet to fully recover from it.

I keep wondering if I can keep going if I'm feeling fed up with it all because I am. I want to cry, I'm so overwhelmed. Not so much with the coursework; I've, thankfully, been able to resubmit most of the work I did last semester in order to save time. I've also done much better on the exams this time around. Still, I just feel pushed and forced into this path for financial reasons and that makes me a little depressed.

After tearing up and lamenting my grade, the Holy Spirit must've inspired me to think about the great professors and support system I have because I ended up crying again (this time, happy tears) as I reminisced and felt the love and support of former teachers and professors. I can still remember which teachers always encouraged me.

My second and third-grade teacher (she taught both grades) knew I wanted to be a lawyer (back then) and she told my parents -- in front of me, at an open house -- that she thought I could do it.

My fifth-grade teacher was the biggest academic cheerleader, telling me I had the brains to do whatever I wanted to do in life.

My sixth-grade math/science and English/history teachers gave me a "busy bee" award ("always working. always reading") and encouraged my love of books.

My seventh-grade science teacher defended me when I was badly bullied (long story) and encouraged me to keep going forward despite what the "crackheads" (he seriously called them that) were saying and doing to me.

My wonderful teachers when I transferred from regular high school to independent study through a charter school cheered me on, even when times were hard. My dad had been diagnosed with cancer when I was a junior in HS and had his surgery and chemotherapy before graduation. Through their support, I was able to finish half of my junior year and my entire senior year in a single semester and they even chose me to give the valedictorian-type speech at the graduation ceremony.

Mr. H (English professor whom I wrote about last month) and Mr. G (math professor) at Santa Monica College became my first academic cheerleaders in college.

At Pierce College, Dr. B (British Lit professor who became the inspiration for Prof. Normandy in the first Will and Lina novel) encouraged me to apply to Oxford University to transfer and Prof. W (academic counselor; professor) was the first professor to ever point out my writing abilities before I had even entertained the idea of writing as a career.

Ms. Lewis (from my alma mater; may she rest in peace) wasn't a professor but a counselor who was my only ally at my alma mater. I don't think I would've survived that horrible experience without her.

Dr. K at JP Catholic was incredibly encouraging during my brief stint as a graduate student. He knew about my accident and he was encouraging about my work, giving me the first (and only) A in grad school. (side note: shout out to Dr. K who had us read the Summa and got me on board the St. Thomas Aquinas fan club).

I'm not even counting my family and friends who know me and love me despite any academic hiccups I have along the way.

Recently one of my best friends posed a question no one had before: what if I didn't finish this degree? What's the worst that could happen? I had to stop and think about it. Worst case scenario: debt-city, baby. I have nearly $50k in student loans from 1 finished degree (which I've almost paid off completely) and 2 degrees I've started but haven't finished (MA in Theology; BS in Communicative Disorders). Finding a job that I can do with my (current) physical ailments and with a BA in Religious Studies (without teaching credentials) is near impossible, folks.

I talk about trusting God and yet I still tried to control my financial stability by picking career/degree that would help provide financial stability (this one). I've also tried to do a degree that didn't offer any stability but that I loved and then had to leave because my GPA dipped slightly under a 3.0 (2.94; seriously) following my car accident, thus making me ineligible to receive financial aid. I'm technically a student at FUS (I never declined their offer of admission) so I could finish my Master's degree but I think, if I end up having to leave this degree, I'm done with academia. I'm burnt out. I'll look for a job and let God take the reins though it's been hard since I graduated 5 years ago.

I close my eyes and imagine myself taking my academic/career issues and my health issues (particularly the pancytopenia which has been the most physically debilitating), kneeling down at the foot of the Cross, looking up at our crucified Lord and saying "these are my crosses and I don't know what to do. Please give me clarity as to how to carry them if it is Your will that I do so. If any of these things are not in Your plans for me, please make it clear so that I can leave them here, with You, and focus solely on what You want me to do."

So there's where I am. As I wrote a couple of blog posts ago, I had a feeling this was a possible outcome for me; that I wouldn't finish this program or not use this degree despite all the hard work I've put in. I'm still going to try very hard to do well on my finals and see what happens (though it will take a miracle to pass both classes at this point) and leave the rest up to God. I will work hard and do my best on my end but if things don't work out, He knows why.

I must trust in Him. I DO trust in Him. I just wish God would make His plans for me much clearer so I can do just them. I'm not afraid of the possibly of His calling me back to finish my Theology MA. I'm not afraid of the possibility of not finishing either degree. I'm not afraid taking on a job that would pay very little (enough just for the necessities of life). I just want to do His will.

See what the 30-day St. Joseph novena does to a gal? lol. 13 more days to go. Clarity, St. Joseph. That's all I want; I just want/need some clarity. In most areas of my life but particularly the career and academic area for now. I don't want to act on feelings because those can fool you so I'm going to finish this novena and pray for that clarity I so much desire.

Anyway, that's it for now. I've had this blog post idea (and most of it written out), sitting in my inbox for a couple of days and since I'm taking a tiny break from studying for my first final exam (which I hope to take between this coming Wednesday and Saturday), I thought I'd post it.

I hope you all have a lovely Divine Mercy Sunday and a great start of the week. :D

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

Friday, April 21, 2017

Health and Technology Lenten Experiment: The Results

Sorry for the gap in between posts. Finals week begins next week so I finished the last of my lecture videos between Tuesday and yesterday. I'm going to try to do both of my finals next week as opposed to next week and the week after that so that I can have a week-long break in between the Spring and Summer semester instead of just a weekend. I'll finish my flash cards later today. I wanted to blog (and clear my mind of the academic stress) for a little bit so here I am, writing a new one. :)

The last blog post -- on why I hate social media -- had interesting reactions, mostly positive. Apparently, I'm not alone in the "social media is wearing me down" boat and some are thinking about deleting their Twitter accounts as well. For those you contemplating it, I'd suggest doing it in baby steps, especially if you're very addicted to social media. Quitting cold turkey isn't easy for many people. And, actually, this serves as a nice little segway into today's post on a Lenten experiment that came as a result of eschewing social media.

In order to help me avoid social media, I had to limit my use of technology in the form of my laptop, my phone, and iPod touch. Yes, I use all three for different things. My laptop is used for things like schoolwork, writing, blogging, and other things that require a larger keyboard and/or use of a wireless mouse. My phone is used for texts, calls, Spotify (when I'm driving), and the occasional website search or app use when I'm not home or can't use my iPod touch (which relies on home WiFi); Google Maps FTW! I don't watch TV often and I rarely stream movies (I don't have Netflix and I rarely use Amazon Prime Video which is included with our Amazon Prime membership) so the Roku on the TV stays unplugged for most of the day and can even go days without being plugged in. I do read a lot, and I've been using my Kindle more often, but I disable the WiFi on it and only turn it on when my borrowed (library) eBooks need to be downloaded onto it.

I use the iPod touch much more than I do any other device. I use it for apps like the app for members and friends of the local FSSP church (or, I should say, the one we're hoping to establish soon; please donate if you can!), Rain Rain (which I use when I need light background noise to fall asleep or relax), Goodreads, iPieta, EWTN, Overdrive (for the audiobooks I borrow from the library), Kindara (great for you ladies), Wunderlist (where I keep my daily schedule/to-do list, though this will change since Microsoft is axing the app later this year), and Scrobbler (where I keep track of what music I listen to... and how much of it). I deleted the Instagram app before Lent began and I haven't used the Facebook nor Twitter apps since last Lent (2016).

As you can see, I'm pretty plugged in even if a majority of these apps are used once or twice a day (or less). I'm not even counting the FitBit app and other apps I deleted during the Lenten season (more on this in a moment) or else, well, you get the picture; I'm very dependent on technology. After reading Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter (which I briefly mentioned in the last post), I decided to challenge myself to limit my use of technology. It was probably one of the best decisions I've made in a long time.

I started off by doing my research paper the old-fashioned way: writing my paper using mostly books from the library and a notebook and pen. Yes, I did request the library books using the LAPL (Los Angeles Public Library) website before I picked them up but I used the physical books as soon as I had them. Yes, I did have to use my school's database to look up peer-review articles and journals on my topic (stuttering in the pediatric population) but I downloaded the .pdf files so I wouldn't have to use WiFi and/or would be able to print them out so I wouldn't use the laptop often. Yes, I had to type up my paper on Word since my professor insisted on it being a .doc/.docx file but it was first written out on paper using a pen. Lots and lots of paper, ink, and hand cramps because I'm used to typing more than I am used to manually writing things out (letters to friends excluded from this statement). I was able to finish the paper in record time and had amazing concentration during it. 

I then deleted all the apps that I realized were designed to keep me plugged in (thanks for making me realize this, Mr. Alter). I deleted apps like FitBit, MyFitnessPal (to keep track of how much iron I consumed per day), Plant Nanny (which kept track of my water consumption and reminded me to drink more water every 2 hours), and a number of other apps that I didn't use often or used way too often that were not helpful/beneficial to me in any way. The results were also really great and I found myself feeling healthier and with more energy.

I actually stopped wearing my Fitbit Charge HR for two reasons. First, my eyes were opened to what the experts talked about in Irresistible; how I felt like a failure if I didn't get to my step goal (blame my slightly competitive nature) and how I pushed myself even when I felt too tired or my legs hurt. That led to number two: I was unintentionally causing more harm than I was helping. I didn't listen to my body when it sent "okay, you need to rest" signals and let my brain bully me with "but you can get to that number... you've done over 11k steps before; surely you can finish 5k measly steps per day." I found myself growing more and more fatigued and physically exhausted as the days passed but I pushed myself to meet the goals. Yes, my doctors advised that I walk more and exercise more but I was pushing myself beyond my limits, especially when the accidental dairy consumption physically weakened me more than anemia ever did. I'm not even going to touch on the sleeping and heart rate trackers which used to seriously stress me out. 

After I deleted the app and stopped wearing the tracker, I started picking up bodily cues. I walk when I feel the energy to walk. I actually try to get up and walk around as much as I can throughout the day; much more than I used to prior to the use of FitBit. If I was tired, I first drank water (since I'd been terrible at keeping myself hydrated prior to this experiment) to make sure I was just a bit dehydrated. If I was still tired, I took a break from whatever I was doing and rested. I even took naps if I felt like I really needed one and it wasn't too late in the day. I ate when I was hungry or drank more water if a mealtime was coming up and I knew I wouldn't be hungry for it if I snacked. I've also noticed that whatever foods I crave usually pinpoint to something my body needs. i.e.: when I was craving dairy (which I can't have) was when my calcium levels were low (I'm not sure where they are now). When I craved red meat was when my iron was lower. When I craved salty things was when my sodium was low (I found I had low sodium at the ER last month). When the thought of fried foods or certain dietary staples didn't appeal to me, I listened to what I was in the mood for and it helped get my stomach back on track. 

I've been able to maintain my weight at my normal range (123-125 lbs; what has been recommended for my 5'7" height and small frame by doctors) for an entire year without the help of MyFitnessPal which used to tell me how many more calories I needed to eat to gain weight when I was underweight. (For those of you who are new to the blog: being underweight was the unfortunate consequence of an academic stress breakdown I had three years ago and then a car accident I had a year and a half ago). Now that I've found a multivitamin that has more than 100% iron (which I need for my anemia), I don't need to keep track of that either. Buh-bye, app!

I also did something to help with the bouts of insomnia I've been battling with on-and-off for years. I'd heard a lot about the damage caused by the blue light found in artificial light and devices (laptops, tablets, cell phones, eReaders, TVs, etc) but I didn't do much about it until this Lent. In case you didn't know, the blue light messes up our sleeping patterns because it decreases our melatonin production (which helps us fall asleep) and throws off our biological clock. Not only that, it has been linked to a development of cancers, diabetes, heart disease and obesity

After being reminded of the damage it can make, I decided to cut down on the amount of time I use the screen per day, only using the laptop, cell phone, and iPod touch when I need to. I had installed f.lux on my laptop a couple of years ago but hadn't used it for a while so I reinstalled it so that it dims the blue light on my laptop when I use it later than I normally do. Since I don't use the laptop as much as I used to, I don't get to watch the color change on my laptop screen. Sometimes, especially in the days leading up to exams or due dates, I can be on my laptop nearly all afternoon into evening and night so this is when f.lux is helpful. 

At my annual optometry appointment, the optometrist advised me to add a blue-blocking filter/coat to my glasses after explaining the damage the blue light does to our eyes. I declined the coat for now (too expensive for my budget this year) but I did purchase an inexpensive (less than $8) pair of orange glasses that block blue light on Amazon. Since I mostly wear glasses at home -- especially at night -- I got myself a pair of Uvex S0360X glasses since they are large/wide enough that I could wear them over my normal glasses. I've worn them nightly (and I'll even fall asleep with them on if I'm reading in bed after particularly stressful days) for nearly a month now and I can tell you that I've had the best sleep I've had in years. I'm not trying to sell you anything (I didn't even link you to the glasses I got); I'm telling you the honest truth. 

I'm not sure if it's the glasses, my decision to completely unplug and keep the last 2-3 hours of my day to prayer and reading (mostly fiction) books in order to help relax my mind (part of my daily self-care routine which has been proven to help), or a combination of the two but whatever it is, it's working. I sleep better and feel less tired in the morning. I'm also waking up and falling asleep naturally at earlier hours. I don't know when the last time I went to sleep at 3-4 a.m. (or later) was.

Oh yes, I also keep my phone away from the main part of my bedroom. The iPod touch (which serves as a temporary alarm clock) is kept on a closet shelf. It's close enough to not do bodily harm if I get up in a sleepy fog but far enough that I have to physically get up to shut it off so I'm not tempted to hit the snooze button. Mom and I will most likely keep this as our alarm clock since I've chosen a soothing (yet loud enough) song to wake us up at different times. Since Mom gets up at 3 a.m., we don't want an annoyingly loud alarm blaring, making our neighbors wake up from their own slumber. It also works because it uses the battery from the iPod and isn't plugged in or using disposable batteries, saving money.

As you can see, I had great results from my health and technology Lenten experiment. I feel healthier and more rested. My stomach is resetting and getting better. My concentration is getting sharper. My mental fog is going away. I feel less stressed out and have more patience. Oh! We've also saved a lot on our electric bill. Mom and I were surprised at home little we paid last month (we get the bill every 2 months). Of course, it's too early to call it a complete success since we human beings tend to relapse at times but I think these habits have a good chance of sticking and becoming permanent. :)

Anyway, that's it for now. As I said at the beginning of this post, I finished my lecture videos (and notes) so I am going to turn off the laptop, keep the ringer on my phone on silent (I've had it this way since I watched the lecture videos), and work on doing the flash cards for my hearing/ear anatomy and basic audiology course since the flashcards for the other class are done. :) 

I hope y'all had a lovely week and that you have a great weekend. Divine Mercy Sunday is upon us! Praying that I can make it to Mass this weekend. :D

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

I Actually Hate Social Media...?

Welcome to the first post of the 2017 edition of "Here's What Smacked Emmy Upside the Head During Lent"... or "What Emmy Learned During Lent," if you want it worded nicely. lol. I did learn a couple of things but, really, it was more like an expansion of things I learned last Lent (and during the year that followed). That and I also had a deluge of clarity on a number of topics that happened between last week and yesterday. I'm going to have to break them down into separate posts so I'll be focusing on the social media part for this post.

Raise your hand if you saw the tweet I posted yesterday; about how I felt almost forced to return to Twitter. I stand by that statement. I do. Oh boy, do I ever. When I shared that I was giving up social media for Lent prior to the start of Lent, I knew I needed it but I didn't know just how much until the initial "oh man, how am I doing to fill my time?" adjustment period faded.

I had a really hard time quitting social media cold turkey at first. I had filled my quiet/free moments of the day with (mainly) browsing Instagram, checking Twitter, and (to a smaller degree) trying to catch up on friend's updates on Facebook so having none of that was hard to adjust to. I ended up getting sick the weekend before Lent began and I ended up having health issues pop up for an entire month so I was just physically unable to do much. That actually helped curve the social media FOMO. I wasn't even able to go to any Ash Wednesday service, making it the first Ash Wednesday in years that I didn't get any ashes on my forehead. I spent almost the entire month physically weak or just incredibly fatigued so that was my priority -- working around that while doing a research paper and studying for exams.

It was actually a great experience for me because I would've normally tweeted out a bunch of prayer requests but, of course, I couldn't. Instead, I texted friends on particularly bad days on which I felt I needed prayer to get through the day. (side note: if you're wondering what happened: I accidentally had dairy the weekend I went to Mexico and, as it had happened the last time I had dairy, I was physically debilitated for the entire month following it. This has confirmed the dairy intolerance/allergy I have.)

The longer I went without social media, the more I realized that... hold on, I actually hate social media? Is that right? But... I'm always on it. How can I hate something I'm always using? That came glaringly obvious last week when I was telling a friend about why cutting back on social media during Lent was good. After reading books like Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter (it's a Goodreads link; I'm not selling you anything) and seeing how much better I felt overall without the use of social media, I knew that if I abandoned my @nerdwriter accounts, I wouldn't feel sad nor would I feel the FOMO most people feel.

What brought me to this point? Seeing how less stressed out I was. I was much more charitable towards others. I was, overall, more peaceful and happier during the day... even if I had a ton of really crummy things happening. I was more attuned to a lot of things (some of which I will blog about soon). I got more done yet I also had a lot more time to read and take care of myself while I tried to rest and recover from the accidental dairy ingestion. Do you know what a relief it is to not be constantly bombarded with negative messages... with passive-aggressive (or simply aggressive) messages from strangers... to not hear about politics... to live your life without the sensationalism and drama that seems to permeate in social media platforms? Bliss!

Furthermore, I saw the negative aspects that social media had brought out in me. I was more likely to procrastinate (a problem I already had that didn't need that added social media component), my vanity and ego were flattered at times, my concentration was poor, I wasted a lot of time, I was too worried about what others thought of me, etc. I felt like I had to -- as Elizabeth Scalia wrote in Little Sins Mean a Lot: Kicking Our Bad Habits Before They Kick Us (which I haven't finished; I'm at the 65% mark according to Goodreads) -- "remain agreeable, keep your thoughts in the acceptable box, and keep serving up the praise-fodder." I didn't like feeling censored. I've been trying to get away from that on this blog by writing about things I'm going through and the thoughts I have about them -- even if I know people will have problems with what I write -- but it hadn't translated into social media.

I did return to my @nerdwriter Twitter account once during Lent and it was to passive-aggressively tweet about my experience with racial profiling at Banana Republic. Not my finest moment and one that makes me cringe now that the anger and disappointment have faded. It just added to the long list of why social media needed to be seriously limited.

"Wait... did you just say 'limited'? Haven't you spent the entire post talking about how much you hate social media?" Yes to both questions. As much as I wish I could cut social media out of my life completely, I can't. Not because I'm addicted to it. I think I've developed a deep enough dislike of it to no longer have that problem. I can't cut it out completely because it's the only way I can communicate with some of my closest friends.

Some friends choose to post a quick tweet or update for everyone to see because they're so busy that texting or calling (or emailing) everyone individually takes too much time. That way they can get a message out to everyone and have the luxury to look at the responses when they have the time to do so. Unfortunately, since so many people now do this, they forget to update those who are not on social media. I was totally guilty of doing this, too. "Didn't you see the tweet or blog post about it?" I would sometimes think to myself. Oh, Emmy... Anyway, I didn't find out about the deaths in the families of a couple of friends until days later. I missed out on a lot of really important (some life-changing) updates -- things I wish I could've known about so I could be there for my friends -- all because I didn't get the message via social media and much less over a text message.

I can't force my friends to text, call, or email me their updates solely because I don't want to deal with social media. I have absolutely no right to ask them to make that exception for me, especially since many of them have good reasons to use social media as their main way of communicating with others. I did make more of an effort to, at least, text everyone with whom I normally communicate with every couple of days. It helped but there were things I still didn't get because, again, some forget that not everyone is on social media. I don't have FOMO (fear of missing out); I simply want to make sure I'm there for friends in their times of need.

After thinking long and hard about it, I decided that there are some social media platforms that I will be abandoning as of today. After a couple of videos on Instagram to explain things to those who won't read this blog post, I will no longer be using my (private) @nerdwriter account. I won't delete it because I have a lot of memories that I may want to revisit later on but I will no longer post any new content to it. It's my biggest time waster and there was content that was bringing out a lot of bad things to my interior life so I chose to abandon that account. Watch this video on how people live the "Insta Lie" if you have any sort of problem with Instagram. I apologize to those who sent me follow requests during Lent or before it. I'm not approving any requests, even if it's known you for years (you guys know who you are). There's no point since I'll be abandoning the account.

I will keep my @nerdwriter Twitter account like I did for Lent. I've had the account for almost a decade and have a lot of memories so I won't delete it but I won't use it like I used to. I will keep the IFTTT app so that the blog posts get automatically posted and I will share the occasional (we're talking less than once a week) link via whatever sharing service that particular website uses but I won't log into the account otherwise. If you tweet me a comment or question, I'll reply but that's about it as far as intentionally logging in goes. I won't be following anyone new and I really apologize for that but it makes no sense since I will no longer be checking the timeline. If you guys have blogs, I'll be subscribing so that the emails with new posts get sent to my inbox. If you really want me to see something, just tweet me and I'll check it out with the link you send me.

I didn't use my personal Facebook account much in the first place so that will be staying as is as well; only to check in with my brother and friends who are not on Twitter. That will be used one or twice a week, at most. I abandoned my Pinterest and Tumblr accounts completely before Lent so that's nothing new. As I said, I'm not cutting social media out complete because it's how I keep track of things of those closest to me that I don't via text or whom I don't see in person. I guess you can say this is simply a form of restricted/limited moderation. Moderation will be much harder to do than quitting cold turkey (as a wise friend told me during Lent) but I've already seen positive results of it so I know I can do it.

And that's it for this blog post. I have other topics (that popped up during Lent) that I want to write about what I want each topic to have its own post. That and I'm feeling very lightheaded (and, actually, I have felt that way the entire time I wrote this post so please excuse any and all grammatical errors). Again, I'm really sorry if anyone gets offended by this post but it's something that I need to do for myself. After doing the 10 meditations in the Introduction to the Devout Life (by St. Francis de Sales), reading Irresistible, Little Sins, and other books during Lent, I came to realize that I needed to do this to better my relationship with God and to better order my interior life. I'll actually touch more on this in a (near) future blog post.

I'm going to go hydrate and lie down. I'm pretty sure the lightheadedness was caused by what I ate for breakfast. My stomach hurts and the lightheadedness didn't begin until after I started eating so... putting 2 and 2 together, y'all. It's actually bad enough that I had to cancel my hematology appointment today. I didn't want to drive to the hospital (where the appointment was scheduled) feeling like I do. I don't think I can even walk down the stairs without potentially falling down -- I'm that lightheaded.

I hope everyone had a lovely Easter weekend and that you have a good start of the week. :D

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

An Unsettling Peace

Have you ever prayed arduously about a certain intention -- it could be for days, weeks, months, or years -- and when you finally figure out what you have to do, you are both unsettled and at peace? In other words, you get a sense of peace whenever you think about what you've figured out -- what you think may be the path God wants you to take -- but it also unsettles you because it means facing a lot of changes, fears, and uncertainties? 

Now imagine that... and multiply it by about 20. That means clarity on not just one intention but on several intentions that you've prayed about for years. That's the boat I'm in right now. Some of the intentions are not mine but have been intentions people have entrusted me with over the years. I think one of them has been an on-going intention for a minimum of 5 years. As for my own intentions, all but one or two seem to have been answered lately and it's making me a little nervous.

Why am I nervous? Well, because it means I have to make a lot of changes, face a lot of fears and uncertainties. I've already made some of the easier changes (which I hope to blog about soon) and I've already noticed a massive improvement in two areas of my life. I occasionally slip as the habits will take some time to solidify but I'm happy with the results thus far. The more difficult changes will happen when I fully return to social media on Easter Sunday, when I come out of my self-exile/retreat from having a social life (only did it for Lent), and in some of the other (hint: ninja status) areas of my life that involve other people. 

Sometimes I wonder if I have the (emotional/physical/mental/spiritual) strength to make these changes. I've already tried to implement some of the changes during Lent... and failed miserably because the temptations and the curiosity got the best of me a couple of times. I know that Lent isn't about making personal changes -- like New Year's resolutions -- but these changes will ultimately help my relationship with God and my spiritual life. In fact, every single change I'm going to make will strengthen that relationship. Every fear I will face and every uncertainty that will come from the decisions I will make will force me to trust God. You know that internal dialogue I shared in the last blog post? That will continue to happen and, I suspect, it'll happen more often. 

Some of the decisions I've made and have yet to implement will make a lot of people unhappy with me. Some will draw criticism and harsh judgment. Some of the decisions made (and decisions I have yet to make as I have yet to receive clarity of them) will surprise people. "I thought I knew her," I can already hear some people say. One particular decision (which I'm still praying about) may even shock those who've known me for years and who've known about my thoughts about this particular topic. Still, I know that I can't be afraid to make these changes... especially since I will be doing what I believe God is calling me to do.

Will I shed some tears along the way? Most likely as I'm naturally sensitive. Will my people-pleasing ways make me feel awful, especially when people try to emotionally manipulate me or make me feel bad about the decisions I've made? Ohh yes. I'm counting on it. I'm going to have to rely a lot on God -- to trust Him, to remember what's at stake, and remind myself that He will give me the strength and graces necessary to face whatever is coming my way if it's part of His plans for me.

Sorry to be a bit vague about things now but, stick around! I'll definitely plan on sharing a good number of these changes as they happen if only to hold myself accountable to them whenever I slip.

Alright, I should go have a late lunch; I haven't eaten much today and I really need to take what I hope will make a difference in my health. :)

I hope y'all have a blessed Paschal Triduum (I don't plan on blogging until Easter Sunday)! You may actually see me on Twitter before you get a blog post. We'll see. ;)

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

"Congrats on Graduating!" ... But I'm Not.

Taken during this weekend's studying frenzy, hence the flash cards everywhere.
Since Saturday, I've received postcards and phone calls congratulating me on my upcoming graduation. "You must be excited! May 6th will come before you know it!" It gets a little awkward when I have to say "Oh, thank you... but I'm not graduating yet. I'm not scheduled to graduate until December." You can hear a pin drop while the information registers in the mind of whoever called. Cue the awkward pause and nervous chatter that follows it.

Long story short, I was scheduled to graduate this semester but, for reasons only God knows, it had to be pushed back from this May to this upcoming December; from the end of Spring semester to the end of Fall semester. I don't think they've updated their database at Utah State (where I'm currently on track to finish my second Bachelor of Arts in Communicative Disorders and Deaf Education) because, well, I keep getting these calls and things in the mail. Oh, I still asked for the tassel to be sent to my house since I'll technically finish in the year 2017 and I want that tassel that says 2017. lol.

I've actually been thinking a lot about school and graduation in the last couple of weeks. Actually, scratch that; it's been on my mind for months. I was going to wait a bit longer to write about this but, well, it's been a big theme for me this Lent: I'm not even sure that I'm going to finish this degree. Only three of my closest friends have known about this for weeks because I've asked for their opinions and/or just needed to get the thoughts that were bouncing around in my mind out into the open.

No, I'm not quitting... exactly. In the past couple of weeks/months -- especially following the end of the 54-day Rosary novena -- I've felt like God is calling me down a different path on which I won't need this degree. I don't know whether that means I won't be working in this field too long after graduation or if it means that a job will come along which will pull me away from finishing this degree... but it's something along those lines. I'm perfectly at peace with either option. I've gained a lot of clarity which has brought that inner peace during this Lenten season.

First, the main theme for this Lent seems to have been a renewal and recommitment to trusting God despite my fears. The doctor appointments / random ER visit, the last-minute trip to Mexico, and the other things I will eventually write about in the coming days and weeks... it's all been about trusting God.

I can almost hear God asking me, "do you trust me?" whenever a difficult situation comes up.

"Yes," I answer, though, truthfully, sometimes it's done with some apprehension because letting go is easier said than done. More like "I'm trying to but, yes, it's ultimately what I want to do."

"Then let go and let Me take care of it," I can imagine Him saying to me.

I let go of a fear about something I needed to take for my health. After having had a number of adverse reactions to medications and allergies and intolerances to foods, I'd developed a fear of trying anything new out of fear of ending up in the hospital. I'll hopefully find out if what I'm taking (while I haven't been taking for very long) has made a bit of difference. My doctors were finally able to get me a hematology appointment after trying to get it approved for years (yes, years plural). I hope that we'll soon know why my red and white blood cells, as well as my platelets, have been on a downward trend in the last couple of years. I'm still hoping the answer is as simple as it being a result of my health crashing from overdoing it and not taking care of myself three years ago -- then the relapse following the car accident a year and a half ago -- as well as a poor diet that has led my folate level to be at dismal number/level.

Just like I let go of that fear to do something that will make me healthier, I'm going to let go of my fears of financial instability. I'm going to let God guide me down whatever career path He wants me to take, even if it's something radically new. He knows better than I do what I need to do in order to do His will. If I somehow do end up having to leave the degree unfinished, I'm not going to regret or lament it.

Not finishing the degree won't mean that I've quit out for selfish reasons or because I couldn't handle it. It'll simply mean that I've chosen to follow God's path for me rather than my own. I've already made peace with the fact that I'm not going to go back and finish my Master's in Theology either. Oh, I've received a lot of clarity about that (no Theology MA) and I'm owing that to St. Francis de Sales who seems to have somehow become my (surprise/unplanned) patron this Lent. Again, I'm not sure if this will happen but I'm at peace with it if this is what ends up happening.

If I do end up finishing this degree -- which is looking like the most likely outcome at this point -- I've already made the decision not to attend the graduation ceremony. After hearing about how graduation is celebrated in Italy (shout out and a public "congrats!" to my good friend, Francesca, who received her Master's degree in Italy last month) and comparing it to how it's celebrated in the States, I decided against it. It's not my style. Need I remind longtime readers what I did during my first undergrad graduation ceremony? lol. If I finish this degree, I'll opt for a homemade dinner with family and close friends; a way of thanking them for all their support. Okay, maybe I'll add a trip to Disneyland to celebrate if I can afford it. lol.

Everything is up in the air in terms of the future of my education and career but that's okay. I have plans for the current path I'm in: finish the degree in December, work on the required (in CA) 100 supervised hours before receiving my license to become a speech-language pathology assistant (SLPA) either March through May or September through November of 2018 (depending which school/program I can complete the hours in), and then start working. I'll continue down this path until God makes His will for me clearer.

I can technically begin working as an SLPA in other states because I've already completed the required 25 supervised hours that many states ask for (I completed them last semester) so maybe God will call me to work in another state that doesn't have as many requirements in CA as soon as I graduate. Maybe the autobiography I'm ghostwriting (have I written about that yet?) will kick-start the writing career I've always dreamed about. I don't know. All I know is that I've placed my future in God's hands and I trust that He will lead me to Him... and that's all I want.

Anyway, I wanted to write and this is what came out. I don't know how much blogging I'll get done this week. I'm starting to study for finals and then we (Mom and I) are going to try to do only what's necessary from Thursday evening through Sunday morning; for the Paschal Triduum. That means no music (uber hard for me), no TV (not sure if Mom can go without TV, lol), and little to no online time (it'll depend on a group project but I'll most likely choose to not use my laptop nor the iPod touch during the Triduum). I do have reading and studying planned since I need to study and the reading is all centered around the Passion and my relationship with God but that's about it.

If, in your charity, you can please say a pray for clarity regarding my education and career path, I'd greatly appreciate it. :)

I hope you are all having a lovely start of the week! :D

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

Friday, April 7, 2017

I Enrolled in the Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary

One of my many rosaries and my crucifix from Jerusalem.
Yesterday was Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati's birthday. Happy 116th, PGF! A couple of days ago I found out that the Tipi Loschi group (which was founded in Italy and mirrors the group Bl. Pier Giorgio belonged to prior to his untimely death) was planning to gather all of Bl. Pier Giorgio's devotees/fans/friends to pray the Luminous Mysteries for his birthday. Being a card-carrying member of the Frassati fangirls, I knew I was going to participate. I put it into my Wunderlist app (while I'm using until I can get a physical planner) and even put an alarm on my iPod touch since the plan was to pray it between 3 and 8 p.m. 

While I was reading the letter of invitation to join in the spiritual gift, I found out that he had been enrolled in the Confraternity of the Rosary when he was only 17 years old! Despite having read many books and having watched many specials/videos about his life, this was the first time I'd heard of it -- of both the Confraternity and Bl. Pier Giorgio's enrollment. Curious person that I am, I searched more information about the Confraternity. I landed on the Eastern U.S.'s Confraternity page (the U.S. has 4 separate Dominican provinces) and read a bit about what it was. Thinking that perhaps I wanted to enroll myself, I followed the link to the Western U.S.'s Confraternity page and read everything about what the Confraternity was.

Have you ever done something without much thought because it was one of those "no brainer"/"it feels like the right thing to do" deals? This was one of those for me. I pray the Rosary on a daily basis, only having missed it once this year and only because I felt so awful that I was passed out most of the day. As soon as I finish this latest (and, most likely, last) degree, I'm going to discern becoming a lay Dominican (or possibly an oblate of St. Benedict; more on this in a future blog post). All of these things -- as well as a slight change in how I pray the Rosary -- just slotted together and it made perfect sense to enroll. What better day to do it than on Bl. Pier Giorgio's birthday? Actually, I didn't think about how it was a perfect "birthday gift" until after I had done it. I was more focused on the fact that it felt a peace and a joy (and excitement) about enrolling. 

After I enrolled, I prayed the Luminous Mysteries with meditations based on Bl. Pier Giorgio's words and words of those who knew him. The meditations brought a new dimension to the Luminous Mysteries -- which have always been the hardest mysteries for me to pray and meditate on -- that I actually printed them out to pray more often on Thursdays. I had a few inspirations while praying the Rosary (which I acted upon after I finished praying; don't worry, they were all good) and I just felt so at peace with everything. 

It also got me thinking that I may return to praying the Rosary with the Luminous Mysteries more often. I hadn't prayed them for months because I had been doing the traditional 15-mystery (Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious only) Rosary since All Saints' Day last year and (mostly) only the Sorrowful Mysteries during Lent (with the exception of Glorious mysteries on Sundays). As much as I loved praying them in the traditional order, I think that I've prayed the Luminous mysteries for so long (since my reversion) that it felt like a huge hole in my prayer life when I skipped them on Thursdays. 

Is anyone else enrolled in the Confraternity? Is anyone a lay Dominican? I'd love to hear what you think of it and how it's enriched your prayer life!

It's really early (8:32 a.m.!) for a blog post but I've actually been up since 4:15 a.m. I only got about 2 and a half hours of sleep and I haven't been able to fall asleep since I got up to help Mom get to work. Since I'm now currently waiting for sleepiness to kick in so I can take a nap, and since I know that I don't have the mental sharpness to study for tomorrow's exam, I thought I'd blog about this new development. My spiritual life has been on a roller coaster this Lent but this is something positive that I wanted to share. :D

Alright, I'm going to go try to pray and hope that I fall asleep soon so that I can have the rest of the day to study with the concentration I need. I've already done all the things I normally do on a daily basis (such as check my email and do a daily online puzzle) that don't require much brain power so that I won't have distractions or the temptation of distractions for the rest of the day. 

I hope y'all are still having a lovely week!

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

I Was Racially Profiled at Banana Republic

I naively thought I would never (personally) experience much racism despite being Hispanic. Yes, I know what the state of the country is. Yes, I know that immigration is a hot topic amongst the Hispanic community but it hasn't been a source of stress for me as it has for other people since I was born here, both of my parents became naturalized citizens decades ago, one of my big brothers became a naturalized citizen about a decade ago, and the rest of my siblings (brothers and sister) are all legal residents. I had experienced some racism online -- only on Twitter, really -- but I chalked it up as trolls being trolls and moved on.

As some of you longtime readers (and personal friends) may remember, I nearly signed a contract with an agency when I was 20 (that I walked away from); I think the term "racially ambiguous" describes why they were so keen on me. Most of the time, people who meet me for the first time don't know what race I am. Sometimes they'll stand there in shock when they hear me speaking fluent Spanish, usually because they (apparently) assume that I'm white, Asian, or mixed but not 100% Hispanic. I'm fair skinned (with a hint of an olive complexion) most of the year since the sun and I aren't friends (I have a sun sensitivity). I tan (and burn... and freckle) easily when I'm out in the sun for a long time without sunscreen or any covering. Basically, I've had some superficial things work out in my favor that has kept some comments at bay.

Yesterday, Mom and I went on an uncharacteristic shopping adventure. It's uncharacteristic because I honestly hate clothes shopping. I "window shop" online before I go to the stores because I'm an introvert and an HSP who doesn't like crowds. Since I've been able to maintain my normal weight range after being underweight for a long time (party time! lol), I can start purchasing clothing that fits. That means I need to update my wardrobe.

We went to about 8 stores or so. We spent hours trying on dresses, skirts, and blouses... and I spent a lot of time driving from place to place. Since I'm nearly 5'8" and the trend is short dresses, it was so hard for me to find anything that was knee length (or, at least, not more than 2 or so inches above my knee), that fit, and that didn't look depressingly drab. You ladies who tend to dress modestly know what I'm talking about. Mom has the opposite problem at 5' even; everything is too long on her and the petite section doesn't offer much she can work with.

The second-to-last store we went to was Banana Republic since I'd seen a blouse online that I liked and I wanted to try in the store. Yes, I know it's more expensive than your average mall store but I tend to go for stores and brands that cost a bit more but will last for longer. Ann Taylor and, its sister store, Loft, have been my go-to stores since I graduated from high school. Since I'm a bit older and I heard that BR's clothing was a bit expensive but that it lasts a long time, I thought I'd check it out.

After finding a great blouse at Loft (an addition to the 10-item wardrobe idea I got from The Daily Connoisseur's Madame Chic series), we walked over to BR. A really nice guy greeted us. "Welcome to Banana Republic!" he said. We thanked him. I immediately started looking at the clothing at the front of the store. A woman (who I'm assuming was the manager) came over, greeted us, and let us know that everything was 30% off and that it was the last day of the sale. We thanked her as I went to look at some blouses. She hung around a bit and said that we should let her know if we needed anything. I thanked her as I kept browsing.

As we started moving towards the front-middle portion of the store, Mom pointed out a blouse that would've been a great addition to my closet while I was checking out the cardigans (cardigans are a staple in my personal style). I tried to find one my size. "Let me know if you want me to start a dressing room for you," I heard the saleswoman telling me as soon as I picked up my size from off the rack. "I'm good for now, thank you," I told her.

I walked further into the middle of the store, seeing a dress that I really liked. It was floor length but perfect for the summer -- light and breezy. I looked at the price. A bit more than I would've normally paid for a dress but it was on sale and I could see myself wearing it for years to come.

"I can take that into a room for you if you'd like," the woman again said.

I turned around, surprised. "Oh. No, thank you. I'm still browsing," I answered with a smile.

"Can I, at least, take that shirt you're holding to the back and get a room started for you?" she persisted in a tone that was making me uncomfortable.

"No, thank you," I reiterated. "I like to hold on to things while I try to make up my mind if I want to try them on."

It's true. It's a habit I picked up. As someone who worked in retail (at Wet Seal) while in high school (and for months after HS graduation), I know what a hassle it is to have someone take a ton of clothing into the fitting room and then have them walk away with none of it, leaving a mess in the room. If I like the item I'm carrying after 5 minutes, I'll try it on. If not, I'll return it to where I found it, making it easier for salespeople to keep their store in order.

I walked across the area I was, looking at the bright colored blouses. I noticed some girls were taking pictures of the clothing and I was surprised that no one was saying anything to them. Many stores frown upon that (again, saying it from experience). I noticed the saleswoman seemed to be following us, folding and putting away clothing wherever we were, keeping an eye on us. "Huh," I said but tried not to think about it. I had been feeling uncomfortable since the last time she'd spoken to us but I tried to shrug it off, thinking that maybe I was being paranoid.

As we got to the back of the store, it was obvious that she was following us. "Look at this. It's a pretty dress but the material is too heavy for the summer weather," I said to my mother in Spanish. This time, the woman was only a foot away from me. It seemed she didn't like that I was speaking in Spanish. Again, she mentioned taking the blouse from me and getting a room started for me. I glanced her way and the look on her face was unnerving. I, again, said, "no, thank you." I tried to browse some more but I just couldn't continue.

"Let's go," I said to Mom.

"Aren't you going to try on that blouse?" she asked.

I shook my head. "I don't think I want it anymore."

We walked out and went to two more stores before calling it a day. Although the day had been pleasant, that experience had been really uncomfortable. As Mom and I got talking, it became clear that we had been racially profiled. Though there were several other customers in the store, the woman seemed to be fixated on just us, following us where we went. I mentioned to Mom that I felt like she was constantly on top of us, like a helicopter hovering over the scene of a crime. She felt the same way. She's more perceptive than I am so she started on her own impressions, which echoed mine. She didn't bother any of the other customers, all of whom were (that we could see) white.

It took me a while to accept that it had been racial profiling. I looked back at my retail training... at seeing racial profiling for myself... at what we had experienced that afternoon. I tend to look for the best in people and tend to not jump to conclusions but I couldn't come up with convincing enough excuses. The facts were there, even if I was trying to deny them.

I broke my Lenten Twitter fast/promise to put up a (somewhat) snarky comment and tagged Banana Republic in the tweet when I finally accepted what had happened. It was done partly out of anger and partly to help others who've experienced racial profiling to speak up. It is NOT okay to do these things. If they had wanted to simply make sure I wasn't going to put anything in the one bag from Loft that I was carrying, I would've gladly left it at the front for them to look after while I shopped.

Mom is one of the hardest working people I know... and one of the most honest ones as well. She's found hundreds of dollars at work but she's never kept it to herself; always giving it to the administrator at the hospital where she works at. In fact, at another store we went to before BR, Mom was carrying a couple of bags (she had a more successful trip than I did) but stayed at the front of the store so they wouldn't think she was stealing. We left those bags in the car before going into BR and I was carrying only ONE small bag.

I would never even contemplate stealing anything. I can't even take free pamphlets without double checking that it's okay to take them and making sure I don't have to make a donation. I kept the blouse at shoulder length, another habit I picked up post retail work. I know what I can afford and what I can't and I would never venture into a store if I knew I couldn't purchase anything. I'm not even a big shopper, preferring to shop only one one item has been worn so much that I need to replace it.

The color of my skin (I'm a little tan right now; we've been having warm, sunny SoCal weather), my race, nor what language I speak should make a person think the worst of me. I've forgiven the woman and I pray that she sees the error in her ways. Being Hispanic doesn't mean I'm going to steal. It doesn't mean that I can't afford the overpriced (yes, I said it) clothing that I know will last a long time. It doesn't mean anything except that my parents and my ancestors came from both Europe (Spain and possibly Ireland) and the Americas (Mexico).

I'm not bitter. I'm not angry (that lasted a full 5 minutes yesterday). I don't want anything from Banana Republic nor am I expecting even an apology from them. In fact, in their reply to my tweet, they simply told me to contact customer service without an apology; the first time I've ever received a tweet without an added apology from a big brand. Look at their twitter feed; they've apologized to nearly everyone else but not my tweet. I'm disappointed and sadden that this happened but I'm very grateful that I've managed to go 31 years without anything of the sort happening before. I'm lucky which, unfortunately, is something others can't say. Be kind to one another. Don't assume the worst in others. There's enough hatred in this world; don't contribute to it.

Anyway, I should really go try to study for the third anatomy and audiology exam that I have coming up on Saturday. Prayers appreciated since it's a big one. :)

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

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

Monday, April 3, 2017

My Music Nerdiness and My Spiritual Life Aren't Friends

Music was my first "real" love. I'm pretty sure I danced before I learned to properly walk. As a little gal (maybe 3-4 years old), I used to strum a chord on Mom's guitar (hidden in one of our closest) and then run away, laughing at the mischief I was causing while simultaneously giddy about the "music" I was making.

As I grew up, music became my thing. I sang in school choir through middle school. I participated in a talent show my first (and only) year at a public high school where I sang. I grew up learning how to dance a number of different styles. I learned how to play a bit of the piano but the guitar was always my preferred instrument so I learned as a teenager and still play to this day. I was even majoring in Jazz Studies before I switched to Religious Studies for my first Bachelor's degree. When my father died, music was the thing that helped me through the first couple of weeks. I admittedly stopped playing the guitar for about 5 years following his death -- part of that comes from remembering how he promised to buy me a new guitar right before he passed away -- I eventually returned to it because music and playing (and singing and dancing) is a very big part of who I am and how I express myself.

Although I didn't choose my confirmation saint like most people do -- I was confirmed when I was 13, in Mexico where you don't choose confirmation saints -- it's no surprise that I ended up adopting St. Cecilia as my confirmation saint (I was confirmed on her feast day, at a church named after her). Patroness of music for a music-obsessed gal? It makes total sense.

I can tell you which songs and artists I liked growing up. My first purchased tape was a compilation of classical music. My first purchased CD (with my own money) was Jimi Hendrix's greatest hits. I still remember how I fell in love with jazz after listening to the version of "Summertime" sung by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong when I was a teenager and how it remains one of my favorite songs.

Listening to "You and I vs. the Sun" by Phantom Planet and "California" by Rufus Wainwright reminds me of my freshman year of college, especially the drive to Santa Monica College on the 10 freeway. I used to take my guitar and play Jack Johnson's "Sitting Waiting Wishing" and Ben Kweller's "Walk On Me" in between classes. During my favorite (and last) year at Santa Monica College -- before my reversion -- "So Says I" by The Shins and "My Favourite Game" by The Cardigans were on heavy rotation. I think I might still have the CDs on which I burned the playlists to listen on my Discman (I was late to join the iPod/mp3 party).

Most of my friends have songs associated with them; songs that remind me of them in one way or another and vice versa. The four songs my closest friends associate with me (that I've been told of) are "Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin, "Sing Sing Sing" by Benny Goodman, "Georgia on My Mind' by Ray Charles, and "Dream a Little Dream (of Me)" by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong -- especially that last one because it suits my old fashioned romantic personality.

"My Sweet Lord" by George Harrison reminds me of the last time Dad and I drove out to Santa Monica (for a farmer's market); "The Universal" by Blur reminds me of the time I accompanied him to the hospital to get a device surgically placed on his arm for his chemotherapy prior to his passing. I was listening to Adele's version of "Make You Feel My Love" a few days before he died so I can't listen to it or Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" (link is to Nat King Cole's version) without crying because they remind me of his last week alive.

I can tell you that MuteMath's self-titled album was on heavy rotation when I reverted and how "Chaos" was my jam during that time... how I played Hunter Hayes' self-titled debut album when I wrote my senior thesis as an undergrad... how "All The Pennies" and "Mi Ancla," both by Mindy Gledhill, have been my most played songs in the past week. (side note: here's also the English version of "Mi Ancla" -- named "Anchor." The lyrics are sweeter in Spanish.) This doesn't even scratch the surface when it comes to my taste in music; not even close. Sure, I'm mainly a jazz and classical gal but, oh, I like most of it. Oh, and if you want to get vinyl at Hollywood's Amoeba Music, you take me and I'll find what you're looking for in record speed. A friend from college and I once went to get her fella blues music and we were out of there in no times because I know what you need and where to get it. I mean, you get the point -- music nerd: party of one.

It's amazing how so many memories -- good and bad -- are attached to music. As I was reflecting on this, I realized that there's only one area of my life that doesn't have music attached to it -- and it's my spiritual life. Like I said, I remember becoming a big MuteMath fan around the time of my reversion and the first Chronicles of Narnia soundtrack reminds me of Dad driving me to confession (I love that soundtrack) but that's about it. I love Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria" when I hear it played at weddings and I cry every time I hear it. I've also often dreamt that myself singing it. That's about it.

I love Gregorian chant and have played it when I study or pray. I love hymns. I adore the choir at the parish Mom and I go to when we attend Latin Mass. Such beautiful music... but, for some reason, I can't associate it with any particular time of my life. It's like my spiritual life and my music nerdiness can't find a happy medium; they can't coexist for some reason. I think it might because my spiritual life and, really, my faith is more sacred to me. Yes, I love music (and probably more than the average person) but it's something else. I know God is not constricted to our timeline -- that He stands outside of time -- but is it possible that our spiritual life is also like that? Does anyone else have this issue? I'd love to hear if you have because I can't make sense of this.

Anyway, this was just a random blog post with a random thought that popped into my head and had to be let out into the world so it's not bugging me when I'm trying to study. I have an exam on Saturday so I really need to concentrate on that. :)

Alright, I'm going to see what mischief I can get into... errr... I mean... what productive and totally not procrastinating things I can do. ;)

I hope you all had a lovely weekend! As always, thanks for reading and God bless! :D

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Obsessed with Youth and Beauty?

Although my birthday is still (exactly) 2 months away, I've been thinking about what I want to do to celebrate... and, apparently, it's weird to see because I shouldn't be excited. Because I'm turning 32. Because that means I'm, like, super old. The horror! lol.

I've always enjoyed celebrating my birthday even though I have a track record of absolutely terrible birthday celebrations. The only good ones (that I can remember) have been 18, 20, 24, and 25. Seriously, that's it.

I went on a spontaneous lunch date with a guy I liked when I was 18. (side note: he's been the only Mormon I've ever dated. That itself is a whole 'nother story.) He didn't even know it was my birthday because I hadn't mentioned it but, boy, he was a gentleman. Oh, and we also went to Disneyland around that time.

I celebrated 20 at Disneyland with my (then) two best friends, one of whom is still one of my best friends to this day. It was the first time I'd ever stayed at Disneyland late enough to enjoy the fireworks (save for grad night). It was magical. A few days later we (the gals and a couple of my best guy friends) met up at my favorite diner where we took over the back room and had a blast.

 A day before my 24th birthday, my father gave me the best birthday present when he returned to the Church after being away for over 40 years. Nothing has topped it as the best birthday present ever, except, you know, my mom giving me life.

25 was my first birthday without my father (who died nearly a month and a half after I'd turned 24) and I had so many friends and neighbors who came over for a potluck birthday. Our apartment was bursting at the seams with so many lovely people. I'm sure I had some pretty awesome birthday parties as a kid but I don't remember that far back. Other than that, I have the worsting time.

It doesn't help that my birthday usually lands around Memorial Day (if not on Memorial Day) and right around the time everyone goes away for the summer. Trying to organize something is always a nightmare for this social introvert. I kind of want to do another potluck-type thing, like I did for my 25th birthday. A very casual, chill thing with some friends, maybe some of my brothers (if they're in the area; I never know with them), and neighbors. Quality time is my love language so, you know, that would be the best gift; having my friends here for my birthday. I've yet to solidify -- or even commit to -- the plans but, at the moment, I'm thinking I may just do that.

Anyway, the point of this not to talk about my birthday but about how a lot of people think it's weird that I actually enjoy getting older. I don't know if it's because I was blessed with good genes or because I don't quite understand the obsession with staying young.

I will admit that I have my moments where I go "I actually feel old right now" but those are very rare. Most of the time I'm a sort of bouncy (yes, I did just use that adjective to describe myself) nerd, trying to get through this great adventure that we call life. The only times I look at my age in comparison to how old someone else is is when a (much) young(er) man decides he's interested and I have to say "you, do know I'm *insert number of years* older than you, right?" No, I haven't robbed cradle; I'm simply stating that younger guys dig me. lol. Other than that, age is not an issue with me.

Perhaps it's because my mother taught me to be proud of my age; proud of who I am. She's turning 63 this year (and doesn't care who knows; she'll tell you) and has more energy than I do! lol. She looks like she's about a decade younger as well. She embraces her age and who she is. It's been a wonderfully empowering thing to witness growing up (and continuing to 'grow up'). She doesn't see age as an unfair life sentence like many people do. She isn't rushing out to buy the latest beauty product to make her look younger. She does like to look nice and likes to take care of herself but not to the point of vanity; more like respecting the body God has given you and taking care of it to the best of your ability.

Ever since I've hit my 30s (so, since May 30, 2015, lol), I've noticed the growing trend of "I'm in my 30s now! Noooo! I'm old! I'm haggard! No man will want me!" That and the ads have become increasingly annoying, featuring younger and younger looking women touting the miracle of whatever facial cream will make them 10 years younger. There's so much emphasis on youth and beauty. I honestly don't get it. Is it one of those "the grass is always greener on the other side" deals?

Well, no. I take that back. It's quite clear that it's society's fault for pushing youth and beauty as the ultimate things that we women should strive for. Going back to the ads, how many can you count during a commercial break? In magazines (oy, women's magazines are the worst!)? And how often do we fall for that lie that our self-worth and happiness are contingent upon how young and pretty we look? Lies, my friends. Of course, they're going to push these products (many of which don't work or will only work for a limited time)! They're companies who want to make money off of your insecurities! They have marketing teams who do research and go for the things that make us so insecure, which, (unfortunately) for women has become getting older and not looking like you're just out of high school or college.

There's beauty in growing older. I firmly believe that every wrinkle and line that appears is a story about growing in wisdom and that itself is beautiful. My mother works in a convalescent hospital so I'm used to seeing older women who light up when you visit them; always ready to tell you a story. Have you ever sat with an older stranger and been completely absorbed in their stories of things they've lived that you'll never experience yourself? That is a thing of beauty. Women who are "old and wrinkled" who've cared for others -- whether biological or adopted children or simply other people -- are beautiful. Women who've renounced the world and have devoted their lives to praying for others and doing God's will in cloistered convents are beautiful. Women who've become mothers... consecrated virgins... religious sisters... all beautiful. You men who are dedicated fathers, brothers, priests, monks also get a shout out for bringing beauty to this world in your own ways.

I know some people will say "well, yeah, you look like you're in your early 20s. Of course, it's not a big deal to you." Yes, I do look younger than I am but, in the past year or two, I've noticed that I'm finally losing some of that "baby face" and I'm starting to look closer to my age... and that's totally fine. In fact, it's been great to see as I look back on pictures I've taken over the past couple of years. I can tell you that I've embraced the crow's feet that are popping around my eyes because they tell others that I've had many good laughs, some that have ended in tears from laughing so hard. That means I've had a lot of joy in my life, even in the middle of all the crummy things I've dealt with. Same goes for the laugh lines around my mouth. I actually think they complement my dimples. ;) Yes, that was said half-jokingly, half-seriously. lol.

We, women, need to remind ourselves that our beauty comes from within. No, it's not a bad thing to want to look nice and to take care of ourselves. That's, as I said earlier, simply respecting and wanting to honor the bodies God has given us. It's not bad to want to look nice for our significant others. I like dressing up and looking nice as well. I'm pretty laid back (read: low maintenance) most of the time but I do like putting an effort for special occasions (and Mass). That doesn't mean that I'm doing it to fluff my ego or vanity.

Ladies, when you see a friend (or even a stranger) doing something that emphasizes their inner beauty, say so. Gentlemen, do the same. Don't allow society to tell you that your self-worth depends on how pretty you look. Don't like age dictate what you can and can't do (within reason... that was for you in the peanut gallery. You know who you are. lol). I've seen/heard older gentlemen in their 70s-90s talking about beautiful their wives are... women who, by society's standards, are way past their prime and whose wrinkles are an indication that they are "worthless." I've even heard one particular gentleman talk about how his wife (both in their 80s) was more beautiful now than when she was in her 20s! We need to build each other up, not to the point of vanity but to the point where we can ignore the ridiculous societal norms of what youth and beauty are.

Ultimately, none of this is going to matter. Looks aren't everything. Some people look incredible and have hearts as black as night. Some people look (as our society would put it) homely and have amazing hearts full of love and joy. Have you ever met someone who wasn't conventionally beautiful but their personalities made them even more beautiful? Case in point, y'all. Yes, yes... it's cliché to say that what matters is on the inside but, um, hi, it's a cliché for a reason. When we're done with our journey on this earth, I'm pretty sure God is not going to care about what we looked like but will care how we lived my life and how we served others. Celebrate your birthdays, no matter what the number is! Enjoy life and don't worry about others think of you.

I'm going to leave y'all with this:

"Your adornment should not be an external one: braiding the hair, wearing gold jewelry, or dressing in fine clothes, but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God." (1 Peter 3:3-4)

And now that I've written that, I'm going to try to finish my research paper. It's due tomorrow but I think I can turn it in tonight. After this, I have a big exam coming up next week so I may not blog again until next week. We shall see. :D

I hope y'all are having a lovely week thus far. Friday of freedom is almost here! We can do it! lol.

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

Saturday, March 25, 2017

My Heart is Bursting with Joy!

"Oh no," I sighed as I looked at my mom. "I'm starting to feel sick... and the physical pains are worsening. My back and my legs are starting to hurt and cramp up."
"Do you want us to stay home?" she asked.
"No. I'll just take generic Tylenol and an extra water bottle in case I need them. We have to go..."

That's how our trip to a local parish for Mass and confession began. Two months was enough... I needed to go to Mass and confession. I've been feeling physically off for most of this past week -- falling asleep often and having weird physical pains -- but I was determined to go. After reading The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher and starting Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales this week, I felt even more courage than usual to, at least, attempt the drive.

"Let's try for confession and we'll stay for Mass if I feel okay," I told Mom.

We got in line half an hour later than usual and there a couple of people in front of us. The priest was running late and we would only have half an hour before confession time ended. I thought there wouldn't be enough time for all of us to get into the confessional, especially since we were last in line. "It's okay," I reminded myself. "At least I'm here and I'm trying."

As we waited for the priest to show up, the youngest daughter of the woman in front of us (in line) came to my pew (we all sat in pews while we waited) and gave me the biggest smile. She was maybe 2 years old. She would go back to her Mom and would wander around the church with a sibling trailing after her but she came back to my pew with the biggest smile a couple more times before her family left. There was something reflecting from her little face that struck me. It was a sense of overwhelming joy. I even thought to myself "it's almost as I'm seeing God's happiness through her little face; as if He were showing me that He's happy that I'm here."

Since I had a long list of things to confess -- things I had somehow remembered from my years away from the Church; big things that I don't think I ever confessed but needed to from when I was 18-20 years old -- I had everyone in line go before me. Though I knew there was a chance I wouldn't go in but I didn't want them to miss out because of the time I might be in the confessional.

I obviously won't say what I confessed nor what the priest said but let's just say that I wept. I cried because I felt the weight and the shame of my sins and then I cried thinking about God's love and mercy and how I had been forgiven, unworthy as I may be. The priest said something things that I could've easily imagined God saying to me through Him. Fear would be defeated and replaced by courage and trust, both gifts from God.

Though it wasn't our preferred Latin Mass, we still stayed for the Saturday Vigil Mass in case we can't make it to Latin Mass tomorrow. Yes, I'm going to try to go to that Mass as well. Oh, what a gift of tears I was given; I couldn't stop myself from tearing up during Mass. In the middle of the tears, I had an interesting observation and thought pop into my mind. As I looked up at the crucifix at the altar, I noticed how pale crucified Christ looked in comparison to all the other saint statues around the parish. The thought "He looks just like me; pale and weak. Yet it is through our weakness that we find strength" came into my mind, completely unprompted, and it surprised me. It's something I will ponder the rest of this weekend.

Though I wasn't able to receive the Eucharist (the last time I tried a regular gluten host, I was in physical pain for about a week or two; I have to wait to go to Latin Mass where they give low-gluten hosts for Celiacs), I made an act of spiritual communion in the pew while Mom went to receive the Eucharist. Cue more tears. lol.

My heart is bursting with joy! I'm grateful for the chance to go to confession and Mass. I'm grateful for the friends who prayed that I would go to Mass... and prayed that I would make it through both this evening. I'm grateful for the gift of courage that I was given, despite being in actual physical pain as we were leaving the house. I'm grateful that I felt well enough to make it through both confession and Mass, though I felt a bit off in line and then broke out in a sweat that made me feel like I was weak and being slightly suffocated prior to receiving absolution for my sins.

I don't think I'll ever be able to attend Mass or confession the same again. In a weird way, I'm grateful that I didn't go to Mass or confession for those two months because it made me appreciate the beauty of the sacrament and Mass in a way that I had forgotten. I'll never take either of them for granted again.

Anyway, that's it for now. I have a couple more lecture videos and some reviewing to do before I attempt this week's exam. The exam is due on Tuesday but I hope to do it either tonight or tomorrow night so I can finish my research paper (which due on Friday) on time as well. :)

I hope you all have a blessed Laetare Sunday tomorrow (or today if you're in Europe or read this on Sunday). :)

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Remembering an Inspiring Professor

Before I get into this post, I wanted to say that, yes, I know the blog post from earlier this week wasn't posted to either Facebook or Twitter. The applets were down. If you want to read it please click here: Belated Revelations.

I am currently cleaning out the inbox of an email account I've had since I was in high school (we're talking circa 2001-2002; yes, I'm that old, lol). I've gone through emails from 2003 through 2009, the last only two weeks after my father's death. The email I opened was of one of my favorite professors I ever had. The email was a response to my letting him know that I was going to take him for an online course (which was still customary at West Los Angeles College in 2009).

He replied: "Wow, I knew that I knew your name!!!!!!!!!!!! This is an entirely online class so we won't see each other, or you won't have to put up with my jokes!!!!!! Looking forward to hearing what you have to say about this course as we take it online!!!! See you online soon.
Mr. Habel."

He was my professor for two English courses during my freshman year of college at Santa Monica College (in 2004-2005) and, years later (Fall 2009), I took him for an Interpersonal Communications course at West Los Angeles College. I took easy "filler"/elective courses at community college during the 2009-2010 school year because my father had died only a month prior to the start of the Fall semester and I didn't want to start my (now) alma mater and possibly waste $40k (that was the tuition and fees cost per year when I was an undergrad) not knowing if I would have the mental and emotional capacity to get through the entire school year since my father's death had just happened. Thankfully, I was able to make it through the entire school year (arguably my favorite of my entire academic career because of the courses I took) in one piece and with my highest GPA ever.

When I was signing up for courses, I saw that Mr. Habel was teaching a speech course at WLAC. I'd loved his English classes so it was a no-brainer to take it. Even though the English classes started at 6:30 a.m. (yes, you read that correctly), Mr. Habel was always so kind to us (there were maybe 10 of us total) and he was one of the most encouraging and optimistic professors I've been blessed to have. His class wasn't hard nor was the material tedious; he chose the right material to challenge us without making it seem like it was a challenge. He truly cared that we all succeeded and never in a condescending way.

Opening up that email brought back all those lovely memories of his courses and what a great professor he was. I decided to look him up -- to see if he was still teaching -- when I encountered news I wasn't expecting: Mr. Lowell Habel had passed away on May 27, 2015, only 3 days before my 30th birthday. I teared up. In fact, I'm still tearing up as I type this out. It's been almost 2 years since his passing but the news is fresh to me.

I'm going to take this opportunity to not only say what a great human being he was but also to remind everyone how little acts can change and inspire us for the best. Mr. Habel cared deeply for his students. I saw it in the three semesters I was his student. He was kind, funny (oh, those jokes...), and he tried to help us with things that were even outside of the material/course he was teaching. 12+ years after I took my first course with him, his optimism and encouragement still resonate with me. I wonder if he knew how many students he helped. Most of us begin college worried about doing well and he was the professor who helped make that transition easier for me. In fact, he made me feel like I was competent enough to not only do well and succeed in college but beyond, whatever career path I would choose.

I'm about to pray the Rosary and the chaplet of Divine Mercy (it's the 3 o'clock hour, as I type this, in L.A.). I will remember him in my prayers and will also make sure that I try to honor his memory by being encouraging to others like he had been to all of us.

Rest in peace, Mr. Habel... and thank you for everything.