Wednesday, March 25, 2020

How the Blessed Virgin Mary Has Taught Me to Trust and Say "Fiat."

“And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38).

Me, during the 2018 Rosary novena and St. Andrew Christmas novena: Lord, please help me imitate our Blessed Mother more closely.

Me, on March 25, 2020: Lord... I see what You're doing...

Lately, I've been reflecting a lot on how my relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary has grown over the years. For years after my reversion, I felt like I couldn't turn to her because of how sinful I was (and am). I didn't think she would answer my prayers because of how often I failed her and her Son. Over the years, that has changed.

I pray the Rosary every single day (I think I've only missed 3 days in the last 2-3 years due to illness-induced exhaustion). I used the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary for several years before I started doing the Divine Office via the Monastic Diurnal. I've done the annual 54-day Rosary novena for over 10 years now. I do the Memorare emergency novena when I'm in a bind. I do the daily consecration prayer (which my parish priest introduced to be when we first met), which has been part of my daily routine for the past couple of years. I consecrated myself her in June 2018, something I wish I had done years earlier. In a nutshell, I'm a total Mama's girl! That is why I chose my Instagram username, lapetitefleurmariale -- the little Marian flower.

Today is a special feast day for me because of her words, "Be it done to me according to Thy word", have been a reoccurring theme in my life. When she became my co-patroness (along with St. Therese) for the year 2019, I didn't know I would be repeating them so often myself. In hindsight, I should've known since I had asked God to make me more like her in late 2018. I got a taste of it during Lent 2019 but I really had no clue just what else was coming after that. Still, I had no clue just what big things He was going to ask of me.

My first big test came when I had to travel to Chicago, on my first solo trip ever (and on an airplane by myself for the first time ever), not knowing a single soul at the retreat beyond Fr. Basil... who I had only communicated with via email. I felt called to become a Benedictine Oblate but didn't have the money to do so. He provided.

I got to the retreat center and found out that they had botched up my dietary restrictions and thought I was taking my own food, leaving me with nothing but the tortillas I took to eat. Instead of calling it a day and heading back home, I stuck it out. There was no way God had gotten me there without good reason. I barely ate and I sleep about 3 hours per night the entire time I was there but I somehow managed to survive it and the flight back home.

On the second day of the retreat, I ended up in the ER... and would find myself at various ERs over the next 6 months. My health had a major relapse. I'm still down at 113 lbs from 130 lbs prior to my relapse. My anemia got worse over the last couple of months. My platelets tanked to the lowest they've ever been (but still not low enough for transfusions) late last year. My diet got even more restricted. I developed bilateral optic nerve edemas that still cause temporary blindness when I wake up in the mornings or from naps. My dental health has plummeted in recent months, unsure of what's triggering the sudden changes. We're not sure what's going on with my liver, too. We don't know what exact autoimmune disease I have though signs are pointing to either MCAS or Sjogren's Syndrome (the later would explain both the edemas and the dental issues). Yet I find myself praying the Rosary for others in the ER, patiently (or trying to be patient) trusting Him with my health, and trying to find gratitude even in that chaos.

Then came the emotional tests.

First, big (and, unfortunately, ongoing) familial problems added to my health relapse. The one good thing that's come out of this pandemic is that it's helping mend the broken relationships I have with certain family members.

Then I had to abandon months of discernment and wedding planning with my best (guy) friend because I couldn't ignore God's call to discern consecrated virginity. Providentially, this happened during last year's 54-day Rosary novena. Mama Mary was interceding big time; there's no denying that. I had to give up the sense of stability and security with a man who loves me for one of uncertainty and total abandonment and trust in His Divine Providence. This is especially true since CVs have to financially support themselves, which has been hard for me to do with my health issues. Still, the unshakeable peace I feel makes me certain that this is God's will for me. That and, boy, has my love for Him grown in recent months. I know I sound like a broken record but I cannot imagine myself not being His bride.

With the quarantine (day 12 today), the increasingly grim news on the coronavirus (knowing I'm in one of the most vulnerable at-risk groups with my health issues), and the uncertainty of it all, let's just say the last 9 months have been difficult. Physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, I'm being stretched beyond my limits... but then a day like today comes along and reminds me of how every single thing that I go through is something that I must endure for the sanctification and purification of my soul.

I find myself growing more and more trusting in God and resigning myself more to His will, no matter how hard it gets. Last night, Mom found some physical signs that I might either have lower platelets or that my body is reacting to something, severity unknown. I had seen some but there was a new (and big) one, in an area that I can't see, that caused some alarm. I called my doctor today and have a telephone appointment with her tomorrow morning. I keep reminding myself that His will is what is best for me. That also goes with my coronavirus fears.

As I wrote on today's Instagram post caption, "I’m admittedly fearful of the unknown; of the sufferings I have yet to endure. I’m worried that I won’t get the Sacraments in time; that I won’t have a chance to do some good in this world while I can... but then I think back to Mama Mary. She said 'yes' despite the unknown. Even when St. Simeon told her of her future sufferings, she trusted Him completely. That gives me the strength I need to push aside my fears & continue saying 'yes' to God’s will for my life."

Of course, I will continue to pray that if it's part of God's will that I do get sick, that I may have enough time to get myself prepared -- both with health (there are some things I can do to help raise the red blood count levels) so that I can beat the odds and with the state of my soul (either getting into the confessional in time or being allowed to have a priest see me while there's still time) in either case. Yes, completely morbid to think about, but that is the reality of being a chronically ill Catholic in the midst of a pandemic. Life is not guaranteed but we must make the most of it and live as closely to God as we can.

Getting back to the point of this post: today reminds me that even in the middle of chaos, uncertainty, and suffering, God is always there. Look at Our Lady of Sorrows -- all the sufferings that the Blessed Virgin endured during her life. She watched her Son suffer and die in agony on the Cross for humanity. Yet, she remained faithful in humble obedience. She never waivered in her fiat. I want to be like her -- to always say my own "fiat"; to always say "yes" to all the little crosses that God asks me to carry for the rest of my life. (Side note: Our Lady of Sorrows has my most constant companion in the last 9 months, ever since the day I became an Oblate novice when my Oblate master gifted me a beautiful print that I've yet to find a frame for.)

I will continue to say "yes" to the sufferings, sacrifices, and sorrows that will undoubtedly come. Even if not now, in the future. In the midst of all those moments, I will try to remember the good, the beauty, and the love that is hidden in them.

I will also continue to say yes to the beautiful but difficult (for this impatient gal) moments that seem to be too far in the future.

I won't be able to make my Final Act of Oblation and become an official Benedictine Oblate (currently in my novitiate period) this summer as I had hoped but, God willing, I will after the pandemic dies down a bit... no pun intended. Right now it's looking like a Summer 2021 date for that. In the meantime, I will continue to grow in my spiritual life as a Benedictine.

The road to consecrated virginity will be a long one. We're looking at 2 years minimum, maybe 7 years maximum. I'm so grateful to continue receiving spiritual direction during this time (thank goodness for FaceTime since the L.A. Archdiocese has closed parishes, suspended Masses, and postponed the reception of Sacraments for another couple of weeks). I still don't know if Archbishop Gomez will allow me to go forward with the consecration (remember, bishops of the discerning CV's diocese have the final say and a "No" means it ends there) when the time comes to meet him and talk about my discernment process, but I will say "yes" to whatever path God leads me down. Whether it is (God willing; my heart is set on it) becoming a consecrated virgin, making private vows to virginity, or ultimately doing something else, I will accept His will for me. I keep hoping that what happened during one of my last trips to daily Mass (pre-quarantine) is a sign that I will become a CV.

Also, just a side note before I end this post: I had this moment a few weeks ago when I laughed upon realizing that God took my petition to become more like His Blessed Mother a lot more literally than I had in mind. I was praying to become less selfish, more charitable, more loving, more obedient, less feisty and defensive; less, well, incredibly flawed me. What I didn't expect was to be called to discern consecration virginity... but it makes sense. After all, she is the Queen of Virgins. She is the ultimate example of "vocation goals" for what life as a consecrated virgin should be. I see what You did there, Lord... and I welcome it, with my whole heart!

Anyway, I just wanted to share this with y'all. The post just came to mind while finishing the caption of the IG post. You know me; I write as I am inspired.

Mama Mary, thank you for being my ultimate role model; for being a beautiful example of true femininity. Thank you for your Fiat! Please continue to pray for me.

God, please continue to chip away my sinful habits and learn to become more and more like our Blessed Mother. I will always say "yes" to what You ask of me, even if it's increasingly difficult to do so -- difficult because I've grown comfortable in my own little bubble. Can I please be a bride of Christ? Really, that's all I want at this point! I want nothing more than to belong to Him. Please and thank you!

Happy feast of the Annunciation, everyone! Only 9 more months until Christmas! ;)

As always, thank you for reading and God bless! :D

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Coronavirus Pandemic from the POV of a Chronically Ill Catholic

I just got off the phone with my doctor. She told me to ask friends to get the medication she ordered for me (and, eventually, food) because I need to stay at home during this time.

I would be lying if I said I wasn't worried.

I would be lying if I said I didn't experience at least one minor anxiety attack per day when (I'm sure) well-meaning people trying to "prepare" me with stats and facts go overboard.

I would be lying if I said that I don't cry every day from feeling overwhelmed by everything going on. Putting aside my own selfish fears for myself, as an HSP, I easily absorb the feelings of those around me so I feel it all.

The CDC released a list of 10 medical conditions that are most at risk for "severe coronavirus illness". On that was list was blood disorders... which I have.

I've suffered from chronic thrombocytopenia (low platelets) for over 12 years now. I've had chronic anemia (on and off) for the past 5-6 years. I also occasionally have pancytopenia, meaning that my platelets, red and white blood counts are all under normal count from time to time.

I also have additional factors that put me at risk -- a liver issue they're still trying to figure out, malnutrition from the multiple food allergies that have severely restricted my diet (I can only have 4-5 foods... period), and I'm underweight from the restricted diet and recently emotional toll of family and relationship problems I faced. They're also trying to figure out which autoimmune disease may be causing my bilateral optic nerve edemas as well as my other health problems. Right now, the two that are most likely are MCAS or Sjogren's Syndrome.

My mother, who is 65, works in a convalescent hospital where about 99% of the patients are over 75 years old. She has her own medical issues that put her at risk. With the news and everyone talking about the coronavirus 24/7, is it any wonder we're both stressed out?

That's part of the reason why I decided to take a break from Twitter. Yes, the other part was because people were being rude. I've received threats. I've been stalked. I've been made to feel like I'm absolute trash unworthy to call myself a Catholic or even a decent human being. I've had people twist my words and/or imply that I was an idiot because I've asked for prayers when I've faced difficult situations.

Some people act like they know my body and my medical history better than I do, scaring me by telling me my heartburn (which I've dealt with since my teens) is really a symptom of a heart attack and that I'm a complete idiot for not going to the ER because they are a doctor/EMT/nurse and they know better than I, a simpleton, do. Yes, please, advise me to go to the ER for a bad GERD/heartburn flare-up almost identical to all the those I've experienced before... during a time where it could be potentially dangerous for me to contract something more severe. And, for the record, yes, I just spoke to my doctor about how bad the heartburn got and she advised me to take medication, go on a bland diet, and drink a lot of water for it. But, please, continue telling me I'm an idiot for not going to the ER.

All of these things, plus news of the pandemic, have been taxing on my mental health... which exacerbates the physical symptoms, acid reflux included. It's a never-ending cycle, y'all.

Crying is how I release the tension when I feel overwhelmed. Crying... and prayer.

Prayer hasn't been easy for me these days. My mind wanders easily; jumps straight into all the fears for my health and those of my loved ones (mother, brother, friends, etc.) I can't concentrate. I occasionally have to force myself to go through my daily prayer routine but I get it done. This is what the devil wants. He wants us to focus on ourselves and our fears (he loves when we live in fear) and turn our back on God during these difficult moments. While it's hard, given our fallen human nature, to not think about our fears and ourselves, we must try.

I was blessed to have prayed the Rosary with two of my good friends via FaceTime audio earlier today. It was one of the handfuls of times this week I was able to concentrate a bit better while praying. I hope to continue being able to pray with them (and other friends) while we're on lockdown because it does help. I'm stuck at home all day and since my mom works 5 days a week, I'm often by myself. I know I'm an introvert but science has proven that we do need a little bit of human interaction now and then, especially those of us who are sick.

I agree that it's been awful to have public Masses canceled but I understand why the decision was made. Trust me, I have prayed for months to be able to attend daily Mass... and I was finally getting that desire fulfilled. I went from attending daily Mass to having to stay home because of the risks, something I struggled with obeying. My initial reaction was "flip that table! I'm going to Mass, virus or no virus!" In fact, when I went to my last Mass a week ago, I went knowing I was risking it... and I spent the entire Mass with palpitations. After that impulse calmed down and I really thought about how God would want me to take care of the body He gave me -- and knowing that I was dispensed from the obligation of attending Mass -- I made the decision to obey. Obedience is a pillar in the Benedictine spirituality and one that has been hard for me to cultivate as a very stubborn and independent person. I keep trying to remember that those who are spiritually more mature and have more medical knowledge than I do have placed these rules for a reason so I will humbly submit to them.

Thankfully, I've always known of additional resources for when I'm stuck at home -- I've even written two articles on it for EpicPew (4 Ways to Experience the Mass Even If You're Stuck at Home and Discover These Underutilized Catholic Websites And Resources!). I can watch Mass, even do holy hours, via online websites. Does that mean it's an easy transition for me? No! It's still difficult for me to be away from my parish and the Sacraments. Do you think I want to be away from my Beloved, in the tabernacle or the adoration chapel, just when I've realized that I want nothing more than to be His future bride as a consecrated virgin? No! It's especially painful for me right now; right when I've finally figured out what my true vocation is. Still, I obey... and I remind myself that He is with me, even when I'm at home.

Oh, and for those who may be new to the blog... this isn't the first time I've been without the Sacraments for a long period of time. I've gone several months without the Eucharist before (when I was put on a gluten-free diet and before I was able to receive low-gluten hosts) so this isn't new territory for me... but it's somehow now harder than ever because of where I am in my spiritual life and vocation discernment.

Instead of dumping on poor Archbishop Gomez like so many other people are doing, I'm going to personally thank him. As a chronically ill Catholic, I know what it feels like to be thought of as a burden to others -- to those who are healthy and are "punished" because some of us are physically weaker than them. I understand the frustration of those who want to be able to attend Mass and receive the Sacraments but can't because "weaklings" like me could be exposed to something, if not directly than through contact with someone in our family who is healthy and attended Mass but was possibly infected by someone else who is in a low-risk group. Yes, we need Christ and the Sacraments now more than ever, but he made an extremely difficult decision because he, as the spiritual father of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, wanted to err on the side of caution. It's called prudence and it's a virtue, y'all. And, who says God isn't with us in our homes and wherever we are at all times?

Do you think it was a decision Archbishop Gomez (and, likewise, other spiritual leaders across the States and worldwide) made lightly? No. I've heard from several sources that those closest to our Archbishop say it was a difficult decision for him to make; one that weighed heavily on him. He cares about us and our well being, no matter what some people say. I don't even want to hear from those of you who are calling him a coward or saying that he cares more about our bodies than our souls. Now is not the time to be uncharitable. Now is the time to get together and pray for our priests who are at the front of the line. They are the ones who, along with those in the medical fields, will be dealing with folks severely infected with the virus. They will be administering the anointing of the sick and/or last rites. They are the ones who will risk their own safety and health for others.

Need I remind y'all that receiving the Eucharist frequently is a luxury we've all gotten used to.. and often take for granted? I've read that St. Therese only received it once a month. Those who live in rural areas who share a priest with multiple other communities don't have that same luxury we do. We have spiritual communion we can do that is completely valid; something we can do multiple times per day from what I've learned.

We have the gift of technology that allows us to watch Mass being celebrated. We can get together with others at a distance to pray together; to bring comfort to one another during these trials through a variety of different platforms. I even had the opportunity to receive impromptu spiritual direction via FaceTime because I was unable to leave the house at the last minute yesterday (guess whose car broke down... again). We have so many resources at our disposals and we have so many opportunities to use social media and the internet to spread the Good News and bring God to others, yet we're using it to tear one another apart; to bring negativity and division instead of unity.

I know that my saying all of this will fall on deaf ears to some but I hope others will try to see things from the POV of someone like me.

I don't want to see negativity on my social media timelines, it doesn't do me any good -- emotionally, mentally, spiritually, or even physically (since my emotional health tends to be closely tied to my physical wellbeing).

I don't want people attacking anyone else, whether they're personally attacking me or someone else whose views differ from theirs.

I want us to unite, as the body of Christ, and pray for one another. Not just for those of us a risk but everyone else. Odds are you know someone -- a family member, a friend, a coworker, an acquaintance, your own parish priest -- who is at risk. Pray for them.

Pray for those in the medical field. Doctors, specialists, nurses, EMTs, even the staff at clinics and hospitals. They are at the front of the line... and then go home to their families who are also put at risk.

Pray for priests, even the young and healthy ones, who will witness so much suffering -- even if that suffering is in the form of devout parishioners begging them to do "underground" Masses because they're so desperate to receive the Eucharist.

Pray for those who have been infected, whether they're in recovery or are still suffering. Pray for their loved ones who hurt seeing them suffer.

Pray for the souls of those who've lost their lives due to this virus as well as their families and friends who are grieving.

Pray for those who are poor in spirit; those who reject God and those who don't know Him out of ignorance.

If you're a fellow chronic illness sufferer, may I suggest offering up our aches and pains -- physical, emotional, and mental -- for others? We have such a gift to give by uniting our suffering with that of Christ on the Cross. As Pope St. John Paul II reminded us in Salvific Doloris, we can offer up our suffering for the good of others. Think about it, Jesus was surrounded by those who were suffering before He Himself suffered the agony on the Cross. He knows what we're going through... and knew pain and agony far worse than we will experience. The graces He will pour out into the world will be greater and sweeter because He knows how much pain we're in and how much courage it takes to endure the pain for the sake of others.

Anyway, I just wanted to put my two cents in because I haven't seen anyone else share anything close to this on social media. Granted, I'm not on Twitter right now (well, not a public account) but I'm sure something would've eventually trickled in through friends.

I hope you're all trying to stay as calm as possible during this time. I know it's much easier said than done. However, I also think that we can grow by leaps and bounds during this time. God wanted us to be alive at this point in time for a reason. God will undoubtedly help us learn how to better achieve sainthood through these difficult circumstances, we just need to be open to it.

Please remember His commandments: Love Him first and foremost and love thy neighbor as thyself. Praise Him even when things seem to have hit rock bottom (a la Job) and be charitable towards one another.

Alright, getting off my soapbox now. I hope you're all doing well (all things considering).

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

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

I've Resigned Myself to Giving Up on This Lifelong Battle

Ask anyone who has ever known me well enough and they'll tell you that I've been trying to escape from Los Angeles pretty much my entire life.

I was born and bred here... and I'm still stuck here.

Any and every single attempt to leave has been thwarted over the years.

I tried to go to Bath Spa University in Bath, England... and I ended up staying to help take care of my father in his final years of life.

After he passed, I applied to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia (my dream school) but I ended up having to stay because my mom was not in a good place, physically, mentally, or emotionally. Would you be after losing your husband of 26 years?

Last year, I spent the last 6 months of the year trying to leave California but back-to-back health and financial issues would come up every single time I tried to leave. If it wasn't one thing, it was the other... or both.

"It sounds like God wants you to stay," my spiritual director said to me last October.

I didn't like the sound of that. I wanted to leave. I've never really felt "at home" in my hometown, even as a child. Why was God keeping me here? There are so many things that are unhealthy for me here -- so much toxicity. I don't feel comfortable enough sharing what these things are with complete strangers but those close to me know what I'm talking about -- and have all tried to get me out of Los Angeles for those same reasons. Still, no matter what any of us did -- even threats to come from out of state and, basically, physically carry me out -- plans fell apart.

Then November happened. November was when it became abundantly clear that God wanted me to pursue the discernment of consecrated virginity. It meant (as almost all of you know) letting go of plans to get married and move out of state to his hometown. It also meant that I had to think about what I was going to do because consecrated virgins are tied to their home diocese.

That was one of the first obstacles I wrestled with at the beginning of the discernment. "Wait, I have to stay in Los Angeles?1 Can't I just discern somewhere else and stay there?" I seriously considered it but, no, God kept making it clear that He wants me here. As my (now former) SD said, we may not why God wants me to here (and probably won't in this lifetime) but He wants me here for a reason.

I fought my "fate" for so long... until I just decided to give up. I gave up on trying to leave Los Angeles and (much to my friends' vexations) my mother's house.

"Okay, God," I said. "You want me here? I'll stay. I don't know why but Your will be done, not mine."

Was I happy? Not one bit. But if God wanted me here it was for a good reason, right?

Recently, I was chatting with a priest friend about this -- how I always tried to leave but, for whatever reason, God wanted me here. At that point, I had resigned myself to it and stated as much. Then he said something that I'll never forget -- (paraphrasing): God wants us here because He has big plans for Los Angeles... and we're part of it.

I had never thought about it that way. I had only thought about it from my own selfish POV. I wanted to leave. I didn't feel comfortable here. I didn't understand why I had to stay. When my priest friend said this, it all started making sense to me... especially in terms of my vocation.

If, God willing, I am called to become a consecrated virgin for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, one of my "duties" will be to pray for those in the archdiocese, especially the archbishop and priests. It will mean that I will be giving back to the archdiocese in ways that very few people will be able to. Given the history of how, ahem, liberal and how many scandals have surrounded the archdiocese, perhaps that's why God wants me here.

A few months ago my Oblate Master reminded me of a great gift I can give to the Church -- my sufferings. As someone who is chronically ill, I can offer up the pains and sufferings to the Church -- for the Pope, the clergy, the whole Church. As a consecrated virgin tied to her archdiocese, I'd be able to offer up any future sufferings specifically for those in my hometown. Maybe that's God wants me here... and why He's calling me to this beautiful vocation.

I'm not sure if that's the reason why I'm staying here; part of why I feel called to become a consecrated virgin. All I know is that I've always felt a deep desire to give more of myself to others; to offer up as much of myself as I can to the Church and, ultimately, God. If this is the best way I can do it, I welcome it.

I resign myself to giving up my lifelong battle to leave Los Angeles. I accept the possibility of staying here for the rest of my life if I can make the smallest difference; even if all I do is offer up my ailments and other crosses I bear.

Anyway, this was a "quick" post to share some of my thoughts.

I've been wanting to blog for a while but life has gotten busy lately -- a good kind of busy. I hope to be able to blog more this month but we'll see how it works out with my Lenten plans. I'll be away from my laptop (and screens in general) more often so more frequent posts aren't guaranteed.

Thank you to all of you who've been praying for me -- for my vocation, my health, and the car issues (the latter of which have been resolved!). I will continue to pray for y'all as well.

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

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

My Lenten Plans: The "Great Entertainment Purge of 2020," Silence, and Self-Care

For weeks, I've been thinking about what I was going to give up or add for Lent. There were so many options because there's so much I need to work on. After taking everything into consideration I decided to do three big things: "the great entertainment purge of 2020" (and, yes, it's as crazy as it sounds), embracing silence, and focusing on self-care -- all of which I'm horrible at but desperately need.

After listening to this inspiring sermon on the 7-Week Challenge to Conquer Technological Idolatry on the Sensus Fidelium YouTube channel last week, I decided to take up this challenge and thus my first big penance/goal was born. After reading Pope Pius XI's Papal Encyclical on Motion Pictures (Vigilanti Cura) -- which was mentioned in the sermon -- I decided to give up the majority of entertainment for Lent. As someone who turns to distractions such as social media, movies, and TV shows when anxiety, boredom, or illness strike, this is going to be hard for me.

I know I will get criticism for "going to the extreme" but I've decided to extend this beyond Lent. In  fact, during this Lenten season, I'm going to do what I'm dubbing to be the "Great Entertainment Purge of 2020." All movies, TV shows, music, and books that are problematic (for me) and will cause my mind to wander to dangerous territory is getting thrown out. No, not donated. Thrown out. That means I will be throwing away hundreds of dollars worth of material but I don't care. I cannot, in good conscience, keep these things around. And, it's not going to be easy.

One of my favorite (if not my favorite) Gene Kelly musicals, On the Town, will be the first to go. Why? Have any of you watched it? It's lovely with the dancing and the singing... but there's so much alluded to and implied that is, well, unchaste. Yes, go ahead. Judge me. Call me a prude. Tell me that I'm being too scrupulous and/or unrealistic for wanting to give up all forms of entertainment that contain these things but I just can't keep them.

When I decided to get serious about discerning the vocation of consecrated virginity, I also decided to be even more mindful of what things I consumed. When I really stopped to take inventory of the type of music I listened to (and really listen to the lyrics), what movies and TV shows I watched, and what books I read, I could see where I wasn't being as careful as I probably should have. And, again, yes, you can call me scrupulous but it just doesn't sit well with me.

I've been examining my conscience and my heart for some time now and I've come to realize that, because of my wildly active imagination, I can very easily fall into the temptation to have unchaste thoughts due to the media I consume. I've gotten better at it but it's still a struggle for me. I know how my mind works; I know how easily my mind jumps from one thing to another and stays on that thing until it's distracted by something else. I know how these things linger in my mind or will come up again, even years later. I don't want that. I want a clean heart and mind. I can't achieve that if I'm constantly remembering things that dirtied up my mind; things that I shouldn't have seen/read/heard in the first place. That is why I'm doing it.

Of course, this goes with my second (of three) big Lenten plans: embracing silence. These last 3 weeks since I returned to social media post-digital detox month have shown me how much I miss that silence I felt during that month. I also cut my entertainment consumption during that time and I saw the fruits it bore. It put me in the right state of mind to begin doing good research of my vocation discernment and to find that peace I was looking for. Taking my beloved Monks of Norcia (my spiritual family/home) as inspiration, I decided not to speak (or write... or tweet.... or text...) if it's either not necessary or doesn't help or edify anyone.

We're so afraid to be silent and alone with our thoughts but it's in that silence that we can hear God speaking to us. The Monks of Norcia started using sign language to limit verbal communication and only to communicate the important things and I think that's beautiful. I want (and, I'll be honest, crave) that silence now more than ever. Not only for my discernment to the vocation of consecrated virginity but also in other important things I need to do, such as consider a change in career and in my attempts to really do what I can to get myself healthy.

I've read enough research and studies that all state that silence (read: lack of constant stimulus) and rest can have great health benefits, especially for someone who is chronically ill and/or in recovery mode. Since my current recovery process is still in its early stages and it's going by much, much slower than after previous relapses, I decided that my third Lenten penance/goal is to focus on self-care. And, as if I needed another "sign" that this was what I needed to do, this excellent article on what to give up for Lent (based on your temperament) by my fellow epicPew writer, Chloe Langr, really inspired me to go for it.

As a melancholic-phlegmatic (I'm apparently no longer a phlegmatic-sanguine), the article suggested I prioritize self-care and practice saying "no" and creating healthy boundaries (for melancholics) and give up pushing the snooze button (as a phlegmatic; I'm totally guilty of doing this several times each morning). That shouldn't seem like a big deal but those who know me know how hard it will be for me to go through with these things. I tend to sacrifice sleeping, eating, resting, etc. for others. If someone asks me to do something, I won't rest until it's done. It's that people-pleasing habit that hasn't fully gone away. The only time that I allow myself to take care of myself is when I'm so sick that I cannot do a good job at what's needed... and even then, I feel super guilty for not doing it. As the article correctly states, I have a hard time saying "no" and I need to. As I said earlier, my recovery this time around is worryingly slow than usual so I need to really take care of myself. How can I be of service to others if I can't even function?

Self-care is going to mean going to bed at an earlier time so I can get plenty of rest and not have the temptation to hit the snooze button in the morning. It also mean really pushing forward with the reintroduction of new foods into my diet (we've added 3 new things since the last time I mentioned it but I have to eat them sparingly as too much and/or too often makes me feel sick), drinking 8 cups of water instead of my usual 6, and not pushing my mind or my body to do more when I feel tired. It means no taking on any more commitments than I already have.

Of course, all of these things are going to be tied into one big thing that I'm adding: more time in prayer and more time with God.

I already mentioned the benefit of the "Great Entertainment Purge of 2020". Yes, I will be using that as a hashtag on social media during Lent.

When I need to be distracted? More prayer time or reading a spiritually-fulfilling book. If I get bored, I'm going to allow myself to be bored. Radical idea, I know. lol. I don't remember what article it was, but I read that getting 2 hours of silence per day and not having any additional stimulus is good for your health. It'll also be an excellent time to talk to God about what is on my heart and mind.

Motivation to go to bed earlier and not hit the snooze button? Early morning daily Mass. I'll go each morning that I'm feeling physically well enough to attend in person and I'll watch it live when I'm homebound. That and every chance I can take to go to Adoration, I'm taking. Again, I don't know how often this will happen with my chronic fatigue and my lack of car (though this should soon be fixed!) but it's a great motivator!

Motivation to practice self-care; to drink and eat better? My Oblate retreat in a couple of months. I want to get healthy enough to go to the retreat and be able to attend all the Masses, prayer times in the chapel (read: Divine Office hours), and talks without worrying about my health being a factor. Also, since I will be traveling for the retreat, I'm going to have to get used to an earlier bedtime and wake-up time since it'll be in a different time zone.

And, those, ladies and gentlemen, are my big Lenten plans. If you're wondering where social media fits into it -- I'll still be active but I'll have restricted hours. I set up my Freedom app (yes, that's an affiliate link) to block out all social media, news, and entertainment content from 4 a.m. - 5 p.m. during the week and 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends months ago but I may add another 2-4 hours to those schedules during Lent. I don't *need* to be on social media for that long; it'll defeat the whole purpose of being silent and only communicating good things. When I need to post links, I'll keep using HootSuite. I'll reply to messages on social media, but only in the evenings and nights. I'm limiting my time for both my own sanity and as penance.

So, those are my Lenten plans. What are yours? I can't wait to see what y'all have come up with!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go eat and drink something because I haven't had much of either all day and it's a quarter 'til 4 p.m. Oops. Did I mention I'm terrible at self-care? Yeeeah. lol.

As always, thanks for reading and God bless!

Monday, February 17, 2020

How the 54-day Rosary Novena Kept Me From Getting Married

Yes, controversial title but... you'll see what I mean by the time you get to the end of this post.

Last Tuesday, we left our apartment just as dawn was breaking. It was a beautiful but chilly (for L.A. standards) start of the day. I had two books in my hand — Three to Get Married by Ven. Fulton Sheen and And You Are Christ’s by Fr. Thomas Dubay SM. One for a writing assignment, the other for my personal discernment.

Since I still don’t have a car, we had a taxi waiting for us at the front gate of our building. We climbed in and made our way to pick up another client (we are part of a next-day ride-share program). I put on my broken headphones, one side (the broken one) dangling from my ear. Nope, I can't afford to replace those yet. As long as one side still works, I don't care how silly it looks.

I had turned on my iPod touch almost from the minute I got into the taxi so the music was playing (like always on a long commute/trip), providing me background noise to drown out the familiar buzz of early morning traffic.

At some point, the music stopped being background noise. He popped into my mind just as “She Said” by Brie Larson (yes, Brie "Captain Marvel" Larson) started playing. I thought it was odd that my mind chose to focus on this particular song since it reminds me of my pre-reversion life, particularly of my time as a freshman at Santa Monica College. This is at least 3-4 years before I met him.

I don't think I need to tell y'all who he is. Since this is a post on my vocation discernment journey and I've been open about the fact that I was in wedding plan mode with someone late last year.

Anyway, I wasn't anticipating his suddenly popping up in my mind just as the following lyrics were being warbled:

“You can’t get inside my head,
Can’t be my safety net...

... I might hit the ground,
But, at least, I’ll have a story to tell,
She said, ‘I gotta find out for myself.’”

I listened to the song a couple more times to really remember the lyrics (it’s been years). I looked down at my two books on my lap and it struck me how appropriate the song was for me at the moment.

He was my safety net. With 11+ years of friendship under our belts before we even brought up the possibility of a relationship, let alone marriage, we had a history. He was one of my best friends. He was always there for me when I felt like I was floundering; like I needed someone to pull me out of a raging sea I couldn’t swim or even float in. Still, I kept him an arms-length away at all times.

In the months since I got the courage to pull the plug, I often wondered why that was. I thought it was because that’s how I was; overly-cautious and perhaps not as loving as I always thought I was. Listening to the song -- and the week of pondering that followed -- made me realize why that was: I somehow I always knew that I wasn't meant to get married, no matter how much I wanted it and how hard it would be to let go of that "safety net." It, unfortunately, took me a long time to realize it and accept it. The clues were there all along but I ignored them. Being a disappointment to my mother -- who desires grandbabies -- also played a factor in it but that's a different story.

During those 5 months when the fella and I (quickly) went from friends to discerning marriage, I saw parts of myself I didn’t like. I felt less and less like myself as things progressed. In fact, I ended up hating myself. I was changing, and not for the better. I didn’t like who I was becoming. I felt pulled away from God and I hated it. As awful as it sounds, I couldn't bear the thought of my heart not belonging solely to Him; of it being shared with someone else. I hated how far away I felt from God and how, the further it went on, the easier it became for me to accept temptations to sin without caring what happened. Massive red flag right there.

It was during this time that I began doing the 54-day Rosary novena. One of the initial intentions was for the fella and I to do God's will. I didn't make it past day 9 (the last day of the first of the 6 back-to-back novenas within the larger novena) when I knew, in my heart, that God was showing me a different path. As the novena continued, I stubbornly tried to dismiss what God was placing in my heart. I wanted to get married, and especially to him. He was (on paper) my perfect match. I wanted a family. God couldn't have possibly placed the desire to be married and discern marriage with the fella unless it was His will... right?

To my surprise, my prayers began to change on day 10 of the novena. No longer was I praying for our marriage; I was praying for us to do God's will, even if that meant not sharing our lives together. The more obvious it became that God didn't seem to be calling us to marriage, the more specific my intentions became. At some point, I began asking Mama Mary to lead me to my future spouse, whoever he may be... "even if my future Spouse is actually your Son."

The first time I said it out loud, I didn't even think about it; it completely slipped out! I was caught off-guard as I had no intention of saying those words. The longer I prayed the novena, the more I prayed for us both to do God's will... and the easier it became for me to add the intention of knowing whether my future spouse was actually Christ.

Before the novena ended, I knew what I had to do. I was dreading doing it because I didn't want to hurt him. For weeks I tried to gather all the courage I could muster to tell him. I was afraid of how he would react. I didn’t want to lose his friendship but I knew it wouldn’t be fair to him for me to drag it out. I knew I couldn’t marry him. God had made that abundantly clear after the first 9 days of the novena. No, Christ wanted me for Himself... and I was willing to give Him all of my heart and all that I have.

I wondered if the fella knew what was going on. Ask anyone who knows me; I can’t fake anything to save my life. You always know where you stand with me and you know when something is weighing heavily on my mind. It wasn't until last week -- after months of silence -- that I got the confirmation that he knew something was up even before I said anything. That's all I'm going to say regarding that.

Since last Tuesday, I've been reflecting on my life and my past relationships. As I shared on my Instagram post yesterday, it seems like God had placed the desire to belong solely to Him during childhood. When I was only 6-8 years old (as I entered the age of reason), I used to tell people that I was going to become a nun. It was the dream. Yes, I fell in love with Jesus at that early age. Attending Mass was the highlight of my week. I can even remember 8-year-old me taking a little white, plastic cross to school that said "I love Jesus" and proudly showing it off to my friends... at a secular elementary school. They would look at me like I was crazy but I felt it. I loved Jesus.

Eventually, I left strayed from the Church. After I made my First Communion and was Confirmed, my "cafeteria Catholic" parents (and my poorly catechized self) didn't see the point in attending Mass since I "no longer had the obligation" to. From ages 13 to 21, I was away from the Church... and I was boy-crazy. I always had a boyfriend or a crush.

A lot happened during that time -- during my "crazy" teen years -- but I still identified myself as Catholic. And despite my flirtation with the entertainment business during those years, I somehow managed to avoid becoming a #MeToo casualty. I was also able to avoid temptations despite "invitations" in my late teens and early 20s, something I credit to both the Holy Spirit and my Guardian Angel -- especially the latter since God knows what dangers I faced during those years.

I'm willing to bet that none of you remember this, but, a little over a year ago, I heard the words "Let Jesus court you" after praying the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary... the same one he gave me years ago. You can go ahead and read the post for yourself; I can't make that up -- it's been there for over a year! As I stated then, I had begun making peace with the fact that God was probably calling me to stay single. I didn't understand why I heard "Let Jesus court you" then -- and especially while I was discerning marriage with the fella -- but I do now.

During the previous 54-day Rosary novena (2018), I had prayed to get to know my future husband. I thought my answers had been answered with one of my best friends. In hindsight, I'm thinking that perhaps God wanted me to discern marriage so I wouldn't always wonder "what if..." I'm very much the type of person to do that; always wonder what might've been if only I had *fill in the blank.*

After having discerned marriage with someone who is probably the closest I will get to my ideal (earthly) match, I no longer wonder "what if..." I had found someone who wanted to marry me (and vice versa); my "perfect match." Yet, he couldn't fill that God-shaped hole in my heart. Looking back, I can now see that neither he nor the one who taught me about true, unselfish love nor anyone else worked out because God was saving my heart for Himself.

It took two consecutive 54-day Rosary novenas (and countless others over the years), but I truly believe my prayers have been answered. It kept me from getting married in the traditional sense, but it gave me something greater: the sense that I have finally found my true future Spouse. I can now say that easily and without reservations.

The idea of being a bride of Christ and giving my whole heart and life to Him fills my eyes with joyful tears; my heart with overflowing love. Even if Archbishop Gomez doesn't believe I'm meant to become a consecrated virgin (as in, making it a public declaration), I know that making private vows will be something I want to do with my whole heart.

By the way, the last song I listened to on the trip that led to this past week's reflections? “Noticed” by Mute Math, from the same album that was the soundtrack to my reversion in 2006!

The lyrics?

“And all this time oblivious to what you make so obvious,
I can’t believe I never noticed my heart before...”

“And all this time it was staring me blind,
I can’t believe I never noticed my heart before...”

“The only time I ever noticed my heart was when I noticed you...”

Yes, the only time I ever noticed my heart was when I noticed You, Lord.

Anyway, just sharing these thoughts I wanted to share. Everyone's vocation discernment story is different. I'm glad I have a place to share mine as it unfolds.

Okay, that's enough "soul-baring" for now. ;)

I hope you all had a lovely weekend!

As always, thank you for reading and God bless! :D