Wednesday, December 25, 2019

My Gift to Baby Jesus: My Heart and Vocation Discernment

"This is my Chrismas/birthday gift to you, baby Jesus. I'm letting go, once and for all."

With those uttered words, I took a deep breath and I finally let go of something I had reluctantly been holding onto for so long. I was going to wait until Christmas to "pull the trigger" but it became abundantly clear that I couldn't keep putting it off any longer. There were too many "signs" and circumstances that I couldn't ignore. The fact that it all happened on the last day of the 54-day Rosary novena was no coincidence either. Of that, I am sure. So, I let go. And, please, no one start singing that Frozen song. lol.

This is the first time I "give" a gift to the child Jesus but it was something that has been slowly growing in my heart in recent weeks. What it is that I let go, I can't publicly state out of respect for those involved but it was something that needed to be done in order to go forward with my discernment to consecrated virginity. Surprise! Or not. lol. I know those following me on Twitter and Instagram won't be surprised as I've mentioned it enough over the last couple of weeks but it will be for those not following me on those platforms who do read this blog.

Yes, you read that right: I am beginning my discernment to consecrated virginity. It has not been an easy road. The idea has come up more than once over the years but I've always stubbornly fought it because I was sure I was called to marriage and family. Then I discerned that and, well, there was something still missing. Don't get me wrong. I felt happy... but there was a God-shaped hole I just couldn't ignore.

To be honest, I hated not belonging fully to God; to feel like my heart was divided in two and that He wasn't getting more of me than He was getting. It didn't feel right to me. Of course, there's more to the story but it came down to my feeling pulled away from God and being miserable about it. Slowly, things began unraveling and the discernment to the vocation of consecrated virginity became more and more clear. Once St. Agatha came up as my patroness for the year 2020 in the Saint's Name Generator (and then St. Philomena decided to officially join the party as my co-patroness; I'll write more about her soon), I knew I could no longer ignore the call.

As hard as letting go might've been (and it was!), I felt a tremendous peace doing it because I knew that it was what God was calling me to do. As a wise friend reminded me earlier this week, sometimes God calls us to sacrifice something for Him; to show Him that we're willing to follow Him instead of our own selfishness inclinations. Of course, I will continue to pray for those involved. I wish them peace and happiness. I also hope they understand that I couldn't, in good conscience, ignore God's call.

I am incredibly blessed to have the support of so many people -- friends and online acquaintances alike -- at the start of this journey. I don't have the full support of the most important person in my life, but I knew that going forward. God warned us that we would meet opposition when we gave everything up to follow Him, but it's something I'm willing to do. I know God, through the intercessions of Our Lady, St. Agatha, and St. Philomena, will grant me the fortitude necessary.

I don't know if this will ultimately be my vocation. I actually won't get to decide that either -- it'll be Archbishop Gomez! Yes, you read that correctly. I may discern all I want with my spiritual director but if Archbishop Gomez -- after hearing why I discerned this vocation and how I arrived to my conclusion that God may be calling me to this -- doesn't think it's truly what God is calling me to do, that will be the end of that. In obedience (as both a Benedictine Oblate and someone trying to properly discern this vocation), I will have to accept whatever decision he makes. Of course, I will pray that the Holy Spirit helps him arrive at the "final verdict" that is in accordance with God's will for my life. Still, it may end up being a long, hard discernment road that may end up with me back where I started.

The unknown can be anxiety-inducing, especially to someone who likes to make plans, but this is where I need to put my money where my mouth is. Do I truly trust God with childlike faith? I better do so because there is so much uncertainty right now. All I know is that God has cleared the path for me to move forward with my discernment and that is what I'm going to do. If anything, I will come out of this having discerned all the vocations and I will have no doubt as to what God is calling me to do.

Anyway, I just wanted to share these thoughts with you on this beautiful Christmas Day.

Happy birthday, baby Jesus! I love You so much that I give You my whole heart and my entire vocation discernment. May God's will be done, not mine.

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you're all enjoying this beautiful day with your loved ones.

Oh, and happy anniversary to me! Today marks 12 years (whooooa!) since I started this blog. We're still just at the beginning of this adventure, y'all! Thank you so much for continuing to follow, support, and encourage me along the way. I pray for you all every time I do my nighttime prayers. :)

God bless you all!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Good News: a Possible Breakthrough in my Health Issues

((Before I begin, let me just wish you all a happy feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe! I wrote a bit about the same picture that's hung on my bedroom wall for the past (almost) 30 years on Instagram in case you want to read it.))

I thought I was ready for my hematology appointment yesterday morning. I was cool, calm, and collected. Or, so I thought until I woke up sweating cold that morning. That cold sweat didn't stop until after I saw the hematologist... an hour after my appointment was scheduled.

I kept repeating, "Jesus, I trust in You" from the moment I woke up... 2 hours early. I tried to go through my routine -- breakfast, prayer, and getting ready to go out -- at a slow pace. I had intentionally done it to keep my anxiety levels down. Whenever I felt them go up a bit, I would stop and repeat, "Jesus, I trust in You" three times before I would resume the routine.

Before I left, I stopped and had a conversation with God. Since I was home alone, I said the words aloud. I don't remember the exact words but they were along the lines of "Whatever happens, I accept. If it's Your will, it will be done. If it's good news, I will rejoice and praise you. If it's not good news, I know you will give me the fortitude to endure it. Whatever it is, I will sacrifice sleep and go give thanks at tomorrow's daily Mass."

I drove to my appointment with unusually clear eyesight (I've been having eye problems for months, remember?). I decided to listen to "The Benedict Option" audiobook as a distraction. I took a longer but clearer (read: less traffic) route to my hematologist's office. "If I get there late, I get there late. But I'd rather go calmly than stress myself out," I told myself as I drove to the office.

I got there on time... but I ended up waiting an hour before I was seen. See, the hematologist I've seen for the past two years is out of the country. While it wasn't confirmed, we think it has something to do with his work visa since he's a foreign-born doctor. He had a delay returning the last time his permit expired, too. Anyway, because of this (and the office being unsure of when he will return), they gave me a new hematologist. I was warned beforehand about this; there were rescheduled appointments and blood draws for it for weeks leading up to the day. I just didn't know the actual appointment would have a wait time of over an hour.

As you can imagine, I sat there sweating cold out of nerves. I didn't know if my pancytopenia (the medical term for low red and white blood count and low platelets) was still around; if I was healthier than I was since my last blood draw at the last ER visit I'd had, two months earlier. "Jesus, I trust in You" I said before I prayed the St. Patrick breastplate prayer and texted a good friend to help pass the time.

I was whisked inside and I waited for the doctor once again, this time in the exam room. My noontime alarm went off signaling the time to pray The Angelus and Sext. I had taken my copy of The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary in case I needed it. I took out my Rosary beads from my pocket and began praying the Angelus. I had just finished praying, "And the Word was made Flesh.. *genuflects* and dwelth among us..." and was standing up when the new hematologist came in. "This is it. Jesus, I trust in You," I said internally.

I was ready for whatever God in store for me... or, again, so I thought. I won't keep dragging the story for y'all so I'll tell you exactly what he said.

After introducing himself he said he'd gone over my charts and history along with my latest blood work. The good news was that my numbers had gone up. My white blood count had miraculously jumped up to normal in record time, from 3.6 to 4.6. My platelets went up 33k (from 102k to 135k) and I’m now currently only 5k under normal range. My red blood count and hemoglobin are still a little low but are now closer to normal range. He said that, given my history and my steady (for the most part) numbers, he thought it all pointed to an early rheumatology/autoimmune issue. When I explained that the ophthalmologist had ordered blood work because he also thought I had an autoimmune issue that was causing my eyesight problems (my bilateral optic nerve edemas), he said that it just further confirmed his suspicions. He said that it looked like it was all early stages of whatever was about to unfold and that no treatment would be necessary at the moment; we'll just keep an eye on things.

This is the first time I've come close to getting a diagnosis on anything! I was surprised and relieved. After so many years of dealing with low platelets and the anemia coming and going, here we had a sort-of breakthrough! I immediately thought about how the words "leaky gut" and the theory many people have made that perhaps that's what's wrong with me have popped up in recent weeks. A parishioner friend of mine even lent me a book on healing the leaky gut when I went to Mass last Friday (the beautiful First Friday I wrote about here). That's not even counting the dream I had nearly two years ago in which I dreamt that St. Giuseppe Moscati had examined me and told me to do a bone broth diet to heal my gut; a dream that also featured St. John Bosco. I even screen captured the tweet for future reference.

Y'all know this tweet is old because I haven't used that profile picture in years. Also, my apologies to St. Giuseppe for butchering his first name. It was during the time when I was still learning about him.

Perhaps this is all part of my 54-day Rosary novena intention; I've been praying for better health and the ability to expand my restricted diet. A leaky gut will make it seem like you have allergic reactions to many things -- especially foods -- so this could be the breakthrough I've been praying for! I am definitely going to try healing my gut just in case this has been the issue all along.

Before I end this post, I also wanted to share one more thing the good hematologist said to me. As he was leaving, hand on the door, he stopped and looked back at me and said, "Are you married, planning on getting married, or in a relationship?" I confirmed that I did want to get married one day, but I didn't know when that would happen. He then said what I was not expecting, "With your history and numbers, you can get pregnant. You can have children as soon as you'd like. Usually, there are worries about platelets dipping for people who have ITP or other blood disorders, but it shouldn't be a problem for you." I was completely dumbfounded. The thought hadn't even crossed my mind (for obvious reasons) yet I felt an enormous wave of relief. God willing, I can have babies and not worry about it affecting my health (at least, not my platelets) because it looks like it may all be an autoimmune issue rather than a blood disorder.

I left the office feeling lighter, a lot more hopeful, and intensely grateful to Our Lady for her intercession and to God for everything.

I knew there was a reason why my appointments kept getting pushed back; why I had to keep rescheduling blood draws and appointments. Not just for the hematologist but all of them. I didn't know what it was but perhaps it all needed to happen so that a  new doctor could look at my case and apply their knowledge to my “medical mystery” that’s been baffling doctors for years. (side note: the hematologist is an older gentleman so he has more experience than my [close to my age] regular hematologist.)

So, that's my news. On day 41 of the 54-day Rosary novena, I received that wonderful news. I have another blood draw tomorrow to check for autoimmune things and inflammation markers prior to my ophthalmologist appointment on Monday morning. I hope that we get a little closer to the root cause of all my problems with it as well. Fingers crossed.

Anyway, I just wanted to share the news with y'all. I received a letter from my Oblate master while trying to finish up this so I'm going to go read that right now. And, yes, I just teared up because of the timing.  What are the odds that I would receive a letter from my Oblate master (who, along with the other monks, has been praying for my health) with words of encouragement regarding my health while writing this post with an update on my health? God, Your timing is impeccable!

I hope y'all have a lovely rest of the week!

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Last Week, I Kissed the True Cross. Really!

"I brought this relic of the True Cross..." he explained to me as he took out the relic from a red pouch and showed it to me. It was encased like most of the other relics I'd seen -- besides St. John Vianney's incorruptible heart. Still, the significance of the relic hit me like a ton of bricks.

I began tearing up as I thought about what was being held in front of me. This was an actual piece of the True Cross; where the Son of God sacrificed His life for the salvation of mankind. It was where He suffered indescribable agony for the sins for man; for the many sins I myself have committed. The weight of it all overwhelmed me, in a good way. It's the greatest love story ever told. My love for Him grew exponentially at that moment. My desire to praise Him in Heaven for all eternity -- to do everything I could to keep myself from jeopardizing my chances of getting there -- grew.

"I love you, Lord," I said internally as the tears flowed down my cheeks.

"Would you like to kiss it?" he asked me. I only had a split second to answer. I timidly said "Yes." On my knees, I leaned in and kissed the relic that he held out for me. "I love you, Lord."

It's only been a couple of days since it happened but I still can't believe that I kissed the True Cross. The memory of it will forever be embedded in my mind and in my heart.

In recent weeks (and months), I've often pictured myself at the foot of the Cross. This is especially vivid in my mind while praying the Rosary. I picture myself either standing or kneeling at the foot of the Cross, asking for His forgiveness and mercy. Most of the time, it's when I'm feeling overwhelmed. I can see myself clinging to the Cross, looking up at Him with tears in my eyes, asking Him for help. Sometimes I ask Him for clarity. Other times I simply put myself in that moment -- the fifth Sorrowful mystery -- and lose myself in it. Never in my wildest dreams (or imagination), did I ever think I would be blessed enough to actually get the chance to kiss a relic of it.

After it was all said and done, I was in awe... and felt humbled. Was I truly worthy of having that amazing moment? I don't know but I am grateful that I did. I texted only three people after it happened -- my three closest friends. (Quick side note: the significance of the number 3 didn't even dawn on me until this moment, as I'm typing it out; the significance of who I chose to share the details of that moment with are always very telling.) One of them replied, "What a grace. Especially with the kind of cross you carry, that is such a grace!" That stopped me in my tracks.

The cross I carry? Oh yes, the health cross. The same cross that has been a part of my life for so long that I don't even think about it anymore. The cross that has kept me from living the life I had always envisioned for myself. The cross that has scared away potential suitors because it's a difficult one to carry. That cross.

It's the same cross that has brought me closer to God. The cross that has turned this vain and selfish young woman who thought more about what other people thought of her and the material world into one who now desires to detach herself completely from worldly things; who would rather be ridiculed for what she believes is right and the Truth.

Being sick and having to alter my life plans is humbling. It requires the person suffering to swallow their pride and ask for help when it's needed. I went from having a world of endless possibilities from which I could choose to living life one day at a time. I went from having whatever career I wanted -- or, really, choosing to work in a field I didn't particularly feel called to in order to earn more money -- to only being able to do what I do feel called to do, even if it doesn't even help make ends meet.

That's nothing compared to the humiliation that comes with the multiple rejections from fellas who just don't want to deal with your crosses. Trust me, there's been too many to count over the years. Luckily, it's all been a great blow to my ego and it has kept reminding me that no man will ever fill that God-shaped hole in my heart. That I must fully belong to Him and trust in Him. If He wants me to marry, it will happen. If He doesn't, I know He will give me the courage and emotional strength to soldier on.

As I said in my Twitter and Instagram posts last week and earlier today, God has been working in my heart lately. I can see Him waiting for me to be vulnerable and open up my heart completely to Him. I know He wants me to go to Him and tell Him exactly what I think, how I feel, what my fears are, and what my desires are. Can you guess when all of this started; when I decided to embark on this journey with Him? The minute I kissed the True Cross.

For the record, who "he" is and why he did it will remain something between those of us in the know. The point is that God blessed me with that amazing moment that has forever changed my attitude and outlook on life; that has defined this Advent season for me. I cannot think about it without tearing up. Thank you, Lord, for allowing this sinful gal to feel the weight of Your love and mercy. I will continue to strive to be worthy of moments like it, even if I never get another one like it again.

Anyway, I felt prompted to share this with y'all. It may not have details of who, what, where, when, or why, but it does contain the most important parts.

That's it from me for now. There's a couple of things I need and have to do; more work in preparing my heart for Him... and other boring adult responsibilities (read: pay bills). ;)

I hope y'all are having a lovely week so far.

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

Saturday, November 23, 2019

FAQ on My Benedictine Oblate Journey and Oblates in General

Holding my blessed Benedictine Oblate scapular, right after the novitiate ceremony.
Yesterday, I mentioned my goal of learning the Final Act of Oblation entirely in Latin in preparation for the event next summer, via Twitter. That set off a bunch of questions about my journey as an Oblate and what a Benedictine Oblate is in the first place. This was not the first time I've gotten these kinds of questions, either. It seems a lot of people are interested in knowing either what it means to be an Oblate (as it's not as popular as being a third-order Carmelite or Dominican) and/or my journey so here is a short FAQ that I hope will answer some of the most common questions I get.

  • 1. Why did you want to become an Oblate?
This is a really, really long story that I've already written about here. The gist of it is that I felt called to become a lay member of a religious order. If I couldn't be a nun (which I had wanted), I could still be a lay member. It's something that had been on my heart for several years. For years I went between the Carmelites and Dominicans. Then three things happened within a relatively short span of time. The 2016 Norcia earthquake decimated the town, including the basilica built over St. Benedict's birthplace/home. Never had any news felt so personal to me than that. I ended up donating novel royalties to help them rebuild their community because it felt like my own home was impacted. Then I read The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher. Yes, the book is "controversial" but it sparked my curiosity about the Benedictine order and the Rule. I read The Rule and it just clicked for me; it fit my temperament and how I envisioned living my life to best serve God. Then my best friend sent me a book on the Oblate life and it sealed it for me.

  • 2. Where are you an Oblate novice? Which monastery?
I am an Oblate novice with the Monks of Norcia in Norcia, Italy. Yes, the same community whose home was destroyed in the earthquake. They are actually still rebuilding their community, 3+ years after the earthquake. If you feel so inclined, please donate here. The Italian government decided not to give them the basilica to rebuild again so they headed up the mountains. I'm not a happy camper about the decision made by the government but my beloved community has made the most of it and they're doing such a great job starting (basically) from scratch.

  • 3. How did you choose the monastery you attached yourself to?
First, I looked at all of my options. I looked at the local Benedictine monasteries, meaning St. Andrew's Abbey in Valyermo (within the Los Angeles Archdiocese) and those in California. I also looked into Benedictine monasteries that took in distance oblates. My current spiritual advisor suggested I stick to a traditional community since I attend the Latin Mass solely and am "trad" minded. It ended up coming down to Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma and Norcia in Italy. In the end, Norcia won for several different reasons, beginning with the fact that it's felt like home since I first learned about its existence. They're also a musically-inclined community (their Benedicta: Marian Chant album is excellent; you can watch a video on it here) which was perfect for this music nerd. Once I met our Oblate master, I knew it was the perfect fit for me. I love the entire community; the monks and my fellow Oblates. When they all rallied behind me when I got sick at the retreat, despite not knowing me, I knew it was just the kind of family I needed. Norcia is my home -- my spiritual home -- and I could not have picked a better place for myself. I hope to visit it as soon as health and finances allow it.

  • 4. When will you become a full-fledged Oblate?
God willing, next summer. The novitiate period is usually no less than a year and a day for most Oblates. It might be slightly shortened for me because our annual retreat might happen before the year mark of the beginning of my novitiate (June 30, 2019). I'm going to wait to see how it all plays out -- if they're going to change the location or dates. I definitely intend to make it to the annual retreat next summer, wherever and whenever it's held.

  • 5. Are you getting an Oblate name? Did you get to pick it?
I did ask for an Oblate name at the retreat this past summer so, yes, I will be getting one. However, I won't know what the name will actually be until right before I make my Final Act of Oblation. Most monasteries allow Oblates to choose their names but, at our particular monastery, the prior chooses them for us. I was going to choose "Francesca" in honor of St. Frances of Rome (patroness of Benedictine Oblates and fellow "God, I won't want to do this, but I'll do it because you want me to" kindred spirit) and my best girlfriend, Francesca, who has continuously challenged me to become the best and holiest version of myself over the years. My Oblate master warned us not to say which names we wanted because it was almost guaranteed that we wouldn't get it so... totally don't want "Francesca" or any of the other 2 names I'm hoping for! lol.

  • 6. So, what is an Oblate? Is it like a third-order made up of lay members?
This one is a little complicated so I'll try to explain it as plainly as I can. It's not a third-order like the lay Carmelites or Dominicans. We don't attach ourselves to local "chapters"; we attach ourselves to specific monasteries and are then considered as part of that specific community. That means that I'm now a member of my community -- one of their newest "little sisters" -- but not a member of any other Benedictine community/monastery. Also, not all of us are "secular Oblates." Yes, most of us are but not all. Just in my own community alone, we have a couple of diocesan priests who have attached themselves to the monastery. Yes, it's allowed as long as you're not a part of any other religious order.

  • 7. What is asked of Benedictine Oblates?
This answer varies from monastery to monastery but, basically, there a few things in common. First, the motto "Ora et labor" tells you everything. Work and prayer are part of our daily routine, as is Lectio Divina (the study part that isn't part of the motto). For me, in particular, I pray as many of the Hours as possible. That means praying the Little Benedictine Office, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the Monastic Diurnal. That part, at least for my community, is up to us. We also have to adapt the Rule of St. Benedict to fit our specific lives, in whichever season of life we are. As a single woman, I have more time for prayer and Lectio Divina right now. As someone recovering from illness, work means freelance articles when my fatigue and eyesight allow it. It also means my "ministry" is evangelization via social media (particular through my articles for Epic Pew, this blog, Twitter, and Instagram). My hospitality is confined to what I can do when we have visitors over at our apartment. In the future, it might be the reverse; more work, less prayer, and ministry and hospitality outside the home.

  • 8. You mentioned wanting to be buried in a Benedictine habit when you die, in a tweet. Is this allowed? 
Yes, it is. I've heard some places will allow you to wear habits as a secular Oblate, with special permission, but I believe it's extremely rare. It's more likely allowed upon death. I don't know if this varies from monastery to monastery but I believe my community does allow us to be buried in Benedictine habits. So, yes, I want this to happen when my time comes.

  • 9. I'm interested in becoming an Oblate. How can I make this happen?
First, read the Rule of St. Benedict. If the Benedictine spirituality is something that speaks to you and you become even more curious about becoming an Oblate, I'd recommend speaking to your spiritual advisor/director about it. My former SD urged me to wait until I was done with school and had more time to focus on the discernment when life was less crazy because it does take time to discern. After I finished school, I was able to discern which religious order and spirituality I felt called to incorporate into my life. Remember, I was discerning between two completely different orders and the Benedictines ended up winning. Speak to other Oblates, read books on life as on Oblate, and go from there. 

Anyway, I hope this helps some of y'all out. I'm in no way an expert so I answered based on my own experience what I've learned over the last 2-3 years.

Please keep me in your prayers as I continue my journey and try to fine-tune some areas of the Oblate life that I haven't had much of a chance to work on with my illnesses and limitations.  

As always, thanks for reading and God bless!

Friday, November 22, 2019

2019 Magnificat Advent Companion App Giveaway!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's that time of the year once again! The awesome folks at Magnificat Magazine have sent me 2 iOS and 2 Android Advent companion apps to give away to the lovely readers of this blog! That's the app, not the physical booklet.

No, I don't get paid for any of this and, no, I don't gain anything out of this. This is simply a giveaway for you faithful readers.

Normally, I'd use Rafflecopter for these giveaways but there was some shady business that happened last time I used them so we're going to do this a bit old school.

Here are the instructions:

  1. To enter, leave me a comment on this blog (with a way to contact you if you win), follow and send me a tweet (@MelissaCeciliaG), or leave me a comment on the blog's FB page.
  2. You can enter once a day from now until November 30th at 8 a.m. PT.
  3. If you want additional entries, tweet the link to this giveaway (and be sure to include me -- @MelissaCeciliaG -- so I can see the tweet) or share the link from the blog's FB page onto your page (make sure the privacy setting for the shared link is public). I'll give you two additional entries per day (per social media platform) if you do this. That's 4 more entries per day if you share them on both.

That's it.

I'll be putting all the entries in two little jars -- one for the iOS app entries and the other for the Android app entries -- and I'll randomly select the winner in the afternoon of November 30th. I'll even post a video of the process so you guys can see that I did it fair and square.

And, that's it for now.  Before I go, I wanted to thank everyone who has so generously donated to the GoFundMe account my friend, Kiera, set up for me. We're hoping to get to the halfway point so I can (God willing) find me a new (to me) car since repairs to my current car will reach the $2,000+ mark. I'm hoping that if we can get to the halfway mark and then sell my current car for parts, I'll be able to afford a decent, reliable set of wheels.

I hope you all have a lovely weekend!

Don't forget to enter the giveaway by the 30th!

As always, thanks for reading and God bless! 😊

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Reason Why I've Been Asking for Prayers for Mom and I

I’ve been asking for vague prayers for Mom and I over the last week or so via social media. Not even my closest friends really knew what was going. I was a little apprehensive about saying what it was regarding because I didn’t want people to think I was seeking attention, wanting pity for myself and the situation, or (worse) think I was trying to use emotional manipulation for donations.

Earlier this week, I felt like God was telling me to let go of my pride; the same pride instilled in me by my parents who always told me to never ask anyone for anything, especially money. I saw that it was partially pride that kept me from saying anything, so I started telling some of my closest friends what was going on. Most immediately offered to help, financially, but I still couldn't let go of that pride so I decline. Only two didn't listen to me and one of them covered what was most vital: food.

The truth is that my mother and I are in a bad way, financially. What we didn’t anticipate happening when my health took a nosedive in June was that I wouldn't be able to work as much. We were making ends meet but as soon as my productivity dropped, so did our ability to keep on top of our finances. Being partially blinded and unable to look at screens for more than a couple of minutes at a time most days is a freelance writer’s worst nightmare. I even wrote this post in chunks through both cell phone and laptop as the laptop is harder on my eyes.

My best friends knew I was planning on moving earlier this year. In fact, if I hadn't gotten sick (to the point where I can't even make myself food), I would be living in a different state right now. However, God's plans for me were different. Instead, I got sick and then I had to drain my savings completely in order to help Mom afford rent, bills, and food. Unfortunately, it’s gotten to the point where we might not even be able to afford rent much longer (they increased it by 4% last month and L.A. is notoriously expensive so you can imagine the cost). We were also worried about not having money for food until one of my best friends generously covered our groceries for the final week of the month.

Yes, it's been that bad. And, yes, I kept that hidden from friends for months. That's right, months. We had to have a cousin loan us money last month to be able to pay rent.. and since we had to pay her back this month, that made affording food more difficult. It's that bad, y'all. Since my mom is set to retire in a couple of months (and since I'm obviously not getting married or leaving home anytime soon), we've (as a family) have been looking to move somewhere more affordable as soon as we can. First, somewhere locally until my mom retires, and then possibly out of state.

My good friend, and editor of my first two novels, Kiera, knew our situation and set up a GoFundMe account to either be able to repair my current car (which needs a lot of work) or get myself a new (to me) car since mine has been breaking down often since last year. We keep putting a lot of money into repairs but things continue to break down since my car is a 1998 Honda Civic and most of the parts were original when I bought it almost 9 years ago.

As long-time readers of this blog may know, I drive my Mom to work at 4 a.m five days a week since she doesn't drive. Since we live in a shady neighborhood and there’s no immediate public transportation access that won’t put her safety at risk at 3-4 a.m., it's been a sacrifice I've been making since shortly before my father passed away (he used to drive her to work).

I know that the $5,000 goal Kiera is aiming for seems a lot but I think she did it because she'd rather see me get a new car than keep putting more money (repairs will be in the lower end of four digits) into my little Honda; the same car that, well, hasn't been the same since my car accident over 4 years ago. I'm trusting God to provide for either a new (to me) car or, the very at least, enough for basic repairs that will keep the car running for now since we can’t afford (literally) for Mom to keep taking Uber to work. We can barely afford food, how can we afford Uber?

For those who say, "Well, why don't you just work harder?" (and, yes, it's been asked), it's simple: if I could put in extra work, I would. If I could just spend all day writing for various websites and publications... or even get a job outside the house, I would! But my health isn't letting me. Let's put my eyesight and freelance writing aside. I'm too physically spent to work outside the house. In fact (only a handful of people knew this... until now), I'm so sick that I'm actually underweight by half a dozen pounds. I went from 128 lbs to 114 lbs in 4 months. My body is so spent and my diet is so restricted that I fall asleep even when eating some days. I'm that sick. There's no other way to say it.

Someone else asked, "Why are you asking for prayers when you need is money?" The reason why I asked for prayers (before Kiera set up the GoFundMe account) was that I knew God would provide somehow. Again, partial pride was to blame for not asking for money, but I also understand that there are people worse off than we are. I knew that thanks to everyone's prayers, we would either get the funds through work for me (meaning He would give me the physical strength and eyesight to work) or through some other means. Since my eyesight is still horrible (I woke up blind in my right eye twice this morning; I took a nap, which is why I say twice) and they won't give Mom overtime or even a raise, I guess God will provide this way.

I don't expect to reach the $5,000 mark... or even the $1,000 mark. I know that if it's God's will that I get a new car, He'll make sure it happens. I also know that if it's His will that we keep our car and only get enough for the repairs for it, it'll happen. Either way, I've put the situation in His hands. I've also been praying a novena to St. Philomena asking her to intercede so that I can get to Mass more often to fulfill part of my Benedictine oblate responsibilities (and, of course, the car broke down as soon as I started praying for that, lol) and I know that her intercession will also come through for me.

Swallowing any pride I may have left, I'm going to say this: if you feel a tug in your heart to do so, please consider helping out. Any little bit helps. If I could work for it, I would but I can't and we're in a desperate situation. If you can’t donate or share the link, please say a prayer for us. I know God will provide somehow and for what we need, not what we may want.

Anyway, that's it for now. My eyes keep watering from looking at the laptop screen for so long and I want to give them a rest.

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

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

Friday, November 15, 2019

Introducing: "La Petite Fleur Mariale"

Seeing (no pun intended) how I can't always write a lot due to my current eyesight problems, I decided to start a new way of sharing my Benedictine oblate journey: an Instagram account. Now, I've had one (an IG account) for years but I've always kept it private because, well, I'm a private person. Yes, I have a blog and I'm very open online... but, if you haven't noticed, I also don't share too much. My ninja status when it comes to my relationships tipped you off, didn't it? lol. However, I was inspired to start an account to document my journey more frequently as IG posts take literally a couple of minutes to get everything done.

I started the account (@lapetitefleurmariale) on the feast of all the saints in the Benedictine order, November 13. I didn't do it on purpose, either; it just felt like it was the right time to do it and then I realized what day it had been... almost two days later. lol. I actually had to go back and edit the caption to reflect the realization. A little slow over here, y'all. lol. Don't you just love when things work out that way? I see you, Holy Spirit!

If you're wondering about the name, I explained it on the first post... which I might actually delete. I'm not much of a selfie gal and that picture is a couple of years old anyway. In case I do delete the post, the name is a French translation of "the little Marian flower." Or, at least, I hope it is. My French is incredibly rudimentary. It was inspired by both the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Therese who are both my co-patron saints this year and who have been my biggest heavenly allies through some of the more difficult times this year. During last year's 54-day Rosary novena, I asked to become more like our Blessed Mother. I still have a loooong way to go but I've already seen her loving intercession in my life. Also, St. Therese -- my heavenly big sister and kindred spirit -- has been instrumental in my spiritual growth this year. I couldn't have asked for a better duo to help me this year. I'm actually contemplating them keeping them my co-patronesses for next year again. Stay tuned for that. ;)

I'm still going to blog, of course, as I can't always get everything written in an IG post but I will be sharing my faith journey on there more often. I'm also going to probably be a little more candid in my blog posts than IG stories. I intend to use that account to share little moments of my day that are faith-related. Yes, it's a faith-based account and I plan to keep it that way. What exactly does that mean? Think saint quotes and little stories about my faith journey. I don't foresee myself using it to give updates like I do on Twitter. I also doubt I'll post many personal pictures that involve my face. I'm still a little uncomfortable sharing those types of pictures online to strangers. That's why I might eventually pull the first picture. We'll see.

Anyway, this is just a quick post in case anyone wants to follow the journey on Instagram. I won't be accepting DMs nor will I be following everyone back. That's not because I don't care about y'all -- I do! It's just a precaution to keep myself from being overwhelmed on IG.  That's why I have my personal account private and why I don't add just anyone. I'm an HSP (highly sensitive person), y'all; too much stimulation or information overload isn't good for me and actually affects my eyesight. Yes, there's been an obvious correlation there that we've noticed the day follow unusually high-stress days.

And now I'm off to spend the rest of my day relaxing with a podcast after yesterday's Twitter argument. Yeah, someone please talk me out of it before I get too stressed.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Living The Benedictine Oblate (Novice) Life While Sick

Picture after the Oblate novitiate ceremony and scapular investiture; this marked the official beginning of my novitiate.
This morning, I heard from my Oblate master and it filled my heart with such a beautiful and immense peace and joy. I wish I had the ability to express just how lovely it felt to receive that email.

A couple of weeks ago, I sent him an email detailing my health journey. I mean, I also asked him questions about how to strengthen my spiritual life, but I updated him on life so he'd know what to advise. Today, I received a follow-up that made me very happy.

Since they're very busy out in Norcia (yes, they're still building their new monastery after the 2016 earthquake leveled their monastery; please feel free to donate here), I don't expect to hear from him often but I am always filled with joy when I do.

After receiving the email (and replying to it), it dawned on me that I haven't really talked about my oblate novitiate journey in the middle of all my health struggles. In fact, I think most people will be surprised to hear that I'm still continuing my journey considering how poorly my health has been lately. Well, let me reassure you that I'm still going forward... and I'll share with you a few theories that have been thrown around amongst my friends (a little later) of how the two are connected.

As the Benedictine motto ("Ora et labora"; pray and work) suggests, two of the pillars of the spirituality are work and prayer. As Oblate attached to this particular monastery, I'm also to embrace penance (more on this in a bit), charity (especially towards the poor and the unfortunate), chastity, keep up the days of fasting and abstinence, and work on being obedient. I'm also to detach myself from the world (be a part of it but not of it) and reject pride.

What I've been focusing on in my current state has been prayer and obedience. Actually, obedience has been the biggest focal point for me these last couple of weeks because I've been actively discerning my vocation for the last couple of months. The only thing I'm going to say about that is that I'm incredibly happy with where God seems to be leading me. Of course, credit goes to my Oblate master who encouraged me to go forward with it at our retreat. I knew there would be obstacles (even before the health issues began) but it's been such a beautiful experience so far and I have no doubts I'm doing God's will for me. Finally! I have confidence in something I'm doing! lol.

The obedience part of the vocation discernment is sometimes hard because my spiritual director occasionally tells me to do something that I don't technically want to do but know I have to do. That's the beauty of obedience: you break your own selfishness and passions in order to follow the wisdom of those who know better than you; those who care about the state of your soul and want to see you doing the right thing in your discernment.

The prayer part of my life has been the easiest for me to maintain because of the routine I had established prior to my Oblate novitiate. I pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary (sometimes the little Benedictine Office) at least twice daily, or more if I'm able to. For example, today I've able to do all the hours so far, except Terce because I fell asleep for a little while. I pray the Rosary daily. I have a number of prayers that I know by heart and can do while I'm blinded by lights (the photophobia has been my biggest enemy lately) and have to wait to regain my eyesight once again. If it wasn't for prayer, I probably wouldn't be able to go through some of the obstacles I've encountered recently.

For obvious reasons, the "work" part has had to be modified to fit with what I'm capable of doing with my worsening eyesight and my overall fatigue and physical limitations. I still write for Epic Pew and Catholic Chemistry when I'm able to; though I've had to take a couple of weeks off here and there when I'm not doing too well. Thankfully, both editors are great and understanding if I'm late with deadlines or if I need a couple of breaks writing. God bless them both!

I also try to keep my family duties as well as I can. I help run errands when my eyesight and fatigue cooperate with me. I keep the financial budget as well as I can. I drive my mom to work every morning, except on days when I'm completely blind in the morning and it's extremely dangerous for me to try to drive. As my health begins to stabilize, I'll be adding more of the housekeeping duties I usually have. At the moment, my only big ailment is my eyesight; the low blood pressure fainting spells and the physical weakness have both gotten better in recent weeks.

I know I need to work on Lectio Divina (another pillar of the Benedictine spirituality) and Mass attendance. I'm sure you can guess why I've been failing at these two -- my worsening eyesight AND health problems that have left me housebound for several days at a time. In fact, I spend most of my days in bed, with my adjustable bed base reclined up so I can sit more comfortably. Still, if I can go to confession and/or Mass, I go! I also try to get the daily Mass readings in, even if I have to highlight it and have Siri read it to me when my eyesight is particularly bad.

The scrupulous side of me is anxious about failing at these two things because they're such a major part of the Oblate life. At the same time, I also remind myself that I can only do so much with what I have going on. I try to not be hard on myself because, honestly, there is only so much screen and/or reading I can do before my eyes have had enough for the day. Some days, I have to keep my eyes closed for most of the day (enter Catholic podcasts and audiobooks for company) because my eyesight is just completely horrendous. For now, I'll continue to pray that I have little pockets of good eyesight time to be able to get myself to Mass and/or do Lectio Divina more regularly.

Having said all of that, yes, I absolutely still firmly intend to go forward with my novitiate as planned. I also still plan to attend the annual retreat next year and make my final Act of Oblation. I have a couple of friends who have a theory that all of this is happening because of my novitiate discernment. My health issues didn't really start until a week before I left for my retreat and, if you remember, I had my first ER visit during the retreat. You know... like someone (or something) doesn't want me to go forward with this for some reason. Anyway, just putting that theory out there. You draw your own conclusions. Since St. Benedict is now my spiritual father, I will let him intercede for me as necessary. God's will be done, no one else's.

I think that's as "in a nutshell" as I can get. I tried to keep it as short as I could. God willing (and my eyesight and health cooperating), I will be getting back into my blogging groove this month. Again, God willing. I've been doing the 54-day Rosary novena with my eyesight as my first intention so we'll see just what miracles Our Lady will do for me. Even if it's not a full restoration of my eyesight, I know I will receive the graces necessary to cope with whatever is ahead of me.

Of course, I will keep y'all updated on both my Oblate novitiate (especially now that I've remembered to do so; mea culpa!) and my health journeys!

Please keep me (and particularly my eyesight and the ophthalmologists treating me) in your prayers this next month as we hope to finally get some answers with the latest round of blood work tests and a new MRI scheduled for next week.

And, that's it for now. I have to go grocery shopping because I've run out of food. I was waiting for my mom to get home so I would have an extra pair of eyes with me; it's best while my eyesight is wonky.

I hope you've all been well!

As always, thanks for reading and God bless!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Annual 54-day Rosary Novena Begins on Friday!

You didn't think we were going to forego this blog's annual tradition of doing the 54-day Rosary novena just because I've been dealing with dental and medical problems lately, did you? Nope! In fact, we (my mother and I) now have more of a reason to do it this year.

I was planning on announcing it earlier in an EpicPew article but since it's not gone up yet, I decided to blog the invitation while I wait for my editor to publish that article. (Edit: you can now read how to pray the novena on my Epic Pew article here.)

As usual, anyone who wishes to join us for the 54-day Rosary day novena may do so.  You don't have to pray for mine or anyone else's intentions -- you can focus on your own. However, if you'd like to give a sister a hand, I'd be incredibly grateful because y'all know how bad my health has been since June.

For those of you who want to join but have never done the novena before, here is the story behind the tradition which I posted last year:

"A couple of years ago, I started inviting Twitter friends to join in on praying the 54-day Rosary novena when I prayed it. There's strength in numbers, right? I didn't ask them to pray for my own specific intention; I left it up to each person to pray for whatever massive intention they had with the option of adding the intentions of everyone else praying the novena. It went well so I did it again the following year and I invited blog readers to join in. To my surprise, many did join in and the number of people praying the novena grew that year... and the year after that... and the year after that, etc.

Last year we had the biggest group of prayer warriors since this tradition began. To this day, I still get messages about the amazing graces and answered intentions following last year's novena.

As per tradition -- and as recommended -- we'll begin the novena on All Saints' Day and end on Christmas Eve. If you do the math (and I have), it's exactly 54 days between All Saints' Day and Christmas Eve so, you know, perfect timing! This novena is recommended for intentions of all sizes and severities. I will also be offering to send you a daily reminder you need one -- either through Twitter, the blog's FB page, a text message (if we already have contact outside of social media), or an email.

Every year people ask if it matters if you do the traditional Rosary (without the Luminous Mysteries) or with the Luminous Mysteries added and the answer is: No! I personally do the traditional order without the Luminous Mysteries because that's how it was first prayed from the beginning of the devotion but the choice is all yours. The website I use has both versions so it's totally up to you and your own preference.

Of course, I'm also going to throw the annual word of caution: this novena is not for the faint of heart. Many people (myself included) have experienced what I call a "Murphy's Law streak." If something can go wrong, it's likely that it will go wrong. That's not to say that everyone will experience it. I've known people who've had no problems during it. Mom and I had just one minor hiccup during one of them. I've also known people who've only seen the good that has come from the novena. Still, I know there are people who've abandoned the novena because they've gotten overwhelmed with the obstacles they've encountered while doing this novena. The graces have always outweighed the bad (in hindsight) and if you have a huge intention that you really feel stuck on, I cannot recommend doing this novena enough.

Please don't let what I've just warned scare you off. I'm only informing you that this novena can really test someone so that you're prepared if you want in. But, you should also keep in mind that that's what the devil wants. He doesn't want you to pray for our Blessed Mother's intercession, especially for a big intention. He'll put obstacles in your way... but God is greater and Mama Mary will always crush his head. Keep frequenting the Sacraments, constantly invoke our Lady's protection, ask your Guardian Angel for some angelic backup, and you should be fine.

Having said that (and having potentially scared some of you off; lol, sorry!!), I'd still love for as many of you as possible to join this year's novena. Please let me know by All Hallow's Eve (next Wednesday) so I can add you to the list of those participating, especially if you want to daily reminders. There are already a couple people signed up (even before I started writing this post) and I'm excited to see how many more will join this year!"

If you want detailed instructions on how to do the novena, I'll like my Epic Pew article (which has the instructions broken down for y'all) as soon as it goes up.

That's it from me for now. I have work deadlines and limited time to do them with my eyesight. By the way, that's one of my main intentions this year (if anyone wants to help Mom and I pray for it); for my overall health (which has been the worse it's been in years) and my eyesight -- that we get answers and that it gets better (and that I don't lose my eyesight).

I hope you all have a lovely rest of the week!

As always, thanks for reading and God bless! 😊

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Pachamama Controversy Straight from a Local Priest (Translation Inside)

Yes, I know. There is so much infighting over the Pachamama idols (yes, I'm calling them idols). Yes, I'm also sticking to the "Yo (Pacha)mama..." joke I made on Twitter earlier this week. Having said that, I'm not here to fight anyone. I know what the arguments are on both sides. I'm read and seen them. There is, however, something I want to add to the discussion... because we're clearly all adult enough to have civil discussions, right? Asking too much? Well, here's hoping a good dialogue can come of it.

I've translated the bold parts of a post by Fr. Nelson Medina  -- from Spanish into English -- on why the Pachamama idols are *not* part of the Amazonian Catholic culture. Or, at least, not the orthodox part or any part that he's witnessed. I did not translate the entire thing because I have no permission to do so (although, if Fr. Nelson lets me, I'd be more than happy to do it).

And, if you need some background information on Fr. Nelson: He's Colombian. He's from the area and has a lot of experience in this area (Amazon). He knows what he's talking about because he's lived and experienced it himself.

This is taken directly from his website. Again, I've mostly translated the bold parts, though I've added more of what he wrote in parenthesis to give the bold part context. I have not added any opinions of my own to this. I did add words to the 5th quote in parenthesis for the sake of context. Otherwise, all Fr. Nelson's words.

I must say that the image that was taken to Rome is not representative of the Colombian Amazon nor, I believe, anywhere in the Amazon.

Such image does NOT represent anything ‘ancestral’ of Amazonian culture.

“(That person or group of people) want (others) to think that they are representatives or spokespersons of the indigenous so that any attack on the image or that alleged “Amazonian” spirituality is an attack on the indigenous.” 

Whose idea was it to carve that image and give it the use we’re now learning, with the complicity or negligence of numerous authorities inside and outside the Vatican?"

Taking it (image/idols) to that sacred site (Roman church) can only mean that it is considered to have religious significance.”

“(You can say that image represents fertility, woman, or life. But then the question becomes:) does our faith worship fertility, woman, or life?

“(There is even more to ask: what other representations do we know of fertility? Since ancient times, pregnant women, women with broad hips and erect phalluses have been the representation of fertility in cultures that have not received the Gospel within them. So, what else does this Synod bring? The procession of the phallus? And where are they going to leave it?) Is that the best way to serve Amazonian cultures, which have as much right as we do to receive the entire Gospel in all its purity?

Citing St. John Henry Newman on how pagan rituals have been sanctified by the adaption of/by the Church:
“(What Newman does not say, no doubt about the conciseness of his text, and what Tornielli voluntarily omits, is simple and crucial, and is summed up in a question:) What does the Church do with the pagan elements BEFORE incorporating them into its expression of Faith, whether it be doctrine or liturgy? (Examples: The Christians of that time, did they take the beautiful statues of Aphrodite and say, ‘Let us celebrate human love,’ and then put them in their basilicas? Did they take the clothes of the Romans and said without more: ‘this is how our priests will dress’?)”

“(The Christian dynamic is very different, and St. Augustine explained it well: ‘Accedit verbum ad elementum et fit sacramentum.’) It is the integration into Christian preaching, when it is possible and logical… once it acquires a different sense of the pagan sense, that it is used in the Church. (And there is something interesting with which we can conclude: in Newman's long list there is not a single case of human images. Newman was interested in how some acts, stories or objects, relatively neutral in themselves, can be transformed into their meaning and used in the Church. The images designed for the Amazonian Synod have nothing of that neutrality:) celebrating ‘life’ without worshiping God, the only Creator, is simple paganism. (And with the pagan idols, whether it be the golden calf or the merchant’s money in the temple of Jerusalem, firm and clear actions are needed ... that can reach all the way to the Tiber.”

There you have it. Again, if I get Fr. Nelson's permission, I can translate the whole thing. You can run the post through Google translate although some parts don't translate as well.

That's all I'm going to bring into this dialogue because I refuse to get involved in arguments.

I hope y'all have a great weekend and have a blessed Sunday tomorrow.

As always, thanks for reading and God bless!

Saturday, September 21, 2019

*Waves White Flag* Can This Please Stop?

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
June 28, 2019. Dehydration and malnutrition while on retreat.
August 5, 2019. Chest pain and chest muscle spasms that caused my entire right side to go numb.
August 14, 2019. Dehydration and dizziness.
September 20, 2019. Dizziness and low blood pressure,

What do these four dates have in common? All days I ended up in the Emergency Room this summer.

Have you noticed how little I've written this summer? Well, that's because I've been sick. Besides those ER visits, there have been trips to urgent care, multiple doctor's appointments, several days of being stuck in bed, an emergency trip to the dentist to have two infected molars taken care of, a lot of physical pain, a lot of fatigue, and a lot more that I still haven't shared. This has been, without a doubt, the hardest summer (health-wise) since the summer of my reversion in 2006. And, it's always in the summer. Always.

I wish I could say that my faith has really pulled me through but, in all honesty, it's not been that great either. I've been experiencing this intense spiritual aridity for months. I pray, of course. I have my daily routine of morning prayers, the Litany of Humility, the chaplet of St. Michael, the (full version of the) St. Patrick breastplate prayer, the daily Rosary (sometimes more than all 5 decades of the day), the Rosary confraternity prayer, and my nighttime prayers. Sometimes I'll also have novenas going on, but I know it's been the lack of the Sacraments that have hindered any spiritual growth over the last couple of months.

It's been... hard. Being the only person who drives in the house and frequently feeling either too physically weak to go to Mass or being too lightheaded or dizzy to safely drive (or even walk/stand), even to our nearest parish, has made life difficult. I've made it to confession and Mass a couple of times this summer but rarely on Sundays.  I hate it. I hate not being able to make plans to have someone even drive me to Mass (and, God bless them, there have been multiple offers from fellow parishioners) because I never know how I'm going to wake up feeling the next morning and I'd hate to cancel/rearrange their plans at the very last minute.

Doctors are testing and checking everything they can think of. Primary, hematology, ophthalmology, (soon to be added) neurology -- everyone is trying to find "the" cause... and getting nowhere. The MRI I had done last month showed I have a small cyst in my pineal gland but they're not worried as they can be common and it's still small enough to not cause alarm. Both of my eyes have swollen nerves the back of them (hence why the MRI was ordered) and they still haven't found the cause for that. There is a possible explanation for my chronic lightheaded and dizziness but it's something that I won't be able to address anytime soon. Let's just say that something can be done about it, but health obstacles keep me from trying to move forward and away from the cause/source. Prayers for the chance to test this theory would be greatly appreciated.

The more I try to find God in these situations, the further away He seems. My eyesight has been so bad lately (I've developed really bad chronic dry eye that makes me sensitive to light and blinds me for several minutes upon waking nearly every day these days) that I haven't even been able to read, much less do Lection Divina or spiritual reading. If it wasn't for the option to have text read to me on my iPod and iPhone, I wouldn't even get the daily Mass readings.

I don't know what to do. Plain and simple. I feel like I'm failing some of my duties as an Oblate novice because of what I've been dealt lately. Our Oblate master knows; I've let him know what's been going on with me; some of which only a handful of people know. Still, I wish I could do more. I know what I'm capable of and it's hard to not be able to do them.

While I was able to find God and feel closer to Him during moments of illness before, I can't anymore. I have zero consolations. I try to make sense of why I'm going through what I'm going through. Could it be penance for past (and current) mistakes? Could it be that He's preparing me for something great in the future? Am I supposed to go through all of this because He's trying to teach me something; to prepare me for something? Could all these health issues be physical manifestations of spiritual attacks since I keep trying to grow and heal? Actually, that last theory is a popular one for reasons I hope to one day be able to share. What the answer is... I don't know.

Maybe I'm not supposed to know why I've had to suffer so many physical ailments (all at once) in the last 3 months. Maybe I'm just supposed to trust that God will be there, even when He's never seemed as distant as He has lately. All I know is that I have to keep moving forward and keep up my prayers and continue to try to get to confession and Mass as much as I can. It's not always easy and I may not feel up to it very much (or at all some days) but I can try.

Anyway, if you've been wondering about why I've been so sporadic with my blogging, this is why. I've even fallen behind on work at times; it's been that bad, y'all.

Please keep me in your prayers as I have a feeling I still have a steep hill to climb before I can get a break. I have a couple of doctors appointments this week, a lot of blood work to get taken (hopefully the last non-routine tests that I'll have to do for a while), and a busy work week on top of that.

God willing, I'll have a little break coming up so I can write all these non-health posts I've been wanting to share all summer.

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

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Sometimes Things Don't Work Out

Well, I tried... and it didn't work.

I am "back" in the sense that I've returned to this blog and have shut down the Benedictine blog. A very long story short: I had a major drop in readership for both my blog and my third novel. Like... insane. People weren't reading the blog as much as they read this one. I know blogs have begun going out of style but, goodness, the drop was drastic. I was wondering why and then I started noticing that people just weren't switching over to the new blog for some reason -- but they continue to visit this one more than the other one. I guess the "nerdwriter" and "catholicnerdwriter" thing has been a part of me for so long that people cannot associate me with anything else.

Also, my novel wasn't (and still isn't) really selling... which is not the greatest news when you've just incurred a medical bill that will cost 6 months-worth of salary for you. Oh, yes, I'm serious. I'll blog about that soon enough. I generally don't stress about whether my novels sell but when you're under a financial crunch, every little bit helps.

So, after much consideration, I decided to transferred the blog posts from the (now defunct) Benedictine blog to this one (yes, I kept everything as it was; blog titles, pictures, text, and even time and dates published). So if you didn't get a chance to read any of the following, you will now:

My Oblate Retreat, Part One: Obstacles, Tears, and a Trip to the ER

Dear Dad... 

When Life Goes Crazy and God Disappears

Smoke and Fire, The Novel That Complicated My Life for 2 Years

I do fully intend to post like a week's worth of blog posts soon because I have a lot of craziness to update y'all on -- and if you follow me on Twitter you already know part of it -- but I need sleep first. Perhaps after my nap (and after the next dose of antibiotics), I'll sit down and write one (or more) posts to spread over the next week. I will say this: I've had it suggested that this is a sort of spiritual attack because I was planning on going through with a major life change that has now been postponed (again) due to my recent health issues. That and maybe because I published the novel that took me forever to publish (full story here). Only God knows the real reason but prayers would be much appreciated that I'll be on the mend soon. Again, I'll explain this all as soon as I can.

Alright, well... I guess that's it for now. Did I mention I need sleep? Because I need sleep. lol.

As always, thanks for reading and God bless!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Smoke and Fire, The Novel That Complicated My Life for 2 Years

"I'm going to work on it again, so please say a prayer for me."

This is what I would tell my closest friends (and sometimes everyone on social media) every time I worked on the third novel, Smoke and Fire. Why did I do this? Because something would always happen when I worked on it... and it usually involved my health.

For two years and two months, June 2017-August 2019, I would have a number of things happen when I worked on the novel. The more I worked on it, the more things happened. All those ER trips and new health issues? Yep, all happened either the day after or within 2-3 days of work on it. Sometimes I would get so sick that I would have to abandon it for months at a time... and that's when I enjoyed feeling and being my healthiest in that time frame. That is why it took me 2+ years to complete it.

The bulk of the ending and editing process? I started it in early June of this year and I finished it this month? Guess when my health got worse after a good health spell.

Of course, it could all be a coincidence. Maybe something I was writing was triggering health symptoms... I mean, swelling in my heads, my brain, dehydration, a fatty liver (oh, yes, I just found out I have that as well), anemia, and all the other health issues can be caused by mental health triggers, right?

At one point during the process, I had the opportunity to talk to a well-known apologist about my situation after a friend suggested I might be experiencing spiritual oppression. He said he didn't think it was oppression, per se, but that he wouldn't be surprised if I didn't have a bulls-eye target on my back because of what my work (and the novel) is about.

See, I write these novels because I was inspired to write something that, quite frankly, could be read without having to go to the confessional afterward. The majority of the young adult and "new adult" (college-aged readers) books out there are filled with smut. I've had to abandon many books during my research of what's popular because they either start with the character in bed with someone or it gets to the point where it reads like softcore porn or "mommy porn" as books such as 50 Shades have been dubbed.

As a woman, I find this insulting. Surely I'm capable of enjoying a book that doesn't ramp up the vulgar sexy times in order to keep me entertained. Jane Austen didn't do that and her novels have been around for over 200 years, still amassing fans literal centuries after they were first published. I'm not saying that I'm anywhere near Jane's level of talent -- no! I have a long way to go before I can ever hope of reaching that level.

When I explained to the apologist about how I liked writing for my demographic -- young women who were strong in their faith -- he said that I would undoubtedly get attacked for it. He gave me suggestions on what I could do before writing (read Psalm 91, keep holy water nearby) and with that, I tried to finish the novel. I kept remembering his words -- the more I write things that go against the norm (that won't pervert young readers' minds), the more I could be attacked. Add the fact that I attend solely Latin Masses (the devil hates Latin) and, well, bulls-eye city. With that in mind, I become determined to finish the novel... and I eventually did.

Now that it's published... let's see what happens.

If you're wondering a possible reason for why the attacks (if you believe they were spiritual attacks) came on so strong... I don't know. Or, I have theories but I don't know for sure if I'm correct.

Theory one: I wrote something that is big in youth culture -- fame and celebrity worship. That's all I'm going to say without giving away any spoilers. I'm sure, from the novel description, you already figured out that it had to do something with that. As someone who dabbled in the "biz" in my teens into early 20s, I got to see a bit of what it's like. To this day, I still get glimpses of what that world is like. Of course, I don't mainly focus on that but it touches on it... and gives an alternative view of it.

Theory two: I address something else that is a big problem that I've seen more often than I'd like but one that I've rarely seen addressed. Again, not saying what it is but let's just say it goes along with the warning from Our Lady that the last battle would be on the family. That's all I'm going to say.

I'm not saying my book is groundbreaking. I'm not even saying it's good; you have to be the judge of that yourself. I'm just saying that I wrote something that I felt called to write and I wrote it. It may not sell as well as my first two novels. It may not be as well received. But, if I can make a difference to one single person's life by helping them in the smallest way, it's going to be worth two years of obstacles.

So, what is this novel that caused so much trouble? Introducing: Smoke and Fire.

Synopsis: A summer trip to London to be a part of her best friend's wedding. That was all Isabella "Izzy" Galvan looked forward to. Yes, her two best friends were well-known actors so she wouldn't be doing the typical touristy things. No one would pay the slightest bit of attention to her if they went out in public, but she didn't mind that. At all. In fact, having that anonymity was something that she fiercely clung to. The important thing was that she would be away from home; away from the ordinary (and oftentimes maddening) life she lived in the unglamourous suburbs of Los Angeles. There would be nothing but two months of spending time with her best friends, helping with any last-minute wedding details that popped up, and being a part of the wedding before returning home. Or, at least, that was the plan. Of course, when your closest friends are constantly in the spotlight, nothing ever goes as planned. That is especially true when everyone is hiding secrets that will change everything -- and every one -- for better or worse.

The book is now out on Amazon, both the Kindle and the paperback versions.

Kindle version:
Paperback version:

Anyway, that is the story of how Smoke and Fire came to be. If you're interested in reading it, please feel free to do so.

And that is it for now. I hope to write again soon. :)

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

Monday, August 12, 2019

When Life Goes Crazy and God Disappears

Yes, I know; it's been over a month since my last blog post.

Life has been... an adventure.

There have been multiple doctor appointments and still more to come.

There have been trips to hospitals, including an ambulance ride to the emergency room when I had chest pains that were so bad that they made my entire left side go numb; the EMTs wanted to make sure I wasn't having any heart-related issues. They turned out to be muscle spasms that I've still felt as recently as yesterday.

There have been plans to move forward in a couple of areas in my life... all while dealing with health issues.

Ah, yes... the ever-present health issues. While my platelets were within the normal range for the first time in over a decade for two (yes, two) blood draws, the anemia has gotten a bit worse.

I've also been waking up and going "blind" for a couple of minutes in the morning. It usually takes me to the end of the second or (more frequently) third Rosary mystery before I can see enough to keep going on with my day. I have an ophthalmology appointment on the 15th -- the feast of the Assumption -- to hopefully begin figuring out what's been going on these last couple of months.

And, to top it off, I'm either allergic to a big staple in my diet or it just ups my histamine levels which made me perpetually congested and teary-eyed until I stopped eating it a week ago. Why, potatoes? Why?! So, now I'm down to only two things that I can eat: chicken and corn tortillas. Can we say "malnutrition deficiencies"? Since I have major food allergy PTSD (it's no fun to feel your throat get swollen or like you can't breathe right after you've eaten something that has never made you sick before), it's going to take a lot of courage to try new foods while dealing with the fears I have of potentially having a severe allergic reaction. It thankfully hasn't happened yet -- my reactions have been mild to perhaps slightly moderate-ish so far  -- my doctors are having me carry an EpiPen wherever I go. Fun, right?

Are we seeing the adventure part, yet? Yes, it's been a wild ride.

Throughout all of this, I'm ashamed to admit that I fluctuate between trusting God and forgetting He's even here. This is straight-up, real talk.

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my own fears that I forget Who ultimately has control of the situation. While I was amazingly calm during the chest pain/spams ordeal -- to the point where the doctors ruled out anxiety as a cause for the chest pains; I was praying the Rosary while going through the spasm pains -- I've had moments of pure panic where God isn't even in the back of my mind. And it's not like I even distrust that God has my back; I just forget because I'm so wrapped up in myself. It's absolutely horrible.

Lately, I've been wondering if I've gone through all of this as a sort of test. Not that God is testing my love for Him. It's more like God is allowing these trials to help me try to keep Him on my mind more often; to help me realize what areas of my life I need to work on to better my relationship with Him and strengthen my faith. Just looking back at how many times I didn't even think about Him versus how many times I remembered that God was in control has been an eye-opener. I have a lot to work on but I'm prepared to do that work.

All of this has always made me even more acutely aware of how much I am missing the Sacraments. How many times have I gone to Mass in the past 9 weeks? Once... at the retreat... because the chapel was literally downstairs and I could take the elevator down from where my room was and walk, even while dizzy and lightheaded and feeling faint, to it. Now that I'm back home and my health has slowly regressed and I have no one who can potentially drive me to Mass and feel comfortable enough help steady me if I feel a little lightheaded when standing up? No Mass for Emmy. Sometimes I'm too weak to even get out of bed, let alone walk downstairs or even drive to the nearest parish.

And, of course, that also means it's been that long since I've been to confession as well. I've had two mini spiritual direction meetings since but I haven't had a proper confession in weeks. My heart longs for it. I don't like being away from the Sacraments. I don't like missing Mass. I intensely dislike not having been to confession since shortly after my birthday in late May. The longer these things go on, the more distant and muddled my relationship with God feels.

I, thankfully, have moments of consolation where I feel God's presence, His mercy and love, in my life but those are infrequent and never last long enough. It's like I've taken up residence in the middle of the desert... in the middle of summer... during the worst heatwave ever recorded in the area. It's just plumb awful. Of course, just because I don't feel His presence doesn't mean He's not there. His existence isn't based on my dull human feelings. Intellectually, I know that... but it's still hard and it makes the struggle through the spiritual dryness even harder to get through.

I know that we all go through these rough periods in our lives and especially in our spiritual life. I know that great saints have gone through years or even decades (St. Teresa of Calcutta, anyone?) where they receive no consolation during their "dark nights of the soul." Sometimes I wonder if I'm ever going to feel that closeness with God ever again... but, regardless, I still keep going. I mean, I feel like a fraud most of the time (again, this is real talk, y'all) because I haven't been able to attend Mass or confession but I'm still trying to do the little bits I can do.

I'm still praying the Benedictine Office throughout the day. I still have my list of daily prayers I pray, including the (much needed) Litany of Humility. I still pray the Rosary daily. I still pray for those who ask for prayers; for those whom I love and care for. I still try to do the right thing even though, the longer I go without the Sacraments, the harder it is to not fall into temptation and occasionally slip up. Still, that somehow doesn't seem like enough to me.

So, that's where I am. I hope my health improves in the near future because I miss attending Mass, receiving the Eucharist, and giving my soul a nice scrubbing in the confessional. Heck, I just want to have enough physical stamina to do basic things like getting out of bed and making myself something to eat without help some days.

I may be crazy to do it but... there's going to be a big change happening in the near future for me. This big change has been a long time coming. It's going to make me face some of my biggest fears and it's going to take me away from everything I've ever known. I think you can sort of guess what I'll be doing with those clues. Again, I may be crazy for embarking on this journey in the middle of my health issues, but perhaps this is something I need to do to improve my health. I'm being vague about it now but I hope to be able to share some details after it's all said and done. Just, please, keep me in your prayers because the whole situation is going to be high-stress and I'm honestly a little worried about how that will affect my health in the process.

... did I forget to mention that life has been an adventure lately? I didn't even mention finishing novel three in the middle of all that craziness! lol. Yes, I'll blog about that soon, as well.

Anyway, this is all part of why I've been MIA lately. I know I've been slightly more active on Twitter but that's been due to the prayer requests when I feel like, "Okay, I need prayer warriors to help me out with this one." I hope to get back to writing more, especially now that novel three is done and I'm slowly getting through all the doctor's appointments (and the follow-ups to the follow-ups). I have 3-4 more appointments scheduled (for now) in the next month, two this week.

Breathe in... hold for 1... 2... 3... 4... and breathe out...  Repeat.

I hope summer has been kinder to y'all so far. Can autumn hurry up and get here already? Summertime and I clearly don't get along. ;)

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