Thursday, March 7, 2019

Beginning of Lent Much Lighter

I love my black hair mainly because it's low maintenance, but recently my hair started sprouting grays- which complicates the low care I usually give it.  Some women love getting pampered, getting their hair done, getting pedis and manis; but I hate going into the salon. The whole process stresses me out: having someone touch me in usually areas not commonly touched like my head and toes, I loathe the awkward small talk, but most of all I hate being in a chair in a public place unable to do much for so long usually bored out of my mind.  You see my hair - which today someone asked me if it was a wig- was placed on my head to get me to heaven.  Yes, it's that much of pest that silently wreaks havoc.  Now you think, Penny likes to add sauce to her tacos when she speaks, and yes, sometimes I can be a bit of a writing drama-queen- believe me that there's not an ounce of exaggeration to the above statement.
I was blessed as a baby to be born with a head full of hair, ringlets my mom likes to remember.  As I have matured, I continue to be blessed with a head of thick hair, so thick that if it grows past a certain length it gives me headaches.  That's how I know when I need to go to the salon- I start getting pressure headaches that if not attended turn into migraines- and those are no fun.  An aside, recently I read the story of King David's beautiful son, Absalom, who had so much hair that when he cut it off, it weighed five pounds!  I am no wicked warrior, I can't carry all that plumage!  
Blessed are the stylist, they know how to thin my hair when I go in to get my haircut; not only do they cut it, they also have this really clever way to strip me of some density (smile).  I have recently started getting headaches, so I knew I had to make time to go get it cut.  Yesterday, after Mass with a dark cross on my forehead I headed to the salon to do penance.  Normally, I like to keep my hair black because it's natural and easy to maintain- but oh, the woes of getting older -the beginning of gray hairs.  A girl more humble than me would wear those white streaks with pride, yet I have decided to battle those grays or at least make them a little easier on the eyes so I thought that I would go with a lighter shade of hair color.  After five hours, that's right five hours of one stylist working with me I came out lighter in every sense of the word.
Some women love getting pampered, I enjoy a different type of pampering like a warm chair in sunlight with a good book.  Yesterday, I figured I would dedicate the half wasted day as a prayer offering and I took the hair pulling, coloring, burning dryer, cold washing, more hair pulling as a champ.  I even prayed three rosaries while I sat uncomfortably long in a chair.  Take that gray hairs!  I know they will return, those sneaky foes, but now my hair is a little lighter hopefully they will blend in better.  That's how I began my Lent, fasting while suffering for hours in a salon chair.  I know that I added a little comedy into my experience, but I am learning that all suffering can be an offering to God.  And this season is about that - denying ourselves so that God can come in to areas of our beings where he had not been welcomed- like the hair salon.  Pretty neat theology, I say! Happy beginning of Lent, a time of penance, abstinence and almsgiving.  

Monday, March 4, 2019

Passing the Light of Mother Mary

Before returning to my faith, I suffered from terrible night terrors.  There were nights when I would have such horrible dreams that I felt paralyzed unable to scream or move to force myself to wake up.  All sorts of scary things made sleeping anything, but enjoyable.   Thus, when I found a beautiful, vintage, porcelain Mother Mary nightlight during one of my thrifting adventures, I was thinking what a great find. Mother Mary’s literal light to keep me safe.  Yet, last week I realized that the nightlight was not meant for me she wanted to bring peace to someone that is currently having difficulty sleeping.  Thus, I gifted her to a woman whose twenty-nine-year marriage came to an end due to her husband’s infidelity. 
It’s funny how God places people in our paths that need our help. I was early waiting for a class to start and a woman sat next to me.  She was with heavy heart and needed someone to listen.  I smiled at her when she sat next to me, which encouraged her to begin talking to me.  She asked me how I was doing and I told her that I was a little sad because I had lost my dog.  We talked about losing pets and then she unveiled her woes to me.  She told me that she was trying to keep it together because only a month ago she discovered that her husband had another woman and two little children from this relationship.  “He has another family,” she cried.  “He’s been involved with her for at least four years since his kids are three and two.  He travels for work you see and at first he would be gone only a couple days a week, but lately he had been gone three even four days a week, but I didn’t think anything of it because we had been married for so long, I trusted him…” She continued telling me the shattered state of her heart and I was really not sure what to say, so I just listened.  When she was done, she thanked me for not offering any advice, “you know everyone has an opinion of what I should do, how I should feel, whether I should try to salvage my marriage or make him pay… In times like these I don’t want people’s input- I just want support…”

I don’t recall offering a word of consolation, I didn't have any, but when she finished and wiped her eyes, she thanked me for listening.  She just needed someone to listen without offering any advice.  During her narrative she shared that she had trouble sleeping and hated the nights.  While I don’t have any experienced being betrayed, I do know what is like to hate the closing of a day.  Anyone who suffers or has suffered from depression can tell you that the nights are the worst!  Being alone in the darkness with your thoughts, unable to sleep can be one of worst tortures.  Thus, I knew that Mother Mary wanted to light her nights, she didn’t want me to keep her in case one night I might need her.  Mother Mary wanted me to pass her on to someone who needed her light right now.  So, I placed my nightlight in a small gift bag and gave it to the woman the following week.  She was so happy that she would no longer go to a dark, empty house- Mother Mary would be waiting for her to get her through the difficult night.  It’s funny how God will place in our path people who are suffering worse, others we can help and by helping them we are also helping ourselves.  

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Sunday Quiet Time

When I teach about prayer to my RCIA students I compare it to falling in love.  At first two people in love have so much to say to each other because they are getting to know one another, but after being in love for sometime words are not as important.  Like my parents who after fifty years of marriage enjoy being silent in each other’s company.  My dad will be going through the mail, while my mom is mending a pair of jeans both in the same room enjoying each other.  In this time of so much noise and business, I grew-up in a home where we like hanging around each other, especially in our backyard basking in the warm sun.  It’s almost our Sunday routine to gather together in the yard and after catching-up just sitting together quietly.  Sometimes, I have wondered if I were to bring a significant other into these Sunday afternoons with my clan if that person would understand the importance of togetherness without much activity- in fact usually in silence? 
Though nothing is happening in terms of exchanges, when I sit with my family something beyond happens that connects us together.  It is in these quiet gatherings that I feel their love and the power of our connection.  I come from a family that rarely says “I love you” – yet, I have always known that I am loved by them.  Because it takes intimacy to be comfortable with silences and also a high level of care. When I sit with my family and watch the sunset, I would purr if I were a feline -satisfied that even in my rest I love and am loved.  I think in terms of finding a significant other I want someone who will sit with me for a while.  I used to have these conversations with Dollar because he used to love quietly laying next to me, satisfied with us being together in the same room relaxing, I would say especially on low days, “I want to find someone who will just lay with me and forget the world.  Someone who loves me simply because I exist and not the sum of my strengths and weaknesses.” 

In contemplation that’s what we do with God, just sit and enjoy being in His presence.  He looks at me (at rest when I am completely unimpressive) and loves me because I am His beloved.  Thankfully, my parents have passed this great practice of the importance of silence - of quieting the mind to be able to hear love and to understand not only God, but also each other.  It was only until recently that I realized how special I am to have a group that loves me enough to spend quiet times with me.  In quiet, demands get cancelled and being just me is enough- I like that feeling of complete acceptance.  

Monday, February 25, 2019

Finding the Right Bible Study Group for You

Tonight, I am going to my bible study on King David.  I have been taking the class for the past five weeks and I am really enjoying the experience.  Though, I am involved in many ways in my faith- I have been wanting to locate a group where I can have deep theological discussions that are also relevant to my everyday trials.  Finding the right match for me has been a long quest… I think finding the right study group is as difficult as trying to find the right therapist – it takes time and a few misfits until perseverance pays off and you find the right one.  Maybe I am difficult, but not all bible study groups work for everyone and that’s ok- the fact that there’s different kinds is a richness in our Church, we just have to have patience in finding one that suits each of us.  As I am aging out of the young adult groups, I feel like the YA groups are not as interesting to me as they once were; which I think is healthy- a sign of maturity. 
In my Monday night I am the youngest person in the course, but I feel like our discussions are really intellectually stimulating.  Or maybe it’s the way the group is organized, or the material we are studying; but what I think it is, is the people.  I feel like I have a found community.  The Monday night group, meets every Monday and once a video series ends, they all continue to the next one together.  They have been doing this for sometime so they know each other well and even bring cake to celebrate birthdays – which to me feels like family.  Though I am the new member, they have received me with opens arms quite warmly.  I am assigned to a small group for faith sharing, but I am not just part of those eight people- the whole group gathers together so everyone in the session knows one-another.  Sometimes we break into our small groups and other times we share as one large group.  This ability to have a small faith sharing group, but still belong to the larger body is what I find unique.  We study together, pray together and fellowship as one large family.  They’ve also gone on various pilgrimages together, which excites me since I love to travel.

I have been asking God for sometime for a group just like this, and though it has taken quite some searching I feel like I have found a nice place to grow.  It’s a good sign that I get excited as the night approaches to attend my group.  Thus, if you are still searching for the right bible study group don’t get discouraged- keep praying and actively searching.  I used to look at all the bulletins from parishes in my area to see what they had happening – after attending many different groups I finally landed on the one fitted for me. So pray and actively search (smile).

Thursday, February 21, 2019

New Adventures

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end,” were the lyrics to our senior class song, quite mature lyrics for teenagers with pockets full of dreams.  As I was thinking of what to write this week those lyrics jumped at me because I am at a transition in my life, a fork in the road and while it’s easy to sulk about the end of things I am actually really optimistic about my future.  So, what now? Tabula Rasa, I have a blank slate to start over and the first thing that I plan to do is go visit my grandma.  After settling my unemployment, health care and all those logistics that a lay off brings – I decided that before I commit myself to new employment, I want to travel to Mexico and spend a couple weeks with my grandma in the town I was born in.  I have the opportunity to see her and it might be our last time together since she hasn’t been doing that great lately- so am looking at this free time as a blessing in disguise.
This free time has also given me the opportunity to do things that I normally didn’t have the time to do.  For some years now I have been wanting to take the ten-week course on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and hadn’t because I didn’t feel like driving to Hawaiian Gardens to take the classes.  Now, I found a morning class that is not only convenient because I don’t have to worry about being stuck in traffic, but it’s also going to take me through the season of Lent.  Today, I had my first class and it’s going to be a period of intense learning and prayer.  These next ten weeks I am going to be working on learning the why of my existence, proper care of creation and holy indifference.  The last though challenging is the one I am most excited about:     
  1. To not prefer a long or short life 
  2. To not prefer health over sickness 
  3. To not prefer richness over poverty 
  4. To not prefer honors over humiliation
When one loses a job, I feel like it’s a disturbance of peace and to be studying Ignatian Spirituality during this time when I am seeking order after a ten-year employment routine is such a great gift from God.  Ignatius believed that peace comes not from having all your needs met, but from a desire to do God’s will in every situation in life.  I have sometime off from work, and even though I was not the one that asked for the time off I have the financial security to be able to go spend sometime with my grandma who just had surgery and is in bed rest.  I also have the ability to take courses, to go to Mass daily and to transform my prayer life.  God is keeping me so busy that my days fly by without the time to think of negative thoughts, but if those nasty thoughts do come I use a quote from a cheerful saint, “Tristeza y melancolĂ­a fuera de la casa mia.”  What a great way to fight negative thoughts, “Sadness and melancholy outside my house!”  Because am finding that putting things in order also requires making sure one’s mind is also on check.

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Last Adios

At seven Wednesday night, I received Dollar's ashes- it was quite a difficult moment to go home with my little wolf in a small wooden box.  The people at the animal hospital were very sweet and gave me his paw print stamped in clay, a dog tag heart with his name engraved on it and seeds to plant flowers in his memory.  Dollar is my first pet so this whole process is my first  time and am not sure how I am supposed to act.  I know he's just a dog, but I feel like I need to give him a proper burial to get closure. Today, I have plans of laying him to rest in a sunny place in my yard and having his tombstone be a statue of Saint Francis.  
The loss of a pet, is different for people in terms of how they get closure.  Some leave the remains at the vet for the hospital to get rid of them, others save the cremated remains in a special place at home, others buy a plot at the pet cemetery... There are many options and each is chosen according to what the owner of the pet feels like doing. For me I needed to bring Dollar's ashes home and lay him to rest.  The thought of leaving his body at the animal hospital felt like abandonment.  I was told that I would get his remains sometime in a two week period and Wednesday night I got the call that my beloved wolf was ready to be picked up.  It was too dark to burry him that night so I decided to wait until the following morning.

I thought that I would ask dad to help me dig the grave and that would be that, but my immediate family asked to be present.  My brother and dad helped me with the burial, I read Neruda's poem, "A Dog Has Died," and we planted my little wolf beside the rose bushes.  After that brief ceremony we gathered in my living room and recalled a few favorite memories.  I had been restless these past few days and when the burial was over I felt joy that I took care of Dollar until the end. I felt satisfied and the pain of losing him was replaced with peace.  I think what I wanted to say yesterday in this post is that we all mourn differently, for me it was important to be there when Dollar closed his eyes, to be the last face he saw and to bring him home and lay him to rest.  I didn't expect my family to want to take part of it, but they surprised me asking to be present.  I realized that though Dollar was mine, he was equally my family's dog and they too needed closure.  We closed a loving chapter in our lives with Neruda's words:

"So now he's gone and we buried him,
and that's all there is to it."

Monday, February 11, 2019

Seeing the Goodness in Times of Trouble

I recently finished reading a novel by CS Lewis, Till We Have Faces, a retelling of the mythological story of Cupid and Psyche.  The story is told from the perspective of one of Psyche’s sisters, Orual, who opens by saying that what she’s about to share is an accusation against the gods for the terrible life she has led.  Then she begins to list her misfortunes; her mother is dead, her father hates her for being a girl and ugly, she loses her sister (the person she loved the most), she’s in love with a married man that doesn’t reciprocate her feelings… And the list goes on.  She’s so focused on the negative that she can’t see goodness and that’s really what touched me most about this novel because it’s so easy to focus on the things that suppress light. 
I lost my job, then my grandma fell and we were worried about her not surviving the surgery, then my neighbor (a close friend) suddenly passed, then I lost my dearest companion (Dollar)…  I could remain so focus on the challenges that I don’t see the goodness that also happened during those difficult times.  I have a new opportunity to change careers, my family came together to help grandma, my neighbor’s wife has become a close friend too, with much kindness friends and family have helped me through the death of my pet. I am learning that even in the darkest moments there is light seeping through, God’s way of showing us that difficult moments are not void of Him. AND when we focus on Him, on those small details that show us goodness getting through the challenges are easier and make our hearts resilient in hope that all is not lost.

On Saturday, my neighbor came over with a quilt she made covered in hearts and she told me, “I know you have been sad over Dollar and I wanted to give you this (quilt) because I want to see you smile.  So, please use it and when you look down at the hearts remember how much Dollar loved you.”  I was so moved by her gift because she has just lost her husband and here she was at my door, trying to help me get through my loss.  Then I understood that difficult moments give everyday heroes the chance to shine.  Thus, I am trying not to look at things as a laundry list of things gone wrong I am focusing on the light that wants to make it in.
In CS Lewis novel, the protagonist eventually understands that she focused on things that embittered her soul and refused to see all the goodness that coexisted around her.  The silence of the gods made her come to the understanding that if she had seen things from a more optimistic point-of-view her life wouldn’t have been as void of light as she made it.  If she had only seen the love that surrounded her…  Thus, as I closed the novel, I decided to take that lesson to heart and focus on the love in my life and not on the laundry list of woes.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

O Dollar! My Dollar!

My cousin called me after Dollar passed and said, “you have to be strong and remember how Dollar helped you through your brother’s passing and how he saved you when you were in the pits of depression; thus, you can’t undo the good work he did- you have to be strong in his memory.” I think that was the fear all of my family had, that being bipolar I would have an episode- but this time as I said good bye to my dearest friend, I have God and He’s showing me that I can have peace in the tempest. Sure, I am sad and hurting- but I also have those wonderful memories my little wolf gave me. I’ve been avoiding calls and messages because I don’t want to talk about what happened during his last hours, I don’t want to relive his final days and I don’t want to hear about getting another dog because I still haven’t received his ashes and right now replacing him is just as painful as having lost him…
Dollar was a very special dog, as he got older and his coat changed colors on his back when looking down, he had two patches of lighter fur that reminded me of angel wings.  He must have gotten his wings from all the service he did here on earth.  For years, once a month he would bring great happiness to the elderly women of Saint Francis Senior Home.  I would take him, and he would walk around visiting forty plus women – who would shower him with treats and caresses.  I stopped going for a few months and when I returned, they were like, “why hasn’t your dog been around?” They were so upset that Dollar hadn’t been visiting and not so much by the fact that I had missed attendance too.

When my brother passed mom used to work at night and the house would be empty only Dollar and dad at home.  My dad called him his loyal companion and often expressed, “If I didn’t have this little dog to keep me company, I would get lonely.”  At my dad’s feet my little wolf would remain silently helping dad get through the loss of his son.  And though my parents swore that they would never walk my dog, every day around the neighborhood the three would take treks growing ever so famous around the neighborhood. Especially with the children from the elementary school since on a daily basis mom and Dollar picked up my nephew.  When I would take him on walks, I constantly heard people greeting Dollar by name and mom would explain that they had met him at the school. Even on Halloween night a neighbor would wait for him with doggy treats knowing Dollar would come in costume as we took my nephew trick-or-treating.

I used to joke with my family that Dollar was the first grandchild.  Before my nephew was born when family came over, they would give my dad such a hard time because Dollar’s tags had our last name.  Most of the elders in my family had worked in farms and were unaccustomed to dogs having such liberties as Dollar did, so they would give my dad a hard time… My mom on the other hand spoiled my little mutt and when I wasn’t home, she was the one that he would follow.  Now she finds herself missing his little body as she cooks.

Between tears my sister said, “I didn’t know it would hurt this much.  I didn’t know one could hurt so much over an animal.”  My mind still forgets he’s gone, I hear him throughout the house - when I open the front door I forget that he’s not waiting for me behind it… BUT, I know he’s at peace and that I can't undo the work he came on earth to do; thus, I must go on and try to heal.  Am afraid of the day I get his ashes, but I know God will give me the strength as He has all along.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

New Directions Can be Cathartic

I started a class on Christian morality this month and yesterday I was doing the reading for this week.  At a time like this when I am closing a chapter in my life with the end of my current job, I found the explanation on the "right to work" to be hugely comforting.  When I meet new people the first question I get asked is, "what do you do?" So much of our identity can be attached to our profession - that for the longest  time I thought that my vocation meant the career that I was choosing to do.  I agonized when choosing what I wanted to do with my life and felt like I better choose wisely since it was a decision that was heavily tied to God's will for me.  With my bipolar diagnoses my life took a turn and after finally deciding what I was to do with my life, I was forced to leave and found a job that I never prepared for.  Over the past ten years I have been comfortable working in an office setting earning a living.  Would I call that my vocation?  In all honesty no.  It's a job that provided for my bare necessities, small luxuries and gave me time to devote to my family and faith.
Here's the thing, even though I know that I am leaving a job that did what a job is supposed to do, I can't help but feel like I am losing some of my confidence along with it.  I keep thinking what will I say when I get asked, "what I do? " Will people judge me thinking I am lazy because after today I won't have a job?  Yesterday, I was feeling so discouraged that I played Gregorian Chant and just was still waiting for God to speak to me.  It wasn't long before I started thinking that my insecurity still stems from a conversation I overheard when I was a small child.  During school one day, I over heard two teachers speaking one was telling the other, "I just don't understand these girls (referring to the Mexican students in his class) you ask them what they want to be when they grow-up and all they want is to be housewives and mothers." By their tone I knew that in their mind it was wrong to want to be those things - so at that moment I decided that I was going to be a professional.  Years later, I heard that statistically Hispanic girls had a higher rate of getting pregnant in their teens and again I fought to not become a statistic.

Am not sure who I have felt like I needed to impress by my professional success, but you know am tired.  Am tired of living feeling the pressure to not be what isn't acceptable.  As I was reading the right to work in one of my books it says that "a society driven solely by individual self-interest makes us all competitors."  Work is important to our livelihood , but whether we do that work outside of the home or in the home doesn't make one more valuable than the other.  In both we are serving and working for the good of the other.  We put salaries and levels of importance and sometimes those achievements cloud us from seeing each other as brothers.  I am going from a salary to working at home without the comfort of a steady income as I look for another job.  But am reminded of the that parable that always confused me about the workers in the vineyard.  Some men began working at the beginning of the day, others later and still others when it was almost time to clock out- surprisingly the master pays them all the same amount.  This causes great anger in those employees who worked all day and boy do they complain to the master only to hear him say, "it's my money, can't I do with it what I like?"  And see the thing is that God understands that the people who started working at the beginning of the day had peace-of-mind; they weren't worried like those that got employed at the last hour. The last to get hired had all day to worry about whether they would earn a days wages to put food on their tables.  I tell you I would rather work a full day than worry all day about not having a job.

Work is one of the ways we develop ourselves as persons, we are able to express and fulfill ourselves in addition to contribute to society, but as I am being laid off (again) I realize that all work does that not just the work that gives us a monetary check.  I received so much when I volunteer as a Catechist, or when I clean my house, when I help my parents, when I study.  Thus, though I am losing my job I am not losing my ability to be efficient.  I am still me! As I sat there listening to the religious music, I felt peace knowing that I am not losing my identity nor my ability to contribute-  now I just have an opportunity to change courses and understandably while change is difficult it's not impossible.  Thus, I am going to enjoy my time off because eventually I will be employed again (smile). 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Facing the Future with Prayer

Last week I attended a talk on facing the future with hope, faith and love and I loved the bullet points that were given because they are practical steps to help us during this 2019.  Every beginning of a new year brings with it a fresh start to change old habits and to grow.  While many of us make plans to better ourselves physically – I think equally important is to better ourselves from within.  In fact, changing ourselves even in the physical sense requires an inner reevaluation of our habits if we want to make long,lasting changes. Per our speaker facing the future with confidence requires seven simple steps.
  1. Pray unceasingly.
  2. Love Fiercely.
  3. Suffer Well.
  4. Trust God Always.
  5. Forgive Everyone.
  6. Serve Others.
  7. Simplify your Life.

I think all of the seven steps are self-explanatory, but I really like to have them written down as visual reminders of a plan of action to follow.  At least for me, I can at times lose my bearings when things are not going as planned, my thoughts get jumbled in a mess of negativity and when I can no longer tolerate the turmoil in my mind I always seek God to drench me in His truth.  That’s why prayer is so important, because when things seem bleak - in prayer,God gives us hope.  He invites us to suffer well, to suffer in hope and with faith that He will come to our assistance.  This past week was one of great emotional turmoil for me and I felt myself edging towards the pier of sadness wanting to jump into the pool of self-pity; but, I ran to God when I couldn’t handle it any longer and replaced the lies in my mind with His truth.  Sometimes prayer can be just that, going to Him with a mind so away from Him and asking God to bring you back to Him. To bring you to a place where our faith gives us hope - even in the bleakest of moments, I like to repeat, "I, will trust in You."

Our speaker said that the answer to any problem always requires two steps: pray more and love more- everything else stems from that.  I like that philosophy because it’s easy to remember- though quite difficult to put to action.  However, when we stand in God’s truth it’s possible to do anything because He gave us the Spirit to be able to do things that seem quite impossible.  I still fall short most days, and lose my centering – but it’s good to have a plan of action – one where the focus is God.  On negative days, I constantly need to remind myself to put my thoughts on check – to fight the lies with holy thoughts because from thoughts our actions stem. So, when I am feeling like I have lost my peace- I usually pick up a religious book, write my thoughts in a prayer journal or pray a novena.  I find ways to distract my mind from the lies floating inside or I challenge the lies with God’s truth...  I mostly spoke on prayer today, but in future posts I will explore the rest of the tips on living with faith, hope and love this 2019.   

Steps taken from John La Briola.