Saturday, July 31, 2021

What Dreams May Come

A person can have multiple dreams… 

I love my job, just like some students don’t thrive in traditional school some teachers also need a different teaching platform to succeed.  Until, I landed my job I didn’t know schools like mine existed -where much of the learning happens in independent study.  I usually have five hour-and-a-half appointments with groups of about six students at the time, during this time I administer tests, answer questions, instruct and build rapport with my kids. Then I teach one or two English classes the traditional way each semester.  This format really works for me because I work daily very closely with a small number of students at a time and then I only need to prep for teaching two classes the traditional way with ten or more students in it.  For someone with bipolar the low student count has been such a blessing not only in the regular classroom, but daily with my student appointments.  Yes, the majority of my students are credit deficient due to poor choices or mental disabilities, but I love encouraging them and celebrating each victory because they are not used to succeeding.  Being bipolar and having to put on hold my teaching dream also makes me relate to my students and I am just so thankful that God gave me this opportunity.

While I love what I do for a living, I do have other dreams.  I would love to get married and start a family.  I think sometimes people think that just because a person can love her job- that means that no more dreams are able to continue to take place in her being.  However, I also try to live in the moment and right now I have this job where I serve teens that are struggling and I try to be a light in their path guiding them to better pastures.  Yet, the fact that I feel so blessed (after ten years of putting my dream on hold for health reasons) doesn’t mean that I am not a multi-faceted person with more dreams to bring to fruition.  I am like a diamond with many sides and each side has a dream to come.  Yet, while I work and pray for those other goals I also am enjoying the phase that I am at right now.          

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Encouragement is A Two-Way Street

Encouragement is a two-way street.  These past couple of weeks at work have been super stressful as I get used to my new routine as a hybrid teacher. Now more than ever I struggle going from an in-person period to a virtual one.  My anxiety has been a huge struggle because I tend to have issues with being in control and right now flipping from one mode of teaching to another without a break to gather my bearings has been extremely challenging.  I kept asking my fellow teachers if they felt equally stressed to gage whether what I am feeling comes from the job or if I’m having severe anxiety again.  Their validation gave me hope that once I get used to my new normal, my anxiety will calm.  Then on Thursday our principal surprised us a basket of snacks to help us get through our first whole week of the grind.  That action immediately gave me a feeling of being appreciated, helped with anxiety and encouraged me to keep going. 

I am constantly trying to find ways to motivate my students (many who struggle with mental disabilities) and there are times that I also need to be encouraged too.  I think most of us appreciate having a cheerleader on our team now and then.  Most of the time I try to take that role, but when I step away and it seems like I am no longer doing it it’s because I probably need you to encourage me.  That’s why I feel so blessed to work at my school where we are small enough to be able to work in a way where we feel like a team switching roles between encouraging and receiving encouragement.

Every morning I try to encourage myself by praying in the morning and then listening to Relevant Radio on the way to work. I remind myself that God loves me unconditionally and that whatever size my problems might be, God is bigger.    

Saturday, July 10, 2021

On Baptism

For the longest time, I struggled with being wrong because I had this notion of perfectionism.  This need for things to be perfect many times made my life extremely difficult because I felt like I couldn’t make a mistake, being wrong brought so many feelings of shame.  I still notice this mind block in many areas of my life.  Recently, I have noticed a greater confidence in speaking with strangers about my faith, something that I was afraid to do because I didn’t want to provide the wrong information or be stumped unable to answer a question. Yet, as I work with students who have the same issues as I do and as I find myself telling them that mistakes help us grow and they aren’t failures if we learn from them- I know that I need to practice what I teach.

Batismal font, place where Juan Diego was baptized.

So, when I went to dinner for a friend’s birthday and was sitting next to my friend’s aunt and her cousin who were animatedly perplexed about a person close to them who was Catholic and was going to baptize his infant son I decided to join the conversation to offer a Catholic perspective.  The aunt explained that infant baptisms were wrong because the child didn’t have the ability to chose Jesus as his Lord and Savior.  I explained how good parents often make choices for children without their consent knowing that it’s in the best interest of the child.  I also explained how we are creatures of God and when we are baptized we become sons and daughters of God- this means that we join God’s family.  Thus, baptism also joins us to the community and community is needed for our sanctification.  In community we will grow up in faith and in our relationship with God.

My friend’s aunt was stumped by having met with a Catholic who knows her faith and quickly went on to change the conversation, but I noticed that the cousin was relieved because she had been raised Catholic and now was protestant- but her family is still Catholic.  And the person who was going to baptize their son was her brother.  I felt in the conversation she got some level of understanding that Catholicism is ok because she was being pressured to talk to her brother on the subject.  Now having a better understanding of the sacrament, she felt her brother’s choice wasn’t sacrilegious and I saw some ease come over her.  The conversation also showed me that I am better versed in my faith then I give myself credit for and while I might get stumped with a question – I can use those moments when I am wrong or don’t know the answer as moments to learn and grow.        

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Taking A Risk: Speaking About My Faith

Most of the time feel like I am the least qualified person to speak about the Catholic faith.  Always afraid of being a heretic, I try not to write about doctrine I try to just share my personal story.  During my trip to Mexico, we were in a small tour bus with people from all over the world, since we were going to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe there were some conversations about Catholicism among the group members, mainly among the non-Catholic folk.  I sat in my seat eavesdropping curious to hear different point of views.  A historian from the states was the most vocal.  He kept asking these two girls a bunch of questions on purgatory and indulgences and when the girls were unable to answer, satisfied he would say, “There’s so much I don’t understand about the Catholic Church as a Christian man.”  After hearing him go on and on about the absurdity of the Catholic faith and the great satisfaction he got from no one being able to give him insight into my faith, I finally decided that I would speak to him. 

On our last stop in Coyoacan when we were walking towards the Frida Kahlo museum I went over introduced myself and said, “Hey, I heard that you have some questions about the Catholic faith and I would love to give you some insight from the perspective of a practicing Catholic, while I might not have all the answers that you are looking for, I think that I can clear doubts on both purgatory and indulgences for you.”

My statement left him speechless and while I thought he would be open for ecumenical dialogue, he shut down my offer and said that he has a history teacher and knew all he needed to know about Catholicism.  Then he went on to mention his credentials as a way to intimidate me.  I told him I was also a teacher and like him I worked with high school students and also taught theology to adults hoping to join the Catholic Church.  He then went on to praise me as his tactic to get me as far away from a religious conversation as he could…  I was disappointed that he treated me with such disregard after being so lively in his interactions with everyone else on the tour who couldn’t defend our faith.  I realized then that he didn’t want to learn, but rather got satisfaction and a sense of superiority by speaking to people about his erroneous views.  Yet, inside my heart was a smile because I put myself out there to teach another outside of my RCIA classroom.  I think it must have been the fruits of seeing my Lupita.     

Friday, June 25, 2021

Traveling with a Non-Catholic Guide

Recently, I traveled to Mexico (with my siblings) to visit Our Lady of Guadalupe at her home, due to Covid it felt like a doctor’s visit as we were in and out without being able to go inside either of the basilicas.  We were able to walk the outside grounds which have a lot of Catholic history and pass in front of the tilma, yet I was hoping we would be able to go inside be there for mass or at least a good hour of personal prayer while I took in the image of Our Lady.  To add to our unsuccess we had a tour guide who wasn’t Catholic and he rushed us through the tour, at a point saying, “you guys are probably so sick of churches by now.”  I am used to going to on Catholic led tours and this one totally felt different. I felt misunderstood in my desire to slow down and let me soak in the blessed ground that I was walking though.  I wanted a long moment in a pew, to just be.  Yet, with Covid limited access, I had to make the best of my short moment with Lupita.

I thought of the many pilgrims that come on this journey and are rushed with a non-Catholic guide and I realize that the shrine can become just a tourist destination with no substance.  Just another place to take a picture at and cross off of the bucket list.  Yet, to me and my siblings Our Lady of Guadalupe was the reason we made the trek to Mexico City.  We were so thirsty for faith, so in need of the most powerful intercessor in addition to wanting to leave our burdens at the altar of Jesus.  This past year of isolation has taken a toll on each of us and we were hoping to go and be with our Mother as she led us closer to Jesus.  While I didn’t get my time to sit in a pew or to even see the basilicas from the inside up close, the trip did ignite that flame in me that was growing fainter by the day.  During the entire trip I kept a close conversation with Lupita and I feel close to Jesus again.  I am inspired to continue trying to live a holy life.

It was also interesting to travel with a non-Catholic guide because I got a different perspective from the way that I usually look at things.  I got to see how some Mexicans are extremely proud of their indigenous roots, of the ancient civilizations, languages and cultures that intermingle in our history.  Our guide’s passion was evident at Teotihuacan, the site of Sun and Mood Pyramids- I think he cut the basilica short because he had so much more to say about the pyramids and its ancient people.  He was particular ticked off that some Catholic Churches, like the one was legend has it that Juan Diego was baptized, were made from pieces of the pyramids.  He also got offended when I asked which temple was used for sacrifices and gave me a long lecture on the “non-History-Channel” truth as he called it.  I realized that in his mind the Church was what ended the ancient civilizations…

When I saw the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe I also asked him why it was so big since I thought it would be smaller. I was like, “Why is it so big if Juan Diego was an indigenous and probably not that tall?” And our guide just whispered something under his breath and never gave me an answer.  It was only until mom reminded me of how indigenous people used their tilmas to carry items folding them to make them into a large pouch that would support the loads they carried- that I understood its size.  Any who, I learned that in the future I will stick to my Catholic led pilgrimages (smile).     

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Growing in Brotherly Love

I have been looking at the life of Saint Francis more deeply as I continue my path towards joining the Secular Franciscan Order.  It’s been a long path towards getting professed and I yearn for the day that I will finally be officially a member.  Sometimes, I get discouraged because I didn’t think that it would take this long- but I am reminded of the qualities that I admire most of Saint Francis and I stick with it.  Recently, I heard about a time that a brother told Francis that someone had used his room, and Francis didn’t like the fact that they referred to his sleeping quarters as “his” so he found a different place to sleep at.  It’s impressive that he went from this man that loved to wear the latest fashions to a man that wanted nothing, but God. 

Recently, I was asked why I love Saint Francis - his way of life pulls me in like a magnet.  He loved animals, creation, simplicity… But I what I love most is that he saw God in everything!  He understood God’s language imbedded in the entirety of His creation.  That’s why Francis created such beautiful poetry about the small things in life, why he spoke to the animals and why he cried when he saw the beauty of a sunset.  Francis understood (what most of us forget) that God is everywhere.  He is especially in reflected in the poor and marginalized.

I work with students that mostly haven’t done well in school prior to coming to us, so they are not used to getting recognized as scholars; thus, when I started working at my school I implemented student of the month with my kids.  When the principal found out what I was doing she decided to implement it with the entire school and it has been such a success because students love the recognition.  This week, for Student Council I had an awards ceremony and gave every student a medal for participation.  We all dressed up and I bought a disco light to make it more like a party and each student got recognized, then we had a moment for speeches and the kids even the shy ones were so moved by their awards!

Sometimes, it’s hard to see God in difficult people and that’s when I want to most emulate Saint Francis’ love for the poor.  He saw beyond the ugly hurt of people and understood that God’s love could transform even the ugliest beast.  Time and time again I see this in my life and work.     

Saturday, May 8, 2021

We All Need A Little Love

There’s something utterly captivating about humility; yet, it’s such a tricky concept that if one recognizes it can easily be lost in the acknowledgement. I grew up in poverty, surrounded by people that had little to no formal education.  As I grew up and made it out of the barrio and entered a world opened to me by education I had to face many first-time experiences- unknown to the world where I came from.  My first post job took me to the Ritz-Carlton and I remember thinking how much happier I would be speaking with the workers in the kitchen.  In the Monarch Bay Courtyard, I shuffled around people who asked me about my parent’s political views or if I was daughter of the Duarte’s who founded the city. While I went around meeting people whose costume jewelry was probably the real thing, I heard my native tongue occasionally making its way as the kitchen door opened and closed.

I have never been comfortable in luxury, I prefer humble gatherings and people too.  It’s funny because I always saw myself working at a school helping students that were like me immigrants, English being their second language, living in the hood… I knew how I could reach these kids.  Yet, God has a funny sense of humor and I was to take a job at a school were the students that I serve the majority are designer-wearing, middle class, white kids.  I was thinking, “God, what in the world am I going to teach students that come from households where during quarantine they don’t need to worry about having internet access, a computer or even a private space to do their work – they have it all materially speaking?”  Those firsts days I struggled shifting from my humble bubble into a charter at a location where for the most part economics is not an issue.  Seventy percent of my students come from households where parents have gone to college.

Yet, as I have fought my own battles trying to feel more comfortable with all types of people, I see that in the end we are human beings with the same needs for love.  The majority of the students that I work with come to us because they have been bullied or because they have mental illnesses that prevent them from functioning at a normal school.  I see kids with deep levels of depression and anxiety – illnesses that make traditional school a nightmare.  Through my service, I see that though they have everything from someone looking in through a window into their lives– these kids need love and that I can give.  God placed me at this school to show me that everyone (even people that have everything materially speaking) need assistance.  We are brothers and sisters not just of the poor, but of everyone.     

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Parents, Sons and Daughters

There comes a day, when as a son or a daughter you realize that the roles have been switched, the parents that all of your life have taken care of you now require you to care for them.  It’s a difficult realization to start to see their strength weakening and to accept that those two people who have been your rock, your foundation are no longer as strong and that with each passing day they grow weaker.  This pandemic if anything, it has shown us with older parents that they are fragile.  Many of us have kept our distance and isolated ourselves with our families this past year and while physically our bodies have been spared, psychologically we have suffered. 

Recently, even the jolliest of people have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression.  Some have lost their coping mechanisms like Church and Bible Study Groups and have fallen back into the old habits of drugs and alcohol…  While the message all this past year plus has been stay safe and keep away – not much attention has been paid to consequences of this mandated isolation.  In my own nucleus I have seen the psychological challenges of COVID and I pray that the worst is behind us, that we can now begin to heal from difficulties the pandemic has brought to each of us personally. 

While for me only my agoraphobia has been heightened, I recently took my mom to the doctor because she’s been affected psychologically by us trying to keep her safe by having her home as much as possible.  She normally is a social butterfly and having been kept away for over a year has taken a toll on her usual cheerful disposition.  While, I know that with medication and therapy she will pull through it seeing her feeling unwell gave me a glimpse into our future. I began to feel our roles changing I becoming the caretaker.  In my culture we have this unspoken rule that parents take care of their children, until their children are old enough to take care of them.  It's a beautiful tradition nonetheless to watch your heroes grow older and weaker takes time to get used to.      

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Getting It Right

Lately I haven’t been very creative outside of my job.  I didn’t realize how much returning to teaching would take from me, especially during a pandemic.  Fellow mates who have taught over a decade tell me they haven’t worked this hard even when the classroom size was larger. So, forgive me if this space is suffering. It seems like just when I have a routine down, things turn everything upside down.  In my previous job I had the luxury of monotony, I could practically do my job “with my eyes shut” as the expression goes and this new gig leaves me depleted of energy and creative juices.

I remember that on rides home from my office job I had these great conversations with God.  I constantly asked him that if I was to remain single for the rest of my life that at least He would provide a job that gave me some fulfillment. In matters of prayer, I am still learning as I go and I think at the time I asked God for a job with purpose in my mind I thought that I could only have one and not the other.  When I began teaching, I felt like God had carved my path towards job contentment and closed the door to the possibility of marriage and family.  I put all of my energy into teaching and serving my kids to the best of my ability.  Yet, as a year has gone by since I started working I see that I am a multifaceted person.

Maybe the fact that the only thing I have been able to do this pandemic year was work and maybe the fact that all of my Bible study groups and religious activities were stripped from me that I understand that while my job gives me the greatest satisfaction- it’s not enough.  I need more.  Deep in me I still want a husband and my own family.  My previous self, thought that asking God for both things was just too much to ask for.  I still remember my fifth-grade teacher speaking to another teacher and telling her, “how he didn’t understand these immigrant Mexican girls, who when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up was to be wives and mothers.” This comment has remained with me throughout my life because the tone of his voice made it seemed like wives and mothers was beneath career women.  I think I thought that it had to be one or the other - family or career and that’s how I have presented God my plea.  In doing so, I have restricted God’s power.  Yet, with experience comes wisdom and I see that though I love working with teens and helping them complete their high school requirements- there’s more that I desire, like being a wife and a mother.          

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Rituals

 I have been watching the funeral for Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburg this morning.  I do have a weakness for the royal family, Kate Middleton being my favorite.  It’s been really neat getting to see all the rituals and ways of celebrating the life of the monarch, especially after all the criticism about whether the royal family will become extinct in this cancel culture time.  From the beginning I have paid attention to all the announcements and details being shared with the public about the funeral.  I am glad that even during the pandemic the family has the ability to give their loved a small yet proper good bye. 

In the Catholic faith we know the importance of ritual and even though modernity might try to rid of it, it continues because we are creatures who need more than bread to survive.  Rituals feed our soul; they mark points in our lives both beginnings and ends; they play a role in building our personal and cultural identity; they help shape our emotions and deepen our spirituality.  In times of good byes rituals help us to share our pain and begin our healing.    

In my culture, we have many rituals surrounding the death of a loved one.  It begins with anointing of the sick, viewing, Mass, burial followed by a novena and concluding a year later at the anniversary of death with a special Mass for the departed.  I have witnessed how healing the Catholic-Mexican rituals are to those left behind in mourning and it’s beautiful to have these norms passed on thru generations because they speak when words do not suffice. 

While people are saying that the British Monarchy has no place in the future, I am glad to see on difficult days like today that their customs and traditions are bringing the country together.  Even people across the sea are fascinated with all the details about the funeral and why things are done the way they are.  It’s great to be able to see from across the ocean to see the importance of ritual even today.