Friday, February 3, 2023

Don't Be the Hero.

I got the scare of my life recently when one of my students brought a knife to school!

The family called and said that their son was having suicidal ideation and they were bringing him to the school.  I was notified when they were on their way and in my mind, I thought, “what am I going to do? I don’t have this type of training! Why are they coming here, they should be heading to the hospital!”

Yet, before I knew they were outside and I was told that I was to go out into the parking lot to try to get him inside so that we could have him settled when the ambulance and police came.  So, I left my group of students in search of the lost sheep in the parking lot, but the principal had requested that the psychologist and school counselor accompany me.  Seeing the three soldiers walking his way, the student panicked and the parent said, “he will only speak to Ms. Penny.” So, I walked over to the back seat and I was expecting him to be polite, instead he pushed me out of the way – rushing away I noticed that he had a butcher knife in his back pocket. 

“He has a knife!” I yelled as the student picked up the pace and ran off. Then I told the parent to run after his son and try to take the knife from him… In the end, the student was sent to the hospital and he was then referred to the psychological unit where we got the help he needed.  The ignorant parents (probably undocumented) sought help by seeking the school afraid to call for the ambulance or the police. So, I was happy that they came to us and that we were able to help them get them through this crisis, but I was also aware of how close I came to getting stabbed had this gone the wrong way.

I was told to go outside and try to bring the student on to school grounds, which is something that I shouldn’t have done.  That’s the job for someone with skills that I do not have. The incident occurred during the first week of the new psychologist, but I was so unimpressed by her lack of action.  I was directing the show because I was asked to do so, but now I know better.  I learned that day that I have to say no- that as a teacher there are limitations to what I can do and when a student is resisting to come inside, I cannot go out and try to be the hero.       

Friday, January 27, 2023

Have A Little Faith

I have been seeing friends a little more often and the same conversation we have been having is that many of us are still homebodies and are having a difficult time adjusting to life after COVID.  Our social activity doesn’t match many of our peers who seem to be out and about all the time.  What I did manage to attend at the end of the year was the annual Christmas YCP Party.  One of my close friends motivated me to go and I think God wanted me there!  The family that usually opens their home for our party had a tragedy a few weeks before our celebration, they lost their son in a tragic accident.  Yet, instead of cancelling the event the couple decided that they more than ever wanted their home full of young people and for attendees to share stories of their son.

After an hour of socializing it is customary for the hosts to stop the party to bless the food and also to give a short speech to motivate attendees to join YCP. –

The end of the year was quite challenging for me and my family and as the holidays approached my usual Christmas spirit was lacking.  I am usually the one who decorates the house, who puts up the lights, the nativities and the tree.  Yet, this year I only managed to decorate the outside of the house with lights and only because Dad did most of the work.  Due to a family crisis, I had to seek therapy and increase my medication because for the first time in over fifteen years my anxiety was thru the roof and I think I had a bit of depression too.


So, when the party came around I wasn’t in the mood for it, but I pushed myself. During the speech, the hosts spoke of their recent loss, they spoke of their son and what he meant to them and how looking at all the young people gathered who he had mingled with gave them joy.  They asked us to seek them and share moments we shared with their son, but what most impressed me was that even through such an unforeseen loss the husband and wife spoke of their hope in God.  I looked at them, clearly brokenhearted and still praising God and finding so much comfort in their Catholic faith.  Their hope was contagious and I thought of my own crisis and I finally saw God’s hope.

I didn’t go home and decorate my entire house- but I realized that in my anxious despair I became blinded to the reason for the season.  The incarnation of that babe that came to save us all.  I felt momentary guilt for focusing on things that added to the darkness of my soul instead of finding contentment in God becoming man and the implications of that action.  I needed people who were hurting more than me to remind me to never loose hope.  I drove home that night, light, knowing that with time the challenges I was facing were going to pass.  While, it was still the first year that no inside decorations were on display – it was the first year that we visited extended family to lean on them and being one big family was better than all the decorations in the world.  Moral of the story; “one, there are always people hurting more than me and still find hope; two, community/family helps a ton!”  

Friday, November 11, 2022

“Whatever is received into something is received according to the condition of the recipient.”

Saint Thomas Aquinas said, “Whatever is received into something is received according to the condition of the recipient.”  God is always generous in His giving, but we limit His generosity when we are unwilling or unfit to receive Him.  I am coming out of a crisis of faith.  That’s why I wrote the previous post, because though my latest pilgrimage reignited the embers that so needed to be relit- it also mimicked what I have been internally experiencing.  Martha, our skeptic guide personified what I had been feeling lately and through her challenges about what was real and not- I realized that I myself had been doing that with God through mandated isolation and even after the pandemic restrictions were lifted.  I got comfortable being away from my religious community, away from Mass, away from God… 

In Loreto, there wasn’t enough room at the hotel we had reservations to accommodate our group and five of us including myself had to be driven to a nearby location to sleep.  That night, I was exhausted and was planning on skipping dinner to go to my room and sleep and it wasn’t until after everyone had left to their rooms that the leftover five were told that after dinner we would be driven to a nearby hotel for the night.  I was super frustrated to receive this news like a bucket of water and because we had to wait in the lobby for an hour before dinner and I was the only on that wanted to skip on dinner. So, I had to brave it three more hours before I could be taken to my room for rest.  When we made to the hotel, I realized that it was a retreat house and not a hotel. My room was very humble, but there was a painting above my bed of Mary and Child and that gave me confidence that I would have a good night sleep.  It wasn’t until morning when we were to be taken back to join our group that we noticed that we had slept right outside the church where the walls of Mother Mary’s house are kept.  I guess Mamita wanted to have me near during the night!

Later that morning, when we all boarded the tour bus, the driver missed a metal rod that stuck out and I was awaken by the glass of my window cracking. I was terrified, but quickly noticed that only the outside glass had cracked.  After analyzing the damage, the driver thought it safe to continue on our way, but as we started to drive pieces of the glass started breaking, I was terrified that the weight of the shatter glass was going to break the inner glass. However, the bus driver was able to pull over in time, remove all the cracked glass and we continued on our way safe with the inner window still intact.  It wasn’t an hour later that I heard a scream and the noticed that one of the passengers had fallen out of his seat asleep and his wife shrieked trying to keep him from hitting the ground. After assessing the situation, we laughed, but I was a little on edge from all the unexpected happenings.

I dwelled a little too long on all the things going wrong with the trip, that I felt like an unwilling recipient to all of what God wanted to give me.  Yet, God is good all the time, because now after a few weeks back I feel so many graces that I am receiving as I look back.   

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Our Rome Tour Guide

So, there I was touring some of the most beautiful places in Rome with religious significance and I had a skeptic as a tour guide, Martha.  Just right outside the Sancta Sanctorum trying to decide if I would be able to climb up the twenty-eight stairs on my knees, Martha ends her tour bit with, “The wood of the stairs was tested and only dated to the fourth century so these steps are probably not really the stairs that Jesus climbed on his way to his trial, but does that change your faith probably not.”

Just a few minutes earlier at the Cathedral of Saint John the Lateran on our way out, Martha pointed to the relics of the Last Supper Table and offered her first bit of doubt, “During the times of Jesus, tables weren’t used so this is probably not the real table, but does that change your faith of course not.” Then she led us out as if her words weren’t a big deal and moved to another painting and while she shared what she knew about the art piece, I thought this lady is not good at reading her audience.  At the archbasilica where the heads of Saint Peter and Saint Paul are said to be found, again Martha said, “no one has ever opened them to know if it’s truly who they say they are.”

By the time we had reached the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, I made a comment to Father, “I think we have a skeptic as a tour guide – she keeps saying that none of the relics are the real thing.”  Then she made a huge error when she said that the mosaic of Jesus crowing his Mother represented Mary as Jesus’ wife that Father finally had to address not only her Marian theology, but the information she was sharing with us.  He politely gave her a mini Mariology lesson and also challenged her on the furniture that was around during Jesus’ time by quoting the many times the word table is used in scripture.  From my own studies I know that tables looked a bit different (lower) during that period so maybe that’s where her confusion stemmed.

Yet, by the time we reached the Sistine Chapel the group was over our Rome tour guide.  I for one was thinking of skipping the Sistine Chapel this time because the previous time I went I hated being stuck in such a crowded place, but before I was aware I was inside the museum.  That day the itinerary wasn’t followed and I got stuck in the crowd thinking we were going to a different location. In my mind I was hoping to sip on a cappuccino while the group went to the museum and instead I was in a people traffic jam with a tour guide who I had less and less patience for.  It seemed that Father having had the brief talk with Martha made her insecure and she was now reading her extensive notes afraid to make a mistake.  She stopped in the garden of the museum to explain the frescos that we were about to see. Tour group after tour group passed us and she continued her extensive lecture on the art pieces. The hot sun combined with our aching feet from standing all day made many of my group members run out of patience.  “We just needed an overview not a college discourse!” bellowed an elderly man, but it seemed like Martha was wound up and nothing could stop her from sharing the most miniscule details.

Hours later we boarded the bus exhausted, but happy to be leaving our Rome guide behind.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Visitng Lourdes France



After a few years of no traveling, I finally made it overseas.  While the trip was too ambitious in the ground that I aimed to cover; thus, a bit hectic – there were moments when I had to pinch myself.  I began in Portugal and was really looking forward to Santiago de Compostela – the resting place of Saint James, disciple of Jesus and also the end of The Way.  Yet, because it was the day after a full day of travel, we were running late and then it started to rain that that visit was almost like it never happened.  My hope was to sit in a pew and just enjoy the fact that I was there, but the tour of the church happened so quick that there was no moment to gather my thoughts or do more than light a votive.  Fatima was almost equally rushed and I was beginning to think that my trip was going to be a race to get to the next place and for the most part it was a bit of a rush. However, even in a blitz God can reach us.

Where is Judas?

The question I have been getting is, “What was your favorite place from your trip?”  Since, I had already been to Italy before – my favorite place this time was Lourdes.  A small town situated in the Pyreness of France that gets as many visitors as the bigger more famous Paris.  This holy site brings in pilgrims from all over the world as it’s one of the most spiritual cities famous for its healing waters.  The Sanctuary de Notre Dame is the site where Our Lady appeared to Bernadette.  Since, Lourdes has become a major place for Catholics to visit and also a place known for many miraculous healings.  The first day I arrived in Lourdes, I was exhausted from all the travel, but mustered the energy to attend the vigil.  As I made my way to the sanctuary I was blown away by its beauty – the architecture, the mosaics the lighting- perfection. 

Then I was directed to the back of the sanctuary and before I knew it I was in a line walking towards the grotto.  It was at this time that I lost it and began to sob.  Tears rolled down my eyes.  I was utterly overwhelmed by the place.  I felt so fortunate to be there so undeserving…  As, I got closer and began to touch the rocks, see the image of Mary looking over me and touch the stream of water I just wanted to stay there. However, I was in a line and people after me needed to come close too so I made my way out and joined the procession.  Even though I was exhausted from traveling – I felt so light and so connected to the world as I heard the prayers in so many languages.  At moments like this, I always wish that all my loved ones could be there with me sharing in faith and communion with God and His people.  So, spiritually I carried all my loved ones and their petitions along the procession. 

The next morning, I got to tour the grounds by day and then had the afternoon at leisure.  I decided to return to the grotto that afternoon to fill my bottle with holy water (per my mother’s request) and as I was filling up it started to pour.  It rained so hard and I didn’t have any type of protection from the water and soon I was drenched.  I made my way back to the hotel in the pouring rain laughing thinking my mom would get a kick out of this story - of how I got drenched getting the holy water from Lourdes for her.  That night it rained and still the pilgrims participated in the vigil.  I was too scared to get sick so, I opened my hotel window and listened to the prayers that second night and again I felt so grateful that my journey carried me to such a holy site.   
         

Thursday, September 22, 2022

First Retreat After Covid

Since I returned to the Catholic Church, I had never experienced a period of dryness like I have during and post pandemic.  Scared of bringing the virus home and infecting my parents, I stayed away from everything except work.  I was watching Mass online, but my religious groups all closed shop and for once I was living life without community.  Finding myself virtual teaching, I had no desire to login to more zoom calls as some of my prayer groups opened back in that format.  After, that difficult first year my introvert side started enjoying being home and I slowly became a content recluse.  This past year, with what seems like the worst behind us and society starting to open up again – I have struggled getting back into my religious community.  I attended a couple times, but then tiredness and a need to be alone win when I think of going out.  Yet, all this time away from like minded people has depleted my soul, I feel like that fire that used to burn so intensely now only embers remain.

As I perused bulletins from various surrounding parishes, I noticed that one near me was having a Women’s Retreat.  I was surprised because this was the only retreat that I had seen since Covid reopening, but the title “Welcome Retreat” was off-putting because I thought it might be for new and non-Catholics.  I spoke with a friend who attends Saint Simon and Jude and she said that the title was not meant to be understood that way, so I signed up.  I knew that I needed something extraordinary to light those embers back up and the fact that I had missed my practice of yearly retreats – I knew this could be a lifeline to Jesus. 

The Saturday morning of the retreat I was struggling with a migraine that had plagued me since the day before and I was under so much pain that I almost missed it.  However, the retreat organizer had been in constant communication with me and I knew that it was being sponsored by the parish, the hotel had been paid as well as all accommodations for me – so guilt made me get out of bed and “just show up.”  I didn’t pack an overnight bag because I was thinking that I would probably not stay because I was feeling physically unwell, but when I got to the Ayres Hotel I was stripped from my cell phone and told I would get it back the following day at the end of the retreat.  My cell phone has never been confiscated before so I was stunned when I handed it over and then when I realized what I had done I knew that I couldn’t just disappear.  I took some Advil and hoped for the best.

As the first person went up to share her talk, I was thinking this is going to be just like any other retreat.  The format felt highly familiar and I was still thinking of the “Welcome” retreat label and continued to feel like there was no element of surprise.  However, by the time the second speaker was done sharing I was in tears because God was stirring those embers by showing what I think was the revelation of this weekend with God.  God showed me that He wants me to have an adult relationship with Him.  He wants me to grow: “when I was a child, I talked like a child, thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a (wo)man, I set aside childish ways.”  With each speaker’s testimony I was blown away by each story, each heartbreak, each deliverance.  The speakers were women (not girls) with mature stories!  That’s what was different, that was the surprise – mature faith.

I was able to participate in the Sacraments. I went to confession after the longest period of absence since I returned to the faith and that culminated with receiving the Eucharist!  We had a small group so Father invited us up to the altar during consecration.  It was such a beautiful, first time experience to be so near during such a holy moment.  Everything else that occurred was just icing on the cake! In one week, I will be heading to my first pilgrimage since Covid closures and I know that because of this retreat I will be traveling no longer feeling like a black sheep, but rather like a sheep who lost her way and has rejoined the flock.  “God is good all the time, all the time God is good!”              

Friday, September 9, 2022

Some Thoughts

When I got laid off from my mortgage job, I asked God that if in my future I was to be a career woman to provide me with a job that I was happy to wake up and go to.  Or that if I was to be a house wife to provide me with a good, Catholic fellow.  Well, when I was hired as a teacher I figured that for the time being God’s desire was for me to work and help the many young souls that come into my classroom.  I made the commitment that my entire focus would be to making sure that I transitioned well into my job, especially after so many tries and failures (at teaching) due to my mental illness.  I had a weird schedule the first year and had to give up my bible study groups along with sacrificing my social life.  Then the pandemic hit and isolation hit the entire world.

Post pandemic, my work schedule changed to a normal 8AM – 4PM schedule and now that I feel like I am succeeding at my job I am more able to focus my attention to other areas of my life.  Though on a daily I never know how my day will go; whether I will have a free moment to gather my thoughts, or if I will be able to take my full hour lunch or sacrifice it to run student council- I am more able to balance work and the rest of my life.  I have become more intentional of doing things for me as I have seen the consequences of just working. While I love my job (minus the drive), I need my Catholic community to keep a healthy mind.  Thus, I am really looking forward to my first trip since the lockdown this upcoming October.

To prepare I am going on a two day retreat next weekend with my local parish.  I am hoping that participating in the sacraments, being around other God loving folks and the talks will ignite the neglected embers in my soul.  Since my reversion to the Catholic faith, I haven’t been this cold in my faith and I definitely don’t want to remain here.  I know for a fact, that my mental health requires both medication and my faith community and these past couple of years that has been quite evident.  Maybe God is trying to show me that man doesn’t live of bread alone.            

Thursday, September 1, 2022

The Honest Truth

Growing up, I had a lot of wishy-washy adults who would say things to me and get me all rattled up only for it to not be true. 

“We will take you to Thrifty’s for ice cream.”

“We’re going to the park for a family picnic.”

“We are taking you to your cousin’s Easter egg hunt…”

“I am going to stop drinking.”

For the most they were little promises because poor people have simple dreams - but even though they were small plans the crush of not meeting the promise was as defeating as a let down of a trip around the world. Or missing the MEGA Lottery win by a number.

Yet, every week I would have an adult who would rattle my heart with promises too soon gone with the wind. 

“We are walking to Bun ‘N’ Burger for lunch Saturday.”

Sometimes with a sense of exasperation I would reply under my breath, “No, we are not,” but on that Saturday I would privately hope that this was the day that a promise would be fulfilled. 

With time, I lost faith in words and promised that when I had some sense of control over my life my yes would be a yes and my no would be a no. I was young, when I realized how your words had to match your actions, especially when making declarations that affected other people.                 

One day, as a recent revert in Mass my mom and I heard the story, about the two brothers who say “yes” and “no” to his father’s request. “Which brother obeyed?” Father asked during the homily.  My mom elbowed me in the pew, “You are like the one that says “no” and then always follows through!”  Usually when she asks me to do something I always jokingly say, “no” first.

I don’t have children, but with my nephew I try really hard to not make promises I don’t intend to keep because I know how damaging they can be. I mean a broken promise cost me to walk away from my faith for many, many years.  So, to say that I value honesty is an understatement. In fact, when I was in therapy I had to learn to not be too honest.  For example, if your meeting your boyfriend’s best friend for the first time who cooked dinner specially for you and you secretly dislike it, you don’t say, “I could have gone without the sausage.” Which is a true story. I did that in a previous relationship only to learn that sometimes the truth needs to be omitted or presented in a more positive way to avoid hurt feelings. Instead I could have said, “I really liked the sauce.”

I prided myself in my honesty because I didn’t want to be like so many adults whose words let me down, but I had to learn that honesty needs to come with an ounce of grace.  Not all of our opinions need to be vocalized.  In my honesty journey, I am learning that honesty requires tactic, because my words cannot raise false hopes, but they shouldn’t hurt feelings unnecessarily.    

Monday, April 4, 2022

My Folks & I

One of the great things about getting older is that you are more confident in who you are as a person and the desire to prove yourself seems to diminish.  I just remember growing up I so (and I should capitalize that for emphasis) SO desired to be seen as normal.  My therapist would say that because I grew up in such a chaotic home (due to alcoholism and poverty) that my desire to be normal stemmed there.  I wanted so bad to change what was happening in my home that I sought to be perfect to fool outsiders. 


In growing up, I have finally accepted that normal doesn’t exist. 

As I have gotten older, especially once I started attending college some friends would make comments about when I was going to move out and leave my family.  It’s unhealthy for grown-ups to live at home.  Some days I felt shame and other days I felt like I really needed to leave the nest.  Again, this question of how abnormal was continued to be thrown my way.  Because I moved to this country, I needed to enculturate and do what all adult American’s do and that was to get my own place… 

I am glad that my parents put up such a fight when they didn’t let me leave my nest, because I don’t think that my life would be as rich as it has been.  In Mexico, kids don’t leave home unless they get married and no one blinks an eye, but here if you don’t live on your own by a certain age all these negative connotations smack you in the face. 

Growing up poor, my dream was to buy my parents a house.  If you live in California one is lucky if one can afford to purchase one home let alone two. So, I have been living in this dream home with the people I love most and I have finally realized that I don’t care if people look at me and think negatively because I love coming home to my family.  My parents give me SO MUCH joy! Recently, they took a trip to Mexico and I wanted to call them every day, but I stopped myself from being so clingy (LOL) and only called them twice a week. They were gone for three weeks and coming home to an empty nest felt sickening.  I was as depressed as my little Francis who didn’t eat for the first two days out of pure sadness. 

On Thursday, they returned and boy has the mood in my home changed.  It was when after a long day of work, as I was stuck on the 405 (impatient to get home) that I realized how much I am a family person.  I don’t care that living alone gives this admired gold star “yep, she has her stuff together,” because living with my folks doesn’t take away from the responsible person that I am.  I mean I have been working since I was fifteen years old! My parents will tell you that out of their children I am the one that they least worry about…  I will tell you that I am blessed to have these years to live so closely with the best people on the planet that I know.  No regrets about not leaving the nest- in fact only the best memories of a constantly full house to arrive to.    

Monday, March 28, 2022

Reengaging in my Spiritual Community

I started in-person weekly bible study again.  A couple of weeks ago, I finally went back and was met by the warmest welcome from my old friends.  Half of the old Monday night group is still attending the rest are new parishioners to the now Wednesday night meeting.  I wasn’t expecting my return to have such a positive effect on me; being there gave me so much hope!  The group is on week fifteen of “The Bible Timeline,” and even though I have taken this series before I am learning so many great things.  Beyond the academic learning, it’s just so nice being around people of faith!  They took me in without hesitation even though they are quite into the series and provided me with the materials to quickly make me feel part of the group again.


This pandemic has made me even more of a homebody.  I have always loved being home and with the social restrictions I feel like I became even more reclusive.  It’s difficult to find the motivation to leave my home- the other day I rented a movie instead of going to the movie theatre – which is so unlike me (I love movie theatre popcorn)!  Thus, even though things are back in business, I have little inspiration to leave my home.  My habits changed during the lockdown and now getting myself to make changes – to be more social is such a struggle!

It took me forever to go back to the bible study group, even though they have been meeting for a few months now.  I blamed my job and how tired I am afterward for not attending sooner, but the reality is that I need to create new habits.  I need to start attending all the events that used to inspire my faith regularly.  Though, I am finding it a struggle to reengage in my spiritual social life, I know that I am in desperate need of it.  I think once I have added this Wednesday Bible study to my routine then I can start looking into adding more things, like the classes to complete my Master Catechist certificate. Little by little…