Thursday, October 19, 2017

Finding Hope in the Words of Saint Therese

Hurry and heal black eye, so that you look good with your Halloween outfit. :)

We all need a bit of encouragment every now and then, this morning I found much in the words of Saint Therese of Lisieux.  She happens to be my favorite female saint, while some people think that having favorites is not a good practice- I disagree.  Just like we bond with certain people more than we do with others, I believe it’s the same with our holy intercessors.  Saint Therese is my BFF and anytime I am running low on fuel, or need help I seek her confidance.  Her simple, poetic language always revives me with hope.  The following quotes were written in my journal a few years ago, when I attended a women’s retreat.  This morning I was flipping through the journal looking for something to inspire me and I knew I had to share these three quotes!

“What offends Him and what wounds His heart is the lack of confidence...  It is confidence, and confidence alone, that must lead us to love…”

It’s hard to trust another, even if the other is God.  Maybe that’s why throughout the bible He gives us example after example of trusting in Him.  Many of our ancestors failed miserably, which I find so comforting because God loved them even when they were unsuccessful.  We also are given two great examples (Jesus and Mary) of the blind faith that led their lives.  I find hope in both- in Jesus and Mary I have my aim, but in those who were weak I gather courage knowing that God loves me even when my confidence is lacking.

“Your heart is made to love Jesus, to love Him passionately; pray so that the beautiful years of your life may not pass by in chimerical fears…”

These past few days of uncertainty I have found great strength in God and His promises.  Yet, it’s easy to lose sight and focus on the fears.  Especially, for me who likes routine and these past weeks have at times pushed my mind into “the what if” territory.  Teaching my mind to focus on God and hope with great confidence in Him, can at times be challenged by fears of the unknown.  Just this morning I had to give myself a cheerful pep talk because my thoughts were drifting into future fears.  I had to refocus on God and send those fears a flying!  That’s why I love the quote above because it’s our choice as to what gets replayed in our mind throughout the day- what better rest than love all day long (smile).

“Every day is made up of hundreds of little moments that are opportunities to love God… We have only the short moments of our life to love Jesus.”

Once our mind is immersed in God, then our actions are those of love.  Our view is no longer centered around me, but on how I can love God through the service of those in greater need than I.  It goes back to trust, if I place my trust in God then I am freed to love others because my worries are obliterated the moment I place my confidence in Him (smile).  Thank you Saint Therese! 

FYI Post timings and days might change during this period of transition. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Life Lately: My Dollar

The day I brought him home.

Over the weekend Dollar developed a marble size bump below his eye.  At my touch I didn’t notice any pain, but since it appeared from one day to the next and made one of his eyes appear smaller I made an appointment for him yesterday afternoon.  His vet told me that it was a tooth abscess which probably meant that he had a cavity or a broken tooth.  In order to get a clear diagnosis Dollar needed to be sedated and remain at the vet all afternoon.  Now, I am not sure who has worst separation anxiety me or him.  He’s fourteen and I was traumatized when a friend took her senior dog to the vet and the dog became so agitated it had a heart attack at the animal hospital.  Thus, I always try to be with him away from home, but yesterday I had to leave him there and trust that he was in great hands.  An hour later the vet called me and told me that Dollar’s teeth were ok, that it was actually a lesion inside his mouth that got infected.  She drained the abscess and said I could pick him up after a period of two hours of observation.  I was elated that my prayers had been answered and that things were not as serious as the vet had initially thought.  So, I expected to pick him up and be able to go to class.
Our First Halloween! Fairy & her dragon.

However, when I put him in the car he started whimpering, this awful crying sound which didn’t go away for two hours after he was home.  I later learned that the noise was a side-effect of the sedation usually related with the trauma and separation anxiety.  He finally relaxed a bit, but didn’t have complete mobility.  His hind legs were jelly.  I tried feeding him and giving him liquids, but not even his most favorite treats worked.  I was unable to give him the antibiotics or pain medication and I felt like such a failure all night.  Luckily he was able to sleep through some of the night while I laid awake vigilant laying my hands over him in prayer.  He loves it when I pray over him.  Usually, when he’s having a bad dream I just lay my hands on him and the nightmare evaporates into thin air.  This morning, he has full mobility (though he’s still a bit wobbly) and I finally got him to eat, drink, and take his meds! Praise God and Saint Francis our intercessor! 

His first t-shirt after a long walk.
We have been through a lot my Dollar and me, and though our years are getting shorter he’s my baby.  At the moment he’s curled at my feet in his bed, but let’s look back…   
 At the preschool parade, my students loved him!
His first bed.
His first Christmas!
Our first Christmas!
 Before show and tell at the preschool I used to teach at.
 Our first Christmas after my brother passed away.
 His first sweater.
The first picture at our new home.
Forever my pumpkin!
We've both grown and changed so much, but it's been the greatest adventure since day one...

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Lessons of the Fall

I have been looking into job leads, sending out my resume while still keeping a fulltime job and all my other activities; thus, my schedule has been a bit constrained- with the job search taking much of my thoughts and time… 
Today, I want to walk away from that topic and discuss something lighter – like the arrival of fall!  If I were a season, autumn would be my name!  Even though in California the seasonal changes are quite subtle, I love this time of year.  I love the crisp smell, the orange-mustard hues, the crunch of the leaves and the lower temperatures.  It’s sweater season. O’, how I love a good cardigan let me count the ways (smile)!  And pumpkins – the sight of the orange spheres bring cuddles of happy to my chest… But what I love most is the grey skies and the barren trees.  If fall had a sound – it would be that of a “full” silence as nature quietly sheds its skin.  Don’t be tricked by its understated change, deep within its roots, life begins to fall asleep awaiting for the indication to rise again.  This sleepiness of fall is what draws me so.  The hushed stupor feels like an incarnation of an introverted spirit: one so calm and one so still.  Unlike spring and summer with its loud colors and sounds, fall’s low vocal cords require a trained ear.  During the fall things begin to look dead, like they will no longer bear fruits, but if you look deeply a trained eye sees the transformation happening - a change, from what was to what will be.  At the beginning of fall, when I walk Dollar I can taste the season, it lingers on my lips and caresses my body with its large, breezy wings.  It motions me to listen, to quiet my soul.  To hear and see what goes unaware. 
Many, many years ago generations assigned gods for the many aspects of creation. The Greek goddess Carpo was in charge of autumn and a bountiful harvest.  Some cultures enamored by nature decided to make mother earth a god.  While I find mythology quite beautiful, there’s not an ounce of reason that supports those claims.  Yet, the God with a capital “G” that I believe in has shown me that reason and faith can stand side by side.  We live in such a perfect world, where the laws of nature follow such an embedded code that they know when to begin preparing for the long winter sleep.  God used science to create this complex universe; but, like the genius that He is, He left us visual poetry that reaches the soul in ways no scientific formula can.  You can understand scientifically the amazing process of the seasons, but when you’re enveloped in that fresh gust of wind and see the long fingers of the branches saluting the heavens – something like the most pure wonder caresses the spirit. 
Fall prepares nature for its upcoming rest and even when things look dead after a proper period of waiting life will soon peak through again and all will be more glorious.  Great things happen during autumn, but they are so muted that one needs to calm the spirit and will it to listen.  November twentieth is my last day at the office, but I am at peace because life continues even when some channels appear to be dying.  Fall doesn’t panic because it knows that spring will follow after the winter.  God wrote a beautiful symphony with the seasons, a song so full of truth that comforts those who dare to stop and listen.  It’s cyclical and full of change like our lives; but there’s beauty and hope in its continuous stages.  The year wouldn’t be complete without fall just like our lives wouldn’t be complete without the moments of shedding and even the moments of rest.  

Monday, October 9, 2017

Through Love, Serve One Another

I came back to the Catholic Church after a long journey as an agnostic and then a protestant Christian.  I also returned with great need.  In 2007, I was learning to live with my new bipolar diagnoses and had just began treatment.  Mentally and emotionally I was in a really dark, insecure place.  Life had little meaning, I was unemployed because I couldn’t keep a job and I had told my mom that if God didn’t help me soon that I was going to take my life.  One day she took me to three parishes to speak with different priests and though all made the time to speak with me I left their offices in the same state of desolation.  At Our Lady of the Pillar Church, I was meeting the third priest of the day.  Even though I didn’t have an appointment he made the time to speak with me.  He quietly listened as I shared my darkness.  When I was done,  he said, “Sometimes people with depression feel so heavy because they only see their hurt.  I want you to go and look for an opportunity to volunteer your time helping someone else.” 
The young adult group that I was attending invited me to visit Saint Francis Senior Home that following Sunday.  Though I felt like I had nothing to contribute, I accepted the invitation.  When I got to the home, I was the only one in the young adult group who spoke English so they asked me to lead the two-hour visit.  Those two hours taught me that even at my most broken state I still had much to contribute.  A simple visit with lonely, abandoned, aging women showed me that suffering wasn’t just inside me it was very present in the world and in my community.  And, I didn’t have to offer a grand gesture to help those hurting – my presence and my listening ear gave those women so much joy.  As I continued to help at the senior home, the sisters who run it told our group how knowing that our group was visiting would motivate their ladies to leave their beds, shower and get ready for their visitors, “On the Sunday's you come, we have no trouble getting the ladies to shower.  They are so happy for visitors that they run out of bed and into the shower.”  

They love to dance!

Soon I became the coordinator of the Sunday visits and one day I decided to have a manicure pampering day.  The sisters again shared their joy because sometimes they don’t have enough time or people to trim the ladies’ nails.  These small gestures made such an impression in the lives of the women of Saint Francis Senior Home, but also taught me that service is the most healing, rewarding, uplifting thing a person with depression can do.  Jesus told us that he came into this world to serve and we must imitate what he taught us.  Service saved my life! In my spiritual journey I have fallen madly in love with God and this passion continues to inspire me to live a life doing good.  I crave to reach heaven and hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”        
I think they've enjoyed having Dollar (in costume) come visit- more than me!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Sister Death Transitus Vigil

October fourth is the day that the church dedicates to the remembrance of one of the most beloved Catholic saints, Saint Francis of Assisi.  Each year selected parishes celebrate the vigil of his death, known as the Transitus, word that comes from the Latin meaning: “passage,” “crossing” or “going over.”  The Transitus Feast has always been an important part of Christian spirituality because ideally we should not be afraid of death.  Saint Francis even referred to “Sister Death” in a positive light, a sort of crossing into eternal life with the Father.  His death was a paradox that carried the sadness of a beloved being lost to this world with a deep joy of his birth into eternal life.  His friends and loved ones gathered around him singing and praising the Lord with many tears on his last day of life.
It’s only my second year in attendance at such a beautiful service and it’s become one of my favorite celebrations of the year.  I lost my faith and for the greatest part of my life I lingered between agnosticism and atheism.  Until the day that my brother died.  When he died I came across a fork on the road a decision concerning my spirituality needed to be made: to believe or not believe in God.  As I have shared my brother was schizophrenic and he endure a lot of mental anguish, pain that I saw so deeply entangled in his being.  When he passed, I could no longer believe that the material world was all we had, but if I was going to believe in heaven it needed to be a heaven that was real.  Not the heaven with angels playing harps and a golden gate like the one featured in most cartoons.  I needed him to exist to cross over into a real heaven with a real God, a place where he would find peace and a meeting spot where one day we would be reunited.  This search for heaven is what led my initial steps towards my Catholic faith.  Every year, during the Transitus Vigil I am reminded of my quest and for an hour - time is suspended and I get to experience Sister Death and hear the bells of heaven as one more saint arrives eternally home.  Death loses its power, it is redeemed in Jesus Christ.  
The friars Chanting Ultima.
“Lord, I beg you, let the burning and gentle force of your love pervade my soul and withdraw it from all that is beneath Heaven, that I might die through love of your love, since You did deign to die through love of my love…”
This year I invited my Secular Franciscan Fraternity to the vigil and quite a good group was able to accompany me, though my first Transitus will always be the most special, sharing it with my sisters in Christ was such a sweet treat.  And though there was no birthday cake this year, we did get to enjoy those almond cookies that Saint Francis loved so much and which Lady Jacoba made for him to delight as he departed from this world.  Saint Francis of Assisi pray for us and happy feast day!        

Monday, October 2, 2017

It's a Matter of Waiting

I am writing this bit from my garden, a place I have been spending most of my time lately.  It's just such a wonderful feeling to be outside enjoying the natural beauty, listening to Solecito (my bird) sing and watching my dog sunbathe.  Usually I am involved in reading, working on my purse restoration, praying or just in silence thankful for this space.  When I was a little girl, stuffed like sardines in an apartment, I used to dream about a yard with a white picket fence.  It took my entire childhood and teenage years for this dream to materialize; God didn't forget nor did my prayers go unanswered it was just a matter of waiting.  Waiting.  In this day of such a fast paced world with technology making everything faster, waiting has become a foreign concept.  I've always been fascinated by how God made the birth process a nine month waiting period for the parents.  Pregnant women will even complain as the day gets near about their desire for baby to already be out so that their discomfort will minimize.  Yet, like a bun in the oven it needs to stay inside until it's fully baked (smile).  

As I think of my doubts in prayer, I believe they stem from asking God for prayers that required years to be answered.  I prayed for a home of my own and that took many years to acquire.  Another prayer that left me scarred was asking God (even during my agnostic years) for my father to stop drinking.  These two prayers hurt to voice, and they hurt more in the waiting.  Yet, as I have reflected on these two petitions I realize that they were voiced from a person that I am no longer today.  I lost my faith at a very young age and during moments of desperation I called to a God that I was unsure I believed in.  Today, I know that God is real and I believe in the power of prayer; yet, I feel like God is asking to heal an area that I didn't even know needed healing.  An area that goes back to that girl who prayed in desperation fighting reason and a deep belief that prayer didn't work.

Though it took many, many years, God provided a home and gave me the father I always wanted.  The big lesson is that God answers when He knows best.  My sister had been married for many years and she was unable to conceive.  A year after my brother died our prayers were answered when she found out she was pregnant and that news gave us all a huge reason to go on.  Waiting isn't easy nor popular in this fast paced world, but God uses time for our benefit.
Last Sunday, we heard in the gospel about the workers that were all paid the same wages even though some worked only a couple hours.  I always had a problem with that scripture reading because I felt it was so unfair.  But if you have ever been a laborer waiting for work at a Home Depot parking lot you know that you would rather work a full day shift then to wait uncertain whether you will make any day wages.  Usually waiting is accompanied by worry; yet, God challenges us to present our petitions to the Lord and go about our business knowing He will provide.  A huge lesson, one that I hope little by little with His grace I will learn (smile).

Friday, September 29, 2017

God is Good All the Time

Yesterday, I had my first job interview in over ten years! While the position is not a good fit for me, just the fact that I got it done left me feeling ecstatic.  Now, you might think that I share these quite intimate details because I need affirmation or attention, but my motivation is simply to share my struggle in hopes of encouraging others.  I am bipolar and I don't speak about that often, but for people like me with mental disabilities, looking for employment is even more difficult.  While certain experiences are naturally stress inducing for everyone, for people with bipolar it's a little harder because our brain plays devious tricks on us.  My friend who suffers from autism called me earlier in the week, not too long ago he himself was in a similar situation and he understands the mental anguish that unplanned change to our routine causes. Talking to him helped me so much because he validated my experience as normal (for people like us) and gave me so much encouragement.  He and I have formed this friendship that serves as a support group for one-another.  When he's having an extremely difficult time he will reach out and vice versa.  I think that anyone who suffers from a mental disorder really benefits from having a lifeline, a friend who has first experience with the challenges of our disability.
I have also been reading the life of the saints.  Recently, I gobbled the life of Saint Rita of Cassia in one sitting - I will speak more on that in a later post.  But just filling my mind with holiness and distracting my racing thoughts with the stories of great saints has also been such a comfort.  It's funny because I was looking for a saint to accompany me during October, as I do every year and Saint Rita came to me miraculously in a time that I truly needed her perseverance and determination.  God just loves to work things in such a way that always leaves me smiling BIG.  For those of you not familiar with her life she is the patron saint of the impossible, and if you've read my last  posts you know that I need such an example right now.
On Wednesday, I also went to my monthly women's group and the talk was so affirmative.  The speaker spoke on vocations and sort of dedicated the entire talk to her profession instead of vocations.  Yet, it was what I needed to hear because throughout her career she has seen the hand of God at work guiding and leading her to untraveled paths.  Paths that at first have been terribly scary.  Her motto is the lesson I took from her talk, "I just show up and let God do the rest."  I decided that's going to be my new favorite aphorism (smile).

Monday, September 25, 2017

Finding Comfort in the Sacraments

I found myself in front of the Tabernacle on Saturday night, a day after confession and moments away from receiving the Eucharist.  During confession Father suggested that when I have doubts about my prayers to reflect on moments when God has answered them.  After sharing with my confessor the doubts that invade my overthinking mind in moments of crisis.  I've been honest here about identifying with doubting Thomas because sometimes my doubts can really challenge my faith.  Not my faith in God, but my faith in His interaction with His creation.  It's weird because when I intercede for others I really know that He hears me and that He will provide accordingly- but when I ask for things for myself it's hard to do so thinking He is listening.  So, I shared with Father how even though I pray for God's assistance when I do so for myself my heart feels very untrusting, even cynical. Has God provided in the past?  Has He heard my prayers and answered them? Of course He has, but I am like one of the people in our biblical history that constantly forgets.  If Moses had gone up Mount Sinai in my time, I probably would have been one of the many that forgot about God as soon as Moses was out of sight.  My faith doesn't come easily, but luckily God gave me community.  In community I am reminded and encouraged to hope and never seize in prayer.  After speaking with Father, I thought about the last time I was without a job and I asked God to please give me one before the end of the year and He did!  So, now I know how to defeat the cynicism in my heart when it comes a wandering.
Saturday night, I finally made it to chapel and because the church was having its annual fest I was in that small space alone with Jesus.  I talked to him for awhile told him everything as I would a great confidant.  Then I asked him if there was anything that he wanted to tell me.  I didn't have to wait more than a couple seconds when the words to Psalm 23 came into my mind, "The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want."  I smiled BIG and looked up at him as I constantly do when he leaves me speechless.  We had a moment, the type only the most intimate friends have, when words are unnecessary and just being in each other's presence is enough.  "I looked at Him and He looked at me..."  I had been craving to have a friend who would just be with me, "if I lay here / if I just lay here / will you lie with me and just forget the world..."  There are moments when I fall so low that I crave to just lie stationary above the grass next to a companion who won't ask anything of me, but will reach across and hold my hand as we both stare at the infinite sky.  With the words of Psalm 23 so vividly flying through my mind, I knew that God was there reaching out and He would remain with me as long as I needed to soak all of it in.  Never asking anything of me, just being there like the perfect friend that only He can be.
After volunteering a two-hour shift at the parish fest and helping with the clean-up, I waited for the ten PM Mass.  The Sunday readings blew me away!  I've always been a bit uncomfortable with Matthew's Sunday Gospel reading, but over the years it has grown on me.  Life can be unfair, but God's love and mercy extends beyond comprehension... I have been sensitive these past few days, because my emotions are only following what is natural in dealing with loss.  As a bipolar sufferer I don't like surprises and treasure routine- but am learning to recall on God's past answers and finding hope in that.  This weekend I really found solace in the Sacraments and service and I concluded that if I don't find a job before the two months are up, I will be able to attend daily Mass and that will be fabulous (smile). Time to begin a novena with Saint Francis (ahead of his feast day) please join me.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Every New Beginning Comes From Some Other Beginning's End

Life is full of loss… The death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, the dying of a dream, in my case the loss of a job.  This week, I, along with most of my company was laid off because the company is relocating to Texas.  I got a sixty day notice to abandon ship.  During the mass layoff as I witnessed the different reactions from my team, I saw that the commonality was a sense of devaluation.  People who have dedicated a lifetime to my company felt easily disposed of.  While the CEO kept stating that he was doing what was best for the company, the people that make up the corporation didn’t agree with his assessment.  Which made me think of Pope Francis and the many times he’s asked us to remember that behind each structure there are people.  Upper management is looking at increasing revenue by moving to a state where rents are cheaper and deleting high salaries of employees who have dedicated many years to the company.  To the CEO the company is money and acquiring more of it means success.  Sadly, taking care of the people that invested so much to the company is no longer a concern in the for profit sector.  As Pope Francis has many times said we live in a “throwaway” culture where society quite easily discards people.  My coworker, a new mom of two, kept angrily asking “why?”  I tried to explain to her how it wasn’t personal it was just a monetary strategy taking precedence over the welfare of people.  “It’s the system that is messed up not you,” I told her.
Then I got home and had a glass wine and wondered why I was so at peace, knowing that in sixty days I would be without a job?  I sat in my garden in silence for many hours, prayed a rosary and read the life of Saint Francis of Assisi.  The thing is that I have been here before.  This territory has been well-traveled by me.  I know what it’s like to be without work; the uncertainty, the fears and the monetary constraints- even the emotional lows and insecurity that come like waves to challenge the already bruised ego.  Was my peace due to shock?  A temporary feeling that would leave as soon as the reality of the layoff hit? Or was it God given? 

I woke up the next morning equally calm, but noticed that during this whole process I have found so much comfort in the words of Pope Francis.  I have begun expressing my way of fighting this “throwaway” culture by featuring some of my shopping habits and reusing practices on here.  My focus has been on the material waste that I see in my community and my personal fight against it.  Now, I am experiencing another type of waste that of discarding people as if they were easily replaceable things.  I thought of my coworker’s shock in understanding that the goal of businesses today is  more concerned with making profit then with the needs of its people.  And I realized that I wasn’t angry or shocked because thanks to Pope Francis I have long been aware of the path that society is heading into.  Having a foundation in a faith that tells me that I am worthy not because of the job that I have or lack thereof; but, because I am made in the image and likeness of God gives me peace.  Stripping me of a job-title and occupation doesn’t make me less me.  I have been without a job in a worse state of mind and God got me through it!  This is a time to once again place my trust in Him and to persevere in prayer singing, “Jesus, I trust in you.”  Every end brings an opportunity for a new beginning, and what is life without a bit of adventure?  Nevertheless, please keep me in your prayers so that I will soon find employment.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Coach Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Restoration Bags

Earlier this year, Coach marked its seventy-fifth anniversary.  As a tribute to their history and craftsmanship the handbag brand rereleased a vintage capsule with three of its most iconic styles: the Dinky, the Saddle Bag and the Slim Satchel. What caught my attention is that the brand scavenged flea markets, secondhand stores, and online auction sites to buy back their vintage gems.  After acquiring a good amount of bags from the 70’s and 80’s they were sent to a restoration factory in Montana before going back to New York for unique-one-of-a-kind-modern details.  They added suede stripes, leather patches or fringe to give the vintage bags a modern vibe while still keeping the integrity of the vintage shape. Then the newly restored bags went up for sale exclusively at Barney’s with a special collectors tag next to the coach creed.  These bags are currently up for sale and range from $595 - $1195.  When I read the press release on this I seriously couldn’t help, but smile because I love refurbishing vintage leather purses.  To see a popular brand like Coach take such a creative, thoughtful approach to commemorate their diamond anniversary, made this thrift-store junkie heart of mine do the Cha-Cha.  Of course when I saw the price tag, I realized that I would continue to be happy with my own secondhand finds.  However, I really hope this becomes a trend among leading handbag designers because it’s just such a good example of reusing and a great environmental practice.

I have three Coach vintage purses of my own (none of which are the selected styles above) and this weekend I spent some time refurbishing a crossbody that is a minimalist’s dream.  I found this baby for eight dollars and in dire need of a makeover.  She had a lot of scars from her journey, I think she might date back to the seventies!  After welcoming her into the family I gave her a good inside cleaning using a toothbrush to reach the crevices then continued to the outside with Cadillac Boot and Shoe Care.  After, I let her rest while she dried.  I pondered what the best treatment for her would be and looking at my supplies I figured a full black dye job needed to occur to get rid of the lightening of the leather due to use.  I don’t have the tools that a Coach Restoration Factory does, but with my at home supplies I am excited for my new to me bag.  Bag restoration is one of my hobbies and I do restore quite a few bags, but usually I resale them for a profit.  I just like the whole process of taking something that was ready to be trashed and to restore it for another chance at life.  Finding them happy homes gives me a sense of purpose (smile).        
This bag was in good shape considering how old it is, it just had a lot of scratches to the leather and the corners had lost its blackness.  But with a little tender love and care she looks as good as new!
You can read more about Coach's restoration capsule here: Coach Vintage.