Monday, April 9, 2018

... I Thought Lent Ended?

In the span of a week:

- I've been insulted off of social media. It happened shortly after my last blog post on social media. Great timing, really. lol. I took the weekend off and will resume to take the week off, baring prayer requests or something urgent. My stress levels online have been off the charts lately. Taking the weekend off was good for me but it wasn't enough. I need a slightly longer break from it.

- My car has had to go back to the mechanic's... twice. The radiator on my car popped while Mom and I were out. The car released a lot of smoke and we were scared for a while (until we knew what had happened). Thankfully, I have AAA and the tow to the mechanic's was covered. I've already spent almost all of our tax refund on car repairs and, if you know our economic situation, you know that more repairs will hurt us further.

- My dizziness and vertigo have gotten worse. Well, it was worse over the weekend but had somehow behaved today. I was thankful for that because it meant getting out of the house to get food that wasn't rice or potatoes. Yes, that was basically my entire diet for days. Did I not mention we've had car trouble, I've been too dizzy to leave the house, and we've had financial issues? It's fun being me. lol.

- I think my anemia is back. I've had some symptoms over the last couple of days which are pointing to a possible return of anemia. Insert a Darth Vadar "nooooooo" meme here.

- I missed Mass again yesterday because of my dizziness. I couldn't walk in a straight line from my bed to the bathroom. Yeah, that bad. I somehow felt a sense of peace about the situation though. Not a peace because I was missing Mass, but more like God was saying to me, "It's okay. I know you can't go. I know you want to go. Be at peace."

I should get my car back tomorrow. I hope the damage isn't too bad and that we don't have to spend the rest of our refund on the repairs.

I'm also getting blood drawn tomorrow (latest round of blood work). I hope and pray for good news because I could use some good news. I hope I'm wrong on the anemia front and I hope that my platelets are behaving as well.

I hope to get my car early enough to be able to go to confession at a nearby parish. I know that I'm technically excused on the missing Mass front because I couldn't even walk more than 2 feet without needing to be spotted by my mother... who caught me when I nearly (accidentally) bumped into our hallway wall.

I need prayers. I don't know what's up with this prolonged Lent-type thing but I could use some prayers if you can spare some.

Can I offer some of this up for any of you? Please leave a comment here, send me a DM on Twitter (because I won't see @ tweets), or private message me through the blog's FB page since I will get the email and read them that way without having to log into the accounts.

I hope y'all are having a better time than I am. lol.

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

Friday, April 6, 2018

Online Inauthenticity and Temptations

This past week, I got the chance to research and write about the internet's patron saint, St. Isidore of Seville, for EpicPew. Why? Why not?! As someone who has a serious love-hate relationship with several online things (especially social media), I thought it would be good to learn a little more about who the patron was and why he was the patron saint. I won't reiterate what I wrote but you can definitely check it out here.

One thing that has really struck me lately is the lack of authenticity and how caught up in it we are without really realizing it. I'm not immune to it. I try to be as real and open as possible on this blog but that doesn't mean I don't also go with the - let's say - more flattering pictures posted on social media. Am I really that vain or is it just a fear of the judgment? I'd say it's fear of judgment but perhaps it's both... and it's made me comfortable either way.

I usually don't take selfies very often. The picture I had on Twitter before I changed it this week was nearly 3 years old and the new one was taken when I cut my hair two days ago. Still, it felt inauthentic to me. I tried to counteract that with a series of videos (to friends) on the topic on social media in which I wore no makeup and hadn't brushed my hair. I promise I didn't look like a complete mess but I felt a bit better. I normally don't wear makeup and I have my hair up and away from my face.

That incident made me think about how I'm getting increasingly uncomfortable online. Sure, it's been a sort-of lifeline for me since I've been sick for months and it's often the only way (save text messages) that I communicate with friends these days. We're all so hyper-connected that, if it's not said on social media, it probably won't be said at all.

I'm a social introvert; I need socializing as much as I need my own solo time to recharge my batteries. With my friends having moved away from L.A. and/or living across the globe (my best friend lives in Italy), it's hard to try to get everyone together, face-to-face. I went 8 months without seeing a single one of my friends, remember? Without the use of social media, I would have a lonelier existence... but I still hate it.

I hate that we rely on social media so much. I hate that it's increasingly difficult to get together with friends -- even those who live within reasonable driving distance. I hate that I hate the online world because it usually affects me much more than I'd like to admit.

I'm an HSP; I absorb people's feelings and moods very easily. Not only that, the feelings will linger for hours or even through the end of the day. The smallest amount of negativity will ruin my day. What's the internet and social media famous for? The infighting, even amongst us Catholics. It makes it hard for me to shake off the bummer mood. Why do you think I read and write so much? It provides distractions and keeps my mind busy when I've had enough of the internet.

I may (thankfully!) not have the temptation to look at pornography, to seek out fights, to troll people, to do anything damaging... but the temptation to live my life online and to fall into the trap of only sharing the "best" side of myself is still a temptation I struggle with.

A couple of months ago (side note: this post has been in the drafts box since the second week of January) I read an open letter to Benedictine oblates on the internet and social media (which is worth a read!) and I saw this prayer that I've personally written out for myself to use because, let's face, we all face temptations every time we get online.

"O God, who hast taught us to make use of the things of this life as if we used them not (1 Cor 7), grant me wisdom and discernment in my use of the tools of knowledge and communication, for the form of this world is passing away (ibid.). Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth (Ps 140); preserve thou my mind from aimless curiosity; turn away my eyes from beholding vanity, and pierce thou my flesh with thy fear (Ps 118). Chasten thou all my discourse, lest any word of mine bring harm to me or to my neighbour. Make my heart like unto a fortified city, that filled with thy loving mercy, I may praise thee with pure lips: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come (Apoc 4), who in perfect Trinity livest and reignest, throughout all ages of ages. Amen.

Holy Mary, Virgin most prudent, pray for us.
Ye holy Angels, save us from spiritual harm.
Holy Abbot Benedict, teach us silence.
Holy Doctor Isidore, keep us from falsehood.
All ye saints of God, intercede for us."

How about y'all? Do any of you feel like you're in the same or a similar boat? Has anyone found ways to combat all of this negativity we encounter online, especially social media? (side note: even limiting who I follow on social media doesn't always help). Is it possible to find a good balance between the online and offline worlds that lasts for more than a couple of days? If so, please let me know because I feel seriously burnt out these days.

Anyway, I hope y'all had a good work week and that you have a lovely weekend. :D

As always, thanks for reading and God Bless! :D

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Benedictine Oblate and Third Novel News

Hear ye, hear ye! The news express is making a quick stop straight from Emmyland.

From all the recent emails I've received recently, it looks like I'm officially on my way to becoming an official Benedictine Oblate. Cue the happy crying, fangirl squealing, and other celebratory actions a young woman of my age should've outgrown by now... but hasn't. lol. The Oblate novitiate period is a year-long process of discernment. To say that I'm excited would be an understatement. Did you not see the "fangirl squealing" part? lol.

Seriously, I could not be happier. Although I missed Easter Sunday Mass (*insert me shaking my fist at dizziness and vertigo*), my spiritual life has gotten a much life boost since I returned to confession and Mass. I honestly feel like a different person and have been much happier. The Lenten week of depression only lasted the entirety of Holy week before disappearing. I've already planned on spending more time in adoration with this book by St. Alphonsus Liguori this week. I look forward to discerning whether this is something God is calling me to do over the next year.

We have a (tentative) publication date for the third novel: May 14, 2018. That's 4 years (what?!) and 2 weeks after the publication of the first novel. It is the first non-Will and Lina book and something that was re-written over the past couple of months. It started out as one thing and with one idea and it morphed into something else. Not only that, a sequel will have to be written to finish the story. I tried to avoid it but I couldn't; these characters have a mind of their own.

As with my other novels, I decided to take the self-publishing route. Why? Because, really, it's the best options for these types of books. The YA/NA market is hard to break into, especially with books with my specific intent to write books that aren't smutty or insulting as the ones that dominate the current market. No, self-publishing is the right path for these books... for now. The autobiography I'm ghostwriting will (hopefully) be going to an actual publisher and is headed down a more traditional route.

If you're new to these parts, my novels tend to be YA/NA (young adult/new adult) aimed at young women between the ages of 17 to 26. I've had guys read my previous two novels (When Two Worlds Collide and London Calling) and I haven't heard too many complaints but, yeah, it's not aimed for y'all. I just have to put that warning out there. ;)

Alright, that's it. I've had an uber long day and I'm "functioning" on less than 5 hours of sleep which tends to make me a little silly and giddy. You guys are better off not seeing that side of me. lol.

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

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

Monday, March 26, 2018

Being Away From the Sacraments For Months

It finally happened, y'all. After 14 weeks away from the Sacraments, I returned and I could not be happier! The last time I'd done both/either was the weekend before Christmas; right before my body completely shut down on me. 

A little over 3 months of wanting to go to Mass...

... of crying in frustration when I couldn't go...

... of feeling a spiritual dryness I hated...

... of feeling an unrest in my soul...

... of feeling like I was a fake Catholic because I couldn't even get to Mass...

... of dreading judgment from those who didn't know my personal struggles, who only knew I wasn't going to Mass regularly...

... of asking myself (and God) why this was happening to me.

Last week, I had a very Lent-y week. It started off well enough. My new hematologist was great. He wasn't concerned about my blood work (especially since my red and white blood counts had remained within normal range). He ordered more bloodwork and a spleen ultrasound to rule out reasons why my platelet count is low but he was very positive. He even said I had "super platelets" despite the low number; my body is acting as if I had a normal number of platelets (well, except for the fatigue). I have the blood draw coming up in two weeks and I'll find out my ultrasound date either today or tomorrow. After that good appointment though... oh boy. 

I had a relatively mild Lent. Compared to others (and not counting my fatigue), I had a great Lent. Of course, something had to happen. That same day, after the appointment, I got the sickest I've been in a long time. I'll spare y'all the details but let's just say that I had an empty stomach for longer than is healthy for me. Factor in the fact that only a week before that, they'd taken 12 vials of blood and had left me feeling weaker than I was before. Add a busy week in which I was buried to my eyeballs with work (my own and work I felt others had dumped on me) and... you get the idea. Because of all of that, I spent the rest of the week feeling lightheaded and weak. It takes me a while to recover when I get that sicks. If I felt useless before, with just the fatigue, last week was way worse. I thought, "Okay, so, is this it now? Am I never going to get better? Am I doomed to this?" 

I knew I had to try to go to confession and Mass this past weekend. As you can imagine, I wasn't doing well at all. I'm still not doing well but I somehow got the courage to push myself beyond my limits. I had to go to confession and Mass, even if I wasn't feeling well. It was one of those "I know I'm feeling like this but, darn it, I'm going to try harder than before!"

Before I continue I just want to say I don't recommend what I did because you can put yourself and others in danger. Driving while you're dizzy, lightheaded, and/or weak is dangerous and you should avoid it at all costs. You're excused if you don't feel well enough to drive and have no other way to get to Mass.

Now I'm going to say that while I felt a little lightheaded (that mostly stemming from anxiety; I've had a rough couple of days in that area), I felt well enough to drive. Not only that, I took the small side streets that were emptiest. Not only that, I chose the closest parish to my apartment (less than half a mile away) to get to and from Mass with little to no traffic. I also made sure I asked my friends to start praying for me a day before. I have no doubt that I was covered in prayers which is why I was able to accomplish it all.

On Saturday, I had one goal: confession and Mass. That morning I had gone to visit my godmothers (baptism and first communion; they're a mother and daughter duo) and I was barely functioning on 5 hours of sleep which I knew was not enough for me to safely drive. I decided to take a nap and I woke up a bit late and my head felt fuzzy but I knew I was well enough to drive with Mom in the passenger side; I have more courage to I drive when I'm not 100% if I have someone with me in the car. I'd woken up so late that I didn't have time to eat. I decided to offer any weakness associated with lack of food to the souls in purgatory. 

I drove to one parish for confession and another for Saturday Vigil Mass. I chose the first parish because it was the closest parish to my apartment that offered Saturday afternoon confession. Likewise, I chose the second parish because it's the closest parish to my apartment, period, and since my car is acting up (and repairs are in the four digits and cannot currently afford), I wanted to be close enough to not trouble AAA too much if I had to be towed back home. That and I wanted to be close to home in case I had to leave early if I got sick.

After confession, I drank some Gatorade and prayed it would be enough to help me make it through Mass. I don't do well fasting (a condition I inherited from my mom) so I knew that I could get sick but prayed that the Gatorade would be enough. Luckily, I had gotten the Saturday Vigil time wrong and we had 45 minutes before Mass began. I did the math and knew I had enough time to fast the hour required before receiving the Eucharist. We were about a block or two from a local fast food restaurant so I went and got myself some fries (the only thing I can eat at most places with my restricted diet). It proved to be the right decision because I'd forgotten how long Palm Sunday Mass was... and I wouldn't have made it through the entire Mass on just Gatorade.

I can't express how happy I was and how at peace I felt during Mass. I felt like I had returned home. I knew I was going to cry at least once during Mass. It happened twice. First, when the priest shouted "Hosanna!" during the beginning of Mass. The second time happened when I had received the Eucharist. Huge tears rolled down my cheeks as I knelt down and thanked God for having returned to confession and Mass after so long. 

I had never felt the amount of love I felt for God as I did when I received the Eucharist. I can't put it into words. The closest I can get is by saying what I said to God as I knelt, "I love You above everything and everyone. Everything I've gone through was worth it. Everything wrong in my life doesn't matter. None of that matters. I'm here. I love You so much. I'm so happy." I meant every word from the bottom of my heart. Nothing else mattered. All my fears, all my worries, all my woes... none of it mattered. The only thing that mattered was my love for Him and how joyful I was in that moment.

I had that high for the rest of the day... and then it all came crashing down yesterday and continues into today. However, I'm choosing to look at the lows this way: receiving the Eucharist and going to Mass just reminded me how important it is to frequent confession and attend Mass. Not for the feelings but because it reminds me of what it truly important in life. The material possessions... the emotions... the illnesses... the negative... the lows... none of it matters. What matters most is the state of my soul, my relationship with God, and what is Heavenly. Earthly matters? Not so much. 

I know the current low is just the devil trying to suck me back into how I felt while I was away. Luckily, I still remember what an amazing day I had on Saturday and that is (God willing) going to carry me through the rest of this Holy Week. I've already found myself slipping into some of the poor habits and carelessly I had fallen into while I was away from the Sacraments but I remind myself that I've done those feelings without thought and, at most, if I've done something terrible it's been a venial sin at most. I can still receive the Eucharist. I can still fight to keep myself as "clean" as possible until the next time I can go to confession. 

Before I end this blog post, I want to address some questions I received while I was away... some of which I felt an enormous amount of judgment (whether real or imagined) from others.

Why didn't I just get a Lyft or Uber ride to confession and Mass? I've had days on which I literally need someone to help me do something as simple of getting out of bed to use the restroom. Other times, I've felt too weak to stand for long without feeling like I'll black out and faint. Many times, I've simply not been able to afford it. 

Look, I don't like talking about finances and I've alluded to having a hard time, financially, but very few people know how bad it was. I hate talking about this but I'm just going to say it in hopes that, in the future, people will refrain from judging me without having all the facts.

Mom and I haven't done well. We've had to rely on the kindness and charity of friends to make it to the next paycheck at the end of the month. Only a handful of friends knew how bad it was and they offered to help, which was hard for me to accept. I've gone to bed hungry on some nights. I've purposely overslept on other days because I haven't had something to eat. It's been that bad. When people say, "Well, just take a taxi to Mass," I often want to say, "I'm weak from not having enough to eat... how do you want me to pay for it when I'm struggling to simply eat?" These things become a luxury when you don't have the means to do it. 

My being sick has meant I don't bring in an income. We were doing okay for a while because I maxed out my student loans while in school and that was helping with food. I can't work right now because of how weak and fatigue I've been these past couple of months. I was writing on a trial basis during which time I wasn't getting paid. My trial period just ended so it'll be a small help, enough (God willing) to at least ensure that we at least have food at the end of the month. I hope that my third novel and the autobiography I'm ghostwriting will help us a bit more but those paychecks are months in the future. Beyond that, I have no idea when I'll feel well enough to do other work... or what I can do to help bring a bit more financial stability to our household.

So, that's the big reason why getting to Mass has been hard these past couple of months. It all feeds into the other. Sick -- lack of funds -- lack of food -- added stress -- stress makes me feel sicker and weakens my body -- can't work because I'm sick -- lack of funds... the cycle continues. We're hopeful that I'll continue to get better (last week's sudden relapse notwithstanding) and that I'll be able to get healthier and get to Mass more often.

By the way, I didn't share this because I wanted your pity. I shared it because too often we, we've assumed things about others. We usually don't know the full story but we are ready with unjust judgment based on what we think we know. I hope, if anything, this will help you stop and reflect that perhaps we don't know all the facts and should pray for another person instead of judging them.

Anyway, that's it for now. I hope to publish more posts this week (I've had 4 in the drafts for weeks) but that's contingent on how well I feel and how much time I have. 

I hope you all had a lovely weekend and that we can all survive Holy Week because, well, y'all know how hard this week can be for most of us. ;) Prayers for everyone!

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

Monday, March 19, 2018

I'm Trying to Cultivate Gratitude. Would You Like to Join Me?

Yesterday, one of my best friends (who lives on the East Coast) came over to visit me at home. I had fun trying to figure out what to make for her and her friend who was coming along with her. I cleaned the house, despite feeling fatigue and dizzy. I helped with the food preparation but, in all honesty, Mom did most of the work because of how rotten I felt... and because I could clean the house sitting down (after I'd vacuuming the carpet) so I could do something and not leave everything up to her.

If you've been reading this blog long enough, you know what a rare treat that is because it seems like most of my friends disappeared as soon as the chronic fatigue kicked in. She was the first of my friends that I'd seen since a seminarian friend came by to visit last August. You read that right... it was the first time I'd seen a friend in 8 months. Yes, I'm really that isolated and, yes, I'm really that alone most of the time.

Though my introverted battery was wiped out (both of my guests are extroverts), I was so happy to have had the company for a couple of hours. I genuinely loved the conversations and the people. I loved the preparation for their arrival. I loved the cleaning and the planning (and some of the cooking I got to help with).

It got me thinking about something I've noticed in myself lately: it takes one moment of gratitude to change your attitude.

Prior to their arrival, I was honestly feeling down on myself. It was the second first to visit me in the past year and I'd been dizzy and weak both times. I knew I wouldn't be at my best but I also knew I would make an effort to make them feel welcomed. I was frustrated with my body for letting me down. I was frustrated with being asked for a favor that led me to drive to a local store (while lightheaded and weak! Don't try this at home, folks!) due to emotional manipulation that I don't have the energy to fight when I'm feeling crummy. After my guests had left, I was filled with warmth and had even forgotten all the negative feelings I'd felt during the day.

As I reflected on the lovely time, the laughter (there was a lot of it), the great balance of depth and lightheartedness in the conversation, and the amazing friendships I've been blessed with, my gratitude meter reached an all-time high. All the things that had previously annoyed me? I was even grateful for those.

Have you ever noticed that one thing -- whether big or small -- can change your outlook on how your day has gone? What if we tried to look for one good thing in the day and took the time off to thank God for the good amidst the bad? Do you think it'll be easier to try cultivating gratitude if you start doing once a day? This is something I want to start doing.

Ask anyone who knows me, I'm an optimist when it comes to everyone's situations... except my own. I'm way too hard on myself. I've had several people (including priests!) tell me so over the years. I'm going to try to come up with one thing to be grateful for and spend a couple of minutes at the end of my day, contemplating on that goodness I was blessed with. I hope to eventually add more things to be grateful for at night and eventually during the day (even if it means digging on particularly rotten days).

This is the challenge I'm going to give myself from today until my birthday (at the end of May). I hope that by the time my 33rd year rolls around, it'll be a habit that won't seem like a lot of work. I've heard some people do a "gratitude Rosary" in which they use the Ave Maria beads to be grateful for one thing, each bead. 50 beads = 50 things to be grateful for. That is my goal for my birthday: to be able to do the gratitude Rosary without too much work. As I said, I'll start with one thing and then eventually build up to the decade... to two decades... up to the full Rosary.

Would anyone like to take this challenge with me? You don't have to tell me what things you're grateful for but I'd love to have at least one person to whom I can be held accountable to? Are you in?

Anyway, this is just an idea that I decided to do after my friend's visit last night that I wanted to share.

I'm still feeling awful. I'm incredibly lightheaded again and it didn't help that I didn't sleep (at all!) until about 6 a.m. this morning and then slept until about 5 p.m. this evening. Don't ask me why my sleeping schedule has been off or why it was unusually bad for me today because I don't know. I could use the prayers for my sleeping habits to regulate themselves again... and for tomorrow's hematologist appointment. Please and thank you!

I hope you're all having a lovely start to the week!

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