reflections

Guardian Angels

We all have a guardian angel assigned to us by God.  This being is by our side always, and we should be calling on him regularly, in times of trouble, and in times of gratitude.  It’s our personal intercessor.  It is amazing how often we forget about him!  And even so, he is always by our side.

The joke goes around that our guardian angel must be holding his head in shame because of the things and troubles we manage to get into!  But how often do we pray for him and thank him for being by our side?  How often do we offer sacrifice for him?  How often do we even think about him seriously (instead of in a joke)?  Have we cultivated a relationship with him, our personal intercessor?

What a great gift guardian angels are, and we often don’t appreciate them.  I’ll go as far as saying that most people have even forgotten or don’t believe in their existence.  Let’s make an effort to acknowledge them and make them a part of our daily lives.

Our guardian angel is a brother and a friend, that we can call on always.  And as such, we should call on him not only when we are in big trouble, but also when we are in small trouble, no trouble, joyous times, grieving times, etc.  In other words, we should call on him always.

PRAYER TO OUR ANGELS

My God, I thank Thee for all the graces Thou hast given to my dear angel.

My God, I thank Thee for having given me this great angel to be my brother and my friend.

My dear angel, I thank thee thousands and thousands of times for the countless favors thou hast done me, for the countless times thou hast saved me from evils and dangers.

My angel, I love thee with all my heart.  Make me feel thy presence at my side.

reflections

Fragrance

via Daily Prompt: Fragrance

In my daily prayer rituals, I usually incorporate fragrance.  I love the smell of wax burning and wafting through the air.  Also, being as I am, I love smells with the fragrance of flowers or citrus fruits.  The beautiful smells remind me of peaceful days, and help me ground myself.  Once grounded, it is easy to fall deeper into meditative mode, and set the tone for my prayer time.

I like to divide prayer time into 5 parts:  gratitude, conscience examination, daily meditation, petitions, and listening.

Gratitude is pretty self explanatory.  I like to give thanks for everything that happened in the day.  I like to say thanks for all the great moments and all the good things.  But, in a harder exercise, I also like to give thanks for all the stuff that happened that didn’t make me too happy, for only God knows if it will later be a blessing.

And the fragrance starts gently wafting through the room.

Conscience examination consists of looking at my day and seeing what I have done that may have fallen short of Christian expectations.  I also look at everything I have done that might have been good.  I like to make sure I do one act of kindness.

And I take a deep breath, breathing in the fragrance of prayers being elevated to the heavens.

Daily meditation consists of something that may have caught my attention that day.  Sometimes it’s a meditation straight from Mass, or a bible reading, or one of the daily meditations from Blessed Is She.  Either way, I like to meditate on that and how it may apply to my daily life.

The fourth part to my prayer is petitions.  I like to ask God for my friends, my family, and myself to be safe and healthy.

Last but not least, I like to listen.  It’s the hardest part of prayer, but it is a necessary part of prayer.  I don’t know how to explain listening, other than it is a very hard part to do, because I like gabbing and it is hard for me to just sit still, but the fragrance helps.

The fragrance grounds me back and I am able to sit still and just enjoy the smells that I have very well associated with prayer and peace and calm.

 

reflections

A Note on Depression, re: Chester Bennington & Chris Cornell.

Depression kills.  It doesn’t kill the same way terminal cancer or diabetes complications do, but it kills.  It kills in the weirdest of ways:  by twisting your mind in such a way that killing yourself makes a lot of sense.  I am no psychiatry or psychology expert, but I have been dealing with diagnosed major depressive disorder for the better part of 9 years.

I originally wasn’t going to post about the suicide of Chester Bennington, just like I chose not to post about the suicide of Chris Cornell, but given the grief this has caused in my Facebook newsfeed, I am taking the opportunity to educate and destigmatize.

I am no expert in 90s music, either, but I did grow up in the 90s.  I am aware of all the articles out there outlining how the music of the 90s is undoubtedly the most depressing.  And it is alarming, to a great degree, as depression rates in the USA have skyrocketed (especially in the generation that grew up in the 90s).  It is very alarming, that, for the first time since the 1930s, life expectancy in the USA is shorter (largely in part to suicide).  It is also worth noting, that suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the USA.

Major depression is a mental illness.  A mental illness is an illness like any other:  cancer, diabetes, fibromyalgia, and heart disease, to name a few.  I won’t go into all the details of how the brain changes with depression and other mental illnesses, but suffice it to say that a picture of a brain with depression is very different from that of a healthy brain.  Mental illness is not your fault, just like cancer, multiple sclerosis, or epilepsy aren’t your fault.

Another disease that very commonly co-occurs with mental illness is substance dependence, be it alcohol, recreational or prescription drugs.  When substance dependence is present with mental illness, it makes treating one or the other a little more challenging, especially when the substance in question is a mind-altering substance.  (Substance dependence may also make psychiatric medications be less effective.)

From what I understand, Chester Bennington suffered from both mental illness and substance abuse.  Two illnesses that can distort your thoughts.  Another aggravation is that when a loved one commits suicide, the likelihood of suicide increases.  (It is known that children of parents who have committed suicide are way more likely to commit suicide, and so on.)

I don’t claim to know what was going on in Bennington’s mind, but he suffered from depression, substance abuse, and his friend Chris Cornell took his own life.  Reportedly, Bennington killed himself on Chris Cornell’s birthday.  Perhaps he spiraled down on a substance fueled depression missing his friend that led him to kill himself?  We might never know.  Perhaps he was isolated from his community of people that made him feel valuable and worthy.

Another thing that has popped up in my newsfeed, which I think is important to deal with, is the possibility of their influences by Satanic rites and other religious/spiritual practices that may be of demonic nature.  Fr. Amorth, a leading exorcist from the Vatican, had said in the past that sometimes, differentiating between mental illness and demonic possession is very hard, but demonic possession is not as common as mental illness.  I don’t know Bennington’s or Cornell’s dabblings in demonic practices.  It is very dangerous and stigmatizing to claim that severe mental illness is of demonic nature.

What is for sure is that Cornell and Bennington carved their way into their fans’ hearts, and will be sorely missed.  It is very sad that they have succumbed to their illnesses, months apart from each other, especially when effective treatment is available.

May they both rest in peace.

If you’re struggling with depression, please seek medical help.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Also, if you’re struggling with substance abuse, seek medical help.  If you’re in the USA and are in emotional crisis, call the crisis line at 1-800-273-8255, available 24/7.

reflections

Organization and Joy

In the Nourishing Minimalism Blog, Rachel Jones argues the connection between clutter and depression.  Basically, it’s a vicious cycle.  Because you’re depressed, you’re more likely to accumulate clutter, and when you have clutter, you’re more likely to fall into a depression.  By that logic, decluttering and organizing are key to joy and happiness.

I don’t need to talk about the books by Marie Kondo, in which you only keep items that spark joy, and you organize everything in a way that everything is visible and accessible, and you’re supposed to be happier, more organized, and liberated.  And I get it.  The more things you own, the more stuff you have to preoccupy yourself with, because you somehow have to keep track of it all.

It is no secret that I am battling depression.  As such, I do have a good amount of clutter.  Nowhere near a Hoarders: Buried Alive episode, but none-the-less clutter here and there.  Clutter that I am constantly trying to battle, but life happens, too.  I feel like the only possible way to tackle it is to dedicate my whole life to constantly putting things in their place.  This clutter battle can seem overwhelming and never ending.  But it doesn’t need to be.

In a previous post, I reflect on the fact that Jesus has called us to give up all earthly goods, and pick up our crosses and follow Him.  We know, however, that taking it to the extreme is hard to do.  We all have a basic need for shelter, food, clothing, and stability.  And as such, we accumulate a few things along the way.  A house with furniture, appliances, clothes, toys, and mementos.  Most people in the USA have this to a certain degree or another.  In addition, because of consumerism, in the USA, not only do we have the basics, but we have an excess of the basics, the luxuries, and the unnecessary things that make clutter a reality of a good chunk of our homes.

How much is enough?  That’s usually a personal question.  Personal needs and personal values are going to dictate what you need and how much of it is enough.  Someone with a high-power job is going to need more suits and business attire than someone who flips burgers at a fast-food place.  Someone with 3 kids under 5 is more likely to need baby toys and car seats and strollers than someone with 1 kid under 5 and 2 over 8.  Someone who values (and commonly uses) all manner of kitchen gadgets is more likely to have a fully stocked kitchen.  You get the picture.

What are the items that are truly helpful and a true necessity?  Once this list is formed, it would be a lot easier to declutter and organize.  It is definitely easier to organize less stuff than it is to organize more.

 

 

reflections

Thoughts

My fiance has had multiple sclerosis for years, and as a result of the different attacks, he has recently been declared legally blind.  Since we don’t live in the same state at the moment, I am not sure what this entails.  He will be flying to Chicago to meet me for a couple of weeks, and I guess I will see the extent of this, his latest exacerbation.

I knew all along that something like this was bound to happen, as this wouldn’t be the first time that his MS attacks his optic nerves, but now that the reality is sinking in, I don’t know what to expect.  A part of me is ready to roll with the punches, but the other part of me is honestly terrified.

When I look at the long term, I am confident and calm.  When I look at the day to day, I feel at a loss.  The feeling is totally terrifying, almost freezing me.  But when I take a deep breath to try to cope with the situation – I wasn’t really expecting it to progress to this level this soon, and truth be told, I don’t think he expected it to be this way, either –  I can only see a cross we must carry together.

Certain friends have told me that I am not married yet – that I am still able to get out of this “mess” but that’s not even in my head!  Sure, I can run away and leave him now, but what does that accomplish?  It wouldn’t only break his heart, it would also break mine into a million pieces.  My response is, if I had already been married to him by the time he was declared legally blind, should I run away and leave him?  The answer is no.  So why should I leave now, when we have a solid relationship and a solid commitment to each other and love for each other?

Besides, my friends are not seeing his side of the coin.  He could also say that my illnesses are all too much for him to bear and he could leave me at any point – especially given that I have been hospitalized multiple times since we started dating – yet he doesn’t even seem to flinch.

Like I was saying earlier, I see it as we will pick up our crosses and help each other.  Honestly, as terrified as a part of me is, I have full confidence that God will provide.  He doesn’t put in my path anything I am not able to bear.  I don’t know what the road ahead has in store for us.  But I do know that God is with us every step of the way.

I can’t stop thinking that fear is the opposite of love, and that God doesn’t call us to be comfortable, but to have complete faith in Him.

reflections

Who Am I Called to Be?

There comes a time in the life of Christians in which we ask “Who am I called to be?”.

I can’t claim to have the answers, because I don’t think I do.  However, there are certain things that can help us discern who we are called to be.
Firstly, God created us in a very unique way.  No other human is exactly like us, and God had us in His mind, from the beginning of times, and placed us where and when we are.  When you think about this, I think that there must be a reason that God decided to put me in this world, in this day and age, and that I must figure out what He wants of me.
However, how am I supposed to know what He wants from me?

1.  PRAYER

Prayer is a relationship, a conversation with God.  How do we find out what others want from us?  We ask them in conversation.  So why not have the same approach with God?  You can approach prayer in any which way you want.  That is, with prayers that come from the heart, or from a book.  The basic idea here is to get talking to God.  It may take some time, but a prayerful life will bear fruit.
I know from my personal experience that prayer can seem very one-sided, especially at the beginning.  However, when we keep at it, we find out that God has ways of talking to us.

2.  LISTENING

 
Listening is very difficult, but as your prayer life increases, listening becomes easier.  God has many ways of talking to us.  In the homilies at Mass, in reading the Bible or the lives of the saints, in what other people may say about your problem without asking them, in dreams, etc.  However, one must be careful with listening.  Listening should be guided by the Church teachings.  God is not going to tell you, for example, to stop going to confession, because that is against Church teaching.  For help in discerning the listening, go to your nearest priest.

3.  HUMILITY

We don’t know the answers to everything.  We can’t do everything.  We can’t make everything happen.  We can’t control everything that is going on.  Not everything is going to go our way.  We must accept life’s shortcomings with humility.  We are a community of Christians.  We don’t need to do everything by ourselves.  With a humble mentality, we can begin to figure out how we can be of service to others.  It is often in service to others that we can begin to see what God wants of us.

4.  STOP TRYING TO BE SOMEONE ELSE

 

This is perhaps the most straightforward (as in DUH!) and deep (as in I hadn’t thought of it before).  It is very easy to read about a person that plants a garden and tends to it, and think that is something we can do (yet we hate to dig our hands in dirt).  Or about people that do something that sounds oh-so-wonderful, but we can’t do certain things about this oh-so-wonderful enterprise.  (For example, climbing Mt Everest… not everyone has the stamina to do so!)

To paraphrase Pope Francis, the Church is like an orchestra.  We are all different instruments.  Together we make beautiful music together, but we are not all the same.  It’s okay to be different!

The key here is personal development.  When you concentrate on what you like, the gifts that the Lord has given you (that is, that isn’t sinful!) and learn more about it, eventually, who you’re called to be will be revealed.  Just remember to deepen your prayer life, prepare to listen carefully and with humility, be humble, and find yourself.

 

To paraphrase what St. Catherine of Siena once said, “If you are what you should be, you’ll set the whole world ablaze.”

reflections

Depression Has Brought Me Closer to God

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.

I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, since 2008.  At the time, there was much turmoil in my life, and I wasn’t in the Church.  I had fallen off.  I wasn’t going to Mass, I wasn’t praying, I was somewhat agnostic.  I was single, pregnant, and scared.  I had just come back home from a year-long deployment with the U.S. Navy.  My world had just come crashing in.  And in June 2008, mid-pregnancy, I was so depressed that my OB/GYN didn’t let me leave the office.  It was that obvious that I was that sad, and I was contemplating suicide after I delivered my baby.  I just felt that worthless and that hopeless.
Soon after I delivered my baby, I lost my job.  I had married the father of my baby on a Justice of the Peace celebration.  So some things were sort of looking up.  I still tried to attempt suicide, but was thankfully too chicken to try.  I considered the possibility of Hell, since I had known this from my formation as a cradle Catholic, and after having talked to a priest about the possibility of getting married in the Church.  Either way, I was so sick that I still went down the suicide path several times.
However, through the years of treatment at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Chicago, one of the things they push, is that spirituality may be a pillar that keeps you sane.  Over and over this possibility was brought to the table as part of my treatment, and over and over I turned it down.
I had fallen into the idea that intellect alone should save me from the throes of depression.  I had fallen in the un-humble idea that I didn’t need God.  If science has so many answers and so many treatments for depression, if I just follow what science says, I should be able to overcome.
Eventually, after about 6 years of “self-sufficiency”, I came across a psychologist whom I respect very much.  She insisted – without pushing or preaching – I tried the spiritual pillar of recovery as part of my recovery plan.  I eventually gave in.  She scheduled an appointment for me to meet with the Catholic Chaplain.
I would like to say that I was obedient and humble and that I was able to immediately learn from what this Priest had to say.  But it was not so.  It was only after about 1 year of talking with him back and forth that I slowly came back to the faith and I gained humility and obedience (which they are NOT perfect – way far from perfect, but I try).
I now attend Mass more than just on Saturday Vigil or Sundays and Holy Days.  Sometimes it’s a real struggle, but I try my absolute best.  Not because I feel like I am all holy these days – far from it, but because I want to be closer to God.
During my last hospitalization, which was just a few weeks ago, I had a confession with this Chaplain, and mentioned how I was closer to God and more “Christ-like”.  He challenged my thought.  He asked me how it was that I was more Christ-like when I was still contemplating suicide?  I realized at this very moment that I needed to be more humble and that I also needed the help of God to get through this most horrible illness.
As you can see from the timeline, I am still a work in progress –  we all are.  But it was this descent down madness that led me to eventually seek God, and return to my faith, making this Cross I bear (depression) a blessing in disguise.
As I grow in faith and prayer, I realize that as much as I hate my depression, it is also a blessing I have.  It is as much a reason to increase my prayer life as it is a reason to thank God for everything that goes on in my life, including the bad.
reflections

Of Clutter and the Kingdom of Heaven

There is no doubt that we are a capitalist country (USA), in a consumerist culture.  We are constantly bombarded by ads that tell us we need this and that product.  We are then told that to be happy we need to have more.  And when more is not enough, we are told we need better stuff, and then when better isn’t enough, we need more again, and then better and so on and so forth.  Next thing you know, we need storage spaces outside of our houses, because we have outgrown our homes, so we get a storage space.  (Did you know that storage space companies are well and thriving? I’m sure you did.)  Then we think that we have too much stuff because not only have we outgrown our houses but they are overflowing with stuff and clutter, so we hire organizers to help us with parting ways with the stuff we don’t really love, need, or no longer serves us.  (Or we buy books on how to get rid of clutter, either way, I am sure you get my point.)

But, is this really the way Jesus called us to live?  Does Jesus really want us to live in cluttered homes, in a never-ending circle of unhappiness and stuff?  Didn’t He say at some point (and someone please help me with the exact Bible verse) to give up all earthly riches in order to enter the Kingdom of God?  Aren’t we called to be humble?

I am speculating, because I couldn’t find any studies to back this up, but America has to be one of the most cluttered countries.  We are also a self-proclaimed Christian nation.  If this is the case, if we are Christian, then why are we so obsessed with acquiring stuff?  With flaunting what we have (and what we have thanks to debt)?  With impressing our neighbor?  With keeping up with the Joneses?

When did the devil get a chance to ingrain himself in society to such a degree?  That we see it normal and a blessing to be overflowing in things that in the end are nothing but vanities?  When did we, as a Christian nation, put “stuff” first, even above God?

I am trying not to judge, but how many people do you know who would rather go to the shopping mall for 4 hours to spend money acquiring things they don’t really need than to go to church?  How many people do you know would rather shorten Thanksgiving dinner or skip it all together so they can go get that fancy whatever-it-is-they-suddenly-decided-they-needed-thing on black Friday?  How many people are so in debt over stuff they really didn’t need?

Just some thoughts that came to my head as I was organizing my closet, and getting ready to donate clothes I no longer wear and stuff that I bought when I was feeling down and decided that “retail therapy” was the way to go.  (Yes, I am guilty of consumerism, too.)

reflections

Being Grateful

In the world we live in, we are constantly bombarded by the idea that a better car, a better house, better clothes, better friends, etc. will bring us happiness.  But not very often do we stop to think to be grateful for what we already have.  Have you ever stopped to thank God for what you do have?  Your health, your job, your friends and family?  And how would being truly thankful for what you do have change your view of the world into one of happiness?

I have recently shared how gratitude and journaling about it has helped me with my depression.  While the change is a work in progress and has had its ups and downs, it certainly has forced me to look at what I do have in my life and to appreciate even the little things, because somedays – and we’ve all had those days – that’s all we seem to have to be thankful for:  the little things.  And on the better days, be sure to stop and smell the roses and everything big you do have, because it is worth noting, too.

Once you start realizing what you do have and are truly thankful for it, it will be easier to eliminate clutter, live simpler, and enjoy more.  While my gratitude journey is far from perfect, I have been able to eliminate some clutter, and enjoy more of what I do have while living simpler.  I have a long way to go, but I can see the difference of where I was versus where I am and where I see myself going.

reflections

Who do we worship?

Do we really worship God?  Do we give Him his dues?  Or do we just roll around on Sundays, shut the alarm clocks, sleep “five more minutes” and then realize we are so late for Church and just have breakfast/brunch and watch a rerun on Keeping up with the Kardashians?

I know, it is so tempting to sleep in on Sundays, especially when Mass is offered so early in the USA.*  Especially when it seems to be the only day we can sleep in.  Or when it seems to be the one day we can really rest after spending Saturday catching up with everything else we didn’t do during our busy weekdays.  I know.  I have been there.  I have missed Holy Sunday Day of Obligation because I was so busy just… catching up on some really needed zzzz’s.

But who do we really worship?  It’s one thing to miss Mass one day for whatever reason, and another to miss Mass because we’re binge watching THAT show one Netflix or Keeping up with whomever!

Piggybacking on my post from 6/20/2016Of Clutter and the Kingdom of God, are we really putting God first?  Just a thought to put out there in your mind.  I am not talking about clutter and stuff now.  I am talking about people you put above God.  You know, that TV show you follow.  Or that artist you just can’t get enough of.

Are you putting them above God?  Are you missing Mass, not saying your usual prayers, looking at sinful stuff (yes, I am looking at you, 50 Shades of Grey fans and others) because you just think that Mass is boring?

Just remember that Mass is practice for Heaven.  Can we at least dedicate one hour a week to God?  That’s all He asks from us, and He still doesn’t usually get as much, but those soap operas, oh My Word, we are not missing them.  Oh my Lord.  We are not missing that opportunity to binge watch Game of Thrones (or whatever other show you binge watch)??

Just something to think about.  Most parishes offer several opportunities to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist in the Mass several times a weekend (with Saturday Vigil(s) included), and we still somehow just not plan accordingly.

*In Mexico, there used to be Sunday Masses as late as 1800h.