My Year in Photos: June

10013789_10152882452828626_1183883461555194069_n

June was the month when I started trying new things. I started taking walks as part of creating an exercise routine. I went on a diet. I was writing a lot of poetry this year and June was a time when I was compiling them together. I was a group leader for my church’s Vacation Bible School. And with all the new things I was doing, I was starting to not recognize myself. Or rather, started seeing different parts of me. It was during June that I recognized things I needed to improve on and reminded myself that God will guide me and provide for me.

One poem I wrote back in April was “Since the Last Time I Cut My Hair” which was about how I wanted to prove myself to a toxic friend about how mature I thought I was. How I was tired of waiting. But now, I realized the importance of all that waiting. I needed the time to rid myself of that toxic friendship, time to recover from that friendship, and time to find my voice again. The time I had in college helped me to relearn my faith, but the time I spent after college put my faith to the test. This year was about me finding my place in the world and that began with me trying new things. And yes, I did cut my hair during this month. But I cut my hair on my own terms this time.

My Year In Photos: May

20140524_111638

May was a majorly awesome month for many things, but one thing stands out even now: Comicpalooza.

This picture will forever be my favorite picture from Comicpalooza. The only thing I regret was not holding my right arm high enough so the stake could really be seen in the picture. This is one of those pictures that is actually worth a thousand words. The last time I went to a convention was in college for anime-related cons. I went with friends, but only met two actors I liked, but didn’t love.

Comicpalooza blew every convention I ever went to out of the water. Not only did I meet my favorite actor, but also other actors from a show that still means more to me than words can ever say. After binge watching Buffy for 5 months, I was in a slump.  I had the same question that Dawn had in the series finale:

I didn’t want to read the comic books because I felt they didn’t fit what I wanted to happen after everything ended and Angel was too depressing for me to deal with. This convention was me getting out of that slump and remembering why I love Buffy so much: I felt like I was part of the Buffyverse and meeting James Marsters, Clare Kramer, Nicholas Brendon, James Leary, and George Hertzberg only made it all the more real. The catharsis I experienced when I started watching Buffy found completion upon meeting these actors.

I went to Comicpalooza with a friend who wanted to meet the Power Rangers actors and that was just as cool. I actually felt conflicted for a bit when I found out that the Buffy panel took place at the same time as the Power Rangers panel…but once I made my choice, I had no regrets.

It’s crazy to think that a year ago, I suffered from anxiety attacks. Keep in mind that I have Asperger’s Syndrome and I was in a building with tens of thousands of people and in a room with possibly hundreds, standing in line to ask a question for everyone to hear. My days of anxiety attacks were long gone and the only thing driving me nuts was me wondering if one of the actors was staring at me. (Three guesses as to who.)

I honestly can’t wait until I can go to another convention just to see these actors again because I can honestly say that being a part of the Buffy fandom was one of the best things to ever happen to me.

My Year In Photos: April

20140427_162152

April began with me getting over my disappointment in shows I didn’t want to watch anymore. I also met with my spiritual director while attending a vocations-related event. I spent time with my friends preparing for another Awakening retreat in September.

But the coolest thing that happened during the month of April was when I traveled to California for my cousin’s 18th birthday party. In Filipino culture, a girl’s 18th birthday is the equivalent of the American Sweet 16. The last time I was in California, I was finished with my first (or second) year of college. And this time, there wouldn’t be any trips to theme parks. But I had just as much fun doing regular stuff because I was with my cousins.

One thing that I found out in California that I didn’t write in my previous blog entries is that I was starting to discover things about myself I never knew before. For one thing, manicures (while nice) felt fake on me. I also remembered the dreams I had during vacation, and I don’t usually remember the things that I dream.

I also learned that while I liked getting dressed up for the party, I didn’t feel like myself or even the best version of myself. I had a great time at the party, but in spite of the many likes that I got on the picture of me in my dazzling party dress, the girl in the picture wasn’t really me.

The real me was the girl who changed into her pajamas after the party ended and watched a live stream of the Canonization Mass, which declared Popes John Paul II and John XXIII as saints. The real me was the girl who smiled when Pope Francis carried the cross that John Paul II used as the procession began and greeted his predecessor.

I had a lot of wonderful experiences during my time in California. But if I had to choose my favorite moment, it was when I was out on my own, meeting the Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Although their event was more of a party and not much of a come-and-see event, they showed me where to go for Mass and I went to Mass all on my own. I haven’t done that since college.

I met so many wonderful people in this event, including some women from the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s order). Again, it felt like a celebrity sighting. Even though these meetings were brief, I felt very happy that I had this opportunity to even see them.

In a way, my trip to California was a bite-sized version of Eat, Pray, Love. I did eat a lot of good food and I strengthened my spirituality, and I experienced love with my family and their friends. But I only stayed in California for a week, the kind of spirituality I experienced was different, and there was no romantic relationship, although I kept dreaming of love.

2nd Week of Advent: Peace, Preparation, and God's Providence

The theme of the second week of Advent is peace. Peace seems to be something a lot of people talk about but not do, especially lately. And the news and people involved in these events advocate peaceful protesting, but on the other side of the fence, there are always rumors that even the peaceful protesters are being targeted. Why is it that, for all the talk about following Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, the idea of non-violence seems to be swept aside in favor of getting “justice”?

According to Fr. Robert Barron in Catholicism, non-violence isn’t passively stepping aside and letting an evil get its way. But it’s not aggressively fighting back, either. Two examples he gave were of Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu, who both used humor and a witty line in the face of people being rude to them. These are small examples, of course, but they stood up to their aggressors without laying a finger on them. “Turning the other cheek” doesn’t mean to just sweep things under the rug, but to “signal to the aggressor that you refuse to accept the set of assumptions that have made his aggression possible.” It’s neither fight, nor flight, but standing one’s ground and declaring yourself an equal and not an inferior.  The expression of “turning the other cheek” comes from the fact that when people hit each other, they would hit someone they considered an inferior with the back of the hand. Turning the other cheek forces the aggressor to hit the person as an equal, with the front of his hand. Peace can come from prayer and giving mercy to those who don’t deserve it.

After all, if Advent is the time of preparation, practicing peace should be part of that preparation. A familiar refrain sung in many churches during this time is an echo of John the Baptist: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”

Many students at this point are either preparing for finals or preparing to go home for the holidays. Others decorate their homes and go shopping for presents in preparation for having company over. Anticipation seems to be something forgotten in this world of “I need it and I need it now!” but Advent reminds people of the difference between needs and wants. Preparing for Christmas gets us hyped up so that by the time Christmas does come around, we find ourselves in a peaceful state of mind, celebrating the holiday for the joy that it brings.

Speaking of the difference between needs and wants, this week’s readings made me think of God’s providence. It seems as though people believe in two different extremes: either they feel like they have to earn everything on their own or they feel entitled to everything and demand the best of everything like a spoiled brat. This particular mindset is applied to God as well. They either see him as someone who’s distant and uncaring or as some kind of warm-fuzzy wish-granting genie.

As with everything, there is a happy medium. God provides everyone with what they need, not necessarily what they want. But what people say they “need” might just be a want in disguise, as pointed out in this video. Not to throw shade on a certain prosperity gospel preacher, but I highly doubt that people really need to have the best house, the best car, the best job, etc. Instead, “need” would be more appropriately used in the following statement: “I am a student with a mountain of student loans in need of a job so that I can pay them off and move out of my parents’ house.” So the next time God doesn’t answer your prayers relating to, say, getting the latest smartphone or some other electronic device, just remember that classic Rolling Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Because if you try sometimes, you’ll find that you get what you need.

Top 12 Least Favorite Christmas Songs

I love the holiday season. I really do. But even a nostalgia lover like me has her limits. So, following the example of 2 of my favorite internet critics, I am going to list my Top 12 Least Favorite Christmas Songs. This is a subjective list. If you like the songs, I won’t hold it against you.

12)”I Saw Three Ships.” I am a stickler for lyrics (most of the time) and I just don’t get the lyrics of this song. Last time I checked, Bethlehem wasn’t a harbor town. I know it sounds nitpicky, but they never really went into what the three ships were, where they came from, etc. What I will say, though, is that the song sounds really nice. So if I hear an instrumental version, I’d be okay with it.

11) “This Christmas.” While I like a good holiday-themed love song, this particular song sounds a bit self-centered to me. It might be because the first time I heard this song, Chris Brown was the one who sang it, but I also don’t like the lines “I’m gonna get to know you better” or “This Christmas will be a very special Christmas for me.” Christmas is supposed to be a bit more altruistic than that.

10) “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” No list of bad holiday songs would be complete without this song. I remember hearing this as a kid and I found it weird. It still doesn’t hold up now that I’m grown up. In fact, it sounds even weirder and worse. It’s a joke of a song that’s only funny once.

9) “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” This song has the same problem as “Grandma.” It’s a funny childhood joke that does not hold up when you grow up. I can still laugh at the “Dominick the Donkey” song because it’s funny in a “hilariously bad” way, but this song isn’t even hilariously bad. Also, it’s just one verse that doesn’t even have the excuse of being longer but only being known for the opening verse like “Jingle Bells.”

8) “Where Are You Christmas.” It’s kind of a sad-sounding song and sadly the last verse doesn’t redeem it. I can get the idea of people being sad during the wintertime and the holiday season, but the problem with the song is that Christmas isn’t something that leaves you or something that changes. People change and their perceptions of Christmas change. If the person in the song wants Christmas back, they have to change instead of thinking that Christmas is lost because the world is changing.

7) “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” While this is a very cute duet, the lyrics are a bit sketchy. And unless the people in the song live in Stars Hollow or the unrealistic-but-still-seen-in-every-holiday-movie-ever-small-town-where-everyone-gossips, I highly doubt that there will be talk about two people spending the night together on a very snowy night. Also, if you really can’t stay, why did you visit your boyfriend on a day with very tumultuous weather?

6) “Do They Know It’s Christmastime At All?” The intentions of the song are good, but as they say “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Again, the main problem is the lyrics, although the melody isn’t all that good either. One particular lyric ruins the whole song: “Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.” Dear Bono, I really hope you intended for that lyric to be sarcastic because otherwise, you wrote a really condescending line. I like the new 2014 version with the changed lyrics that raise awareness about the Ebola epidemic. They’re not perfect, but at least better than the original.

5) “And So This Is Christmas” AKA “Happy Christmas.” I respect John Lennon as an artist, but if I want to listen to a song about how there should be peace, there is a beautiful song called “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” I enjoy the latter song so much more because war can’t be over just because we want it to be. But peace begins at home. And in these chaotic and uncertain times, people forget that peace is a lot harder thing to have. But it is attainable. And it is possible.

4) “Another Auld Lang Syne.” This song wasn’t even intended on being a Christmas song. But sadly, unlike Die Hard which became the coolest action-packed unintentional Christmas movie in cinematic history, this song doesn’t have a cool factor. It’s a story of two exes who run into each other on Christmas Eve and drink in their car. Then the woman drives off and that’s it. I really hope she wasn’t drunk when she was driving. The melody is also slightly annoying. If you want to listen to a song lamenting lost loves that takes place in winter but isn’t necessarily about Christmas, turn your attention to this lovely song.

3) “Mistletoe.” Justin Bieber is everyone’s punching bag and everybody knows that. I hated him as soon as I heard his voice. I don’t like his duet with Mariah Carey in the remake of “All I Want for Christmas is You” because it makes both of them look bad. But another internet critic hates Justin Bieber and has critiqued this song better than I ever can. (Warning: there’s some cussing in the video I shared.)

2) “Mary Did You Know.” There are 2 types of people when it comes to this song. Those who don’t mind the song and those who change the station as soon as they hear it. I fall into the latter category. Catholics have written many a post either saying that they can use the song to start a theological discussion or cringing over it the way I do. There are better songs that capture Mary during the time of the Nativity. But my favorite Mary-related song is “Let it Be Done Unto Me” which takes us back to when Jesus was conceived.

1) “The Christmas Shoes.” My dad likes this song. And the movies relating to it. And usually I’m a sucker for songs that tell a story…but not when the story is badly written. I get the whole “faith of a child” angle that the song was trying to go for and the idea of doing a kind deed for a stranger during Christmastime, but it was all poorly executed. A Christmas Carol shows the ideas this song was trying to do in a much more realistic way.

So what will you expect me to write about next week? Taylor Swift. It’s her birthday next week, after all!

My Year In Photos: March

IMG_20140316_171607

March was the beginning of Lent. My Lenten resolution was to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and the Examen and to do a series of Lenten blog posts.

Due to a confidentiality agreement, I can’t go into detail as to what I did during the young adult retreat I staffed at, but I will talk about what I learned there. (Yes, even staff members learn things from retreats. Who knew?)

One thing I learned from staffing a retreat is that while you can have the idea of what it means to be a servant, it’s another thing to experience it altogether. I wasn’t in a lot of the pictures for the retreat, even with the staff I was assigned to. I learned that each retreat experience is different. Most of all, I learned what it really meant to empty myself so that I would be filled with God and all that he wanted to do with me.

Another thing I learned from the retreat was how to deal with disappointments. One thing people should know is that retreats are supposed to be a renewal, not a quick fix or some kind of magic event that makes everything perfect after it’s over. Disappointments are bound to come into your life one way or another…

Not to sound like a cheesy Disney movie, but disappointments and overcoming them are part of the great circle of life.

One particular Bible verse that I meditated on during the retreat was Romans 8: 18 “ I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” There’s even a song for that.

Check my blog tomorrow when I talk about some seasonal songs that disappointed me, otherwise known as The Top 12 Least Favorite Holiday Songs!

My Year In Photos: February

 

1898173_10152622790263626_715993842_n

February is associated with love. I’ve written on this blog about how there are many types of love and for this photo reflection, I’ll talk about how I experienced each of the Four Loves (as named by my favorite author, CS Lewis).

Storge: Although Storge is more associated with family, the definition of storge is affection. Once a week, I teach Catechism to a class full of kids in my parish. One little moment that I felt stood out for me was getting a small gift from some of the kids. We were doing crafts that represented “the eyes of our hearts,” like the song “Open The Eyes of My Heart.” I love getting these gifts from my kids because these kinds of gifts are sincere and sweet. It’s things like this that make teaching Catechism worthwhile to me.

Philia: I spent time with my friends preparing for a young adult retreat taking place in March. It was my first time being on staff for any sort of retreat. (I usually attended college retreats instead of staffing.) The friends I made through the Awakening retreat I attended a year ago were still there and they would soon become the best friends I could ever ask for.

Eros: Eros is the most well-known form of love and CS Lewis defines it as being in love. It doesn’t start with superficial physical attraction, but appreciating one particular person. Romantic love by itself is a neutral force. Although I didn’t get involved in any romantic relationships, I did realize that I was crushing hard on one particular person. But he’s an actor. And married. So it ain’t gonna happen.

Agape: God’s mercy is the most beautiful form of agape that one could experience in my opinion. I wanted to detach from my obsessions because I felt like they were getting in God’s way. But God still let me have my obsessions and fandoms. I increased my prayer life by starting up my consecration to Jesus through Mary, which would end on the feast of the Annunciation.

Most people only see love one way, as having a romantic relationship with somebody. In reality, everyone can give and receive love in its many different forms. We can receive affection from families and those we share a close emotional bond with, friendship with those we share great experiences with, romantic love from one particular person, and selfless love from the One who is love.

My Year In Photos: January

1116197_797014240324045_892944172_o

This picture is more than just a picture of a door. The day before my birthday, I was in Austin. I was helping my brother move back into his dorm room, but I also paid a visit to an order of sisters. Specifically, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

I first saw these sisters while I was at Mass with my family. We were celebrating Mass in Buda, TX and I saw these sisters (not the ones I met, but another group of sisters from the same order staying in Buda) sitting towards the front. It was basically the equivalent of a celebrity sighting for me.

They made me feel very welcome. I prayed vespers on the vigil of my birthday and made small talk, talking to these sisters about my path of discernment.

I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to pray with these wonderful women. I just forgot to get a picture with them. But in a way, I like this picture more because it represents a new beginning.

The month of January had a lot of other wonderful things. I saw Frozen, finally got my diploma from my alma mater and started taking pictures as part of my 365grateful challenge. But it was also a month where I really had to persevere and keep my goals in mind. Most people who make New Year’s resolutions end up not keeping them and I really struggled to make sure that I kept at least a few of them. Right now, I think the only resolution I ended up keeping was taking a picture every day. But hey, that’s one resolution kept and by the standards of Bridget Jones’s Diary, that makes my year very good indeed.