Forgiveness: Doing the Unimaginable

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We have a lot of concepts of what forgiveness is and how it’s supposed to be done. When I was out with my friends yesterday, I passed by a woman who reminded me of someone who hurt me deeply.

 

Back when I was in college, I had my first anxiety attack when I was presenting my writings in a class. The lady who triggered the anxiety attack showed no compassion towards me and thought that I would never become a good writer or amount to anything. I used to have nightmares of her and whenever I ran into her on campus, I either ran away or froze completely, waiting until she left the room in order to breathe again.

 

I’m not sure if the woman I saw last night was the same woman who caused my first anxiety attack or some doppelganger of hers but as I went home, I thought to myself “How would I feel if it actually was her?” The answer was “Nothing.” Never have I ever thought that feeling nothing towards a person would ever be a good thing, but in this scenario, it’s a major milestone.

 

I’ve mentioned before that when I venerated the relics of St. Maria Goretti, I said a prayer of forgiveness towards those who’ve hurt me and asked the saint to help me forgive myself as well.

 

There’s this song from Hamilton called “It’s Quiet Uptown.” Some of the lyrics in this song reminded me of how I felt when I was dealing with my anxiety, specifically the idea of dealing with and trying to do the unimaginable. One one of these unimaginable things is forgiveness. As Giles said in Buffy Season 2’s “I Only Have Eyes For You,” “To forgive is an act of compassion, Buffy. It’s-it’s… it’s not done because people deserve it. It’s done because they need it.” And, of course, there’s also this song:

 

I used to dream of the day when I would be a successful, bestselling writer and finally get revenge on the woman who caused my first anxiety attack. But now, this peace that I feel, the fact that I can look her in the eye and feel absolutely nothing at all is better than revenge. It’s a release. It’s a new kind of strength. And it’s a very beautiful thing.

 

I know that for some of you, forgiveness seems like such an unimaginable concept. It’s a lot to work though, especially if someone hurts you so much, it damages your mind, heart and soul. It’s okay to feel angry, hurt, and afraid. But at some point, you need to let go of all of that. Forgiveness isn’t about pretending that nothing happened. It’s more like acknowledging that you’ve grown past that hurt and have healed from it. It means releasing the emotional power that the anger, hurt, and anxiety had over you. It also means that the person who caused that hurt can’t trigger that pain anymore.

 

Forgiveness is a process. I don’t know if I feel this same peace when I think about others who’ve hurt me, but I’ve already let go of at least two people who’ve caused me pain in the past. It will be a great day when I realize that I’ve let go of all that hurt. But for now, the fact that I’ve finally overcome one of my worst experiences is enough for me.

 

My 2-Year Buffyversary: Why Am I Doing the Countdown?

 

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So earlier this month, I said that I was doing a Buffy Countdown because I want to celebrate the show that changed my life two years ago.

It’s hard to believe how much has changed since then. I still feel like the two years after I graduated college were the worst years of my life. I know people like to make fun of the idea of a “quarter life crisis,” but for me, college was my dream. When college was over, I had to adjust to not having that in my life, not to mention dealing with the death of a friend who was like a grandfather to me. People with Asperger’s have a harder time adjusting to change than most people and for a girl who had no direction and lost her safety net, it was no wonder I suffered constant anxiety for two years.

The recovery from my anxiety didn’t actually start with Buffy. It began on a rainy March afternoon when I told God that I had enough of being a prisoner of my anxiety and asked Him to help me find a way out of it. It began with me watching Perks of Being a Wallflower and volunteering in my parish for Vacation Bible School. It began with me going to an Audrey Assad concert and my first Awakening retreat.

But when I had that anxiety attack that October night, I needed a major distraction. I knew of Buffy from vloggers, but I’ve never actually watched the show. Even though I was unaware of the show’s purpose, 23-year-old me needed to metaphorically kill the monsters that were plaguing my life.

"I want you to get out of my face!"

“I want you to get out of my face!”

When Buffy said “Slayers, every one of us” in “Chosen,” I felt like I became a Slayer in that moment. New friends into my life. I began to believe in myself in a way that I never did before. I met some of the actors from the show and learned to love most of the comics. (Screw you Season 8!)

One thing I didn’t expect, though, was that there were other people out there who saw a Catholic element in Buffy. Sure, my fellow Patheos bloggers saw some stuff, but the show isn’t fresh in their minds. Thomas Aquinas said that God likes working through secondary causes and I feel like that was the case with Buffy.

In spite of the fact that the show is created by a nihilistic atheist, I saw a fallen state of grace in the nature of the vampires in the show. Hell is the absence of hope and we, as human beings, are given the free will to choose to have hope instead of giving into despair. Spike’s entire story arc captures every sinner’s redemption story. It still pains me whenever someone tells me that the “Seeing Red” incident is unforgivable because Spike went to great lengths to earn redemption and forgiveness. If one good thing came out of that awful moment, it’s that James Marsters won’t do a scene like that ever again.

As much as I wish I could go back in time and stop myself from getting into that dark place, I learned so much from that time. I found that I can connect to others who’ve suffered the same thing. I learned that I wasn’t alone in how I felt.

So instead, if I had a TARDIS, I would just send a letter to my past self. It would probably go something like this:

“Dear Me,
“There is this thing in life called change. This change is going to come in many forms. Right now, I know that all you see is darkness and despair. Believe me when I say that it will change. God is going to change you and he will change your circumstances. You won’t notice it right away, but you’ll see it soon enough. You’ll see it when you find confidence and resilience you never knew that you had. You’ll see it when you go places you never would’ve dared. Most of all, you’ll see it in the joy that radiates from inside of you. That joy comes from the Lord. You’ve still got a lot of fight left in you.

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So here’s the part where you make a choice. What if you could have that power, now? From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong? I know you are! You’re strong like an Amazon! So go slay your demons!”

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Screenshots are copyright to 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy and are used for editorial purposes only.

 

Anxiety, Avoidance Issues, and the Beauty of Reconciliation

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It all started with this Twitter conversation:

Jasmin Marsters is the wife of James Marsters AKA Spike on Buffy. She’s an actress/model/musician who also does some writing and production for independent films. I like what she shares on her Twitter and Instagram, even though we may not always agree.

My avoidance issue had to do with the fact that when I was having a mini-meltdown, I did everything but turn to God. It wasn’t until I put pen to paper and wrote a letter to God that the anxiety finally left me. I often try to avoid my negative feelings and said avoidance only makes things worse. What happened to me reminded me that in good times and in bad, I have to turn to Him for help.

I also feel like what Jasmin said relates to the nature of how we react to our problems as well. Granted, there are some things that need to be avoided. There are things we aren’t ready to face yet. However, there’s also a time where we need to act like the bigger person and act kind towards someone we may not feel deserve it. It also applies to when we put off little things like doing the laundry or paying the bills. The problem won’t go away if you keep avoiding it. When it comes to being a person of faith, avoiding the things we struggle with isn’t going to help us.

One thing I love about being Catholic is the Sacrament of Reconciliation also known as Confession or Penance. Despite what some people may think about what Confession is, the truth is that Confession is there to help us face the problems we face.  Confession isn’t a “Catholic guilt” thing. It’s more of a reality check. We often have problems in our lives that feel out of our hands, so we ask people for help. Confession deals with the interior issues that we have to work on in order to become better people.  Matthew Kelly compares it to cleaning your car while Rachel and Kateri compared it to cleaning your room.

1 Corinthians 6:19 says “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?”

When we go to Confession, we clean out the temples of our souls. We learn humility and receive grace and healing. Even if we struggle with the same problem, like an addiction, Confession will be there to help us get back up again.

How to Handle an Anxiety Attack

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Thunderstorms are breaking out all over Houston and it seems like my anxiety has come back right along with them. Sometimes anxieties aren’t exactly triggered by anything. Sometimes, like how I was this morning, a small worry would escalate into a panic-induced meltdown. The anxiety attacks I endure aren’t as frequent as they used to be, but they still happen. So for anyone out there suffering with anxiety issues, know that I am right there with you.

First of all, it’s important to ground yourself. I found a post that has these wonderful tips:

1) Look around you

2) Find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

 

This morning, when I had my anxiety attack, I focused on the room I was in. I saw the dining room table, the placemat, the bowl of cereal (gluten-free Cheerios), the spoon in the cereal bowl, and the tablet in my hand. I could touch the chair I was sitting in. I could hold the spoon and my tablet. I could grab a bottle of water cooling in the fridge. I could hear the distant thunder, the rain falling, and the praise and worship music I was playing on my tablet. I could smell the rain and the cereal. I could taste the cereal as I ate it.

Once you’ve grounded yourself, you need to take a step back and remember that the problem in your mind isn’t as big as you think it is. Anxiety is like walking through a dark tunnel with just a magnifying glass, making you think that the tunnel is longer and darker than it really is. The worst part is that sometimes, the negative thoughts will lead you into doing something completely irrational if you let them. 

There are a lot of crisis hotlines out there. If your anxiety spirals you into thoughts of suicide, call  1-800-273-TALK (8255) or your local suicide hotline. 

Prayer also helps in anxiety. Send a text or a social media message to your friends and ask them for prayers. If you don’t want them to know about your anxiety, just ask them to pray for a special intention. If you have a small group of friends that you trust to understand, send them some kind of message. They will come to you as soon as they can. 

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (whose feast day is today) said:

Does one of us feel sad? Let the name of Jesus come into his heart, from there let it spring to his mouth, so that shining like the dawn it may dispel all darkness and make a cloudless sky.

There’s also a great prayer to Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help:

Mary, dear Mother of Perpetual Help, I ask that you would walk beside me at all times leading me toward the goal of Heaven. In times of doubt, bring comfort and restore my soul. Help me to make good decisions that reflect my love for your Son. I ask that you would intercede on my behalf for the intentions that I hold in my heart. I desire that I would come to know you better as the Mother of Perpetual Help. Amen.

And if you want some comfort from the Word of God, there are a lot of Bible verses to give you some comfort. I’ll list 10 of them here.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. – Philippians 4:6

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:7

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. – Matthew 2:25-34

Psalm 6 could be interpreted as a prayer about anxiety.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”- Jeremiah 29:11

Read the story of Jesus calming the storm from the Gospel of Matthew and let him calm the storms of your heart.

But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.  Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:6-10

Romans 8:28-39

Isaiah 43:1-8

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” – 1 John 4:18

Seek out help through counseling or with a spiritual director who specializes in anxiety. Listen to a lot of good encouraging music and find people who will talk you through it even if they’re not professional counselors. And once you’ve calmed down, find something to be grateful for. It doesn’t have to be anything big like a gold medal or a promotion at your job. Sometimes, happiness can be found just by finding gluten-free Cheerios at your grocery store or from a hug from your best friend or knowing it’s the birthday of someone you love.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope. Magnify the God who is bigger than your fear and He will carry you out of it.

 

Fear Not! : Things I Learned at Cafe Catholica

Art for the Heart courtesy of the Heart of Mary Women's Fellowship. Feel free to make this your PC wallpaper.

Art for the Heart courtesy of the Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship. Feel free to make this your PC wallpaper.

I have a tendency to worry too much. I overthink and overanalyze pretty much everything. I tend to think the worst of myself. When I went to Cafe Catholica yesterday, I was nervous because Cardinal DiNardo was going to celebrate Mass and give the talk for the week. He draws in a huge crowd and I was going to lead the opening hymn. I should also mention that I had to get there earlier than usual for a last-minute rehearsal. So yeah, I was more nervous than a college student during finals week.

I brought a Mass journal with me and one verse from the first reading particularly stood out to me:

“The LORD himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still.” – Exodus 14:14

The image you see in the header is from the Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship’s “Art for the Heart,” free wallpaper/phone backgrounds that the site shares every Sunday. The verse comes from 1st Peter, relating to the Bible study that I am writing:

“Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” – 1st Peter 5:7

When I led the opening hymn, I didn’t use the mic because I tend to project (which is theatre talk for “I can be seriously loud.”). It was a good thing I did because I messed up the last chorus a bit, but my voice blended with the choir’s so my mistake went unnoticed.

I didn’t socialize much that night because I was too worried about things that ultimately didn’t matter in the long run. I confided my worries to a few close friends and tried to distract myself with getting stuff instead. (From the desire of spending my entire allowance on Catholic merchandise, deliver me Lord!)

The lecture centered on service, but what resonated with me was the idea of letting Jesus be with me and that it was okay for me to be distracted in prayer.

It wasn’t until I got home and did some major prayer time that I was able to settle my thoughts. Distractions will always be in my life, but spending time with the Lord last night and this morning is helping me to relax.

I also learned recently that I need to value myself more. I’m still learning how to love myself, to be completely honest. To see myself as a child of the one true King and not the girl who didn’t feel good enough. Instead, my hopes for the future rests in two Bible verses.

The first one is 1st John 4:18

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.

The second one is Jeremiah 29:11

 For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the Lord—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.

Til then, I will keep on casting my anxieties onto the Lord and ask him to always abide with me.

Praising God In the Storm

It started with a minor kitchen accident. I was cooking lunch: pork chops marinated with orange juice. Unfortunately, I accidentally spilled some of the marinade over the stove range, causing the pilot light to go out. The constant clicks made me think that my kitchen was going to explode. (That’s what I get for binge-watching Burn Notice.) Thankfully, my mom and my brother were able to handle the situation.

What did I do? I panicked. I never had to deal with a broken pilot light before. I hid out in my mom’s bathroom, wishing I had someone who’d hold me. As I said before, I hate dealing with unfamiliar situations and when situations are outside of my control, my first instinct is to cry and panic.

My brother turned off the power in the kitchen and we waited for my dad to come back from work to fix it. It took a long time, but thankfully, the pilot light was dried out and the stove range was cleaned. However, we had to leave the kitchen off until it was safe. Which meant that for several hours, I was left with the uncertainty of whether or not I would cook. I worried about what I would eat the next morning.

I didn’t have any time to whine about it, though, because given that my mom had a day off from work and her idea of “relaxing” is spring cleaning, I was put in charge of cleaning my bathroom.

But the story doesn’t end there. As the day drew to a close, a major thunderstorm broke out. The power went out for a while. Since I didn’t have the safety blanket of my internet, I curled up in bed with my crucifix, my stake, and my Buffy Funko pop dolls. I know. What am I, twelve?

I prayed the Rosary during stormy situations before, both literal and metaphorical, and last night was no different. I was about halfway through the second joyful mystery when the power came back on. But I kept praying the Rosary even after the power came back because I was still scared of tomorrow.

I didn’t get much sleep, given the constant thunder, lightning, and the clicks from the pilot light, but in the morning, they were all gone. The kitchen was silent and functioning normally again. The sun came out. The streets of my city are sadly flooded, but God kept me and my family safe.

I know that I have to figure out a way to deal with being anxious about uncertainties that don’t involve panicking, but I feel like I’m doing a lot better right now.

One of the lies my so-called best friend from a few years ago told me was that I wouldn’t be able to handle myself on my own if something bad happened to my family. They, of course, said this because they wanted me completely dependent on them. At the time, I believed them. Looking back now, I realized that I faced a lot of situations that were outside of my control like getting my purse stolen and dealing with a broken heart during a retreat. But I was never alone and I didn’t have to deal with those situations by myself.

The great blessing that came out of each of the storms in my life was that I always had my family and my friends and my God. I always had someone to talk to or some task that would keep my mind away from the situation. When my purse got stolen, I ran straight to the church (since it took place in my parish’s parking lot) and told my friends and my pastor about what happened. When I was dealing with a broken heart, I had someone to talk to and made some new friends. And when my pilot light broke, my family was there to fix it and eventually listen.

Most of all, I could pray and offer my anxieties and fears. I can get shaken a lot, but I am never ever stirred to give into my fears. Like the Casting Crowns song goes, in spite of how I feel, I praise God in the storm.

So I guess the question is “Why does God allow me to experience unfamiliar situations or experiences that put me through the emotional wringer?”

The answer is because I learn something from each experience. Whenever I encounter someone who’s hurt, my first instinct is to protect and defend them because I was once in their shoes. Maybe someday, I’ll help someone else who felt betrayed by a friend, lost something important to them, or got their heart broken and I can help them because I understand their suffering.

My Year In Photos: July

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This compass has a lot of sentimental value on top of it being an antique. It used to belong to a family friend who fought in World War 2. But I also had this compass with me during my first Awakening retreat. To me, it symbolized my life taking off in a new direction. My journey in 2014 was a lot more interior than exterior. It wasn’t until July that I realized that. I spent the year looking for exterior changes when God was changing me on the inside.

I hadn’t moved anywhere or started any sort of new job. But I did go out to the movies with friends. I even made new friends and got asked to give a talk at the upcoming retreat I was volunteering for. And whenever unexpected circumstances arose, I was able to deal with those things better. I acknowledged the fear I felt about the change and made the conscious decision to let go of whatever I couldn’t control. Sometimes I would talk things over with a friend, but otherwise, I was able to deal with my problems on my own.

It’s definitely a long way from having an anxiety attack over an uncertain future, that much I know for sure.

Simplicity Project Progress Report And Coming Attractions

Happy Chinese New Year!

In honor of the end of the month and the start of the Chinese New Year, I’m gonna give a progress report on my Simplicity Project.

As I’ve stated before, I’ve been taking photos every day as part of my personal 365grateful project.

Here are what I consider the best photos that I took this month.

And as far as novel writing is concerned, I finally found a website where I could submit my work to have it critiqued by others in the industry. It’s called “Scribophile” and the way the website works is that once you join, you critique works from other writers in order to gain enough karma points to post your own work. Give to get.

TRIGGER WARNING ABOUT ANXIETY AHEAD. IF YOU HAVE AN ANXIETY DISORDER OF ANY SORT, PROCEED WITH CAUTION OR SKIP AHEAD.

While it was easy for me to look over the works of others and give a critique, I wasn’t quite as ready when I received my first in-depth critique. I was super-close to having an anxiety attack. Why? Because the last time I put my work out there for others to criticize, I actually had an anxiety attack and nobody was there to help me. In fact, the leader of the writing class was so unsympathetic that she told me to drop the class or else she would kick me out. I left the class crying and felt scared of her whenever we were in the same room. But thankfully, now I can be in the same room as her without wanting to head for the hills.

THIS HAS CONCLUDED THE TRIGGER WARNING

This time, I decided to take my time reading the in-depth critiques. I made a cup of chamomile, which always calms me down and kept telling myself that I needed the feedback. I took notes on what I thought I should change and ignored what I felt was right for the story. And after reading the first in-depth critique, I took a break and felt relieved. Reading the second in-depth critique was a lot easier now that I knew what to expect. I know it sounds really amateur of me to worry so much, but this was the first time I really had my work critiqued in-depth in years. So overall, I’m proud of myself for overcoming my fears and doubts towards receiving critiques from other people.

I also read one book this month and am planning to read 11 more new books in 2014. Books on my list include Strange Gods by Elizabeth Scalia and The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, & Earn Your Audience. I’ve also subscribed to daily quotes from The Society of the Little Flower, a group devoted to St. Therese of Liseux, one of my patron saints for 2014. And I’ll tell you right now, St. Therese is awesome. The quotes I’ve read have given me a lot of comfort and she recently answered a prayer of mine after I prayed a novena dedicated to her.

Next month on my blog, I will be writing a series of themed posts. Every Tuesday in February will be titled “True Love Tuesday” in which I ramble about my favorite couples from television. Oh yes. We’re gonna delve into the wonderful world of shipping. You have been warned. Every Friday in February, on the other hand, will get a little more philosophical with C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves. Entitled “Four Loves Friday,” I will be writing a series of posts focusing on one of the four loves that C.S. Lewis goes in-depth about. I’ll also be looking more into St. Paul Miki, who is another patron saint for 2014, by getting to know more about Jesuit spirituality.

I’ll end this blog with a quote from my simplicity-themed planner. (Yes, I found one at Barnes & Noble for half-off. Total score!)

Happiness is where we find it, but rarely where we seek it- J. Petit Senn, French-Swiss poet.