Interior Redecorating: Advent Reflections Week 1, Day 2

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One of my favorite books growing up was The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey. I read that book so often in middle school and high school that I made notes in the margins and the pages are stained from the book getting mixed up with a jello I packed for lunch. In the introduction, Sean lists the first three habits as being a “private victory,” illustrated as the roots of a tall, strong tree. The next three habits were categorized as a”public victory,” illustrated as the trunk and branches of the tree. Finally, the last habit emphasized renewal, shown by a sun and a rain cloud nourishing the tree. In another chapter, Covey quotes the following poem inscribed on the tomb of an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abbey:

When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world.

As I grew older and wiser I discovered the world would not change –
So I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country, but it too seemed immovable.

As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it.

And now I realize as I lie on my deathbed, if I had only changed myself first, then by example I might have changed my family. From their inspiration and encouragement I would then have been able to better my country,

And who knows, I might have even changed the world.

Change starts from the inside and eventually manifests into exterior changes. This applies to Advent as well. While we prepare our houses for Christmas by rearranging the furniture and putting up decorations, let us also redecorate the temples of our souls.

A great way to start is with the daily readings. Audrey Assad gives a testimony to the impact of the daily readings from Mass in this video from Redeemed Online:

If you want to find meditations that go along with the daily Mass readings, check out Blessed is She or subscribe to Magnificat. My mom was lucky enough to find a series of devotionals called Conversations with Jesus at our local used bookstore.

 

Reflections on the End of Summer

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Even though the week has just begun, summer feels like it has finally ended for me. I’ve mentioned before that the last few months have been a roller coaster. I went from travelling to Florida to the heights of Mount Everest (in Vacation Bible School), made some new friends at Cafe Catholica, and went to a baseball game for the first time! My brother came back from studying abroad, we moved him into a new apartment, and now I’m finally settling down, getting off the ride and wondering “What the heck do I do now?”

I had a couple of “false starts” throughout this summer, things I thought would lead to more but were really just temporary. But I learned a lot from the things I experienced. Through watching my friends get married or choosing religious life, I became more resolved in finding my own vocation. Through making new friends and going to new places, I learned about life outside of the internet. I learned how to sing in harmony with a choir and how to write a cover letter.

I learned that I was a person who had a lot of resilience, but still broke down every now and then. The times that I break are just as important as the good times because I gained a lot of strength from it. I learned that when I turn to God, he turns things around and gets me out of the woods and through the storm. I also learned how to deal with disappointments and that you don’t always have to write people off just because you have communication issues with them. If you can still be friends with someone in spite of some misunderstandings, it’s definitely a lot better than hating them.

One thing I noticed this summer was that everyone was kind of undergoing a kind of identity crisis. I wrote an article about the limit of labels for Radiance and Grace Magazine. I feel like I’ve changed in how I see myself as well. It’s still hard for me to adjust to change, but it’s getting easier nowadays. I’m still looking for opportunities to try new things, especially stuff involving young adults and writing. Thankfully, there are some events going on that have to do with both!

I am definitely looking forward to the upcoming fall season. I may not be a student anymore, but I can still learn new things every day. I can spend this time reading new books and honing my craft. I’m probably gonna get ready for Halloween way too early and who knows what will happen in October, my favorite month of the year?

I hope that the next few months will be good. What I know for sure is that God will be with me throughout all of it.

The Courage to Change

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One thing commonly associated with people who have autism and Asperger’s Syndrome is that they have a harder time adjusting to change than normal people. In the past few months, however, I’ve gone out of my way to try new things which led to changes in my social life. There have also been some changes that happened outside of my control, some good and some bad. As much as I grit my teeth over the bad changes, I still try to make the best out of it.

I don’t think the fear of change or the difficulty of adapting to change applies to just people who have autism/Asperger’s syndrome. I think all people to some extent have a hard time dealing with change. Human beings have control issues, especially Americans. We like making plans and making idols out of them. As often as people complain about the daily grind, once something, anything happens to shake it up, they suddenly miss the boring commute.

And yet, if we never change, if we never have any sort of trials or obstacles to deal with, we lose the opportunity to grow. The side effects of staying in “safe spaces” can easily be seen in college campuses today. Comedians are reluctant to do gigs there because many people feel like their humor is offensive. People with mindsets that are different from the majority opinion are treated with hostility. There is a major problem with that kind of mentality: they’re not allowing the students to grow up. Instead, everyone gets babied and told they’re special snowflakes, which isn’t gonna help them in the real world. Yes there are people who can get away with living in a victim mentality, but it’s not exactly a great way to live. And in the long run, will that entitled, bratty, woe-is-me behavior really pay off? I don’t think so.

I’m not saying that it’s easy to listen to different viewpoints. There’s a reason I avoid politics when I can, after all. I’m just saying that people need to be open to change and open to being able to laugh at themselves and admit that sometimes they’re wrong. Having the courage to change takes humility and that particular virtue is hard to find these days.

I think the fear of humility comes from the fact that most people don’t understand what humility is. Humility may involve some shame and embarrassment, but it doesn’t always. More often than not, humility is just knowing that you’re not always going to be right. That somebody knows more than you and that you have to learn from them. That you’re not a special snowflake, but at the same time, it’s okay that you’re not. Humility is the first step to embracing change and developing courage. And eventually, you’ll find that you’ve become fearless.

Of Affliction and Comfort

There’s this misconception that religion and faith are only there so that people can feel mildly better about themselves and their lives and especially about dealing with their loved ones. Naysayers against religion compare faith to a crutch or a drug.

When I woke up this morning, I did not want to get out of bed to pray my daily Lectio Divina. I wanted to stay in my bed and scroll through my Instagram feed, even though I wasn’t even wearing glasses. But fighting against my lazy body, I got out of bed, put on my glasses, and started praying. Why?

To paraphrase a familiar quote, religion has a dual purpose: to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

My friend Justin AKA “ChurchTriumphant” on YouTube goes more into this in one of his videos:

Or to quote one of my favorite writers

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”- CS Lewis

Even though I love being Catholic, it’s not always easy. I’m still trying to figure out stuff about the church that I don’t understand. I don’t like debates about politics. And I don’t have a particular group that I can readily identify with beyond my circle of friends. Back in college, I divided my time between two groups: my devout, Catholic friends who introduced me to new prayers, devotions, and saints and my non-Catholic friends whom I talk to about stuff I loved like anime, Harry Potter, shows I watched at the time, etc. Very seldom did I ever find friends that encompassed both.

But maybe that’s sort of the point. No one group of people or even one particular person can satisfy us completely. And whatever we believe in can’t just be a feel-good quick fix. All the best saints struggled with some sort of problem throughout their lives and some of them were priests, sisters, brothers, and even popes. Mother Teresa struggled with a period of darkness where she felt that God was the furthest thing from her heart, to the point of almost being nonexistent. St. Maximillian Kolbe was a war prisoner. Mary, the mother of Jesus, dealt with the loss of both her husband and her child within her lifetime and had to bury both of them. Pope John Paul II had Parkinsons’ disease. Not to mention this often heard quote:

“Jacob was a cheater, Peter had a temper, David had an affair, Noah got drunk, Jonah ran from God, Paul was a murderer, Gideon was insecure, Miriam was a gossip, Martha was a worrier, Thomas was a doubter, Sara was impatient, Elijah was moody, Moses stuttered, Abraham was old,… and Lazarus was dead. God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the CALLED!”

Faith has a way of changing people for the better. And change always requires a period of discomfort.

There is a difference, however, between being pushed out of your comfort zone and going to extremes in the names of whatever you believe in. It’s one thing, for example, for me to, say, go to a convention of 30,000 people and ask one of my favorite actors a question that ended up making him feel uncomfortable just because he asked. It’s another thing to do the stuff  that Renee mentions in one of her Lent-themed videos. Going on extreme diets, fasts, or juice cleansing isn’t as much going out of your comfort zone so much as pushing yourself off of a cliff without a parachute and believing that you’ll land safely in the water from a thirty-story drop.

So where’s the balance? The balance is with God. It goes back to what I said about falling in love with the process. Let God guide you through whatever changes you’re going through or ask God to start a change in you right now. After all, according to science, an object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.

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.