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Friday, April 28, 2017

A Long and Winding Road

Sometime in 2016, during the Holy Year of Mercy, I found myself making a pilgrimage to different parishes outside of town. It was almost noon when I left Sacramento. I started at Our Lady of Mt Carmel in Fairfield, CA, which was about a 45-minute drive on Interstate 80. Whenever I need to recharge mentally and spiritually, Our Lady of Mt Carmel is where I always go. First, because the drive affords me the time to reflect as I unwind and release all the built up tensions. Second, it seems like all my prayers are almost always instantly answered there. Almost always. I'll get back to this later.

Our Lady of Mt Carmel is my special happy place. As I was driving, I made a list of all the prayer requests I was going to offer and seek answers to, but I settled for one prayer that I felt was the most urgent and told myself that this will be my only prayer intention on this pilgrimage.  

After a visit to the Blessed Sacrament (they have Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration) at the Chapel of St Therese of Lisieux, I set out for St Joan of Arc in Yountville, a cozy little town in Napa. Whenever I visit Fairfield, Napa is always next on the itinerary, if only for a quick stop at Gott's Roadside for their chocolate shake or Bouchon Bakery for their macarons (Usually both. As I'm typing this, images of Three Twins Chocolate Shake and pistachio macarons taunt my senses. I think a trip to Fairfield and Napa needs to happen soon). This time though, I was on a pilgrimage so I didn't make any side trips to satisfy my sweet tooth. I uttered the same prayer intention at St Joan. It was about 2:30 p.m. when I finished there.

Unfamiliar with the other churches in the area, I searched for other churches nearby and since I wanted to travel a bit further, I settled on St Eugene in Santa Rosa. According to my navigator, it's about 27 miles from where I was at. I could just take St Helena Hwy to Oakville Grade. No problem. It's Napa, I told myself. Enjoy the scenic route. I just love the sight of perfectly straight rows of vineyard vines, plus the leaves on the trees where starting to turn gold, orange and crimson. It'll be a beautiful drive I told myself. Convinced, I set my new destination on my map.

I've traveled St Helena Hwy many times, but never really noticed the turn to Oakville Grade. It was only a few miles from St Joan and it wasn't surprising when a vineyard greeted me as I turned the road. Up ahead, I could see the lush green mountains. It always excites me whenever I go on an adventure and discover new roads. I was so distracted by the beauty around me that I dismissed the thought that the mountains up ahead were an ominous sign. I was oblivious to what lay ahead since I was surrounded by endless rows of grapevines and fall foliage. Never mind the fact that the road was beginning to ascend. It's just a small incline I told myself. But the road is getting narrower. Just this part. It'll widen again, you'll see. Totally dismissing the tingling I was getting on the back of my neck as I started to firmly grip my steering wheel. Well, according to my trusted navigator, this road is only about 11 miles. How bad could it be?

I wished I turned around right then there because as soon as I rounded the corner, it was too late when I realized it was the point of no return. There was no place to pull over and with cars behind me, I had to keep driving. Starting to panic, I tried to calm myself. It'll be okay, just stay in the middle of the road so you don't fall into the ditch (a.k.a. cliff since I can't see the bottom and the road is completely alien to me so I don't know how high or low the drop is in case I do end up careening to the side of the road). That road was so narrow that you'd think the cars are only going one way, at least until one comes towards you with flashing lights warning you to get out of their lane!

The road started to twist and turn and here I was driving to almost a crawl with a truck wanting to ram my rear bumper. It was a monster truck that even if I pulled closest to the cliff, I doubt he would have been able to pass by me. Instead he rode my bumper until he reached his road. Maybe that's where he lived. I mean, really? Who lives there? How do you even know where to turn? Did the residents there have rocks and mountains to mark their driveway? How do they give directions to their visitors? "Oh, at the third protruding rock, just right after the single giant redwood, you'll see an inconspicuous road. Make sure to honk your horn to alert incoming traffic before you round that corner." 

I started crying and praying, saying Lord please help me! Jesus please help me! Please don't leave me. Get me out of this road. I don't want to be on this road! Please help me, please help me, please help me. Through tears and sweat, I must have prayed this a thousand times over. Every turn was blind as I either had the cliff on my side or the mountain at some point. I drove in the middle of the road, giving way to oncoming cars every now and then that zoomed past me like race car drivers! Clearly they've driven that road since they were 8 (I'm kidding, but you know what I mean). I was white knuckling my steering wheel as I prayed my mantra and wiped away tears and sweat. I've never been so scared in my life! After what seemed like two eternities, I finally came to the end of the road and got on the main highway. The rest of the drive to St Eugene was uneventful as the road was pleasantly flat! Despite the gut-wrenching, white-knuckling drive through the mountains, the redwoods at St Eugene kind of made up for the horrific drive. What should have taken me only an hour, probably took me a little less than two. Did I say I crawled those 11 miles? Well, I asked for an adventure and I got one! On the way home, I made sure to really look at the terrain on the map and chose the straightest path for my drive back.

As I was driving home, I looked back at my experience. Whereas I cried my way to St Eugene, I laughed and smiled all the way home, amused at God's sense of humor. I tried to find the lesson in all of this. I thought Lord, really, couldn't You just have had me read a passage on the bible or pointed to an inscription somewhere? Why did You take me on that road? Then, an image of St Therese of Lisieux flashed back in my mind. Remember what I said earlier that my prayers are almost always instantly answered at Our Lady of Mt Carmel? Well, I saw an icon inside her chapel but I vaguely remember the inscription. Something about persevering in prayer. I was so engrossed at repeating my prayer request that I didn't pay much attention to it. If I had, my adventure would have ended right then and there. He had already answered me through St Therese but in my stubbornness, my heart was not open to His words at the time. Instead, I pursued my own path, not knowing God had a better lesson for me. 

That winding road was my entire life presented before me, with its twists and turns, ascending and descending, gaining confidence when there were no cars (trials) and slowing to a crawl when obstacles were present. All the while, I was praying, Lord please help me! Don't leave me. Please help me! Then an impression in my heart said "You of little faith! Why are you so afraid? Don't you know I've been with you from the beginning? What made you think I will abandon you now?" I cried at the realization and for  good reason this time. It made me realize that no matter what the obstacles are, no matter how difficult and unpredictable life is, I can always count on Him to stay with me. During the drive home I was praying a different prayer, one of praise and thanksgiving!

I will never forget that adventure I shared with Papa God. It makes me smile in amazement each time I play it back in my mind.

--with faith and gratitude,

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Where Is The Good in "Goodbye"?

Goodbyes can sometimes be difficult. The pain caused by goodbyes is debilitating, especially with breakups, a child going away to college, a significant other moving to another country to chase their dreams, and perhaps the most painful of all, saying goodbye to a dying loved one. Just the sheer thought of bidding someone goodbye makes you emotional. Even when you try to rationalize the situation, nothing can console you because you've become very attached and letting go is difficult.  Oftentimes it's heart-wrenching.

So if saying goodbye causes so much pain, where is the "good" in goodbye?

Today I found out that the word goodbye comes from the term "Godbwye" which is a contraction of the phrase "God be with ye". As time went on, it is believed the phrase was influenced by terms like "good day" and "good evening", transitioning from "God-b'wye" to "good-b'wy" and finally ending in today's blessing of goodbye. Did you catch that? Goodbye is a blessing.

By letting go, you make room for growth and you create an allowance for other people or opportunities to enter your life. By saying goodbye especially when you're getting away from a difficult situation, you're giving yourself another chance. For me, it's giving way to God's plans.

Today I spent some time alone in church. I questioned and I cried. I resisted and cried some more. When I was done crying, I just sat there and opened my heart to His words. I felt an impression in my heart that said, "Even when you fall, even in your brokenness, you are whole because My LOVE for you is unconditional." 

What an amazing God we have! People and situations can break us, but with God, we are complete!

So my friends, may we always remember that a goodbye is a blessing.

--with faith and gratitude,

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Friendship, BFF, Bestie, 'Day, Sis, Bro. No matter what you call your friends, the sound of the term is endearing. You feel comforted by the fact that you have someone to turn to in times of need and they're there to share your joys, and triumphs. Conversely, they know they can count on you to be there for them. You know you've found real friends when they stay with you through the good, the bad and the ugly. No words are needed. They know that their presence is enough and you begin to heal.

There are times when we become self-centered and neglect their needs. All it takes is a text, a phone call or maybe even lunch to stay connected.

Today let's take a moment to appreciate friends. Say you love them for just being themselves and being part of your life.

Just as we acknowledge our friends on earth, let us also acknowledge our Friend in Heaven, who was, is, and will always be The One above all.

--with faith and gratitude,

Monday, April 24, 2017

Bestie's Question

A good friend of mine works with the elderly and today he asked: "Where will I be when I get old? Who will take care of me?" To which I replied: "God had already packed your provisions for your life's journey, packing it with essentials He knows you'll need along the way even before you know you'll need them."

Indeed, God knows what we need so why worry about what's not even here yet? Have faith that He has our best interest at heart.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:6-7

--with faith and gratitude,

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Pore Strips?!

Pore Strips. You know those sticky things you put on your nose and face to remove whiteheads and blackheads from your pores? Not exactly how I envisioned my comeback to the blogging world, but hey, you can't exactly choose when and what God will use as an inspiration to impart His lessons.

So then I asked, what could I possibly learn from this? It didn't take long to realize that just as the pore strips purge our face of impurities, we sometimes need to purge ourselves of impurities to become better children of God.

Every now and then we need to do an assessment of ourselves, much like doing a yearly appraisal report at work. What is currently working and what is not? What battles are we currently fighting? Are there negative people in our lives that could be affecting us? Maybe addictions we need to cure? Bad habits to stop? Relationships to restore? What can we do to turn these things around? What is stopping us from rising above these challenges? One thing comes to mind: Pride.

Whether we like to admit it or not, pride is what's stopping us from becoming a better person. We don't want to admit that we were wrong; we don't want to take the first step to reach out to someone we've had a falling out with; and we're ashamed to come to God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. His forgiveness endures and is free to those who seek it. We can rid ourselves of impurities by going to confession and resolving to avoid the near occasions of sin.

A good friend always reminds me that we have a forgiving God. He loves us unconditionally. We just need to accept that and be humbled in the fact that we are unworthy of His love, yet He is faithful. He never tires of waiting for you to seek Him. Who are we to turn Him away? Who are we to reject His invitation to enter His Kingdom?

Maybe it's time to do some reflection...

God loves you and me!