Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lessons from Lent: Halle-effin-lujah

I started running five years ago, as a form of worship. As much as I tried to meditate and pray, I couldn't focus for longer than a few seconds without fidgeting. I found I had to keep my body moving in order to give my mind the freedom to think uninterrupted.

It was painful to run in the beginning - it seemed like every muscle and bone ached with every step. But the more it hurt, the more I called out - "Let me take one more step, one more step. Help me through this pain." I encountered the Holy Spirit on my first 5k run. I began to give thanks, over and over, with each step. I was thankful I could take each step, thankful for my legs - these calves that were always too big, these quads that were too flabby, my bum that jiggled too much - because they were moving me. For the first time, I gave thanks for my tiny boobs for being one less thing to cause me pain during my run.

Despite the physical anguish, the more I ran, the more I wanted to run. I wanted to run farther, so I could spend more time with Him.

My journey through running is a lot like the journey of personal development that comes along with the emotional and sometimes physical pain we experience during Lent. As we're now in Holy Week, there are only a few more days before I can once again go to night club, dance, get drunk if I want to, eat good food, and the priest can tell jokes in church.

Then again, Lent has a funny way of making you realize your real priorities. A few years ago, I gave up meat. After 50 days of vegetarianism, I thought I'd be craving steak or chicken. Nope, come Easter, all I wanted was cold cuts and processed meat. Yep, as it turns out I can do without filet mignon or prime rib, but pepperoni pizza is apparently a deal breaker.

Likewise, the year I gave up alcohol for Lent, I made plans to go out to the bar as soon as the Easter vigil was over. But when the day finally came, and I could have my choice of cocktail, all I really wanted was to taste the communion wine again.

This year, I gave up "excess." I took the Lean philosophy to my life - anything that was unnecessary as food, drink, shopping or entertainment, I axed. What do I crave now? Most of all, I just long for when we can sing Hallelujah again at the beginning of the Gospel reading. And a mochaccino-flavoured cigarette. I don't even smoke. I know, weird.

I have suffered in my contemplation of His death and I'm ready now to rejoice in His resurrection. Anywhere that He is, I want to be. Most of all I want the sacraments, which is funny because those were the things I never had to give up at all. But I'm even stoked to celebrate Confession. I want the sacraments more than I want any of that extra crap that I have spent 50 days trying to get rid of.

Lent is not a challenge. It's not an objective or goal because it's not something you can overcome. It's not something that you can win. No one succeeds at their Lenten promises. Lent will always beat you. It will always reveal to you how small you are in comparison to everything that's important.

Suffering is a necessary evil. It's through suffering we discover what we're made of. It's through suffering we're made to surrender. I am ready to surrender to Him. I'm ready to quit fighting Him on everything. I am ready to feel joy now.

Surrendering equals rejoicing. Every morning I wake up, I'm going to pray to Him for faith...a droplet of faith, an atom of faith, a neutron of faith. More than anything I want to believe in Him. He made me this way - He made me hyper-emotional, contrary, combative and contemplative, so He must have something He wants me to accomplish with those traits. If He made me so I fall in love a million times, He must have a plan for my heartbreak.

Whatever He wants me to do - be a journalist, be a mother, run a marathon, I will do. If it's some other ambiguous life experience I don't understand, at the least I will serve to bare testimony...right after I smoke and sing Hallelujah at the top of my lungs, that is.

Happy Easter!

Monday, April 7, 2014

My weekend retreat: All-night Adoration

The Lumsden hill overlooking one of the busiest stretches of highway in Saskatchewan initially struck me as an odd location for a retreat house. But staring out the large picture window at the snowy valley, the vehicles seemed to flow smoothly, two solid lines of divided highway blending movement into serenity.

As we inched closer to adoration, quiet time spent with the Blessed Sacrament, I began to become nervous, like I sometimes am with Confession. I realized I'd been putting off a heart-to-heart with Jesus about the direction of my life. I stared out the window instead of praying the Rosary, feeling unsettled and unsure about what God would say to me when I finally opened up to Him.

My "date with Jesus," as the retreat organizer put it, was at midnight. I thought back to Confession earlier that afternoon and the priest's advice to get a good night's sleep. Waiting then, until midnight seemed like and inopportune time to adore, but I tried to keep an open mind. What could God reveal to me in the wee hours of the morning He could not during the day?

At 11:50 pm, I was jolted awake by my unholy alarm clock, crawled out of bed, threw on my shoes and made my way to adoration in the chapel in my pajamas.

I genuflected and joked "Oh God, I can barely keep my eyes open. This would be easier with a cup of coffee."


I tried praying the Rosary.


I slipped up on the Hail Mary in my second decade and decided to start over.

Jesus, again, said nothing.

I made it through another decade before I gave up. "Look Jesus, I came here because I really wanted to talk to you about work."

"Oh?" He asked.

"I just wanted to tell you how it was going. And I wanted to make sure I was serving you in my capacity as a reporter. And that my own ambition wasn't interfering with your call to my vocation. Can you please help me recognize my vocation and open my heart to marriage?"

I waited. "And help me prepare?"

He didn't say anything, so I kept talking. "Oh yeah, and can you heal my I.T. band issue? My knee is still bothering me."

"Go for a massage," He answered.

Is He sleepy too? Why so taciturn? "Alright," I answered. Then, "Are you going to say anything about my vocation?"

He grinned. He always grins at this subject.

"Why is this such a big mystery?" I asked frustrated.

Still grinning.

"Ok, ok," I conceded. "I'll just be patient and wait."

"How is everything else going?" He asked, changing the subject.

We talked - or rather I talked, for the next 45 minutes. I asked Him to help me find quiet, empty spaces throughout the day to fill with prayer, and thus joy. Moments, seconds, where I could feel Him. Quiet, empty spaces at work at home, and in the context of my relationships.

I also asked Him to help me feel. I want to be authentic.

"I want to experience whatever it is you've set in my path. If it's sad, I want to feel sad. If it's disappointing, I want to be disappointed. I don't want to justify my feelings, explain them, defend them. I want to just live them. Not a slave to my emotions, but not an observer of them either."

I could feel He was listening.

In the last few weeks, I have found quiet, empty spaces every moment I've called for them. I haven't found a husband, but I've found moments to be authentic - some I've seized upon and others I have not. And I suppose I will find my vocation in the same place I'll find my authenticity. And I think I'll find a stronger faith - one where I won't feel like I have to be joyous or at peace all the time, as defined by those who want faith to serve them. I want to find a faith that allows me to be: be sad, be lonely, be hurt, be excited, be hopeful, be expectant, be anxious, be surprised, be angry, be all of those things we try so hard not to be because we're trying to be someone else's version of ourselves...

I stayed an hour in the chapel and then I went to bed. Ironically, I was too tired to stay longer, but I asked if he'd help me be with Him all the time.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My weekend retreat: Silence is more than being quiet

Feb. 28, 2014:

You and I have a lot to talk about - first off, my schedule.

Waiting over an hour to feed out Focus meant I was more than 40 minutes late before I left the city. I arrived only after getting lost for at least a good ten minutes and missing dinner.

Fortunately, Krista didn't even ask, just went to find Friar Dominic to see if he'd make me something to eat. Two grilled cheese sandwiches later (because "it's a long time until breakfast") I was seated, unsettled and a little disoriented, but well nourished, halfway into the first meditation.

I was feeling better when we finished meditation and continued to mass when I suddenly realized in all the confusion I'd created, I forgot to text my sister to tell her I'd made it. I fidgeted through mass, and I'm sorry to say, through communion and then became really antsy through the dozen or so "evening" prayers after. When they began a "Hail Mary," I thought, "Oh Lord, please not let them say the whole darn Rosary."

Thankfully it was only one Hail Mary and one Our Father and we were free to go. When I finally got back to my room - and my phone - not even a text message. I guess my family knows how forgetful I am.

"Don't send the search party. Here at St. Michael's. Tell Flayla I miss her," I texted. She replied, "Ok. Have a fun weekend!" Crisis Averted.

The idea of a retreat is to be silent, but I was not internally silent. All of this would make for a funny story, you see, except that this is my life - everyday. I go from one thing to the next. I don't enjoy any of it.

That's not to say I'm not passionate about the things I'm doing, but there's no joy in what I'm doing. All these tasks, on a daily basis, it's like I'm trying to keep busy in anticipation of something. My fairytale. My knight in shining armour. I'm waiting for the moment that's going to happen, trying to pack in as much as possible in the "meantime" - waiting for when God shows up in my life, like He does, but only every once in awhile, and makes this make sense. BUT the trouble is, I need Him right now.

I need you to be here with me when I'm driving myself insane. That would be great.

Not following God's ways is making me unhappy - what's more, I'm hurting people. Every time I can't keep a promise, every time I flirt with disaster (and I mean this kind of literally - every time I flirt with Mr. Disaster), every time I take things to excess - work, church even, alcohol, social time (I sometimes have major FOMO).

Not following your ways is making me unhappy, but to do as you want is scary. Can you imagine if I told a potential date I didn't want to sleep with him until we were married? Can you imagine the abuse I'd take? "Oh Raquel, that's just your Catholic guilt." I would rather not date than hear those words again. (Seriously. I'm seriously doubting your vocation of marriage in our modern world.) What I want to say in reply, even in a tiny, ashamed voice is, "Maybe it is my Catholic guilt, but I'm starting to think maybe the Church was right."

But being authentic to myself is difficult - and I've never said that out loud. I'm afraid I will be lonely (even though I'm lonely now).

I want to be a warrior for God. I want to be a good example. But sometimes I'm so afraid to let anyone know I'm a Christian. I want to speak up, God. I want to defend you to the naysayers and agnostics - but then I don't. What do you want me to say to them? What do you want me to tell them? It's not easy being silent, if you think I'm just taking the easy road. It's become really difficult to keep quiet. But when I try to speak out, it comes out wrong. I don't want to preach - I want to share with them the gift of faith you've given me because I remember what it was like to be without it and I don't want anyone to go through that. I want to share your gift of faith with my mom.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Runner's prayer of suffering


It is just you and me. Help me. Help me to take this step, and now this step on this cold pavement. I'm in pain, Lord. And I'm cold, Lord. I have been avoiding you lately. I have been miserable. I need you now. I need your help.

This is an important moment. I want to remember this moment later on in life - you know, when I have a family - I want to remember what it was like to be lonely, what it was like when you and I were in my 20's and we spent this time together. Please help me to savour this loneliness, Lord. Please help me to take joy in it.

I suffer for you, Lord. When I run, and my legs hurt, and my lungs hurt, and my knee stings in pain. Help me to run through this pain, Lord. Please help me to savour this pain - please help me to remember this pain because when I am healed again, I won't feel your presence as strongly. I won't feel your comfort any longer, Lord.

Help me to follow you more often and eagerly, Lord. The blessings you give me, I sometimes squander. Please keep blessing me.

Please help me with my weakness. Please bless me with opportunities where I won't be tempted to trip over my weaknesses.

Please surround me with people who don't drink, so I may not be tempted to over-indulge. Please surround me with people who are slow to make friends, so I can work harder to get to know people. Lord, please surround me with people who preach hate and ignorance, so I may learn that one ounce of your love is stronger than all the hatred in the world combined. Please bless me with struggle and hard work, so that I may learn to work for you and not for financial gain.

Help me to run as far and as fast for as long as I can for as many years as I can.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Two-year New Years Resolutions

I remember a friend of mine in university mocking another mutual friend for her "New Years Resolution" to run a marathon in two years.

"Well, I will need more than a year to train for it," she defended.

To the best of my knowledge, she still hasn't run a marathon, but she may be on to something with the two-year New Years resolutions. Sometimes it takes a little longer to accomplish the bigger goals you have.

Last year, I resolved to be a cooler person. I'm a pretty awesome person already. I'm super fun, sometimes funny, a great personality; I'm intelligent and the life of the party. But make any sort of pop culture reference and you've lost me. Sports? Nope. Music? Completely lost.

So last year, I had a plan to become cooler:

1. Pay attention to top music charts and make note of the artists who sing them (I've failed miserably at this one, but I'm getting slightly better. I'm making a concerted effort.)

2. Learn to play guitar (I did better on this one - I bought a guitar! Hey, first steps first, you know?)

3. Learn Spanish (Spanish is cool. And I actually kinda followed through on this one. I took a Spanish 100 class at the university AND a salsa class. I hate salsa; I like speaking Spanish...we're making progress)

4. Buy clothes that fit me. (This one was exceedingly much more difficult. I always buy clothes a size too big. I try to make it work with belts, but I have the same problem with belts. This week, I did a closet cleaning and set aside a number of items for Community Living. In the new year, I will do more shopping. This is probably my favourite resolution.)

5. Take an interest in sports. (In 2012, I tried to watch NFL. Fail. In 2013, I joined a fantasy hockey draft to try and motivate myself to watch hockey. Fail. I'm also dead last in the hockey pool. This year I resolve to actually watch one NHL Hockey Game. And maybe even a WHL game. I also resolve to learn a little about the game's rules. This is definitely a two-year - or even three-year resolution)

6. Watch TV shows that other people actually watch. (Being Erica is great, but not a great conversation starter. Don't believe me? Just try launching into, "So last night on Being Erica..." and see where that takes you. This year, I'm only 8 episodes behind on Breaking Bad - don't tell me what happens! I attempted Weeds, but it sucks. And I have every intention of starting in on Arrested Development - just after I finish all the Dr. Phil's I have on PVR - hey, just the fact I have a PVR makes me way cooler than last year!)

7. Become savvier with technology (as technology is always changing, this is just an ongoing thing, but this year I used pixlr.com, edited three videos on my laptop and posted them to YouTube, played Playstation and got a Linked-In account. Bazinga!)

8. Do cool things. (This includes more travel, more playing sports and doing active things - I intend to learn to cross-country AND downhill ski this year. Last year, I went snowshoeing and skating, so I'm stepping things up a little bit. In 2013, I went scuba-diving - that's cool. I bought a new rifle - pretty cool. And I was promoted to host a weekly half-hour provincial show - super cool!)

9. Learn to like animals and small children (I'm still working on small children, but I've learnt this year that people can change - and for the better. I never thought of myself as a dog person, but after taking care of Flayla for a couple weeks with Sam, I am in love.)

This is a progress report - because resolutions shouldn't just be for the year, they should be for the rest of your life and I see no reason to beat myself up about not knowing how to play guitar...yet. 2014 is a new year and there's plenty of time to accomplish many new things!

Happy New Year!!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Letters between mother and daughter

April 3, 2006:

My dear Raquel,

Here's a writing book we can share if you like. Maybe if you write to me, I'll listen, if I can read your words, I'll hear you.

Your feelings are important. Your feelings are real. Your feelings are you, your life, your growth. Don't ignore them; Don't suppress them; don't question them to condemn them; don't exaggerate them. Feel them...feel them...feel them.

Breathe in...feel in...

Breathe out...let go...

Feel the anger and the passion, feel the happy and the sad; feel the fears...feel it all, it's life, like you said, it's what makes us all feel alive. Breathe it all in; then breathe it all out. But especially feel the love....I Love You.


P.S. Have a great day! "Break a leg" tonight (oh, I hate saying that :))


Hi Mom,

Sorry, I've been too busy with Chicago, so I haven't been able to write back. I was never mad at you Sunday night. Going for a walk didn't make me feel better, but it wasn't your fault. I think, really, conversation just drained me of energy. And I wanted to talk about me, but I have trouble a lot of the time articulating my feelings and I feel guilty wanting to talk about my feelings because I think it's selfish. I don't know if it is or isn't.

Cassie told me to listen to my heart whenever I need to make important decisions. This is the thing: when your head is in the right place, it's easy to listen to your heart, because then, you can trust what it's saying...but my heart is hopeful and a lot more strong-willed and obstinate. Thus, creates my inner conflict. I feel this way about most decisions I have to make right now: love, jobs, career path, Mandarin, school, family, etc.

I think I'm scared that - no, I know I'm scared, not that I'm going to fail, it's just sometimes...often, so hard to have faith - faith that you will get a second chance, faith that you'll get or have or be everything you want and faith that things will work out fine. There is plenty of reason to have faith in these things, but you still need to have FAITH, there's no guarantee. I guess I'm not good at faith.

I also feel a lot of pressure to be perfect. I like me, I like who I am, but I'm not necessarily satisfied with that. I think I know who I want to be...and I don't want to react in a way that makes me seem like a bitch, or, in other words, unlike that person I'm trying to be. If I had a dime for every time someone described me as "nice" - all these people around me engaging in their control dramas, they get to be all tragic, or mysterious, or cool, or unique and I'm simply nice. Everyone puts on a show and gets all this attention and I'm nice. Just nice. "Nice" is my defining feature...And because I'm nice, I have to be nice in all situations, I have to always react nicely, or perfectly. But maybe I'm just confused.

Anyway, I'm gonna go. I'm going to make supper. You can tell me if any of this makes sense. Love you too,


April 20, 2006:

Yes, Raquel, it makes perfect sense to me. People think that if you're an A+ student, your life is so "perfect" and if you're "nice," everyone likes you, so you have a million friends. But they have no idea the pressure involved in maintaining that image. They would be the first to laugh if you got a "C"; "what's wrong?"; or "what happened to you?" but they wouldn't really care about the answer. And if you dared to not be nice for one moment, all those so-called friends would be shocked. But if you live like this and believe all this shit I've just said, then it will keep happening and you will become a robot.

So you're right: Know Who you are!

Who you want to be! And BE that person, all the time. And Cassie's right, your heart will lead you, it will never steer you wrong even if your brain thinks it's wrong. Your brain is often loaded with misguided ideas and perception from old beliefs that aren't true. Be Who You Are! Who You Want to Be! And forget about labels, you don't need them. For yourself or anyone else.

The Universe is perfect and everything in it is perfect harmony. I think if that wasn't true, we would have destroyed ourselves and this planet long ago. Yes, I know, sometimes, it still looks like we're going to but then I stop and look at all the beauty that still is surrounding us...

We all have stuff to work through, lessons to learn, experiences to experience and feelings to feel. Don't be scared to feel. "Feelings" are your head and soul talking to you. Find the thought that causes the feelings, change the thought.

Don't ever think you can't talk to me, even if it's just writing in this book. It's not selfish to say, "Hey, I need help, I need attention." It's honest and truthful.


Undated, 2006:

Hi Mom,

I've been feeling really anxious lately, as probably you know. I've been worrying about things, sometimes unnecessarily and it's bothering me. I don't like feeling overwhelmed.

I've talked to Ms. Juckes about it and she said it would be a good idea to talk to a counselor. I think so too. Would you be okay with this?

I don't want you to worry about me because I worry when you worry. I want to be able to take care of myself because one day I might have to. :) I think this would help with my confidence. Ms. Juckes gave me a list of names, maybe we could talk about this,