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Campus Radicals In the Trump Era

The latest installment in an ongoing interview series with senior editor Mark Bauerlein. On this episode, Robby Soave discusses his book Panic Attack: Young Radicals In the Age of Trump .

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American Breakdown

The latest installment in an ongoing interview series with senior editor Mark Bauerlein. On this episode, David Bromwich discusses his book American Breakdown: The Trump Years and How They Befell Us.

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The Myth of the Lone Wolf

The latest installment in an ongoing interview series with senior editor Mark Bauerlein. On this episode, Mary Eberstadt discusses her latest book, Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics

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The Christian Roots of Religious Liberty

The latest installment in an ongoing interview series with senior editor Mark Bauerlein. On this episode,  Robert Wilken discusses his new book Liberty in the Things of God: The Christian Origins of Religious Freedom .

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*Waves White Flag* Can This Please Stop?

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
June 28, 2019. Dehydration and malnutrition while on retreat.
August 5, 2019. Chest pain and chest muscle spasms that caused my entire right side to go numb.
August 14, 2019. Dehydration and dizziness.
September 20, 2019. Dizziness and low blood pressure,

What do these four dates have in common? All days I ended up in the Emergency Room this summer.

Have you noticed how little I've written this summer? Well, that's because I've been sick. Besides those ER visits, there have been trips to urgent care, multiple doctor's appointments, several days of being stuck in bed, an emergency trip to the dentist to have two infected molars taken care of, a lot of physical pain, a lot of fatigue, and a lot more that I still haven't shared. This has been, without a doubt, the hardest summer (health-wise) since the summer of my reversion in 2006. And, it's always in the summer. Always.

I wish I could say that my faith has really pulled me through but, in all honesty, it's not been that great either. I've been experiencing this intense spiritual aridity for months. I pray, of course. I have my daily routine of morning prayers, the Litany of Humility, the chaplet of St. Michael, the (full version of the) St. Patrick breastplate prayer, the daily Rosary (sometimes more than all 5 decades of the day), the Rosary confraternity prayer, and my nighttime prayers. Sometimes I'll also have novenas going on, but I know it's been the lack of the Sacraments that have hindered any spiritual growth over the last couple of months.

It's been... hard. Being the only person who drives in the house and frequently feeling either too physically weak to go to Mass or being too lightheaded or dizzy to safely drive (or even walk/stand), even to our nearest parish, has made life difficult. I've made it to confession and Mass a couple of times this summer but rarely on Sundays.  I hate it. I hate not being able to make plans to have someone even drive me to Mass (and, God bless them, there have been multiple offers from fellow parishioners) because I never know how I'm going to wake up feeling the next morning and I'd hate to cancel/rearrange their plans at the very last minute.

Doctors are testing and checking everything they can think of. Primary, hematology, ophthalmology, (soon to be added) neurology -- everyone is trying to find "the" cause... and getting nowhere. The MRI I had done last month showed I have a small cyst in my pineal gland but they're not worried as they can be common and it's still small enough to not cause alarm. Both of my eyes have swollen nerves the back of them (hence why the MRI was ordered) and they still haven't found the cause for that. There is a possible explanation for my chronic lightheaded and dizziness but it's something that I won't be able to address anytime soon. Let's just say that something can be done about it, but health obstacles keep me from trying to move forward and away from the cause/source. Prayers for the chance to test this theory would be greatly appreciated.

The more I try to find God in these situations, the further away He seems. My eyesight has been so bad lately (I've developed really bad chronic dry eye that makes me sensitive to light and blinds me for several minutes upon waking nearly every day these days) that I haven't even been able to read, much less do Lection Divina or spiritual reading. If it wasn't for the option to have text read to me on my iPod and iPhone, I wouldn't even get the daily Mass readings.

I don't know what to do. Plain and simple. I feel like I'm failing some of my duties as an Oblate novice because of what I've been dealt lately. Our Oblate master knows; I've let him know what's been going on with me; some of which only a handful of people know. Still, I wish I could do more. I know what I'm capable of and it's hard to not be able to do them.

While I was able to find God and feel closer to Him during moments of illness before, I can't anymore. I have zero consolations. I try to make sense of why I'm going through what I'm going through. Could it be penance for past (and current) mistakes? Could it be that He's preparing me for something great in the future? Am I supposed to go through all of this because He's trying to teach me something; to prepare me for something? Could all these health issues be physical manifestations of spiritual attacks since I keep trying to grow and heal? Actually, that last theory is a popular one for reasons I hope to one day be able to share. What the answer is... I don't know.

Maybe I'm not supposed to know why I've had to suffer so many physical ailments (all at once) in the last 3 months. Maybe I'm just supposed to trust that God will be there, even when He's never seemed as distant as He has lately. All I know is that I have to keep moving forward and keep up my prayers and continue to try to get to confession and Mass as much as I can. It's not always easy and I may not feel up to it very much (or at all some days) but I can try.

Anyway, if you've been wondering about why I've been so sporadic with my blogging, this is why. I've even fallen behind on work at times; it's been that bad, y'all.

Please keep me in your prayers as I have a feeling I still have a steep hill to climb before I can get a break. I have a couple of doctors appointments this week, a lot of blood work to get taken (hopefully the last non-routine tests that I'll have to do for a while), and a busy work week on top of that.

God willing, I'll have a little break coming up so I can write all these non-health posts I've been wanting to share all summer.

As always, thanks for reading and God bless! :)

Sometimes Things Don't Work Out

Well, I tried... and it didn't work.

I am "back" in the sense that I've returned to this blog and have shut down the Benedictine blog. A very long story short: I had a major drop in readership for both my blog and my third novel. Like... insane. People weren't reading the blog as much as they read this one. I know blogs have begun going out of style but, goodness, the drop was drastic. I was wondering why and then I started noticing that people just weren't switching over to the new blog for some reason -- but they continue to visit this one more than the other one. I guess the "nerdwriter" and "catholicnerdwriter" thing has been a part of me for so long that people cannot associate me with anything else.

Also, my novel wasn't (and still isn't) really selling... which is not the greatest news when you've just incurred a medical bill that will cost 6 months-worth of salary for you. Oh, yes, I'm serious. I'll blog about that soon enough. I generally don't stress about whether my novels sell but when you're under a financial crunch, every little bit helps.

So, after much consideration, I decided to transferred the blog posts from the (now defunct) Benedictine blog to this one (yes, I kept everything as it was; blog titles, pictures, text, and even time and dates published). So if you didn't get a chance to read any of the following, you will now:

My Oblate Retreat, Part One: Obstacles, Tears, and a Trip to the ER

Dear Dad... 

When Life Goes Crazy and God Disappears

Smoke and Fire, The Novel That Complicated My Life for 2 Years

I do fully intend to post like a week's worth of blog posts soon because I have a lot of craziness to update y'all on -- and if you follow me on Twitter you already know part of it -- but I need sleep first. Perhaps after my nap (and after the next dose of antibiotics), I'll sit down and write one (or more) posts to spread over the next week. I will say this: I've had it suggested that this is a sort of spiritual attack because I was planning on going through with a major life change that has now been postponed (again) due to my recent health issues. That and maybe because I published the novel that took me forever to publish (full story here). Only God knows the real reason but prayers would be much appreciated that I'll be on the mend soon. Again, I'll explain this all as soon as I can.

Alright, well... I guess that's it for now. Did I mention I need sleep? Because I need sleep. lol.

As always, thanks for reading and God bless!

Smoke and Fire, The Novel That Complicated My Life for 2 Years

"I'm going to work on it again, so please say a prayer for me."

This is what I would tell my closest friends (and sometimes everyone on social media) every time I worked on the third novel, Smoke and Fire. Why did I do this? Because something would always happen when I worked on it... and it usually involved my health.

For two years and two months, June 2017-August 2019, I would have a number of things happen when I worked on the novel. The more I worked on it, the more things happened. All those ER trips and new health issues? Yep, all happened either the day after or within 2-3 days of work on it. Sometimes I would get so sick that I would have to abandon it for months at a time... and that's when I enjoyed feeling and being my healthiest in that time frame. That is why it took me 2+ years to complete it.

The bulk of the ending and editing process? I started it in early June of this year and I finished it this month? Guess when my health got worse after a good health spell.

Of course, it could all be a coincidence. Maybe something I was writing was triggering health symptoms... I mean, swelling in my heads, my brain, dehydration, a fatty liver (oh, yes, I just found out I have that as well), anemia, and all the other health issues can be caused by mental health triggers, right?

At one point during the process, I had the opportunity to talk to a well-known apologist about my situation after a friend suggested I might be experiencing spiritual oppression. He said he didn't think it was oppression, per se, but that he wouldn't be surprised if I didn't have a bulls-eye target on my back because of what my work (and the novel) is about.

See, I write these novels because I was inspired to write something that, quite frankly, could be read without having to go to the confessional afterward. The majority of the young adult and "new adult" (college-aged readers) books out there are filled with smut. I've had to abandon many books during my research of what's popular because they either start with the character in bed with someone or it gets to the point where it reads like softcore porn or "mommy porn" as books such as 50 Shades have been dubbed.

As a woman, I find this insulting. Surely I'm capable of enjoying a book that doesn't ramp up the vulgar sexy times in order to keep me entertained. Jane Austen didn't do that and her novels have been around for over 200 years, still amassing fans literal centuries after they were first published. I'm not saying that I'm anywhere near Jane's level of talent -- no! I have a long way to go before I can ever hope of reaching that level.

When I explained to the apologist about how I liked writing for my demographic -- young women who were strong in their faith -- he said that I would undoubtedly get attacked for it. He gave me suggestions on what I could do before writing (read Psalm 91, keep holy water nearby) and with that, I tried to finish the novel. I kept remembering his words -- the more I write things that go against the norm (that won't pervert young readers' minds), the more I could be attacked. Add the fact that I attend solely Latin Masses (the devil hates Latin) and, well, bulls-eye city. With that in mind, I become determined to finish the novel... and I eventually did.

Now that it's published... let's see what happens.

If you're wondering a possible reason for why the attacks (if you believe they were spiritual attacks) came on so strong... I don't know. Or, I have theories but I don't know for sure if I'm correct.

Theory one: I wrote something that is big in youth culture -- fame and celebrity worship. That's all I'm going to say without giving away any spoilers. I'm sure, from the novel description, you already figured out that it had to do something with that. As someone who dabbled in the "biz" in my teens into early 20s, I got to see a bit of what it's like. To this day, I still get glimpses of what that world is like. Of course, I don't mainly focus on that but it touches on it... and gives an alternative view of it.

Theory two: I address something else that is a big problem that I've seen more often than I'd like but one that I've rarely seen addressed. Again, not saying what it is but let's just say it goes along with the warning from Our Lady that the last battle would be on the family. That's all I'm going to say.

I'm not saying my book is groundbreaking. I'm not even saying it's good; you have to be the judge of that yourself. I'm just saying that I wrote something that I felt called to write and I wrote it. It may not sell as well as my first two novels. It may not be as well received. But, if I can make a difference to one single person's life by helping them in the smallest way, it's going to be worth two years of obstacles.

So, what is this novel that caused so much trouble? Introducing: Smoke and Fire.

Synopsis: A summer trip to London to be a part of her best friend's wedding. That was all Isabella "Izzy" Galvan looked forward to. Yes, her two best friends were well-known actors so she wouldn't be doing the typical touristy things. No one would pay the slightest bit of attention to her if they went out in public, but she didn't mind that. At all. In fact, having that anonymity was something that she fiercely clung to. The important thing was that she would be away from home; away from the ordinary (and oftentimes maddening) life she lived in the unglamourous suburbs of Los Angeles. There would be nothing but two months of spending time with her best friends, helping with any last-minute wedding details that popped up, and being a part of the wedding before returning home. Or, at least, that was the plan. Of course, when your closest friends are constantly in the spotlight, nothing ever goes as planned. That is especially true when everyone is hiding secrets that will change everything -- and every one -- for better or worse.

The book is now out on Amazon, both the Kindle and the paperback versions.

Kindle version:
Paperback version:

Anyway, that is the story of how Smoke and Fire came to be. If you're interested in reading it, please feel free to do so.

And that is it for now. I hope to write again soon. :)

As always, thanks for reading and God bless. :)

When Life Goes Crazy and God Disappears

Yes, I know; it's been over a month since my last blog post.

Life has been... an adventure.

There have been multiple doctor appointments and still more to come.

There have been trips to hospitals, including an ambulance ride to the emergency room when I had chest pains that were so bad that they made my entire left side go numb; the EMTs wanted to make sure I wasn't having any heart-related issues. They turned out to be muscle spasms that I've still felt as recently as yesterday.

There have been plans to move forward in a couple of areas in my life... all while dealing with health issues.

Ah, yes... the ever-present health issues. While my platelets were within the normal range for the first time in over a decade for two (yes, two) blood draws, the anemia has gotten a bit worse.

I've also been waking up and going "blind" for a couple of minutes in the morning. It usually takes me to the end of the second or (more frequently) third Rosary mystery before I can see enough to keep going on with my day. I have an ophthalmology appointment on the 15th -- the feast of the Assumption -- to hopefully begin figuring out what's been going on these last couple of months.

And, to top it off, I'm either allergic to a big staple in my diet or it just ups my histamine levels which made me perpetually congested and teary-eyed until I stopped eating it a week ago. Why, potatoes? Why?! So, now I'm down to only two things that I can eat: chicken and corn tortillas. Can we say "malnutrition deficiencies"? Since I have major food allergy PTSD (it's no fun to feel your throat get swollen or like you can't breathe right after you've eaten something that has never made you sick before), it's going to take a lot of courage to try new foods while dealing with the fears I have of potentially having a severe allergic reaction. It thankfully hasn't happened yet -- my reactions have been mild to perhaps slightly moderate-ish so far  -- my doctors are having me carry an EpiPen wherever I go. Fun, right?

Are we seeing the adventure part, yet? Yes, it's been a wild ride.

Throughout all of this, I'm ashamed to admit that I fluctuate between trusting God and forgetting He's even here. This is straight-up, real talk.

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my own fears that I forget Who ultimately has control of the situation. While I was amazingly calm during the chest pain/spams ordeal -- to the point where the doctors ruled out anxiety as a cause for the chest pains; I was praying the Rosary while going through the spasm pains -- I've had moments of pure panic where God isn't even in the back of my mind. And it's not like I even distrust that God has my back; I just forget because I'm so wrapped up in myself. It's absolutely horrible.

Lately, I've been wondering if I've gone through all of this as a sort of test. Not that God is testing my love for Him. It's more like God is allowing these trials to help me try to keep Him on my mind more often; to help me realize what areas of my life I need to work on to better my relationship with Him and strengthen my faith. Just looking back at how many times I didn't even think about Him versus how many times I remembered that God was in control has been an eye-opener. I have a lot to work on but I'm prepared to do that work.

All of this has always made me even more acutely aware of how much I am missing the Sacraments. How many times have I gone to Mass in the past 9 weeks? Once... at the retreat... because the chapel was literally downstairs and I could take the elevator down from where my room was and walk, even while dizzy and lightheaded and feeling faint, to it. Now that I'm back home and my health has slowly regressed and I have no one who can potentially drive me to Mass and feel comfortable enough help steady me if I feel a little lightheaded when standing up? No Mass for Emmy. Sometimes I'm too weak to even get out of bed, let alone walk downstairs or even drive to the nearest parish.

And, of course, that also means it's been that long since I've been to confession as well. I've had two mini spiritual direction meetings since but I haven't had a proper confession in weeks. My heart longs for it. I don't like being away from the Sacraments. I don't like missing Mass. I intensely dislike not having been to confession since shortly after my birthday in late May. The longer these things go on, the more distant and muddled my relationship with God feels.

I, thankfully, have moments of consolation where I feel God's presence, His mercy and love, in my life but those are infrequent and never last long enough. It's like I've taken up residence in the middle of the desert... in the middle of summer... during the worst heatwave ever recorded in the area. It's just plumb awful. Of course, just because I don't feel His presence doesn't mean He's not there. His existence isn't based on my dull human feelings. Intellectually, I know that... but it's still hard and it makes the struggle through the spiritual dryness even harder to get through.

I know that we all go through these rough periods in our lives and especially in our spiritual life. I know that great saints have gone through years or even decades (St. Teresa of Calcutta, anyone?) where they receive no consolation during their "dark nights of the soul." Sometimes I wonder if I'm ever going to feel that closeness with God ever again... but, regardless, I still keep going. I mean, I feel like a fraud most of the time (again, this is real talk, y'all) because I haven't been able to attend Mass or confession but I'm still trying to do the little bits I can do.

I'm still praying the Benedictine Office throughout the day. I still have my list of daily prayers I pray, including the (much needed) Litany of Humility. I still pray the Rosary daily. I still pray for those who ask for prayers; for those whom I love and care for. I still try to do the right thing even though, the longer I go without the Sacraments, the harder it is to not fall into temptation and occasionally slip up. Still, that somehow doesn't seem like enough to me.

So, that's where I am. I hope my health improves in the near future because I miss attending Mass, receiving the Eucharist, and giving my soul a nice scrubbing in the confessional. Heck, I just want to have enough physical stamina to do basic things like getting out of bed and making myself something to eat without help some days.

I may be crazy to do it but... there's going to be a big change happening in the near future for me. This big change has been a long time coming. It's going to make me face some of my biggest fears and it's going to take me away from everything I've ever known. I think you can sort of guess what I'll be doing with those clues. Again, I may be crazy for embarking on this journey in the middle of my health issues, but perhaps this is something I need to do to improve my health. I'm being vague about it now but I hope to be able to share some details after it's all said and done. Just, please, keep me in your prayers because the whole situation is going to be high-stress and I'm honestly a little worried about how that will affect my health in the process.

... did I forget to mention that life has been an adventure lately? I didn't even mention finishing novel three in the middle of all that craziness! lol. Yes, I'll blog about that soon, as well.

Anyway, this is all part of why I've been MIA lately. I know I've been slightly more active on Twitter but that's been due to the prayer requests when I feel like, "Okay, I need prayer warriors to help me out with this one." I hope to get back to writing more, especially now that novel three is done and I'm slowly getting through all the doctor's appointments (and the follow-ups to the follow-ups). I have 3-4 more appointments scheduled (for now) in the next month, two this week.

Breathe in... hold for 1... 2... 3... 4... and breathe out...  Repeat.

I hope summer has been kinder to y'all so far. Can autumn hurry up and get here already? Summertime and I clearly don't get along. ;)

As always, thanks for reading and God bless. :)

Dear Dad...

Dear Dad,

How is it possible that you've been gone for 10 years?! I'm writing this a day early since I'll be traveling on your actual anniversary. I had hoped to spend the morning at your grave but I can't put off the trip.

Where to start? I can't seem to find the words to say to you. There so much I wish I could say, but it all fails to come close to what I wish I could express. I guess I'll try.

First, I want to say "thank you." Thank you for everything you did for me.

Thank you for taking care of me for the first 23 years of my life. I know I ended up helping take care of you in the end but you did so much for me. Taking care of you during the last years (and especially months) of your life was an honor.

Thank you for all those sacrifices you made for me. As a young, selfish girl I didn't understand but as a grown woman I appreciate them immensely.

Thank you for teaching me to work hard for what I want and to not stay down when I've been knocked down. You taught me never to give up, no matter how bad things seem. You also taught me to look outside the box for creative solutions when I can and that's saved me several times.

Thank you for showing me what it was to be loved and respected. You were the first person to show me what it meant to be loved unconditionally. You taught me to respect not only myself but others as well.

Thank you for your last words to me: that you trusted my judgment. I can still remember when you told Pedro that you trusted my judgment. I hope I've made you proud thus far.

Thank you for teaching me my own worth; to not settle for anything less than I deserved. Not in a manner that would make my haughty, but in a way that gave me confidence and self-respect.

Thank you for the memories you left behind, which are priceless. I can't remember what your voice sounded like. I barely remember the arguments we had. I do, however, remember all the good times. I will have random memories that will pop up when I least expect them and they make me smile.

I'm sorry you missed seeing me graduate from college... and having gone after two additional degrees after that. I know just how important my education was to you. If people only knew how much you sacrificed to make sure I had the education you wish you'd had yourself.

I'm sorry you missed witnessing me getting my driver's license and learning how to fix basic car things. It sounds like a silly little thing to others but they don't know how much you loved cars, especially fixing them. Oh, and thank you for teaching me how to parallel park like a boss.

I'm sorry you missed seeing me become a published author and start a career as a writer. I bet you wouldn't have been surprised because I was always writing; notebook and pen almost always in my hand from the moment I could write.

I'm sorry you missed seeing me grow into my woman I've become in the last 10 years. I like to think you'd be proud of the decisions I've made in my life so far. I bet you would've been surprised I became an Oblate novice. Or maybe not. Me making that solo trip would have surprised you, though.

I'm sorry you'll miss seeing me get married one day. I still have that chapel veil you got me a few months before you passed. I'm saving it for that special day. I hope my future husband will be the man you would've approved of; the man you would've gladly given your blessing to. (side note: don't worry, I'm sure Pedro will interrogate him in the future, lol.)

I'm sorry you'll miss meeting any children God may bless me with. I know how much you loved children -- and how fitting it was that you were buried only a few feet from the area set aside for burials of babies. They'll only hear about the wonderful memories I have of their maternal grandfather.

I'm sorry you'll miss all other milestones I've yet to envision; things God will surprise me with. I know you would've been with me through them all if you could've been.

Mom said you were worried about leaving me; about not being around when I needed you. I still have moments when I do miss you terribly; when I feel like I do need you. I break down in tears because you were the only one who made certain situations better. But then I remember what you taught me. You taught me to have courage; to be strong. You did that! You gave me the confidence in myself and the fiery stubbornness that makes me muster up all the courage I have to face obstacles as fearlessly as I can.

I hope I continue to grow into the person you would've proudly introduced as your little girl (no matter how old I am). Everyone says that I've grown up to be just like grandma -- your own mom! Okay, so I'm like 8 inches taller than she was and I didn't inherit her blue-grey eyes but still! I bet you would've loved to have seen me become more like her because you loved her so much.

I hope I become the kind of mother that reflects the kind of love she experienced from her father; the kind that, when she's gone, her children will have nothing but beautiful memories of.

I hope and pray that you're in Heaven, forever in the presence of our Heavenly Father, because I cannot imagine a better eternity for anyone especially a wonderful, loving father like you.

What else is there to say?

Thank you.

I miss you.

I love you.

I hope we're one day reunited in Heaven.


My Oblate Retreat, Part One: Obstacles, Tears, and a Trip to the ER

"God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not fall..." (Ps 62:7, NABRE)

These were the first words I read when I randomly opened up the Bible in my room at the retreat center. It was the third day of the retreat and I was running on empty; tears flowing down my cheeks because I felt like I didn't belong there. But, before I go on, let me start from the beginning...

Exactly one week before I left for the trip, I started feeling sick. I had a low-grade fever that came out of nowhere. Every day after that was a new, different thing. Fever, aches and pains, fatigue, stomach issues, debilitating headaches, etc. It was never the same thing. The day before I left for the retreat, I got food poisoning (as did my mom) and I felt so terrible that I didn't know if I was going to have to cancel my trip at the last minute.

I had a strong feeling that taking the trip was a bad idea; that I should stay at home instead. I had so many strong doubts the day before that I felt overwhelmed. Eventually, my stubborn side kept reminding me that, no, I wanted this. That and I know that "feelings" can sometimes trip us up so I wasn't trusting them.

I'd been praying about/discerning becoming a Benedictine oblate for a long time. I kept reminding myself that I wouldn't have raised $800 in 11 hours if it wasn't God's will for me to make this trip. (By the way, if you're new to my journey, you can read about the beginning of my discernment to the fundraiser here.) God had made it clear that He wanted me to do this so I would, no matter what obstacles would come my way. What I didn't know was that the entire retreat would be full of obstacles that would leave me feeling drained.

I started my trip on only two hours of sleep. Due to the heebie-jeebies I get being on a plane, I can't sleep during flights. We had a pretty smooth flight but I was seriously fighting sleep by the time we landed in O'Hare. Thankfully, a fellow oblate offered to drive me from the airport to the retreat center so I was able to nod off during the drive. We went to lunch with other oblates before we went to the center, which I'm grateful for because it would be the last decent meal I'd have for 3 days.

Months beforehand, I let the oblate who organized the retreat know about my food allergies and intolerance. (side note: this was prior to my food allergy panel results.) He let me know that they would be able to accommodate my dietary restrictions. A few days before the retreat, I let him know I would be taking a small part of my food; the corn tortillas and a few snacks in case there was a mix-up. I'm grateful I took them because there was a major mix-up: they thought I would be taking all of my food and they weren't prepared for me. Gulp. The next couple of days consisted of me eating mostly tortillas and the few snacks I'd taken because they kept making me food that made me sick. At least I got some protein in the form of chicken... even though I ended up getting sick from it because they prepared it with ingredients my stomach couldn't tolerate. I was so hungry that I didn't care; I ate it all even though my body physically ached afterward.

On the second day of the retreat, I felt physically spent. I thought it was due to the lack of food and the lack of sleep so I tried to tough it out. When I started swaying and feeling like I was going to pass out whenever I stood up, I knew I had to let someone know I wasn't feeling well. You know, in case I did faint. When I started feeling like I couldn't breathe and I started seeing black whenever I stood, I knew I had to be seen by a doctor. I asked if there was a local urgent care I could be seen at. I only told our Oblate Master because I didn't want to disturb the other oblates' retreat experience nor did I want any attention. I just wanted to be quietly seen by a doctor because I knew something was wrong and I wouldn't be able to simply ignore it. He got one of the oblates to drive me to the local emergency room.

The final diagnosis? Dehydration, near-syncope ("most likely from lack of sleep and lack of food," according to the doctor), and a migraine. Awesome. Thanks, body! They checked my bloodwork and they gave me a bag of IV fluids. I was given the okay to fly back to L.A. on Sunday. I needed to rest and hydrate as much as I could.

The next day (our third day of the retreat), our Oblate Master told me to rest as much as I could. He told me he didn't care if I stayed and rested in my room for the entire retreat; he just wanted to get the scapular on me so I could begin my novitiate with them the following day. I went down for breakfast, feeling awful because I had only slept 3 hours. The chef said, "Oh wait, we have to prepare breakfast for you, too?" They had no food for me. I was so emotionally spent that I ate my tortillas while I tried to keep myself from crying. Unfortunately, I couldn't stop the tears from spilling over but, at least, I was able to cry as silently as I could. I did not want any attention.

Other oblates would come up to me and ask me how I was feeling. I would say "better" because those IV fluids really did help me out a lot but, emotionally, I was a mess. I was exhausted so I went up to my room to nap instead of going to the third conference. I didn't want to push myself any more than I already had. Before I took that nap, though, I called my mom and told her what was going on.

I broke down and cried. I wanted to go home because of how miserable I felt. I kept second-guessing my decision to have gone on the retreat. I messaged my best friends and told them I felt like I didn't belong there. I felt like an unprepared fraud; like perhaps I'd discerned incorrectly. It was bad. I don't usually have these types of thoughts so I scared myself a bit. They reminded me that I was stronger than I felt at the time. They wondered if I was experiencing spiritual attacks because this was a major trip for me.

Prayer and Lectio Divina in my room.

I took a nap and woke up before Sext and lunch so I decided to do a little Lectio Divina. That's when I took the Bible the center had provided. I chose a random page and opened it up. Of course, I would open it up to a psalm about trusting God. I felt like He was giving me consolation; letting me know that He wanted me there. I felt a renewed determination to stick it out, no matter what else would happen. The rest of the weekend was comprised of resting when I knew I couldn't push myself further, eating whatever I could, drinking as much water as I could, and trying to keep my spirits up.

Sunday -- the big day -- came. Despite the little sleep, I felt excited and ready. Since I couldn't fall back asleep after waking up at 3:30 a.m., I packed and got myself ready for the morning. I went into the kitchen and had something to eat so I wouldn't feel lightheaded during Lauds, Mass, and the scapular investiture of the new novices. I was fine during Lauds... but then I started feeling sick during Mass. It was almost like round two of what had sent me to the ER two days prior. Cue me mentally asking all the saints to intercede for me.

I kept swaying and wanting to black out when I stood up during Mass so, at one point, I stayed seated. I was a little embarrassed because I didn't want to seem impious but I knew it would be worse if I passed out. I also knew I had to go up to the altar during the Ritus Induendi Novitium Oblatum (the investiture ceremony) so I wanted to save up whatever little strength I had.

"Mama Mary...  Guardian Angel... St. Benedict... St. Frances of Rome... all the Benedictine saints... Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati... St. Therese... hold me up. Intercede just so that my knees won't buckle under me." I was able to get myself to the far right side of the altar and I leaned against the wall, holding on with one hand when I felt like my knees would give in. I felt like I had no physical strength... but, darn it, I was going to go through it all, standing!

As Fr. Prior was getting ready to place the scapular on me, I felt like I was going to fall to the ground. I stubbornly made myself stand away from the wall so I wouldn't have that support. I trusted God; I knew I was meant to be there so I let my fears go. (side note: who says having a bit of a stubborn streak is a bad thing? I only use it during times like these. lol.) There was no way I wasn't going to go through with it. Only the day before, after reading Psalm 62, I met with our Oblate Master and he told me that I was meant to be there. I knew it was what God wanted me to do; there had been too many "signs" that this seems to be God's will for me.

I kid y'all not, the second the scapular was placed on me by Fr. Prior, I felt the most refreshing peace wash over me. Not only that, all the shakiness and the physical weakness seemed to have disappeared in an instant. I felt strengthened... and I was instantaneously grateful for all I had endured up to that point. The tears, the physical and emotional obstacles, the ER visit... every single thing I had endured was worth it. I was grateful for all the difficulties because it made that moment even more glorious.

I didn't get to sleep for 24 hours after that, we had the worst turbulence I've ever experienced on the way back home, and it took me two full days to start feeling like myself again... but I survived.

I know it was due to everyone's prayers that I was able to make it through the entire weekend. I mean, I've struggled with constant fatigue for months now (though I'd been feeling much better and my health had been on the upswing up to a week before the trip). I can't function with less than 5 hours of sleep, yet I somehow was able to do it with an average of 3 hours of sleep per night for half a week. I can't fast because it makes me sick yet I somehow got through days of little food.

I'm sorry I missed half of the activities of the retreat. I'm also sad that I didn't get to know my fellow oblates better. I'm a little embarrassed when I think about what a first impression I made on them as well but it was a good humbling experience for me. It reminded me that I'm now part of a (lovely) community; that I can't do everything on my own and that trusting God is the only way to go. There was also no room for vanity (I walked around with my hair in a messy bun and my "humility glasses" for most of the retreat) or anything that would take away from the purpose of the trip. It was absolutely perfect in its own way.

Anyway, this post is far too long so I'll write a part two soon. Yes, there's more. I just wrote the basics of the obstacles so I can focus on the good that came from the retreat in the next post. :)

If you've made it this far, thank you for sticking with it! I promise not all posts will be this long.

I'm going to go make myself something to eat before I get back to work. I was thankfully given last week off to focus on the retreat but now it's back to writing articles and finishing my third novel. :)

Happy feast of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus (traditional calendar) and of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati (unofficially in the new calendar)!

As always, thank you for reading and God bless!