i attended the retreat which so many have told me was life-changing. and to be honest, although i held it to rather high expectations, i entered the retreat hesitant and in some ways apathetic. i wondered if i could truly encounter God.
the first 2 days were filled with talks about God’s love, and then also the 7 capital sins. we were being prepared for the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the 3rd day. i had many urges during this time, including self-harm and suicide. to top it off, i was molested on the 2nd day, and i almost walked out. it affected my mood so bad. then when we were told that after confession, the burden in our hearts would feel lightened, i anticipated it and thought maybe this would change things. so i held on to the 3rd day, and lo and behold. my confessor was Fr J. the guy who had hurt me so terribly before. i told him to be gentle with me, and gentle he was. but after being absolved of my sins, my heart still felt heavy. the feeling became even more visceral, and it was unbearable. i skipped the last session of the day.
day 4 was intense. there was praying over, and then outpouring. it was only on this day that i encountered God. falling over both times, i felt like God had softened my heart and reached it to clean it out of its leaden weight. he practically holed through it so that i may start on a blank state- tabula rasa. with that He filled it with His love and grace, and i sobbed so hard. what unmerited love! i saw images of the times i was discerning to be a consecrated virgin, and i was reminded of that call again. i also saw Mother Mary, and was reminded of her fiat and her Magnificat. and although my memories still serve me well, the rest was history. during outpouring i asked for the gift of tongues. it’s the same gift i asked for 10 years ago during confirmation camp. i still wanted it because i thought that because i’m so limited in my words during prayer, that praying in tongues would best help me pray if i were to offer up my sufferings for others. although i fell over, the gift did not manifest immediately. so right now i’m practicing it at home. but i’m also discerning what gift(s) the Holy Spirit has given me.
on the last day, we made commitments to God and offered it up to him. some of mine include respecting, obeying, loving and being gentler to my parents, praying everyday, journeying in faith through my depression and relying on God and not on myself, keeping in mind the fiat and Magnificat etc.
i’ve had difficult times during retreats, but this was the hardest i’ve ever experienced in a retreat. i felt i was repeatedly tested and tempted, and it was on me to trust God, to surrender to Him, and to say yes even in the most difficult times. but have i encountered God? yes. have i been healed? yes, but there’s only so much healing that can be done when therapy can undo it so quickly. going forward, i feel God working in me when i allow Him to. such unmerited grace!
i just got home from serving in the Combined Universities Retreat (CUR) #3. it was 4 nights away from home, and although i don’t get homesick, i craved isolation. too many people, too much noise, too many interactions, too much distractions. but these retreats are not silent retreats, so that i guess was something i had to accept.
i was serving in the intercessory team again. back in October, i also served in the intercessory team for Treasure 6. CUR #3 would make it the 3rd time i am serving in the intercessory team. and i want to write about this because of my experiences doing full-time intercessory in both retreats.
i knew spiritual attacks were very real. but i never knew how susceptible i was to it, until Treasure 6 and CUR #3. what seemed rather innocent- falling asleep during intercession and Mass- became something i discerned to be spiritual attacks. i admit that my weakness is my physical lethargy no thanks to rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and sometimes depression. this weakness, with the added disadvantage that i have always allowed myself to be vulnerable at least in the confines of OYP, gave the evil one to play his cards.
it took me a long time to wrap my head around this. but i figured that the evil one simply didn’t want me praying. i’d fall asleep each time we were in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. and i’d struggle so hard to stay awake, to even offer up any petitions. each time i emerged from the adoration room or from Mass, i’d be wrecked with guilt and “sorrys” were abundant.the first time i figured it was a spiritual attack was when i invoked St Michael for his help. indeed he came to fight for me the first time i did so! but as time went by, i’d invoked St Michael more and more to manage to pray and intercede for others. when i offered to be in intercessory for CUR #3, i knew the evil one would come on strong and hard on me. after all, there were twice as many retreatants.
and indeed, i fought. these attacks made praying and interceding so difficult. with that, the guilt of not being fully present ate at me. i kept saying sorry to my in-charge. but in fact, what should i be sorry for? interceding for 4 days was to say the least, EXHAUSTING. i thought of giving up and going home. i chugged coffee. i invoked St Michael so many times. but nothing was working. by the end of the retreat, today, i was utterly defeated. i told my in-charge i felt like maybe this is it. this is the last of it. i can’t do it anymore.
but i guess that’s what the evil one wants, right? me not being able to pray. me feeling guilty. me feeling defeated. me giving up. all the more i can’t!
as i shared with my in-charge, i prefer to do my personal prayers. i’m comfortable praying alone, and going for Eucharistic Adoration alone. except for once or twice that i fell asleep lying prostrate, i’ve never fallen asleep like i did in both retreats.
whatever God wills, i will do it. whatever the evil one wants, i will not yield.
i’ve had a 2 stretches of hospitalisation this month, and while i was accompanied by my Bible and Catholic books, i still found myself in much sadness and despair. attempting to stay out of hospital, i couldn’t help but feel myself plunging into darkness. for a few days i struggled to fight it off, but it only escalated and i ended up turning suicidal.
it was at this time i asked my friends in my community what my charisms were. i was told to take it to prayer, but i got no answers. perhaps it’s because i already knew it? my good friend told me earnestly, sensing i was desperate to find my identity in Christ, revealed to me what i actually already knew.
it was the crosses that i had to bear- the crosses of suffering from my physical and mental illnesses. these crosses, we call “sufferings”, could be offered up to God as a sacrifice for the pain and burdens of others. and this is evident because i am also able to feel very deeply the pain of others. at times i find it an unnecessary burden, being able to empathise so much with others, but now i understand better why this happens.
retrospectively, even back when i was 17 and newly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, God gave me the gift of being able to find a gift in everything. i used to be able to see how RA and the pain it entails, help me empathise with my patients. and because of this gift, i embraced it with open arms while struggling to cope with the pain. when i started to actually work as a nurse, the gift of pain truly helped in all that i did with my patients. at that point, i was truly grateful to God. He called me to be a nurse, and also blessed me with the gift of pain.
things began to change with depression. while i could still relate to my patients, i slowly lost that faith that my psychic pain had a purpose. perhaps i was too caught up in my sadness, or that it pained me too much. but after joining my community- Sinners- and having them witness my struggles, they have affirmed me in my ability to allow myself to be vulnerable, and in my ability to be tenacious, in keeping the faith, praising and thanking the Lord in all things.
knowing even just one bit of my charism allows me to offer up my sufferings as a sacrifice for the pains and burdens of others, as i continue to struggle with my chronic illnesses, and more so my mental illnesses. i will keep praying to the Lord, for Him to reveal to me what my charisms are, that i may serve His people further.
“in thee, O Lord, have i hoped.”
i spent 3 days in sacred silence, in the holy presence of God. and the gifts i’ve received were plenty. my spiritual director led me towards gratitude- what i’m grateful for, for the past one year. with this in mind i spent time reflecting, meditating before the Eucharist, and was able to put into words 3 “things” i’ve been grateful for. (because there were too many, i grouped them into 3 themes. here goes!
1. Encountering God through people
i am grateful for the people in my life, and how God works in them and through them, and how they’ve been Christ-like to me. dynamics with my family have changed, and my parents have been trying to be more understanding and empathic towards me. though they may have slipped away from the Church, and though i pray for them to come home to…
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i knelt at the pew to pray, to have a conversation with God. i told Him with much anguish that i’m in a spiritual desert. i can’t see, hear, nor feel Him. and it’s during this period when it’s been most trying. i couldn’t make the correlation- did i fall because i was far from Him? or did i become far from God because i fell? i don’t know. only He knows.
before the Mass started, and while i was still talking to Him, i said repeatedly “Forgive me, Lord. Forgive me.”i knew i needed a confessional, but i asked for His forgiveness anyway. i’ve been a monster to myself. to the body the Lord so lovingly gave me. to the body that is the temple of the Holy Spirit. i’ve trespassed myself so many times in periods of great distress, in great torment, in great anguish. in those moments, i knew not how to cope, except to do what i have always done in the last 5 or so years.
Forgive me, Lord.
i was very restless during Mass. i held tightly onto my holding cross. my heart felt funny. my head throbbed. i didn’t what was up. in the middle 0f Mass i had to pop a painkiller with water borrowed from a brother in Christ. the restlessness didn’t go away, and i had to pop 2 anti-anxiety pills. i felt so guilty, so apologetic then. but i was very out of it. i can’t explain it- how i was fine before i entered the Church, how i haven’t had any anxiety for a good while. but i recalled that i once told a friend that for me i know the Holy Spirit is around when i feel it in my heart. i asked myself if that was it. i doubted it. i was such a wretched sinner. how could it be?
i knelt and received Communion, although i was not in a state of grace. i decided to do so because of what Father E had told me, about receiving His body when one needs it most. as i knelt at the pew and prayed, i started to tear. then i started to cry and sob, in an as much a controlled way as i can. i kept kneeling, grasping the holding cross, and asking our Lord for His grace. i also kept saying sorry to Him. my head was in my hands, looking to the floor. was it undeserved grace that i was receiving? or was it my wretchedness that i was feeling? i don’t know.
it has never happened before, that i broke down in the midst of Mass. i don’t know why. but i know for sure that our Lord was with me and beside me through it. i am not worthy, but His grace is as vast as the oceans; unfathomable.
ps: i told God about my health issues before Mass, new (or old) ones that i am facing. i didn’t know what to tell Him, except “if it is Your will, Lord. thy will be done.” i fear this, yet i ask Him that if this is what He wants or needs to give me, i’ll accept it. this is what it has become, and i trust that He will not give me more than what i can handle. and admittedly? this is still something i’m learning continually to accept.
You are so distant, dear Lord. i can’t see You and i can’t feel You, no matter how hard i seek You out. when my Rosary bracelet broke before my surgery, i said it was an ominous sign- the surgery didn’t go as i had planned. but You know Lord, what was ominous, was not finding You.
it’s not the darkness that i am used to, in which i can’t find You. it’s an open field of grass and trees that are long dead, in which You can’t be found. somehow sitting in darkness is easier.
it hurts to not see You or feel You. but You must be here. right next to me You are sitting, i guess. and until i see Your Face, my heart will not rest.
too many things have happened, and in the sufferings i endure, i witness the love and mercy of our Saviour God.
since i last wrote, i was lost in darkness time and again. i fell and took too many pills. was institutionalised for 2 weeks; they ran electric currents through my head again. had a bout of pneumonia, was isolated, and intravenous antibiotics coursed through my veins. went back out into the wild, and struggled immensely in the hopeless darkness to cope. whatever the circumstance was, i had to live- i was bound by my obligations as a daughter, a sister, an employee, a student.
in the unbearable state of being and in the darkness, it was so hard to see God. many times i turned to others for support, forgetting that God is by my side even in the darkness. i don’t know what made me do so- it must’ve been divine intervention- but one day i started to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. it became a routine to do so every morning on my way to work. it lifted me up- God’s divine mercy, His abounding grace, His unrelenting love, and wrapped in His embrace i saw the light. His light in the darkness is most assuring, most calming.
i was to fall again and again. simply absorbed in my sufferings i forget time and again that God is right next to me when i sit alone in the darkness. but God worked His grace through the people around me, and i am repeatedly reminded that i am loved, no matter what.
the new year will prove to be trying, as i continue in my journey to grow in my faith, and in my journey to recovery. as with the prognosis of my depression, i will not know if i will live to see another day, week, month or year. but i pray for the strength to hold on to God, to walk by faith and not by sight, to know that whatever i am going through, God’s love never fails, and that i will be ok no matter what.
i am loved by God, even if i feel most unlovable.
i am reminded of how nursing hurts me, in this period where i am attempting to ease into a new employer’s. i’ve been wrought with anxiety, in much fear and in trembling. the first thing i turn to is clonazepam, as though it will rest this woeful heart. but it will not do. the fears of rebuke, rejection and judgement are extremely real, palpable even. but i tell myself that God will share in my burdens, and that He’ll carry me through these difficult times. i can’t seem to surrender to Him this dead weight. looking at the timeline of my new job, i’m gonna be constantly worrying for at least 1 month, and i don’t know how i’ll cope.
i didn’t receive Communion today during Mass. it has been an extremely difficult decision to make since being aware that one should not receive Communion when one is not in a state of grace. all these time in the last 5 years, i’ve received Communion, although for a long time i struggled really hard to even enter under His roof feeling extremely dejected and unworthy. i first read about why people do not receive Communion, and my initial reaction was to justify why i can still receive the Bread. “it’s not a mortal sin!!!”, i’d keep telling myself. but i know it’s really my pride, and thinking that if i didn’t receive Communion, i wasn’t a complete Catholic. almost in an impromptu manner, i jumped into this decision right there and then during Mass that i will not receive it, until i am in a state of Grace to receive Communion. and that will happen when i have stopped turning against myself.
would just like to write it here (also as a record in case i forget, which is very likely). i was reminded today of many things i’ve been graced with, as i shared my experience of journeying towards recovery with a dear friend.
- shame thrives in darkness. talking about (what i am ashamed of) it lets the light in bit by bit. letting God’s light shine through also takes away this darkness that seems easier to remain in.
- lean not on myself, nor look to people (and material) for healing, God’s grace is sufficient. more than sufficient actually. all that is of the earth will not last. only resting in God and his mercy can we be healed.
- be patient. aside from God, give it time. as much as my scars fade, so will these wounds and suffering. everything happens in God’s time, not mine. if 5 years is not enough, give it 10. if 10 years is not enough, keep trying. God never gives up.
But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
4 months of silence here, and things have changed.
i struggle with my faith, although God has been unwavering. i’ve been blessed with many of His graces, and each time He provides, i fall on my knees and marvel at His mercy. what have i done to merit His abounding grace???
so many things have happened since my last entry. i fell really hard, in my anguish, i turned away from Him and relied on myself to cope. mutilating the self drowned me in shame. yet i didn’t know how i’d surrender my pain to Him. i questioned if He could make it better- this life of physical and psychological pain. walking away from Him and relying on my maladaptive ways was me believing that i could make it better, because He can’t. but i’m so wrong!!!
i’ve served in Treasure 4, and i am extremely grateful for the fellowship of the service team. He blessed me so much that i could give without seeking to receive. and at the end of it, was the dawn of community life with Sinners. He works in His glorious ways, that i don’t think i could ever comprehend.
in the Prayer Experience Retreat, i asked God in my writings about the suffering i go through. He spoke, and i want to hold on to His Word that all of this is for His purpose, and for mine to grow in His enduring love.
29 August 2015
“Dear child, have faith.
Remember how I told you that out of darkness comes great glory? Would i take delight if this great glory you enter is for your own purpose? Remember, I gave these gifts of sufferings to you, not to plainly make you suffer. You already know that through your pain you can help others. So what is this great glory that comes after your darkness?
Take courage in yourself, but also in Me. Those whispers you heard calling you to the religious life, don’t ignore them. Embrace them. Walk towards that light, and in time to come, you shall take that first step. You heard me. I called you by name. There is no denying, no hiding. Bask in my love for you. Abandon all worldly things, for they don’t sustain you. See how they sadden you, dear child. I am more than sufficient for you. Rest in Me. But also be my instrument. Let Me work through you, oh sweet child.
Do not doubt my will for you. Nor should you doubt My love for you, and your worthiness. I love you so very much. Devote yourself to Me, even in your broken self. You are more loveable when you are broken, so never resent it. For you, so broken, are perfect in My sight. Follow Me, dear child, and serve My people like you always asked.”
30 August 2015
“Dear child, you long to love and be loved.
I am giving you this tender heart of flesh to renew you, that you may go forth to love freely. Why do you doubt? With Me all things are possible. Remember there is no one on earth that you can truly please. Stay vulnerable, for when you are, then you can give freely, and also receive from others by My grace. Your vulnerability is not a burden. It makes you child-like, more precious. People will fail you, but I will not. People will judge you, but I will not. So yes being vulnerable can be difficult. But consider it a test. That out of it you’ll grow more into My likeness. Remember that an open heart of flesh can readily receive gifts from the Heaven and Holy Spirit. And it can also freely give. Do not be afraid. People will hurt you, but you are meant for greater things. Trust in Me. Lean on Me. Lie in <y embrace, whenever you are fearful. And I will comfort you.”
i continue to fight to turn towards Him, and to always want to choose Him first. and i hope that one day, i can abandon all my fears and surrender to Him wholly.
“The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.”
– Exodus 14:14
i had denied God’s grace and mercy flatly, when i was asked by my psychiatrist if i believed in ” the divine power” (he is a Buddhist, thus the lack of appropriate terms). i had said no. my rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia are incurable conditions, and will never go away. who was i, by the way, to say that God is unable to heal?
it’s been a difficult place to be, struggling with my physical and mental health. i’ve been feeling very defeated, and also tired from what seems like an endless battle with a body and mind that disagrees. these are not excuses to deny God. i recognise that. and it is exactly for these reasons that i should all the more lean on God. but why then?
when i was met with rising tensions with my family and my safety was threatened (by my triggered mind), i ran away from home. i coped in a way that i knew possible, however dysfunctional it is. it was a very human way, and to whoever i confided in i felt myself judging myself for being such a cowardice- the odd thing is that all the people i confided in never once judged me for it. for a long while after i could not reconcile with myself for not coping with it in a more ‘Godly’ manner. whatever that is, i felt like i had sinned greatly by choosing to leave my home. because this incident marked again a small spiral down, plus other concurrent issues at work, i found myself thinking about self-harm a lot more. i just wasn’t coping well, and i was wrought with guilt.
i had let myself walk away from God these few weeks because i could not forgive myself, despite having gone for a retreat on Forgiveness. i felt unworthy of His love, having done things that were not how God would like it to be. and with my dysregulation and self-harm thoughts, i found myself lapsing back into the mindset of when i was a lost sheep condemned to never be found because again i was too sinful and terribly unworthy. pain plagued me again and again, i felt downtrodden and helpless at a body that belongs to me. and when RA is inevitably intertwined with depression, how could i not get frustrated? everything that has happened pointed to the direction where things are falling apart.
so when my psychiatrist asked me, i had retorted and unknowingly denied God’s power to heal me. God has been listening and watching, and right from then i started to hear Him in the ways i’ve always known. about healing and about rest. i see my fallenness, my brokenness, that in all things i should look to my Saviour. what more when i am in pain?
it’s a time where my vulnerabilities are more, and that means i have to lean more on God and pray. i cannot stop, contrary to my habits, and halt. i have to give myself up to the Lord especially in such times. and i hope i remember that very very well.