Life with Lily

Things were spiraling down rapidly. One event after another, events that arose emotions I could not easily stomach, I was going down fast, losing my calm. I was lost at sea of dark emotions of confusion, sadness, anger, jealousy, and fear. I found myself caught in this consummating fire of my dark passion. Once again.

Life seemed perfectly calm and peaceful. Everything was in place as if I have reached the pinnacle of eternal bliss. That highest point of spiritual maturity that everyone seems to be after nowadays, I was there. I thought I had established myself on that solid ground, I thought I had mastered the balancing act. But no. It only took one small event that set me off, pushing me off the dangerous tipping point I had been positioning myself upon.

Receiving healing prayers after mass, requesting Stephen counseling Ministries, talking to my mature neighbor and my close friends, praying the rosary every night, praying to Jesus day and night, and crying, crying, and crying until I could not cry any more, all helped me get through the last couple of weeks that was resembling more and more like depression. Everyday, I was reaching out for something in my desperate moments of fearful falling. A kind soul here and there grabbed my reaching hand pulling me up back to the safe ground. An elderly leader from Stephen Ministries gently put his hand on top of my shaking hand as I was crying uncontrollably. He was 77 years old, a professor from a local college, perhaps teaching at the department of Psychology. He calmly talked about his disabled daughter with a severe birth defect. She cannot urinate or pass bowel movement on her own, she has to be wheeled around in her wheel chair. She is in her forties now but she has guided him, offered directions for his life paths, through her need for him to become her protection for life.

As he chronicled his journey with his daughter from East Coast to Montana and back to Maryland, I realized that I, too, have that disabled girl inside me. Perhaps I could call her Lily after the name of this blog site. That girl, my Lily, always lived inside me suffering her condition of bipolar disorder since her very young days. That unstable girl was the one that made me move from one continent to another, from a mainland to an island, from one State to another, from one job to countless others, from one marriage to another. She guided me, sometimes to the right direction, but many times to the paths that led me to sink into deep holes. All those paths, whether good or bad, have led me to be here in this place where I still struggle to overcome the burning fire inside me. It wants to destroy me. It wants to devour me whole. But my Lily with her bipolar disorder has been a great teacher. She helped me experience life with greater depths and heights. She took me on a life journey like no other. Most of all, the immense pain of bipolar disorder led me to reach out to Jesus, my ultimate healer.

So here’s to many more years of my life with Lily, the greatest teacher that I ever had.

“Bipolar disorder can be a great teacher. It’s a challenge, but it can set you up to be able to do almost anything else in your life.” ~ Carrie Fisher

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Pure Simplicity

*****

FullSizeRender (15)When you live in a small country town, even going to a post office feels like a special trip. I drive through the open corn field, and more open field with unrecognizable crops, meet happy cows along the way, and drive past a dairy farm. It feels so far away from the modern world, but in just ten minutes, I see McDonald’s, elementary school, Dollar General, Tractor Supply Company (a local favorite!), and a county library. I drive by the only Beer and Wine store in town that’s owned by a friendly Korean man, and then finally, I arrive at the post office where there is hardly ever any line. I just walk right to the counter to be greeted by the same clerk. When my quick chore is done, it’s a happy, relaxing, and almost-meditative drive back to my home again.

I drove almost 40 minutes to a nearby country town called Lovettsville in Virginia to pick up fresh new chicks just a week old. We passed three small country towns along the way until we finally reached the beautiful town of Lovettsville surrounded by the low hills of Appalachian. The lady that posted her chicks ad on craigslist turned out to be quite a millionaire. She had a beautiful house which she shares with her husband, four adopted Asian children from South Korea and China with disabilities. She also had one of the most beautiful animal sanctuaries I’ve seen, equipped with goats, horses, chicks, cats and dogs. My daughter so enjoyed looking at all the animals and all the attention she was getting from the owner’s wonderful daughters that the owner invited me to come visit them any time we want.

I am quickly adjusting to my new pace of life here in this quiet corner of the world  known to not many. In a lot of ways, this village reminds me of my beloved Kailua-kona on the Big Island where everyone knows everyone and life is ever-unchanging, slow and steady. I feel as if I got dropped in the calm ocean, once again, where a small rock won’t stir a big splash or a wave. I once sailed out of Hawaii relying on nothing but my own small vessel powered by the wind of the Holy Spirit. Somehow, life dropped me here at this still point where I am showered by the blessings of my good and faithful Lord. Sure, the wind of change will blow again out of nowhere and I will obey and set sail again. Until then, I shall enjoy the goodness of the Lord and sing hymns of praises. I shall delight in the love of God, just as my child walks over to the blueberry bush to delight herself with hand-picked fresh blueberries each morning. I shall always remember these delightful days of pure simplicity.

 

 

Silence of God

It’s a cool summer morning after the rain shower swept through. It brings me back to the day when I was just arriving at the cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountain at the monastery. Sudden rain storm was hailing on us. We had to wait out in the car for the rain to give us a merciful pause.

Everything was just the way it was since I was here last almost four years ago. Not a single thing has changed. Well, perhaps, they have worked on the property and improved its landscape a bit. There are two bridges that were not here before connecting the small streams that lead to the big pond just across the cabin. I also notice that the small rowing boat has disappeared. Other than these few small changes, everything remains the same. This feels like homecoming.

With no phone service or data, I had a few days of isolation from the world. I stayed on the deck as much as I could, I tried to go to prayers as much as I could. The closest town was mere fifteen minutes away, but this quiet place of God feels life-time away from the world. I much needed this silence to restore my broken spirit, sorrowful soul, and exhausted mind.

This time of sabbatical retreat for the soul is greatly beneficial physiologically and psychologically as well as spiritually. It’s a wholesome healing for the mind, body and soul. In this noisy world, it is important to actively pursue silence at any cost. But affordability is no longer a threat to the silence seekers. There are plenty of opportunities if only you look. Even a free visit to a community park to sit in silence on a bench can bring effective spiritual restoration. A visit to a quiet chapel to pray at the local parish, a walk at sunset around the local lakeside trail, or a visit to an art gallery, and the list goes on and on. If one finds her soul severely under seize and should the immobilizing demon in the name of depression hold her captive in her own bedroom making it impossible to make even a single step forward, there in the depth of the deadly disease of depression, silence is lurking forward waiting to be noticed and recognized. In that quiet center of one’s exhausted soul is the powerful silence of God waiting to communicate. Through my life-long battle against depression, I have learned that depression is actually another name for the desert-experience where one has no other choice but to be alone with God. It’s a divine experience of silence, stillness, and solitude.

Once, I dreamed of a full immersion into the life of solitude. I desired to become a Trappist nun who lives in the mountain far away from the worldly distractions. Instead, by the passionate urging of my vocational director at the monastery, here I am, still out in the world, desperate to seek the call of the Lord. Uncertainty surrounds me out here as it always has in my childhood. Hearts get broken every day and life feels like a torture chamber sometimes. But each dark tunnel I walk through teaches me the way to the light. Each walk in the rain teaches me how to dance in the rain.

I still search for the meaning of my life here on earth. I still let my emotional pain take over my joy. I still sometimes wish that I could shut my eyes forever. But with each step of my painful walk in the darkness, I feel the hand of God holding me so dearly and lovingly. And this explains everything completely. I no longer live my life in doubting questions. I still suffer and struggle, but through it all, my faith grows little by little. This is the will of God. Out of His love for me, He strengthen me every day.

 

 

Be Free, Dear Souls

I heard the prodding of my heart the moment I opened my eyes this morning at six. Very strong-willed voice commanded simply, Gotta run! And I did. I got up, quickly changed into my running clothes, and before I could even let out a sleepy yawn, I was out my farm gate into the fresh Sunday morning where I knew I was promised a private country road with never-tiring view of open field and woods.

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From this distance, from this height, everything seems so fleeting, everything seems so drifting. From this perspective, everything seems so light. I’ll have to remember to climb up here again this afternoon when my mood hits its polar-opposite. But that cheery commanding voice in my heart loses her vitality by the end of the morning, and on some afternoons, climbing a low hill just down the road feels so daunting. And so, I heavily walk to my desk to meditate on the Crucifixion. How daunting, how grueling, must have been for Jesus to carry the heavy cross and the sins of the whole world up the mount Calvary knowing that his violent death was imminent?

Staying positive is such a mental battle, I used to think in the past. I used to beat my way into depressive episodes by mercilessly executing physical activities, social events and goals that I believed were expected of me. What I didn’t realize back then was that nothing that I do, no matter how noble or successful they are, cannot bring my soul the genuine hope. My will alone can only get me so far. I didn’t know that Jesus had already done my daunting walk for me and carried the heavy cross that was mine to carry. He died the death that was mine, purely because of his love for me. And this is what he did for every single person that accepts Him as the Savior.

Staying positive is no longer my concern. I am positive, positive about my future with Jesus. I hope everyone will come to understand that only THIS positivity can have power to truly set the suffering soul free from his tormentor’s chain. I hope everyone will come to rest in the knowledge that you do not have to walk the daunting walk. Jesus already did the walk for you.

Be free, dear souls,

be at peace, despite the chaos,

Jesus has already conquered the battle.

 

Hallelujah

Thomas Merton says, “In a world of noise, confusion, and conflict, it is necessary that there be places of inner silence and peace, not the peace of mere relaxation but the peace of inner clarity and love.” These places of inner silence and peace can have so many personal meanings. I came across this quote right before I stepped into the chapel. I was on my way to the Eucharistic Adoration, a weekly event that I look forward to. This historic chapel has been my place of inner silence and peace for the past five years. The number of years I regularly visited this chapel on Thursdays stands for the years that I have lived in my current area. In my world of noise, confusion, and conflict, this chapel offers stability, inner silence and peace like no other. I honestly believe that I wouldn’t have stayed in this area this long had it not been for this place of inner silence that was the foundation of inner clarity and love.

But on days when I can’t get to the church for quiet retreat, I maintain inner peace through my personal prayers in my room. I pray with the rosary or in silence meditating on the Crucifixion. I have a slow walk in my backyard or run up the hill on the road, I read out in the nature with a warm breeze baptizing me with gentle love… whatever I do, I fix my gaze on heaven, on my God, and there, in the quiet hour, is my place of inner silence and peace. It’s these little tidbits of healing moments here and there in between my daily anxieties that I find the strength to withstand whatever it is that I am going through right now -which I refuse to label anymore.

The deep water of sadness runs through every vein in my body even though I have no real reason to feel this intense sadness. This degree of heavy sadness would have immobilized my body and soul trapping my being in my own body filled with dark essence. Late in the afternoon, as the heating sun was losing its intensity, I was lying in my white bed with my companion “sadness” by my side. I turned my gaze toward the window where the warm afternoon sunlight was penetrating through the tightly shut blinds. I felt the warmth pouring on my face. Even though the contrast of light (the sunlight) and darkness (my mood) triggered my past torturous memories of my depressive episodes, I felt my soul bravely reaching closer to the light unafraid of the sadness also approaching closer and closer to my heart.

Upon leaving the chapel after the Adoration last Thursday, I was asked whether I would be able to volunteer flowers for the altar. I often wondered who prepared those flowers, always so fresh and perfectly arranged. You are only required to bring two flower bouquets, she says, and I happily put down my name on the closest spot, which was, alas, September. The whole year’s flower arrangement was already planned out, 80 percent. Since I signed up for the flower offering, I find myself stopping at the flower department every time I am at the grocery market. Just as I look forward to Eucharistic Adoration each week, I now look forward to the day I get to offer my flowers to my Jesus.

This afternoon, as I was gently holding my ocean of sadness in my heart staring at the light through my window, I realized, that this, too, is my offering to my Jesus that He gladly accepts. This mysterious sadness that I collect in this wounded world full of noise, confusion, and conflict, is my daily offering to God. Just as a flower blooms after a complete abandonment of the self and total dependency on God, my unknown sadness is the sign of my total dependency on His mercy. And it gives Him great joy to take away my sadness and turn it into a song of joy. Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

To the Sugarland

With a big question that has been weighing me down, I ran to the end of the street I live on. I stood at the crossroads, looked up to the sky with my tear-filled eyes as if asking God “Which way should I go from here? Where do I go?” My fearful heart desperately seeks His direction, but it’s not as easy as getting an answer to the question of the location of the restroom.

I am standing on the edge, holding this overwhelming emotion that is on the verge of its full eruption. I suppress, trying my best to keep my cool, I do my yoga, my healing walk, my daily rosary prayer, I even received the healing prayer after the last Mass I attended. But still, the heaviness of my heart and turbulent emotions are growing and growing and I sense this monster inside me just waiting to catch me off guard. And the moment came this morning. My level of tolerance finally reached zero. I had to escape my environment gasping for air before the suffocation could devour me entirely.

With my tears freely flowing, I ran and ran, down the solitary country road. At the end of my street, I stopped because my chest was about to burst. The physical pain of burning chest and stomach crams were bitter sweet. When I am caught in the emotional and mental pain, physical pain rather offers a haven. It opens up a channel for me to diffuse my invisible pain that is hard to tolerate.

I looked up at the blurry sky. No, the sky was perfect. It was clear blue, with white clouds peacefully dotting the wide open blue canvas. It just looked blurry, only to me, because my own eyes were filled with water. On any other day, I would have felt like flying like a free bird with uncontainable joy pushing me up and up and up through that clear blue sky.  But today, I am in the darkness, carrying the weight of the world. And even though I am equipped with my own prayers and with the prayers of those that love me, I feel so sad and fearful and burdened. Yes, there, I said it. So highly sad, sadly low, extremely burdened. So devastated for no logical reason.

IMG_6597When I looked up at the sky at the crossroads, the signs were there. Sugarland Road, Sugarland Lane. Which ever way you go, it’s still Sugarland. I heard it coming from the back of my mind, in my own voice. Was this all the wisdom I could conjure up at that moment? Sugarland Road, Sugarland Lane, whichever way you go, it’s still Sugarland? Perhaps. But that little statement powerfully put my tortured soul to rest and I calmly gazed at the cross that the street sign and a wooden pole conjured up. Standing still, still gazing at the cross and the signs, I contemplated for a while on the power of Jesus’ Cross and His resurrection. No matter how grave my decisions make me feel, I cannot escape from the love of Christ and His divine power to raise me up from the grave. The decisions are not mine to make. And the decisions do not have to be made today, at this moment. God will lead, God will resolve, and God will heal. And however my life on earth unfolds, it shall always glorify God because of His unending forgiveness and mercy.

For Those with No One to Pray for Them

It’s a daily discipline, this clinging to Jesus. One look away from his Resurrection, I am already standing at the door step of my spiritual death. With just another glance at the Resurrected Jesus, I am instantly brought back to life with a renewed sense of hope. Each day, I journey through heaven and hell, falling and rising constantly. This daily struggle to consciously choose hope takes away ninety percent of my energy, it feels like sometimes. I walked out of my chapel after my weekly Eucharistic Adoration last Thursday with a small piece of paper that invites all to join the missionary journey to Honduras. It was calling for doctors, nurses, dentists, hygienists, health care workers, interpreters or anyone that wants to share God’s ministry. Offer your talents, the invitation read. And I heard my inner voice quietly murmuring in shame, ‘what is my talent that is worth offering?’ Sensing I had none, other than my ability to spend most of my God-given time on sustaining my own life here on earth- I wondered if God would have anything good to say to me at the end of my journey here.

A Korean soldier recently killed himself feeling torn between fulfilling his military duty and making efforts of living with his depression. His medication caused him to fall asleep during his watch on duty so he chose to skip his medication. Skipping medication can cause havoc on a depressed mind, and there is little explanation necessary on why he killed himself one hopeless day of his short life. I read this article yesterday, and it grieved my heart because I fully understood how stuck he must have felt in between the two worlds of inner and outer. His inner world was no place to find hope and rest. It was left barren, a wasteland, a war zone after the depression has swept through. His outer world offered no haven, either, his only fault at being born in a society so rigid and prejudiced. I, too, lived in a similar way, feeling stuck by the two great wars going on inside and out. Living was a torture until my soul came to rest in the heart of Jesus. The story of Jesus resurrecting Nazareth is more than just a story from the Bible. I live that story through my very own life’s struggles. In this world where so many lives attempt to find a false-and deadly- hope in the form of suicide, I wonder how many more lives will be lost because they did not come to rest in the hope of Jesus, the ultimate solution to the deadly disease of depression.

My favorite part of prayer said during the Mass at my local parish comes when the prayer concludes with “We pray for those who have no one to pray for them”. Every time I hear this powerful message being prayed, my heart is stirred by the urgent necessity of this critical matter. How many souls are being abandoned by us Christians, simply because we do not know them? How hard is it to pray for those you have never met, never seen, and never known of their existence? And in the darkness of silent and deadly evil of depression, how many tortured souls are experiencing isolation not only in their physical form, but also in their spiritual bodies?

Depression still haunts me even worse than my painful memories of leaving my home country or my long marriage. I do not want to remember my past depressive episodes let alone relive them. But at times, I fall right back into my dark past. It is God’s call for me to remember those that are so easy to be forgotten in their silent and invisible sufferings. Although I do not possess any talents to offer to those facing immediate and physical harm in Honduras, I sense God’s invitation to pray for the souls that have no one to pray for them. May their souls rest in peace in God’s everlasting light and may the intercession of Jesus and Mother Mary be ever before their heavy footsteps in this fallen world.