Keep your distance. It’s quite tough to say how I’m handling this brave new world we have today. A contagious and potentially deadly disease has taken over almost every aspect of our daily life. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the fabric of the society. The world around us might never be same.
“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”
– Luke 2:19
On the first day of the New Year, the Catholic church celebrates the Solemnity of Holy Mary, the Mother of God. In today’s gospel, after the shepherds proclaimed the Good News of Jesus’s birth, Mary, the mother of God, reflected on all that happened. I would like to do the same over the past year. I wish I could have done it last year, but it’s 2020, and maybe I’ll see it clearly now.
This past year has been a whirlwind of events. To be honest, the beginning of 2019 seems so far away from me. I began 2019 at home in Houston. Within in the first week, I flew on plane to Indianapolis, Indiana, or now should I say Andy-anapolis. I attended SEEK, a biannual conference for Catholic college students to grow in their faith, and seek God, as He seeks each one of us. I had listened to His voice, telling me I was good. I wanted to rest on that. I got to watch some amazing talks, listen to some amazing music as they had Needtobreathe and Matt Maher in concert, and pray and reflect on my spiritual life.
Later that month, I went back to school to finish up my last semester at the University of Texas at Austin. In February, I went on a Silent Retreat. This time I understood the humility of silence, and being silent meant on a spiritual level. In March during Spring Break, I went on Austin CARITAS 2019. This inner-city mission trip hosted by the Schoenshatt University Men and the University Catholic Center, usually occurs in January, but due to World Youth Day and Schoenshatt’s involvement in that, it moved to Spring Break. It focuses on both serving the community of Austin through charities such as Central Texas Food Bank. Helping Hand Home, and the State Supported Living Center, it also focuses on forming the spiritual life of the missionaries through prayer and adoration. This is where I truly learned what being on mission meant: a pilgrimage to Heaven. I also realized that going home isn’t a bad thing as Heaven is our home.
During the semester I kept myself busy working towards getting a job after graduation. I had Longhorn Pep Band to keep me busy going to basketball games and rehearsal for the first half of the semester. Once basketball season ended, I had a lot more time to focus on finishing up my schoolwork. I enjoyed my last set of classes, especially classes such as my Architectural history topic, “Loos and Mies”. I also liked Engineering Professionalism, where I worked with a group to design a rain garden for an elementary school. I learned to the true meaning of hard work and teamwork, as my Engineering Professionalism group had to struggle with a team member not taking his part seriously and making the rest of us do more work. .
In April, I staffed my last Longhorn Awakening, LA 66. It was great time to pray for others and it was a good way to finish off my involvement in Longhorn Awakening. I know it was difficult because of a sudden shutdown, but I’m glad my friends helped me feel rejuvenated and more committed to praying for the retreatants. I also staffed my last STRONG retreat. In late April, I went on the first ever University Catholic Center Senior Retreat. It was a great gathering of the seniors or anyone in the Class of 2019 who was involved with the University Catholic Center. It was good to reflect on stories, community, and figure out what the future held for each of us after graduation. I’m glad that God brought this community together throughout college.
Then in late May came the big weekend: Graduation. It was everything I hoped for and more. I was so glad to be done with school. The ending was bittersweet because graduation meant I was leaving all of my friends in Austin. I enjoyed every minute of graduation, despite the struggle of attending too many ceremonies. Then it was over. I went to a small party on Memorial Day and went home to Houston.
I stayed at home most of the summer, still searching for a job in my Civil Engineering field. I kept myself busy going to church frequently, working on my hobbies such as playing the piano, and applying for jobs. I did travel once to Cedar Park, near Austin, for one interview. This was my first time driving there and back in one day. It wore me out. I was freaking out on the way home driving in the evening. I drove most of the day for almost 7-8 hours, so I was very loopy and tired. I struggled to find a job until I emailed my resume to Barry Engineering one day. Shortly after that, I interviewed for an Engineer in Training position and got hired on contract for three months. I started on July 24, two months after I walked across the stage.
Back stepping a little, during July, my sister Jennifer and I attended Cafe Catholica at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church near the Uptown/Galleria area of Houston. This event was every Monday in July, where they had Young Adults from all over the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston gather for prayer, Mass, food, and a talk. I wasn’t able to attend every part of every week, but this led to us finding out that Epiphany of the Lord, our old home parish in Katy, had a Young Adult group. I did more research, and found out that they had bible study on Wednesdays. So, one Wednesday night in mid-July, Jennifer and I decided to make the trip. Turns out, the group decided to watch a movie, the Greatest Showman that night. That was also the night I met Tracey, my girlfriend. Jennifer and I have been attending the bible study as often as we could throughout the rest of the year, as it supported my prayer life.
I worked throughout the summer and fall at Barry Engineering on contract. I got an extension in late October to my contract to mid-December. I had struggled adjusting to work life, commuting over an hour round trip from West Houston to Cypress, (Barker-Cypress Road, all the way.) I had a lot to learn that I didn’t know about designing the Structural Engineering behind mostly wood and steel apartment buildings and a wedding venue. At work, I learned so much that school didn’t teach me, my boss sometime wonders at my college education and credibility. I worked hard to improve my work, and I finally got hired in December as a full-time employee. I’m glad to work there because it is a good group of people who work hard and enjoy each other.
Meanwhile, I decided to ask my friend Tracey from bible study on a date, We got coffee and talked for about four hours. Then we went on a few other dates. On December 21, I asked her to be my girlfriend or as I called it my “left-hand girl” as we are both left handed. She said Yes.
I’m glad for all the gifts of this past year. This is not everything that happened. This past year as not been without hardships, especially struggling with going home, the decrease of involvement in my faith community, and dealing with the anxieties of time management and anxious habitual prayers. As much as my life seems great on the outside, I realize that my reflections have to start from the inside of my heart. There are many blessings that have come of this past year, as I have moved forward in life and enjoying living life. I’m very grateful for where I am. I wish the best for 2020. Happy New Year!
As is in the season of giving thanks, and Thanksgiving being a few days away, there’s a lot for me to be thankful for in my life. I am grateful for where I am and what joys I have currently in my life, the joys and sufferings of my past that have led me to where I am, and the hope for the future. Most importantly, I want to thank God, the creator of my life, including my yesterdays, today, and tomorrows, for all these things.
While this month ends, (September) I realize I can’t finish the big blog post I’m currently working on. I haven’t posted this month. Anxiety wants me to freak out. I have already in such small blips. I feel like I have to release all of the bottled-up anxiety that shakes me, like the 2 Liter Dr. Pepper I brought to church youth group for quite a while. I fizzle over as much as I try to contain it. It’s hard to express emotions when you have to keep it altogether for those you love.
There is one person I love, who I don’t have to keep it altogether for though. I don’t have to wear a fake smile. God. God only knows my struggles. God knows everything. I can take all my anxiety to Jesus, who loves me besides my anxiety. God does not want me to anxious, but it is a natural feeling. I’m no stranger to anxiety. At Camp Texas before my freshman year, my camp, the Ring of Fire, had an icebreaker where we would introduce ourselves with an adjective that starts with the same first letter as our name, our name and an action that we all did. I called myself “Anxious Andy,” and I held my hands to my mouth like I was biting my nails. Anxiety has come to me anytime. Even when I first visited the one of the toughest engineering professors at UT Austin, Dr. Rodin, in office hours, I had an anxiety attack and nearly cried while he suggested I go to the mental health clinic on campus. That was early in the semester. I did get to contact them and visit them later on that semester.
There’s the common go-to bible verses for anxiety.
“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I do believe God is truly speaking to our anxieties here. So, we are called to answer to our anxieties with prayer, being thankful for all that God has given to us. We can let God know our struggle is real and He can help put us at peace.I want to take it just a step further than that. I have anxiety in my prayer life. I feel like I have to pray the rosary every day and go pray this and that. These are good habits, but they can be poisoned by my anxiety. I tend to focus on the “requirement”. Sound familiar? Plot twist: It’s about intention. Intentional prayer is the answer. Sure, I do enjoy my daily rosary, though I might mess up. I want to focus on the intention. I like to have the mediation of the mysteries of Jesus’s and Mary’s lifes. I like to think about the mysteries, and truly wonder why they are a mystery.
I like to think of a few more things before I finish tonight, and one is for tomorrow morning. In the morning, I like to do the Morning Offering prayer. I pray some version of this in the morning for quite a while. I first received a version of this while in Spiritual Direction when I struggled with offering up things. This prayer covers just about covers everything.
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians, and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month. Amen.
So, I’m going to let my blog become a bit of an offering to God. That way it all comes back to God, and I’m not too anxious about editing it too much or delaying it. It’s so God can speak through me in many different ways. I’ll end with a verse I probably mentioned before in a different post that I memorized in Boy Scouts.
Therefore, whether you eat of drink or whatever you do, do it all for the Glory of God.
As I hold myself accountable for writing a blog post about once a month, and that my last blog post was about a past event, it’s time for update. This post will be a bit more current. It will be very electric.
So, a month ago, I started my new job at Barry Engineering as an Engineer in Training. This is only my second engineering job ever, and to be honest, I’m pretty lucky to get this far. I overlooked this company. I had the company in my “Job Database”, which is just an Excel spreadsheet I used to keep track of my job applications for a while. I’m not very good at keeping track, because I started only adding dates to my database until after I graduated. Adding on to that, technically, Barry Engineering was listed as “Berry Engineering” at one point. They say hindsight is 20/20, but 2020’s not until next year.
It’s been while since I have written a blog post, but here am I again. I have done a lot of great fun things in 2018. This past fall, I started my (second) senior year of college. I tried to check things off my “bucket list” before I graduate. The problem is I never really made a bucket list. Really there’s these things that you feel like I have to do before I graduate, such as go to the Texas-OU game, or Austin City Lights. Somewhere along the way, I feel like I got caught up in all the madness, that I forgot my purpose.
In order to catalog my year, I’m going to run though some of the highlights and low lights of my year. Now, that the year has passed me by, I want to view these events in a different light than just high and lows. These things seem to be more than just hills and valleys. This is probably my longest post, so here we go.
If I’m being honest here, I started off my year on some shaky footing. I had an externship with Turner. Externships are like an engineering firm’s open-house. For Turner, I was doing a site- visit for the new Fertitta Center, the new basketball arena for the University of Houston. I was the oldest in a group of five, the only senior. (I only qualified for the externship on a technicality, as it was my second year in the Engineering school and they only allowed first and second years to do an externship. ) We toured the construction site, met with some of the project managers and engineers on the site, and went through how an interior wall is approved and constructed. It was a great experience, but it really didn’t change anything in my career motivations. I wanted to do some type of Construction Engineering and Project Management with a general contractor.
Austin CARITAS 2018
Right after I did the externship, I went on CARITAS, a inner-city mission trip for college-age students within the city of Austin. We stayed at a local church, Our Lady of Guadalupe, If I’m being honest, my externship delayed me a bit for CARITAS. CARITAS was in Austin, and I was in Houston when it started doing the externship. I started CARITAS late, and that lessened the initial bonding and spiritual experience. I had done CARITAS in 2016 and 2017. It felt like a bit of retread of my past experiences with the mission. It still felt great to serve others. I had fun and gave back to the community. I served in places such as the Central Texas Food Bank, and LBJ. It gave a bit of focus and perceptive on the helping and serving the Body of Christ, including those in need in the community.
I may be quite a spiritual person, but I’m not necessarily a quiet spiritual person. My prayers are rather loud and run-on. I tend to pray to God out loud, so I don’t lose focus. My prayers tended to let me to all the talking. As for retreats, I like to have a schedule. Most retreat I have been on or staffed, have some type of schedule. I don’t always know every part of the schedule, so I have to let my obsession with schedule go. This helps as most retreat we fall behind schedule. A Silent Retreat is a bit of antithesis of my prayer life and a usual retreat to me.Br. Rob, a Marist Brother who is a campus minister at the University Catholic Center holds Silent Retreats for students at Eagle’s Wings. I was preparing to give a talk on Longhorn Awakening 64, another retreat later that semester. I needed a break from the noise to focus on what I wanted to say about the Mystical Body of Christ. So, I went on the silent retreat in February to get away from it all.
Once silence began, I decided to hike into the woods and rest outside on the bench. I wanted to take pictures, paint and admire God’s handiwork. But it was a cold cloudy weekend in early February. Nature felt like a wasteland. But I knew something had to come out of it. I kept wanting something not typical, to take the path less traveled and the odd way out.I found out that I had go out of my way and do something different. Be different, and let silence speak for itself.
I did get a rough outline for my talk. Through that process I had to forgive my brother. He had caused me a lot of physical, mental and spiritual pain through struggling to understand him, his wants and needs, and caring for him. I found experiences and places where he was loved, and that I could love because my experience with him. Through my talk did change a lot from then until I actually gave it, it helped to start with forgiveness.
Longhorn Awakening 64
For the sake of conciseness, I won’t go into much detail as I have already written a post about Longhorn Awakening 64 here. I had to give a talk about the Mystical Body of Christ. This took me on a spiritual discovery reexamining my life and my purpose. I saw the impact on the community I have made and how much the Body of Christ has affected me in my home parish, the University Catholic Center and Awakening communities. I was on a spiritual high. I was to serve the Body of Christ by using my gifts and talents to love others and build the Kingdom of God here today. My autism was a gift given to me by God in order to help serve others and give a unique perceptive. We are all connected by the love we share in the Eucharist community that is the church, the Body of Christ.
After the semester ended, I didn’t really have much of a plan for the summer. I had gone through a couple interviews, but not much progress happened until I had an interview with CP&Y. I decided to make some last-minute connections and hope that something was available. As it turns out, I was offered and accepted a internship at CP&Y in their Transportation department. Meanwhile, I had the back-up plan to work at my old job at Typhoon Texas already set in motion, so I had to begin working at two jobs for a while before I decided to leave Typhoon Texas. I enjoyed my internship, even though I initially disliked the Transportation area of Civil Engineering. I learned that all I learned in school is just methods and figures, and that actual engineering is long, hard, but worthwhile service. I had so much potential in front of me after my internship that I didn’t know where I’d go. I had a open road in front of me.
New Place, Same Old Me
When I got back to Austin, I had moved into a new apartment in the Hyde Park area of Austin. It was farther from school. I wanted to get away from West Campus, where I had lived for two years before. Since this apartment was farther, I struggled to manage my time. I often became late to some of my classes because I didn’t factor enough travel time. I found myself running around back and forth until I figured that I could reduce the number of trips back and forth, it could ease my time management skills. I’ll be honest; I still haven’t gotten used to the distance. It’s fine. The hardest part is making room in my schedule for all the fun things I wanted to do such as the Red River Rivalry and Austin City Limits.
Red River Rivalry
At University of Texas, one of the most well-known rivalries is the one we with University of Oklahoma. We yell “OU sucks!” no matter what time it is. The high points of the rivalry is the Red River Showdown, or Red River Rivalry, where the two football teams play each other in a neutral location: the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. This happens yearly during the Texas State Fair in the nearby fairgrounds.
It was a bit of adventure getting to the game. A couple of my friends drove up to Dallas the day before. I was about a half-hour out of my trip and we had to turn back because I forgot my ticket in my apartment. Then we were on the way there. We had to stay a couple nights at my friend Drew’s place in Frisco. I had to buy some beer, but I had to go in two different places due to a bit of a mix-up we had at the first place.
The next day, I got to go to the game. Since I bought my own ticket, I had to sit on my own. I went through the fairgrounds of the Texas State Fair and went inside the Cotton Bowl Stadium. It was huge, but somehow, despite my seat being on the upper deck, I had a great view of the game. It was an eventful struggle between UT and OU. The Longhorns had a good lead through the latter part of the game until OU caught up. The game was all on the line, when Cameron Dicker, the Texas kicker lined up to kick the final field goal. He kicked the ball into the field goal post, and UT won 48-45. This was so satisfying. I was so happy, I sang the Eyes of Texas with so much gratitude and school pride. Afterwards, I ran over to where my friends were, and we celebrated by attending the Texas State Fair. I got to eat some fried oreos, and rode the ferris wheel. We went home tired, but happy and grateful for the experience.
Austin City Limits
A week after the OU game, I had planned to go to Austin City Limits. I had never been, but I was decided to go just one day, Sunday. I had a few tests the week after, but I knew I might not be able to go again while being a student at UT. So, I got with my friend Roberto, and we took a bus there. We got there mid-afternoon, since I wanted to have brunch at Kerbey Lane Cafe beforehand. I saw good number of artists, including Arizona, Tinashe, Shawn Mendes, and Travis Scott.
The one artist I looked forward to the most would be Shawn Mendes. Both Roberto and I liked his music. I didn’t get close because he was one of the most popular artists at the festival. Nevertheless, I liked the concert. His talent really shone. He’s got a lot soul and commitment to be professional, yet personal and interactive to the audience. He is more than the cookie-cutter teenage pop star, but a human being who wants to show the world who he is.
The crowds were a bit much, and I got separated from Roberto and lost a couple times. The worst was in between Shawn Mendes and Arctic Monkeys where I had gotten some food, and I lost track of my friend with my phone dead. I luckily found the information tent who redirected to the Miller Lite Tent that had cell phone chargers. We found each other and enjoyed the rest of the festival. It took us a while to get home, but I was grateful for the experience.
Longhorn Awakening 65
Doing all these things that I have wanted to do is great, but viewing them as “have-to-dos”, it makes me enjoy life less and not see the blessings in front of me. This left me trying to live my life less in union with God’s plan. I viewed my talk on Longhorn Awakening 64 as such a high point in my spiritual life that I had nowhere to go afterwards. I focused on all these fun things so much, I wasn’t looking forward to retreats like Longhorn Awakening 65. I’ve done many retreats. I had a leadership position for this retreat, but it was for meetings after the retreat.
Longhorn Awakening 65 started with me feeling spiritually dry and I didn’t know why. I thought it was my experience wearing down on me, my busyness of my semester, or my deafness to God’s voice lately. It was hard to begin. I thought I could “fake it until I make it,” but that’s not how faith ultimately works. The Holy Spirit can’t work in someone who is acting like they aren’t loved, and not being authentic. So, I prayed. I prayed. In adoration and in listening to the talks, I found something. Agape. The theme of the retreat was “Agape.” Agape describes a love that is self-less, something worth dying for. Jesus loves with Agape love. He died for us and wants us to live in union with this love. That love gave me a reason to serve others. I believe that the amount of agape love God gives is overflowing so much that we have to share it with others. That helped me pray for others and serve with purpose.
Schoolwork is my “Group Therapy”
This year has to been hard for my school work. This past semester I had a group project in 4 different classes. I also had to work in a group for my leadership position in Longhorn Awakening 64. I was so focused on some of my activities that I struggled. I spread myself so thin. The worst past is any input I had on any group project I participated in, I discounted. I thought I was putting the least amount of input because I was so stressed out by balancing multiple groups and doing all I needed to do to learn. I was going back and forth more than I did biking or busing 10-15 blocks from school to home. Pep Band keep me busy as one of my groups met up while I was at a game. This semester I had some of the lowest grades ever including my first C+. I wasn’t proud. It was hard. I wish I could be the one who volunteered for things so I can get input rather than being okay with whatever was given to me.
I’ll admit that I ended this year on a bit more of a low. This post only shows a small bit of my year of my life, but I think I can see my overarching struggle. I have been in hills and valleys. I struggled to see God in both areas sometimes in the moment. I now realize that God is ever present. It’s not that hills and valleys are only in our eyes, but rather help remind us that God is faithful. Hills are where I am at my highest. I should be grateful for his love. Valleys are we are more aware how much we need God’s love. The valleys help us grow, and become more like God and how he created me to be.
I’ll end with a link to a song. Thank you, Lord, for making my 2018 worthwhile. I can’t wait for what you’ve got planned, but I trust that I’m not alone, nor will I be too far from your love.
I’ve been real busy with my summer internship, and it’s hard to continue blogging with no regular posting and a small audience, but here I go again. I’m going to tell you about my internship that seems what dreams are made of. I literally slept on this opportunity for quite a while. I’ve learned so much in a summer, and this was the first time in college I didn’t take a summer class. I believe that my internship has allowed me to work in learn in a new environment and open new roads of possibility for my career. Continue reading “Life Is An Open Road”→