It was one of the amazing feelings I have ever felt. I was so happy, yet so nervous. It was the satisfying culmination of all the accomplishments I made. I was grateful to God for every moment, everything leading up to it and everything after it. All the people I met, old and new. We celebrated all that we’ve learned. I hope for the best for the future. ‘
The future of that moment is where I am now. I was describing my graduation from the University of Texas in Austin just over 3 weeks ago. I want to tell some of the stories of the weekend and how that compares to now. Why I am writing this a little later is not a result of busyness, but rather recalling all that happened will help me deal with the mellow transition time that I’m in now and make it worth while just like my graduation. I have separated the weekend into two posts, this is the first one. The second one can be found by clicking this sentence when it’s finished. If there’s no link, I should be working on it.
No, let me explain. The phrase “Go Big or Go Home” is meant for you to pursue your dreams and became famous and well-known in your field or go home depressed. I think that following your dreams is not wrong, but I think we all need to take a new perspective on this phrase. Going home shouldn’t be the end of the journey, a fall from grace. Going home is part of the journey, a fall back to grace.
“Hail to the Cross, our only hope.” I have attributed this saying to St. Edith Stein, namesake of my home parish in Katy, but many others have made this Latin phrase their motto. This Lent, I have felt the call of the Cross. I interpret this call as to let Jesus to be present in our sufferings because he suffered and to have him help carry the cross that he calls us to take up with him. As this Lenten journey is almost concluded, I want to reflect on what is the cross I carry, how it compares to the Cross Jesus carried to Calvary, and that he is carrying my cross as well.
I first heard the call of the cross during daily Mass on the first Thursday of Lent. The gospel reading was from Luke. In this passage, Jesus predicts his passion, death and resurrection. Near the end, Jesus says
…If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?
– Luke 9:23-25
Inspired by one of the priests’ at the University Catholic Center, Fr. Larry Rice’s homily, I was allured by the thought that we have a daily choice to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. I have doubts, weaknesses, struggles and insecurities that would make it hard to believe. That in short, is my cross. I am called by God to carry my cross daily and follow him. Despite my struggles, if I want to follow Jesus as a true Christian, I will have to carry my cross with me.
But what makes my cross mine? There are many parts of my cross. I admit I know all about the Catholic faith, but words aren’t my strong suit. I doubt my words. I am concerned about my exactness in order to prevent myself from lying. I can’t lie that Jesus loves me. One thing I know for sure. Autism is not my cross, but adjusting to a world that isn’t tailored to me is part of my cross. God created me as an autistic. He created my brother as well, whom I have understood better with both of us being autistic in different ways. Another part of the cross is the experiences I’ve had, the sorrows of losing people, being hurt and having physical, emotional, and mental scars. Those scars have made me who I am and I’m thankful to God for those scars. I also have many anxieties when things don’t go to plan. If my schedule is off, if I delay in doing something, I have anxiety attacks. I am uncertain about my future and where I’ll go after college graduation in a month or so. These struggles make up my cross. I carry this cross as I choose follow Jesus and trust in Him.
The Cross Jesus carried during his passion was not just pieces of wood. It was the weight of our sins He carried. One of my favorite reflective prayers is the Stations of the Cross, found in many Catholic churches, which mark critical points on the Way of the Cross from Jesus being condemned to death, up to His eventual death on the Cross and His burial in the tomb. I remember going to Stations on Fridays during Lent when I was young, partially because Jr. High Youth Group was afterwards at my home parish. I also adored when the Senior High Youth Group would do “Living Stations of the Cross” on Good Friday and re-enact the scenes in the Stations. When I went to Stations of the Cross, I witnessed the 14 Stations, but also how much He suffered. Jesus suffered during His journey, and that affected those who he interacted with on the way, like His mother Mary, Simon, Veronica , some Jerusalem women, and Dismas. Each stations reflects on an element of my own personal life from all the falls, sorrows, love and mercy shown on the journey.
I like to go to Stations now even more that I understand what the Stations mean, and I try to go as often as I can. Reflecting on the Passion of Christ is a mystery. The graces that come from it never have a end point.
This Lent I struggled with being present. I was being distracted. I struggled with asking God to deliver me from the anxieties and uncertainty I have. I lay them down at the foot of the cross. I asked Jesus to deliver me, and heal me, just as the Blind Man did. He wanted pity and mercy and he received healing and mercy. I have to place my trust in God to deliver me from distractions and uncertainties.
I would say the apex of this call of the Cross is realizing that Jesus is carrying my cross with me. I struggle with being present, but I know God is present with me in the struggles. During Austin CARITAS, a mission I served on this Spring Break, I was called to be present, to put trust in God for my future and whatever may happen. I was called to serve and to do alms giving with my heart, not just money. I saw the journey I’m on is a pilgrimage towards Heaven, my true eternal home. I believe I see Heaven as in those moments with the community, when I have positive flashbacks to times of joy, love, and growth in God. It is in the people I love in the Mystical Body of Christ, I find a home where I am accepted and loved. During discussion, one song was brought up where it shows I accepted where I am. It sucks that I don’t know Spanish well because this song spoke to me despite not being my own language. It described being accepted and loved. The song is called, “Vida en Abundancia” or “Life in Abundance” The stanza in particular is shown below.
Amá lo que sos, y tus circunstancias. Estoy con vos, con tu cruz en mi espalda. Todo terminará bien, yo hago nuevas todas las cosas.
This stanza translates to “Love what you are, and your circumstances. I am with you, with your cross on my back. Everything will end well, I make all things new.” Jesus is with me, carrying my cross on his back. I cried the first time I heard the translation. I imagine Jesus looking at me, carrying my cross, just as he carried the Cross of my sins. He looks at me with love. I would now imagine he is saying with his loving eyes “Look at what I have done for you. I have died for love of you. What would you do for love of me?” I hope to die for Jesus. If I am called to die for Him, so be it. That is the call of the Cross.
In silence, God speaks. God is in the silence. About two weeks ago, I went on a Silent Retreat. Before and after the retreat, my friends Jacob, Andy (I’m not referring to myself, but another Andy) and I recorded a “podcast” If and when Jacob decides to post it, I will add it. Until then, here’s a link to his blog. https://grandhappeningsblog.home.blog/
I barely have time to get around to posting and whenever I attempt to write a blog post, it seems to just catalog events without their emotions. Plus, I resolved to post at least once a month at the end of last year. In order to defeat both my lack of emotion and my inconsistency with posting, (where’s January?), I write this post. Back to the story, this was the second time I went on a Silent Retreat. The first I have mentioned in my previous post, but this time was distinct and different.
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.
Well, okay, it’s not a secret anymore. I remember when it was a secret. A year ago, I was co-leading a small group for Longhorn Awakening 62. At this time, I wasn’t very proud of my autism. Really, I didn’t know how else to tell someone I was autistic, rather than taking them aside and saying it. Since I knew that the retreat can get rather personal, I had to tell my partner who I was. I texted her that I wanted to tell her something after one of the meetings before the retreat. I drew attention to myself. I didn’t want her to think this was some big secret. But doing that make it feel like I wasn’t naturally being myself. It made me anxious. Continue reading “The Secret of Autism”→