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Catholic Prayers in Tolkien's Elvish...

...and a hint of LATIN! (Yes, only the titles are in Latin...but I say that still counts for something!)

I know it sounds crazy. The idea of mixing three things I absolutely LOVE (Catholicism, Latin, and Tolkien) sounds like nothing but trouble...but, come on, you knew something like this was coming...

It looks like I have finally stumbled upon something that made my inner Tolkien nut, inner Catholic nut, AND my inner Latin nut rejoice simultaneously. All three of them are so excited about this, that they are currently setting off fireworks and SQUEE-ing to their hearts' content....while donning togas, setting off Gandalf's fireworks, and adjusting their brown scapulars.  What did I stumble upon? A site that features all sorts of elvish (Sindarin, Quenya, and a few other not-so-well-known languages): Elvish.org

Now, a site focusing on elvish is cool in and of itself. A site with a few well-known prayers in elvish...well, that's a Shadowfax of another color. Throw in a touch of Latin...and you pretty much have something so epic that words cannot describe it. Needless to say, I nearly fell out of my seat...as I was overcome by the need to tell the whole world. As if this wasn't enough...someone made calligraphy art for elvish Ave Maria as well as the Pater Noster. I think I may have just died and gone to heaven. For your viewing pleasure:
"Ataremma" aka "Pater Noster"

And one more!

"Aia Maria" aka "Hail Mary"
Check out this link for more!

I don't know about you guys, but this has to be the most awesome thing I have chanced upon in quite some time. HUZZAH!

Pax Vobiscum!

Yes, I Pray for Jerks

I don't know what is up with public transportation or society in general these days, but people seem to be on edge about everything.... Just yesterday, one guy started to go off on some woman because she touched his bag. I missed the beginning of the whole argument, but from what I gathered from the other passengers on this very crowded train,  this woman may have moved the guy's bag out of the way because it was in her face or something trivial like that. Instead of acting reasonably or letting it go, guy gets into an argument with her...and it literally escalated to the point where he sounded like a foul-mouthed 5 year old having a tantrum. The woman, it appeared, was trying to keep her cool but refusing to give into his verbal abuse or accusations. Regardless of what this woman tried to say to defend herself, this guy kept going on a rampage and started turning the whole situation into something sexual. As bizarre as it may sound, he made the whole thing out to be something like a "she only gave me a problem because she's not sexually attracted to me and, therefore, must be a *insert expletive here.*" Throw in a few f-bombs and you pretty much have a whole train looking at this guy with a mix of disgust, disbelief, and shock. Even so, this guy either didn't care or just thought he was 100% in the right...and so he kept on at it.

Yes, I can see how moving someone's stuff may bother them.  Yes, I can see someone get bothered by the woman touching his bag, but there was no reason for his anger, his language, and the extremely rude manner in which he was treating this woman. Eventually, an older gentleman got up and told the first guy "That is no way to speak to a lady. Your language is unattractive. . . ." He kept his cool, raising his voice only to get the guy's attention and to assert some level of authority over the situation. He did not shout...and he did not use any form of vulgar language. I silently thanked the gentleman for standing up for that woman, and the women sitting beside me breathed a sigh of relief that someone stood up for the woman.  Instead of listening to reason, however, the irate guy makes a vulgar sexual reference (either at the woman or at the gentleman confronting him) and finally decides to quiet down for the rest of the ride with the exception of a "shut the F*** up" snarl at the woman before he got off....because nothing says maturity like getting one last punch in after the fight's already been declared over.

At some point during the whole thing, I said a little prayer for this guy. Yes, I prayed for the jerk. I prayed for him to realize the error of his actions and I prayed for a conversion of heart on his part. I don't know if he was Catholic and I certainly don't know if he even believes in God...but I prayed for him regardless. People like this are in need of intense prayer and we often don't think to pray for them. Based on what I have read on saints, the afterlife, and souls...sometimes these people are a few prayers away from receiving that tiny bit of grace they need to start the rest of their lives off with a clean slate. These souls could be slaves to the sin of avarice, lust, or...in this case...pride and ire. These souls probably don't know how to pray for themselves...or simply refuse to pray for themselves. This makes it very difficult for them to seek God's love on their own...and it makes it harder for them to accept God's love once they do find it.

I know that there are plenty of people out there that come to mind whenever you pray. You probably feel a need to pray for a family member to get back to work in this terrible economy, for a friend to combat cancer, or even for the state of our country's future. I'm not asking for you to stop praying for these very noble causes. However, I am challenging you to pray for those out there in most need of God's love. I'm challenging you to pray for the people you hate. I'm challenging you to pray for the attacker as well as the victims. I'm challenging you to pray for the sinners as well as the saints.
"Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me."- Matthew 25:45
When people read the aforementioned passage, they often imagine Christ asking his followers to help those experiencing material poverty. Yes, we are called to feed the people that are starving for food. We are also called to give water to those who are thirsty in drought-ridden areas of the world. We are also called to clothe the naked and protect the weak. However, we are also called to take care of spiritual poverty.

The "jerk" on the train looked like he was well off on the outside. He certainly didn't look malnourished or dehydrated. His clothing was clean...and he didn't look like he'd lived a hard life. His actions, however, revealed that he suffered from immense spiritual poverty...and according to Bl. Mother Teresa...this is the worst poverty. Material hunger can be satisfied by food...but spiritual hunger is something that isn't so easy to feed. The cure to spiritual hunger requires a leap of faith and a dying of self. The cure to spiritual hunger is not easy because it first requires us to go beyond our own insecurities and fears. Then it requires us to go against the current of today's extremely egotistical lifestyles...before requiring us to give in completely to God's mission for us. In order to accept this mission, your selfishness must disappear along with your need to put yourself before others.
God's laws are not laws of natural selection...where strong triumph over weak and where we learn to put self before others. His laws are of complete love....which often goes against our instinct to put ourselves first. They are laws that require a lot of changes within our own hearts...changes that will renew us time and time again. Your pride must disappear. Your jealousy must disappear. Your self-loathing must disappear. Eventually, once enough of these vices are gone...you find yourself in a state where you begin to accept God's love into your life. You find yourself praying for others rather than spending hours of prayer on yourself for external things such as a new car or a winning lottery ticket. You don't need these external luxuries when you truly begin to allow God in your life...when you truly begin to live for God. Eventually, after finally accepting God's grace completely and without any reservation...you begin to regard everyone (even the biggest jerks out there) as children of God in need of love even if they have no love to offer back.

I'm not perfect...and am still far from the point I want to be at when it comes to loving my neighbor. However, I AM at the point where I am beginning to understand that the people out there in most need of my love and prayers...are the "jerks" out there who could not care less about me.... I am beginning to see them as works in progress even if they offend me, even if they commit crimes, even if they do things I find distasteful (like cursing off an elderly person trying to defend a woman he didn't even know).  I pray for them to one day acquire spiritual goods...because that is what they need most. They don't need our scorn or disappointment...because these definitely won't lead to a conversion of heart. What they need is God's grace and, fortunately, prayer can move mountains when it comes to conversions of heart. All it takes is that first bit of grace before even the most hardened criminal begins to see the error of their ways.

With that said, I challenge you to pray for the first jerk that comes to mind upon as soon as you are finished reading this post.

And no, I don't mean cartoon jerks...

Pax Vobiscum

Sine labore...nihil

I'm all for prayer, but I also believe that faith without works is dead. I may not have had the honor of getting arrested for peacefully protesting against abortion and being a voice for the unborn...like  Rev. Patrick Mahoney... but I do what I can with what I have. Recently,  Rev. Mahoney recently posted about a pretty great fundraising event. I say pretty great because I think the ultimate goal for this fundraising event is far more than just noble. When speaking out against abortion and places like PP, I am often met with opposition from some of my more liberal friends and colleagues...claiming that this is a matter of women's health. 

I, however, don't see it as women's health as much as I see it as a means to exploit women. I am of the opinion, (based on the demographics of what women are more likely go get abortions and where abortion clinics are placed) that PP and other abortion clinics take advantage of women and mask the problems they are facing. I think it's more of an industry and eugenics brigade than I do a service. With that in mind, I absolutely love it when places like Stanton Healthcare run PP and other abortion clinics out of business by offering free (and REAL) women's healthcare. I pray whenever I pass by an abortion clinic...for the souls of the children lost there, for the women who go in there as a last resort, and for the people who work there to have a change in heart (and join the likes of Abby Johnson in promoting life for the unborn and dignity for women). 

For more information and to make a donation click on this link:  STANTON HEALTHCARE FUNDRAISER 

Fortunately, due to individuals like Rev. Mahoney, Abby Johnson, and countless others...women are beginning to see that there are other options out there. I am not sure how many lives are saved per day due to the efforts of these people...but I think any endeavor is worth it as long as just one life is saved. With that said, I would like to invite you all to join in Rev. Mahoney's fundraising event. Please donate what you can. I got this fundraiser to the $3000 mark...but I think they can hit much more than that if you donate even just $5. Think about it...that $5 can mean a world of difference if it ends up saving the child that ends up finding a  vaccine for HIV. If you cannot donate...pray...but don't stop at praying. Get the word out. Join the discussion even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. When it comes to abortion today, remaining silent about the issue is as bad as condoning the slaughter of innocent lives.
"I have already prayed to God for healing for Aids, and God's answer to me was "the one I sent to you was aborted in his mother's womb" - Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Rev. Mahoney's mission statement:


I have been in the pro-life movement for over 35 years and I would like to share with you one of the most exciting projects I have ever been involved with. It is the ministry of Stanton Healthcare. Stanton is a life-affirming medical clinic in Boise, Idaho located right door to Planned Parenthood. Sadly, Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in the world and 91% of all abortions in Idaho take place in the county where Stanton is located.
Stanton is much more than a physical building however. This ministry represents the heart and love of Christ as we reach out to women who are experiencing unexpected and crisis pregnancies. As Stanton Healthcare Founder and President, Brandi Swindell, often says, “It is not enough to say we are pro-life. We must live out our pro-life beliefs in a loving and tangible way.” In other words, being pro-life means we offer positive and compassionate solutions to hurting women. We also want to stress, unlike Planned Parenthood all our services and help to women are free!
Stanton is a powerful, public witness to Idaho and the nation that the faith community doesn't speak out on the issue of abortion with judgment and condemnation. Rather, we embrace a hurting and broken world with God’s grace and mercy. The women of Idaho will now be offered “real choices” when it comes to unexpected pregnancies. The work of Stanton Healthcare is so powerful and moving that Pat Robertson and the 700 Club recently send out a news crew out to Boise from Washington, D.C. to do a national feature story on the clinic.


We believe God is raising up Stanton Healthcare to be a national model that will one day replace Planned Parenthood!
Stand with us:
When we moved into the clinic last year, we felt God wanted us to own the building "debt free." God was faithful and something miraculous happened. A major Foundation told us if we raised $170,000 toward the purchase of the clinic by August 2 they would give us an $80,000 matching grant. That is an $80,000 gift! We are now only $20,000 away. So we are asking you, to help Stanton realize this miracle. Between now and August 2, we are asking you to send the largest gift possible to help us raise the final $20,000.

I am praying that I can help raise $3,000!

For some, all that you may able to give is $10, $25 or $50. Others may be in a position to give $100, $500, $1,000 or even more toward this incredible life saving ministry. As we often say at Stanton, no gift is too small or too large.
Stanton Healthcare gives us the unique opportunity to actually see lives saved on a regular basis. In the 8 months that our doors have been opened, our loving, dedicated and professional staff has many innocent babies saved from the horror of abortion and their mothers saved from the emotional scars that abortion leaves.
Even though the hours can be long and the struggles intense, there is nothing like holding a precious child in your arms that would not have lived without your intervention. The picture on my page is "Baby Nilah" who was saved through the work of Stanton Healthcare. Words cannot express the joy one fells as they realize this child will grow up to experience a life of purpose and meaning.
You can make an on-life donation through GoFund Me and help us secure this $80,000 gift.
May the Lord bless you and your family and thank you for helping us purchase our clinic debt free!
For the children;
Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney
Stanton Healthcare Founding Board Member
Director of the Christian Defense Coalition Washington, D.C.

Pax Vobiscum!

The Boy aka The Fiancé

As the title implies, it looks like I am on the road to the sacrament of marriage. The Boy aka "The Fiancé" proposed to me last night. I've told the story a bunch of times, but do not mind telling it again. This weekend the Boy proposed we do dinner in NYC and that I should dress up for it. A t-shirt, jeans, and heinous-looking/uber-comfy sandal sneakers (closed-toe of course for the sake of lab safety requirements) are like second skin to me...but I figured I should probably make an effort. I knew it was coming, since the Boy asked my dad for his permission some time ago...and since we designed the ring together some time ago to ensure that it was both pretty and lab glove-friendly. Have I been dying to tell the world what we've been plotting? You better believe it. However, the Boy wanted to keep the proposal part of the engagement as much a surprise as possible.

I dressed up yesterday not really knowing whether it would really happen or whether it was going to be another fake-out. You can say that it's been a pretty suspenseful few weeks...with a few false alarms/pranks/etc. To give you an example of the golden conversations we've been having lately:

Barbara- So, can you give me some idea as to when you're going to do it?
The Boy- Why?
Barbara- So I know when to shave my legs.
The Boy- Shouldn't you shave your legs anyway?
Barbara- Yeah....that's what the lab said too...

(I must note that I wear pants to the lab everyday, so I may have grown a little lax when it comes to my legs. Also, I have found that not shaving my legs leads to increased jogging speed...as I try to avoid embarrassment.)

So last night we went to dinner at a nice French place on 44th Street. We missed our reservation because the Boy "could have sworn" it was between 5th and 6th. It turns out that it was between 6th and 7th, but the restaurant was able to let us reserve for 7. They sat us in a candle-lit corner of the restaurant at a tiny little table with theatergoers around us. However, it was like we were in our own little world the whole time. We ordered a nice cheese sampler for an appetizer...and I was impressed with how much the Boy enjoyed it (he was QUITE the picky eater back in the day...). I had the chicken with mashed potatoes and ratatouille for dinner...and he had the fruts de mer pasta. The food was DELICIOUS.

I had to go to the lab really early today to get some experiment prep going, so I was hoping to catch an earlier train last night. The Boy had initially planned to walk to Bryant Park with me and propose there over cupcakes (it's one of our places...and cupcakes are our thing when it comes to a dessert when we're out on the town). Between my train schedule and the fact that the food at the restaurant was delicious enough for us to want to at least look at the dessert menu....we ended up having dessert there. I had the creme brulee and he had the passion fruit gelatto. Both were delicious (though I will grudgingly admit that his was better).

I had noticed that he was doing quite a bit fumbling around for his Chapstick at one point of the dinner and then his wallet when we got the check. I decided to play it safe and assume it was yet another fake-out. Knowing him, I fully expected quite a few more fake-outs before he finally proposed. Well, at the very end end, he reached out across the table with a tiny box...opened up...and asked THE QUESTION. The following is a truthful account of the proposal:

The Boy- "Barbara, will you marry me?"

Barbara (while trying to keep a straight face)- You offer it to me freely? I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired this. In the place of a Dark Lord you would have a Queen! (starts cracking up and still attempts to finish) Not dark but beautiful and terrible as the Morn! Treacherous as the Seas! Stronger than the foundations of the Earth! All shall love me and despair!

***To all people out there who don't get the reference, it's Galadriel's monologue from when Frodo offers her the Ring of Power....from Lord of the Rings***


The Boy- (chuckling but still definitely wanting to hear THE ANSWER) Come on, seriously...

Barbara- (turns over to an invisible panel of judges...something the Boy has been doing these days) Judges? 

The Boy- Okay, now, seriously...

Barbara- (misty-eyed) Yes!

It was not an ideal proposal, I know...but it was so "us" as a geeky and constantly joking couple. What made it even more awesome was that no one around us even realized that we were getting engaged right there before their eyes! It was AWESOME.

Here's how I announced my engagement to the Facebook world:
Yes, that is the actual ring. We went for a bezel setting with a sapphire and 2 diamonds in white gold. I've already given the ring a test drive in the lab and can say that it is pretty lab glove-friendly. I wore it all day without tearing a glove!
Needless to say, being the badass Catholic I am...I am SO looking forward to all those pre-Cana courses. I will have to blog about them as we begin. I've already touched base with our friendly, neighborhood padre ...and will have to follow up on it in the very near future. It also turns out the Boy would like to convert to
Catholicism...so he's going to have to go through the whole RCIA thing too. It's looking like a year or so before we get married....and I may actually end up needing all of this time between my qualifying exam this fall, wedding planning, pre-Cana, and my wanting to go for a traditional Catholic wedding (even if it may not have as much Latin in it as I initially planned). Still... I am already pretty excited. SACRAMENT FTW!!!

Pax Vobiscum

PhriDay Phive...a VERY belated update

Well, I am back.

1. I went back to the lab this week and have been taking it easy. This week I mostly focused on reading a bunch of papers relevant to my qualifying exam project. Needless to say, the reading has been intense....but I have picked up on more within this last week than I have in the preceding months...now that my head is clear and I am not frantically going from paper to paper. Don't get me wrong...it is still far from easy reading. Fortunately, my eyes haven't fallen off yet.

2. One of my little cousins came for a visit for a few days this last week and it was fun. We did experiments, I showed him a real lab, and we even took him to the American Museum of Natural History. I don't want to sound like a museum snob (which I am after years of being taken to the Franklin Institute and many other awesome science-related places over the years), but this museum was a HUGE disappointment for me. Don't get me wrong, my cousin enjoyed it...but I could tell that he found most of the exhibits as excruciatingly boring as I did. They came close to catching my attention with a few hands-on exhibits at carefully supervised carts...but the excitement for science just wasn't there. The kids were allowed to touch a few props and whatnot...but the place did not seem too kid-friendly. There was almost no interactivity there and I cannot help but say that I wasn't impressed. They really need to improve the manner in which they are selling the science to these kids. If they had invested more time into making it kid-friendly versus inundating kids with redundant social commentary....the museum would have ROCKED.

You know what was funny about this visit? After all that science, this little cousin and I ended up having some pretty awesome theological discussions. Catholic Science Geek INDEED! Contrary to what the militant atheists may tell you, this little guy proved to me that children are naturally curious about all things God-related. I didn't really bring up the conversation...he did. I was more than happy to introduce him to Saint Michael, the role of the Pope within the Catholic Church (he wasn't too familiar with Papa Bene's significance), the intercession of saints, guardian angels, and even the ultimate futility devil. The little guy (he's 8) was very afraid of the devil for whatever reason, so I assuaged his fears by teaching him about how God is infinitely more important and powerful than the devil will ever be. I also explained how futile the devil will be if you are very good friends with God. Needless to say, he felt a lot better and the Fool and I even gave him a few holy cards to take home (along with the Ring of Power and a few other geeky items). I emphasized however, that the cards themselves mean nothing without faith and prayer. Hopefully, this will help him out with whatever fears he will have to confront in the future.

3. Contrary to what I have suggested before...Christian music doesn't suck that much. After I got her hooked on David Crowder Band's "Phos Hilaron," the Fool bought their "Church Music" album. She's been playing it nonstop in the car ever since and I have to say that I actually have been enjoying it. Sure, some of the music seems a little out there at times, but overall the album is pretty decent. I have also come to terms that I like some of the other music the Fool tends to play in the car, even if I don't admit it...and even if I make up silly names for the music on the CD.

4. I learned how to drink a martini. I'm talking about a legitimate martini...none of the fruity appletinis and insert fruit here-tini. I'm talking about the gin/vermouth/olives concoction that burns your mouth and makes you want to never drink alcohol again. It turns out there's a method to it...that involves carefully placed sips and some level of olive-eating plan. I was starving that day from an entire day in the lab, so I ended up scarfing down the first toothpick of olives within seconds. The waitress was kind enough to bring me more olives once my lack of decorum was spotted by my old mentor who then taught me to drink the martini properly. She wasn't lying. If drunken properly, it doesn't taste that bad a few sips in. It still burned my esophagus and stomach lining...but it wasn't too bad...especially when coupled with good company and a good dinner.

5. Meetings with the counselor have been going okay...and my former mentor referred me to Lucinda Bassett...a self-help guru/motivational speaker who specializes in anxiety and a variety of other inner demons. I am usually not a big fan of self-help gurus....but this woman's Youtube videos are not too bad. I may even venture to say that she's got a lot of good advice for people who, like me, have suffered from panic attacks. Overall, the week off did wonders for me and I feel like I have a lot more control over the whole situation these days. I've been sleeping better, haven't felt tired, and even returned to my jogging. This week alone I realized that I can jog 15 minutes straight without stopping. I know I am not jogging fast...but 15 minutes is still 15 minutes. It is certainly the most endurance I have ever shown when it comes to athletics of any kind. I think that's quite a bit of progress!
A toast to achieving my jogging best thus far!
Sorry, I just had to throw in Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary...They are too awesome to NOT include in this post. With that said, here's to a speedy recovery and a bright future ahead!

Pax Vobiscum

Quis Ut Deus?

Well, here is the latest drawing I've been able to start as well as finish during this week-long respite from the lab. The way I see it, the inspiration for this drawing comes from the fact that I will be dealing with quite a few demons in the days to come. Fortunately, however, my appointment with the counselor went well...and I've been receiving a lot of positive feedback from my previous post. It seems like this post struck a chord with a few people and may have even helped some identify and even find the courage to take care of their own demons. 
"Quis ut Deus / Vade Retro Satana"
Medium: Sharpie markers on paper
While designing this drawing, I thought about the great war in heaven mentioned in Revelation. 

Essentially, all angels were given a test by God. Satan and like-minded angels failed this test. There is some debate as to why exactly Satan and other angels failed this test....but it is well accepted that they involved pride. Perhaps he rejected Christ's authority and significance...perhaps he rejected the salvation of mankind, perhaps he began to think of himself as a god...I don't know. If anyone out there has a better idea of why, I'd love to hear it. Regardless of the reason behind this rebellion, St. Michael led his angels (those that remained faithful to God) with the battle cry of "Quis ut Deus?" which translates to "Who is like God?" In other words, "Who do you think you are to rebel against God? Who are you to compare yourself to God?"

For the longest time, when reading the Book of Revelation, I imagined angels dressed like Roman soldiers, defeating all sorts of misshapen demons with horns and pointed tails. Based on what I have read over the years, I have begun to come to terms with the notion that angels have no physical form or appearance that we would be able to describe. I have also learned (according to Fr. Jose Antonio Fortea's Interview with an Exorcist), that the great war in heaven was not so much an epic Lord of the Rings-esque battle as it was a battle of words and faith. Based on my understanding (which may or may not have the NIHIL OBSTAT seal of approval) faith, intelligence, reason, and thought were the weapons used in this battle. There were no swords, lances, arrows, or other physical weapons used. I have come to imagine it as a debate of sorts, where one side argued for God and the other argued against Him. 

I imagined St. Michael and Satan facing each other at the very start of this great battle/debate. I imagined Satan as he would appear before falling from grace. Everything God creates is beautiful and good, which is why I refrained from drawing Satan as a grotesque gargoyle. Satan may have started off as good, but in rejecting God out of his own free will, he created the ugliness he now bears. I did my best to portray this ugliness with a malicious, proud smile that seeks to challenge Saint Michael. In this drawing, he has not yet fallen per se, but intends to reveal his opposition of God soon. He is about to challenge Saint Michael and do what he can to win over as many angels as possible in order create as much damage as possible in heaven.

Saint Michael loves God completely. He will fight for God and refuse to back down until all rebels are expelled from heaven. He will continue to serve God faithfully regardless of what Satan will say or do to dissuade him. He understands the consequences that Satan's rebellion will have and he understands that rebelling against God will result in an irrevocable exclusion from God's grace. He cannot fathom why Satan would want to destroy the harmony created by God....or why he'd willingly give up God's grace for the sake of pride. His faith is unwavering and he is ready for a fight.

Pax Vobiscum

Saint Joan of Arc: Patron Saint of Badass

I was given the week off, so I finally had some time to myself today. I used this time to finally finish that drawing that's been on the drafting table for months. Perhaps I may add this drawing to my "Children's Book of Badass Saints" if I ever get around to publishing it... Well, here it is:

Saint Joan of Arc
Medium: Sharpie pens and colored pencil
Yes, I am well aware of quite a few anachronisms...but I felt like taking quite a few artistic liberties.
I'm a girl who loves swords and chivalry. If I could choose a quote to describe me...I'd chose the following:
"I do not love the bright sword for it's sharpness, nor the arrow for it's swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend” - Tolkien
My childhood was spent reading all sorts of stories laced with bravery, good causes that needed defending, the occasional wizard, and good triumphing over evil. My favorite stories involved knights fighting to the death for things such as honor, true love, duty...things that seem rare today. While perusing books at a used book store, I came across a children's book about a saint that everyone seems to recognize but not really know. Joan of Arc. We've all heard of her, but we don't usually understand the story. Joan of Arc wasn't just some country girl that rose to general status over night.

She had doubts, but confronted them. She did not wish to suffer the indignities she suffered, but ultimately accepted them as a means to bringing greater glory to God. Though she fought to save France from English rule, it was an English peasant that fashioned the small cross she wore when she was burned at the cross. Though a devout Catholic, she was was burned as a heretic. Though a woman, she expelled women soldiers from the French army but still earned the support of powerful women. Though born a peasant, she became a warrior on a mission from God. Though she appeared to be abandoned at death, she was elevated to sainthood and now serves as an example of what it means to truly fight for Christ and put Him above ourselves. Mark Twain, by no means a Catholic, based his last book on Joan of Arc...as a tribute to his daughter Susy, who had died at the young age of 24. These are just a few examples of how many contradictions you find in St. Joan of Arc's story.

I would invite you to truly seek out her story. Don't just look at her story from the surface. You already know she is a French saint who fought the English. You already know that she fought for God and that God worked through her. Look further than that. Read up on how much she suffered while in prison...as she waited for the final condemnation. Read about the doubts she had and the rebukes she heard when she attempted to take the easy way out. God had a plan for her...and this plan required her bravery and complete selflessness in the face of danger and penalty of death. Her story is a story about the tough road ahead of us when we chose to listen to God. He doesn't want us to be good Catholics. He wants us to be saints and, as a result, demands perfection. This sounds tough, especially in a time where Catholics are told to leave the Church for the sake of radical feminism. This is tough in a world where we fight foe and Facebook friend alike whenever we attempt to adhere to our faith.

Joan of Arc's story is our story. We may not have to take up arms to defend our country any time soon...but we are called to defend our faith when the occasion arises.

 "He must increase, but I must decrease." -John 3:30

We are also called to let go of our own desires, identities, and needs in order that each and every one of us can, in our own way, give greater glory to God. When we seek to do this, and truly work at it...nothing about ourselves truly matters when we are giving all that we are to God. St. Joan of Arc ultimately GOT THIS even as she faced execution and open denunciation as a heretic. Why is she deemed a saint today? It wasn't her military skill or her awesome role as a powerful female figure in history...it was her OBEDIENCE to God's will. Her obedience and courage to do God's will is what makes her badass...and probably what inspired me to finally finish this piece. 

I know some Society of Jesus folk (and many others) may take some issue in the placement of the letters of the crest I drew. Normally, it should be AMDG ("Ad maiorem Dei gloriam"/ "for the greater glory of God"). However, even though I intended for it to come out this way...and took notes for it...I ended up spelling it out as AMGD. Based on what I've learned in Latin, I think I should be okay here. If not, I still see it as a bit of a blessing in disguise...Ave Maria Gratia plena Dominus tecum. In a way, this little mistake helps bring to mind another great example of someone who brought greater glory to God through OBEDIENCE. Anyone want to take a guess? 
Ecce Ancilla Domini
D.G. Rossetti's somewhat controversial painting

Pax Vobiscum

I'm Not Perfect...Just Ask My Impostor Syndrome

A Colin Firth representation
of how everyone else perceives me...
Regardless of how self-confident I may appear on the outside and how well I may do in school, I am sure that I have suffered from impostor syndrome throughout my life. At my worst moments I am convinced that I am going to screw something up and end up getting kicked out of school...or quitting. At my best moments, I just convince myself to work as hard as I can and as long as I can in order to stay on top of things.For whatever reason, I have the tendency to let my fears get the best of me. I have the tendency to let my anxiety build up to the point where it threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. Oftentimes, it builds up to the point where I suffer from a panic attack.

Long before I even stepped foot into my first college-level course...I convinced myself that I would fail out of college. My mom had passed away soon after my high school graduation and I had put college on hold until the end of summer. As a result, I was only able to sign up for classes at the very end of summer and could only choose between whatever classes were still open. By the time September started, I almost *KNEW* that I would fail out of school that year. I was doing fine in class, but I was convinced that I would fail every final or just end up failing the next semester.

A Colin Firth Representation
of how I tend to see myself....
When I didn't fail out of school that year, I started convincing myself that Biology was impossibly difficult for me. I can't explain why I did this to myself or why I started thinking this way, but at some point during my second year of college, I started convincing myself that I would NEVER EVER pass some of the courses I would have to take as a biology major. I'd never pass organic chemistry, physics, or a bunch of other courses that were simply too difficult for a shmuck like me to ever pass. In my mind, I was simply a South Jersey girl who had gotten in over her head. Who did I think I was, trying to become a scientist?!? I went so far as to get all the paperwork and signatures necessary to change my major to English....only to change my mind last minute. Contrary to what I had predicted, I somehow passed all the courses I was afraid of taking and even managed to get a research summer job with my organic chemistry professor. On top of that, I graduated summa cum laude and got a research/teaching fellowship to fund my master's degree.

Even with these accomplishments, I still felt a nagging feeling that I did not deserve any of the success. I felt unworthy of the degree I had earned and soon felt swamped by all of the material I had to prepare for the fellowship I had gotten. I felt so swamped that I began to worry about getting the work done and finishing everything on time. I started getting anxious about teaching to the point where I started getting panic attacks. My anxiety started to literally make me sick, as I fought to keep my fear of failure at bay. At some point, the fear of one day having to defend my masters thesis joined forces with my fear of failure as a teacher...causing me to become a nervous wreck one month before my classes began.

My dad, knowing how seriously I take school and how much I can torture myself over it, told me to go on vacation before I lost my mind. He used the oft-cited example of a cousin of his who ended up having a breakdown as a result of taking school too seriously. Though this cousin did end up going back to school and getting his degree years later, my dad did not want to see me go through what this cousin of his had had to go through. He also feared for my mental health because of the mental health issues that tend to pop up in my mom's side of the family. I was afraid to listen to my dad, because I had convinced myself that I had no time for vacation because of all of the work I had to finish. My thesis mentor also saw where I was heading and essentially kicked me out of the lab for the summer, telling me to go on vacation.

I bought a plane ticket and went on vacation. I had a residual panic attack one week into vacation, but got to relax for a while afterwards and felt fine by the time I got back...fine enough to have a phenomenal first year of teaching science to kids. The kids LOVED my teaching style and I soon became a model student in this fellowship program. Don't get me wrong, I still suffered from anxiety and fear of failure, but I had a good support base and these people helped me to the finish line. I certainly would not be here today if it wasn't for this support base consisting of my family, my mentor, my lab, and the Boy. The masters degree in molecular biology I got and the accompanying award I got from the department were possible because of THESE WONDERFUL PEOPLE. Had it not been for them, I would have dropped out long before I had a real chance to fail.

PhD program applications were another hurdle. Regardless of how well I was doing as a master's student...I did not believe myself good enough to ever be accepted into a PhD program. I became a nervous wreck again for a good part of my second fall semester as a masters student. As far as my fears go, impostor syndrome or no...the whole "I'm not getting into a PhD program" fear this is a pretty legitimate fear. Only about 1 out of 10 people ever get into a PhD program. There are simply far more applicants than there are seats and funding. My anxiety and fear caused me to hold off on applying until the very last instant. I literally was woken up from my sleep with a compulsion to get to my applications. It must have been a guardian angel giving me a shove, because I somehow built up the courage to try applying. The encouragement of my friends, family, and laboratory certainly gave me the strength to continue the application process even though it turned out to be confusing as well as tedious.

Even with everyone else's assurances, I considered my applications a lost cause throughout the waiting period. However, the spring semester brought a few surprises. Interview letters started trickling in and a few acceptance letters managed to make it into my mail. I had applied to 10 schools ranging from tiny Catholic colleges to some of the big Ivies...casting a wide net with the idea that at least one of them would bite. I never imagined a school like Columbia would ever look at an applicant like me until I got a call for an interview. I was wait-listed for quite some time and was about to pull myself out of the wait list several times. However, for whatever reason, I never withdrew my application. Something stayed my hand from that mouse click that would have meant closing a door on Columbia. Lo and behold, however, I got the (pretty late) acceptance.

This almost sounds like a Disney movie, but all of my acceptances meant nothing compared to my being wait-listed. I spent the next two years measuring myself up to the rest of my peers and convincing myself that I wasn't nearly as good a student as they were. I didn't understand statistics right away and had to take a pre-stats course. Everyone else had gotten accepted right away. No one else had ever heard of the school I'd graduated from...and everyone else seemed a lot more comfortable with the program than I did. As much as I hated feeling this way, I could not help but feel inferior. This inferiority, of course, stemmed from the impostor syndrome and it allowed my anxiety and fears to grow over time. Still, I worked hard and did my best to do as well as I could to stay in...regardless of how lowly I felt at times.

After two years of decent grades, I finally proved to myself that I would not fail out of Columbia due to grades. Mind you, I had put school in front of everything in my life besides God and my family. I had also devoted much of my sleep time as well as hobby time to school. Once classes were over, my worries turned into research worries. I haven't posted much on my blog recently because I've been dedicating much of my time to data analysis, proposal writing, and researching for this proposal. I shifted my priorities from class to research overnight and never took a day off out of fear of falling behind.
A Colin Firth Representation of
how anxious I've been feeling lately

This fear convinced me that I could not take a break because I had to finish everything as fast as I could. This anxiety convinced me that I needed to spend weekends analyzing data and/or researching for my qualifying exam. This form of all-or-none  mentality took its toll and I soon found myself letting my anxiety get the best of me regarding lab life and my qualifying exams. As you can probably guess based on my previous experiences above...I set myself up for a bit of a break down. This stress finally became too much for me to handle. It began with my blanking out at lab meeting whenever the PI would ask my a question. I was like a deer in the headlights...only with a dry-erase marker in hand and a half-drawn synaptic transmission model on the board behind me. This continued with my trying to make up for these experiences by reading more papers for my proposals or researching the topics I had blanked out on. Before I knew it, I started getting nervous about the smallest things...to the point where I started getting palpitations over the smallest research hurdles.

I've been getting more responsibilities in the lab since I finished with classes and was okay with balancing all of them for months. However, everything started becoming overwhelming...almost out of nowhere. Suddenly, I was convincing myself that I would never pass my quals. Suddenly, I was a failure just waiting to happen. Suddenly, I became incapable of even the smallest task. Suddenly, I became a disappointment to the whole program. Things don't always go well in the lab, but these minor setbacks turned into serious issues once my worrying started to spiral out of control. I started feeling tired these past few weeks and thought I was coming down with something, but it was mental fatigue from all of the stress and anxiety I'd been feeling...but had been reluctant to share.

Finally, this past week...I had another panic attack. I was meeting with the PI and almost without warning, I lost it. I panicked and all of a sudden I could not breathe...and began to hyperventilate. Embarrassing doesn't cover what I felt as EMT's rushed into the room to measure my blood pressure and pulse...as everyone else looked on and tried to get me to calm down. The problem is, I can't calm down when I get like that. It just runs its course regardless of who is watching or who is trying to help. My lab was certainly helpful in the whole thing and they did their best to make sure I was okay before I was finally able to stand up again and hide myself in my lab desk.

Based on the types of searches people make before getting linked to this blog, I get the impression that I am not the only one out there that suffers from impostor syndrome in the science world. I am also not the only one out there that suffers from this syndrome to the point where it leads to panic attacks. With this said, I want to let all my fellow impostor syndrome sufferers know that there are resources out there for people like us. After my latest panic attack, I've gotten in touch with the mental health folk at Columbia University and am taking action to prevent further attacks. As much as I want to be a data-producing all star with several papers under my belt, I have come to the conclusion that I must put my own needs first (to some extent) when it comes to my own mental health.

I am scared to use the term mental health because of all of the negative associations our society tends to put on these. My mother suffered from bipolar disorder...so I know very well how nasty people can be as soon as someone has any sort of mental health issue. However, I am putting my story out there because I want you all to know that it is OKAY for you to get help for things like anxiety, fear, impostor syndrome, etc. There is nothing wrong with wanting to take care of these things if doing so will make you a happier person with less worries. Our minds need as much attention and help as any other organ...and perhaps even more so considering how a poor mental health state can affect the rest of your body.

My first step was letting my PI and lab know what was going on. I didn't share my whole history with them, but I gave them the overall idea of what was going on. I let them know that I was having anxiety- and stress-related issues and that these issues were affecting my overall state of health as well as performance. History repeated itself after I let everyone know what was going on...because the next thing I knew I was told to take a vacation. Though I was torn between dropping out of the program or staying last week, the time I've spent away from school and focusing on my own mental health has helped me realize that it isn't the research that's the issue...it's my own perception of myself. I can't keep trying to quit things due to my fear of failure and I can't let my fear of failure dictate my life. I can't let these fears and these anxieties dictate my life.

A Colin Firth representation
of joyous triumph
With that said, I have done something I have always feared doing....I have scheduled an appointment with a mental health counselor. This doesn't mean that I am any less of a human being...any less of a student...or any less of a researcher. It means that I am going to get better because I have finally acknowledged my problem and am seeking help for it. With this said, I have also figured out a few other things that I must do from now on.

  • From now on I will take a break for myself (aka, willingly take a vacation) at least once a year in order to put my mind at rest for at least a few days each year. 
  • I will also be more open about how much I can have on my plate at a particular time. I will express my concerns if it feels like I have too much on my plate.
  • I will also try to stop thinking so lowly of myself. Luck didn't put me where I am now...and I must simply accept that.
  • I will also seek help for this issue regardless of what society thinks. Who cares if people look down upon me for seeking help? I am entitled to seek help for my own well-being and will do so regardless of what others think.
I will put other things on hold if I feel that I am going to do what I can to prevent future panic attacks by becoming more comfortable with myself and by becoming more attentive to my mental health. I know that this is a tough issue to confront, but if any of you ever feel like your anxiety and fears are getting the best of you, I highly encourage you to seek help about it. There is nothing wrong with doing something that will ultimately benefit your health. If you are a fellow PhD, grad student, undergrad, etc. please check out what services your school provides. Chances are there's a lot of resources out there for you...if you beat your fears and look.

Pax Vobiscum