Has it been that long???

Dear readers,

I again find myself asking your forgiveness for my lapse in posting. Life has been a whirlwind since I returned from New Zealand at the end of March. When I left, I had no job and was unsure exactly where the Lord was calling me. One of the most incredible realizations I had while there was that, during my initial two year mission to the country, God had made me a new wineskin and poured new wine into me, expanding the capacity to which I believed I could stretch. He demolished the boundary walls of what I thought I was capable of giving or accomplishing and showed me how much more I was capable of when trusting in him. I came home knowing full well that I was, now, only living out of a small portion of that capacity. Thus, I was filled with a desire to know the fulness of abundant life that I once did. God quickly brought these desires to fulfillment, providing two jobs in my field; the courage to pursue Nova Vita Designs, my furniture refinishing business; volunteer work that I love; a renewed vigor for my studies as I near the end of my Masters program; and a new found drive for some of my favorite hobbies, guitar, singing, dancing, and writing. He also shed light on the unhealthy relationships and habits that were preventing me from fully living, and supplied me with grace as I began clearing them away. All in all, it’s been a “full on” three months. I may be busier than I’ve ever been, but I am also happier and more fully alive than I have ever been. Because the more I allow myself to be transformed by God, trusting that his vision is bigger and better than mine, the more it seems I end up experiencing my favorite moments, forming my truest friendships, and enjoying the best wild adventures of my life.

So, here’s to being transformed, to crushing the limitations we, or others, place on ourselves and on our lives, and to LIVING life out of the fullness of our capacity!

So while I hope it will not be another three months before I write you again, know that if it is, it’s just because I’m living. 😉

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The Three Most Powerful Words

Link to the original publication of this article…
http://www.catholic365.com/article/3992/living-the-year-of-mercy.html

He is risen! Three little words; and yet, their meaning is beyond comprehension. In those three little words, the words that defy reality, death, our only surety in this life, is defeated. No longer will we rot in our graves. In Christ we are promised to rise to a life more glorious than this, one with no tears, sorrow, pain, suffering, insects, predators, terrorism, politics, natural disasters, or evil.

Death, for those who believe in Christ, now means perfect, incandescent, euphoric happiness which will never cease. This alone is unconscionably amazing, but it doesn’t end there. We are called, in each day, to live as a people who are risen. When tragedy strikes, do we greet it from a perspective of death, allowing the sorrow to overcome us? Or, do we react as those who know Christ is risen, trusting in a life after this one, where all God’s plans will be revealed? In the normal mundane reality of every day life, do we putter through, with minds distracted by earthly logistics? Or, do we constantly turn our hearts to God, asking him, even in the mundane, how he is calling us to live as reflections of his resurrection?

The truth is that Christ is risen. Unimaginable? Impossible? Perhaps it seems so, but that is our reality. Christ lived, Christ died, and then beyond all understanding, he rose from the dead. This Easter season may we practice living as people who have risen from the death of sin and will one day rise from the once permanent death of this life. May we constantly turn our hearts to God filled with gratitude for all he has done and hope for all that he will continue to do. May we seek the reality of these three little words: He is risen!

Living the Year of Mercy

My article on Mercy was published on Catholic365 today for Divine Mercy Sunday!
http://www.catholic365.com/article/3992/living-the-year-of-mercy.html

Pope Francis has declared December 8, 2015-November 20, 2016 the Year of Mercy. For me, mercy brings to mind forgiveness. God’s repeated and inexhaustible forgiveness is perhaps one of the greatest mercies He affords us.That even though sinners, we are not only forgiven, but saved by His Son. I would venture to say that all of us are in need of God’s merciful forgiveness; however, many of us are also desirous of receiving this mercy from someone we’ve wronged, or in need of offering it to someone who has wounded us.

The declaration of this year’s theme, ignites within me a hope of God’s mercy being poured out on my life, but it also demands an examination of my conscience. It beckons for me to take stock of any unforgiveness residing in my heart, any hardness. It suggests that it is time to bring these items out of the darkness, where they are covered in the cobwebs of my stubbornness, anger, or pain, and place them in the light. To grapple with them, working them through with the Lord, until they darken my heart no longer. Until I am free of them. Isn’t that always the goal of our Mother, the Church? To guide us to true and complete freedom? For only when we are truly free will we ever be truly happy. I want freedom. But, do I want to do the work of assessing the darkest parts of my life, seeing again, in my mind’s eye, those who have hurt me most? I can’t say that I want this. However, if I want the end goal, I must be willing to trod the path necessary to get there.

For me, Pope Francis’ announcement was strangely timed. One of those coincidences that could only be attributed to the Divine. You see, August 28, the feast of St. Augustine, marked the two year anniversary of the night I was sexually assaulted. These last two years have been the most arduous and dark of my Christian journey, as I ventured to do exactly as the Year of Mercy calls us to do. That I am here on the other side, a new creation, living and breathing in the light, filled with joy, hope, and an insatiable trust in the Lord is most certainly a mercy and a miracle. There were times I could but cling to the Lord. I couldn’t see Him, feel Him, talk to Him. We just went on beside each other. The Lord descended into hell with me more times than I’d like to count those two years. Each time bringing me back from the land of the dead. I made horrible choices out of pain. I was angry and confused. Still He stayed with me.

In the midst of it all, I promised myself that I would never allow the depression, or my confusion of “how God could allow this to happen to me,” to keep me from the Sacraments. I determined that I would go to Confession at least once a month and attend Mass every Sunday, though I felt nothing for the one to whom I was united in the Eucharist. I was numb to His grace; and yet, His grace flowed still. And thus, united with the Lord, I chose to do the hard work of grappling with the difficult questions. Struggling through the ugliness, the self-hatred, the pain, the distrust, and the non existent willfulness to live. So many times I thought how easy it would be to give up, on God, on life, to just quit. But, instead, by God’s mercy, I fought back. Sometimes, the victory was simply to make it through the day before me. Other days, I worked with God toward the forgiveness I desired, for myself, for my assailant, for God.

It may seem blasphemous to suggest that I needed to forgive the Lord, but you’ll note, I did not say that God was in any way in need of my forgiveness, but I was most certainly in need of forgiving Him. I loved God, but my whole world seemed turned upside down after the assault. And while, I knew He loved me and did not desire for me to be harmed, that it was my assailant’s misuse of his free will alone that led to my assault, I still needed to go through the motion of forgiving the God I loved, for what happened to me. How merciful is our Lord, that He will climb back up on that Cross for us, become the wrongfully accused criminal once more, allow us to blame Him, be angry with Him, and question His motives. And still, the words from His mouth remain…Forgive them, Father…for they know not what they do. 

Is there anything more merciful?

God has shown me repeatedly that He is truly a God of mercy, and a God who calls His people to be merciful. I am grateful to stand freely in the light, following two years of grave darkness, full of nothing but a pure love for God, forgiveness for my assailant, and a trustful surrender to the Lord’s plans for me. However, I am not off the hook. In each of us, there remains a need for greater mercy. As we prepare for this Jubilee Year, may we search for any unforgiveness in our hearts, for our journey to mercy begins there. May we do the hard work of bringing it to the light and allowing God to transform it. Once released from these chains, may we ask the Lord to show us where in our lives we are in need of His mercy, and beg Him for it in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and then may we ask Him to show us how He is calling us to move forward, living more fully in the light of His mercy.

An Easter Miracle: Risen

 

He is risen! How glorious these three little words! This Lenten Season has been one of the most visibly transformative for me in ages. Even now, as I sit down to share the wonders God has worked, I struggle to find words worthy of his miracles. Two years ago, I got my tattoo which reads “Ecce nova facio omnia” (Behold I make all things new). At the time, it was a promise I desperately needed to cling to, in the years that followed it became a hope of what might be possible, and now it has become my reality. I have journeyed with the Lord into death, its all encompassing darkness, all consuming hopelessness, and its deafening threats of permanence, but Christ has paved the way before me. He died and rose, so that this Easter, his daughter, Danielle Adelina Castellucci, could rise from the death brought on by another’s evil act. He has made of me a new creation. My joy has been restored, my hope expanded, and my soul feels more free than I can ever remember. You see, as Christians, Christ’s resurrection does not just promise that we will rise from ultimate death to eternal life, but it also promises that we can rise from the death of sin and evil that we experience in this life. Where in your life do you need to claim the promise of the risen one? May we all seek to find ways this Easter season to live as people whose God ROSE FROM THE DEAD! He is risen. Think of what that means!

The Transforming Power of Gratitude

There’s a lot to deal with following a trauma. Often times, you go into survival mode. As I’ve stated before, there were times that just continuing to be alive come night fall was a successful day for me. But, what about after the tempests move on and the black clouds disperse? Every step of healing is unique and varies from person to person. Most recently, I’ve been asking the Lord to shake off the remaining debris that keeps me from living in the reality of the new life he’s given me. New life was not instantaneous for me. It is something I’ve been given, but have to choose to claim and live in every day. In the midst of this prayer, one night at Adoration, I felt him showing me the tendency of my mind toward self pity. I couldn’t deny it. I could see it so clearly, a leftover byproduct of years of repeating my story of victimhood for the courts and focusing solely on survival. But, even though I understood where it came from, I also knew that it did not need to continue. That night I went to confession, confessing self pity. Though I may not have consciously chosen to foster the thoughts, as they arose out of two years of depressed thought patterns, I knew that receiving the sacramental graces of Reconciliation was the most powerful first step I could take to reclaim control over my mind. Our God never disappoints. That week, through the words of the priest and my daily devotional readings, God made clear that self pity and gratitude cannot coexist. Thus, I have begun practicing outwardly thanking the Lord for any number of things that come to mind, whenever I begin to feel self pity attempt to creep back in. I must tell you, I’ve been practicing this for a few weeks now and I thought I was a grateful person before, but really focusing on remaining in a state of gratitude has changed the way I interact with the world and with my God. There are certainly times that it is appropriate to feel sad, the Bible supports this, but it can also be too easy to wallow in that sadness instead of reminding ourselves of all that we have to be grateful for. When we do, I am finding that the fruits of gratitude are endless! How natural it should be that we would be grateful for the one who is the only reason we exist and the giver of all that we have; and yet, how challenging it is. This day and every day, may we aim to practice gratitude and then watch as it transforms us.

 

A No Good Very Bad (Glorious) Day

Today marks the last significant one year anniversary of anything related to my assault. Praise and glory to God! One year ago today I stood before a judge, the man who assaulted me, and a courtroom full of convicts, attorneys, guards, and other individuals awaiting their hearings. Before them all, I shared the hell that had been my previous year and a half and how the assault had affected me. That day was one of the worst of my life; and yet, now a year later, none of it seems to matter much anymore. It doesn’t matter that the man who stole so much of my life, only received a month sentence, or that I had to fly directly from my own birthday vacation in Florida to be there, or that the court only agreed to the plea because my assailant agreed to feign remorse after clearly revealing that he had none. None of it matters because that terrible, awful, no good, very bad day, was also the start of my resurrection from the death of PTSD, depression, anxiety, nightmares, impaired relationships, and life post-assault.

That day I was freed from ever again having to be the victim. That day I walked away a survivor, ready for the new life the Lord had waiting for me. That day marked the start of my year long journey to this day. How grateful I am for this day. This day I celebrate the beauty and restoration of my relationship with God, without whom I could not have withstood the tempests of these past years. This day I celebrate the gift of friends and family, who weathered my darkest days alongside me with resilience and love. This day I celebrate the start of new adventures that will come to pass this year…mission trips, a Master’s degree, and, I trust, so much more.

So, while in some people’s minds, today might be the anniversary of the day the justice system failed to live up to all that it could be. For me, today is the anniversary of the day I was free to truly begin the work of healing and allowing God to make me a new creation. And, today is the start of a brand new year…good or bad…may the adventures begin…because one thing I know for sure now, is that I am capable of more than I could have ever imagined.

The Absurdity of the Manger

At Church this morning, Fr. Dan shared how following the Christmas services, as he and the staff tidied up the Church, they found a small wrapped present that had been left in front of the statue of baby Jesus in the manger scene. Upon opening it, they discovered a piece of paper with a hand drawn, crayola-colored heart. One of the children in the parish had wanted to give Jesus a gift, and in their infinite wisdom had decided that their heart was the best gift they could give.

This beautiful, adorable, and yet undeniably piercing story, paired with the celebration of the Magi who brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to lay before the infant Christ, seems to demand of each of us: What gift will we give to the Lord? Will we give him our heart? And what of the heart that seems too broken, dirty, or damaged to give?

As I sat pondering the pastor’s words, these questions rolling around in my mind, I was reminded of a reflection I had on Christmas day. My prayers that day seemed to circle around Jesus’ birth in a manger, of all places. Christ’s manger birth is not new news. It’s a detail included in so many Christmas carols. We hear it every time we hear the Christmas story. But this year, it struck me differently. This year his birth in a barn amidst donkeys, oxen, and lamb, his crib that was no more than a feeding trough, and his ragged and torn swaddling cloth were more than just lines from a favorite Christmas hymn. This year the somewhat disturbing image of the God of the Universe coming to earth as a helpless baby and being born in a forgotten, filthy place, struck me as absurd.

Knowing that God’s plan is perfect, his wisdom unerring, I asked him why he had chosen such an entrance. His answer was clear: Because often we, his children, do not have hearts that look like thrones awaiting his arrival. They are not immaculately cleaned out and adorned in jewels of every virtue. Our hearts rarely look like prestigious castles, fit for Christ the King, God of all Creation. Instead, and much more often, they are dirtied by selfishness or pride, filled with commitments and distractions, and are no less absurd resting places for God than a dirty manger in Bethlehem. In that moment, I thanked the Lord for his perfect choice to be born in a manger, for it serves as a constant reminder that no matter the state of our hearts, he desires to reside in them. All we have to do is follow the example of the child from my Church and gift our hearts to Jesus, exactly as they are.

Happy New Year/Farewell 2015

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Happy New Year! For a long time, it was my blogging tradition to post a month by month photo reflection of the past year on New Year’s Eve. In light of personal circumstances, I let this tradition lapse the last few years. I’d like to resurrect it tonight. 2015 could well be called my year of the phoenix. Beginning with moments of death and darkness, but resurrecting itself as a year of great triumph, healing, strength, glory, and goodness. I am grateful to be standing on the edge of 2016, transformed by ALL that this past year entailed. When saying goodbye to my grandparents after the holiday, they told me that 2016 was “my year.” I haven’t been able to get this out of my head. Whether it’s “my” year or not, well, who knows, but I do feel an immense amount of hope as the minutes countdown to the start of 2016. I have learned a great deal about myself these past 12 months…here are just a few of the teachable, memorable, joyous, and transformative moments that will carry me into this New Year:

January: Good Friends, Cold Weather, and the March for Life…

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February: 30 candles on my Birthday cake, Floridian celebrations, and the sun setting on a very long journey through the legal process…

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March: 5k’s, Cirque du Soleil training, and the best moment of all…the birth of my niece, Ava…

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April: Easter on the beach and a visit to the convent…

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May: May 1st greetings from my niece, taking to the water on kayaks and skis, and visiting my favorite Bostonian family..

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June: Convent shenanigans, family reunions, and cousin concert night..

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July: Celebrating the Fourth in the District and farewell for now’s to Norfolk friends…

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August: God-mothering, my move to Chicago, birthday celebrations with two of my favorites, and precious time with dear friends…

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September: TOO MUCH CUTENESS, I got to eat grains for the first time in 3.5 years, and a Browns birthday celebration for my favorite brother…

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October: New beginnings, surprise visits from friends, Nova Vita Designs, pumpkin carving, firing range, and Sandra Dee…

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November: Texas travels, the great outdoors, and college football…

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December: MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!

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AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR! May it be filled with peace, grace, and blessings…Here’s to 2016, my year! May it be your year too!

Healing after Trauma

What exactly does life after trauma look like? There’s no one answer. The truth is everyone survives trauma differently. What does healing look like? What does it mean to be healed? At what point can I claim that I’ve arrived? I don’t know what that answer looks like for everyone, but I have seen a glimpse of what it looks like for me. These past weeks have been filled with opportunity after opportunity to see the immense progress that has been made in my journey post-assault.

Just a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking at a Pennsylvania Law Enforcement training on a victim’s perspective of Law Enforcement. As such, I shared, alongside the ADA who prosecuted my case, the facts surrounding my assault, I broke down why it took me three months to report the crime from a mental and emotional standpoint, and touched on what it’s like to relive the crime as you comb through every detail again and again for the report, investigation, and testifying. They were an incredibly attentive group of officers and I was humbled by their hunger to know how they could better serve the future victims of crime they would undoubtedly encounter. Perhaps the most incredible moment of the whole day, though, was the moment I left the building and walked to my car. I began my self check, something I believe vital after revisiting traumatic experiences. I sat in the silence of my vehicle, expecting to feel the emotional exhaustion and mental instability which often accompanied sharing my story. But, it never came. To the contrary, I found, much to my surprise and delight, that when evaluating my emotional, mental, and physical state following the day of training, I felt energized, free, and so so good! Over the next few days, I would check in every so often with myself expecting the depression to creep in, as it so often did over the past years, wrapping it’s tentacles around my mind and suffocating my spirit, but it never did.

For me, this was a sign of true healing, a testament of true freedom.

Changing the Culture of Victim Blaming

Back in April, I was asked to write an article for a local Pennsylvania magazine for Sexual Assault Awareness month. In my article, Surviving the Storm: A Call for ChangeI shared a vivid account of my assault and the aftermath of victim blaming that followed. I proposed that on a cultural level our mindset regarding these crimes is skewed. We are so prone to inquire, “why do victims get victimized,” as opposed to “why to rapists rape.” The reality, as it stands, is that we’re far more likely to focus on the victim, what they were wearing, were they drinking, why were they alone with that group of guys to begin with, etc. I believe we’re going about this all wrong. I recently came across this incredible Ted Talk, Violence against Women: It’s a Men’s Issue, that emulates exactly what I’m trying to suggest. Jackson Katz, does an amazing job brining to light the most poignant changes necessary if we are to see an actual decrease in violence. I invite you to WATCH this Ted Talk, SHARE this Ted Talk, and then ENACT it in your own life. Let’s become true leaders in the movement for cultural change regarding gender violence.