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Abortion Alyssa Azul Ink Slingers Respect Life

The Plan after Unplanned

The Plan after Unplanned

*Spoiler alert* 

Unplanned was screened in just over 24 cinemas across Canada, and done so despite strong protests against it. In my city, the movie was only shown in two theatres and for less than a week, so you’d better bet I was rushing to go see it. Before I get into the thick of it, one positive outcome was that the movie ended up selling out across the country. Not just because of the amount of pro-lifers wanting to see it, but  because of those who were on the fence, or pro-choice altogether. There were loads of mixed reviews after the movie aired, some quite offensive, but I think that the most powerful thing to come out of that film was the conversation it started.

I was no stranger to the Planned Parenthood controversy before entering the theater. I used to listen to Lila Rose podcasts, of her research and undercover investigations in the clinic. I was also familiar with Abby Johnson’s story: a former clinic director turned impassioned advocate for life and anti-abortion. I thought I would be prepared for this movie. 

The film opened up immediately with a scene of a young girl at about 13 weeks pregnant undergoing an ultrasound-guided abortion. It was the first time that Abby would witness firsthand, what a fighting life looked and felt like (as she was holding the probe).

It was a shockingly graphic scene, and I don’t think there was one woman in the theatre that wasn’t clutching her stomach, or feeling uncomfortable. It felt like somewhat of a physiological response to something deeply unnatural and inhumane.

As overwhelmingly emotional as the movie was, I think it’s so important for women of my generation today be aware and adept at speaking about these issues. What’s more, we as Catholics should learn how to have a conversation about protecting the sanctity of human life without drawing on religious arguments right away. This doesn’t mean we hide the truth, but we have to find a way to open up the ears of our brothers and sisters who are non-believers. We know there are valid non-religious arguments for the existence of human life at conception, but are we equipped to use them? When we have conversations with our coworkers, friends, and family outside of our religious circles, we need to learn how to converse with them and find the moment. I call the moment the tiny door that opens up and allows you to ask a question that crosses into personal territory without raising any sort of debate. People tend to let their guards down when they feel they are being heard. 

I recently found a moment at work. My female coworker and I were casually talking about life goals and ambitions. As she was of a certain age and professional status, my curiosity compelled me to push a tiny bit into that personal territory, with respect of course. 

I asked her, “What are your thoughts on having children?”

I was genuinely curious. I wanted to know what women today truly thought. It stunned me how tough it was, how we often try to censor ourselves when it comes to talking about kids, motherhood, and family. I braced myself for a guarded response, but she instead started talking about why she wouldn’t have kids until she was fully ready. Our conversation spun into one about why people have kids while in unstable relationships, or because of pressures from friends and family, and even pressures from the marriage itself. What I realized was that we actually cared about the same thing: children being raised in a stable home.

We didn’t agree on everything, but I got to see some of the underlying issues as to why men and women divert from the God-designed family structure, and see some of those “where we went wrong” points in society. I never made any comments about what I believed in, I just asked questions. We don’t have these conversations enough, especially with other women. I think some of us are too busy judging each other’s lifestyles that we forget about our common ground.

This connects me to a moment that inspired me from Unplanned. It was the perseverance of Marilisa, the young woman that worked for 40 days for Life on the other side of the fence, praying for and speaking to the girls about to go in to the clinic for appointments. The most ‘scandalous’ thing about her behaviour to me was the relationship she formed with Abby Johnson over the years that Abby ran the clinic. Both women were fully aware that they were on opposite sides of the issue, but both continued to do their work for their causes in front of each others’ eyes, with an unfailing grit and determination . They spoke to each other cordially, and sometimes even crossed lines into personal territory. The scene that intrigued me was when Abby was getting into her car with balloons and such after celebrating her baby shower at the clinic, and Marilisa saw this. Instead of asking pointed or loaded questions, she congratulated her. She spoke to Abby with a gentle, genuine demeanor, as she was also carrying a child herself. I thought it was a powerful moment between the two women, and it’s as if Marilisa saw who Abby Johnson truly was in that moment –  not only two people, but two souls. It was a moment that fueled Marlilisa’s prayers, that Abby would one day wake up and see the truth. It was the respect and love that Marilisa treated Abby with over the years that led to the ultimate action of Abby running into her arms when she finally realized the lie that she had been living, and selling.

It’s a question we all have as pro-lifers: How can we have a meaningful impact on the other side of the fence? I think that genuine love must drive our words and actions. When we speak with people about the value of life, our bodies, motherhood and abortion, we must attempt to listen and empathize before expressing judgement. I am of the belief that small, meaningful conversations can change the game as much as large movements, protests and political sanctions can.

It’s hard to see the scale of the impact that our words have, but changing just one woman’s life is a win in itself. Teaching a girl or woman to love her body is a win. Celebrating children in all families, whether broken, blended, or nuclear is a huge win. Supporting women post-abortion is a win. Sharing information on the biology of sex, hormones, and childbirth is a win. There is so much information about the human body that kids don’t learn in schools anymore…the internet has become a new teacher with lessons that range from real to dangerously ‘fake’. You just never know when your small win can influence something as big as convincing a woman that the fetus inside of her is truly alive.

In my reflection of the film, I recall David’s awe and humiliation in Psalm 139,

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”

even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, 

for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,

 I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. 

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were 

written in your book before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139, 11-16

I pray that one day every man and woman recognizes how intentionally and intricately designed their bodies are. I pray for the day that every woman sees how precious her body is, and the part it plays in God’s beautiful love story with us. I pray that my sisters all over the world continue to draw strength and grace from our Immaculate Mother in times of confusion and turmoil.  I pray that children are loved completely and without condition, just as Jesus loved. Lastly I pray for the unborn babies. They are loved and not forgotten.

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Alyssa Azul Ink Slingers Loss

Loss and Legacy

 

2019 has so far been a year of many losses. I lost my great aunt, my mom’s good friend, and my boss (may they all rest in peace). Losses also came to me in the form of losing a mentor to a layoff, and losing a friendship. I think one of the most sorrowful losses I experienced this year was one that I saw coming: the death of our Lord during Lent.

This Easter was tough for many reasons. All of my losses seemed to fall one after another during Lent and afterwards. The most recent one was quite jarring for me.

I lost my boss this week. I write this in honour of him, who honoured my writing. He was a brilliant architect and an insatiable storyteller; a creative mind that couldn’t be contained. He understood me on that level, and that need to create something that changes the lives of others in whatever form that may take.

I don’t like funerals for obvious reasons. I sit there with a lump stuck in my throat that doesn’t seem to go away. It’s the kind you get when you try not to cry, and it swells up when you attempt to get out a few words. It feels like there is nothing in the world at that moment that can make the pain go away. You look at the faces of the people grieving, and you realize just how loved this person was. That there’s a love even death cannot conquer.

I can’t help but reflect on Jesus, and what it must have been like for Him, who had to die without a ‘loving’ send-off or a funeral. How lonely and devastating His death must have been. Yet he knew that His suffering would have purpose.

Through death I begin to understand what it means to honour someone else’s legacy. Oxford dictionary tells us that a legacy is “something left or handed down by a predecessor.”

What did Jesus leave us when he left this earth? He gave us forgiveness and salvation. As Christians, we understand that we cannot have those two things without love. Jesus left us with perfect love. Just like heirs to a throne, we are called to honour that legacy and pass it on. We pursue holiness through the cross – the passion of His perfect love He left us with.

I picture a brazen warrior suited in gleaming armor on a steed, taking down foes with her bare hands to defend and uphold the king’s legacy. Unfortunately, this is not typically what happens immediately when “moving on” from a great loss. There are days when we are indifferent. Days when we are angry. Days when we forget. Days when we grieve all over again.

At my beloved boss’ funeral, many beautiful tributes were shared, and the word “legacy” came up. They said he left us with a very important legacy- not his awards or accomplishments, but his children. This man left the world suddenly, but not without leaving us his pride and joy, and what one might say, his idea of perfect love itself.

Perhaps in some similar small or big way, we as children of God are a legacy. We have purpose upon being brought into this world. The legacy doesn’t end when the person leaves this earth. We continually deepen a relationship with a God that is not “physically” with us right? Just as my boss’ children will not forget who their father was and what he did in his life.

The future holds a lot more for the people left behind by great tragedy, but I am also of another perspective. I think that part of moving on means never forgetting. It means looking back every once in a while to remember who came before us. Memories are powerful, in that there is a constancy to them. As if a snapshot was frozen in time. We draw on those memories to remind us how important it is to live for others. The resurrection of Jesus transcends this lifetime and the next, and as heirs to the kingdom, how do we make our father proud?

One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. – Psalm 145:4

 

Loss and Legacy
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Alyssa Azul Ink Slingers

Losing Your Marble

Losing Your Marble

Just be yourself.

This, I heard a lot of as a child. “They’ll accept you for who you are”, they say, but we let others tell us who we are first. I was 10 and I didn’t have my personality figured out. I didn’t know how to reign in and control my quirks. I didn’t know how to celebrate them. I was only cool according to my mother.

You’d think that by now, I’d have it all figured out. I’ve crafted the perfect script of who I am – personal, smart, and honest, but not enough to offend people who see the world differently. Great right? I crafted this script going to interviews, work functions, networking events, and even simple social gatherings. I can tell people that I am defined by my degree, my company, my hobbies, what I eat, where I travel, and etc. But there is a problem. My script is like everyone else’s. This script is not a story.

But wait, faith? This part of my story becomes silenced the most in public. It’s usually the last thing colleagues, employers, and friends outside of church want to talk about. It’s an uncomfortable space that we all tip-toe around, especially in places where you, a person of a faith background, are a minority. I thought that university would be the place for me to finally open up and talk about religion, but I found myself gradually becoming more timid inside and outside of the classroom.

I didn’t anticipate that of all the things hindering me in my faith it would be the limits of my comfort. I’ll proclaim my love for Jesus in this space, but not that one. I’ll evangelize these people, but not those people. I’ll worship loudly here, but not there. Who am I? This answer will always be different depending on the people asking.

Why are we so afraid to be ourselves? Post-secondary students, I’m looking at you. Ironic how in a place where our ambitions are nurtured and we chip away at the marble of our identity, we hold back a part of ourselves. We lose confidence in ourselves because we can’t perform to the ideal that we are trying to shape. The ideal that we think friends, colleagues, professors, parents, and future employers consider valuable. Maybe we are afraid to chip at our marble because we don’t think people are going to like what that will look like. We want our marble to appear as grand, or pristine as our neighbor’s.

We look at our mistakes as something that we need to keep far from our self-development. You wouldn’t tell your future employer about that time you disappointed your team by not meeting a deadline. People will tell you not to let your failures define you. But we need to allow those failures to shape our character – to humble and empower us. Let your mistakes, sufferings and pain chip away at your marble. Sometimes resisting them is more detrimental.

Remember the masterpiece that God sees. In His eyes we are valuable; mind, body and soul, without condition. Remember that no matter how disappointed you become in yourself, your identity in Christ will not change, break or bend on rock foundation.

You are marble, but your masterpiece takes refinement, and a whole lot of time. So take some of those hits – you’ll be surprised at how strong you truly are.

 

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Alyssa Azul Faith Formation Ink Slingers Lent Liturgical Year Prayer

Behind the Cinder Blocks…

Behind the Cinder Blocks, jail, ministry, corporal works of mercy, www.catholicsistas.com

A few months ago, I joined a program in my city called the Rosary Project through one of the parishes I serve at. It’s a service where all volunteers visit the Edmonton Remand Centre once a month to pray the Holy Rosary with the inmates. Initially, I was under the impression that I would be be praying with the inmates through a screen of some sort.

Imagine the look on my face when I walked into the pod for the first time to see an ocean of orange bustling around. The guard announced that the Rosary would begin right away for those who wanted to join, and I wasn’t expecting to see more than 5 people walk into the program room. The room filled up quickly, and men were sitting on the floor because there were not enough chairs. There were many from different, or no-faith backgrounds. We had men who knew nothing about Jesus, and men who recited stories from the Bible with clarity.

Before praying, we ask for every person’s intentions. Many men asked to pray for their fellow brothers and sisters in prison, but I was particularly touched when one older gentleman, who had been at the centre for a long time, said he wanted to pray for us, the volunteers.

Interestingly, I was told by one of the men that I shared the name of his daughter. This happened not once, but on two different occasions by different men. It was spooky since I never considered my name to be all that popular, yet it was sobering. I could see that these men were fathers that made real sacrifices, and were carrying a real penance. It struck me even more deeply that one of those men could have been my own father, telling a complete stranger that his daughter’s name was Alyssa.

From my experience so far I realize just how intentional the Rosary Project is. Spending up to years at a time locked away from your loved ones, with your freedom taken from you is a kind of rock-bottom I can’t even begin to understand. Deacon Joseph prefaces the project as a way of visiting those who cannot come to visit us at church.

I recall the verse in Matthew 25,

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

~Matthew 25: 34-40~

I was in prison and you came to visit me.

We are simply called to serve those in prison by visiting them — no more and no less.  I can understand now why Mother Teresa had such a fervent longing to serve those who were vulnerable, undesirable and outcasted in society. Touching those people with her heart was how she encountered Jesus; how she was able to see His face. These people are our brothers and sisters, and we can not turn our backs on them, despite everything that they’ve done.

I am aware that I am walking into a world that is unfamiliar to me, and I am surrounded by people that come from backgrounds of violence, substance abuse, and a great lack of love. But I am surrounded. These people have the humility to walk into this room and recite five decades of our Holy Mother’s prayer with us. I can’t ask for a greater miracle. What a privilege it is for me to encounter that. Deacon Joseph said it to the men we were praying with in such a beautiful way: “When I hear us praying together in rhythm in this room, it sounds and feels almost identical to when I am praying the Rosary with my brothers in the clergy.” Prayer ties all voices together in unison, forming a brotherhood that is powerful and unbreakable.

It’s incredible how quickly the Holy Spirit works – the tiny, single-decade rosary beads we hand out afterwards are received with careful and appreciative hands. For many, it’s the pocketful of light that they will need to face another day inside of those cinder block walls.

As we all move into this Lenten season, I encourage us all to simply visit.

Find a way to visit:

Your local correctional facility through your parish.

A senior’s home.

A shelter.

A food bank and spend time with those doing the Lord’s work in the most basic of ways.

Your parents who may live miles away.

Your neighbor whose dogs might be loud sometimes. Invite the young couple with a newborn at church over for dinner.

Kingdom work starts with a simple visit.

Read more about the Corporal Works of Mercy

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Alyssa Azul Books Ink Slingers Reviews

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Abiding Together Book Study

I want to take this opportunity to shine a spotlight on a podcast I’ve been following called Abiding Together by Ascension Press  (some of you may already be impassioned listeners!). It’s hosted by Sr. Miriam James Heidland, Michelle Benzinger, and Heather Khym. I am one of those humans that works a delightfully mundane 8 to 5 – Monday to Friday gig, and so the drive home for me is often a lonely one. These three ladies have done a remarkable job of keeping me company by bringing light, laughter, and passion back into my commutes. I love that each host has her own style, voice, and wisdom on different topics. Their conversations are life-giving, and they exhibit what authentic and loving sisterhood looks like. What I hear from these podcasts are impassioned women gearing up for battle. This is a great segue into the book study I want to share about that I’m following  on C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (first four chapters here.) This series began in January, and the three ladies get together and discuss the story in weekly installments, every four chapters. You can read along or just tune in! I guarantee you won’t miss out.

I never thought that I would  be digging out that old C.S. Lewis book I read when I was in junior high out of my musty old drawers. I never even thought I would read it again as an adult. I urge those of you that have that book or remember reading it a child- READ IT NOW. Or better yet, read it with your kids.  

C.S. Lewis’ foreword is beautiful and truly set the tone for this adventure we embark on with his goddaughter-inspired heroine, Lucy.

My Dear Lucy,
       I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say but I shall still be

your affectionate Godfather,

C.S. Lewis

We follow the adventures of the four Pevensies: Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy (eldest to youngest) on a journey from the present reality of New England during World War II into the cold winter of Narnia, a  mystical land on the other side of the wardrobe.

As much as I ( and what seems like the rest of the universe) loves Lucy the young, pure and bright-eyed heroine, my favourite character thus far has to be Peter. I find him the most intriguing, because of his role in the family of four as well as in what his ultimate destiny will be. The beginning of the story focuses more on Lucy and Edmund (the younger of the four), and we see Peter and Susan more like character foils. Peter is a bit of a ‘naysayer’ in the beginning, but of course, that only makes for interesting revelations later on. He is, I find, the most sensible of the siblings, but you can’t help but want to pinch him and tell him to loosen up a little.

I also love that he isn’t the “main” character, even though his archetype would typically fit into that mold. He is destined *SPOILER ALERT* to become a High King of Narnia, yet he is just a piece of this vast, wonderful story of creation, much like you and I are. Each of the siblings have their own important roles in this story, whether they triumph in the end or not.

I also relate to Peter in a particular way. Like him, I am the eldest of four siblings, and I carry many of the flaws that he does. As the eldest, there is a sort of expectation for us to be virtuous, and as upright as possible. The leader of the pack must guide them to make the right choices, and ensure that no one is left behind. This responsibility and righteousness can cause us to be short with others who do not measure up- especially those in our care. We may also be righteous in the wrong ways. Peter is quick to chastise Edmund and soothe Lucy (even though it makes her feel talked down to). Eventually he concedes to Lucy’s testimony of what she saw in the wardrobe, but not without admitting that he was wrong, and I appreciate that about Peter.

I also think that CS. Lewis is delightfully conspicuous when he wants to be, especially when it comes to Peter’s namesake.

Peter was not only the first disciple chosen by Jesus, but eventually he is a story of redemption. What comes to mind when I hear the name Peter is fortitude. I recall Matthew 16:18,


And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Peter, and how his first interaction with Aslan, the Great Lion, will go. More to come on the exciting adventures of the Pevensies. I hope you all take a leap of faith into the wardrobe.

“Well, sir, if things are real, they’re there all the time.”

“Are they?” said the Professor; and Peter did not quite know what to say.

– from Chapter Five, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Abiding Together Book Study