profectus

This time last year, I was a freshly-minted college grad frantically applying to jobs relentlessly and stressing about the future. Little did I know that I would soon take a leap of faith, pack my life in a few suitcases, and drive solo cross country to the city of angels. That the ride would be daunting, full of uncertainty, and brimming with blessings disguised as detours. That I would be driving blind down roads I never thought existed, guided by the Father as everything fell into place more perfectly than I could have ever imagined.

For the first time in my life, my future is irrevocably up in the air and the possibilities are endless. No more checking the boxes, fulfilling the requirements, or following a predetermined structure. The notion is exhilarating. 2018 is looking to be the most anointed year yet; I am bracing for the ride with joy.

In the meantime, I have condensed some perspectives that God gently reaffirmed in my life this year (Chapter 22, Vol. 2017) below. Walk with me as I reminisce.

 

Loneliness is a blessing.

In 2017, loneliness gripped me. Living in a city with 15 million other people, there is no shortage of human interaction. Yet the feeling was inescapable.

I had grown disillusioned with friends who did not have my back, with friendships that were built on self-interest and not a common purpose. I strive for authenticity in every facet of my life, and I caught myself fostering relationships in Los Angeles that were anything but. I had to come to grips with the fact that most of of my friendships had become a reflection of the “fake” culture we lived in LA. Friends who were more concerned with self-promotion on social media than with self-growth. More worried about achieving a status than leading a fulfilling life.

I had to take a step back, to rethink how I was investing my time and who I was spending it with. I quickly realized that I had traded my four quarters for one hundred pennies, and consequently was wasting my energy trying to prevent them all from slipping through the cracks. No more. I made the conscious decision to re-shift my focus on the people and things that truly did matter. The process was slow and increasingly painful, but the results have been extraordinary. What initially felt like an unjust punishment turned out to be the biggest blessing.

 

La La Land of Smoke & Mirrors

In the entertainment industry, nothing is as it seems. Everything is fake, faded, and worn. The glitz and the glamour of Hollywood is but a fragile mask to the vapid and heartless core of an industry built on exploiting the brokenness of the human condition. The same ones who build you are the ones who destroy you. They prey on your best intentions and twist your achievements to fit their agenda. They take your God-given purpose and reduce it to a figment of your imagination. They lie, manipulate, and distort and they expect you to thank them for it.

I have seen dear friends lose themselves to the system, witnessed them bury their very identity for the sake of success and acceptance. I am surrounded by souls that forego regaining autonomy of their own life for a few fleeting seconds of secondhand validation.

Yet I speak from a place of hope. I still believe that the solitary beams of light will prevail against the overwhelming darkness. It is not all lost. There are souls in the industry fighting for the greater good, creatives who still cling to their sanity as they work for the greater improvement of humanity. In the end, God always triumphs.

Be Still.

I am guilty of getting wrapped up in my ambitions and aspirations, of allowing the endless noise of our culture to impair my judgement. I have to constantly remind myself to breathe, to pause, and to be present. It’s sometimes difficult for me to stop the gears from churning, to slow my mind down, and to force myself to enjoy the now.

I have bought into the flawed gospel of our culture that in order to lead a life of significance, one must always stay busy. I have confused stillness with negligence. I find myself constantly planning ahead, always strategizing ten steps ahead.

With the advent of social media, it is far too easy to fall prey to the lethal game of comparison. We see another 20-something effortlessly living out his/her dreams at a breakneck pace and drive ourselves mad trying to do the same. We reduce a life of meaning to followers and rates of engagement. We approach success like a competition, caught in a war against time. We become trapped in a vicious cycle of defeat, an endless loop of unfulfillment.

Success is an illusion. Chasing dreams is overrated – chase God first and the rest will follow. We are humans first and foremost, working professionals last. Family and friends are infinitely more valuable than any promotion or monetary compensation. Human moments can’t be bought, and you can’t place a price on a peace of mind. At the end of the day you only have yourself and God to answer to. The opinions and expectations of others do not matter.

Studies have shown that the #1 regret most experience on their deathbed is not having had enough time. In the words of Fr. Mike Schmitz – spend your time, don’t waste it. Our lives are but a blip in the fabric of time, you can afford to take a few moments to appreciate that.

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perseverantes

Change is hard. Change can be as positive as it can be negative. Change affects us all; it is a constant force that is ever present in our everyday lives. Some welcome change, others shy away from it. Every choice we make, every “yes” or “no” that we encounter daily can create irreversible, long-term changes. My decision to pursue a degree in Radio-TV-Film at the University of Texas at Austin is such a choice that set in motion a wave of profound changes that affected all areas of my life.

I attended freshman orientation the weekend after my high school graduation, and I remember leaving UT that weekend feeling as if I had the whole world at my feet. I felt like Columbus, exploring previously unchartered territory without any parental supervision. Having lived in a small country town all of my life, I was excited by the anonymity and vast possibilities that Austin offered, along with the alien noises and sights that came with it. I was confident that I would once again conquer it all and cross that University stage in 2017 victorious. I had no fears, no worries, and no nervous thoughts. At that moment, I knew I was ready. I sped through that summer, anxious to start fresh, make new friends, live new experiences, and begin my college career.

I don’t remember my first day of college. I don’t remember what I wore that day, or what I ate for breakfast that morning. I don’t remember whom I sat next to in my first college class, or what my grade was on my first college assignment. I do remember that my illusion of what was in store for me faded very quickly. Going in, I expected to receive all A’s, to be involved exhaustively on campus, to be recognized for my photography, and to maintain a prolific social life. In short, I expected a carbon copy of my high school experience. I did not expect the immensity of campus, the frenzy of Austin, the difficulty of UT classes, the responsibility of independence, and above all, I did not expect the stress of freedom. Prior to college, I only knew stress as a word that could be found in the dictionary. Post-college, stress has become my worst enemy and my best friend. The clichéd “real world” drained me in ways I did not think possible. To say the first semester was tough is a gross understatement. My grades dipped, the dreaded ‘freshman fifteen’ emerged, and my confidence was ripped to shreds. I attempted to balance studying, involvement with six organizations, film projects, an internship, a social presence, and my personal life all at once. Having done all of those things and more through high school, I was under the ruse that I could accomplish the same in college. Coincidentally, the intense workload took a toll on me and brought me near the breaking point.

I remember kneeling before Jesus in the chapel halfway through the semester, imploring His help. I felt an overwhelming sense of desperation, panic, and helplessness churning inside me in a restless anxiety. It was in that moment that I finally came to face with my own ego and accepted the fact that I needed help. There was no way I was getting through it alone. I realized I needed to cut back on the parties, drop out of clubs, seek assistance in class, and focus on reviving my relationship with Christ. I had to swallow my pride in order to save myself. I had neglected to cultivate my health, faith, and relationships for the sake of beefing up my resume. That day, the tide began to turn. I regained control over my studies, I increased my academic performance, and I finally had clarity on my professional trajectory.

The series of changes that transpired in my life with my move to Austin have irrevocably transformed my life for the best. As the saying goes “what doesn’t break you, makes you stronger,” or in my case, what doesn’t bring you down can only push you forward. The University of Texas has opened the doors of countless possibilities to me, while Austin has broadened my academic horizons and professional aspirations. In one short year, I’ve learned the importance of healthy living, that I love my mom and family more than life itself, that I am nothing without God, that career goals took time, patience, and perseverance, and that I am by no means superhuman. I learned that it while it is advantageous to be independent and resourceful, asking for help is not a weakness, but a strength. I knew all of these things already prior to moving off to college, but I didn’t truly understand any of it. On an academic level, I learned the importance of time management, and I had to take a self-taught crash course on how to study. I had to learn all these things the hard way, by first-hand experience. On a professional level, I have flourished in ways I had only dreamed of. Attending the University of Texas has allowed me to gain invaluable experience that I would be impossible to attain anywhere else. As an aspiring director and photographer, the budding capital of Texas and live musical capital of the world are a perfect fit for me. Austin is brimming with opportunities, and bursting with fun experiences. Just last year, I hosted a red carpet interview, I worked in studio for TSTV, I landed two internships, I worked on several film projects, I established valuable friendships, networked professional connections, and expanded my photography experience.

Looking back, I can see that José that rushed out of his dorm room in a frenzy that fateful first day of the fall semester is not the same José that calmly stepped out of that same room the last day of the spring semester. This year of change has stretched me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. There are moments where I yearn for the safety of my parents’ home, where I long to revert back to the comfort of my old life. Those moments are as brief as they are fleeting. I know I am exactly where I am supposed to be at this point in time. The changes haven’t stopped, nor do I believe they ever will. This is not the beginning of a new chapter in my life; this is the beginning of a new book. The journey away from the consistency of my past and toward the uncertainty of the future begins now.

Originally printed in The Tri-County Press www.thetricountypress.com

Iter Itineris

This past year has been tough. It has been spiritually, emotionally, physically, and psychologically trying in ways that I did not think possible. Looking back, I am amazed by how much change has transpired in my life since I moved to Austin and started my first year of college. Thankfully, those constructive (and painful) changes along the way have allowed me to reach new levels of maturity and growth as an individual, a professional, and a child of God. Today, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I wish to share my Lenten Journey with you- the most rewarding leg of my lifelong excursion thus far.

PRELUDE

Each year for Lent, I typically give up social media, some type of food, and a combination of other different things all at the same time. Additionally, I make promises to Jesus that I will pray more, read the Bible more,  and come out of the forty days a renewed man. Needless to say, that never happened. A few days into Lent, I’d cave in and go back on my word for the simple fact that I only went through the motions of Lent because that is what I felt I ‘should’ do. This year, I wanted to approach things differently. I began thinking about possible sacrifices days in advance, and asking God to show me what areas needed the most work in my life. If you know me at all, you know that that is a tall order to fill because man, does my life need work. But anyway, I made myself think seriously about my deteriorating spiritual condition and prayed that I could do one thing to strengthen my relationship with Christ. I wanted to break the pattern of giving up many things at once and just focus on one key area of my life with the hopes that I could actually improve for once.

The answer came through an online article: I needed to give up noise. I’ve always had difficulty spending time in silence with the Lord because of all of the extraneous that inundates my life. So what exactly does it mean to give up ‘noise’? In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with noise from all angles. It seems like we can’t escape the pervasive stream of noise from the radio, TV, the Internet, and our phones because we’re living in a culture that loves to take on exterior noise, to the point where we overload our senses and we can’t even hear ourselves think. The excess of noise often affects our relationship with God in the sense that we can’t hear him beneath the layers of noise we cover ourselves with. So for lent I decided I’d give up two big originators of noise: music and social media.

THE JOURNEY

Going in, I thought I felt like a brave soul for giving up music, one of the most treasured art forms and key elements of my life. The original plan was to give up music entirely but given how crucial music is to me, I didn’t see myself capable of pulling that off. Thus, I resorted to giving up just secular music instead. That entailed not listening to Imagine Dragons, Linkin Park, OneRepublic, Thirty Seconds to Mars, and Kodaline for 40 day- in other words, I was setting myself up for madness. I almost backed out last minute at the sheer thought of it, but I reminded myself that my ‘sacrifice’ paled in comparison to the unbelievable sacrifice Jesus made for me thousands of years ago. I prayed for strength, and offered up my dependency on music, so that it could be replaced for sole dependency on God this Lenten season. I figured the first few days of Lent would be the hardest as I suffered through withdrawals, but the entire process seemed to stretch and acclimate the closer it got to Holy Week. I managed to keep to my word, with the exception of the few times I was in a friend’s car and they happened to play their music. I didn’t ask them to change the station or play a Christian song, because it wasn’t their sacrifice being offered, but mine. I figured no one listened to my music, so I had nothing to worry about. This false sense of comfort only went so far, because I quickly realized how mainstream my music taste really was, much to my chagrin. When friends did play my favorite songs, I forced myself to tune out the lyrics and prevent the melody from invading my ‘state of silence.’ My attempts at inward isolation mainly worked. On one occasion, I tried singing along with the lyrics but I couldn’t truly enjoy the music because it felt wrong, and I could sense the Holy Spirit telling me to cease and desist. I also teased myself by watching music videos on YouTube of random artists with the justification that I wasn’t violating my agreement with God because I wasn’t listening to my music. Overall, however, I pulled through the forty days without caving in to my musical cravings.

AFTERMATH

As Holy Week came around, I began counting the days and hours before I could finally break the silence and blast my music to the four winds without being internally reproached for it. I literally craved to have my auditory senses overcome with the words to my favorite songs, and I began clamoring for Easter to arrive for all the wrong reasons. I had been faithful (sort of) to my promise for 40 days, and I now I believed that I deserved to feel that release. Never mind that the Church was celebrating the resurrection of Our Savior, I just wanted Lent to be over so I could go back to my routine of blasting my speakers and plugging in to social media. During Holy Week, I reflected on how rapidly Lent flew by and observed the changes that had befallen me without my realization. My prayer life had picked up, I was more aware of my spiritual condition, and the overall silence in my life allowed me to truly breathe and think for once. It didn’t dawn on me until the very end that I had finally lived Lent as it was intended to be lived. By making a sincere effort to grow closer to God, I had embarked on a 40 day journey similar to the journey Jesus embarked on when he spent 40 days in the desert. My desert had been abstaining from the excessive noise, and in return I had made spiritual gains that steered my life one step closer to the Will of God. God’s amazing decision to give up His son Jesus for our salvation surpasses every meager sacrifice I make in my lifetime combined. This Lenten season gave me insight on how wrong I was to depend on external sources to fill up my life with temporary ‘pleasures of sound.’

My life will not slow down or get any easier any time soon, but I rest assured that all I have to do is disconnect from this world, block out all noise, and surrender myself at the feet of Jesus to contemplate His love in blissful silence.

 

Jesus is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Jesus is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!

 

Forging Ahead

I will be attending The University of Texas at Austin this fall as a freshman. For the next four years, I will identify with the Class of 2017, thus forming part of a thriving mass of unique individuals. At UT, the lineup of career choices is as diverse as the spectrum of colors in the color wheel. The myriad of possibilities offered there dazes my inquisitive mind and slightly overwhelms my cognitive intellect. Shabby decision-making skills aside, my thirst for building on my existing talent and my hunger for acquiring new proficiencies lead me to ponder on the complexities of my life. I am a multi-faceted human being, and my numerous varied interests have driven me to engage in troubled sleep. I yearn to accomplish the impossible, to overcome the insurmountable, and to conquer the undefeatable. I’ve learned that giving birth to favorable results undoubtedly depends on setting my dreams high and my expectations higher.

My dreams can be laid out in a series of words, phrases, and punctuation marks all neatly tied together by the confines of concise grammar and proper syntax. The deafening shortcoming of writing as the vessel for conveying my visions, however, is the resounding silence that mere sentences can produce. We possess the capability of giving life to our imagination, but when listening to matters of the heart, that is not enough. Needless to say, I am giving you insight to the thoughts that I hold dear, to those that I clutch against my chest in a feverish attempt to ward off my irrational terror. I fear that my most honest confessions will be met with scorn, or even laughed off and discarded as antics of a raving lunatic. It seems that for most, the task of outlining one’s life is a simple as having brunch after a good game of polo. For me, it involves bearing my soul.

The process of examining my innermost being and broadcasting my finds to the world presents an unfamiliar vulnerability. I don’t mean to flaunt, but the rawness that I am typing down is taking me by surprise. I stared at a blank page for the longest time, begging the words to come forth so that I could submit and earn a sorely needed scholarship. Yet here I am, making a sincere effort to express my lifelong goals and professional aspirations.

My career expectations are fueled by a passionate ambition that surpasses the conventional method of achieving success. My dreams go beyond personal growth and singular gain. I long to fulfill my purpose in this world, to contribute to the beneficial building of our society. I yearn to play my part in shaping the course of history, to participate in the molding of an honorable future. I plan on doing so by pursuing my passion for the arts and their unparalleled freedom of expression. All of my life, I’ve been riveted by the courageous voices of history that have dared to dispute the popular opinion by venturing against the accepted norms. The brave men and women who devoted their lives to equality and social justice would have gone unheard without a means for broadcasting them. The ripple effect of their heroic actions would be nonexistent without effective means of communication. This is why I have chosen to take the heart-wrenching stories that knit us together at the core of our humanity and broadcast them to the world through the vehicles of film and photography. As clichéd as the expression “a picture is worth a thousand words” seems, it inevitably holds an irrevocable truth. Photography can portray in one shot what writing can’t begin to fathom in a thousand volumes. Our visual capabilities, coupled with our auditory senses, render film a powerful tool for conveying a message. Film and photography take advantage of our innate sensitivity to produce a powerful impact that alters our perception and realigns our concept of reality. No one stands immune before a series of touching photographs or a reel of poignant film. Stunning shots and breathtaking film can move one to tears, incite unrivaled fury, inspire to modify an entire lifestyle, and even bring a collective mass to their knees in awe. The untapped potential that film and photography both posses beckon me, and I am powerless to resist. I wish to take my talent, my desire, and my ability to work with film and photography as mediums for communicating my story and the stories of those that have a profound impact on my life. There are many issues that need to be addressed, questions that need to be raised, and truths that need to come to light. Film and photography allow me to tackle those tasks.

I aim to pursue my vocation as a RTF major at UT, while keeping my options open for other viable routes that will also benefit my photography. I am human, and therefore I am victim to the uncertainties of life. I do not know how many movies I will produce, or how many photo shoots I will direct. I do not know if my efforts will project and have any impact, or if they will merely wither off and die unseen. I do not know if I will ever have an audience that will watch attentively and accept the issues I present to them with conviction. I do not know if I will ever meet success. I do not know these things and many, many others. What I do know is that the future is unwritten. I know that I hold the pen in my hand, and that no one else can direct my lines. I know that the faith I also hold binds me to the certainty that nothing will be left to chance. I am human, I am an individual, and I am forging ahead.