Tag Archives: Analogy

What A Dumb Bird Has Taught Me

If you asked me what my most prized possession is, I would probably tell you it’s my bird. Seamus proved to me that love-at-first-sight actually can happen. We got him from a bird breeder in New Hampshire. on the way there, my mom reminded me that we might not be getting a bird that day. We didn’t know if their birds were healthy, or friendly. When we arrived, one of the breeders said they had three birds available for adoption. They had a green-cheeked conure, and two sun conures. They brought out the green-cheeked conure first, and handed him to me. He immediately scurried up my chest and nestled under my ear. He was exceedingly small, and his feathers were, for the most part, an unremarkable dark green.

The breeders said that conures didn’t usually take to strangers very quickly, and that this was not normal behavior. I loved this bird immediately, but I agreed to see the other two. The two sun conures wanted nothing to do with me. They were bigger than the green-cheek, and were bright yellow and orange, but I asked to see the little guy again. A second time, he climbed up and hid under my ear. I didn’t care that he was small and not very colorful. He liked me, and he was cuddly, and that was what mattered.

We bought him a cage, and food, and a few toys, and brought him home. The breeders had said that we should leave him in his cage for a little while and let him get used to our house, but he wanted nothing to do with that. He wanted to be with and on us. The next day, or maybe the day after, we took him to the vet to make sure he was healthy, and to get a blood test. The only way to know a conure’s gender is by their DNA, and apparently female’s can sometimes lay eggs, and we didn’t really want to deal with that. Luckily, it turned out our little guy was, indeed, a guy, so we named him Seamus, after the poet Seamus Heaney.

I love Seamus for the same reasons anyone would love their pet: he’s funny, he’s soft and, he’s cuddly. I love him, too, though simply because he’s mine, and because he loves me; actually, I really do think Seamus loved me first, and I really do think he’s taught me some things about God. He’s a bird, ergo, Seamus is stupid; he’s also badly behaved, and annoying at times. He does things that normal birds definitely don’t do. He’ll come into my room in the morning, and if I lift up the blanket, he’ll crawl under, and snuggle in the “happy hole.” He likes to go spelunking in silverware drawers, and “dumpster dive” in our trash. He tries to steal food like french fries, or even chicken, and he’s probably more stubborn than any human I’ve encountered. He will attack any human outside my immediate family because they’re not part of his flock, but he will fall asleep in my dad’s hand. He does many other weird, ridiculous things that you simply would not expect a normal bird to do.

I call him my co-pilot because he likes to sit on my head or under my ear when I’m praying or working, or playing video games with my dad. I find that I’m often reminding him, “Seamus, you’re a disaster, and I adore you.” I imagine that’s how God must feel about us sometimes. Of course we don’t start so messy. Bad things happen around or to us, or we hurt our own hearts when we sin. Sometimes Seamus gets bored and tries to steal the keys from my keyboard while I’m writing. He’s annoying, but I’ll grab him while he’s doing it, pick him up, and kiss him. Sometimes while we’re playing video games, he’ll get bored, and fly upstairs. It just makes me want him back. I imagine this is how God feels about us. I can’t get angry at a dumb bird, especially my dumb bird, and I don’t think our omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God can really get angry at us limited humans, especially since we’re His limited humans.

Seamus can annoy the heck out of me, or even hurt me if he bites, but I’d never give him up. I call him “Precious” for a reason, and not just because I’m a Lord of the Rings fan. Likewise, we really can hurt God, but He’ll never give us up, He’ll never abandon us, and He’ll never give up on us.

Love That Chooses Hurt

Last weekend while I was praying, I was thinking about the story of the prodigal son. The kid wronged his father, and left. The father was more than ready to forgive his son when he came back, acknowledged his fault and apologized. I’m realizing now just how painful the waiting and the hoping must have been for the father. The story is a metaphor for God’s mercy, but the primary focus is on the actions and decisions of the son. Not much time is spent on the interior feelings or actions of the father.

Last week I had to write a letter to someone I love because she has been being abusive to other family members. I told her that I still love her, and I really do, but unless she changes her behavior, I can’t have a relationship with her. It kills me because if she was willing to change and asked for my forgiveness, I would grant it. I hate tough love, meaning I hate having to do it. The father in the story of the prodigal son wanted to forgive his kid. He wanted to love him.

Recently, I talked to my parish priest about being overly scrupulous. Scrupulosity has been described as “Catholic guilt on steroids.” I tend to be afraid of my own human weakness, I often think things are sinful when they’re not, and sometimes if I commit a venial sin, I think it’s much worse than it is. I’ve been told on multiple occasions to let God love me. He wants to love, and he wants to forgive. Often, we just don’t let him. I think I better understand, at least to some extent, what that feels like.

I watched a talk about when Jesus was teaching about the Eucharist in John 6. Literally thousands of people left Him because of that teaching. He knows what it feels like to lose friends. He also knows what it’s like to offer love that people won’t accept. This is what sin does. I imagine love is like a ball that gets passed back and forth between two people playing catch. Each person “offers” it, and each person “receives” it. Sin is like a barrier that gets set between them. Love can still be offered, but it can’t, or in many cases, simply won’t be received. Letting God love us is often about admitting our faults and letting Him forgive us.

I’m realizing as I work through this that admitting our fault has to be preceded by accepting our fault. I already intuitively knew this, but I haven’t been able to articulate it until now. I know this person whom I love, and I don’t think she’ll accept that she’s at fault. I can’t claim that I don’t feel angry with her, but I wish her no ill will. That’s what hurts. She’s put up the barrier that’s broken up our game, and I’m left holding the ball. It’s not a perfect analogy because you can’t throw the same ball to more than one person. Every relationship has a different ball.

There was a definitive breaking point, and since then I’ve been praying for her. Often, prayer can feel like a desperate monologue. On occasion though, either by reading Scripture or sincerely listening with my heart as best I can, I get a clear answer. I know that Jesus suffers. He chose to be with us, and He chooses to continue to suffer with us even though He doesn’t have to. Jesus suffered a lot in His own lifetime here on earth. Last weekend I asked Him, “Lord, why do you choose to suffer this with me? You shouldn’t have to suffer.” He said, “I don’t want you to suffer alone.”

That’s what real love is. The person whom I love has hurt a lot of people. I could have told those people to keep it to themselves, or between them and a priest or a therapist, or God. That wouldn’t be real love, though. Real love doesn’t abandon ship when the seas get rough. Real love is love that sticks around to help clean up after the earthquake. Real love is love that chooses to suffer for the good of the other. Real love is willing to share the hurt.

The Battle Of Helm’s Deep

Church is sometimes awkward. This past weekend was the celebration of Christ the King. Our priest is really good at making things plain and simple. He said we all had to just stop and ask ourselves who or what is, or is going to be our king in the end. He said there are ultimately two questions one needs to ask in deciding who or what our king is going to be: 1) can this person or thing love me unconditionally, and 2), can this person or thing protect me? The choice is ours. That’s a complicated choice, and it’s one we often have to make more than once. I’ve made my choice, and I’ll continue to make the same choice. Jesus is my king. The reason our priest’s homily was awkward for me was that it brought something else to mind. I have to trust my king.

I have made my choice, and I will continue to make the same choice, as I said. Jesus is my king, and I trust Him. The problem is that I’m having trouble trusting the church hierarchy. He’s pointed out to me that He has allowed those in charge to have the power they have. That kind of means I have trouble trusting His patience and wisdom. I’m reminded of a scene from Lord of the Rings. It’s before the battle at Helm’s Deep. The people of Rohan are drastically outnumbered, and the king asks one of his servants, “Who am I gambling?” The servant, who is arming him for battle says, “You are our king, Sire,” To which the king responds, “And do you trust your king?” The servant says, “Your men, my Lord, will follow you to whatever end.”

Right now, I kind of feel like one of the soldiers of Rohan. I kind of feel like we’re outnumbered. In the end, Rohan won that battle, and I know we’ll win this one. I do trust my King, but I want to trust Him more. That was my awkward prayer at church yesterday. There is no other person or thing–not my parents, not my brother, and not my bird–who can love me absolutely unconditionally. Everyone has a breaking point. That’s a fact. My family can protect me from most things, but not everything; not death, and certainly not the consequences of sin. Only Jesus can do that, and I will worship only Him.

I wrote a while ago about the wedding at Cana when Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to. I hadn’t thought about it then, partly because it wasn’t related to the point I was making, but they do exactly what He tells them, despite the fact that it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. “They’re out of wine? Okay, you guys, fill those empty jars with water.” There’s no indication that the servants know what He intends to do, or even what He’s capable of. They just do it. Maybe it’s simply because they are servants and are used to just doing what they’re told, whether it makes sense or not. I think those servants are actually an excellent model for how we are supposed to relate to the Lord. Things get messed up. That’s okay. He can fix it, and He wants us to help. That’s actually pretty simple.

Despite the often strange and extreme lengths Jesus goes to to show us His love, we’re pretty slow to recognize it. When I became Christian, I didn’t have any really serious Christian friends. Luckily, when God made me, he made a stubborn woman, so I prayed. I prayed for years about this. It did take years, but now I do have faithful Catholic friends, and though it took me a little while to recognize it, I really am grateful. If we are facing the Battle of Helm’s Deep, then this is my declaration, “I will follow my King to whatever end.”

Advent Reflection Notes (Week Three And Four)

I decided to lump these since there is only one video for the fourth week of Advent and it’s actually just all the speakers praying through the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary together. These videos aren’t really all that long, so I’ve been trying to watch them all in one go so I have the ideas fresh in my mind for the blog posts. Anyway, here are my notes.

1: God is a mountain mover, but he moves mountains under two conditions: a) it has to be his will, and b) it has to be for my good. Furthermore, what we perceive as mountains are sometimes only things we put in our own way, and sometimes we only need to change our perspective.

2: God is our Father. A Father provides and protects, and we are always God’s children.
-I woke up around 5:00 yesterday morning after having the most terrifying nightmare of my life. I am not exaggerating. For a little while I just prayed like a crazy person, but I was so freaked out that it just wasn’t helping, so I went through the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary, but that didn’t help either, so I prayed like I normally do again. I was starting to calm down a little at that point, but by then almost an hour had gone by, and I actually felt like calling my dad to lay in bed with me for a bit like a little kid would. I didn’t because It was insanely early and it would have been kind of weird, but what I really wanted was to feel like I wasn’t alone. Last night I was still actually afraid I was going to have trouble getting to sleep, so I went to bed with the necklace I designed that symbolizes God’s love in a special way for me. I had got it blessed by my priest, so it made me feel safer, kind of like a security blanket.

3: Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Peace in this sense is a “sense of harmony brought about by restoration of relationship with God.”
-I’m going to play with this idea of harmony. I’m a very musically minded person, and harmony is just amazing to me. I love to sing, and harmony makes everything better, in my opinion.
-What exactly is harmony between a person and God? I think it has to do with a number of things, but for this I’ll stick with the music analogy. Harmony would be like a great songwriter/composer taking the foundation of something, and letting a student play with it. God picks the key and the chord progression and the words, and the overall structure of a song, and gives me a guitar, and tells me to put something on top of it. It can be whatever I want. I can choose to play something in the key he’s playing in, that stylistically makes sense, or I can just yuck it up because I want to play my own thing. Our free will choices essentially create or allow for harmony or disharmony.

4: Back to the basics: “Take up your cross and follow me.”
-For me this probably means learning to be more patient, first of all.
-Recently, God taught me, and my priest reemphasized to me that God can take the tiny little nuggets of what I’m capable of giving him and make them into something huge. Worded differently, I need to learn, however long it takes, to not want to be a hero.
-There’s something I need to do that I’ve been avoiding for a very long time. I don’t exactly know how to do it, and I don’t exactly know what the short term or long term consequences will be, but it’s for the good of someone I love very much. That’s a bit terrifying.

5: The Holy Spirit is the source of tradition and renewal.
-It kind of seems like the world wants to do away with tradition. We used to have crazy traditions in our neighborhood, but a lot of that has died out. At the same time, I think remnants of those traditions have held on, and new traditions have grown out of them. It seems to me that humanity needs both, especially spiritually. I think sometimes the world doesn’t like traditions, especially religious traditions because they seem like they don’t make sense, even if we do have explanations for them.

6: How did Mary experience the first Advent?
-She lived it through desire and expectancy. These feelings don’t contradict each other.
-Thirsting for God’s gifts enables us to better receive them. Impatience makes it harder to handle this thirst properly.

7: Love is sometimes chaotic and messy (my paraphrase).
-True love is sticking with the one(s) we love even when/if it’s scary.

8: We don’t always get supernatural guidance, even on really big important things.
-This is kind of confusing. Joseph didn’t have to obey the call to register for the census, but he decided this would be the most pleasing to God. Mary decided following her husband would be the most pleasing to God. I guess I sort of expect him to just tell me what to do on everything. I kind of like being told what to do.

Beautiful Now

Salvation is a hard thing to understand, let alone, explain. This morning I couldn’t sleep, so I read an article about how God just wants us to be ourselves. God loves us just the way we are. He created us, he knows who we are, and he doesn’t expect us to be anything other than who we really are. Whether we know it or not, we have a tendency to put on a facade a lot of the time. Even around our best friends, we emphasize certain things about ourselves, and hide others. God loves even the worst parts of us.

Our family recently bought a house in Naples Maine. My mom has loved this house for five years, and at first, I had no idea why. It looks like it’s about to fall down. We officially owned it last Friday. It’s not exactly wheelchair accessible yet, but I can get into three of the rooms on the first floor as it stands. Last Friday, I went into the house for the first time. It smelled. Everything was covered in dirt, dust and mouse crap, and it was filled with trash that had been left there by the previous owner.

The house hadn’t been lived in for twelve years. The guy who lived in it before was an alcoholic, and just let everything fall apart before eventually leaving. While he was there he had said he wanted to fix the place up, but had only really managed to pull some things off the walls. His drinking habit was evidently so bad that he had literally lost track of where he had stored away some of his beer.

We stayed there for a couple of hours on Friday and began cleaning some things up. I had brought my rosary with me, so I hung out in the kitchen and went through the Divine Mercy chaplet, which is part of a devotion that was first introduced in the 1930’s. In one of the rooms I couldn’t get into, my mom found a broken piece of something that had a piece of one of the psalms written on it. It read something like, “He who puts his faith in God is safe.”

This past weekend, my dad went up and camped in the house to start cleaning it up some more. On Tuesday, my mom and I went up to see how things were going. We had hired a clean-up crew to just get everything out of there, and they spent the entire morning and most of the afternoon there. My dad had kept the windows open, so the place already looked and smelled significantly better by the time my mom and I got there. On Wednesday someone came to see if the septic system was going to work for the house, and he said it would. Later, the architect came to see if the house itself could be “saved” and remodeled for what we need. He said it can. He’s already started working on plans, and my mom has enlisted her cousin, who is a builder, to take care of a lot of the work.

When my mom first saw this house she loved it. She wanted to save it. She wanted to make it her own. I didn’t get it for the longest time. A while ago I wrote a post about how we were debating about buying a house in a town closer to our family, or in Portland. My mom kept coming back to this house. When we finally decided on this one, and we were coming closer to buying it, I realized I wanted it, too. I was getting excited, but I still didn’t really know why. Now that we do own it, I can truthfully say that I love it now. I obviously don’t want it to stay the way it is, but I love this house, and I can’t wait to see how awesome the finished product is going to be.

This house to me is what salvation looks like. It was broken and empty before, but now it’s got people who love it living in it, and we’re going to fix it. Obviously it’s not a perfect analogy because we’re not there all the time, but I think now the house has hope in it. I recently wrote a post about what home is. Home isn’t just where a person’s primary residence is. Home is found in people and memories and various places all at once. I’ve barely known this house, and quite frankly, it’s still disgusting, but on Wednesday I sat on the porch in the sun, listening to music, and I definitely felt at home.

God asks us if we will let him into our souls, even if we’re really messy; even if we’ve said “no” to him time and time again. God loves us just the way we are. He always wants us to be better; Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect,” but he knows it’s a process, and I expect he loves the process, just as my family is already loving the process of fixing up our house. It’s easy to feel like we’re not good enough, and therefore, wonder how we can let God in, and even if we do, how we’re going to hide the ugly things from him. The fact of the matter is, we don’t have to. The ugly stuff is what makes the finished product so beautiful, and the fact of the matter is, God made us. He thinks we’re beautiful now.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Bring It On

Over the past few days I’ve been thinking about when Jesus talked about building a house on a rock versus building a house on the sand. Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I see a lot of cynicism and a lot of pessimism, and I wonder what this has to do with where one chooses to build their house. I remember at the beginning of Advent, going into my church and being surprised to see the purple on the altar and the Advent wreath by the entrance, but I was also excited.

A week or two later I was asked to explain the meaning of the Advent wreath to my fourth grade class, and honestly, I had to google it. The wreath itself represents eternity. The three purple candles represent love, peace, and hope, The pink candle represents joy, and the white candle which is lit on Christmas Eve represents purity. My godmother came to visit during the first week of Advent, and she drew an advent wreath on our chalkboard. Even though it’s just a drawing, it’s been exciting each week to draw a yellow light on each of the candles.

In scripture, God is referred to as our rock, our fortress, and our refuge. He has been that for me over and over. This weekend is Christmas. All the candles will be lit. There won’t be any more darkness. Still, scrolling through Facebook, I see darkness, sadness, and bad news. I heard once from someone who went to a therapist that they were told every ship needs a sail and an anchor. Some people are sails, and some people are anchors. Some people lead to new adventures, risks to take, and experiences to delight in or learn from. Others lead home. Using that analogy, it seems to me that so many people are sailing ships with no anchors.

Last week I finished a song about the aftermath of the election. Don’t worry, this’ll be quick; I know we’re all sick of talking about it. Both Clinton supporters and Trump supporters have been unfair and unkind, and in some cases, violent. I supported neither candidate. I didn’t vote. There’s a line in my song that says “I have one king.” The chorus of the song says:

I dare you to lose
Stare down your own defeat
And defiantly believe
That it’s true you can live on hope alone

I think a lot of people have lost hope. I think Trump won because people lost faith in the government, and I think the people who didn’t support him lost hope because they still had faith in the government. Either way, everybody lost. Everybody lost if we’re only talking about the present, the immediate future, and the reality we know apart from God’s part in it. Everybody lost if we forget to hope.

Jesus is king no matter what, and he will always be king no matter what. There is no reason to lose hope at Christmas time. It’s not about whether or not one has amazing decorations, or can hold extravagant parties, or can afford the newest, greatest gifts. What matters is the reason for celebrating. Last week I spent an hour with my fourth grade class as usual. I brought my ukulele and a bag of cookies my mom made. We sang a few songs, and my assistant teacher read a couple stories to the kids. It was one of the most worshipful hours I’ve spent during Advent, and I spent it with eleven little kids.

For some, Christmas is one of the only times to get together with family. For some, it’s a good excuse to eat junk food. One of our favorite traditions is to get my parents, brother, aunt, cousin and me into the car, get some hot chocolate or coffee and drive around and look at everyone’s lights. It’s fun to make our neighborhoods look pretty, and Christmas is a good excuse. For some, however, the weeks before Christmas are not fun. While everyone else is enjoying themselves, some are simply stretching themselves too thin. Some are reminded of bad experiences connected to this time. Some go hungry. Some are cold. Some spend the holiday alone.

The first Christmas wasn’t a party. The first Christmas was dark and dangerous. Jesus’ life was in danger from the moment he was born. I don’t think he would want the world to forget that for the sake of having a good time. I think he might find it easier to identify with the people who aren’t having a good time. For those of us who are, it’s important to remember why, and to invite the Lord to have a good time with us. It can be as simple as remembering to pray before Christmas dinner, and making sure we get to church.

I’ve seen so many posts about how 2016 has been a really crappy year. Okay, in many ways I can’t disagree. Maybe it’s just been another year for me, but we’ve had political unrest in our country, and the Middle East is still in turmoil. There have been terrorist attacks in various countries all over the world, and sometimes it looks like the world is going to end. As we fight for a better life for ourselves and others, we are dished out more problems. Yes, 2016 has looked bleak in many ways. We’ve had to stare darkness in the face.

We have two options this Christmas and in the weeks to come. We can look at that darkness, often disguised in songs about snowmen and sleigh rides: candy and chaos: we can look into that darkness and see only war and death; or we can look into that darkness and defiantly say, “bring it on. I have the Light of the World inside of me. Jesus is with me, and that’s all I need.” We can live on hope alone.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Give Him A Chance

It’s getting cooler around here. The fall colors are slowly coming out. I’m savoring the last few weeks of warmth in the air while I can. Usually, come November, it gets too cold for me to wander around outside much. Today I took a wander and my friend’s mom and his dog were outside. For whatever reason, his dog practically worships me. I don’t get it. She’s old, and has very bad arthritis, and apparently I’m one of the very few people she’ll even get up for. I feel bad. I suspect she’s coming to the end of her rope.

I hadn’t intended to, but I ended up talking to his mom for quite a while. I’m teaching three CCD classes this year, and she suggested I consider teaching as a career option. Truthfully, I’m better at it than I thought I’d be. This is my third year doing it. One of my classes is fourth grade. I’m realizing it’s hard to translate a lot of what Jesus taught into kid language, but the experience is teaching me stuff, too. I could be a teacher. I’d prefer to teach high school, though. The thing is, becoming a CCD teacher was initially a spur-of-the-moment decision, and then I discovered that I’m fairly good at it. I would have to get certified as a teacher, and I just don’t know what’s involved. I don’t want to go back to school–at least not yet.

After I left there I called my grandmother just to talk. When we hung up, I headed for home. Before all this, though, my mom and I had taken one of our neighbors out to lunch. Without saying too much, she has some serious mental health problems, and isn’t exactly well liked. She’s a perfectly lovely person, but she’s very strange. She was telling us about some of her problems and I said, “I don’t mean to be pushy, but you could try praying about some of this stuff. I know from experience that God is a very powerful friend.” After I hung up with my grandmother this conversation came back to me. I thought, “I just wish people would give you a chance, God.”

That gave me two ideas. I don’t know a lot about “safe spaces” and the problems and arguments they may or may not cause, but the point is, they’re supposed to be “all inclusive.” Everyone is supposed to be welcome, at least from what I understand, and that led me to wonder if, for one thing, Catholics are welcome in those spaces and, for another, if God is welcome. The other thing I thought of is an analogy. I do think of God as a very powerful friend. He’s like a very influential friend who has a lot of power, but likes to do things behind the scenes. People kind of know who he is, but they’ve made up all kinds of gossip about him and his friends, so they don’t invite him to their parties, even if his friends are invited. I just want people to give my friend a chance to show them that he’s not the freakozoid that people say he is. Really he’s a very nice, creative, helpful, loving person.