Let It Go

“Your will, not mine be done.” That was what Jesus said to His Father the night before He died. I never fully appreciated what that meant until this afternoon. Being God, Jesus could have saved the world some other, less violent way. Nonetheless, He died for us; He died for me.

I’m going to briefly pause here to explain the difference between God’s perfect will, and God’s permissive will. God’s perfect will is exactly what He wants to happen, and when it applies to humans and our freedom, it’s when what we choose is what He wants. God’s permissive will is what He allows to happen. God does not want bad things to happen. Illness, wars, natural disasters, etc are not part of God’s perfect plan. However, He allows those things to happen because He can take something bad and turn it into a greater good. It was not the Father’s perfect will for Jesus to die on the Cross. He allowed it to happen, however, because He can take the worst thing humanly possible (we killed God), and turn it into the best thing possible (God saves us).

On Monday I had a bit of a tantrum. I had asked for assistance with something (a thing I can’t physically do), and my dad somewhat sarcastically told me to wait. For the record, sarcasm is practically my family’s native language. The issue was ultimately that I would have done it myself had I been able to. My parents, of course, tried to talk me down from crazy, but it didn’t help, so I bolted to my room, and prayed. It was a bit nonsensical for a bit, but finally I got to, “I’m not angry at them (my parents), and I’m not angry at You. I’m just angry at… bad luck, I guess, and I don’t really know what to do with that.”

I sat there with Him for a bit, and neither of us said anything, but after a few minutes (I don’t actually know how long), He gently reminded me of two things. He wasn’t able to carry the Cross Himself; He needed Simon to help Him. He allowed Himself to be needy, and the help wasn’t totally willing. Then He reminded me of His time in the Garden. His friends were willing to help, but were unable to. I have always had willing and able help.

An approach the Catholic Church takes to suffering is to “offer it up.” I can hand over certain sufferings to God for Him to use for His glory and for my good and/or the good of others. How this works, I don’t fully understand, but I can attest that it makes things more bearable. As I said, I’ve been struggling with “dependence” for a while. I simply don’t like it. I tried several times to simply hand it over all at once, but I couldn’t.

I prayed about this most of the day on Monday, and Jesus helped me devise a plan of how to deal with it. He inspired me to write a list of things that piss me off because I can’t do them, and write a list of things I can do. The “I Can’t Do That” list was longer, but what I realized was that the things on the “I Can Do That” list were much more significant. Then we made a deal. I couldn’t hand everything over all at once under the umbrella of “dependence,” so I made a sort of spiritual “Let It Go” box. I made it pretty and put a lock on it, then I handed over the key to the Lord. Yesterday I looked at the “I Can’t Do That” list, and started putting things in the box.

This afternoon, I was finally able to put the last things in the box because I realized something. While I was praying today, Jesus brought me to the moment when He said, “Your will, not mine be done.” Neither Jesus nor His Father wanted things to happen the way they did, but both the Father and the Son allowed the worst possible thing to happen to bring about the best result. God doesn’t want me to have epilepsy or muscular dystrophy, but He’s allowed it to happen. What I didn’t realize is that I have a choice in the matter.

I can choose to be continuously pissed off about it, or I can choose to accept it and do what I can to glorify the God who made me and loves me. When I say “Your will, not mine be done,” what I’m really saying is, “Okay, this happened. Neither of us like it. Moving on.” I know myself well enough to know that if I were “able-bodied” I would have played hockey, I would have been, and still would be into skateboarding, and I’d be a drummer, not a singer.

I also am inclined to think that I wouldn’t know the Lord. That means three things: 1) I wouldn’t have much hope of getting to Heaven, 2) my peeps would have less of a chance of knowing Him, and 3) I would be unhappy. What must be understood is that generally speaking, I am happy. I’m not always in a state of euphoria, but most of the things in my life do bring me joy. What also must be understood is that my faith is what gives me the most joy.

Your will, not mine be done.

The Problem Of “Them”

My dad and I have been re-watching the Marvel movies leading up to “End Game” and the new Spider Man movie. We found a list that goes through them in an actual timeline that starts in the 1940’s with the first Captain America movie, and ends in the present day. I love super hero movies. In fact, I pretty much like any story that involves an obvious battle between good and evil. I like to see the “good guys” win.

It’s a really simple, but enjoyable story premise. We’re presented with it over and over, starting when we’re as young as five years old. At face value, that’s fine, and even good to an extent. Good and evil do exist; they are real things. The problem is when the lines between good and evil get blurred. The problem is when this story premise gets translated into “us” and “them” in our daily lives.

As I’ve mentioned before, Last fall I joined the Carmelite community in Danvers MA as an aspirant. It means I’m a newbie. For months, when talking about things we do, I would say “they” do X, Y, or Z. I’ve consciously had to train myself to say “us” and “we.” Our other members have been fabulous in making me feel welcome, and that I am part of the community, even though, as an aspirant, I’m not yet officially a member.

Last week my family got a letter from Social Security. It was vague at best, and said  they had detected something that might affect my disability stipend. It said if we had any questions to call the number they provided. We gave them a call, and no one answered. We gave them another call today because the letter said if they didn’t hear from us, they would call us today at 10:30, but they didn’t. Finally someone answered, and said that they would call us back before 3:30, but they didn’t. I mentioned in my last post that I am prideful, and don’t like to be helped. I particularly don’t like getting a disability payment. My mom took care of the phone calls today. It’s a good thing she did because if it had been me, things would have got ugly. I don’t normally have a foul mouth, but I told my mom to “tell them to cut the shit… Gimme the phone.” She didn’t.

So I went to the next option. I posted on Facebook, “Our government is run by idiots.” A minute later, I deleted it. I realized that I fell into the problem of “us” and “them.” I used to think I wasn’t allowed to be angry when I pray. That mentality, luckily, is long gone. After deleting my post I said, “Sorry, Lord, I’m just pissed off and looking for someone to blame.” I was looking for “the bad guy.” The real problem is in the system itself. It’s a system that fosters apathy, and it’s no one’s fault in particular. On the same token, though, it’s a system that fosters the “us” vs “them” mentality. I, and I imagine many others on disability have a tendency to see those working for the social security system as “the enemy,” while those same workers see us as, in a sense, “enemies” because we’re at best, inconvenient.

No individual within this messed up system is my “enemy.” What is it that I really want? I want to be left alone. What do the people in the office likely want? Me out of their hair. I recently went to confession because I was having trouble forgiving. I know that, in confession, I’m meant to talk with the priest as if I’m talking directly to Jesus, so I said, “I’m not sure I totally get forgiveness. I feel like I can forgive, but it’s more than a feeling, right?” He said, through the priest, “Yeah, it’s about letting it go. If you feel like you can do that, you can leave it in this room.” It seemed simple, and in that moment, I was able to leave it behind. The trouble is that it’s just as easy to pick it back up. It’s easy to pick it up because blame can evolve and mutate, and it’s easy to pick someone out as “the bad guy.”

The “us” vs “them” mentality; the idea of good vs evil is built into human nature. It’s a survival instinct. We weren’t always at the top of the food chain. That’s fine. God created us to be like Him, though. He built us with a consciousness that can understand right and wrong. He knew that we would eventually get to the top of the food chain, and on a human-to-human level, we’re not supposed to have enemies. The spiritual always trumps the natural, but our survival instinct is still there, and it causes us to be jealous of colleagues or friends; it causes us to categorize people where we shouldn’t; it causes us to see people who support certain political positions, religious beliefs, or whatever else, as “the bad guy.” It can cause us to see ourselves as “outsiders,” even when this is completely irrational, only because we’re new to a community, club, group, school, job, or even family.

Normally I don’t try to write my posts really as “advice” because mostly I just think too much. I think I do have actual advice this time, though. 1) Try to use “us” and “we” more than “They” when referring to a group of people you’re involved in, whether it’s your church, your workplace, your school, or another community. 2) Figure out who you haven’t forgiven, or who you see as an “enemy,” and figure out how to “let it go.” It can help to find a place to leave it, but it’s not necessary. It can be super helpful, though not always necessary, to leave it in confession (if you’re Catholic). 3) Pray for those perceived “enemies.” It can be a bit difficult to get started, but it can eventually feel really relieving.

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.

Why I’m Staying

I wasn’t going to write about this for various reasons, a significant one being that plenty of other people already have. However, being Catholic, and being an emotional, thinking person, I feel like I have to. A lot of people have written or made videos about why they’re leaving. This is about why I’m staying.

I heard in the early two thousands, when I was growing up, that there was some kind of scandal going on in the Catholic Church. I didn’t pay attention because I was a kid. It’s only recently that I’m learning how bad it has been, and unfortunately, it’s tempting a lot of people, or even causing a lot of people to leave. This has been an ongoing issue, and the Catholic Church has always had problems, but it has come to light more radically in the past couple of decades. The details are easy to find, and quite honestly, I’m too horrified to go into them here. All that needs to be known is that far too many children were victimized by men who were supposed to lead our Church, and be examples of holiness. Instead, they exploited their power and broke sacred vows they had made to God.

All I can say is that I’m sorry I didn’t know. I wish I could change the way things are, but I can’t. I wish I could somehow prove to the victims that God loves them, but I probably can’t. A lot of what has happened has come to light because of a recent report from Pennsylvania. I can’t bring myself to read it, but as far as I know, it is available to read. I could barely handle the few stories I’ve read or heard. A lot of people, probably much like myself, are leaving because, like me, they’re indignant about this, and perplexed as to how our leadership could have let this happen.

I do think that our leaders are at fault, some moreso than others, but I think we also have to look in the mirror and admit to ourselves that, maybe, in some sense, we’re a little bit to blame. Maybe we’ve been a little too trusting, and maybe, on the other hand, we’ve been too hesitant to believe it when we hear that a priest could do such a thing. I think a lot of us just haven’t paid enough attention. I’m not saying everyone is to blame. As I said, this wasn’t on my radar until recently because I was a kid while a lot of it was going on.

When I first read about this, I cried, and I have since asked God, in one way or another, “How could this have happened?” It’s because of things like this that Jesus had to carry His cross. It’s because of this that I’m staying. I’m staying for His sake. This is His Church, and it’s our Church, too. Jesus predicted that people would leave Him. He said that some will simply ignore His teachings, some will accept them while life is good, but leave when life gets hard, but some will stay.

I had a bad dream and woke up at four this morning. I prayed for a while, and eventually God gave me this: “The truth will set you free.” Jesus is the Truth, and we will get through this. Mike Donehey, the lead singer of Tenth Avenue North, often puts teaching videos on YouTube. In one he explains that once, he was praying about a bad time he and the band were going through, and God came back with, “Why do you call Good Friday, Good Friday?” Mike didn’t know how to answer, so God said, “It’s because you know what happened on Sunday.” This is Friday, and Friday sucks right now, but we also know that history has a tendency to repeat itself, and Sunday will come. God will not abandon us.

I’m staying because I believe that the Catholic Church is the traditional Church that Jesus intended. I believe in its fundamental teachings, and the reality contained in the sacraments. I believe that Jesus is truly alive and active in this Church, and I know that this bothers Him even more than it bothers me. I’m staying because I love Him, I love His Church, and I can honestly say that, though I don’t know them, I love the people who were so deeply hurt by this. To anyone reading this, I urge you to stay, pray, and do whatever you can to make our Church what it should be.

Suffering, Thunder, And Glory

Yesterday we had a pretty good thunderstorm near our house. I am twenty five, but there is still a five-year-old part of me that gets excited about thunder. My dad and I just finished watching all of what has been released of the series “Vikings.” A line that sticks out to me is when one of the main characters, Rollo, who is a viking warrior who marries a French princess, is explaining to his wife, “When you hear thunder, it’s just thunder, but when I hear thunder, I still hear Thor striking his hammer.”

Something I remembered as I watched the rain come down through my bedroom/office window yesterday was when God reveals himself to the prophet Elijah. 1 Kings 19-11-12 says, in effect, that God did not reveal himself in a great wind, or an earthquake or in a fire, but in a “still small voice.” This seems counter intuitive, but then I reflect on all the times it has seemed that God has spoken to me. As a kid, I was always looking for God in the thunder and lightning that I still love to this day. I don’t usually find him there, though.

I found myself reflecting, too on the idea the vikings had that, if there was thunder, then Thor was striking his hammer. That was just a given. The idea resonates with me. To me, as both a Christian and a fantasy writer, the idea that thunder is just thunder doesn’t quite cut it. When I hear thunder, I hear the sound of God’s glory. I can listen to a thousand worship songs, and don’t get me wrong, I love worship music. In fact, I think my favorite song is, “How Great Thou Art.” Those songs don’t compare to the thrill and joy I get when I hear thunder. I think that’s why the five-year-old in me will never grow up. What I mean is, God doesn’t necessarily speak through the thunder, but he can use it to remind people how awesome he is.

God’s glory is so obvious in his Creation that it’s easy to take it for granted. It’s evident in the sound of thunder, and the downpour falling on the roof. It’s evident in the flash of lighting, and in the dark, mighty clouds. It’s evident, too in the silence after the storm. Beyond that, though it’s evident in even the simplest things–the foods we eat, the things we smell, the colors we see, the softness of a pet’s fur or feathers–all of it.

Imagine how the world would be different if God hadn’t bothered to make color, or given us the ability to see color. Similarly, imagine if the world had been made without sound, or if humans didn’t hear sound for some reason. I acknowledge that some people don’t have the gift of sight, or of hearing. I would like to reflect on that, too.

I have been gifted with language. I have had a good education, and one thing I can confidently say I’m good at is writing, and I’m a moderately good speaker. On the other hand, I suffer from epilepsy. Epilepsy is a weird disorder, and comes in many forms. People experience it in different ways. In my case, I generally lose the ability to use and comprehend language, and in the worst cases, I lose awareness of my surroundings, but don’t exactly black out. Though it has no monetary value, language is something I personally value very highly, and it genuinely terrifies me when I lose the ability to communicate, even momentarily.

As part of my devotions every day, I read something from scripture. Sometimes I’ll just pick something out at random, sometimes I’ll use the daily Mass readings, and sometimes God will give me something to reflect on. Today I felt I needed to spend some time to reflect on the reading from today’s Morning Prayer (from the Liturgy of the Hours). It was from the book of Job. He poses the question, “If we take happiness from God’s hand, must we not take sorrow, too?” To be clear, God doesn’t want people to suffer, and he doesn’t impose suffering on people. He does allow people to suffer, and that’s hard to understand.

My dad has told me that when I’m having a seizure, or what I call “brain fuzz,” even though I don’t know I’m doing it, I sometimes repeat the word, “No” over and over. Something, maybe in my subconscious, is protesting, and I love that. I often know ahead of time when I’m going to have “brain fuzz.” My prayer used to be, “God, take this away.” When it became clear that He wasn’t going to, I changed it to, “Please let this one pass, but if you don’t, just stay with me.” Sometimes I think that, “No” is His way of saying with me that “this is not okay.”

In a way, I can appreciate what my brain fuzz does to me. I can appreciate how scary it is and how alone it makes me feel because I know that Jesus was alone through His Passion. This is very obvious when He says from the cross, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” When I lose the ability even to think words, I am sometimes tempted to feel that I have been abandoned. I believe, however, that that subconscious “No!” is His way of being with me, even if I don’t understand it. This is my choice, and in this way, I choose to view even my epilepsy, and in particular, that, “No!” as a gift.

How does any of that have to do with thunder or glory? Sometimes I reflect on things Jesus said or did, either in Scripture or in revelation to Saints, and though I love Him, He is intimidating. During the storm yesterday, I thought about how I find thunder exciting and comforting at the same time. God doesn’t need to use words to reveal Himself to us. I hear His glory in the thunder because, as the five-year-old part of me might say, He is big, and I am small, He is God, and I am not, and even when my epilepsy takes my language–my treasure–from me, He gives me that rebellious, glorious, “NO!”

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Car Trouble

Several years ago, I posted the song, “Losing” by Tenth Avenue North on here when it was released on their album, “The Struggle.” The chorus goes as follows:

“Oh Father won’t you forgive them?
They don’t know what they’ve been doing.
Oh Father give me grace to forgive them
‘Cause I feel like the one losing.”

That song comes to mind today. My family has been without an accessible car for over two months now. Our solution when I absolutely have to get somewhere is for my dad to drive my wheelchair up a makeshift ramp into the back of his pickup truck, and sit me in the passenger seat. It’s lucky that I’m small. This ordeal has been a serious test of patience for me. I can only really go anywhere on weekends because my mom isn’t as physically strong as my dad, and it would be too dangerous, and too much work for her to get me into my dad’s truck. The fact of the matter is, though, the only place I can “walk” to from my house, is church. Knowing that my mom and I could escape if we wanted or needed to was a gift that I now miss.

The fact of the matter is, I am frustrated. The way accessible cars work is that one car company (in our case, Toyota), works with another company (in our case Brawn) to modify the car so that it has a lowered floor and an automatic ramp. The real issue is that when the car has problems (in our case, the doors and ramp aren’t working properly), it is often sent to both places because it might be a problem to do with the mechanical modifications, or it might be more of a computer related problem that Toyota can fix. Our car has gone back and forth for six weeks now because neither company wants to take the blame, and ultimately, I don’t think anyone really knows what’s wrong or how to fix it.

For various reasons, I am not a patient person. I know patience is a virtue, and it’s something I need to work on. It will likely always be something I need to work on. I’m pretty sick of this, though. It has happened before, and the customer service we have dealt with has been poor at best. Jesus said not to let anger persist. The people we are dealing with don’t know who I am, so I somewhat understand why they don’t really care about me as an individual. However, I have to believe that this has happened to other people like myself, and it bothers me that they might not care about any of us. We are just a number to them.

Jesus said to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Most of the time, my thinking is, “I don’t think I have any enemies.” It’s getting harder for me not to consider these people my enemies, and the fact of the matter is, I don’t want to pray for them. I will not consider them to be just a number, though. I may be angry about how my family has been treated, but I will pray for my enemies.

The Ascension

I’ve had a weird couple of days. Yesterday my epilepsy was acting up, so I couldn’t work on my book. Today is the feast of the Ascension of the Lord in the Catholic Church, so I went to Mass with my mom at noon, and then we ran a couple errands and got lunch. Thus, I haven’t got anything done today so far, either. I realized something about this yesterday, however.

I know from experience that doing certain things on the computer exacerbates my symptoms. Given that both my work and many of the things I enjoy doing involve a computer or my Kindle, I quickly ran out of things to do. I prayed a lot, and played guitar for a while, then just lurked in my bed and listened to music. I quickly went from bored, to depressed, to angry.

I prayed some more, and man, did I let God have it. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to say anything. I was confused and angry about why this was allowed to happen, but I still trusted him. I don’t get his plan, and yesterday, I really didn’t like it, but it hit me while I was praying that I was so angry because I was unable to do what I assumed he wanted me to do. I assumed that he wanted me to work on my book, like I do most days. Really, I think he wanted me to pray yesterday, and that’s what I did. Beyond that, though I was angry because I wasn’t getting done what needed to get done. This was interfering with my schedule.

When I wake up in the morning, I usually entertain some inane thought or another, then after realizing that I’m actually conscious, I say “Good morning” because I know the Lord is with me. After getting dressed, my second prayer is, “I have a plan for today, but if yours is different, we’ll go with yours.” I think yesterday might have been God’s way of saying, “Sometimes our plans aren’t going to be the same, and sometimes you’re not going to like mine.”

Despite being angry because I wasn’t able to do much yesterday, I was grateful that I was still able to process language. I could think straight, and I could speak. What I realized yesterday is that I value my ability to work too highly. As I said earlier, today is the feast of the Ascension of the Lord. Our priest emphasized the fact that Jesus ascended to Heaven in human form, thus drastically elevating the dignity of human nature. My value is not dependent on whether or not I am capable of doing anything.

There’s a Mercy Me song that I like called “Even If.” A few lines from that song go as follows:

They say it only takes a little faith to move a mountain
Well good thing, a little faith is all I have, right now
But God, when You choose to leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul

This became my anthem yesterday. My epilepsy is usually little more than a fleeting inconvenience. It usually doesn’t cause me problems for more than a few minutes. I won’t pretend that yesterday didn’t suck because it did. It royally sucked. Last night, though, my symptoms finally started going away, and I was able to read for a while before going to bed. I’m actually glad Jesus didn’t say anything while I was freaking out. I just needed him to let me cry, and he knew that.

I had to go to the mall with my mom this afternoon to get a chain for my cousin and chocolate for my friend. My cousin was just confirmed, and I got him a medal, but the chain isn’t long enough. I got my friend chocolate because her birthday is on Saturday, and we’re going to see the Avengers tonight to celebrate. There’s a very odd store at the mall. It’s odd because it’s a Catholic store in a place you would not expect to find anything Catholic. I ended up buying myself a medal with an image of Saint Faustina on one side, and the Divine Mercy image on the other. I also got myself a piece of caramel chocolate. The fact of the matter is, God’s goodness got me through yesterday, and today has been infinitely better.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!