No Normal

I’m starting work (meaning working on my book) late today for two reasons. I had to take care of some other stuff, which is now done, and because my dad is traveling for work this week, which my schedule is more adjustable, anyway. I wasn’t intending to write a blog post, but in the course of doing my things that needed to get done, I came across this quote:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Last night I came to the conclusion that while there is stability sometimes, there is no “normal.” In the past year, I’ve had to adjust to a “new normal” several times. This concept really solidified in my mind after Vermont’s funeral. At the time I had a desperate, but hopeful thought that eventually things would go “back to normal.” Then it hit me that they wouldn’t. Our family would have to adjust to a new normal. On a happier note, my brother is finishing his Bachelor’s degree this year, and will be commuting to school to get his Master’s (because he’s actually a genius). Finally all of our friends will be at home, generally at the same time. It will almost be like when we were kids. It will almost be like going back to what was normal for so many years.

Except it won’t. I still don’t know exactly what the future holds, but I’ve been trying to get in touch with a Secular Institute, which is a kind of religious organization that, in this particular case, helps people with disabilities, like myself, consecrate themselves entirely to God. I can’t entirely truthfully say that I don’t care about the consequences. I’m going to pursue this no matter the cost, but I don’t know how my friends will react. I want them to know that I’m still a total nerd and weirdo who will continue to play fantasy games with them. The only difference is that I’m officially making an unbreakable commitment to God. That will be a new normal for everyone to get used to, including myself.

I brought up the quote at the beginning of this post because I decided to do my “spiritual stuff” before work instead of after work today. Part of that “spiritual stuff” is just making sure I read something from Scripture. I had an idea of what I was going to read, but when I went to the website I usually use to read the Bible, this was the “verse of the day,” and for some reason, it sunk in deep, and it seemed like I just needed to leave it at that and think about it.

I do pray a lot. It’s often just conversational. The first part, “Rejoice always,” however, is difficult for me. It’s not about an emotional kind of joy. It’s about knowing, and being satisfied with the fact that Jesus saved us. That is always worth celebrating, even if whatever “new normal” we’re in is complicated, or weird, or even painful. The Gospel reading for this weekend was about when Jesus says to his apostles, “I no longer call you slaves, I call you friends.” Our priest explained that he said this to prepare them for what was about to happen. Before we are saved, we are slaves to sin. Jesus bought our freedom at a price.

At first, As I got to know Jesus, whenever I thought about that steep price, my response was always, “I’m sorry.” He’s had to teach me that I’m worth that to him, and because I’m worth that to him, I am objectively worth it. With his help, my response has changed to, “Thank you.” The fact of the matter is, my God intimidates me. The idea that anyone would go that far for me is insane, but the idea that the God of the Universe would go that far is both baffling and kind of scary.

I have to remind myself that God’s power is in his love. Jesus says in the Gospel that he is gentle and humble of heart. Saint Paul says that love is tender and kind. Sometimes the “new normal” sucks, but God is faithful. He is only ever good. If there is nothing else to be thankful for, remember that you’re still breathing; remember that you’re heart is till beating; remember that you’re alive; remember that the God of the universe wants to know you. That is something to be thankful for.

Weakness

We don’t like weakness. We especially don’t like our own weaknesses. We pray that God will take them away, and sometimes he does, but a lot of times, he says “I have something better in mind.” Saint Paul begged God to take away the thorn in his side, whatever that might have been, and God told him, “My grace is enough.” So often we find ourselves asking God, “Can’t you just make this easier?” Maybe when we don’t get a clear response it’s because his answer is the same in the twenty-first century as it was in the first.

God chooses the weak and the messy. Think about his twelve apostles. They weren’t perfect by any standards. Ten abandoned him when he needed them most. One sold him out altogether. Only one stood by him at the cross (and there’s a theory that this may have been Lazarus, and not John the apostle). Later, he chased down Saul, a nasty persecutor of Christians, and asked him–didn’t make him, but asked him–to be his apostle to the Gentiles. If it weren’t for Saint Paul, we wouldn’t have most of the New Testament. He consistently chooses the least likely people to do his work.

He consistently chooses the uneducated, the humble, the simple, the sorrowful, the weak, to show the world that his ways are not our ways. That actually kind of freaks me out. What does that actually mean for me? I want to be a saint. I don’t say that lightly. I really do. That means really figuring out my weaknesses. I know what some of them are, and I don’t like them. The fact of the matter is, though that saints embrace their weaknesses. Jesus embraced human weakness. The fact that God decided to take on a human body that could get sick, and feel sorrow, and get hurt, and die, is insane. Still, he embraced that human weakness out of love.

Not many people know this about me, but I flipped upside-down before I was born. My mom was carrying me around so my head was upright. They were going to have to do surgery, but somehow I “miraculously” flipped back around so I could come out naturally. When I was about a year old, around the time I should have been learning to walk, I wasn’t, so a tiny piece of muscle was taken from my leg, and they figured out that I have MD. I wasn’t supposed to live passed the age of five. In fact, the likelihood of my even existing were very slim. Both of my parents somehow had the same defective gene that meant my body would be “weird.”

At times I have celebrated it, and at times, I have resented it. Had my body been “normal,” I probably would have played sports. I probably would have had very different friends and different interests. I also probably wouldn’t have figured out how to play guitar upside-down. I probably wouldn’t paint abstract pictures or make abstract mosaics. I probably wouldn’t have become an author, and I probably wouldn’t have come very close to God. I probably would have gone to a secular school half way across the country to get away from the boring suburban town I live in, and I may have lost my faith altogether. Instead, I went to Gordon, a small Christian school within driving distance of my house, so my mom could get me to my classes and then home. It was there that I learned that, not only does God notice my existence, but he loves me. It was also there that I learned nearly everything I know about writing. God’s love, reading, time, and failures have taught me the rest.

Yesterday’s post was about trust. I wrote about how God chooses to trust untrustworthy people. He’s made it quite clear to me that he loves me. Trusting someone with your love is a pretty big deal. Both of the priests at my church know that I think God is calling me to religious life. I asked one of them: “Why does God choose who he does? I mean, why would he choose me? There’s nothing special about me.” He effectively said, “I don’t know.” I know my weaknesses. I also know my strengths. I have physical weaknesses and I’m a sinner. I also deal with a few leftover insecurities from when I was a kid, but I know how to manage that stuff. I’m not just a writer; I’m a good writer, and I know that. I’m loyal. I know how to prioritize, and how to manage my time, even though I fail to do this as I should sometimes. The point is, I’m human, and so are you. For the remainder of Holy Week, this is my advice, from one messy human to the next: look at your weaknesses, and try to see them as God sees them; let him use them for his glory. Write about it, sing about it, cry about it, scream about it, and especially, pray about it because sometimes our weaknesses end up being our strengths.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Growing Up With Me

I just read a few posts from 2012-the year I started my blog. It’s interesting to see how the site has grown up as I’ve grown up. I already thought I was a Christian when I started blogging. The truth is, I didn’t personally know Jesus yet. I believed he was the God of the universe, and I vaguely knew that he saved the world, but I didn’t yet understand that he had saved my soul because he genuinely cared about me personally and wanted to be my friend. In 2012 I had some pretty funny, some good, and a lot of naive ideas. My posts were also a lot more varied in terms of subject matter back then, which I guess is neither here nor there. My posts these are largely about work and God, though sometimes they’re about stories in general or random life stuff. The blog has also largely turned into a way of procrastination, as well as a space to dig for treasure, and hopefully find some truth, whether I like that truth or not.

In the almost seven years I’ve kept the blog, I’ve learned a lot and I’ve gained just over three hundred followers. I don’t think all those people come here often, but that’s okay. This blog has been a companion in my many journeys that have taken place in the course of such short a time. It has been my companion through college, finals, insomnia, epilepsy, faith, hope, fear, love, and milestones. In a lot of ways, it’s kept me going. It’s been a place where I can share my truth, which sometimes, as ugly as it can be, just needs to be squirted out in muddy water colors. This is where frustration and triumph happens. This is where failures are confessed and victory proclaimed. This is where messes are made with the joy of a child, and I admit, in the grand scheme of things, I am one.

I write this as an encouragement to all my fellow bloggers, journalists, and writers in general. Tell the truth. Tell your truth, but more importantly, tell God’s truth. Fear nothing. Writing takes courage, and honestly, sometimes clicking the “Publish” button can be terrifying. Click it anyway. Sometimes we write something, expecting it to get us tons of attention, and no one gives us a second glance. Keep writing. In every circumstance, keep writing. When the world is falling apart keep writing. When you’re on cloud nine, write about it because sometimes the rest of us need to hear what cloud nine looks like. Sometimes your good day can be a happy five minutes for someone who is having an otherwise crappy day. Stories, especially true ones, teach us empathy, so write them. Keep writing, and don’t stop. Write without a reason. Write because you like to. Write because you know you’re good at it. Write because you think you’re good at it. Write even if you suck at it because it brings you joy. Just don’t stop.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Don’t Be A Hero

I have certain times when I habitually pray throughout the day. It’s usually when I wake up, whenever I eat, while I’m in the shower, and when I go to bed. I often pray before I start work, or when I get writer’s block, but sometimes I forget. Otherwise, my prayers throughout the day are pretty random. I tell God when I notice the sky is pretty and things like that. I’m rather simple sometimes.

I realized something while I was praying in the shower this evening, though. I find myself apologizing to God a lot, and it’s not because I’m a sinner. I know I’m a sinner. I know I need to work on stuff, and I know he’s forgiven me, and I know he’ll always forgive me. What I apologize about is actually stupid. I apologize for things I don’t need to be sorry for. I apologize because I’m not a hero.

I realized that I still have a hero complex that I thought I left behind a long time ago. It drives me completely insane that I can’t have my own apartment so I can give homeless strangers a place to stay. It drives me crazy that I’m not “able-bodied” so I can get a well-paid job and adopt a troubled kid who really needs a good mom. The fact that I can’t go be a missionary in a third-world country makes me want to tear my hair out. It sucks that I know and believe that prayer is super powerful and works, but I don’t feel it.

I apologize that I’m not a hero, when I’m physically incapable of being a hero. That’s just it, though. This is my idea of a hero. Heroes do grande, noticeable things. I lurk in my bedroom and write weird stories, and I pray because that’s all I can do. I pray for the people doing the things I can’t do, and I pray for the people who need their help, but I want to be there.

I recently came across Saint Faustina, who is completely awesome. She had mystical encounters with Jesus, and this is what he said to her:

“I want you to be very little, because when you are little, I carry you close to My Heart. Because you are weak, I take you in My arms and carry you to the home of My Father.”

He also said,

“My child, know that the greatest obstacles to holiness are discouragement and exaggerated anxiety.”

 

Another mystic by the name of Sister Consolata Betrone received this message from Jesus:

“You only worry about loving me, and I will take care of everything else to the smallest detail.”

This is hard for me. I like to be independent. I don’t mind being told what to do or following directions or even working on a team, but I like to have an objective and, if possible, I like to have the freedom to be a little creative. I like to be able to complete the task I’ve been given and have that sense of accomplishment after. I think I was able to ignore my hero complex more when I was in high school and college because I had objectives and tasks I could complete and I got that sense of accomplishment when I passed a difficult test or got an “A” on a paper. Those were my duties. Come to class and participate. Pass the test. Write the paper. Do the homework. Get the degree. Graduate.

Now I’m in this weird position where I don’t feel as much like I have objectives. My mom told me to write a book. She didn’t give me a deadline. She didn’t tell me what it should be about. She didn’t give me work hours. She’s never complained when I’ve taken unnecessary time off. I feel like I’m floating around with no anchor. I know I can finish my mythology, and finishing each individual story does give me a small sense of accomplishment, but it’s certainly not a huge thrill. I have a list of stories that I need to write, and others may be added later, if need be. Once all my stories are written, I need to research and find an editor and either self-publish, or find publishers to submit to. What will come after that, I have no idea, but I hope I can be philanthropic.

Originally I was writing for two reasons. The first was because my mom told me to. The second was because my medical issues make it nearly, if not entirely impossible to get a “real” job. I want to go big, and I want to be a hero. Jesus says to get small, to love him, and to pray. He says to let him take care of everything. A while ago I realized I had only one real reason for writing my book. God is helping me write it. It’s his, and I want him to use it. Earlier I prayed that he would help me to lose the hero complex. I’m not a hero, and never can be in the way I think of a hero. I have to let Jesus be the hero.

 

I Have An Ending!

Yesterday I figured out how to finish my book. I’m rather excited about that. I’m not actually very close to the end, but I’ve felt like I have no idea where I’m going, and if I have a “destination,” I’ll be more productive because I’m writing more with a purpose. I’ve had several ideas for an ending vaguely bouncing around in my head for a while, but I didn’t really love any of them. Part of my problem was that I needed an ending that would allow my story to be a stand-alone thimg, while still allowing for potential sequels, and yesterday I figured it out. It’s hard for me to write about this because I can’t give the ending away before I’m even done writing it.

I actually didn’t get to write a lot yesterday, but I got a lot of scheming done, and I’ve realized that I’m a rather violent author. I keep doing mean things to the nicest characters. It’s not necessarily because I want to. They just happen to be the most vulnerable. I find them to be the most interesting, too, though. One of them also happens to be one of the most powerful psychics in the story, but she’s a little messed up in the head. The guy I’m presently being mean to is going to have his share of vengeance, but it probably won’t come about until the next book. I’m really hoping I get a chance to write at least one or two sequels. I kind of have a love-hate relationship with this story. It’s hard to write, but I love the characters.

I also still don’t have a title. Titles for songs are easy, but nothing seems to fit for this book. It’s still saved in my computer as “Fantasy Story,” and it ended up being science fiction. I feel like a title is the one last conclusive thing I have to figure out for this book. Now that I know how to finish it, I feel like I know, at least a little better, how to fill in the details. The title doesn’t really mater until it’s done, but I just want to be able to call it something other than “my story.” This whole process feels surreal to me. My dad and I were eating lunch two days ago, and I was talking about my most recent additions, and he started talking about making this into a movie. I haven’t even finished it yet. My dad says I’m too cautious with my art. He says I just have to run with it and assume I’m going to be the next great sci-fi writer. Yesterday, while I was eating lunch with my mom, she said “When this gets published you’ll be at book signings in Tennessee and all over the place.” Evidently, my parents have more confidence in my book than I do.

I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve written so far in just over two hundred pages. There are a few specific scenes that I think probably need work, but I mostly feel like I know what I’m doing at this point. I’ve given up on trying to predict how long it will be. I’m just really excited because I feel like I have real direction now. One thing I seem to have the most trouble with is timing, particularly when I’m trying to write intense, fast-paced scenes. It’s almost like my mind can’t keep up with the story. It’s hard for me to visualize large scale battles, in particular. I’ve only had to write one so far, and I think it turned out okay, but it’s definitely one of the things that need work. It had to happen the way it did in order to further the plot. I’m just not sure I love the style.

I think I’m going to have to get my friend to read this and tell me what needs fixin’ before I send it to any publisher. I’ve talked about my story to basically everyone, but I want to get a reader’s perspective. Something I learned in various classes, both about music and any other form of writing is that you have to figure out who your audience is and write for that audience. I found out by accident that most of the people who like my music are old… or at least my parents’ age… so old. From the beginning I decided that I wanted the audience for my story to be people like me. I wanted to write a story that I would read. This is partly because I took every creative writing class my school offered, and the closest I got to sci-fi was a (realistic) fiction class. I’ve come to understand that science fiction and fantasy are seen as illegitimate or unartful genres in the hoity-toity literary world, and I intend to change that. I will write a darn good, interesting, thought provoking story, and everyone will have to read it (evil laugh ensues).

Snow Day Stuff

We’re having a blizzard today! It’s super fun ’cause I don’t have to clean it up. The downside of that is I can’t really play in it either, but that’s okay. It’s still fun to watch. I wanted to drive around in it, but there’s a travel ban still in effect, which in it’s own way is kind of fun.

I felt bad for the birds on our bird feeder. I love to watch the cardinals in weather like this because they’re so pretty against the white snow. I wouldn’t want to be one of them, though. “Blustery” would be an understatement for what the wind is like out there.

I’ve been waiting for this blizzard. I don’t like winter, but my philosophy is that if it has to be cold, it might as well snow. My brother and my mom weren’t super excited about it, but my dad was just as excited as I was. I woke up around 11:00 this morning and looked out my window, and I couldn’t see across the street. There’s a pile of snow on our deck that’s about three feet high.

It’s really nice that our house is super warm and cozy. We have the wood stove cranking in our basement, and I have my little space heater blowing on my feet in my bedroom. I didn’t have school today, which was nice, but it’s crazy because I only have three classes this week, and that’s if tomorrow’s class doesn’t get canceled. It’s not looking like it will, though.

I have some more homework to do because I have a presentation on Thursday, but for the most part I’ve been lazing around today. I was playing Minecraft with my brother and my little cousin. They both got today and tomorrow off, which I’m a little jealous about, but oh well.

I was slightly productive today in that I got in touch with one of the priests at my church about an idea I had for a prayer group. He’s been in charge of the confirmation program there and I’m one of the teachers, so we’ve got to know each other a bit. My idea was that we’d get a group of people together to meet after mass on Saturday afternoons (that’s usually when I go) to pray for issues of injustice in the world. I got the idea because I’m taking a class called “Literature and Human Rights,” and I’m reading this terribly depressing book about what our role is, as Christians, when it comes to injustice and oppression. The author’s argument was that we need to actually go out into the world and do something because that’s what Jesus did. My problem is that I am both broke and physically incapable of being very helpful, but I can pray. I wanted to get this group together because it will be my way of making a commitment, and my way of helping. Plus I’m better at praying with people than by myself.

This book has me thinking, though. It has me asking all kinds of unanswerable questions like:

Why is there still suffering in the world?

Why has it been 2,000 years since Jesus promised he’d come back?

Why doesn’t God just fix stuff?

Why does he insist on using people when it would be faster and easier just to miraculously fix things?

The fact of the matter is that these questions don’t have answers, and I can either get mad or upset about them, or I can just do something. He insists on using people, so I want him to use me. I can at least organize some peeps and make sure I’m there once a week to pray about stuff with them. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.

One thing the author did say is that, no matter how small our action is, we can bring our little something, and God can make it huge.

So how we got from snow day to existential social justice what-not, I have no idea, but here we are. Somehow I feel like I always end up here: whether I want to or not. I’m weird that way.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Procrastination Holiday Mash Up

Since high school my Christmas list has gotten shorter and shorter. There’s usually one or two things I want that I’m too cheep to buy, and one or two things I need, and that’s what I ask for. Otherwise I just buy stuff myself whenever I need/want it. It’s partly because I learned how to save money, and partly because I’ve had a mini-job for the past couple years so I can do said saving of money. It’s also because since probably my junior or senior year of high school, I feel weird asking my parents for things that I can afford and don’t necessarily need or that I can wait for.

The thing is, my parents like buying stuff for my brother and me. We have an obnoxiously huge beanbag chair (it’s not actually a beanbag chair but I don’t exactly know what to call it) in our kitchen in front of the TV. Our kitchen is obnoxiously huge, so it’s basically part kitchen, part dining room, part living room. Anyway, two summers ago it was ridiculously hot, and because of that (or maybe just because of coincidence) I got sick and projectile vomited all over the nest (that’s what we call it). We went 4 or 5 miserable months without a nest, but our parents surprised us with a new one that Christmas.

Maybe it wouldn’t have made sense to get a new one if my brother and I weren’t home all the time. Sam and I are both in college, but I commute, and he comes home every weekend. We’re both about half an hour from home in opposite directions.

Last year my parents surprised me with a 5 gallon fish tank and a beta fish for Christmas. His name is Raskolnikov because Dostoevsky is a genius. I know we have a ten gallon tank lying around somewhere, so I’m thinking about upgrading and getting a few more fish. I don’t think I’d move Raskolnikov because he seems quite content all by his lonesome, but it might be nice to have some more little friends. I’m weird. I talk to my fish.

I do need a new set of headphones for my computer. Last year my aunt got me a wireless set, and they stopped working. I’ve decided to ask for a set of wired ones for Christmas because wireless anything and I have never been friends. In fact, technology and I have never really been friends, but that’s a whole different story. I know it’s the thing you plug into to charge them, and it’s not the charger itself that isn’t working because I’ve tried a different one and it still doesn’t work.

My brother and two of my cousins and I did ask for the new Pokemon game for Christmas. Yes, I’m 21 and I shamelessly admit that I like and play Pokemon. There’s quite a bit of nostalgia involved. When we were kids, Star Wars and Pokemon were our obsession. That and, gosh darn it, they’re fun!

Otherwise, that’s about it. My list is short this year. It drives our parents crazy, and it drives our aunts and grandmothers crazy, too. I could use a new amplifier for my guitars, but that can wait. I suppose I could ask people for Guitar Center gift cards. I’d like to go and try things out for myself. That upgrade probably won’t even happen for a few years anyway, though.

I know it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but it seems like Christmas and Thanksgiving are really close together this year. Thanksgiving is kind of the start to our Christmas season anyway. The past few years we’ve gone up to Maine and gone out to eat with our family. We used to have it at our house, but my grandfather got really sick, and my grandmother didn’t want to go far. We’ve just gotten used to doing it that way, I guess. We used to stay for one night, but last year we stayed for two because my grandfather died two days before Thanksgiving and we had to stay for the funeral. This year we’re staying for two nights again just so we can have time to see everyone and hang out. We usually go and get our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, but since we’re staying for two nights we’re doing that just before we go home. It’ll be fun just to hang out in Portland and play with our cousins. I think we’re going to bring the Wii so we can play Mario Kart in the hotel room.

Our family is insane. My oldest first cousin is 9 years older than me, and my youngest second(third?) cousin is 16 or 17 years younger than me. My mom has about 50 first cousins, which means I have over 100 cousins of varying degrees. On my dad’s side I have 2 second cousins who have no kids, and 2 fist cousins. One is my age and one is two years younger than me. For Thanksgiving this year we’re meeting up with 27 people. Some people have asked why we go out to eat instead of going to someone’s house. Part of it is that we have too many people, and part of it is because it’s significantly less stressful. It makes it fun.

I’ve seen posts on Facebook about people stressing about Christmas already. There are ways of making it less stressful. It’s not that hard. I’ll admit that there are things about Christmas that bug me. It’s almost like there are two holidays going on at the same time, and a minority of people remember the real reason why we celebrate it. The point isn’t to have the biggest tree in the neighborhood (we have the 2nd biggest only because our neighbor has taller ceilings). The point isn’t to get the biggest and best presents. The point isn’t to give the biggest and best presents. The point isn’t to have the most decorated house (our mom goes nuts anyway, and it’s fun!). The point is to celebrate the birth of our Savior, and that’s WAY less stressful.

I know some people freak out about the “secular” stuff and say it’s creepy or evil and that Jesus was born in April, which may or may not be true. The same people don’t celebrate Easter for the same reason: it’s become too secular. Honestly, I don’t think it really matters. The point is that we remember the real reason why we celebrate. The other stuff just makes it fun. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have fun. The only thing I might do differently if I had kids is I’d probably skip the whole Santa Claus story. It just seems kind of pointless to me. I’d still get a tree, I’d still eat massive quantities of junk food, and I’d still get together with all the magnificently crazy people.

I think it’s true that people get a little nicer around Christmas, and a little more generous. Maybe the love gets thrown around for some of the “wrong” reasons, but the point is that the love gets thrown around, and I am perfectly okay with that. So have fun. Don’t stress out. Go to church if you want to. Don’t feel bad if you don’t. Just remember why this holiday exists.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!