Tag Archives: Family

Dress Code

Earlier today I listened to an episode of a podcast that was about how to dress appropriately for Mass. Whenever this comes up it really gets on my nerves. This is partly because, from my perspective, it’s largely a matter of opinion. Obviously there are things that are distasteful or inappropriate for such an occasion, but I’m not talking about that. It bugs me when people are criticized for wearing “casual attire.”

I take issue with this for a few reasons. The Lord said, “Come as you are.” I dislike getting dressed up, so my thinking is that if I had to do so far Mass, I’m not actually presenting myself to the Lord “as I am.” It’s not part of my personality to worry about what I’m wearing. It would be like presenting a version of myself that isn’t the true one. That’s important because a huge part of the Mass is about communion, both with each other, and with Christ.

Some would argue that one gets “dressed up” out of respect for the other. In many circumstances, this is the case because it’s culturally expected. I got more dressed up for my Godson’s baptism than I otherwise would. One has to keep in mind the center of attention. We had Mass before his baptism, and at Mass, Jesus is the center of attention, but the focus shifted a bit afterwards. At the baptism, the focus was still on the Lord, yes, but it was also largely on Max, his parents, and my brother and me (his Godparents). In that instance, to some degree, I was the center of attention.

As I said, in many circumstances, it’s culturally expected to get “dressed up” out of respect for the other. I don’t for Mass, however, partly because the Lord is beyond cultural expectations, and my thinking is that He already knows I respect Him. I don’t have to prove it to Him, and I shouldn’t have to prove it to anyone else. Furthermore, the Mass itself isn’t like a wedding or a baptism, or any secular event. While baptism and marriage are sacraments, and miracles do happen in those circumstances, human attention tends to focus on the humans involved.

An “ordinary” Mass (for lack of a better word) is different because the focus is (ideally) entirely on Jesus. He alone is the center of attention. Because of this, part of my thinking is that I shouldn’t do anything out of the ordinary in terms of my outfit because from a strictly human perspective, what is happening at Mass has almost nothing to do with me as an individual. Mass is about communion. In other words, it’s about sharing of one’s self with other members of the Church and with God, and about the Church sharing of Herself as a collective with God. This means presenting one’s self honestly.

It’s also important to remember that at literally every Mass a miracle is happening. I sometimes have a realization at the Consecration of the gifts that translates in my mind to, “This is literally the weirdest, coolest, most amazing thing ever.” The word “weird” tends to have a negative connotation, but what I mean is that it is the most out-of-the-ordinary thing. It’s always new. If it becomes routine, then I would argue that appreciation for what is really happening has been lost. It’s something that has to be taken on faith, and it’s a huge act of trust and vulnerability to receive the Eucharist.

Personally, I don’t think there needs to be a dress code for that.

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It’s Not Really That Complicated

This morning I did what’s called an “examination of conscience.” It’s basically a self-assessment based on the ten commandments, and it’s ideally done relatively often. My family and I came back from vacation this past Sunday. I hadn’t done much of anything other than sleep, eat, and read Lord of the Rings over the course of two weeks. It was honestly a little boring, and that is my kind of vacation. Because I did nearly nothing, I began to question where I was at, spiritually.

As best I can remember, I have done an examination of conscience twice before. I’m afraid of doing it, not because I’m afraid of God’s justice, but because I don’t like looking at my sins. Before I did it this morning, I took a pen and a piece of paper, and I prayed. At the top of the paper, I wrote “I am good. I am beautiful. I belong to Jesus.” I wrote that because I thought I’d be writing a laundry list of ugly things. Then I asked Saint Faustina, who was the catalyst for the Divine Mercy devotion, to pray for me, I asked my guardian angel to be with me, and I asked the Blessed Mother to walk me through it. I also asked the Lord to be gentle with me, because He is gentle.

If you’re not Catholic, those first prayers might seem a bit weird. As Catholics we believe that we are connected to the entire Church, even after death. That means we can talk to, and even be friends with the saints in Heaven, and the righteous souls still working toward perfection in Purgatory. I won’t get into Purgatory here, partly because there’s plenty about it on the internet, and partly because it’s not the point of the post. The point is, I can ask Saint Faustina, who knows so much about God’s Mercy to pray for me, as a friend on earth might pray for me. I can ask my guardian angel to do whatever he needs to in this situation, because I don’t know exactly what that is. I can ask Mary, Jesus’ mom, and by extension, my spiritual mom (again, there’s a ton about this online) to just walk with me through it, before I even start.

A self-assessment is difficult, especially when it comes to the spiritual life. It means I have to look at what I don’t really want to see. I remember realizing for the first time that what I wanted most was to become a saint. To be a saint means attaining perfection. Part of that means looking at what I don’t want to, asking for God’s forgiveness, and letting Him help me. It means figuring out what I can do to change where I can, and mostly it means letting Him work on me, whatever that might look like. It’s hard for me to deal with the fact that He does most of the work. It’s hard to let go of control.

Recently, I realized that God’s Mercy doesn’t always look like what one might expect. I realized that often, His Mercy looks like making sure there’s a time and place for me to go to confession when I need to. I didn’t find a four-page laundry list of sins. I found four things. It’s one thing to be able to make the self-assessment and be honest with myself; it’s another to actually go to confession and state how I’ve gone wrong out loud. I know that I’m really going to Jesus, and I know that I will receive His Mercy. I just don’t like having to verbally admit that I’m not perfect.

The Lord knows that I’m as jumpy as a rabbit, but He also knows that I will go because if I’ve sinned, it means I’ve hurt my most intimate friend.  He’s been kind enough to make sure the priest I go to is gentle. Nonetheless, going to confession makes me anxious. I’m not alone in this. The last thing the priest says is “Go in peace.” The feeling after confession is amazing because sin is heavy, and it quite literally feels like that load has been taken away.

This is why not forgiving someone is such a huge problem. When we pray the “Our Father,” we ask the Lord to “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Our forgiveness and mercy is meant to be exactly like His–infinite. It doesn’t mean it has to be immediate because forgiveness is sometimes hard (when you’re not God), but it has to come around eventually. God wants to forgive, but we do have to ask for it because that’s part of a genuine relationship.

I should acknowledge that there are two different kinds of sins. Small (venial) sins can be forgiven simply if we pray for forgiveness, and if we really are sorry. More serious (mortal/deadly) sins are what we have to go to confession for, but sometimes it’s helpful to go to confession even for smaller stuff. An inevitable question is, “Why do Catholics have to go to confession at all?” The Church is the Body of Christ and we’re all spiritually connected. That means that stuff I do, even if it doesn’t obviously affect anyone, does have a spiritual effect on the whole Church, myself included, and because we are connected, it hurts the Lord, too.

As a member himself, the priest is, in this context, a representative of the Church, as well as a representative of Christ, through whom Jesus administers the sacraments. That means when I go to confession, I can acknowledge that I’ve hurt the Church, I’ve hurt myself spiritually, and I’ve hurt Jesus, and because God is Mercy, He can take the load from me. I still have to do some sort of penance, though, because I did make a mess in the first place. An analogy might be a brother and sister playing together get into an argument, so the sister breaks the brother’s toy. The sister then feels bad and says she’s sorry. The brother forgives her, but the toy is still broken, so the parents decide that the money to pay for a new one has to come from her allowance.

None of that is to say that I’m still guilty after confession. Penance should be natural if I really am sorry because out of love, I should make amends for causing hurt. Because we are God’s adopted children, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re a massive, crazy, dysfunctional family, which is seriously awesome. I have written a post before about “agape” love. It’s love that simply wills the good of the other. It’s the kind of love that, by nature, looks outward. We should be attentive to our inner spiritual lives in order to most effectively maintain this agape love.

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.

Pray Without Ceasing

I mentioned in a recent post that many Christians, myself included, sometimes view prayer as another thing to check off the “to do” list. Many people have specific times every day that we pray, whether it’s when we get up in the morning and when we go to bed, when we have our meals, or at specific prescribed hours. Some use specific methods, formulae, or scripts. Some don’t. However, the Lord asks us, through Saint Paul, to “pray without ceasing.” As I said, many of us make the mistake of allowing prayer to be something to check off the list. This inevitably makes it feel tedious when it should be a real, genuine conversation with the Lord.

As I mentioned in my post about idolatry, prayer doesn’t necessarily have to be done in any specific way. We can laugh with the Lord while watching a funny movie, or cry with Him when we hear some bad news. Lately, I find myself asking for small favors, and because He grants them so readily, I remember to thank Him. It doesn’t even have to involve words. When we’re lost for words for whatever reason, sometimes all we can do is acknowledge that He’s there, and that He’s God, and we’re not. Sometimes that feels really good, and sometimes it feels scary, but sometimes that’s what needs to happen, and sometimes it’s all we can manage.

I don’t think I’ve reached the point to where I literally pray without ceasing, but I can say I pray a lot, largely in small ways, and I thought it would be helpful since we are nearing Lent to share some of my prayer habits.

1: Say “Good morning,” and “Good night.”

This is really easy, and can actually sometimes be really hard. I don’t remember exactly when I came up with this prayer, but it’s short, sweet and to the point: “Good morning, Lord. It’s a good morning because it’s one that You made.” Sometimes that can be hard to say because either, the previous day was crappy, and it’s still on my mind, or I’m anticipating something I don’t want to deal with on the day that I’m waking up into. Regardless, Good is good, anything He makes is good, and therefore, regardless of my own circumstances, the day I’m waking up into is good. Similarly, I say “Good night,” to God because it’s my way of leaving everything to Him. It also just makes sense. If I say “good night” to my parents, then obviously, I’m going to say it to my Heavenly Father.

2: Along with that, have other prescribed times.

These don’t have to be specific (e.g. at 7:00 PM). For example, after I say “Good morning,” I sometimes go straight to the Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. Other times, I’ll let my mind wander for a bit. I don’t wake up at the same time, every day, so sometimes this is done at 6:00 AM. Other times, it’s done at 2:00 PM. It just depends on when I went to bed the night before, and when I woke up, and sometimes, if I had insomnia or not (the plight of being an artist). I also do Evening Prayer from the Liturgy when I finish whatever it is I finish work for a given day. Sometimes that’s at 6:00 PM, and sometimes it’s at 9:00 PM. Sometimes I don’t have time for this prayer until right before I go to bed, which on Thursdays isn’t until Midnight or after. I also pray before meals, and when I’m in the shower.

3: Unscripted prayers should be short, personal, honest, and to the point.

I’ve had to have several priests tell me this, but it’s okay to be angry at God, and it’s okay to use your own vocabulary. When I’m pissed off about something, I just tell Him. I’m the kind of person who thinks too much. I know that. Because of that, I can sometimes be a bit of a melancholic. I have to refrain from watching the news a lot of times because it can get me into a really bad place emotionally. When something really bad is happening, and I’m kind of stuck in it, sometimes my most meaningful, honest prayer is, “This sucks, Lord.”

4: When you don’t have the words, but you want to pray, just start with what you’ve been given.

Growing up, we weren’t the kind of Catholic family who prayed before meals, said the Rosary together at night, and went to church every single Sunday. I never really learned to pray anything other than the “Lord’s Prayer” until I went to college. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, my teenage years were a pretty desperate time for me, but I wasn’t using even what I had been given. If nothing else, I could just have said the “Lord’s Prayer,” and he would have known what I needed. Of course, I didn’t know that because at that point in time, I didn’t really know anything about God.

5: Be quirky.

This is sort of a small thing, but sort of a big thing, too. We’re all different people. I’m an abstract-thinking person. The other day, the phrase, “Come to me, and you will find rest,” popped into my head. I thought, “You know, I know that, Lord, but I’m not sure I understand it, really. I have an idea, though.” I got my guitar and said, “I’m just gonna play, and You use me, and I’ll just let You direct me, and show me what that ‘rest’ sounds like.” What He showed me was the inspiration for an instrumental tune that’s going to be on my upcoming album. Sometimes just letting Him play guitar through You can be a form of prayer.

6: Read stuff, and try stuff.

I was really good about praying the Rosary every single day for a long time. Now I’m not great. It takes twenty minutes, and I often simply don’t have time. Instead I try to do the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which takes about six and a half minutes, and you use Rosary beads for it. It was given to Saint Faustina in a vision by Jesus, and given my somewhat melancholic tendencies, I find a lot of hope in it. I also recently learned about the Catholic Acronym, F.I.N.C.H., which is about the message of Divine Mercy that Jesus wanted to share with everyone through Saint Faustina. (F) is the Feast of Divine Mercy, which takes place the Sunday after Easter. On this day, Jesus promised to give significant mercy to His people. This was not a one-time thing. You can check out the details online. (I) is the Image of Divine Mercy, which Jesus told to have Saint Faustina to have painted. This image is supposed to remind us of His Mercy, and of the fact that we can trust Him. (N) is the Novena of Divine Mercy. The Novena is simply that one should pray the Chaplet every day between Good Friday and the Feast of Divine Mercy. (H) is the Hour of Divine Mercy, which is at 3:00 PM when Jesus died. We are to make note of this, and, if we have time, to spend an hour with the Lord in prayer, or just to say a prayer of thanks for His sacrifice. I’m definitely a fan of the Divine Mercy stuff. If this doesn’t strike a chord with you, try something else.

I try to keep my prayer routine at a good mix of stream-of-consciousness, and scripted stuff. Both are, or at least can be meaningful. I find also, that a good time to pray is before I start my work for the day, whether that is writing a song, writing for the blog, or working on another project. I can get stuff done on my own, sure, but it’s a lot easier when I ask for help. Today I started working out how I’m going to organize a pretty big project I’ll be working on with my Godfather, and I knew that if I didn’t ask for help I’d get nowhere. I was sleepy to begin with, and really, I should never be in charge of organizing anything. With that in mind, I prayed, and it took me some time, but I figured out exactly what needed to be done for at least the first draft. When I finished, I just said “Thank you, Lord.”

That’s the last thing I want to make note of because it’s super important. Say “Thank You.” Our parents teach us to say “Please” and “Thank you,” when we’re kids, and I think anyone with good manners remembers to say this to other human beings. The crazy thing is, we ask for stuff from God, and God provides, but so many times, we just forget to say, “Thank You.” God is good, and I think we just expect to get what we ask for. I may be twenty-five, but I’m still a spoiled kid. Granted, sometimes I don’t realize until later that God has answered one of my prayers, because He can be very subtle, and there is absolute wonderful joy in that realization. Especially then, I’d say it’s important to give thanks.

To those who are really just getting started, though, keep in mind that Christianity is about love. Just start from the heart. Talk to God like you’re talking to your best friend, because that’s who He is. I’ve had to learn a lot of this by accident, but another great place to start is to go to Adoration. Find a church that offers it at a time that works for you, and just sit with Jesus. If you can’t figure out what to say, say nothing. Let Him get the conversation going, because He will. Let Him help. He loves you.

American Idols

I never watched the show “American Idol.” When “The Voice” came out, which was basically the same thing, I watched some of that. I do like to see people’s talents. I had an interesting conversation with my producer recently about my talents and his. I’ve said it before, but I can confidently say that I’m a good songwriter, and my talents have improved over time. I’m an okay singer, and again, I’ve got better over time. My producer is likewise, amazing at what he does. He can take the bare bones of something I’ve written, so melody, lyrics, and harmony if I’ve planned it ahead of time, and turn it into a ridiculously awesome song.

When I was in middle and high school I would probably say that, in some ways, I worshiped various musicians. I think humans are naturally inclined to worship something, and if it’s not God, it’s a band, a sports team, money, the leader of their political party, or maybe a pantheon of these things. I’ve come to realize that something people idolize these days is time. Personal time is a high priority for people. I get it. if I had all the time in the world and no relationships or consequences to think about, I would spend eons playing video games and reading fantasy books.

As it is, I do have relationships and consequences to think about, so I don’t do what I am naturally inclined to do. What or who we worship is a choice, and choices have consequences. What’s frustrating is that none of the CCD students I teach attend Mass. They are all completely obsessed with whatever sports team they’re on, and of course, practice is on Sunday. I’m not frustrated with the kids. Their parents have made a game into an idol. They really had no choice. I’m frustrated with the parents, though, because they have chosen their idols, and they are passing those idols onto their children, and that’s dangerous.

Today I taught the kids about Ash Wednesday. It’s early, but the lessons kind of jump around all over the place. I explained to them that God loves us enough to die for us. He made His choice. No matter what, we are worth that to Him. I explained to the kids that the ashes are a sign of acknowledging our sinfulness, but they’re in the sign of a cross because God claims us as His, sins and all. I don’t know how to get that to sink in, but I’m trying.

Still, I know that soccer is more important to them than God is. I was the same way as a kid. The trouble is, you can’t just tell someone that God loves them and they’ll magically believe it. You have to choose to believe something, and even then, we’re meant to have a relationship with God. To these kids, God is a stranger, and the thing is, he’s not intrusive. He waits for our invitation. I only offered an invitation when I had nowhere else to turn. Misery was what it took for me. I don’t want these kids to have to go there.

I started rereading the book of Jeremiah. I wrote a post about this a long time ago, but Jeremiah was speaking on God’s behalf at a time when Israel had turned to many idols. It was also a warning. God said that the Babylonians would come and take them as captives if they didn’t repent, particularly of their idolatry. God allowed their defeat and exile because they didn’t acknowledge Him as their God. If they had asked and said they were sorry, God would have somehow helped. My guess is that might have looked like another nation allying themselves with Israel or something.

Some might construe this as God being petty. Actually, it’s as if you completely ignored your best friend right in front of them, even as they’re speaking to you, and instead, made conversation to a napkin. Your friend would certainly be offended. Because they loved you, they would try to get your attention, try to repair the relationship, and try to get you to see their hurt and get you to apologize, but eventually, that friendship would break. That’s what happens when we find or create idols.

No one likes to talk about Hell. I don’t like to talk about Hell. Sometimes as Christians, we have to. What people don’t realize is that Hell is a choice. We have so much freedom as human beings, and not enough people realize it. The difference between Heaven and Hell probably isn’t what a lot of people think. The difference is, eternal life with perfect happiness and love, or eternal life without it. God is Love. To choose to worship something else is to choose a loveless life.

Don’t get me wrong, leisure is important. If we don’t take time to relax, or do something enjoyable, we’ll lose it. That’s a given. All I’m really trying to say is, remember who loves you most, and make Him your number one priority. It’s not that hard. One thing I think people get hung up on is, they think about prayer as one more thing to get to. Prayer is just an ongoing conversation. You can talk to God when you’re watching a funny movie, for example. Comment about it to Him; laugh with Him. Talk to Him at work like you talk to your coworkers.

Idolatry is probably the easiest sin to commit. I think most people have the misconception that God is loud and scary. He’s not; at least not usually. On the other hand, the idols of the world clamor for our attention, and it’s easy to get sucked in. Luckily, our God is merciful, and we have the sacrament of penance. We can go to our Father and say “I’m sorry,” and He forgives us. There’s a misconception about this, however. Many wonder why we have to go to a priest. First of all, we can and should say we’re sorry to God right away. We go to a priest because he forgives us on behalf of God, but also on behalf of the Church.

The Church is the mystical body of Christ, so when an individual sins, we’ve not only hurt our own souls, but we’ve hurt the whole Church. A good analogy is to think of sin as an injury. A venial, or what we might think of as a “small” sin, is like a small cut that we can put a bandaid on and it’ll heal on its own (as long as we apologize to God). A “bigger,” or mortal sin is like if you got a bigger cut and needed to get stitches, so you go to a doctor. That’s what the priest does in a sense. He gives you stitches for your soul.

We’re not on our own. We are responsible for our own souls, but also the wellbeing of the Church in general. Many Christians don’t realize this, and I think that’s part of the reason the Church suffers. No two Christians are truly strangers, even if they’ve never met. A forty-year-old Christian man in Africa is my brother, despite the fact that I don’t know his name or anything about him, because we have the same Heavenly Father. I think that’s what I love so much about the Church, and what makes idolatry so dangerous. God unites us. Idols divide.

Winter Light

We changed the clocks back a couple of days ago. It’s cold and windy, and it’s getting dark awfully early now. There’s no way around it; it’s November, and Winter is fast approaching. I probably do more than my fair share of griping about Winter. Because I use a wheelchair, I have relatively bad circulation in my feet, so if I’m outside for any length of time on a cold or windy day, I get cold and stay cold. If I had an idol, it probably would be the space heater in my bedroom. At least I haven’t got to the point of naming it.

This Winter is feeling different than most, though. For the past few years, there has always been a new episode of Star Wars out around Christmas. As awesome as that is, I can only get so excited about a movie series. The reason I’m actually pretty stoked about this Winter, is that it will usher in a new member of our family. My godson is due to be born in January. I got him all kinds of Star Wars themed baby clothes because his parents are just as nerdy as I am.

What I’m really excited about, though, is his baptism. The baby clothes were more a gift for his parents, but I got him a personal gift from me. I was driving myself crazy trying to think of a good gift to give to a baby that would make sense and mean something to him when he’s older. Finally I gave up–sort of. Lately, it’s seemed like God has been letting me get stuck on purpose so I have to ask for help. As my mom and I were driving home from running errands, I said, “Lord, I am seriously out of ideas. Can you give me something?” It came instantly.

I got him a stuffed animal sparrow that makes little chirps when you squeeze it, and I’m going to have my dad make a nest for it. The idea is from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said that God cares for all His creation. He cares very much, even for each individual sparrow. Therefore, He said, there’s no reason for anyone to be afraid because a human being is worth much more than a multitude of sparrows. I’m going to write my godson a letter to put in the sparrow’s nest explaining it. I don’t know his name yet because I thought his parents were sold on Max, but they’ve decided they also like Luke, so they want to see him, and then they’ll decide. I like both.

Usually I associate Winter with darkness and boredom. Usually I see Winter as something to endure. This Winter is going t o be different. Jesus said that we are the light of the world. I don’t know his name yet, but I’ve been praying that my godson becomes a saint. I just know he can set the world on fire. God knows us and loves us even before we exist. I usually didn’t give this a whole lot of thought until I found out my godchild was a boy. For some reason, seeing the sonogram, and knowing his gender made me fall in love. This Winter is different because unlike most Winters, I see light on the horizon. I know that little light will drool, and poop, and cry, and otherwise be an annoying baby, but he’ll still be a bright and beautiful annoying baby.

I’ll Stick Around To Remind You

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. I’ve been busy loving a teenage boy from where, I don’t know, praying, working on my book, and working on music in the studio. I just finished up the second song, “Heart Of Love.” I don’t know where it’ll be on the album, but I’m just overjoyed at how good it sounds. A lot of love went into this song, on my end, for sure, but I’m convinced, from heaven as well. Ken and I pray before every session, and both of us have been convinced that we’ve had very little to do with this song. Even when the work was barely started, we couldn’t stop ourselves from laughing at how good it sounded.

Last week we finished “Heart Of Love” and started work on a song called “Sunset Sparrow,” which is partly dedicated to my new friend, but also to anyone who is suffering from loneliness or any kind of mental health issue. The first verse ends with a question: “Sunset Sparrow, can you see the city lights, and in the sky beyond, can you see the stars?” The Chorus goes like this: “If your answer’s ‘no,’ I’ll stick around to remind you, the night can’t last forever, and the morning’ll break through.”

A couple of weeks ago, my friend and I decided to watch “The Hunger Games.” There’s an interesting conversation in the first movie between President Snow and the guy who designed the game/arena. President Snow questions, “You like an underdog?” The guy responds by saying, “Everyone likes an underdog,” to which the president responds, “I don’t.” My friend reflected, “People don’t actually like underdogs. People like underdog stories.” Truthfully I haven’t thought about it a whole lot, but at the time, she seemed to be right, and I think she probably is.

I have also heard over and over that we live in a cut-throat, survival-of-the-fittest society. Though I have seen beautiful exceptions, I think, for the most part, this is overwhelmingly true, too. This leaves people afraid to reach out to one another in kindness because it leaves them vulnerable. Any show of weakness could mean defeat. I am reminded of the “Good Samaritan” story. Two of the three people who pass the wounded man–the underdog–pass him by. They are more interested in their own survival; the task at hand.

Jesus uses that story in a particular context as a teaching device, but I wonder what the wounded man–the underdog–would have been thinking. I had a very strange conversation with my new friend just a couple of days after we made contact. I asked him how his weekend had gone. His response was not a positive one. I spent two hours trying to convince him that he was lovable, that he was loved, that I don’t abandon my friends, and that I wasn’t going to abandon him. He countered by saying that he was very good at pushing people away, and that we couldn’t possibly really be friends because we had only known each other for two days, and then, it was only over the internet.

I spent the whole two hours inwardly hoping he wouldn’t ask me why I loved him because if he asked me, I don’t think I could have explained. The fact of the matter is, though, that, though I only really know his name and his age and the bare minimum of his personality, I love this kid, even if I can’t articulate a reason. Pope Benedict XVI said, “Only when God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively, it is good that I exist.” Saint Paul said that we can know God loves us because, and I am not quoting directly, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” I’ve recently come up with a prayer that I find exceedingly helpful when, in a sense, I have to remind myself of what I believe. “Lord, I’m a mess, but I’m your mess.”

For too long I tried to figure out why God loves me. Of course I know that God is Love, so I can infer that, in some sense, he has to love me. He kind of can’t help it. At the same time, I personally don’t have to exist. He wanted me with all my quirks and talents, and preferences, and what not, to exist. He created me knowing I’d be a mess, but he loves me too much not to have made me. Accepting my own messiness has not been easy. It probably never will be. By messiness, I don’t only mean sinfulness. I’m talking about other things, too, like the leftover insecurity that still occasionally tries to rear its head from when I was a teenager, or even my medical weirdness.

Acknowledging the mess is important, but if anyone only looks at their mess, they’re left with not much more than a bad mood. That’s why the second part of the prayer is important. By saying that I’m His mess, I am reminding myself that I belong to Him. It’s my pledge of loyalty, but also a way to say, “I know you love me, and I love you, too.” In a world where we’re convinced we have to do everything on our own, it’s easy to make the mistake of either not asking for help when we need it, or ignoring those who do need our help.

From talking with my new friend, I’ve discovered a new sense of the idea of tough love: “I’m going to love you whether you like it or not because you need it.” Sometimes unconditional love is uncomfortable. It can sometimes seem entirely idealistic and unrealistic, when, in fact, the opposite is true. The God of the universe who can literally do anything, and never changes, loves each person literally no matter what, even if our actions or words are sometimes not to His liking.

Last night I reflected on the fact that, while praying, I usually call God, “Lord.” That should be no surprise, except that, when Jesus instructed his disciples (i.e. us) to pray, he told us to address God as “Father.” That’s the whole point. God is the most perfect Father we could ever have. Even when we’re being “the actual worst,” He loves us. Sometimes when our loved ones are going through something particularly hard, or they do something particularly detrimental to themselves, another person, or our relationship, it’s tempting to decide, “I can’t deal with you right now,” and then “right now” lasts a long time. God, on the other hand, doesn’t think like that. Unlike humans, God can handle any mess, no matter how big, and nothing we do, and no matter how we feel, we are unconditionally loved.

I wrote “Sunset Sparrow” initially as a promise to my friend from my personal perspective. However, on further reflection, I’ve realized two things. The first is that I have never encountered the kind of deep darkness I’m finding in his soul. Maybe he’s being an overly dramatic teenager, but I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt. Secondly, though, I think the chorus of the song can be addressed to anyone. “I’ll stick around to remind you. The night can’t last forever, and the morning’ll break through.”

My upcoming album is a worship album, but I wanted the songs on it to be a bit less conventional than the usual fare of worship songs. The fact of the matter is, after a while, truth can only be said the same way so many times before it starts sounding like white noise. I hadn’t intended to write a song to reflect God’s faithfulness directly. On the other hand, I have asked Him to give me some words from His perspective that He wanted me to address to someone in particular, or the world in general. I had hoped He would give me something new to say, but no spectacular divine revelation came. Instead, He gave me new words to convey an ancient message: “I am faithful;” in other words, “I’ll stick around to remind you. The night can’t last forever, and the morning’ll break through.”

Sunday Lump

I’m not good at relaxing. I’m good at being lazy. I have a constant need to multitask because if I don’t, I procrastinate, and get nothing done. I haven’t been working on my book much of late. That’s part of the reason I started the music project, which I am enjoying very much. I think that’s okay. I think part of my problem, however, is that lately it’s felt like working on my book is just that–work. A book is a piece of art, and I’m an artist. While it’s true that working on my art is my job, it shouldn’t only feel like a job.

The music project has created stress because it takes up time that I would otherwise use to procrastinate or actually write, but that’s the point. I can’t afford to procrastinate anymore. I’m starting to enjoy working on the book again, but the funny thing is, between working on music, the book, and the blog, I’ve become a bit of a workaholic. The thing is, the music project doesn’t only involve writing and recording songs. It’s already started to involve self-promotion because I’ve released the single. That’s involved re-teaching myself how to use movie-maker, and upload videos to YouTube, how to promote my stuff on Facebook, and how to upload stuff to Bandcamp. It’s all technically simple, but if you’re not tech-savvy, it takes at least a little time.

Before I started writing this post, I glanced at a map I drew of the continental landscape of my book, and it gave me an idea. I was going to start working on it, but then stopped myself and laughed. I told myself to relax. My plan for today was to sit around and read. I haven’t been reading. I’ll do that this evening. I slept in, and hung out with my family instead. I’m going to afternoon Mass in a bit.

When I’m being lazy, I say I’m being a lump. A lot of times, I don’t mean to be a lump. I just am. Today, I’m forcing myself to enjoy myself, get a few minor things done–mainly prayerful things–and be a Sunday lump.

Humility Lessons

Yesterday the people working on our car got us a rental. Our piece of junk is in our driveway at the moment because they’re waiting to get an expert mechanic in from I-forget-where. Having the rental is such a blessing, though. I was able to easily get to the studio last night, and we recorded harmony, as well as a potential guitar solo down on my song Autumn Hero. We also got quite a lot of mixing done. For those who don’t know, mixing is where you take each individually recorded piece of a song and get the “levels” or volume of each instrument or voice part right, as well as putting any effects on things.

It’s really awesome that Ken, my producer, happens to be Christian because we pray at the beginning of each session, and we always end up going on ten minute long God-is-awesome tangents. The title of the album that Autumn Hero will be on is, A Song To Sing In The Dark. It’s meant to be a musical declaration that there is always hope because the God of the universe, who is infinite and omnipotent triumphed over darkness, chaos, and death.

So why do I mention the rental car? It has tie-down straps to hold my wheelchair in place. Our regular car does not. I got in a bit of an argument with my mom yesterday because it takes a minute to tie my chair down. I am impatient, and I know that. I realized something else, though. The straps make me feel like I’m on a leash like a dog. They’re a bit of a blow to my pride. I still say that the rental, and even the straps are a blessing because I evidently need to work on humility, as well as patience.

This week we had to be out of the house on Tuesday and for a few hours yesterday because we were having some work done. We’re going up to Maine on Saturday, and we’ll be staying over for the first time. By no means is the house anywhere near permanent livable conditions, so it will basically be like camping. Between working on music, and simply being stuck  out of our MA house quite a bit this week, though, I haven’t got much work done on my book. I was hoping to work on Saturday to make up some lost time. I can obviously bring my laptop to Maine, but we’re going to have company, which means I might not get a whole lot done. I think this is another chance to let God work on me. To be perfectly honest, I do think camping out in the house will be fun.

I could have worked on my book today, but I ended up spending the whole day managing my online music stuff. It took much longer than I thought it would. It was a productive day, though, and I think it was worth the time. What I do, I do for God, not for profit. If profit comes in the end, then that’s a plus. Any creative endeavor is a bit of a dangerous business, though, because it can naturally feed a person’s pride. The other day, I was working on my book, and I had writer’s block. At the end of the day, I gave up, then an idea came to me, and I knew it was from God. I thanked Him, and I later realized that he hadn’t helped me earlier because, though I had asked for help already, I hadn’t really admitted that I couldn’t do what I was doing without His help. I’m good at writing because He gave me that talent.

Love Stories

The past two days have been pretty amazing. Yesterday was the second meeting of the Carmelite group I attended last month. They have Mass at the meeting, which meant I got to receive the Eucharist two days in a row. I didn’t go to our regular Mass yesterday afternoon, so I went this afternoon. That means three days in a row receiving Jesus in communion. I’m planning to go to the worship thing tomorrow, so that will be pretty awesome. I’ve just been really happy this whole time. I went to bed last night with the thought, “I am loved,” in my head.

Before I got up today, I watched a short video of something a priest said. He was reading from the diary of Saint Faustina. She had written of a conversation she had with Jesus in a moment of despair. Jesus explained to her that He will call a despairing soul to Him several times, and even if that soul despairs of His mercy, Jesus will make a huge effort to prove He is loving and merciful, and that no soul is beyond His love. It’s only if the soul willfully rejects His mercy that He will let that soul go. In that conversation, Jesus refers to Himself as the soul’s best friend. Though I’ve been really happy over the past three days, I wondered for a moment at lunch today: could He really be my best friend? Then I thought, “Well yeah, I know He’s my best friend. It’s just weird because He’s God and I’m just me, and He’s perfect and I’m not.”

Yesterday I had to be at the monastery for the meeting at eight AM. I’m nocturnal. This is entirely against my nature. We didn’t really have much food in the house for breakfast, but my dad threw together an omelet for me, which was actually pretty good because it had broccoli and onions in it, but it didn’t have any meat. I don’t know why, but if I don’t have any sausage or chicken in an omelet, it does not fill me up. I ate some toast on the way, thinking this would help, but it didn’t do much, and I had a seizure in the car.

I was able to think coherently enough to pray a little just before we got there, so I said, “Lord, I want to do this for you, and I think this is what you want me to do, but if I’m going to do this, I can’t be fuzzy.” When we got to the monastery, I took an extra pill, and I was mostly back to normal by the time we got through morning prayer. Incidentally, yesterday was a celebration in the Church for the birth of the Blessed Mother, so we had cake. This obviously helped alleviate my hunger.

Several of the people there know about my epilepsy by now, and they’re really helpful and understanding. I have to take my medicine at ten and eleven AM, which are kind of inconvenient times during the meeting, so again I prayed. I said, “God, I’m nervous. You are a merciful God, and I know you want me here, so I need you to take care of this.” As soon as I finished praying, a girl whose name is also Katie came over and asked if I needed help getting my pills.

God’s mercy, love, and goodness really are unfathomable. Last night I started really thinking about a kind of love I’ve been feeling lately, but still don’t quite understand. I recently got a text from my “cousin,” with a picture. It was a sonogram of her son–my godson. The funny thing is, I was kind of hoping for a girl. When I saw that sonogram though, with the confirmation that he was a boy, I immediately fell in love. I had been praying for this kid all along and I was joking with my “cousin,” saying that it’s been awkward not knowing which pronoun to use. Now I know that I’m going to be the godmother of a little boy named Max, and I am ecstatic.

Just thinking about him makes me happy. This makes no sense to me. How can I love someone I’ve never met before? The craziest thing about it is that I don’t even like babies. I just know that somehow Max might change that. Earlier I was thinking about something I had heard from a musician I admire very much. He said, in a nutshell that it doesn’t really matter what we do. It just matters why we do it, and who we do it for. I’m starting to think there isn’t really one particular thing God wants me to do with my life. I do know one thing, though. I do what I do because I love Him. I don’t always love Him the way I should, but ultimately, that’s what God’s will for everybody generally is. Jesus said to love God, and love the people around us.

Looking back, I see the line of strangers I’ve befriended, and I see that most of the time, they have been people that the rest of the world passes by. After Mass today I was talking to my dad and laughing because I was thinking about how, when I was a teenager, all I wanted to be was different. I wanted to be nothing like everyone else. At the time, that actually meant befriending the people that others rejected. In fact, between my Junior and Senior year, I took a summer program for highschool kids at Berklee in Boston, and I made a very memorable friend. He was a homeless man with some form of Autism or something. I never knew his real name, but he called himself Polliwog.

I never made friends with any of the other students, but I saw Polliwog every day between classes. I played guitar for him, and he danced, and it made both of us happy. Though I didn’t recognize Him at the time, I think I saw Christ in Polliwog, and I’m convinced that that was the first step towards changing my heart so I’d let Him save me a couple years later. I still think about him from time to time, and I hope he’s doing well. When I was talking to my dad on the way home from church I joked that I always wanted to be different. I got what I wanted. I am different than a lot of my peers. I just never thought being different would look like being madly in love with Jesus.

In the end, though, being in love with Jesus automatically means striving to be like Him. That means loving like a crazy person. Before I knew Jesus, I befriended those the world rejected because the world rejected me, too. Now I love because I love Jesus, but also, I think, for reasons I don’t even understand. John the Baptist said that he had to decrease so Christ could increase. To live like Jesus means letting Him live through me, and love through me. God’s love and mercy are infinite. I am not infinite, but God can work miracles through people like Polliwog, and he can teach love through Max, and He can show His mercy through my hopeful prayers.

There is so much reason to trust and love the Lord, and to love those around us. All we have to do is choose peace when the world chooses violence; choose forgiveness when it’s easier to hold a grudge; choose faith when the night is at its darkest; choose love because love saves the world and love sets us free.