Tag Archives: Joy.

Living The Pipe Dream

When I was fourteen, I got a guitar for Christmas. It was an absolute piece of crap that would go out of tune after playing one song, or even before the end of a song. Soon after I got it, my friend, who had been taking lessons for a little while, taught me to play “Brain Stew” by Green Day. At that point I only knew how to play power chords, and I wasn’t going to start lessons until January, but I was immediately hooked. I learned some basic things in my first few lessons, and I wrote my first song. It was an angry punk song about a teacher I hated at school. It was terrible.

Like every other angry fourteen-year-old with a guitar, I had the pipe dream; I was going to be a total “rock star” in a punk band, tour all over the country, and generally be able to “get my way.” After my sophomore year, I mellowed out a little, which actually meant I went from being angry to being sad. That’s probably the best way I could describe it. Slowly, I resigned myself to the fact that the “rock star” thing wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t find band mates, and quite frankly, it was just unrealistic.

Still, I kept writing songs. A lot of them sucked, as would be expected. By the time I was nineteen, I was still playing guitar, and writing an occasional song, but mostly I was learning covers because I could play them by myself, and people at open mics sometimes recognized them. I enjoyed that, but it wasn’t “the dream,” and at that point, I had no real vision in mind for what my future might look like. I was your average college freshman without much of a plan.

At the time I started school in August, I was agnostic. By the end of October, I was Christian. I’ve written this part of the story before, but it’s important, so I’ll make it short. I was lonely, and I thought I needed a boyfriend. I had started learning how to pray, so I had been asking God for help with that. I didn’t know it was a deeper loneliness that couldn’t be filled with another human relationship. He let me get desperate. I begged. He needed to make me wait because He needed to teach me that He was there to listen, and that I could trust Him, and even though I was ultimately asking for the wrong thing, He was going to help me. He needed me to be desperate because He needed to use that to build an actual relationship. At my lowest point, I said something along the lines of, “Please! I need your help! I love you!”

I hadn’t known it until I said it, but I knew it was true. As soon as I said it, a feeling like I have never really felt before or since came over me. I don’t know how to describe it, but it inspired my song, “You Answered.” The third verse goes:

You came to me soft and slow
Sweet and warm like a summer dream
And fantasy starts to fade away
As you replace my empty spaces

After that, I started writing more songs. Most of them were worship songs, and a lot of them were terrible. Eventually, I had enough songs to put together my first album, which came out in 2014. I graduated in 2015, and took a hiatus from songwriting to take a stab at writing a novel. After about three years, I realized I was much better at music.

Actually, I hadn’t stopped writing songs altogether, but most of my material was terrible. Still, I had one good one hanging around that I had never recorded, so I went back to the studio. I had thought I would just release it as a single, but one night before one of my studio sessions, I wrote a song in about two minutes. That’s barely an exaggeration. Now I had a dilemma because it was good. I decided if I could pull together one or two more good songs I’d do an EP. Now that we’re nine songs into what will be a full length album, I’ve realized something.

When I was fourteen, I had the same pipe dream as every other angry teenager with a guitar. Most don’t get to be musicians as their career. A lot of kids just give up playing after a while. A lot of people keep it up as a hobby. A lot of people have regular 9-5 jobs on top of their music careers, which don’t often amount to more than playing a few local gigs every week. I’m not a “rock star,” but songwriting is my career. Am I a success? I’d say it depends on who you’re asking. Do I make money at this? Not yet. Do I write good songs? Heck yeah! How do I know? People like them. More importantly, I know God is helping me.

My God gave me my pipe dream. When my epilepsy came back in my sophomore year of college, I had to face some hard facts. Travel isn’t easy to begin with because of my Muscular Dystrophy. Performing is often hit or miss because my meds don’t completely control my epilepsy. Being a performing artist just wasn’t possible. What I didn’t realize for some time was that it’s precisely because of my disabilities that I’m able to do this. Having a “normal” job isn’t exactly an option for me. That’s why I have time to work on a book and have a songwriting career.

As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve realized that my “issues” have brought me closer to God, and He has had a plan all along. He has always known how much I love music. He allowed me to be that angry fourteen-year-old with a pipe dream, and in the end He gave me a choice. I could give up on that dream, or I could embrace it, or rather, His version of it. I’m great at writing lyrics. I’m a decent, but not absolutely fabulous singer, and I’m an average guitarist. I can write lyrics that glorify my God and hand them off to people who can glorify Him with their performing abilities that are doubtless, better than mine.

My dad suggested this to me several years ago. I didn’t choose this option because I was being overly possessive. Now I’m ready. It doesn’t make sense for me to hold onto something that I can’t use. I’m ready to write not for my glory, but for God’s. I don’t need recognition. I don’t need to be the star of the show. If nobody ever knows who wrote these songs, that’s okay. I will be overjoyed if one of my songs becomes popular because somebody else rocked it. I just want these songs to be heard. I love writing them, and I love the process. I even love struggling through my writer’s block because a lot of times, that’s when I pray the most.

In my song “Nothing Else,” there’s a couple lines that go: “This is enough/ a spark to start a fire.” I didn’t know God when I was fourteen. That first crummy guitar was a spark, though, and God could start a fire with that spark. Writing songs was the first thing I was really passionate about, and God used that passion to lead me right to Him. Of course the path was a little convoluted, but now I have more than a spark. I have His burning love that’s closer than touch, and He has my songwriting skills to use as He sees fit. Because of His love, I am living the pipe dream.

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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.

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.”

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.

Something Worth Doing

This morning after I did my morning prayer, I played a stupid game on my phone for a little while. I went to bed very late last night, and really, I just didn’t want to get up. I could afford to just chill for a little, but then a thought came to my mind. I couldn’t help questioning why I was playing that game. It’s not actually all that fun, and I’m so good at it by now that it’s basically mindless. I couldn’t help asking myself if it was God’s will for me to be playing that game. My ultimate conclusion was that, while it was perfectly acceptable for me to be playing a dumb game, it probably wasn’t exactly what He wanted me to be doing.

Anyone who really wants to follow Christ ultimately has to ask what God wants them to be doing. When asking this question, though, most of us, myself included, are usually wondering what God’s ultimate plan for our lives is. We’re looking at the forest, without always seeing the trees. I reflected on this, and I asked myself, “What would God want me to be doing right now? I don’t have to be ready for work for another hour or so, and it’s not like I have to go far (I would be traveling from eating lunch in the kitchen back to my bedroom which would then be my office).” I came to the conclusion that, even if I didn’t have a concrete answer, I did know that God would want me to be doing something worth doing.

That begs the question: what makes something worth doing? What gives value to an action, practice, or effort? Ultimately, what gives anything value? I recently visited a group of third order Carmelites, and am considering officially joining their order. I’ve only visited them once, and I have a lot to learn, but my visit was amazing, and the people were probably the nicest I’ve ever met. I mention this because at the end of my visit, one of the women gave me a glass tube. Contained inside was water from the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, a tiny shell from the Sea of Galilee, and some dust from Mount Carmel; a mountain in Israel where the first Carmelites created their order. Measuring the worth of that tube in terms of money makes it worthless, but I thought it was an amazing gift.

Last night I was reading about the history of the Rosary, and I read that when it started becoming incredibly popular and well known, people would make incredibly fancy ones with precious stones on gold or silver chains. Mine is made of wooden beads on a plain cord. I bought that one partly because I’m the cheapest woman alive, but partly because a fancy Rosary would not be my style. It’s value is contained in what I use it for. I think about the things I consider to be my treasures. I have some religious items that I consider treasure, and some of them actually are nice, but I also consider my ability to use the English language a kind of treasure. Technology is also a kind of treasure because the ability to communicate, learn, and quite frankly, to be entertained, is valuable.

I also discovered something late last night. The value or worth of anything must be determined by something greater than itself. I often find myself marveling at the fact that the God of the universe wants anything to do with me. I am one in literally several billion people, but my Heavenly Father literally loves the hell out of me. Making sense of that love is confusing at best, and last night I found myself thinking, “Lord, you knew I’d never be able to walk. You knew I’d have epilepsy. You knew I’d be just as messy as anyone else. You knew I’d give up on you, and give up on myself for a while. You made me anyway, and you still chased me down. I just don’t get it. I’m not even important.” At that moment something stopped me. I think He stopped me because my next thought was, “Actually, you think I’m pretty important. If you say I’m important, then I’m important.” That thought made me happy.

I don’t know what God’s ultimate plan is for my life, but I do know some things. I call my godparents “Aunt” and “Uncle,” but we’re not actually related. A few months ago, I learned that their daughter, so my kind-of cousin, is going to have a baby this winter. Even before I knew this, though, I realized that I had a growing desire to be a godmother. I thought it was kind of weird desire, but I prayed about it a handful of times. This past weekend, it was decided that I would be my “cousin’s” child’s godmother. I have an amazing relationship with both of my godparents, and I hope to have the same kind of relationship with my godchild.

I often listen to Christian playlists on Spotify while I’m working. There’s a song that sometimes comes on that I kind of hate because it’s about how Christians spend too much time singing empty words and twiddling our thumbs while the outside world suffers. This song kills me because I am a sympathetic person, and I hate to see people suffer, but because of my physical impediments, I can’t go out and actively do much about it. I didn’t mention the song specifically, but I mentioned my trepidation about it to my godfather. He told me that my prayers are more effective and heard more readily because I can’t go out and precisely because I want to help. Despite the fact that I’ve witnessed the truth of it, I’ve had to have it hammered into me time and again that prayer is powerful.

I’ve learned that prayer takes faith, and prayer takes patience. It is absolutely true that God often works in ways we don’t expect, and He often takes His time. Sometimes I realize that God has answered me months or even years after I prayed for or about something. Conversely, sometimes He’ll answer my prayers within thirty seconds of me praying. It takes perseverance, and it takes practice. I’ve been praying the Rosary every night for, I think, nearly a year now, and I still get distracted. Sometimes I get a lot out of it, and sometimes I don’t. The point isn’t what I can get out of it, though. The point is what it can do.

I want to focus mainly on the Rosary because numerous significant miracles have been attributed to it. In 1214 the Rosary was presented to St. Dominic by the Blessed Mother to defeat the Albigensian heresy, which taught that the spirit was good, but the body was evil. Thus, they taught that suicide was a commendable practice. The Rosary, while essentially viewed through the eyes of Mary, so to speak, focuses deeply on the life and humanity of Christ, especially since the Luminous Mysteries–those that focuss on his miracles weren’t included until later.

The devotion of people faithfully praying the Rosary is attributed to nonviolent resistance to, and ultimate defeat of Communism in Brazil in the 1960’s. It was attributed to the healing of Father Patrick Peyton, an Irish immigrant to the U.S. who was diagnosed with Tuberculosis, which in the 1930’s, when he was alive, was incurable. In 1945, when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, eight Jesuit priests were together praying the Rosary less than a mile from ground zero. They miraculously survived, and suffered no radiation poisoning. Though not a miracle, I can certainly say that praying the Rosary has helped me to grow closer to Jesus and develop a relationship with Mary that I previously didn’t have.

The prayers of individuals can work miracles. That is absolutely true. I strongly believe, and I think I’m supported by history, though, that a bunch of people praying for the same thing can more readily move mountains. Even from a human perspective, it’s the difference between one kid pestering Mom or Dad for something, or two, or three, or maybe even six kids, if they have friends with them, all asking for the same thing. If you’re like me, you don’t always have people around to pray with you. That’s why getting to know the Blessed Mother, and maybe a handful of Saints is important. They may not be physically here, but they can and do pray with you and for you.

All of this is meant as encouragement to my readers, but also as a reminder to myself. If you don’t have the time, the money, or the physical ability to “go out” and volunteer or donate to charity, and that is a sincere desire of your heart, then pray. Do what you can, and don’t worry about what you can’t. Every day I can read, I can write, I can edit, and I can pray. When school starts back up for the kids, I’ll be teaching CCD. If you focus only on what you can’t do, you will ultimately do nothing, and that helps no one. Pray for the people doing the things you want to do because in this way, you are helping them, and vicariously helping the people they are helping.

I have focused mainly on praying for others, but I would like to emphasize that it’s just as important to pray for yourself. I would argue that it’s just as important to pray about nothing. We are meant to be holy and have a relationship with God. To have a relationship with anyone, you have to talk to them. I recently went to see Beck live, and I had a ton of fun. I had a ton of fun with Jesus because I prayed through the whole thing. I just said stuff like, “I’m having an awesome time. Thank you for this.” Pray when something is bothering you. Pray when you need something. Pray when you’re late to church and need a parking spot. He’s usually quick to help with that one. Pray when you find something weird or funny, and share the weirdness or the humor with Him.

Lastly, I just want to say that It’s perfectly okay to waste some time. I did a little while ago because, quite frankly, my brain was a bit fried. It’s important to make note of the things we do and the reasons why we do them. In the end, I felt that writing this was what God would have me do today, and I certainly feel that it was something worth doing.

Fences

Catholic or not, you may know that our tradition is notorious for interesting, odd, and inspiring devotions. One that I am fond of is a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was inspired by a revelation of Jesus to Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque. He wanted her to let the world know that what He really wanted was to grant his mercy, but that so many people simply were indifferent to Him and would not receive it. The devotion itself is really quite simple. One has to go to Mass on the first Friday of the month for nine consecutive months in a state of grace, and receive communion with the implicit intention of doing some kind of reparation for humanity’s indifference to His sacrifice.

Last Friday I went to Mass because I’ve been doing this devotion for five or six months. After church, I ran an errand and got lunch with my mom. While in the car, I turned on Spotify, because tunes, and I was in a spectacularly good mood. I found myself thinking about really random things. Because I was curious, I looked up what percentage of people are left handed, because I’m left handed. So no one reading this has to look it up, it’s about ten percent. I found myself wondering whether Jesus was left or right handed, and I wondered how many people actually take the time to consider that kind of thing. My dad later explained that it’s hard to learn to write with one’s non-dominant hand, but it’s not so hard to learn to do other things so, being a carpenter, Jesus may have been at least somewhat ambidextrous, which I thought was interesting.

As we drove from place to place, I started realizing just how many fences there were. Fences are such a staple part of suburban life that they almost escape our notice, but today, I found myself marveling at the barriers people had constructed between houses and businesses, and along roads. I actually found myself laughing at how territorial it was. It was exactly like dogs marking their territory to me. I just found myself thinking that it seemed a bit primitive in a way. Obviously fences are for our own protection and the protection of others. We have a fence around our yard so a neighbor kid won’t fall into our pool or something, but I think too often, we use them to lock ourselves in and lock others out.

Still, I found myself thinking that people spend too much time building fences, and not enough time breaking down walls. We’re supposed to break down walls. Jesus spent nearly His entire three-year ministry doing that, and He broke down the most impassible wall between humanity and God when He went to the cross. Jesus explained to saint Margaret Mary that when we participate in the First Friday devotion, we’re doing the same thing. He said we stand in the gap between God and those who are indifferent or even scornful toward Him. God chooses us no matter what, but He can’t make us choose Him.

We’re so used to fences, though, that we build walls between ourselves and our Savior. It’s easy to believe that the gap between us and God can’t be breached because He’s perfect, and we’re not, and in this life, never can be. It’s easy to forget that Jesus can do the impossible. It’s sometimes hard to believe that Jesus died for me, and it’s easy to ask the question, now what? It’s easy to ask, am I worth that? It’s easy to doubt it when, in our hearts, we know the answer is, “Yes;” when His answer is, “Yes.” Jesus doesn’t build walls. He breaks them down. He does this in his stories, and in His actions, He doesn’t stop anyone from coming to Him, and He wants us, as He did, to love the least of these.

We have to stand in the gap. We have to love our enemies. We have to have mercy. We have to heal where we can. Jesus is alive in His Church, and standing in the gap isn’t just a metaphor. We can be little bridges. Jesus works miracles in our world today. Maybe we should spend less time agonizing about property lines, and more time actually loving our neighbors.

Fluent In Goodness

This past Friday I was up in Maine again with my parents. They were talking to my mom’s cousin (our contractor) about some issues with the house, which ended up all being okay, and about progress in general. While they did that, I went down to the river across the street, and sat on a platform and went through a bunch of my ordinary daily prayers. When I finished most of the structured stuff, I just started talking.

I realized that I talk to God about things I worry about, or things I need, or what have you, but I almost never talk to Him about “normal” stuff. In my last post, I talked about how I hear God’s glory in thunder. Friday in Naples Maine was hot, sunny, and breezy, and I absolutely love that. People were headed down to the lake in their boats while I was sitting on the platform, and they were having a grand time. Eventually an epic squirt gun battle broke out.

The first Creation story in Genesis is written in a poetic, systematic form. The world is constructed in six days, and after each thing God created, He saw that it was good. I looked at the shiny golden rocks at the bottom of the shallow river, the clear blue sky, the emerald shine of the sun in the trees, and it reminded me of the intrinsic goodness of everything. I was also anticipating hanging out with my godfather later that day, which is always a good time. We went to the same little gas station pub we usually go to and descended upon a horrifyingly large pile of chicken wings and french fries. We ate most of it. It seemed to me that there was something intrinsically good about that, too–not just the food, but simply being way too excited about it with my godfather. I saw God’s glory in all of what happened on Friday.

I’ve mentioned before a guy by the name of Bishop Robert Barron. He has a lot of short YouTube videos on a plethora of subjects, and I highly recommend them. In at least one or two of them, he has mentioned a quote by Saint Irenaeus. “The Glory of God is man fully alive.” The obvious question is: what does it mean to be fully alive?

He associates this with freedom. Bishop Barron explains that, to most, freedom is associated with self-expression. In other words, as I tend to render it, it is “freedom to,” while a more Catholic idea of freedom, as I render it, is “freedom from.’ What I mean is, it’s freedom first, from sin, but also, freedom from fear, anxiety, and a myriad of other human annoyances. Religious practice, in a sense, is also “freedom to,” however. Bishop Barron uses the example of learning a language. The more fluent a person is, and the more expansive their vocabulary, the freer they are to use that language. In Catholic terms, this means being free to act and express oneself as a child of God.

God’s nature in itself is goodness and love. He loves his creation, and he loves humans most of all. To love someone means to desire their happiness, and want what is best for them. Since God knows everything, He knows what will make all humans happy. To achieve Heaven essentially means to achieve what will make one most happy. Obviously being free is part of being happy. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, this means practicing a certain set of objective rules, standards, or whatever one likes to call them, to become “fluent” in goodness, because God created humanity according to his own nature.

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.

God’s Timing

Yesterday we drove out of the mountains of Vermont and headed back to Massachusetts. On Friday we had arrived in the mountains for Vermont’s funeral. Of course death is sad, but something about this death made me angry. On Friday night I couldn’t eat much. I just felt drained. I’m really bad at dealing with sad things. I just don’t like other people to see me cry or that I’m upset. Because of that, I couldn’t cry until ten PM on Friday when I was in my room in the hotel alone. I can cry to Jesus because he knows I’m upset anyway. What I really wanted, though was not for him to hear me. I didn’t want him to see and to take my tears. What I wanted more than anything was for him to hold me and let me cry into him until I was done.

Yesterday, when we were about half an hour from home, my best friend called asking if she could borrow my dad’s soldering iron to modify her snake’s tank. Incidentally, she also didn’t have to work today, so I invited her to hang out when we got home. When she got to my house my dad was in the middle of replacing one of my wheelchair parts, but when he finished my friend and I went downstairs, my mom went out to get food, and my dad stayed upstairs. I had been debating it, but I finally couldn’t help myself, or maybe I couldn’t stop myself. I spilled the beans.

I told her everything. I told her how angry and sad this was making me, though I didn’t know why. I told her that I didn’t like to cry around people as I started crying hard. I told her how unfair it was because it was completely unexpected and out of the blue. She asked me if I wanted a hug. I hesitated for a second, but then I said, “Yes.” She held me and I cried for a long time. Then we played a dumb video game that I’m way too good at. After that we watched videos of assorted big cats being adorable. Then we watched a kids’ movie. I realized last night that Jesus knew that what I needed and wanted most was a hug from him. Since he couldn’t hug me in person, he sent my friend, knowing I would trust her with this. I told her that in that moment, she was Jesus for me. She just happened to call, needing a favor at just the right time. She didn’t exactly know what to do with that, but I wanted her to know. I went to bed a little after midnight and decided to go to church at a parish one town over instead of our home church this morning because the other church has an afternoon Sunday Mass, and I wanted to sleep in.

I thought sleep would help me recover from my emotional roller coaster. My dad caught me crying in church this afternoon. It was right before communion. He asked me if I was okay. I said I was. He asked me why I was crying, then. I said I wasn’t done being sad. Both are true. I am okay. I’m just sad. I don’t think these are mutually exclusive. The Gospel reading today was about when Jesus is recruiting his disciples. The priest said that his mission statement was, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” The Gospel is the Good News that God loves us and made a way for us to be with him forever.

After church I asked myself, “do you believe the Gospel? Do you believe in what Jesus said and did? Do you believe in the afterlife? Do you believe in Heaven? Do you believe in God’s love? Do you believe in his mercy? Do you trust him?” At that moment I truthfully could say “Yes” to all of these, but it was hardest to say “Yes” to the last two. At this church we sometimes go to, they use more contemporary music instead of the more traditional hymns you might expect at a Catholic church. A line from the closing song sticks with me right now. “Your grace is enough for me.” I know that’s true. I don’t remember the context, but I know that we are commanded to praise God even when it feels like the world is crap. Therefore, I’ll end this post with a few lines from one of my own songs.

I will sing. Hallelujahs. ‘Cause there is good in things. And I believe it. I can see that it’s true. And it’s beautiful.