“Where Do All The Roads Go?”

My Godmother once told a story about when my dad was teaching CCD. We were six or seven, and at the time, we had class at my house. I don’t actually remember the lesson, but when my dad was finished teaching, he said, “Does anyone have any questions?” One of the kids in my class asked, “Where do all the roads go?” It had nothing to do with the lesson, but actually, it’s a really good question.

I’ve recently come to love the song “When It Don’t Come Easy” by Patty Griffin. It’s a sad song, but I think a hopeful one, too. A few lines that invariably get stuck in my head are:

You’re out there walking down a highway
And all of the signs got blown away
Sometimes you wonder if you’re walking in the wrong direction

Followed by the Chours:

But if you break down
I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love
I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy

Today at Mass we got some bad news. One of the priests who serves at our parish is being re-assigned. He’s a fabulous priest. He exudes true Christian joy, and you can tell he’s truly in love with the Lord. I’m really going to miss him.

This afternoon I’ve been thinking about that little kid’s question. “Where do all the roads go?” Two decades later, all I know is that they all go somewhere. I do know that my Guide knows where they all go, and if I trust Him, He’ll lead me down the right ones. Sometimes I don’t exactly follow His directions, and I get a little lost. I find myself wandering down that highway where the signs got blown away, but I know He’ll come and find me.

Earlier I was angry about our priest’s re-assignment. Now I’m just sad. I prayed about it, and I told the Lord that I don’t like this, but I know He can bring even more light out of any darkness. Hopefully our priest can be a help to whatever parish he’s going to. They’ll be getting an absolutely inspiring priest, and apparently we’ve been assigned someone who has just recently been ordained. I may not like the situation, but I am hopeful. Our parish has been going through a lot of change in the past year, and I really just want a sense of permanence.

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.

The Lady At The Bank

On Friday I had to go to the bank with my brother and mom. My mom was helping my brother get a credit card, and I just happened to be there because we had just got lunch. An employee took my peeps to his office while I hung out in the waiting area. Admittedly, I have a habit of going off on wild adventures in my head when I’m bored, and I can go very far away given enough time.

While I wasn’t on a wild mind quest this time, I was sort of staring into space and making patterns with the tiles on the floor. There was another man sitting in the waiting area, and another employee came over to help him with something. She took him to her office, but had to come back out to do something. When she noticed me, she asked my mother in the nearby office, “Is she with you?” The employee was standing right in front of me. I didn’t hear her, but my mom answered in the affirmative. Then the employee looked at me and said, “Just checking. Hi.” I said, “Hi,” and she walked off.

What I wanted to say, and what I should have said, is that when you see someone in a wheelchair, regardless of where they are or how odd it might appear they are acting, you don’t ask someone in another room if that person is “with them.” By doing so, you are making assumptions about a person you don’t know, you are being rude, and most importantly, you are stripping that person of a degree of dignity. It is exactly like seeing a dog and asking a person nearby if that dog is “with” them; if that animal belongs to them.

That employee was ignorant, and I can forgive ignorance. I want to make an attempt now to correct some of that ignorance. Only about fifteen percent of the world’s population has some form of disability. These range from anything from psychological to physical. Obviously physical disabilities are much more noticeable, and unfortunately, physical disabilities often do come with issues like Downs Syndrome. That means that people sometimes automatically assume that this is the case, and assume that people with physical disabilities will not be able to communicate with or understand them.

I want to touch on another issue, too, however. A huge mistake people often make is essentially doing one of two things to people with intellectual disabilities: things like Downs, Autism, etc. They either have a tendency to treat the vast majority of them as though they were less than human, or if someone with one of these issues does something that seems “normal,” they are turned into a hero. At worst, people with intellectual disabilities are often the victims of cruel humor. Though we preach that this is wrong, our society still accepts it because many assume that the people being mocked don’t know they are being mocked.

In any situation when interacting with someone with any kind of disability, start by assuming the best. Recognize that the person in front of you is firstly, a stranger whom you know nothing about, and secondly, they are likely capable of much more than you might assume. Understand, too, however, that every human being perceives the world in their own individual way. I, for example, do not like crowded areas because I am always sitting and I can get somewhat claustrophobic if I have many people standing around me. This is also due to the fact that I’m simply introverted. Another person in an almost identical situation as me might love crowds and large parties simply because they are extroverted.

Lastly, I have noticed from time to time, that disabilities can put people on edge. I can only attest to this from personal experience, and it happened more when I was younger. I think people were sometimes afraid that they would offend me if they said the wrong thing or asked the wrong question. Again, this is a subjective issue, but I am not offended by questions about my wheelchair, or my disabilities. I’m not offended when people point out that I’m “driving” badly, because sometimes I’m not paying attention, and I know I drive badly. Lastly, and this is particularly for parents: don’t pull your kids away when they’re curious about a wheelchair. It’s good for kids to be curious, and it’s good for someone like me to be able to assure them that I’m just a regular human trying to survive like everyone else. I would like to emphasize that. I am weird and quirky, but that’s because I’m a writer, not because I use a wheelchair.

When The Sky Does Fall

My last post was about how I didn’t lose my book and my sky did not fall. I believe that my sky didn’t fall because I trusted in God. But what if I had lost my book? I had made the choice to trust God before I knew what was going to happen. I had chosen to trust him even if the worst did happen. Trusting God and losing a book would have been one thing. It would have sucked, but I would have been able to recover from it. God wants our trust. He wants to be our family, and that’s what family is about. We entrust the most important parts of our lives to our God, and sometimes we do so because there’s no one else we can trust.

I saw an absolutely terrible thing on the news a couple of days ago. it was about the orphaned and neglected children left without resources or comfort or love in the aftermath of the war in Syria. I haven’t forgotten about them. I’ve made sure to include those kids in my prayers because they need someone to take care of them, and I don’t know how many people changed the channel because they didn’t want to hear or see the sad story. I am trusting God with the lives of those kids who aren’t even mine, but they need help. Still, there’s only so much that can be done, and some of those kids will die. In that sense, the sky will fall. Blue diamonds will be lost. I would just like to ask that anyone who might be reading this to join me in praying for those blue diamonds.

Sometimes our skies fall much closer to home. Relatives or pets die. We get sick or injured. Students end up not having enough money to finish a degree. Relationships end badly. Trusting God is a choice, and we have to trust him with these issues before the sky falling is even a possibility; before it even crosses our minds that something bad could ever happen. Reading this here will not help anyone do that. Writing it down doesn’t make it any easier for me to do it. The ultimate question is, what do we do when the sky does fall? Do we continue to trust?

Think about this: Jesus’ whole life was a series of falling skies, both for his friends, but mainly for his mother. When the angel Gabriel came to Mary and asked her if she would be the mother of the Messiah, it was up to her. She had to make that choice. She had to trust God that this would turn out okay. She knew that the Messiah would save Israel, but she didn’t know exactly how he was going to do that. She chose to trust. Then again, when she went to the temple to present Jesus to Simeon, she was told that because of her son, a sword would pierce through her own soul. She didn’t know what that meant, but it couldn’t have sounded good, and again, she chose to trust. Jump ahead a few decades, and she trusted Jesus all the way to the cross. The sky fell hard, and still she trusted. Most of his friends couldn’t handle it, but she trusted, and luckily, John trusted, too. Three days later, everything turned out okay. We know how the story goes.

We have to make the same choice. We have to choose to trust God, and in a way, it’s harder for us. Mary was born without sin, so it was easier for her to know and to trust God. On top of that, she had some inclination of how things were going to turn out in the end. In our lives, that often doesn’t happen so much. We still have free will, though, and trust is a choice we have to make in the end. We know the story of Jesus’ life on earth. We know what he’s done in our own lives. We know he can do anything, so before anything happens, good or bad, choose to trust. Choose to hope. Choose faith. Choose love. Choose peace, and know that the God of all that is good loves you, wanted you to exist, wants what is good for you, wants the best for you, and is coming back in the end. The sky might fall. The sky might have already fallen for you, but know that Jesus can take a fallen sky and make a blue diamond.

I wish you all countless blue diamonds in the coming year, and a very merry Christmas.

-Katie

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Not Just Waiting

I miss something I’ve never actually had. It’s kind of a confusing feeling, but I’m used to it by now. I attend Mass primarily with people around my grandmother’s age, and I’m one of about seven people who attend weekly Adoration. When we sing, I’m one of the only people who sings loudly, and I don’t sing nearly as loudly as I want to. At the Easter Mass, when the priest says, “He is risen,” and we’re supposed to repeat it triumphantly, he just repeats himself because no one says anything. We’re so used to the fact that Christ is risen that it sounds like old news. It’s not old news.

I miss the joy and triumph I know people once had. I think to a lot of people, church feels like an annoying obligation. If that weren’t the case, and if people really believed what we say we believe, we’d be louder, and Reading would be a much more Christian town. Yesterday I was teaching the kids about Advent. I had watched a video done by Bishop Robert Barron about the kingship of Jesus, and about how Advent should be about preparing for the King. I asked the kids how we might prepare for a king. They didn’t really have a concrete answer, and I realized, neither did I. I call Jesus my King, but I’m realizing that I might not exactly know what that means.

I’ve fairly recently started praying the Rosary daily. I learned how to do it a while ago, but I’ve only started to get serious about doing it within the past couple of weeks. That was when I learned that demons don’t like it one bit, and that it was just a very powerful prayer in general. At first, I have to admit, it did feel a bit mechanical. Now, I can do it really without even thinking so much about what I’m actually saying, and just focus on each of the mysteries. Just within the past few days, the Lord has given me some good stuff to think about. I’ve just been doing them in circular order, so last night I did the Sorrowful Mysteries. I hate it, but last night I realized that Jesus hurts with us when we hurt and I have no way of repaying him. As I write this, though, I’m realizing that maybe praying through his Passion is my way of hurting with him.

Yesterday I read a post entitled “Love Hurts.” It makes you vulnerable, and if you’re willing to be vulnerable, you have to be willing to let your heart be broken. I wrote in one of my stories that a broken heart has to be given away to be fixed. Two or three weeks ago, the Gospel reading at church was about when the king separates the “goats” from the “sheep,” in other words, the unrighteous from the righteous. He says to the righteous that they took care of him when he was alone, or sick, or lonely, or in need, and they say they have no idea what he’s talking about, and he says that if they did it for any of the “little guys,” they did it for him. Likewise, he says that if the unrighteous didn’t do these things, they didn’t do it for him. I hate this parable because there’s not a whole lot of practical stuff I can do to help the “little guys.”

I sulked for a day, thinking I was going to Hell for sure, and then I don’t remember what brought me to this conclusion, but I read something, or saw a video, or something, that basically led me to realize that Jesus expects us to give him what we can, not what we can’t. To tie all of this back to Advent, we have to understand that Christ is the risen King. That should be freaking us out because it’s kind of awesome. Advent isn’t just about his first coming. It’s about preparing for his second coming, too, and about recognizing his Kingship in our lives now. Jesus is a fair and loving King. He also happens to be the God of the Universe, who came into our world as a baby. As a man, and through his witnesses, he says to every single person, “I want you to do and/or believe ‘X,’ but I love you too much to make you.” We should be seriously freaking out about this. All I have to give him is my writing talents, my prayers, and my time.

Yesterday, on my break between my CCD classes, I went into the church and just hung out for half an hour or so. Since no one else was in there, I sang a song for Jesus, and then felt sort of awkward about it. I’m not very good at being quiet. Maybe that’s something I need to work on to prepare for the King this Advent. Maybe I need to turn some of the music and movies, and everything else I love off just a bit, so I can hear his voice a bit more clearly. Maybe all he needs is a little more room.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Who Are You?

One day this past weekend I hung out with a twelve-year-old kid who lives on our street. He was playing in his driveway with his six-year-old brother and their five-year-old friend. I was going for a walk and I heard U2 playing. The two little kids left after a little while, and one thing led to another. The kid in question plays, as far as I know, four different instruments, and is a much better guitarist than I am. He also knows how to use protools, which is an audio engineering software that professionals use. I can’t decide if it’s laughable or annoying or scary or what. Anyway, we had fun. He’s a really polite, pretty mature kid, for his age. After the little kids left I actually scurried back to my house and got my guitar so we could mess around for a while. I have no rules about who I’ll hang out with, as long as they’re cool.

I didn’t used to be like that. When I was in high school especially, I hated kids. I don’t think that’s an understatement. Kids were annoying and stupid, and that was it. Of course, at that time, a “kid” was anyone under the age of eight. Now I refer to the high school freshmen I teach as “kids.” It’s kind of disturbing. I think I used to have a much higher view of myself. I used to think I was the queen of the universe. It was entirely undignified to associate with such plebeians as children.

I think I understand kids better now as a writer, too. Kids are much more willing to believe things, so long as their capacity to listen holds up. I think you have to be able to believe something in order to enjoy it. You have to be able to pretend, and be willing to enter into a different universe.

A friend of mine who is older with kids once asked me what I thought about allowing his kids to read the Harry Potter books. He’s Christian, and he wasn’t totally inclined to let them because magic is seen as the highest power, and the battle between good and evil is entirely up to human ability. There is no mention of any kind of God (though the Christian holidays are mentioned offhandedly), and though there is a general sense of morality, like in any fantasy story, it isn’t directly spelled out. For example, I’m re-reading the series now, and I’m actually surprised at just how much the characters lie. Ultimately I advised my friend to let his kids read the books because it’s simply another universe that isn’t governed by the same rules as this one.

As I reread the Harry Potter books, I find myself laughing a lot. I’ve seen the movies a thousand times, but they’re not nearly as good as the books, and I’m finding they cut out a lot of humor. Maybe my sense of humor has changed too, but I think the movies tried to make the story too dark in places where it didn’t need to be, and not dark enough where it’s really creepy. I’m excited because I’m almost halfway through the fourth one now, and it’s after this one that things get serious, and in my opinion, the series gets more cohesive from book to book.

I don’t want this to turn into an analysis of the Harry Potter series, so I’ll make my point. I like these books. They’re meant for a younger audience, but I don’t care. My dad taught me a rule when I was in high school, and I have faithfully lived by it: growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional. I used to get thoroughly annoyed with myself when I did something embarrassing. I used to think I was so dignified. I have no idea why. I’ve gotten used to the fact that I’m clumsy and silly. I spell things wrong and say ridiculous things. I make dumb mistakes. My friends laugh at me about this stuff, and that’s okay.

Mistakes are part of life. Messing up is part of life. Silliness is part of life, and being wrong is part of life. I’m writing this down because kids used to annoy me for the same reasons that my friends laugh at me (not in a mean way). In the past several months my mom and I have been listening to audio books in the car. We started doing mostly contemporary realistic fiction and moved, really by accident, into science fiction. We went for a few weeks without a story because I know she’s not a huge fan of sci-fi, and we couldn’t think of what to listen to. Finally I suggested The Brothers Karamazov. We just started it yesterday.

My point is that it’s okay to love Dostoevski and Rowling. It’s okay that my favorite foods are fancy pasta dishes and fried buffalo chicken wraps (for the record, yes, I also eat healthy food). I’m getting comfortable joining in events at my church where most other people are at least in their fifties, and hanging out with kids on my street who are under ten. The teenagers I teach think I’m kind of weird, which is probably at least a little true, but that’s okay. Lately I’m becoming more comfortable in my own skin. Weird is more fun, anyway.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Kids And Stories

Last week my year with the fourth grade CCD kids ended. On Sunday I’ll be finished with the high school Freshmen. I think the break will be nice. This was my first time teaching younger kids, and next year I want to have a better idea of how to manage things, so I’ll take a couple of days, or maybe a week or so this spring or summer to figure out a good plan. I’ll be teaching the fourth graders again next year, and I’ll also be teaching fifth grade, so I might have some of the same kids. I’ve decided to move on to tenth grade, too, partly because my cousin will be in tenth grade, and I think I’m his confirmation sponsor. Honestly, I forget if that’s what we’ve all decided.

A couple of days ago a little boy and his friends across the street saw me coming home from my CCD lesson, so I went over to say “Hi.” I don’t know how it came to it, but we ended up talking about an imaginary world my friends and I invented when we were in middle school. We didn’t have time to “go there” on Wednesday, but I promised them I’d come back over as soon as I could and we’d build a fairy house so the fairies could take us there. So today I spent about an hour playing in an imaginary world that I haven’t visited in nearly ten years.

It was an odd experience because their idea of Mythic Island is not what my idea of Mythic Island was. Granted, my friends and I had six years on these kids when we came up with the idea, but it’s like I’m blind there now. It’s sort of disorienting. It’s not that my imagination’s going. I can proudly say that I have more imagination than most people can handle. I guess maybe part of the issue is that when we were there, there was a wolf demon to contend with. Part of it, too, is that these kids don’t understand that co-mingling stories is a bad idea, and they want to bring Star Wars into it. The writer in me cringes at the thought.

Anyway, all that aside, we had fun. We ran around, found some dragon eggs, and I told them some stuff about magic I made up off the top of my head. The weather should be nice this weekend, so they’ll probably want to play some more. I’m hoping this doesn’t become an every-day thing, though, because I’m going to get nothing done. At the same time, having to come up with stories and ideas for these kids on the fly might prove to be helpful in coming up with stuff for my Mythology.

Speaking of which, This past week, I finished one story, and am getting a lot done on another one. The one I’m working on now is pretty dark, but certainly not as dark as the next one I’m going to do. I’m realizing that several of my stories are darker than I had originally thought they were going to be. It seems like a lot of mythology is like that. Still, I’m going to try and find ways to get some happier stuff in there, and some of my darker stories do have happy, or somewhat happy endings.

The kid who I was playing with earlier and his mom actually watched my bird while my family and I were in Florida last month. His mom is friends with my mom, and she told my mom earlier that her son keeps asking her for “bear stories” every night, and it drives her crazy because she feels like she’s not very creative. Stories have always come fairly easily to me. Sometimes I get a little stuck, but something always comes along. I’m not sure what it is.

Life would be so boring without stories. When I was a kid I wanted to be anywhere but the real world. I feel differently about that now. The worlds of my favorite stories are a lot scarier than the real world. Harry Potter has to deal with Voldemort almost constantly. Frodo has to deal with the Ring of Power and the Eye of Sauron constantly. The Jedi have to deal with the power of the Empire and then the First Order, and the overwhelming power of the Dark Side.

Granted, we probably have some pretty freaky stuff going on in our world that we don’t even know about, not to mention the spiritual warfare that’s often hard to see. The thing about those other stories though, is they don’t have God in them–not just a god, but the God. They don’t have the God-who-is-Love who’s got our back no matter what; who’s willing to go as far as to die for all of us. I’ve thought about that a lot as a writer. Every time I start to think I’d rather be anywhere else but the real world because something bad happened or I might have more control, or something, I realize, “Yeah, but in that other world I wouldn’t have God.”

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!