God Says “No” And He Knows It Hurts

Recently I wrote a poem about a fish and a dragonfly. They both start their life in a fishbowl, but the dragonfly will eventually fly away. The fish, on the other hand, is a little stuck. The fish says, “somehow I will find a river.” Since writing this poem, my prayer has often been, “Jesus, be my river.” He has since said to me, “Let me be your river.” I want Him to carry me to freedom, and He will, but sometimes, His idea of freedom, and mine aren’t the same.

Freedom, to the average American woman my age probably looks like a decent paycheck, a livable apartment, a reliable car, and the ability to go where she wants, when she wants. A few days ago in prayer, the Lord brought to my mind when He says, “You have to lose your life for My sake to find it.” I’ve had this idea in my head that I never had much of a life to lose in the first place; I never had many choices to begin with.

Last week was tough for me. I’ve been struggling with this, but on Monday, He reminded me that I chose Carmel. I have obligations because of that, and I could have said “no.” I could have decided these obligations were too much. Even before that, I could have chosen to leave the Catholic Church when I heard about the abuse crisis. He reminded me that I chose to stay for Him. Before that, I could have chosen not to chase Him in the first place. I could have chosen to stay a rebel. I could have decided that His morals and rules were not worth what He offered.

When I asked Him to be my river, I was asking Him to get me out of my boring daily routine. I was asking Him to help me find a way to experience more. He agreed to be my river; He agreed to help me find freedom. I finished my morning prayer today, and looked out the bathroom window at a Blue Diamond Sky, and somehow it just came to me. Freedom isn’t experiencing everything. Freedom is the willingness of a heart to listen, know His voice, know His will, and do it.

As a Secular Carmelite, I’m expected to pray Morning and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s part of the official Liturgy of the Church. At the end of each, there are written-in intercessions, but when I’m doing it on my own, I can add my own, and I always pray for the wisdom, courage, and desire to always know and do God’s will. That might not sound like freedom, but it occurred to me that if I’m not serving God, I, or anyone else, is serving someone, or something else. That’s just a fact. That something else might simply be one’s own cravings, but in the end, they won’t lead to happiness. The things we want on a strictly human level, even if those things are good, are limited. If we serve our desire to have an adrenaline rush, for example, we’ll never be satisfied because there are only so many crazy things to do, we only have so much money in our accounts, and only so much time.

God, on the other hand, can satisfy because He is not limited, and the things He wants us to do are good for us, even if they’re not always especially interesting. That’s the thing; sometimes the things God asks of us aren’t especially exciting. I don’t always especially want to pray the Rosary, but I do because He asked me to. Last night I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries again, and it hit me: Jesus knows what it feels like when God says “no.” I’ve asked Him to at least take away my epilepsy, and He’s refused. In Gethsemane, Jesus said, “If it be your will, take this cup from me.” His Father; my Father said, “no.”

God the Father didn’t want Jesus to suffer and die. He let it happen, but that doesn’t mean He didn’t care. He allowed it to happen because He knew He could bring about a greater good, namely, human redemption and salvation. I’ve written about this before, but when God created the universe, He created things like physics and thermodynamics. He voluntarily gave up His power over some things, and because of sin, things like bad genes came into the mix. I got some of those bad genes. He could just miraculously “fix” it, but He’s chosen not to.

My river to freedom won’t take me to city living, a nice apartment, singing in a band, and volunteering a lot. The river is taking me somewhere else. I was reminded last night that some of the people I admire most are nuns, and by most estimates, they are not “free.” They actually did give up their lives. My freedom is still in choices; my freedom is in choosing what to do with what I’m stuck with and what I’ve been given.

God says “No,” and He knows it hurts. Jesus said that He would not leave us orphans. He said He would be with us until the end of the world. He doesn’t abandon anyone. He knows how to comfort every single person, and for me, that meant making sure I’d hear the song “One Eyed Cat” yesterday.

Friends In High Places

I’d like to preface this by saying that if you’re not Catholic and/or don’t understand devotion to Mary, you should read my previous post first.

This is prayed at the end of the Rosary. It took me a while to memorize it, but I’m glad I did. It’s a comforting prayer.

“Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope; to thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious Advocate thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the Blessed Fruit of Thy womb Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary, pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

The monthly meeting of our Carmelite community was this past weekend, and our reading was very focused on Marian devotion in our Order. The first Carmelites saw Mary as a Mother, yes, but also as a Sister; someone to model in their devotion to the Lord. This is encouraged in the Church in general, but I think it’s easier said than done. Realistically, she’s not mentioned a whole lot in the Gospels, and she doesn’t say much. I think maybe that’s the point, though. She watched Jesus, and her last words in Scripture were “Do whatever he tells you.”

God is a Trinity–Three in One–oriented to and as Love. He is also an all-knowing Creator. He created humanity not because He had to, but because He wanted to. He modeled humans after Himself, which meant that we are not solitary beings; we need community. This comes in various forms, but the most natural form is that of a family. Parents and siblings are the first community anyone ever experiences. I grew up in a pretty cookie-cutter family; a mom and dad who love each other, and one brother who I get along with, and I’m really grateful for that.

Of course not every family is like that, and not all family is blood. There are plenty of men and women I call “Uncle” or “Aunt” who I’m not actually related to. At Baptism, every child is given a Godmother and Godfather who are entrusted with the spiritual nurturing of their Godchild, along with the parents. Also, at Baptism, we are made no longer orphans, but children of God. We have a Divine Father, and in Jesus, a Divine Brother. God doesn’t stop there, though. While we don’t have a Divine Mother, we do have a spiritual Mother. Because we are God’s Children, because Mary is Jesus’ mother, and because Jesus is God, she is our mother, too. Without Jesus, we are orphaned sinners, but because of Him, we have a Father, and a Mother.

Honestly, I’m totally a “daddy’s girl.” In a lot of ways I’m a more feminine clone of my dad, and devotion to Mary took some getting used to. It seemed like a distraction. Thinking about my own family, though, we’re a complete disaster without my mom. The fact of the matter is, Mary played a part in making Jesus who He is, at least on a human level. She guided His growth, learning, and maturity, and she was always involved in His life. Since our goal in life is ultimately to be like Him, and to be with Him, and since she is our spiritual Mother, she can have that motherly influence on us, spiritually. In a similar way, I am not my Godson’s natural mother, but I can help him grow and mature on a spiritual level.

I think looking to Mary as a model is helpful because simply looking to Jesus all the time can sometimes be terrifying, exhausting, and perplexing. I mean that in all sincerity. Sometimes when reading the Gospels, I find myself thinking, “Why would you do that?” Jesus does and says things that from a flawed human perspective often don’t make a whole lot of sense. Looking to Mary can be helpful because I can say to her, “What is He doing?” And as a patient mother, she says, “Just trust Him. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You don’t have to have Him figured out. Just follow Him. I’ll help you.”

Even as His mother, Mary didn’t have Him figured out. When He went missing for three days in the Temple, she asked Him, “Why would you do this?” I don’t think it was accusatory. I think she was asking the same question as me: “What are you doing?” I like the “Hail Holy Queen” prayer because sometimes Jesus’ answers to prayers is “no” when I ask for healing for myself or for someone else. Sometimes bad things happen and despite the fact that I know He can turn evil into a greater good, I don’t have the strength or the hope to stubbornly praise Him anyway. Instead, I can go to Mary and say, “I don’t have it in me, so pray for me; praise Him for me; carry me ’cause I can’t follow Him on my own.”

A lot of times, if I’m in a bad spot, I’ll ask Jesus to “be my River,” and to “carry me,” but I mean it in a different sense. In this metaphor, I imagine Jesus as the River that will get me out of said “bad spot,” and ultimately to Heaven, but Mary is a boat. I’m a good swimmer; I naturally float, but after a while, I do get tired. Obviously it’s not a perfect metaphor because when I fall, the Lord stops, cleans me up, and helps me get going again. If I’m upset about something, He’ll stop and help me through it. He’s a good friend. At the same time, He is trying to carry me Home, and sometimes, He’s not as gentle as I’d like. It may be cliche, but it’s true that the Lord loves me just as I am, but He loves me too much to let me stay this way; He’ll comfort me, but He won’t coddle me. That’s why it’s helpful sometimes to have friends in Heaven to lean on, especially a Mother.

Autumn Hero

I published my song, “Autumn Hero” on Bandcamp recently, and shared it on Facebook. However, I haven’t shared it with my readers here, yet. Most of you are familiar with my writing endeavors, but perhaps don’t know a whole lot about my music. I just finished making a lyric video for my new song, and thought you all might like to hear it. This song was actually sitting around in the “what-do-I-do-with-this” corner of my universe for at least a year, if not two, but didn’t start production until about two months ago. Despite the long wait, here it is.

Suffering, Thunder, And Glory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Why I Don’t Edit

Readers might notice that I don’t always thoroughly edit my posts. I do some editing, but I’m certainly not as meticulous as I am with my book. This is for a few reasons. The first is that this is where I share my thought process, and my mind is crazy and unscripted. I think my blog should reflect that. The second is that I’m imperfect, and I think leaving a few grammatical errors is a fine way of letting it show. The third is that I simply miss stuff, and sometimes I’m just lazy. As long as what I’m trying to say is understandable, I’m good with it.

The thing is, I kind of like imperfection. I love working on mosaics because sometimes trying to get pieces of broken glass to fit together how I want is nearly impossible, and I have to let them do their own thing. Sometimes I’ll want to do one thing, and something entirely different, and often better, will present itself out of the blue. The same might be said of music or painting. Opportunities often arise from mistakes.

When working on mosaics or paintings, I almost always make abstract designs. For one thing, I don’t think I’m quite skilled enough to make realistic things, but I also think the abstract world gives me so much more freedom. Beside that, though, the abstract has a mind and a language of its own. Realism captures an image, while abstract and Impressionism interact with the artist and the audience. In the abstract, even flaws have beauty and meaning.

People are the same. We often don’t make sense, and it is often our perceived insanity that gives us beauty and meaning. We are so unique and abstract to one another that there is a world contained in each individual. God is our artist, but as with abstract pieces of art, we are unruly and flawed. We want to write our own stories, and we are given the freedom to do so, but to make them truly good stories, we need the help of our Artist.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Growing Up With Me

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

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

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

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Learning How To Run

It was either New Year’s Day or the day after that I decided what my New Year’s resolution would be. I decided that I would try to share a blue diamond with someone every day. A blue diamond is, metaphorically, in my mind, something that can make even just a moment a little better than it otherwise would have been. I decided on this because God has shared countless blue diamonds with me. I use this metaphor because of something that happened last September, which you can read about here. I decided on this because I’ve come to understand that God can take any tiny little nugget of faith, or any loving action, and turn it into something powerful and effective. The thing is, my resolution was that would share blue diamonds, but I’m finding that more difficult than I anticipated, so I’ve changed my tune a little bit. My new resolution is that I’ll share blue diamonds if I have them, but when I don’t, I’ll offer God my nuggets, and he can share blue diamonds.

When I woke up this morning, this verse came to mind, seemingly for no particular reason: “Love is patient. Love is kind.” I couldn’t remember the rest of it, so I looked it up. 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 says, “Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Honestly, when I was only half thinking about this as I was getting ready this morning, I couldn’t remember if it was Biblical or Shakespearean simply because I hadn’t read it in a while and it’s rather poetic. There are a few things in these verses that really stick out to me.

“… it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” God is love, and, particularly in the sacrament of reconciliation, he not only forgives, but he forgets even our worst offenses. In various places, God is described as being “slow to anger and abounding in love.”

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” This, I think, reflects how we are meant to respond to God’s love for us. God protects us, so we are likewise supposed to protect others in any way we can. We are also meant to trust God and trust the people we love. God is the source of our hope, and we can know that because he loves us, even when things look rather bleak, we have someone to look to for guidance. Love always perseveres. In other words, true love just keeps loving, no matter what.

“Love never fails.” I think this stuck out to me because it means that if love is our default operating system, we will achieve some kind of goodness, even if we don’t achieve what we want. If love is our default operating system, then we will achieve what God wants, which is likely better than what we wanted, anyway.

Last night it occurred to me that while it’s true that I’ve trusted God with my soul, I haven’t entirely trusted him with every aspect of my life. I’ve seen how trusting him, and learning how to “walk on water” as it were, has changed me. It changes everything. The fact of the matter is, though, that I can still see the shore, and he doesn’t want me to only go that far. He wants me to run, and we’ve got a long way to go.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!