Tag Archives: Personal

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!

Cry

I have a hard time being vulnerable. The trouble is, I’m kind of sensitive. I take certain things too literally. I let things get under my skin. I over-analyze. Sometimes I’m too critical of myself. I used to just let things build up. I would hide my emotions. I would refuse to cry because I was stronger than that. Instead I would block out the world and play violent video games while silently hating everyone.

The reason I’m writing this is because I saw a post on Facebook today that said “When life gives you a hundred reasons to break down and cry, show life that you have a million reasons to smile and laugh. Stay strong.” The problem with this idea, is that this is exactly what I used to try and do, and I don’t think it’s healthy. If you have one hundred reasons to cry, then you should cry. You should cry your heart out because that’s what you’re truly feeling.

Sometimes you do simply have to disregard perspective. You might have a million things going for you. You might have a pretty darn easy life compared to so many millions of others simply because you life in a first world country, etc. While that’s important to remember, it’s also important to take care of your emotional well being, and if something really crappy happens, it’s perfectly okay to forget everything else, go to your bedroom and cry.

It also helps to have someone to cry to. For you it might be a friend, or a parent, or a pet. Personally, I still don’t like people to see me cry, but I’m comfortable letting God just be with me while I cry because he knows I’m upset anyway. Sometimes you’ll want to talk, and sometimes you just need someone to be there. It’s important to have someone like that.

I don’t claim to know much about psychology, but burying reasons to cry in reasons not to does not seem like a good idea to me. If we widen the scope beyond our own lives and the things that directly impact us and the people around us, we see almost nothing but sadness and devastation on the news. In the past several months I am guilty of almost entirely ignoring the news for a multitude of reasons. Staying uninformed is a method by which one can bury reasons to cry in reasons not to.

Powerlessness is an unpleasant feeling, and waiting for results is hard. We watch the news, and we think, “What am I watching this for? I can’t do anything about it. I can’t end a war. I can’t bring those people back to life. I can’t change (insert social justice issue).” The thing is, on your own, no, you can’t, and even if you get organized with a bunch of like-minded people, change takes time. Peace takes time. It’s just the dreadful truth.

When you scale it back to your own life, though, the dreadful truth is that crap happens–crap that is out of your control, and maybe you have to lose a battle to win a war. You don’t always have to impress everyone. You don’t always have to be perfect. You don’t always have to agree with everyone. You don’t always have to be liked. When crap happens, sometimes you just have to let go and recharge so to speak. It’s counter intuitive, but I have found that allowing yourself to lose is often the only way to get through.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Bring It On

Over the past few days I’ve been thinking about when Jesus talked about building a house on a rock versus building a house on the sand. Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I see a lot of cynicism and a lot of pessimism, and I wonder what this has to do with where one chooses to build their house. I remember at the beginning of Advent, going into my church and being surprised to see the purple on the altar and the Advent wreath by the entrance, but I was also excited.

A week or two later I was asked to explain the meaning of the Advent wreath to my fourth grade class, and honestly, I had to google it. The wreath itself represents eternity. The three purple candles represent love, peace, and hope, The pink candle represents joy, and the white candle which is lit on Christmas Eve represents purity. My godmother came to visit during the first week of Advent, and she drew an advent wreath on our chalkboard. Even though it’s just a drawing, it’s been exciting each week to draw a yellow light on each of the candles.

In scripture, God is referred to as our rock, our fortress, and our refuge. He has been that for me over and over. This weekend is Christmas. All the candles will be lit. There won’t be any more darkness. Still, scrolling through Facebook, I see darkness, sadness, and bad news. I heard once from someone who went to a therapist that they were told every ship needs a sail and an anchor. Some people are sails, and some people are anchors. Some people lead to new adventures, risks to take, and experiences to delight in or learn from. Others lead home. Using that analogy, it seems to me that so many people are sailing ships with no anchors.

Last week I finished a song about the aftermath of the election. Don’t worry, this’ll be quick; I know we’re all sick of talking about it. Both Clinton supporters and Trump supporters have been unfair and unkind, and in some cases, violent. I supported neither candidate. I didn’t vote. There’s a line in my song that says “I have one king.” The chorus of the song says:

I dare you to lose
Stare down your own defeat
And defiantly believe
That it’s true you can live on hope alone

I think a lot of people have lost hope. I think Trump won because people lost faith in the government, and I think the people who didn’t support him lost hope because they still had faith in the government. Either way, everybody lost. Everybody lost if we’re only talking about the present, the immediate future, and the reality we know apart from God’s part in it. Everybody lost if we forget to hope.

Jesus is king no matter what, and he will always be king no matter what. There is no reason to lose hope at Christmas time. It’s not about whether or not one has amazing decorations, or can hold extravagant parties, or can afford the newest, greatest gifts. What matters is the reason for celebrating. Last week I spent an hour with my fourth grade class as usual. I brought my ukulele and a bag of cookies my mom made. We sang a few songs, and my assistant teacher read a couple stories to the kids. It was one of the most worshipful hours I’ve spent during Advent, and I spent it with eleven little kids.

For some, Christmas is one of the only times to get together with family. For some, it’s a good excuse to eat junk food. One of our favorite traditions is to get my parents, brother, aunt, cousin and me into the car, get some hot chocolate or coffee and drive around and look at everyone’s lights. It’s fun to make our neighborhoods look pretty, and Christmas is a good excuse. For some, however, the weeks before Christmas are not fun. While everyone else is enjoying themselves, some are simply stretching themselves too thin. Some are reminded of bad experiences connected to this time. Some go hungry. Some are cold. Some spend the holiday alone.

The first Christmas wasn’t a party. The first Christmas was dark and dangerous. Jesus’ life was in danger from the moment he was born. I don’t think he would want the world to forget that for the sake of having a good time. I think he might find it easier to identify with the people who aren’t having a good time. For those of us who are, it’s important to remember why, and to invite the Lord to have a good time with us. It can be as simple as remembering to pray before Christmas dinner, and making sure we get to church.

I’ve seen so many posts about how 2016 has been a really crappy year. Okay, in many ways I can’t disagree. Maybe it’s just been another year for me, but we’ve had political unrest in our country, and the Middle East is still in turmoil. There have been terrorist attacks in various countries all over the world, and sometimes it looks like the world is going to end. As we fight for a better life for ourselves and others, we are dished out more problems. Yes, 2016 has looked bleak in many ways. We’ve had to stare darkness in the face.

We have two options this Christmas and in the weeks to come. We can look at that darkness, often disguised in songs about snowmen and sleigh rides: candy and chaos: we can look into that darkness and see only war and death; or we can look into that darkness and defiantly say, “bring it on. I have the Light of the World inside of me. Jesus is with me, and that’s all I need.” We can live on hope alone.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Conversation

Awhile ago I found a little green book on the coffee table in our living room. I picked it up and started looking at it. It had a picture of someone hanging onto a cross in a heart on the cover and had that old book smell that I can’t resist. It was filled with super old poems meant to help people through doubt or fear or what have you. I read a couple of them. They weren’t really “my thing,” so I put the book down and left it alone, but I kept thinking about it. Why did we even have it? Where did it come from? I asked my dad, and he said he had bought it a long time ago in a used book store. He just happened to be looking at it on a whim. It seemed like a pretty weird thing for my dad to buy. I was never really under the impression that my dad would be interested in this kind of thing. I decided to “borrow” it, but I didn’t look at it again for weeks.

For several weeks now I’ve been trying to finish the third story in my mythology. It’s a very short story, but it’s complicated because it’s about how death enters the human realm. In my mythology, the spirits in various realms are the equivalent to gods, though there isn’t much of a hierarchy, and they don’t interact much with humans. In this story Death personified tricks Wisdom personified into allowing him to accompany her and the soul of a little boy into the human realm. I won’t spoil exactly how the story ends.

This story was hard to write partly because the main focus of most of it is the exploration and musing of a spirit cartographer named Anthes, and also because I wanted to write an origin of death story in which death isn’t humanity’s fault. I think it was hard for me to write because of what I believe in. Another reason, however, has to do with the action of a character in a previous story who created a barrier between realms that is very difficult to cross.

Every week my friend and I have Story Time on Sunday nights. Several weeks ago we began watching “Once Upon A Time” on Netflix. I can’t even explain how much we both love this show. It’s such an insane, complicated, fun, magical story that takes place across multiple realms. The stakes are high. The characters have depth. The funny thing is, it’s often predictable, and often not. The writing, meaning the actual script, isn’t always totally perfect, but I can’t expect it to be, and most of the time, it’s good or great.

My friend doesn’t usually have work on Mondays, and I can sleep late, so we usually stay up insanely late. We are addicts, but at least we admit it. This Monday he did have work, though, so he left early… early here meaning midnight. I wasn’t tired when I went upstairs, and my mom said she wasn’t either, so we considered watching a movie, but I could tell God wanted my attention, so I went to my room.

I don’t remember everything we talked about, but after a while he told me to open the little green book. I opened to a random page and found a poem written by an anonymous author. The first stanza was this:

Body and mind have tried
To make the field my own;
But when the Lord is on my side,
He doeth the work alone.

I don’t really even know why, but this did a lot for me. I spend so much time in fantasy land, whether I’m writing or playing a game, or what have you. Sometimes it’ll suddenly occur to me that though I love stories of every kind, and as scary, unpredictable, and chaotic as the “real world” is, and as powerless as I am, I want this world because the God that I know and love is in this world. While we were talking he said, “I redeemed you. I’m helping you.” I needed to hear that. I know it’s not just that he’s helping me with my story, and that’s not really the only thing I was thinking about. Sometimes he interjects things into our conversation that don’t exactly make sense in context, but end up being exactly what I need to hear.

I read an article about really listening to God. I’m not sure I’ve ever audibly heard his voice, but I can tell when he’s speaking to me. Sometimes it’s through song lyrics. Sometimes it’s through other people. Sometimes it’s something the priest says at church. Sometimes it’s through my own thoughts. Other times it’s more abstract. Communication doesn’t just happen through words. Most of the time we recognize it through body language or the way a song makes us feel. Sometimes God speaks through sunsets or moonlight or thunder or bird song (or maybe my bird being weird).

The truth is, God tends to be fairly quiet, but what he does have to say is important, and sometimes earth-shattering. It’s important to listen because he will let people ignore him. After Story Time on Sunday, I wanted to just watch a movie with my mom, but I could tell he was saying, “Please come hang out with me. I have something important to tell you.” I didn’t hear words in my head, but it was a feeling, and it was easy to put into words. It’s sometimes easy to forget that God wants people to just spend time with him. I’m learning that sometimes that means just sitting around and talking about stuff.

What does any of this have to do with fantasy stories? I love the idea of magic. I grew up on Harry Potter. I still love to have in-depth discussions with my friends about Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. God gave me the stories that I love. After Story Time, though, I often get that now fairly familiar feeling that translates to “Katie, can we hang out for a minute?” God gave me so many of the stories I love at his own expense. Sometimes I get so sucked in that I forget to thank the one who led me to the stories in the first place. The point is, God is ultimately the writer and creator of everything good.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Complementary

I had an interesting conversation with a new acquaintance a few weeks ago. I haven’t really thought too much about it, but I thought it would be worth sharing. Our conversation, of course, started with small talk, but for some reason, we both felt very comfortable with each other, and I found out in a fairly short amount of time, that this person was also Christian.

The interesting part of this is that she and I had very different views of things like science, philosophy, mythology and logic going into the conversation. It also turned out that she and I came to faith through very different means, had different upbringings, and were part of different denominations within Christianity. All this being said, I want to explain, in particular, my view of science and logic, as well as some broader sociological issues from my personal Catholic point of view.

As I mentioned in a recent post, there was a time (mostly through middle and high school) when I was Catholic in practice, but Agnostic in belief. I went through the motions without actually knowing what any of it meant. A lot of this has a lot to do with where I grew up, who I hung out with, and what my education was like.

I grew up in a suburban town in Massachusetts where the political standpoint on many issues tends to be relatively liberal, and the line between church and state is drawn boldly. When I was a kid, the most important things in my family’s life were our extended family in Maine, and my education, including the cultivation of my imagination. Often, these things superseded God entirely, so our church attendance was infrequent, and we didn’t really talk about God at home.

My education as a kid was delivered from an atheistic standpoint. I went to public school, and no one, kids or teachers, talked about God. Therefore, my initial understanding of Truth was from a scientific and mathematical standpoint. 1 + 1 = 2. The Big Bang created the Universe. God was there somewhere, sure, but at the time it didn’t really matter to me. Then when I got what you might call the equidistant of an internship in high school developing a disability advocacy program, I ended up working with a devout Jewish guy, my brother’s age, and a Muslim woman,  who I’d guess was in her twenties, and it was interesting to work with people of other faiths who were also far more invested than I was.

Then I went to a Christian college, as I have previously mentioned. Although we were saturated with the culture and Christian worship, I ended up taking a few philosophy classes where the whole point was to think logically and atheistically. All of this comes back to my conversation a few weeks ago. My acquaintance was surprised that I put so much faith in physics, for example. However, this also relates to another question she asked me. She asked, “So how do understand Greek mythology, since it was once an actual belief system?” I told her that this was a belief system based on what was inferable and observable at the time. I put faith in science because it can prove what is inferable and observable to be true. I also explained that I have never thought God and science were at odds, and that God often works through, natural, scientifically verifiable means.

One last thing I would like to add is that I have come to understand that a belief system has stages, and is personalized invariably by everyone. What I mean is that the primary stage of one’s belief system informs their secondary, their secondary informs their third, etc. Specifically this refers, in my case to my understanding of science through Christianity, my understanding of politics and culture through both, and my understanding of economics through all three. In other words, certain beliefs hold priority over others, but they all inform each other to some degree. If science can help me understand what God is doing, then great.

The Moment Of “I Love You”

I’ve tried to write this several times over and haven’t been able to. Partly, I haven’t known where exactly to begin, partly I haven’t known what to include, partly, I find this kind of thing a bit cliche, and partly, it’s a bit of a novel. All that being said, I’ve decided to start with a preface. As I said, More often than not, I find a lot of “coming to faith” stories at least somewhat annoying. A lot of them have the same, or at least a similar notion that the writer was so terrible before, and drastically better, morally speaking, immediately after their conversion. I also find it problematic when a person shares their story and neglects basic rules of writing style, spelling, and grammar. While it may be more important on some level to simply get the story out, the neglect lessens its credibility. More could be said, but I think those are issues for another post. Now I will share my story.

I grew up Catholic, largely because of a promise my mom made. When I was a year old I was diagnosed with a kind of Muscular Dystrophy (MD) that would kill me by the age of five if I was lucky. I don’t really know the time frame for all this, but when my parents got the news, my mom started praying like a maniac. I had tests done, and the news continued to be bad. I need to pause for a moment to explain a Catholic peculiarity here. A common misconception is that Catholics worship the Virgin Mary. The truth is that she has a very high place of honor, being that she is Jesus’ mother, and we recognize that her prayers are helpful and influential. Now to get back to my story, the news was bad, and eventually my mom gave up. Rather, she stopped praying to God, and asked Mary to pray for her because if anyone in the world knew what it was like to lose a child, it would be her.

Circumstances continued like this for about six months, if I remember correctly until one day my dad called my mom. He had taken me to an appointment and inexplicably, things had drastically changed. What had seemed like a ritual reiteration of a death sentence for six months had suddenly turned to a promise of life. Somehow the test results had drastically changed. I had a kind of MD, the effects of which were not entirely certain, but I would grow up, go to school, and do “normal kid stuff.” I did mention that my mom made a promise. When she asked Mary to pray for me, she promised that she would raise me as a “good Catholic girl,” so CCD was included in the “normal kid stuff” I ended up doing.

The truth is I have always been a believer in the sense that I want things to be true; I’m a bit gullible; my natural impulse is to trust people. As a child I believed in God, but when I was very young I knew him only vaguely as the Creator of the universe, and even then, not necessarily one who had a conscious mind or paid any attention to us. Eventually that changed. I came to believe that he paid attention to us, but mostly like someone watching an ant farm. As an older child, particularly in my middle school years, I just lost interest in God. I got busy doing more “normal kid stuff,” as does everyone.

In particular, my friends and I became very busy defending Mythic Island, an invented universe that was under siege from the wolf demon Agorauth. One of my friends and I created a comic for the school newspaper. I wrote the story and she drew the pictures. Every Friday night we would all congregate at my house, eat terrible pizza and play Star Wars Battlefront. Of course, since it was middle school, it wasn’t all fun. We can only assume that our group was comprised of the most unpopular kids in school. We all got picked on in one way or another.

High school changed things drastically and quickly. The summer before our Freshman year, we ended our Mythic Island adventure. That same year, one of my closest friends got incredibly busy with sports, so much so that we could hardly hang out. He also got a girlfriend, and I realized that boys could be more than just friends. Towards the end of that year I got a guitar who I named Francisco. You can probably imagine why.

At that time, I was still in CCD, and for a reason that was inexplicable at the time, I was hating it less and less. Most of my friends’ parents had allowed them to drop out years earlier, but my mom was not going to break her promise. CCD classes in ninth and tenth grade were structured towards getting students ready to receive the sacrament of Confirmation, should they choose to receive it. A “Yes” signifies that a person is an adult and active member in the Church. The odd thing was, though I was becoming more receptive to what we were learning, there was little emotion in it. It was just another class.

Another friend of mine was enrolled in the program after his parents divorced in the middle of our Freshman year because his dad thought it would be helpful for him. He hated every second of it. He had changed after the divorce. It had made him a completely different person. He was dispondent and reclusive. He stopped doing homework; wouldn’t hand in projects; intentionally failed tests. He was also rather disrespectful to our teacher in CCD, which I did not appreciate. I only mention these details about my friend because in part, I think it made me want to make up for it, so I participated more in class and I really listened. I wasn’t passive during that time.

We completed the Confirmation class at the end of our Sophomore year. It concludes with an all-day retreat at which we had discussions, weird spiritual activities which I didn’t exactly understand, and a mass, if I remember correctly. There was also a lot of free time, and my friend and I spent that time silently playing cards. At the end of the day we were given a letter written by our parents. I don’t remember much of what mine said. I do remember them saying they were proud of me, and that from this point on, my spirituality was my business. Finally, we were asked, “Will you be confirmed?” I said I would.

At the beginning of my Junior year I went through the actual ceremony, and I did keep going to church, but had I been asked at the time, I would not have been able to tell why. For the next two years I can, I think, accurately say that I was a Catholic in practice, but an agnostic in belief. I still didn’t really know who God was. I knew what he did, but that was it. During that time, I had begun to feel an increasing sense of loneliness. One of my friends had already had a girlfriend and a break-up. My other friend had been in a relationship for three years. I had never dated. However, this loneliness was more complex than the desire for a partner. I constantly needed to be around people. If I couldn’t find someone to be with on Friday nights, I would sit alone and cry. I felt unneeded, and I hated it.

Inevitably, we all graduated, and my friends went away to college. Because I need help with a few basic things, I commuted to school and lived at home. It so happened that I applied to two schools, and was only accepted to one, so that’s where I went. I had hated the school search. The whole thing felt wrong to me, but something about Gordon was different. Their campus was really nice. The people there were really nice. They had a creative writing program, which sounded really nice. I somehow felt at home there. Gordon is a Christian school, and I think normally I would have had reservations about that, but unlike every school I looked at, it just felt “right.”

Starting classes at Gordon was like stepping into a whole new universe. We started classes by praying. We were required to attend chapel three times a week, and I enjoyed it. People freely talked about having a relationship with Jesus. This was all great, except that it made me more lonely. The one thing I hung on to was that my classmates and teachers and chapel speakers had taught me to pray in a way my church hadn’t. Don’t get me wrong, now that I’ve been Christian for five years, I appreciate and use the more formal Catholic prayers quite a lot, but first I had to learn how to talk. It was shortly after we had begun classes in mid August that I had begun praying that God would help me find someone to love me. I prayed this almost every night before going to sleep with increasing desperation.

I don’t remember the exact date, but I can conclusively say I truly became Christian one night in October, 2011. I was lying in bed, and I was crying. I was praying from the darkest, lowest, smallest, loneliest part of my being. I don’t know what would have happened had it passed like any other night, but for some reason I said, “I love you,” and I felt an overwhelming sensation of comfort and peace and warmth, and I felt like I wasn’t alone in the best possible way. It was spontaneous, and my only explanation is that he was saying, “I’m not going to find someone for you. I love you.” A lot has happened since then. I almost left the Catholic Church, but have since fully embraced it for a number of reasons, which I won’t explain here. I’ve never dated and have become perfectly content being single. What was sparked at the moment of that “I love you” has turned into a real relationship. I have a writing career, and am studying theology independently. I don’t necessarily know where it will go, but I trust God.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly

How Far

When I graduated college I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m not sure anyone ever entirely figures that out. Even when one has a normal, well-paying, steady job, has a fabulous relationship, or is happily single, has a nice place to live, has good friends, etc, it’s hard to know if one is ever really satisfied or has figured it out. I think we spend our whole lives “figuring it out,” and I’m not sure that goal is often accomplished in this life. This is all probably pretty cliche by now, but it matters. I think it’s important to be okay with admitting that you don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re going or why. I’ve been getting more comfortable about answering hard questions with “I don’t know.” There are a million questions that I don’t know the answer to, and that’s okay.

I do think it’s important to keep asking questions and to keep learning. On Thursday I went to confession and admitted to something I’ve been avoiding for a long time, and once I did, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me. Of course, later I accidentally did it again. However, I think I figured out how to solve the problem. Something I’ve been thinking about for months now is how an infinite, perfect God, who loves everyone, and made everything not only pays attention to, but loves me no matter what. It’s actually the “no matter what” part that baffles me most. The ironic thing is that the more I get to know Jesus, the more I see my own imperfections. I keep trying to answer questions about why he created me and why he loves me, when he just does. I keep asking these questions that I can’t answer because I’m broken and he’s not.

Yesterday I came up with a new question. Why am I broken? Obviously I can jump to original sin, and all that noise, but really my question is, why did humans turn against God in the first place? The cliche answer, of course, is “because we have free will, and maybe we wanted to see what would happen,” or something along those lines. I don’t think people ever entirely grow out of the curious, rebellious child phase. I still have it in me, anyway. I don’t think there is a good explanation. While I don’t like it, I guess it’s a good thing that I’m seeing my mess more, and I do want to clean it up. Before receiving communion in the Catholic Church (and it’s probably the same in other churches), we say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” I think it’s helpful to think of my soul as a messy house. He sees the mess and likes me anyway. He doesn’t approve of the mess, and that’s why I’m going to clean it up.

Jesus taught me what love is. I don’t mean that I understand it because of his actions or his teachings, at least not entirely. What I really mean is that he loved me until I loved him back. He loves me completely so I can love him more. Trust me, if it sounds weird to you, it sounds weird to me, too. It understandably sounds insane. For awhile I was using the word “unbelievable,” but that’s not entirely accurate. I’ve switched to “amazing,” which doesn’t really do the feeling justice. It’s amazing and awe-inspiring and baffling and crazy and exciting and a lot of other things that I don’t really have words for. The God of the universe, who was also a regular human being two thousand years ago, and is actually more human than I am, loves me, and I love him.

A lot of things about God “just are.” He wants us to love him because he loves us and he loves us because that’s just what he does. That’s who he is. He has infinite power and can do literally impossible things, but the very core of his being is love, and what’s crazy is that it makes him relatable and in some sense, vulnerable because we can say “no” to that love. He made us knowing that, not only was it a possibility, but that it was going to happen.

Last night I woke up crazy late (or early) and couldn’t sleep for a while, so I decided to read. The Bible site I use was open on my phone, so I went to the chapter I hadn’t read yet this time around, which included the story of the Prodigal Son. Last week, really by accident, I watched a video about this story. Apparently the people Jesus was teaching were familiar with another story that is similar to this one, only at the end of it, the kid’s father gives him exactly what he asks for and no longer considers him his son. I decided to try and find that story, so I googled “prodigal son,” and I didn’t find the story I was looking for, but I did find an analysis of Jesus’ story, which emphasized the role of the older brother.

Apparently, according to Jewish law, the older brother would have got two thirds of his father’s estate when he split it up–not half. Also, while the brothers owned the money and the stuff, they didn’t have control over it, exactly. The younger brother could sell his third, but for one thing, he would have sold it at a loss, and for another, it would have to stay with his father until his father’s death. Furthermore, by asking his dad to split up his belongings in the first place, the younger brother is basically saying that he wants him to hurry up and die. The older brother says nothing. He just takes his two thirds instead of trying to make peace between his dad and his brother. At the end of the story, he’s ticked that his brother is back and safe, but when his dad says “Everything I own is yours,” he means it quite literally.

I think it’s possible to see ourselves in both brothers. Even last night I felt stupid for doing the exact same thing I had confessed to only hours before on Thursday. Sometimes when that kind of thing happens I get a little crazy, so last night after reading that analysis I was praying and I just kept thinking, “Please forgive me.” And then I remembered. It’s no matter what. In the story, God is represented by the forgiving father. He willingly does what his son asks, and immediately forgives him. There’s no mention of anger. I realized last night that sometimes life would be easier if I knew for sure that God was mad at me, but really this is because it’s easy to get mad at someone if they’re mad at you first, so I dropped that thought. Confession is kind of a tool. When I go, it’s not always because I want to. It’s because “sorry” doesn’t really cut it. It’s because explaining what I’ve done wrong isn’t easy, but it’s liberating.

Before returning to heaven, Jesus tells his disciples, “what sins you forgive are forgiven.” He allows people to forgive sins for him. God already knows what we’re going to do, let alone what we’ve done. I think that’s a large part of the reason it’s important to confess to a priest. It’s for us. It seriously cuts through a person’s ego sometimes. It took me quite a while to admit what I needed to, but the first time is the hardest. I think God allowed me to make the same mistake again (key word being “allowed”) so that I’d have to admit it again today. He knows that really irritates me. God doesn’t make anyone do anything. He only asks us to do things, and if we say “yes,” then he’ll work with us to see how far that “yes” will go.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Give Him A Chance

It’s getting cooler around here. The fall colors are slowly coming out. I’m savoring the last few weeks of warmth in the air while I can. Usually, come November, it gets too cold for me to wander around outside much. Today I took a wander and my friend’s mom and his dog were outside. For whatever reason, his dog practically worships me. I don’t get it. She’s old, and has very bad arthritis, and apparently I’m one of the very few people she’ll even get up for. I feel bad. I suspect she’s coming to the end of her rope.

I hadn’t intended to, but I ended up talking to his mom for quite a while. I’m teaching three CCD classes this year, and she suggested I consider teaching as a career option. Truthfully, I’m better at it than I thought I’d be. This is my third year doing it. One of my classes is fourth grade. I’m realizing it’s hard to translate a lot of what Jesus taught into kid language, but the experience is teaching me stuff, too. I could be a teacher. I’d prefer to teach high school, though. The thing is, becoming a CCD teacher was initially a spur-of-the-moment decision, and then I discovered that I’m fairly good at it. I would have to get certified as a teacher, and I just don’t know what’s involved. I don’t want to go back to school–at least not yet.

After I left there I called my grandmother just to talk. When we hung up, I headed for home. Before all this, though, my mom and I had taken one of our neighbors out to lunch. Without saying too much, she has some serious mental health problems, and isn’t exactly well liked. She’s a perfectly lovely person, but she’s very strange. She was telling us about some of her problems and I said, “I don’t mean to be pushy, but you could try praying about some of this stuff. I know from experience that God is a very powerful friend.” After I hung up with my grandmother this conversation came back to me. I thought, “I just wish people would give you a chance, God.”

That gave me two ideas. I don’t know a lot about “safe spaces” and the problems and arguments they may or may not cause, but the point is, they’re supposed to be “all inclusive.” Everyone is supposed to be welcome, at least from what I understand, and that led me to wonder if, for one thing, Catholics are welcome in those spaces and, for another, if God is welcome. The other thing I thought of is an analogy. I do think of God as a very powerful friend. He’s like a very influential friend who has a lot of power, but likes to do things behind the scenes. People kind of know who he is, but they’ve made up all kinds of gossip about him and his friends, so they don’t invite him to their parties, even if his friends are invited. I just want people to give my friend a chance to show them that he’s not the freakozoid that people say he is. Really he’s a very nice, creative, helpful, loving person.

Landmarks

I’ve had a busy summer thus far. I’ll be going camping in a few weeks, which is crazy because camping always kind of marked the end of vacation when I was in school. Time has changed since I graduated. I’m not exactly sure how to explain it. It’s just different. One of my friends is also done with school and he’s living and working back at home, just a few houses away. One of my other friends is still in school, and she’ll be starting up again come September. My other friend is (I guess) working for his cousin or something. My two guy friends, along with my brother, are my D&D chums. My brother will be back at school shortly after camping, so we’ll see how that goes.

I’ve took a bit of a break from working on my book for the past few weeks for a few reasons. Part of it is that it’s summer, and we’ve just had a lot of company at my house. Part of it is that I’ve had a serious bout of writer’s block for a while. Part of it is that my friends are home, Pokemon Go is a thing, and they constantly want to hang out, which I really don’t see as a problem. Part of it is that I’ve been trying to figure out what God wants me to “do,” so I’ve been trying to spend more time with him. I actually think it’s all worked out for the best. My dad and I have been watching a lot of movies lately. At the moment, we’re into conspiracy theory and post-apocalypse stories, and that’s helping. I got a new idea for my book that I think will move my story forward.

What I also figured out, which probably should have been obvious, is that I need to always be at least one step ahead of my characters. Part 1 of my book was significantly easier to write because I had “landmarks” planned out that would get them to Part 2. I didn’t have to get from A to Z. I just had to get from A to B to C, and fill in the details along the way. Part 2 has been harder because, for a long time, I didn’t even know how the book was going to end. Last night, I figured out at least one new “landmark,” which I think will be exceedingly helpful, and I think it will help me figure out what other “landmarks” I need.

Looking at life in the present tense, most things look like a series of happy accidents, but looking back, I see landmarks. Last night I discovered a new one. A while ago I wrote about wanting to belong only to God. Although I haven’t written much about it, I was seriously considering becoming a Consecrated Virgin, but every time I seriously thought about it, it felt wrong. I think this was the case because it sounded very much like I would be subject to the will of the Church (i.e. the will of the Bishop of the Diocese of Boston), and not to the will of God. I would like to make it clear that I like the Catholic Church. For the most part, I trust the Catholic Church. At the same time, there are things I don’t entirely agree with, and I know that the Catholic Church, while mostly good, is mostly led by fallible men.

For a long time, I’ve felt like I’m not very good at praying. At least, I’m not always super comfortable when praying. At the same time, I didn’t want to just use “scripted” prayers, because that felt like removing myself from the conversation. Very recently I found this prayer:

Oh, Sacred Heart of Jesus, to you I consecrate and offer up my person and my life, my actions, trials, and sufferings, that my entire being may only exist to love, honor, and glorify you, This is my irrevocable will, to belong entirely to you, and to do all for your love, renouncing with my whole heart all that can displease you. I take you, Oh Sacred Heart, for the sole object of my love, the protection of my life, the pledge of my salvation, the strength for my weakness and faultiness, the reparation for all the imperfections of my life, and my secure refuge at the hour of my death. Most Merciful Heart, be my justification before God your Father, and shield me from his anger, which I have rightly merited. I fear from my own weakness and malice, but placing my entire confidence in you, Heart of Love, I hope from your infinite goodness. Annihilate in me all that can displease or repel you. Imprint your pure love so deeply in my heart that I may never forget you or be separated from you. I beg you, through your infinite goodness, grant that my name be engraved on your heart, for in this I place all my happiness and all my glory, to live and to die as one of your devoted servants.

As I read this for the first time, I prayed it. It sunk in immediately. This is not the original version. The version I found was written in “ye olde” English. I’ve changed words here and there to make it more personal, without changing the meaning. I think the process was a kind of prayer in itself. Whenever I thought of it, and had enough time, for the past few months, I’ve been looking into how to pray better. One thing that has been emphasized over and over in various contexts is that prayer is a conversation, and therefore, it’s important to listen. I’m getting better at that.

I also came across an argument, which I think is valid, that the Lord’s prayer is a formula for all prayers. The pastor (who was not Catholic) explained that Jesus’ formula was this: Praise, Repent, Ask, Yield (i.e. listen). Admittedly, at least the way I know it, I don’t think Jesus’ prayer is exactly set up like this, but I’ve been loosely following the formula, and I think my version of it works. I use a “scripted” prayer of praise that I wrote, then I do an Act of Contrition, then I say the prayer I wrote out above, then sort of a general prayer for the world, that I wrote, and by that point, I’m ready to “freestyle” it, and more importantly, I’m much more ready to listen.

Honestly, while I do feel like I at least kind of know how to listen at this point, I still can’t say that I’m good at it. One thing that I have learned that’s very important when it comes to prayer is to just sit still. The funny thing is, I learned this from my bird. I was picking a fight with Seamus the other day, partly just to be a pest, but partly because I wanted him to snuggle, and he bit me. I said, “Just sit still and let me love you.” I think this is often exactly what God is trying to say to us. Quite frankly, it’s hard to sit still. Even if I’m physically sitting still, my mind is often going a mile a minute. It’s probably different for every person, but I think it’s absolutely necessary to figure out how to “let him love you.”

I said that I’ve been trying to figure out what God wants me to “do.” I’ve been waiting for him to give me something specific, but I don’t think he’s going to. I found that Sacred Heart prayer by accident, but I think I was meant to find it. That prayer was a landmark. Over the past several years, there have been things he’s “told” me to do: be a bridge; tell the truth; be still, and know that I am God.” What’s more is that I’ve got ideas or written songs that have seemed to come out of nowhere. These, too, I see as landmarks; gifts that God has given me. They’re not mine. In a way, I’m able to draw a map of my life. Some landmarks are obvious; points in time that I can easily identify, like when I graduated high school, or when I released my album. These obvious things don’t define me, though.

It wasn’t until yesterday that I looked up the actual definition of “consecrate” because it was always just sort of implied. To consecrate is to dedicate to a deity, or to make sacred. It was by a happy accident that I found the Sacred Heart prayer, but it was exactly what I needed to find. When I found it, I didn’t think about it. I read it, and I prayed it, and I meant it. I wanted to belong only to God, and he made it happen.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

To My Ten-Year-Old Self

I saw a post on Facebook by an acquaintance who was going to be speaking at a fifth grade “graduation”. He asked for people to comment on what they would have liked to know when they were ten. I think there are quite a few things I would like to tell my ten-year-old self. I don’t remember a whole lot about that year in particular, but I know things now that would have been helpful to me then.

I didn’t feel very confident in myself back then. I allowed people to make bad decisions for me, mostly regarding my education. Granted, I was ten, but I think even then I knew that these decisions were wrong. I didn’t protest. I didn’t complain. I just assumed that everything would turn out the way it was supposed to. It wasn’t until I was fourteen that I learned to say “No” on my own. Part of the problem was that I was lazy, and this perpetuated the problem. I could have, and should have complained much sooner. I would tell my ten-year-old self not to be lazy, and to protest loudly.

I don’t know if I would have re-done my eight years from middle to high school. I like the way I’ve turned out. If I had to re-do it, though, I would probably tell myself to try and be more outgoing. The fact of the matter is, I’m shy, and back then, I was downright anti-social. I probably would tell myself to be more forgiving, too. I had fairly good reasons for it, but I tended to be a bit of an angry kid sometimes. This contributed to my anti-social tendencies. People didn’t often directly pick on me, but they did pick on my friends, and I took it as a personal offense. I would tell myself to try and be a peacemaker.

I also would tell myself not to care what other people thought of me. I would tell myself to be as weird and imaginative as I wanted, and I would tell myself to write my crazy ideas down. I would tell myself to keep a journal. I had a journal in my computer through middle school, but for some reason, I never wrote down anything happy. I only wrote miserable stuff, so I would tell myself to focus on the good. I also would tell myself to read more, even though it felt tedious at the time, because stories are soul candy.

Along with that, I would tell myself to read the Gospels, and I would tell myself to ask questions about God. I would try to explain to myself that Jesus is alive, and that he’d always be my friend. If I had known that back then, I would have been a lot happier, especially through high school. I would try to tell myself that the Gospel isn’t just another story. That’s how my church made it sound. CCD was just extra school, and the Gospel was just another myth. I would have liked to hear about Jesus’ human relationships; his interactions with other people; his friends; his parents. He was always distant. Sure, he was God, but I never really grasped that he was and is a man, and a friend. I don’t know how I would explain that to a ten-year-old, but it’s definitely something I wish I had known.

I would like to tell my ten-year-old self that she’s a nerd, and that it’s totally okay to be a nerd.

I would tell my ten-year-old self that being a girl doesn’t mean you have to be “girly” by default (I wanted to be a boy when I was a kid).

I would tell her that miracles are totally a thing, but they don’t always look like what you’d expect.

I might also tell her that God has a plan for her, but it most likely doesn’t involve getting married. I wasn’t even thinking about boys when I was ten, but it would save me a lot of pain later.

I might tell her that her brother was going to like metal, and that no matter how hard she tried, she would never like metal–ever.

That’s all I can think of for now.