Tag Archives: Personal

The Problem Of “Them”

My dad and I have been re-watching the Marvel movies leading up to “End Game” and the new Spider Man movie. We found a list that goes through them in an actual timeline that starts in the 1940’s with the first Captain America movie, and ends in the present day. I love super hero movies. In fact, I pretty much like any story that involves an obvious battle between good and evil. I like to see the “good guys” win.

It’s a really simple, but enjoyable story premise. We’re presented with it over and over, starting when we’re as young as five years old. At face value, that’s fine, and even good to an extent. Good and evil do exist; they are real things. The problem is when the lines between good and evil get blurred. The problem is when this story premise gets translated into “us” and “them” in our daily lives.

As I’ve mentioned before, Last fall I joined the Carmelite community in Danvers MA as an aspirant. It means I’m a newbie. For months, when talking about things we do, I would say “they” do X, Y, or Z. I’ve consciously had to train myself to say “us” and “we.” Our other members have been fabulous in making me feel welcome, and that I am part of the community, even though, as an aspirant, I’m not yet officially a member.

Last week my family got a letter from Social Security. It was vague at best, and said  they had detected something that might affect my disability stipend. It said if we had any questions to call the number they provided. We gave them a call, and no one answered. We gave them another call today because the letter said if they didn’t hear from us, they would call us today at 10:30, but they didn’t. Finally someone answered, and said that they would call us back before 3:30, but they didn’t. I mentioned in my last post that I am prideful, and don’t like to be helped. I particularly don’t like getting a disability payment. My mom took care of the phone calls today. It’s a good thing she did because if it had been me, things would have got ugly. I don’t normally have a foul mouth, but I told my mom to “tell them to cut the shit… Gimme the phone.” She didn’t.

So I went to the next option. I posted on Facebook, “Our government is run by idiots.” A minute later, I deleted it. I realized that I fell into the problem of “us” and “them.” I used to think I wasn’t allowed to be angry when I pray. That mentality, luckily, is long gone. After deleting my post I said, “Sorry, Lord, I’m just pissed off and looking for someone to blame.” I was looking for “the bad guy.” The real problem is in the system itself. It’s a system that fosters apathy, and it’s no one’s fault in particular. On the same token, though, it’s a system that fosters the “us” vs “them” mentality. I, and I imagine many others on disability have a tendency to see those working for the social security system as “the enemy,” while those same workers see us as, in a sense, “enemies” because we’re at best, inconvenient.

No individual within this messed up system is my “enemy.” What is it that I really want? I want to be left alone. What do the people in the office likely want? Me out of their hair. I recently went to confession because I was having trouble forgiving. I know that, in confession, I’m meant to talk with the priest as if I’m talking directly to Jesus, so I said, “I’m not sure I totally get forgiveness. I feel like I can forgive, but it’s more than a feeling, right?” He said, through the priest, “Yeah, it’s about letting it go. If you feel like you can do that, you can leave it in this room.” It seemed simple, and in that moment, I was able to leave it behind. The trouble is that it’s just as easy to pick it back up. It’s easy to pick it up because blame can evolve and mutate, and it’s easy to pick someone out as “the bad guy.”

The “us” vs “them” mentality; the idea of good vs evil is built into human nature. It’s a survival instinct. We weren’t always at the top of the food chain. That’s fine. God created us to be like Him, though. He built us with a consciousness that can understand right and wrong. He knew that we would eventually get to the top of the food chain, and on a human-to-human level, we’re not supposed to have enemies. The spiritual always trumps the natural, but our survival instinct is still there, and it causes us to be jealous of colleagues or friends; it causes us to categorize people where we shouldn’t; it causes us to see people who support certain political positions, religious beliefs, or whatever else, as “the bad guy.” It can cause us to see ourselves as “outsiders,” even when this is completely irrational, only because we’re new to a community, club, group, school, job, or even family.

Normally I don’t try to write my posts really as “advice” because mostly I just think too much. I think I do have actual advice this time, though. 1) Try to use “us” and “we” more than “They” when referring to a group of people you’re involved in, whether it’s your church, your workplace, your school, or another community. 2) Figure out who you haven’t forgiven, or who you see as an “enemy,” and figure out how to “let it go.” It can help to find a place to leave it, but it’s not necessary. It can be super helpful, though not always necessary, to leave it in confession (if you’re Catholic). 3) Pray for those perceived “enemies.” It can be a bit difficult to get started, but it can eventually feel really relieving.

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As Simple And As Difficult

One of my most recent songs was entitled “Just An Honest Prayer.” I struggle a lot with the story Jesus tells of when the King will separate the sheep and the goats–those who helped “the little guy,” and those who did not. I struggle with this because I want to do more to help people than I physically or financially am able to. It sometimes leads me to thinking that what I do, or even what I am, is not enough.

On Saturday I went to the monthly meeting of our Carmelite community. My epilepsy happened to be acting up that morning. I don’t have violent seizures, but I “space out,” and I can’t process language, or communicate easily. A few of our members noticed, and were able to calmly help me out until it was under control. At some point during the meeting, I noticed a picture I hadn’t ever noticed before. It was a black and white image, like a photograph, of the wounded face of Christ. Through that image I felt like He was saying to me, “I’m here. I’m with you.” The members of my community who were able to help me through my “brain fuzz” were great, but more than anything, what Jesus silently said to me was extremely moving and calming.

I’ve been listening to the podcast “Catholic Stuff You Should Know” for a long time now. Their most recent episode was, in a sense, about hospitality. An idea they presented was that hospitality is about receiving well, as much as it is about being a good host. I realized that I am not good at receiving. I don’t like being helped, especially if I need help. I realize that this is a symptom of pride. I’ve asked the Lord more than once to take my “brain fuzz” away. His answer has been, “No,” and I think I know why. To make me into who I’m meant to be, He needs me to need help. Also, if I didn’t have unpredictable fuzz, I’d be able to do more than I’m able to do now, and because of that, I likely wouldn’t be making the music I am, and I wouldn’t be able to offer my suffering to God with Jesus’ suffering.

Saturday ended up being a fabulous day. Dad got me a “Romantic” sandwich (broccoli, cheddar cheese, avocado, garlic, and spices) from Life Alive in Salem, and we headed to Maine. I went to Mass with my dad and Godfather that afternoon, got my favorite chicken sandwich at my favorite restaurant in Bridgton Maine for dinner, and that night, I saw the most beautiful sky I’ve ever seen. Our house up there faces south, looking down a hill at some trees, and the river beyond. The sky was bright because the moon was nearly full. The clouds were long and streaked, running north to south, and the sky looked striped. There were also smaller, thicker clouds that were dark, but bright on the edges. My dad was the first to notice it because I had been looking at the fire we had started in our yard. He pointed it out to me, and I was absolutely captivated. I didn’t want to look away. I realized that this sky was a gift to my family. Not everybody would look up.

Finally, when I went to bed that night, I started praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. This is something I try to do every day. As I started praying, though, God spoke in my heart and asked me, “Do you really believe in the power of My mercy?” I said, “Yeah, I do. Help me to believe it more.” I have a habit of praying for everybody but myself. That’s not a good thing. I need His mercy and His help as much as anyone else. As I said, I’m not good at receiving help, and I’m especially bad at asking for it. That night, I prayed for myself, though, and He showed me something.

Often when I pray, I say something that ultimately translates to: “What do you want/need me to do?” I ask partly out of gratitude for everything He’s done for me, but part of it is that I frequently fall into the false belief that I have to “earn” all of it. Saturday night, He didn’t let me ask the question. In a sense, He let me see myself through His eyes, and I was surprised at what I saw. I didn’t see the mess I thought I would. I just saw me. I was even more surprised to see Him. I shouldn’t have been surprised at that. I had taken communion just a few hours earlier. I saw very clearly that, yeah, I’m a sinner, but I also saw very clearly, that He took the blame for my sins, and accused me of nothing. He looked at me as my Savior, and saw the one He saves.

Last night I went to Adoration. I don’t go as often as I would like, but I’m going to try and go more regularly, because I often find myself going with tears in my eyes, and leaving with a smile on my face. At the front of the church I went to–I didn’t go to my home parish–the Eucharist was on the altar, as it always is at Adoration, the Crucifix was on the wall behind it, as it always is, but the Divine Mercy Image was very prominently in view on the wall just to the left. I know that when I look at the Eucharist, or an image of Jesus, or what have you, I’m looking at Love. Last night, I realized more deeply that I was staring at Mercy.

In my song “Just An Honest Prayer,” the third verse and chorus go as follows:

I know I need a Savior
‘Cause I can’t do this, my Lord
And I know I am broken
‘Cause trusting You isn’t easy
But I’m ready to be honest
I so want to believe
I want to be with You in Heaven
So Help my unbelief

(Chorus)
You know the world is broken
When saying “I love you” is hard
Even when you want to
And even when it’s true

Trusting the Lord should be the easiest thing. He is Love itself. We don’t find it easy because our world is broken, and we are broken. I once read something along the lines of: Mercy is where love meets need. I am spiritually weak, and I’m not very nice to myself sometimes. Saint Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians that he is content in his weakness because the Lord revealed to him that His power is made perfect in human weakness. In other words, He can, and often does use our weaknesses for our own good and His glory.

As I said earlier in my post, I often want to help “the little guy” where I can’t. Jesus says that “blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” I remember once I was at an open mic. I don’t remember what song I had been intending to play, but the guy who played before me got on stage and said, “This song is about how basically life is terrible.” I was up next and I said, “I wasn’t actually planning on playing this song, but the song I’m about to play is called, ‘Good In Things,’ and it’s about how everything is inherently good because God is good, and He made it.” My dad said he saw a woman at a table nearby with a look on her face like I had just “saved” her with that song. I don’t really know what he meant by that, but it made me happy to know I had made someone else happy.

It feels good to help people. Praying for people and making music that people can relate to and find joy and comfort in is about the extent of what I can do. At least that was what I thought until I heard the episode of “Catholic Stuff” on hospitality. I think part of being merciful actually means allowing people to help, and being grateful and humble about it. Everybody needs help in some way, at some point. Not everyone can do everything all the time. Maybe part of being merciful is allowing yourself to be “the little guy.”

A few days ago, I actually got some great advice. Someone who knew I was a musician told me that Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “do something beautiful for God.” They said if I wanted to glorify God, I should sing only for Him. God isn’t expecting of me what I can’t do. I can make songs that give people hope; I can be grateful when I need help, and in that, I can give someone else the joy of being helpful; I can take the time to pray that many others can’t because I don’t have a “conventional” job; I can offer God my suffering with Jesus’ suffering because I have a cross to carry that many others don’t. I can do all that.

Yesterday I realized that there’s something else I can do, and so can everyone else. It felt like God dropped a love bomb on me on Saturday, so I wrote a short post about it on Facebook. Then I realized I could do more than that. I wrote in my song, “You know the world is broken when saying ‘I love you’ is hard.” In another song I wrote, “We are fighting a war You’ve already won.” Both of these are true. Jesus saved the world, yes, but He’s still in the process of saving it, too. We’re meant to be a part of that. Saying “I love you,” or giving an honest compliment, or what have you, can be weird or awkward, so we don’t, even when we want to, and even when it’s true.

It’s easy to say to ourselves, “They already know, so I don’t need to say it.” I realized that, actually, yeah, we still need to say it. Even if we already know it, we need to be reminded. We’re really good at finding the flaws in ourselves, and when we find those flaws, it’s relatively easy to start thinking “I’m not lovable.” So yesterday, I started dropping love bombs. I looked through my contacts and decided on the three people I thought most needed a reminder. I did the same thing today, and I ended up having pretty nice conversations with a couple of people I haven’t talked to in a while. I just started with “Hey! Happy Thursday! I love you!” It was a little awkward, but it turned into something beautiful. The world is broken, but we can be a part of fixing it, and it’s as simple and as difficult as saying “I love you.”

What A Dumb Bird Has Taught Me

If you asked me what my most prized possession is, I would probably tell you it’s my bird. Seamus proved to me that love-at-first-sight actually can happen. We got him from a bird breeder in New Hampshire. on the way there, my mom reminded me that we might not be getting a bird that day. We didn’t know if their birds were healthy, or friendly. When we arrived, one of the breeders said they had three birds available for adoption. They had a green-cheeked conure, and two sun conures. They brought out the green-cheeked conure first, and handed him to me. He immediately scurried up my chest and nestled under my ear. He was exceedingly small, and his feathers were, for the most part, an unremarkable dark green.

The breeders said that conures didn’t usually take to strangers very quickly, and that this was not normal behavior. I loved this bird immediately, but I agreed to see the other two. The two sun conures wanted nothing to do with me. They were bigger than the green-cheek, and were bright yellow and orange, but I asked to see the little guy again. A second time, he climbed up and hid under my ear. I didn’t care that he was small and not very colorful. He liked me, and he was cuddly, and that was what mattered.

We bought him a cage, and food, and a few toys, and brought him home. The breeders had said that we should leave him in his cage for a little while and let him get used to our house, but he wanted nothing to do with that. He wanted to be with and on us. The next day, or maybe the day after, we took him to the vet to make sure he was healthy, and to get a blood test. The only way to know a conure’s gender is by their DNA, and apparently female’s can sometimes lay eggs, and we didn’t really want to deal with that. Luckily, it turned out our little guy was, indeed, a guy, so we named him Seamus, after the poet Seamus Heaney.

I love Seamus for the same reasons anyone would love their pet: he’s funny, he’s soft and, he’s cuddly. I love him, too, though simply because he’s mine, and because he loves me; actually, I really do think Seamus loved me first, and I really do think he’s taught me some things about God. He’s a bird, ergo, Seamus is stupid; he’s also badly behaved, and annoying at times. He does things that normal birds definitely don’t do. He’ll come into my room in the morning, and if I lift up the blanket, he’ll crawl under, and snuggle in the “happy hole.” He likes to go spelunking in silverware drawers, and “dumpster dive” in our trash. He tries to steal food like french fries, or even chicken, and he’s probably more stubborn than any human I’ve encountered. He will attack any human outside my immediate family because they’re not part of his flock, but he will fall asleep in my dad’s hand. He does many other weird, ridiculous things that you simply would not expect a normal bird to do.

I call him my co-pilot because he likes to sit on my head or under my ear when I’m praying or working, or playing video games with my dad. I find that I’m often reminding him, “Seamus, you’re a disaster, and I adore you.” I imagine that’s how God must feel about us sometimes. Of course we don’t start so messy. Bad things happen around or to us, or we hurt our own hearts when we sin. Sometimes Seamus gets bored and tries to steal the keys from my keyboard while I’m writing. He’s annoying, but I’ll grab him while he’s doing it, pick him up, and kiss him. Sometimes while we’re playing video games, he’ll get bored, and fly upstairs. It just makes me want him back. I imagine this is how God feels about us. I can’t get angry at a dumb bird, especially my dumb bird, and I don’t think our omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God can really get angry at us limited humans, especially since we’re His limited humans.

Seamus can annoy the heck out of me, or even hurt me if he bites, but I’d never give him up. I call him “Precious” for a reason, and not just because I’m a Lord of the Rings fan. Likewise, we really can hurt God, but He’ll never give us up, He’ll never abandon us, and He’ll never give up on us.

Living The Pipe Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Song To Sing In The Dark

Recently I realized that I write my best songs when I’m pissed off. Something bad happens, and I cope by writing about it. That’s true for a lot of people, I know, but I think people cope by writing angry songs. I don’t write angry songs. I write defiant songs. I recently wrote a song about the Notre Dame fire. It happened on the same day as the Boston Marathon, so I tied the two events together. The second verse goes as follows:

Cheer for the runners
They all ran the race
Run for tomorrow
A glorious day
Tested by fire
The cross stood tall
The glory of Heaven
In old Notre Dame

The cross stood tall among ruins. God is never outdone. There are still places in the world where it’s illegal and even dangerous to be Christian. Recently, there have been shootings at places of worship in our own country. The cross standing among ruins was a powerful image for me. The Lord is greater than anything bad that could possibly happen. I reflected, too, that people can’t worship in Notre Dame any more, but buildings aren’t God’s Church. The people are His Church.

For the past two weeks, the people in Sri Lanka haven’t been able to celebrate Sunday Mass for fear of another attack. The Bishop has celebrated Mass privately, and the people have watched it televised. That would be tragic for me. I live in Suburban America, and I doubt the likelihood of anything like that happening in my home town. Still, there is a chance it could. There was a time in the early Church when Christians had to celebrate Mass in the Roman Catacombs. Still, they did it. They did it because Jesus conquered sin and death, they did it because He died for us, and they did it because He’s worth dying for. He’s worth suffering for.

The cross stood among the ruins in Notre Dame because the cross is our hope. The cross is what gave us life. The cross is a promise that as messy as things might be, and as messy as they might get, God is greater. The cross is a promise and a reminder that we are redeemed, and God can bring even greater light out of any darkness.

The title of my upcoming album is, “A Song To Sing In The Dark.” It’s from a line in my song, “Nothing Else.”

This is a song to sing in the dark
This is enough, a spark to start a fire
This is a prayer you answer with love
‘Cause you are God, and you are with us

I wrote the song a few years ago and released it as a single. All I remember is that I had been watching the news a little too much, and I was feeling depressed. The world looked like it was falling apart. The fact of the matter is, the world always looks like it’s falling apart. The cross is the symbol of our faith because Jesus overcame it. What had only appeared to be an instrument of death became a symbol of hope and life, and even more than that, a symbol of God’s undying love for us, and the promise of our salvation. We can look to the cross when we need a song to sing in the dark. Remember that the cross is a beginning, not an end.

Identify Your Weakness

A few days ago I wrote about the difference between losing something and giving something. In particular, I wrote about how losing something can be quite scary, but giving isn’t. I wrote about this in regards to what it means to give my life to Jesus. I mentioned in my post that what bothers Him most is when people don’t appreciate His sacrifice and all He’s given us. What also really bothers Him, as He revealed to several saints is when people simply don’t trust Him. I read about this in “Consoling the Heart of Jesus,” as I mentioned in my previous post. Practically, to trust the Lord means to praise and thank Him, and to carry our crosses with Him.

What I didn’t write about in my previous post was something I realized earlier this week. Jesus said to come to Him as we are, sins and all. He loves us no matter what, and that love doesn’t waver or change. He doesn’t love us any less when we mess up, even if we seriously mess up. What I realized early this week was that I wasn’t trusting Him. I’ve been afraid of some things, and I hadn’t been willing to let Him take care of them.

My parents bought a house in Maine a couple of years ago. At first it looked like a fun project. The house was basically an empty shell, infested with rodents, and was about to fall down. Over the past two years, my parents, through my mom’s cousin, who is a contractor and carpenter, have been restoring it. Why am I afraid of it all of a sudden? My dad will be retiring in ten years or so. What if my parents want to permanently move to middle-of-nowhere Maine? I don’t drive, and the only people I know up there are some extended family members and my Godparents.

What’s more is my parents are in their fifties. What will happen when they’re too old to take care of my physical needs?

My best friend and my brother are graduating from college this year. That makes me nervous because two of my cousins, who I used to hang out with quite often, moved quite far away after graduating. I don’t want to lose my friend and my brother. I’m an introvert, and honestly, making new friends isn’t the easiest thing for me. To be clear, I have made new friends, but they’re not like the friendships I’ve had since childhood.

Just last fall I joined the Carmelite community in Danvers. I’m tied to my parents. Though we only meet once a month, I don’t want to fall into a situation where I can’t go to the meetings anymore. Sure, I might be able to keep pursuing the spirituality on my own, but I love that community.

Soon I’ll be releasing my second album. I’ve put a lot of effort, and a lot of prayer into these songs. We pray before every session, and I mean it when I say that I want my music to be for God’s glory. I think just recently, the worry has come to my mind: “what if no one hears this stuff?”

These worries started with what things might look like once the house was finished. My first mistake was not talking to God about it in the first place. It just escalated from there. I went to confession on Thursday, and talked to our priest about it. I told him that I was really sorry for not trusting Jesus, and I said, “I’m just… I’m just afraid…” He interrupted me. He said, “You’re afraid of the future. That’s normal.” He said to remember the story of the prodigal son. Normally people think about the younger brother who squandered everything, but came back repentant, or the older brother who was faithful to his father, but was resentful of his father’s love for his brother. People don’t think enough about the father. The father loved both his kids, but was especially merciful to his younger son because he was more in need of that mercy.

That’s how God is. I was seriously sorry for not trusting Him, in light of what I have recently learned. I also know that, in confession, the priest is acting and speaking for Jesus. He told me to look up the “serenity prayer.” Most people know part of it. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” There’s a whole other part, though.

The serenity prayer in its entirety goes as follows: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference; living one day at a time, enjoying each moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He (Jesus) did, this sinful world, as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right, if I surrender to His will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.”

He told me to look this up when I left confession. He also said, “You’re wearing Mary’s medal. Ask your Mother for help.” Mary is Jesus’ mom, but she’s also my spiritual mom. I forget that sometimes. Most of the time, I pray to my Brother. Jesus is my Brother because, through baptism, I am God’s daughter. I also usually pray to Jesus, however, because He knows what being human is like. He knows what it feels like to lose friends. He knows what it feels like to be scared.

After confession, I lurked in the church for a bit since, during Lent, Adoration is available at my home parish, and there were some people there praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, so I did that with them. Then I went to the Studio since my studio time is always on Thursday nights. I was still in a bad mood on the way there, and I was planning on just working on editing. We have to get it done at some point, anyway. That’s not what we ended up doing. We pray to start our sessions, and I ended up spilling the beans. I mentioned inadvertently that I had been in a bad mood on the way there, and because he’s nice, he asked, and I couldn’t really help telling Ken why. Then I somehow figured something out. I said, “I think the Devil is screwing with me.” We prayed about that, too, but instead of spending the time editing, we started working on something else.

On my new album there will be a remix of a single I released a few years ago. The chorus goes as follows, “This is a song to sing in the dark/ This is enough, a spark to start a fire/ This is a prayer you answer with love/ ‘Cause you are God, and you are with us.” The original is about as simple as you can get: acoustic guitar, bass, and shaker for percussion. The remix will be a full-on ’90’s style rock version. I was planning on just working on editing because I was feeling deflated; defeated that night. God had other plans. He gave me a song to sing in the dark. Ken played guitar loudly, and even though my voice was kind of dead, I belted the words I had written years prior. “You let us know you’re listening/ So we sing for joy/ Because you are good, Lord/ We sing.”

I’ve recently become more acquainted with the psalms as I’ve been praying a handful of them every day for several months. Though I had not been thinking of it when I wrote the song, Psalm 139 comes to mind; in particular, verses 11-12 go as follows. “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me and the light around me become night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Nothing can hide us from God’s love. I repented, and He renewed my song to sing in the dark. He made it louder.

What I’ve learned from this is that it’s important to identify our weaknesses and give them to God, because if we don’t give them to God, the Devil can exploit them. Admitting we have weaknesses is not fun. I’m the kind of person who likes to be a hero. I like to pretend I’m invincible. Then, when it turns out I’m not, two things can happen. Either, I can let God have my weakness and take care of it, or I can try to take control of something I have no control over, and when I fail, beat myself up about it, or worse, let the Devil beat me up about it.

What are my weaknesses? To start, physical stuff: what most call “disabilities.” Fear of failure, and fear of the future are two big ones for me. Fear of isolation pops up sometimes. Confidence, or lack-there-of is also sometimes an issue. Jesus said that to be his disciples, we had to carry our crosses. Nobody’s crosses look exactly the same. Jesus had Simon to help carry His cross. We have Jesus Himself to help carry ours. In the Stations of the Cross, we reflect that Jesus fell three times. He actually couldn’t carry the cross entirely on His own. If He couldn’t, we certainly can’t. That’s where trust comes in.

Fear of the future, or maybe just “the unknown” is probably my heaviest load, and it’s probably the thing I have the most trouble letting Him help with. The craziest thing is, God often doesn’t help unless we give Him permission. He wants to help, but sometimes we don’t let Him. A lot of times we don’t let Him. I try to remember in our prayer at the studio to say, “Lord, where we need to get out of the way and let you do the work, just get us out of the way.” This Thursday, I was intending to wallow in what I thought was defeat and just do the boring but necessary work of audio editing. That wasn’t what was immediately necessary. What was apparently necessary at the moment was a song to sing in the dark. God got me out of the way and gave me that. Maybe it’s just a spark, but God can start a fire with just a spark.

Lent: Prayer; Fasting; Alms-giving

I’m just a couple of days into Lent. I never like it per se, but I always try to make it productive and helpful in my spiritual growth. Lent is about Fasting, in other words, sacrificing in some way for God, focusing on prayer more, and alms-giving, or generosity. I initially decided to give up coffee because I Really. Love .Coffee. I figured out that it costs about $2 to buy a cup of coffee, and since Lent is forty days, I’ll give $80 to a charity through our church.

Then I realized I could do a few other things. I play this dumb game, 2048 on my phone. I realized that I spend kind of a lot of time on it, just when I have to wait, or whatever. I didn’t realize just how much time I spend playing it. So I cut that, too. Then I realized that I spend an awful lot of time “curiosity questing,” which basically means watching a lot of lectures and what not on YouTube, or listening to several hours worth of podcast episodes. I cut that, too. I went a little hard-core this year.

It feels awkward, but somehow I’m finding it easier than expected. On Wednesday after work I ran into the question “Uh… what do I do now?” I could have read, but at the moment, I’m reading The Divine Comedy, which requires the capacity to think. My brain was sort of shot at that point, so I had two options: video games, or prayer. I opted for the latter. For the record, it’s not because I’m some holy woman. It’s because I didn’t feel like playing any of the games I have. I actually ended up checking out some stuff from FORMED. I realized, maybe a bit too slowly, that it’s basically Catholic Netflix.

I ended up checking out a series called “Into The Desert.” It’s actually quite good, and it’s about a type of prayer called Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading. Basically, there are four steps to it, but one is supposed to start by simply reading a bit of Scripture, meditating on it, and then praying with that in mind. I’ve been working on that over the past couple of days. There aren’t too many episodes, and they’re not too long, so I figure I’ll watch the rest of these and see where things go. A suggestion I read for something to do over Lent is to carefully read the Gospel of Mark since it’s the shortest and most concise. I’m trying to use what I’ve learned so far while reading the Gospel. I think it’s been a fruitful experience.

I also decided a while ago that I’d commit to praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary every day during Lent. I woke up around five this morning, and couldn’t fall back asleep, so I read and prayed for a while. Sometimes I do the Rosary with a recording that uses Scripture verses. I got to the verse where Pilate says to the crowd, “I’m innocent of this righteous man’s blood. See to it yourselves.” I thought, “If you don’t do anything to stop something bad from happening to an innocent person when you very well could, you’re definitely guilty.” It then hit me that I’m guilty, or at least I’ve been guilty.

I know I’ve probably been there. I know there have been times where I could have stopped something bad, or at least inconvenient from happening to someone, and I did nothing. The thing is, I can’t think of any concrete examples. I think we’re blind to it. I can think of a time recently when I did do something. I’ll be getting a new wheelchair soon, so my dad and I went to the hospital recently to meet with someone who needed to show me some features, figure out exactly what I want, and get some measurements. While we were in the waiting room, there was a woman with a fussy kid in a stroller. She was the kind of kid who would drive any normal person, myself included, crazy.

My inclination was to ignore them. The kid was seriously bored and whiney, and refused to indulge in any of the things her mom offered her to alleviate the boredom. I was bored, too. We had to wait I while. I didn’t have my phone, or it was dead, so I asked my dad to help me get my Rosary, which I normally have in my bag. Apparently I had left it at home. The kid’s mom, I could tell, was getting frustrated, so I said, “Hey, kid… you want a ride? You can ride on the back of my wheelchair, or sit on my lap if you want.” The kid didn’t respond, and her mom kindly declined, but I could tell she was at least vaguely relieved and grateful for some offer of help. Thus we commiserated.

Sometimes commiseration is all you can offer, but commiseration, I know from experience, is better than nothing. I sometimes wonder why Saint John or Mary–Jesus’ Mom–never said anything while standing by the cross. They couldn’t have said, “It’ll be okay.” He was dying. Yeah, He was going to rise from the dead, and Mary probably knew that, and maybe John kind of knew that, at least in theory, but the fact of the matter was that He was dying. All they could do was stand there so He knew, and could see that somebody cared enough to stand there.

In the video I watched today, Dr. Tim Gray talked about how prayer is about relationship, and intimacy with God. He said that God is love, and if we are to converse with, and know God–know Love–we have to know how to love. He said that before Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He talked about alms-giving; charity; generosity. After He talked about prayer, He talked about fasting. Particularly, when talking about fasting, He explains that we’re not supposed to look miserable and whine about it while we’re doing it so that people will see that we’re doing it and believe that we’re holy by default.

In fact, Jesus says that we’re meant to be discreet about what we do when it comes to fasting, charity, and prayer. We’re not supposed to brag about it, and we’re not supposed to whine about it. Realistically, the things I dropped this Lent were just habits that can be broken or adjusted. I think I’ll permanently drop 2048. I’ll definitely be having a cup of coffee on Easter, though. The “curiosity questing” just needs to be monitored better, so this will certainly help with that. I’m glad I’m really cutting all of it down, though because I’m already, just within the past two days, praying a lot more, and I think, being more thoughtful about it. Anyway, that’s it for now.

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.

Eyes That Speak

There’s a part of me that can’t help feeling bad for Judas. For a long time, I just hated him. Jesus has taught me about His mercy, and because of that, I can’t help feeling bad for a man who did a really terrible thing, but who still could have received that mercy. Earlier today I was thinking about when Peter denied knowing Jesus. He hadn’t meant to, but he looked Jesus in the eye after doing so, and I’m convinced that His eyes spoke to him. I’m convinced that those eyes said “I told you you’d deny Me. I forgive you.” I know that those eyes would have said the exact same thing to Judas had he been there, but I’m not convinced that Judas would have believed it.

The reason my attitude towards Judas has changed is that I’ve realized that I face a similar struggle as he did, only to a lesser degree. Judas did a selfish thing and betrayed a friend. Then he was utterly ashamed of what he did and became convinced that he was unlovable and irredeemable. Last night I read the part in John where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him. It didn’t speak to me, but when I went back, and sort of “read” those eyes, those eyes spoke to me. Those eyes said to me, “You are never too messy for Me to love.” I needed those eyes to tell me that.

I’ve been listening to a podcast called “Catholic Stuff You Should Know,” which if you’re Catholic and nerdy, is just absolutely perfect. I stayed up ludicrously late listening to it last night, and one of the topics that was discussed were the theological virtues of faith hope and love. They talked about how each virtue has a vice that goes along with it, and how every person generally falls into a category of being strong in one virtue/vice, and really struggles with another. They said you basically have to “self-diagnose” to know where you fall, but my diagnosis is that I struggle with hope/despair, but am very strong in love/pride. It seems obvious that despair is the opposite of hope, but they explained that pride is the opposite of love, and not hate, because hate is a kind of disordered love, whereas pride is a cold indifference.

As I said, I struggle with hope/despair, and I think Judas went to the absolute negative extreme of this struggle. I don’t struggle with faith. Faith is about trust, but it’s also about maintaining an honest, ongoing relationship with God, too, and I think because I struggle with hope, I don’t have trouble being honest with Him. It doesn’t help that I’m a perfectionist. Even if it’s subconscious, my temptation is to believe that I can or even have to live up to a certain standard; that I can reach perfection on my own. I do know that I need His grace, but the truth is, sometimes I don’t want to admit I need it, and sometimes I’m hesitant to ask for it. Asking for mercy is still kind of nerve-wracking.

Obviously I didn’t see Jesus’ eyes when he inaudibly forgave Peter in the Bible passage I read today, but His eyes said something to me today. I have trouble forgiving myself even after I’ve gone to confession. I think those eyes said to me, “I’ve forgiven you. Now forgive yourself.” Sometimes I have to remind myself that Jesus is my King, so I’m going to take that as an order. I think it’s important to think about the things Jesus conveyed in his actions, and just the way he looked at people, and not just reduce Him to words. No one is as simple as even the most complicated things they say.

Winter Light

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

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

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

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

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