Never Left Behind

On the way to the studio this past week I realized something. A little over a year ago, on a Wednesday night, I picked up my phone to look at Facebook or something equally as pointless, and the words and melody to my song “Heart Of Love” popped into my head. I remember it was a Wednesday because my studio sessions are usually on Thursdays. We were about halfway done working on what I expected to be a single when I came in with my new song, knowing it was good, and knowing we had to do something with it.

Twelve songs later, I have an album, but I wouldn’t have it if God hadn’t dropped “Heart Of Love” on my head. Something every Christian prays at some point in their life in one way or another is, “Lord have mercy on me.” What I didn’t realize was that this album is an answer to that prayer. I realized this because unfortunately, our society has a few specific marks that one generally must have by about their mid twenties that qualify them as a “real” adult. What I mean by this is that our society has determined that every person has a base value, and depending on what “marks” one has by a certain age, one is determined to be more or less valuable; more or less “real.” These marks tend to be 1) if one has earned a degree and has at least a relatively well-paying job 2) one is confident and chaste as a single person (oddly enough for our culture), or they are in a steady, healthy relationship 3) one has their own apartment, or one is paying rent to their parents with the expectation and prospect of eventually moving out.

Given my circumstances, I have none of these “marks.” While it’s true that I am confident and chaste as a single woman, because it is not entirely by choice, by the estimates of our society, it seems not to “count.” This leaves me with a dilemma. I know my worth as a child of God. I have also internalized my perception of how the world sees me as a disabled woman. I know that I will not move out of my parents’ house, at least in the near future. Because my art and my skill at writing doesn’t make a tangible profit, I don’t have what society considers to be a “real” job. There have been times when it seems I have been regarded with pity or condescension. I know that this is how I have perceived things, and my perception can be faulty. Nonetheless, this gets internalized; I look at how I don’t have these “marks,” and I see myself as less “real;” less valuable than the friends and acquaintances who have these “marks.”

About three weeks ago, I got started working on an article that I initially did not want to write. I started the writing and research, nonetheless, because I felt that the Lord wanted me to write it (it’s still in the works). On Friday, I was hit once again by the fact that  because I don’t have a paying job, in the eyes of society, my work, despite the fact that it is work, doesn’t really “matter.” It’s “cool” that I write music, but because I’m not a well known songwriter or a touring artist, the compliments are sometimes perceived to come with a note of pity or condescension, whether it’s meant or not. I wrote in my last post about how our culture fosters a tendency to regard others with skepticism, and I admit, my perception is that of a skeptic.

I prayed about this before going to the studio, and it hit me that the world may not see my work for what it’s worth, and I may not see it for what it’s worth, but the Lord does. The Lord said to me, almost audibly, “What you write matters to me.” I recently wrote about the Let It Go Box, which I’ve decided to rename the Redemption Box. In short, you hand something over to God, and let Him take control of it and redeem it.

I realize that over time, though we never really talked about it, I gave Him the blog a long time ago. While working on what I thought would be a single, my friend and I prayed; we handed it over, though the Box wasn’t a concept at the time, and that single became an album. Over the past year, I’ve wondered often why God chose me to work on what I know is really His project. I realized that this project didn’t need to exist; He doesn’t need it. He doesn’t need my blog or my music to save the world. He gave me things to write because that is what I’m capable of doing, because I’m good at it, and because He cares about me. He gave me something to do because He knows I love Him in a way that only I can, and because I want to help.

This is His mercy. Mercy is when someone sees another suffering, and does something about it. He sees when others devalue me, or when I devalue myself, and  He asks me to write something, or helps me write a song, and in doing so, He reminds me that what I have to say matters. He reminds me that He is my God, He loves me, and He will never leave me behind.

How To Erase The Smudge

Redemption stories are popular, but they’re usually more obvious or straight forward in fiction than in real life, and naturally, the main character is the focus. Real life redemption stories are usually much more nuanced because real life people are more complicated than they are in fiction. If a person messes up or does something that hurts them or others, it can take a lot to make things right. Furthermore, redemption doesn’t look the same for or to everyone.

More often than not, redemption is more like a web than a ladder in the sense that one doesn’t simply climb out of a mess they’ve made. It takes the assistance, and sometimes invasion of other people. From a quick Google search, I found this definition for redemption: “the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.” For a kid, this usually translates to having to say “I’m sorry” to a sibling or a friend they’ve wronged in some small way. A lot of times for adults, the thing being regained might be their reputation, or in worse cases, their freedom after committing a crime and spending some time in prison.

Sometimes, redemption looks like regaining right-standing with a specific person or group of people who have been wronged. In this case really, the focus of a person’s real life redemption story seems to actually be the person wronged. Everyone is part of a redemption story, whether it be their own or someone else’s. It is easy to assume that one’s redemption has to be earned, and to some degree, I think it does because it involves regaining a person’s trust; but redemption is only possible when forgiveness is offered. This means that it isn’t always possible, and why forgiveness is so important.

The person wronged has scars, sometimes really terrible ones, but whether they know it or not, the person in need of redemption also incurs them as a result of what they’ve done. If someone asks for forgiveness, and it isn’t granted, their wound will likely be made worse. This can often result in them doing something else that hurts them or another person, or adopting bad habits. Sometimes someone will realize they have done something wrong to a specific person or group of people, but will attempt to redeem themselves in a way that does not involve asking for forgiveness. The problem with this approach is that a particular problem (a wound) is not engaged with, and cannot be solved (healed).

Redemption is a relational matter. If a person attempts to redeem himself/herself without asking forgiveness, they are ultimately ignoring the real problem. This could be a simple matter of forgetting that they did something wrong, or they could not realize that there was a problem in the first place. In this case, it is a matter of perception. What might be a serious grievance to one person, might be trivial to another. Either way, the problem needs to be dealt with, and in that case, the person who has been hurt might need to be the one to initiate a conversation. Unfortunately, that means looking at old scars that don’t want to be looked at, and it might not mean that the person in need of forgiveness even asks for it.

Either way, forgiveness must be offered, and ultimately, regardless of whether the person in need of redemption asks for or even accepts it or not, for wounds to be healed, it needs to be granted. This is because, as already stated, redemption is a relational matter, and a person’s redemption story isn’t ultimately about them. A person’s redemption story is about the person wronged. When forgiveness is not granted, old wounds fester and remained unhealed. When it is granted, even if it takes a while, at least for the person wronged, the problem can be allowed to slip into the past, and no longer has to remain an ugly smudge on the present.

Building The Box

I don’t like to talk or write about this because it’s a sensitive thing for me, but a few people I know are dealing with some heavy stuff, and I think this could help. I’m writing it for them, but I’m posting it here because maybe it will help some others as well.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I have muscular dystrophy and epilepsy. About ninety percent of the time this is almost irrelevant unless I forget that I need my ramp to get into the mosaic store to get supplies, for example. Occasionally, because I happen to wake up “on the wrong side of the bed,” or for some other small reason, it gets to me, and though I hate to admit it, I’ll have times when I feel sorry for myself. About a month ago, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, and because I couldn’t make my own coffee and had to wait, I got a little pissed off.

After sulking in my room and praying for a while–really for far too long–I snapped out of it, and I realized I needed to find a way to deal with the ten percent of the time when it is a problem. I needed something practical, so I built a box with a lock, decorated it, and made a key, which I promptly handed over to Jesus. Then I said “This is the Let It Go Box. I’m going to put stuff in here, and I’m giving you the key so that once something’s in here, I’m not allowed to touch it.”

For me, it’s not a physical box. It’s something I made in my head. I initially had the idea of getting a physical box and writing things down on pieces of paper to put in it, but I knew that I’d be too tempted to open it. I did get a physical key that I wear on my necklace chain and got it blessed. When you get something blessed, it means that thing is “set aside” for God to use. For me, having a physical key to symbolize that I handed it over has been helpful. I also wrote a list. It’s ultimately “dependence” that makes me so angry at times, and I knew I couldn’t hand that over all at once, so I broke it up. I wrote all the things that I can’t do on my own that annoy me the most, and it took me a few days, but I eventually managed to hand all of it over.

There are many instances in the Gospels when Jesus uses an unpleasant, difficult, painful, or even tragic situation to bring about some good, and to glorify His Father. One instance is when he heals a blind man. In that instance, His disciples ask, “Did this man sin, or was it his parents?” Jesus responds by saying (I’m paraphrasing), “This isn’t the product of anyone’s sin. It happened so that God may be glorified.” Then He heals the man, which indeed, brought a great good out of a bad situation, and obviously, by the miracle, glorified God. I reflected on this last week, and it occurred to me that He must somehow be doing the same thing with my situation.

Obviously I’m not perfect, and occasionally things that I can’t do, or can’t do strictly on my own start to bug me. The real key is one carefully crafted in prayer, but I wear the symbolic one to remind myself that I’m not allowed to take it back. The fact of the matter is, I have the patience of a gnat and the pride of a lion, so when I have to wait for someone to help me with X, Y, or Z, I remember the key, and offer the waiting and the fact that I need help in the first place to God to do with as He sees fit, or if there’s something pressing–if someone I know is suffering in some way–I’ll be more specific.

The key has actually taken on meaning in the weeks since I gave it away. Revelation 3:20 says, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” Yesterday I was meditating on the fact that the Mass is going on somewhere in the world at all times. Since the Eucharist is truly Christ Himself present in the world, it means He’s never really left; He’s just not here in the same way. I haven’t looked for it, but I’ve heard that images inspired by Revelation 3:20 usually depict the “door” without a handle on the outside.

The key I gave away initially went to the Let It Go Box. Since then, it’s become the key to my heart, and my door has a handle and a lock on the outside. I find myself at various points throughout the day saying, “You hold the key to my heart. Do with me what You will.” It’s been incredibly helpful.

At this point, I should probably do some explaining. In a sense, I probably did things a little backwards, or at least came to understand things in a backwards way. I gave the Lord permission to start “housecleaning,” as it were, a long time ago. Up until now, though, He’s had to “knock” when He wanted to come in. By way of advice, I’ll put it this way: if your heart is a house, then the Let It Go Box is in a room set aside as a workshop for the Lord. You have to let Him in to have access to the workshop. Since giving Him the key, for me at least, it’s like He’s become a Resident, and not a Guest. If you’re not ready for that, you can give Him the box, and permission to work in the workshop as a Guest. What I mean by this is that once something is in the Box, it’s not like it just stays there. It doesn’t lay dormant. He’s doing something with it or to it. What that is, I don’t know.

My next advice is to get a key and get it blessed by a priest. I got a piece of jewelry; it doesn’t actually open any lock, but I have it with me at all times, and it’s pretty. Maybe it would be helpful for you to get the key to your house or your car blessed because actually using it might be a good way to remind you of what it’s for. The physical key isn’t the point, though; the physical key is a symbol. The real key is one you have to carefully craft in prayer. When I say you have to be careful, I mean it. Giving this key to the Lord means whatever you put in the Box is no longer yours.

Lastly, you should be thoughtful when building the box. If having a physical box is more helpful for you, then build or buy one. Make it personal, though, regardless. If you get a physical box, decorate it in some way, and remember that you’re giving the box to the Lord along with the key, so get that blessed, too. If you don’t use a physical box; if it’s something you construct in your heart’s workshop, actually think about it: how big would it be? What would it be made of? What color would it be?

When you’re finished, prayerfully hand the box over. If it would be helpful, write something down and put that somewhere. Either way, you’re agreeing on something with the Lord, and He’ll be faithful to your agreement. Some things you won’t be ready to put in the Box right away. That’s okay. Maybe you’re like me and it’ll be helpful to break a big thing up into smaller things and start putting those smaller things in slowly.

I’ve since found the Box extremely helpful, and even small things have gone in it. Being able to spiritually put things in a container, even though mine isn’t a physical one has been a huge relief. Even though I’m not allowed to take things out, He is, and He can transform those broken things into something beautiful. I don’t know what He’s making, but that’s okay. It’s a matter of trust, and I can trust Him with the things in there. Build the box and give it to Him. You’re not obligated to put stuff in it, but I really think you should.

Forgive Yourself As God Forgives You

I usually go to Mass on Saturday afternoons instead of Sunday mornings at our church. This Saturday I showed up a little bit early because I had decided to go to confession. I woke up that day with this thought in my head: “Forgive yourself as God forgives you.” I can hear over and over that God forgives without limit, but hearing it like this helped me to understand it better. Jesus told his disciples when He entrusted His mission to them to love others as he loved them.

The fact of the matter is, there are times when I feel like I shouldn’t be forgiven for one reason or another. I’ve messed up one too many times, or I’ve done something that must be beyond redemption. I know I am forgiven, but it often seems downright ridiculous. I’ve said before that I’m really hard on myself. I’ve been told multiple times that I’m too hard on myself. That in itself is problematic.

Forgiveness involves two people. God offers forgiveness, and I have a choice. I can accept His forgiveness, or I can continue being overly scrupulous and feeling sorry for myself. Accepting His forgiveness inherently involves forgiving myself because I’m His. If I’m going to live like Him, I have to forgive like Him, and because I’m messy, it means forgiving myself, and seeing who I am past the mess.

Nothing Into Something

Although I generally think abstractly and look at the big picture, when it comes to certain important issues, I can be at least reasonable, if not totally logical. The reason I say this is that I’ve been anxious lately. This is mainly because I’m impatient and I’ve had difficulty getting a meeting with my priest to discuss some things. I really want to figure out where I’m going or what I’m supposed to be doing or who I’m supposed to be talking to in terms of my next step in my spiritual life. While I’m waiting for my priest to call or email me, I’ve started doing some of my own research. He has suggested some things to me, so I’m not totally flying blind at this point.

In doing so, I’ve realized some things. The first is something I absolutely can handle and fix easily. I need to approach prayer better. In other words, I need to approach it less as an extra to-do list, and more as a structured activity that I’m doing with my God and Friend. The second thing is that I see myself as too broken for this. That is not an easy fix. When I say “broken,” I don’t necessarily mean sinful. I know that I’m spiritually messy like anyone else.

The fact of the matter is, I still have insecurities from when I was younger. Before college, I was one of the most unpopular kids in school. I was not actively picked on. Instead, kids acted like I didn’t exist. They ignored me. This made me feel like a waste of time and space. That makes it hard to accept that the God of the Universe might want me to be his in a particularly special way.

This, however, is tied to my other fear. I was treated the way I was for two reasons. The first was that I was friends with kids who were actively picked on, and I stood up for them. The second, however, is likely because I am disabled, and therefore, odd by default to any elementary or middle school kid. I question why God would want someone to intimately follow and serve him who is physically incapable of doing quite a lot of things.

I’ve probably explained this before, but my book started as a thought experiment. I was working on another project and hit an impassible wall. I said, “Well, I can’t stop writing,” so I just started writing off the top of my head. I ended up writing a very strange creation story. I thought it was interesting, so wrote another story. Two stories turned into four, so I wrote a list of ideas for more stories. I wrote some more and resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t a list. It was a table of contents. I wrote some more, and shortly after I had written a few more stories, I prayed. “Lord, this is complicated. If this is going to be a book, I’m going to need your help. It’s yours if you want it.” Apparently he wants it, because he keeps helping.

Jesus died for me, so I have to live for him. I owe him my life, but I owe him more than that, and I don’t know what I can really give him. That’s ultimately what scares me. When it comes down to it, though, the truth is that love scares me. His love scares me. What’s really scary is that I can say, “No.” I’m not going to, but the choice scares me. The fact that I had a choice scares me. The fact that I ignored the choice for too long annoys me. The fact of the matter is, I started down this road when I was twenty one, but I didn’t know where I was going. Now I know a little better. I’m saying, “Yes.”

I have to remind myself that Jesus doesn’t always choose the most capable, exciting, influential people. His first followers, and many of the saints were basically nobody’s in the beginning. One of my favorite saints, Saint Faustina, started as a poor farm kid. She had trouble finding a convent that would accept her because in the early twentieth century in Poland, where she lived, a nun had to have a dowry. She didn’t, but finally the mother of a convent said she would let her in if she could pay for a habit. It took her a while, but finally she saved enough to pay for it. Through Saint Faustina, Jesus conveyed, in new and really amazing ways, his message of mercy that we will always need. She was a nobody, and now, just about a century later, she is super well known. This is just one example of what God can do, and I trust that.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

P.S. I may be renaming the blog in the near-ish future, but don’t worry, I’m still here, and I’ll still be writing largely the same stuff.

Broken Heart

On Thursday I went to Adoration like I usually do, and I went to confession like I often have to. I confessed that I’ve been struggling with a certain temptation, and I sometimes give into it, but I don’t think I’ve given in lately. I also confessed that a very long time ago, when I first came back to God, I didn’t understand the sacraments and that I felt like I sort of misused them because of that, but that this was something that I just hadn’t confessed because I keep forgetting to. I also confessed that sometimes, after I know God has forgiven me for something, I have trouble forgiving myself. The priest absolved me, and told me that I’m a holy woman.

A lot of people have been telling me that lately. My best friend has told me that several times. I sort of wrote it off because she’s agnostic. Then another friend who I don’t really see very often told me the same thing at her aunt’s wake. My mom has told me that I’m a holy person, but I kind of thought she was joking. My godfather has implied it. Now my priest is saying it. I don’t think I’m a holy person. I’m working at it.

I recently read a horribly depressing article. It was about what crucifixion actually does to the human body, and how people who were crucified actually died from asphyxiation after horribly long periods of time. It said that Jesus most likely did not die in this way because Biblical and scientific evidence suggest that he most likely died from heart failure. The really horrible part came next. It explained that heart failure can be the result of deep longing, loss, and/or rejection. This is especially common among elderly people who have lost a partner they have loved and been with for a very long time. In other words, people can die of a broken heart. In other words, Jesus died of a broken heart.

Jesus died for sins I haven’t even committed yet. When he was on the cross, he knew I was going to leave him. He knew I wasn’t going to care for several years. I don’t care that I was seventeen. My instinct is to say that I’m sorry. The thing is, I’ve said I’m sorry more times than I know, and I know he’s forgiven me. Peter rejected him three times; pretended he didn’t know him, and Jesus made him the first Pope. Last night I had a thought. “I’ve said I’m sorry, and he’s forgiven me. What do you say when someone’s forgiven you?” Then it hit me. It was stupid, really. “You say, ‘Thank you.'”

Holy Week (Tuesday)

What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of life? People generally ask these questions, or some variation of them, explicitly or implicitly. Some will assert that life has no purpose or meaning, and will therefore live and act according to whatever seems most pleasing and/or convenient. However, others will assert that the actual purpose of life is to live in the very same way to attain the maximum amount of pleasure, or what have you. The purpose of using this kind of philosophy is to illustrate that though people often have different ideas about what the meaning or purpose of life is, they often can reach the same conclusions.

I found an article today that grouped various ideas about the purpose of life into several different categories. In short, they all tended to be relational. Some find meaning in life by focusing on themselves various ways: to live as long as possible, to get as much as possible, to experience as much as possible, to reach one’s full potential (in general or at something specific), or to survive, seeing the world and life as a challenge that must be constantly overcome. Others find meaning in symbiotic relationships, meaning that these relationships cannot be entirely altruistic. There must be give and take. Still others find meaning in altruism, which may or may not be connected to spirituality. Finally, some find find meaning in worship.

Still, this may only generally help some in discovering their own life’s purpose. It begs the question, does everyone have a specific purpose in their life? Is there one particular thing that everyone is meant to do or meant to be? I think I would have to say yes and no to that question. As intelligent, thinking beings created by God, we are meant to grow in holiness; i.e. to become more like him and get to know him better. The Catholic Church also asserts that everyone has a primary Vocation and a secondary vocation. One’s primary Vocation has to do with how one relates to God and the Church, while one’s secondary vocation has to do with how one relates to other people and society in general. Ultimately, though, both relate to how one is meant to live before God’s kingdom comes.

God created us each differently, though. Some of us are good at writing or public speaking. Some of us are good at teaching. Some of us are great artists. Some of us are highly successful at whatever we do for work, and are therefore very altruistic. It seems that part of our life’s purpose is to discover what it is we love and what we’re good at, and figure out how God might want us to use these skills and knowledge. It seems, then that the purpose of life is, in part, to find God’s purpose.

Of course I am answering this question from a Catholic standpoint because I am Catholic, and I believe in an absolute Truth that I am striving to reach and understand. However, the same question could be answered from the perspective of anyone who strongly believes in any faith or philosophy. Interestingly, it would seem that, according to different faiths or philosophies, it would be easier or harder to answer this question. I would imagine that to someone who believes life has no purpose, it is easy, provided this is satisfying to them. At the same time, it is easy for me to say that my life’s purpose is at least in part, to worship God and enjoy his presence.

I would ultimately have to say that finding life’s purpose is a process. Do I definitively know what my ultimate purpose is? No. For all I know it changes over time and I’ve fulfilled one and am working to discover the next. It wasn’t until I graduated college and wrote half of a novel that I could comfortably say that I am not just a writer, but a good writer. My suspicion is that I am meant to write. Right now I write about personal stuff, spiritual stuff, and (not on this blog), a mythology. By the time I’m forty that could change drastically. What I write about is less important than who I write for, though. I do what I’m good at, and I do it for God.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!