Why You Should Read Books

When I was a kid I hated reading. It was largely because I hated the books our school was making us read. While parents and kids are kind of losing their minds over the homeschooling situation, and this quarantine in general, I think this is actually an opportunity. Reading is obviously important. Books are our window into history, science, mythology, philosophy, and speculation, not to mention God’s revealed Truth, in a way that things like movies, documentaries, and YouTube can’t be.

As I said, I hated the books we were reading in school. All through elementary and at least through middle school, we read something every year about slavery in America. While it was unjust and cruel, by the time I was ten I just didn’t care any more. Homeschooling, I think, is an opportunity to teach kids once that slavery happened in America, but more importantly, it still happens all over the world. Use this as an opportunity to read together about different countries, different religious, and different cultures.

For history class, download some books on your computers, tablets or whatever, and read historical fiction about stuff your kids actually find interesting. For English class, read a couple of books, and have your kids compare stuff they actually enjoy reading to a piece written in the 1920’s that might be in the same or a similar genre. Have them write about what it might be like to have lived in the year 1020, or to live in 3020. Obviously scale these ideas to what is age appropriate.

I think, though, that traditional forms of teaching just won’t work. If your kid doesn’t like reading, but he/she is super interested in mythology or black holes, read books about mythology or black holes. I suggest all of this because I love to read, and I love stories, yes, but also because I think right now, reading and learning together is a good way to keep everyone a little closer together and a little more sane. I honestly do think that book club has been great for my family. I hated Pride and Prejudice, but I love seeing my extended family once a week, discussing the book for ten minutes (which was what happened, at least with the last book), and then complaining and joking for an hour.

I think it also gave us a sense of having a task to complete. We knew that it would take us six weeks to complete Pride, so we could think about those six weeks in terms of finishing a book instead of an indefinite abyss of “what’s next?” This summer, even when the official school year ends, I’d pick out two or three books, or one longer one, just for fun, that will be the kids’ summer reading, but will also be a time keeper. If you and your kids really honestly dislike reading, though, I saw that Harry Potter is on Spotify to listen to, and you can’t go wrong with that.

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.

No Normal

I’m starting work (meaning working on my book) late today for two reasons. I had to take care of some other stuff, which is now done, and because my dad is traveling for work this week, which my schedule is more adjustable, anyway. I wasn’t intending to write a blog post, but in the course of doing my things that needed to get done, I came across this quote:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Last night I came to the conclusion that while there is stability sometimes, there is no “normal.” In the past year, I’ve had to adjust to a “new normal” several times. This concept really solidified in my mind after Vermont’s funeral. At the time I had a desperate, but hopeful thought that eventually things would go “back to normal.” Then it hit me that they wouldn’t. Our family would have to adjust to a new normal. On a happier note, my brother is finishing his Bachelor’s degree this year, and will be commuting to school to get his Master’s (because he’s actually a genius). Finally all of our friends will be at home, generally at the same time. It will almost be like when we were kids. It will almost be like going back to what was normal for so many years.

Except it won’t. I still don’t know exactly what the future holds, but I’ve been trying to get in touch with a Secular Institute, which is a kind of religious organization that, in this particular case, helps people with disabilities, like myself, consecrate themselves entirely to God. I can’t entirely truthfully say that I don’t care about the consequences. I’m going to pursue this no matter the cost, but I don’t know how my friends will react. I want them to know that I’m still a total nerd and weirdo who will continue to play fantasy games with them. The only difference is that I’m officially making an unbreakable commitment to God. That will be a new normal for everyone to get used to, including myself.

I brought up the quote at the beginning of this post because I decided to do my “spiritual stuff” before work instead of after work today. Part of that “spiritual stuff” is just making sure I read something from Scripture. I had an idea of what I was going to read, but when I went to the website I usually use to read the Bible, this was the “verse of the day,” and for some reason, it sunk in deep, and it seemed like I just needed to leave it at that and think about it.

I do pray a lot. It’s often just conversational. The first part, “Rejoice always,” however, is difficult for me. It’s not about an emotional kind of joy. It’s about knowing, and being satisfied with the fact that Jesus saved us. That is always worth celebrating, even if whatever “new normal” we’re in is complicated, or weird, or even painful. The Gospel reading for this weekend was about when Jesus says to his apostles, “I no longer call you slaves, I call you friends.” Our priest explained that he said this to prepare them for what was about to happen. Before we are saved, we are slaves to sin. Jesus bought our freedom at a price.

At first, As I got to know Jesus, whenever I thought about that steep price, my response was always, “I’m sorry.” He’s had to teach me that I’m worth that to him, and because I’m worth that to him, I am objectively worth it. With his help, my response has changed to, “Thank you.” The fact of the matter is, my God intimidates me. The idea that anyone would go that far for me is insane, but the idea that the God of the Universe would go that far is both baffling and kind of scary.

I have to remind myself that God’s power is in his love. Jesus says in the Gospel that he is gentle and humble of heart. Saint Paul says that love is tender and kind. Sometimes the “new normal” sucks, but God is faithful. He is only ever good. If there is nothing else to be thankful for, remember that you’re still breathing; remember that you’re heart is till beating; remember that you’re alive; remember that the God of the universe wants to know you. That is something to be thankful for.

Weakness

We don’t like weakness. We especially don’t like our own weaknesses. We pray that God will take them away, and sometimes he does, but a lot of times, he says “I have something better in mind.” Saint Paul begged God to take away the thorn in his side, whatever that might have been, and God told him, “My grace is enough.” So often we find ourselves asking God, “Can’t you just make this easier?” Maybe when we don’t get a clear response it’s because his answer is the same in the twenty-first century as it was in the first.

God chooses the weak and the messy. Think about his twelve apostles. They weren’t perfect by any standards. Ten abandoned him when he needed them most. One sold him out altogether. Only one stood by him at the cross (and there’s a theory that this may have been Lazarus, and not John the apostle). Later, he chased down Saul, a nasty persecutor of Christians, and asked him–didn’t make him, but asked him–to be his apostle to the Gentiles. If it weren’t for Saint Paul, we wouldn’t have most of the New Testament. He consistently chooses the least likely people to do his work.

He consistently chooses the uneducated, the humble, the simple, the sorrowful, the weak, to show the world that his ways are not our ways. That actually kind of freaks me out. What does that actually mean for me? I want to be a saint. I don’t say that lightly. I really do. That means really figuring out my weaknesses. I know what some of them are, and I don’t like them. The fact of the matter is, though that saints embrace their weaknesses. Jesus embraced human weakness. The fact that God decided to take on a human body that could get sick, and feel sorrow, and get hurt, and die, is insane. Still, he embraced that human weakness out of love.

Not many people know this about me, but I flipped upside-down before I was born. My mom was carrying me around so my head was upright. They were going to have to do surgery, but somehow I “miraculously” flipped back around so I could come out naturally. When I was about a year old, around the time I should have been learning to walk, I wasn’t, so a tiny piece of muscle was taken from my leg, and they figured out that I have MD. I wasn’t supposed to live passed the age of five. In fact, the likelihood of my even existing were very slim. Both of my parents somehow had the same defective gene that meant my body would be “weird.”

At times I have celebrated it, and at times, I have resented it. Had my body been “normal,” I probably would have played sports. I probably would have had very different friends and different interests. I also probably wouldn’t have figured out how to play guitar upside-down. I probably wouldn’t paint abstract pictures or make abstract mosaics. I probably wouldn’t have become an author, and I probably wouldn’t have come very close to God. I probably would have gone to a secular school half way across the country to get away from the boring suburban town I live in, and I may have lost my faith altogether. Instead, I went to Gordon, a small Christian school within driving distance of my house, so my mom could get me to my classes and then home. It was there that I learned that, not only does God notice my existence, but he loves me. It was also there that I learned nearly everything I know about writing. God’s love, reading, time, and failures have taught me the rest.

Yesterday’s post was about trust. I wrote about how God chooses to trust untrustworthy people. He’s made it quite clear to me that he loves me. Trusting someone with your love is a pretty big deal. Both of the priests at my church know that I think God is calling me to religious life. I asked one of them: “Why does God choose who he does? I mean, why would he choose me? There’s nothing special about me.” He effectively said, “I don’t know.” I know my weaknesses. I also know my strengths. I have physical weaknesses and I’m a sinner. I also deal with a few leftover insecurities from when I was a kid, but I know how to manage that stuff. I’m not just a writer; I’m a good writer, and I know that. I’m loyal. I know how to prioritize, and how to manage my time, even though I fail to do this as I should sometimes. The point is, I’m human, and so are you. For the remainder of Holy Week, this is my advice, from one messy human to the next: look at your weaknesses, and try to see them as God sees them; let him use them for his glory. Write about it, sing about it, cry about it, scream about it, and especially, pray about it because sometimes our weaknesses end up being our strengths.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

When The Sky Does Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Katie

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Don’t Be A Hero

I have certain times when I habitually pray throughout the day. It’s usually when I wake up, whenever I eat, while I’m in the shower, and when I go to bed. I often pray before I start work, or when I get writer’s block, but sometimes I forget. Otherwise, my prayers throughout the day are pretty random. I tell God when I notice the sky is pretty and things like that. I’m rather simple sometimes.

I realized something while I was praying in the shower this evening, though. I find myself apologizing to God a lot, and it’s not because I’m a sinner. I know I’m a sinner. I know I need to work on stuff, and I know he’s forgiven me, and I know he’ll always forgive me. What I apologize about is actually stupid. I apologize for things I don’t need to be sorry for. I apologize because I’m not a hero.

I realized that I still have a hero complex that I thought I left behind a long time ago. It drives me completely insane that I can’t have my own apartment so I can give homeless strangers a place to stay. It drives me crazy that I’m not “able-bodied” so I can get a well-paid job and adopt a troubled kid who really needs a good mom. The fact that I can’t go be a missionary in a third-world country makes me want to tear my hair out. It sucks that I know and believe that prayer is super powerful and works, but I don’t feel it.

I apologize that I’m not a hero, when I’m physically incapable of being a hero. That’s just it, though. This is my idea of a hero. Heroes do grande, noticeable things. I lurk in my bedroom and write weird stories, and I pray because that’s all I can do. I pray for the people doing the things I can’t do, and I pray for the people who need their help, but I want to be there.

I recently came across Saint Faustina, who is completely awesome. She had mystical encounters with Jesus, and this is what he said to her:

“I want you to be very little, because when you are little, I carry you close to My Heart. Because you are weak, I take you in My arms and carry you to the home of My Father.”

He also said,

“My child, know that the greatest obstacles to holiness are discouragement and exaggerated anxiety.”

 

Another mystic by the name of Sister Consolata Betrone received this message from Jesus:

“You only worry about loving me, and I will take care of everything else to the smallest detail.”

This is hard for me. I like to be independent. I don’t mind being told what to do or following directions or even working on a team, but I like to have an objective and, if possible, I like to have the freedom to be a little creative. I like to be able to complete the task I’ve been given and have that sense of accomplishment after. I think I was able to ignore my hero complex more when I was in high school and college because I had objectives and tasks I could complete and I got that sense of accomplishment when I passed a difficult test or got an “A” on a paper. Those were my duties. Come to class and participate. Pass the test. Write the paper. Do the homework. Get the degree. Graduate.

Now I’m in this weird position where I don’t feel as much like I have objectives. My mom told me to write a book. She didn’t give me a deadline. She didn’t tell me what it should be about. She didn’t give me work hours. She’s never complained when I’ve taken unnecessary time off. I feel like I’m floating around with no anchor. I know I can finish my mythology, and finishing each individual story does give me a small sense of accomplishment, but it’s certainly not a huge thrill. I have a list of stories that I need to write, and others may be added later, if need be. Once all my stories are written, I need to research and find an editor and either self-publish, or find publishers to submit to. What will come after that, I have no idea, but I hope I can be philanthropic.

Originally I was writing for two reasons. The first was because my mom told me to. The second was because my medical issues make it nearly, if not entirely impossible to get a “real” job. I want to go big, and I want to be a hero. Jesus says to get small, to love him, and to pray. He says to let him take care of everything. A while ago I realized I had only one real reason for writing my book. God is helping me write it. It’s his, and I want him to use it. Earlier I prayed that he would help me to lose the hero complex. I’m not a hero, and never can be in the way I think of a hero. I have to let Jesus be the hero.

 

Holy Week (Wednesday)

I saw something on Facebook that said today is the day Judas decided to sneak off and agreed to give away Jesus’ location; a decision that sent history and spirituality in a drastically new direction. Tomorrow is the night of the Last Supper, and the beginning of the Passion where Jesus stays up all night and prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. He’s not afraid of dying. God can’t die. He is afraid of the horrible pain that the human part of his nature is going to have to endure, though.

Death is a very weird part of life. My dad and I listened to a story on NPR a few weeks ago about a woman who trains forest rangers on what to do when they find a dead body in the woods. She talked about how people generally want to see the body and say goodbye. For some reason, this wasn’t the case for me when my dad’s father died several years ago. I never saw his body. I chose not to. I’m not sure why that was.

I’m really comfortable with the idea of an afterlife. I never knew my mom’s dad. He died when I was only about a year old. I just figure I’ll have a lot of annoying questions for them both when I get to heaven. The thing is, it’s fun to think about heaven or eternity or paradise, or whatever one wants to call it, but nonetheless, death is weird. It’s weird for the people who are left behind.

My dad’s father was seriously sick and stuck in a nursing home for two years. By the end, though it felt wrong, or strange, or both, I found myself praying that God would take him. Then I found that I didn’t feel as sad about his death as I thought I should. It was, what I would call, an unfortunate relief.

The other night my epilepsy was acting up, and I found myself praying nearly the same thing that Jesus did on the first Holy Thursday: God, if there’s a way that you can get rid of this, please make it go away, but if it’s meant to be for whatever reason, I pray that your will is done. Shortly after that I fell asleep. There is nothing better than sleep when dealing with epilepsy. I am hardly exaggerating when I say it feels like dying and coming back to life. It’s strange and scary, but it induces the deepest sleep.

I try to envision myself as one of Jesus’ friends, and I wonder what they must have been thinking this week, and particularly over the next few days. Beyond the question of whether or not he was or wasn’t the Messiah they had been waiting for, their friend was in a terrible emotional state to begin with, but then he had to be tortured and executed. Just reading or hearing the story makes me angry and sad, and I can’t imagine what they must have been feeling.

I imagine that Saturday was the worst, though. The initial shock was over. Everyone was hiding and waiting. Probably some of the Apostles had forgotten about what was supposed to happen on Sunday. They were probably thinking more about what on earth they were going to do next. Their leader was gone, and with that, they probably felt like their purpose truly was, or may have been lost. On top of all of that, all but one of them had abandoned Jesus, and they now had to deal with the self-incriminating emotions connected with that.

What I do know is that they had hope. Jesus told them that they were going to mess up, but that they were also going to turn back. They didn’t initially know what they were doing, but once they did, they had something to hold onto. And still, death is a weird thing. I may have hope that I’m going to see my grandfathers in heaven, but for years now they’ve been in a place I can’t get to. When I was in middle school, I remember being vaguely familiar with a girl who had cancer, though I didn’t know it for a long time. I was not particularly religious at the time, and all I can remember thinking when she passed was, “Now what?”

Whether we’re talking about the wait for heaven, or the Easter Triduum, there is always this feeling of “Now what?” It’s this strange, irreconcilable jolt of separation that even the most hopeful have to deal with.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!