Tag Archives: Strength

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.”

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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.

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!

Advent Reflection Notes (Week Two)

I’ve already watched the videos for week two, and I didn’t find them that insightful, except for one done by a priest named Father Nathan Cromly. These are a few points that were in his video that I’ll expand with my own thoughts a bit.

1: God prepares us by making us wait, and making us thirst for him.
-I think this touches on one of the points that stuck with me from last week. It reminds me of the quote from Saint Padre Pio: “I’ve been praying for something for twenty years, so I’m beginning to have hope.” Father Cromly says that it can be very tempting to despair and give up on faith in our current culture, especially if we don’t know many or any others who practice our faith. It’s easy to look at the problems in the world and wonder where God is or what he’s doing, but God wants us to dare to hope.

2: God isn’t afraid to disturb our sense of peace.
-In a recent post, I talked about how I really don’t know exactly how one would prepare for the coming of a king, let alone the King of the Universe. This point is definitely true for me because I’ve grown a lot spiritually in the past few years, and as I grow, I feel a desire to be holy very strongly, and sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to put the things I like into terms that make sense, or even to know if they’re dangerous to my spirituality. For example, I’ve been watching the show Daredevil with my dad on Netflix. The story is super interesting, but the symbol for the superhero/protagonist is the devil, and there’s a lot of problematic language in the show. Granted, the protagonist is Catholic, so I’m assuming the irony in that was meant to be simply amusing and innocent, but it still strikes me as possibly problematic. I have a harder time overlooking the language, but part of my problem is that I can’t help watching this show from a writer’s perspective, and in that sense, it’s really good. The point I’m trying to make is that figuring out how to take on the world is exceedingly complicated.

3: God comes into our lives to expand what we think is possible
-Yesterday I was still wrestling with the feeling that what I had to offer the Lord would never be enough. Again, this hearkens back to the parable of the goats and the sheep. Out of the blue, while my mom and I were in the car headed somewhere, I sort of felt him ask me, “Do you doubt what you can do or what I can do? Do you doubt my mercy?” I was speechless for a minute, then all I could manage was, “Sorry… I don’t doubt it any more.”

4: What does it mean and what does it take to unconditionally say “yes” to God like Mary did?
-This is a tough one because I know from experience that it often means being totally socially weird. For me, at least, it has meant getting used to being weird, accepting it, and celebrating it. I know that it also means doing things I don’t like sometimes, or doing things I could never initially see myself doing. When I first volunteered to teach fourth graders, I never actually thought I’d like it. Actually, I like teaching the little kids more than the high school kids. I started with high school kids, though, and even then, it was kind of on a whim, and I just went with it. If it weren’t for my epilepsy, I might consider trying to get a teaching degree and teaching theology at a Catholic school.

I would also just like to mention something I read the other day. Jesus appeared to Saint Faustina several times, and in one of these apparitions, he gave her a prayer that would greatly help in the salvation and conversion of souls. The prayer is, “O blood and water which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a font of mercy for us, I trust in you.” I’ve been praying for a few people for around four or five years at least. Ultimately, I guess that’s not really a very long time, but sometimes it feels like forever. Still, this revelation to Saint Faustina kind of reminds me of Saint Padre Pio’s quote. I like to tell people that I can swim a mile. After the first half mile, I’m exhausted, but I make it the second half because I’m more stubborn than I am strong.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Hey, Terrorists

Hey, terrorists. I want to talk to you. My name’s Katie, and you know what? I’m Christian. Guess what else? I graduated college. I’m writing a book, and I’ve got paid money to be on stage and play music for people. I bet you hate that. You know what the best part is? I’m not afraid of you. You probably see me as broken. You see me as an infidel, and there is no doubt in my mind that you would kill me if we crossed paths on the wrong day. I don’t hate you, though. I am angry with you, but I don’t hate you. In some ways I feel bad for you.

You don’t know my God, so you don’t know love. You’ve never known freedom. You’ve never known peace. Your lives revolve around war. All you want to do is kill people for your insane deity. I have a secret for you. Freedom and peace come when people can accept each other’s differences and get along. You are my enemies. You made that clear when you started attacking and killing my fellow Christians in Syria and Iraq and other places, and later when you made me worry for the safety of my friends in France. I don’t hate you. My God told me to love my enemies. My God told me to pray for my enemies, so I’ve been praying for you.

I’ve been praying that you would change. I’ve been praying that you would¬†know the love and joy that you would¬†find in the presence of my God. Your god is distant. Your god demands death and destruction, and your god will never be satisfied. My God loved you before you were born. My God loves you now, and my God will love you no matter what. He made you in his image. He made you in the image of love. That’s what he wants you to do. He wants you to love. He doesn’t want you to destroy. He wants you to show kindness to those you disagree with. He wants you to help the people who have nothing. He wants you to repent and give him the glory he deserves. Only love can create a perfect world, not your so-called holy war. Just stop. Just give it up. Isn’t that easier? No one else has to fight. No one else has to die. No one ever has to be alone ever again.

You call your fighters martyrs. You’re not dying for your god. You’re dying for your own ego. You’re dying because your leaders told you to. The real martyrs are the Christians you’re killing for believing in love. You can’t possibly be devoid of love or remorse. There must be a part of you that knows this is wrong. You are human. If nothing else, that makes us family. You are my family, and I will not hate you. Like me you have a family. Like me you were once a silly, imaginative child. Like me you must have someone or something that you love. Like me you believe in a greater purpose. We are a lot more alike than you would ever like to admit, I know. I bet if you and I sat down to coffee one day we’d find something interesting to talk about. I bet we could have a civilized conversation. Isn’t that easier? Doesn’t that sound nice? Stop fighting. Just think about it.