Tag Archives: Suffering

Too Good To Be True

It occurred to me earlier that there was a period of time when actually, there wasn’t a song to sing in the dark. Starting on Holy Thursday night, and all through Christ’s Passion, hope waned, and as He lay in the Tomb, all through Holy Saturday, it died. After His Resurrection, many of His disciples didn’t recognize Him at first. I’ve often wondered about this, but I think it’s for two reasons. He came back in His Glory, so even though He would presumably look like the same person, there would be something different about Him. Also, though His disciples had seen Him bring people back to life (the little girl, the widow’s son, and Lazarus), the idea that He Himself could come back to life was probably just too good to be true.

That idea of “too good to be true” stuck with me. I remember hearing about the Divine Mercy message and reading some of St Faustina’s diary, and how at first it all seemed amazing, but then it started to seem “too good to be true.” How could a God of such Wisdom and Justice, which He truly is, be so Merciful? One of the promises of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, for example, is that the Lord will grant whatever a person asks for as long as it is compatible with His will. It seems, then, as long as what a person asks for is good, the Lord will grant it, even if it takes a while.

Along with this and others, He made twelve promises to anyone who had devotion to His Sacred Heart, these being:

1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state in life.
2. I will establish peace in their families.
3. I will comfort them in their trials.
4. I will be their secure refuge during life, and, above all, in death.
5. I will shed abundant blessings on all their undertakings
6. Sinners will find in My Heart an infinite ocean of mercy.
7. Lukewarm souls will become fervent.
8. Fervent souls will rapidly grow in holiness and perfection.
9. I will bless every place where an image of My Heart shall be exposed and honored.
10. I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
11. The names of those who promote this devotion will be written in My Heart, never to be blotted out.
12. I promise thee, in the excessive mercy of My Heart, that My all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Friday of nine consecutive months, the grace of final penitence; they shall not die in My disgrace nor without receiving their Sacraments; My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.

Sometimes I remind myself of these promises and am always amazed by them, but the Lord doesn’t speak idly, and He doesn’t break His promises. He made these promises to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century. During that time in France, there were problems in the Catholic Church. The Church had fallen pray to rigorism. Rigorist priests would withhold absolution (refuse to forgive sins) if it seemed to them that a person was not truly sorry, or if they were imprecise in how they gave their confession. By extension, they maintained that Communion should not often be received because they believed it was unlikely that many were in a state of Grace. At the same time, the Jansenist Heresy was also widely held, which maintained that God actively gave Grace to some, which automatically meant their salvation, and actively withheld it from others, which automatically meant their damnation.

Jesus revealed to Saint Margaret Mary that all of this led people to fear rather than love Him. He told her that this hurt His Heart greatly because He desperately wanted (and obviously still wants) a relationship with people, and to grant mercy to everyone, especially through the Sacraments. The Church endorses and promotes this devotion, as crazy as it sounds.

There were a few dark hours in our history when there was no spark, and no song to sing. Then the Lord came back and started the wildfire that still burns. In light of His Resurrection, I wondered why things often seem too good to be true. It was literally the best thing that could have ever happened. In fact, by natural understanding, it couldn’t happen, but it did, and throughout history, He’s been revealing in different ways what all of it really means. We’ve got this idea that something can be “too good,” I think because so much bad happens, and I think it’s because it’s easy to forget that the ultimate Good already did happen. Because we’re messy humans, many regard it as literally unbelievable. With that in mind, I’m not sure I think anything can really be too good–if it is intrinsically good and pure–to be true.

Love That Chooses Hurt

Last weekend while I was praying, I was thinking about the story of the prodigal son. The kid wronged his father, and left. The father was more than ready to forgive his son when he came back, acknowledged his fault and apologized. I’m realizing now just how painful the waiting and the hoping must have been for the father. The story is a metaphor for God’s mercy, but the primary focus is on the actions and decisions of the son. Not much time is spent on the interior feelings or actions of the father.

Last week I had to write a letter to someone I love because she has been being abusive to other family members. I told her that I still love her, and I really do, but unless she changes her behavior, I can’t have a relationship with her. It kills me because if she was willing to change and asked for my forgiveness, I would grant it. I hate tough love, meaning I hate having to do it. The father in the story of the prodigal son wanted to forgive his kid. He wanted to love him.

Recently, I talked to my parish priest about being overly scrupulous. Scrupulosity has been described as “Catholic guilt on steroids.” I tend to be afraid of my own human weakness, I often think things are sinful when they’re not, and sometimes if I commit a venial sin, I think it’s much worse than it is. I’ve been told on multiple occasions to let God love me. He wants to love, and he wants to forgive. Often, we just don’t let him. I think I better understand, at least to some extent, what that feels like.

I watched a talk about when Jesus was teaching about the Eucharist in John 6. Literally thousands of people left Him because of that teaching. He knows what it feels like to lose friends. He also knows what it’s like to offer love that people won’t accept. This is what sin does. I imagine love is like a ball that gets passed back and forth between two people playing catch. Each person “offers” it, and each person “receives” it. Sin is like a barrier that gets set between them. Love can still be offered, but it can’t, or in many cases, simply won’t be received. Letting God love us is often about admitting our faults and letting Him forgive us.

I’m realizing as I work through this that admitting our fault has to be preceded by accepting our fault. I already intuitively knew this, but I haven’t been able to articulate it until now. I know this person whom I love, and I don’t think she’ll accept that she’s at fault. I can’t claim that I don’t feel angry with her, but I wish her no ill will. That’s what hurts. She’s put up the barrier that’s broken up our game, and I’m left holding the ball. It’s not a perfect analogy because you can’t throw the same ball to more than one person. Every relationship has a different ball.

There was a definitive breaking point, and since then I’ve been praying for her. Often, prayer can feel like a desperate monologue. On occasion though, either by reading Scripture or sincerely listening with my heart as best I can, I get a clear answer. I know that Jesus suffers. He chose to be with us, and He chooses to continue to suffer with us even though He doesn’t have to. Jesus suffered a lot in His own lifetime here on earth. Last weekend I asked Him, “Lord, why do you choose to suffer this with me? You shouldn’t have to suffer.” He said, “I don’t want you to suffer alone.”

That’s what real love is. The person whom I love has hurt a lot of people. I could have told those people to keep it to themselves, or between them and a priest or a therapist, or God. That wouldn’t be real love, though. Real love doesn’t abandon ship when the seas get rough. Real love is love that sticks around to help clean up after the earthquake. Real love is love that chooses to suffer for the good of the other. Real love is willing to share the hurt.

The Way Of The Cross

I was going to read through someone else’s meditations on the Stations of the Cross. Then I remembered that I’m a Catholic writer with a vivid imagination, so I thought I’d write my own.

The First Station: Jesus is condemned to death.

I know why this is happening. He doesn’t have to die. He’s dying because we’re weak; because we’re sinful; because there’s a huge, dark chasm between us and His Father, and He wants to bridge that gap. He’s dying because He loves us, and He desperately wants us to love Him back. Still, He doesn’t have to die. I just feel like this could have, really should have happened another way. Who am I in this scenario? If it were me, would I, like Pilate, knowing Jesus was innocent, be a coward and let Him die? Would I be one of the soldiers? If so, would I just do what the others were doing and beat Him and insult Him? Would I have the courage to at least question the others? Would I be one in the crowd practically cheering Pilate on? Would I be one of His friends who ran away? Would I be a silent friend who stood by at a distance? How close am I really willing to get? I don’t like these questions, but they’re there. This is what my sins cost Him, and this is the price He’s willing to pay for my soul. I am grateful, but I know I can never thank Him enough.

The Second Station: Jesus receives His cross.

I know that sins are heavy. They hurt. When I realize I’ve done something particularly wrong, I feel it. It makes me sad, and it makes me ashamed of myself. I physically feel that guilt. That’s just for one person; that’s just for me. Jesus, who is fully human, had to carry my own sins, but everyone else’s, too. Even the thought is terrifying. On top of carrying all the sins of everyone ever, He was brutally beaten and insulted, He had to carry the instrument of His own physical death. Through all of it, He was silent. I can’t even fathom that. It would make me so angry. We are quick to be angry, particularly at Judas, but had he even hoped for the Lord’s forgiveness, he would have been forgiven. Jesus wants to forgive us, but the weight of our sins makes us afraid to go to our Savior. That’s exactly who He is: our Savior, and we can trust Him. He desperately wants us to trust Him.

The Third Station: Jesus falls the first time.

God fell. The strongest Person in the universe fell. He wasn’t weak. He was brave. He is brave. He was willing to fall for us. He was willing to fall for me. He was willing to die for me. Thinking of Him falling kills me because I can’t do a thing about it. I can’t go back in time and make it right. We say that after Original Sin was the “fall.” He didn’t have to fall. He could have stopped all of this. He allowed Himself to fall. He was doing His Father’s will, but it was a choice, too. This is what our fall cost. This is what it looks like. God is willing to fall with us. He’s willing to come down to our level. If we’ve fallen as low as it’s possible for a human to fall, God will find us there.

The Fourth Station: Jesus meets His Mother.

To be sinless in a sinful world must have been strange, both for Jesus and his Mother. Obviously this whole ordeal was terrible for Him, but His Mother, who was, and is, the closest person to His Heart, had to watch the whole thing. I imagine her being there would have been a comfort for Him. Would it not also have been painful? She had to suffer, too. She had to watch her Son suffer and die for sins that were not her own. A part of me wonders how she could have been there and not be resentful, but of course, I know. She would have known that it was worth it. I’m grateful that she was there to comfort Jesus since I can’t be. What would I even say if I could be? Neither “Thank you,” nor “I’m sorry this is happening to you,” seem to cut it; and what can just a glance really say? Somehow I think she could say it all with just a look.

The Fifth Station: Simon helps Jesus carry the cross.

Simon was a stranger. He didn’t know Jesus. To him, Jesus was just a guy–a criminal for all he knew–who was too physically weak to carry that cross. Jesus, in His humanity, needed help. Still, Jesus is God, and God needed help. I keep coming back to the fact that things could have happened differently. Again, this is a moment that looks like weakness. From a strictly human perspective, I suppose it is. Truthfully, though, it’s a moment of love. Throughout this ordeal, what Jesus needed most was love. This time, Jesus initiated it. He allowed someone to help Him in His weakness. He needed to love someone because very few people were loving Him. I expect that changed Simon a lot, and I expect by the end of their short encounter, He loved Jesus. I wonder if anything was said between them. I wonder what I would have done had I been in Simon’s place. If Jesus had been a stranger to me, and I had been there at the time, would I have agreed to help? Would I have refused? Would I have seen Him for who He really was? Would I have spoken to Him? Would I have listened and responded had He said anything to me? There were people there who knew Him from before. They were watching from a distance, but after seeing Him fall, no one thought to help. They were afraid to help. What makes me most uncomfortable is the thought that I might have been afraid to help. In the end it was a stranger who helped Him, and it wasn’t exactly willingly. Jesus said that when we help “the least of these,” we’re helping Him. More often than not, “the least of these” are strangers. I need to remember that when I am given the chance to take the place of Simon.

The Sixth Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus:

Veronica was brave. At this point, there was very little anyone could do. I sometimes find myself wondering about odd details like what the weather was like that day. Usually I picture the sky being overcast, but what if it wasn’t? What if there wasn’t a cloud in the sky? That would almost make the whole thing worse. What if the sun was shining bright on the whole bloody mess to show it in all its evil cruelty? For the most part, it was horrible, and awful, and cruel, and evil. Then out of nowhere, Veronica steps out of the crowd and offers Jesus what little comfort she could. I don’t even know if they had known each other from before. Maybe she was a stranger, too. Maybe this small act of kindness put her in danger. Maybe it cost her greatly, but to her, it was worth it. I think she knew who He was. Because of that, He shared something of Himself with her in a particularly special way. Jesus wants to do the same for us. He loves us. If we love Him, directly through devotion and prayer, or by helping “the least of these,” we do for Him what Veronica bravely did. Sometimes that’s what it takes. Sometimes it takes bravery. Let us be brave, and when we aren’t feeling brave, we can ask her to pray for us.

The Seventh Station: Jesus falls a second time.

Was this fall worse than the first? What was the cause of it? was it something specific? was it something external, merely physical, or was it some particularly horrible sins? Was it the weight of World War II? Was it the weight of all the abortions happening today? Was it the weight of two millennia of people rejecting His love? Why did He fall? When I think about it, I want to help Him up. I want to end His suffering, but that’s because I know Him. I know that this second fall was my fault. I ignored Him for a long time. I rejected His love for a while. I want to help Him up because I know Him. Do I want to help strangers up when they fall? Do I try? Do I at least pray for them? I can at least do that. Sometimes I forget to, and that, too, I think, is part of why He fell this second time. He will fall with us and for us as many times as it takes to show us who He is and how loved we are.

The Eighth Station: The women of Jerusalem weep for Jesus.

Jesus encounters another small act of love. All these women can do is weep for Him. Sometimes that’s all we can do when we encounter horrible things, especially injustice. Here Jesus shows His strength. He tells the women not to weep for Him. He offers them some comfort, and tells them that they should weep for themselves. They love Him. They are loyal to Him. Being loyal to the Lord, and staying loyal, is sometimes difficult. The first several centuries after Christs’s death were dangerous for anyone who would be called His followers. It more often than not meant a bloody death not unlike His own. For some, this is still the case. For many, though, calling yourself Christian usually means being seen as strange, and sometimes being shunned by colleges or neighbors. For the most part, it’s mostly dangerous to our image. What is most important to us? Our God, or our ego; our reputation? I imagine this is what He meant. Still, had I been there; had I been one of those women, I would have wept for Him. Maybe it was all He could say because He had to keep walking, but I would want Him to see that what He was doing mattered to me, and it matters to me that He still suffers for our sins.

The Ninth Station: Jesus falls a third time.

He fell because He was exhausted. Not only was He carrying the sins of the world; not only had He been tortured and insulted; not only was He carrying the physical weight of the cross; He was certainly being spiritually abused, too. This was the Devil’s last stand. He knew that Jesus was our Savior, and he knew that he had lost this war. He tried, nonetheless, to bring the Lord down. This was the last battle. Yet again, I want to do something. I see in my mind the Lord on the ground, bleeding and exhausted, and I wish there was even a word I could speak to Him. I wish I could take His hand, even for just a moment and give Him an ounce of comfort. I don’t know what gave Him the strength and courage to get back up, but He did. Maybe it’s this desire, and that of so many others that gave Him what He needed to get back up. I hope so. He has to know that I love Him. I know He knows that, but when you love someone, you tell them. Tell Him what He already knows, but desperately needs to hear.

The Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped of His clothes.

What more could they–what more could we–do to Him? We could do this. We stripped Him of His clothes, but in so much of what we do, we sometimes unknowingly strip each other of our humanity. Jesus said to love our enemies. In this moment, we were His enemies. He didn’t hate us. He loved us. Ultimately, we aren’t meant to have enemies. If we have enemies, we see them as just that: enemies. We don’t see them as people. This comes out more subtly, in so many ways, however. Our sinful nature leads us to see others as objects of pleasure, or as convenience items, or as inconveniences to be disposed of. Even at this moment, Jesus did not see us this way. He saw us as people in need of redemption. Even at our worst, He loved us, and even at our worst today, He still loves us.

The Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the Cross.

One of the final things Jesus does before His death, as He is being nailed to the Cross, is to ask that we be forgiven. We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t know that we were killing God. Still, He was human. Sure, He wasn’t sinful, but we had done everything humanly possible to hurt Him and shame Him, and He still loved us. Before any of this, He gave us the Eucharist, knowing this would happen, so that He could always be a part of our lives. Why He would want to be part of my life, after what my sins cost Him, is beyond me. That’s not how God is. That’s who He is. He is greater than any evil this world can throw at Him. He is greater than my fear, my confusion, my weakness, my sinfulness, or anything else. He simply loves me. Maybe it doesn’t make sense, but love doesn’t have to. It just is.

The Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the Cross.

God is dead. God is dead, and I killed Him. It didn’t have to happen this way. He didn’t have to die to save my soul; to save humanity. He died for us to show us what we’re worth to Him. No matter what the world says, and no matter what I think because of that, God says I’m worth dying for. Still, God is dead, and my sins killed Him. I am tempted to feel guilty about this, and when I sin, I rightly do. He doesn’t want me to carry that guilt, though. He doesn’t want me to carry the shame. He already did that. He wants me to come to Him, and ask forgiveness. He wants to forgive me. He wants to be with me. That’s why I can look at a crucifix and say, “Thank you,” though I’m tempted to leave things at “I’m sorry.” Don’t just leave things at “Thank you,” though. Thank Him for the sky. Thank Him for hot water. Thank Him for the ability to read this. Even small things are so meaningful to Him, and that, too makes it worth it.

The Thirteenth Station: Jesus’ Body is given to His Mother.

This is a very human moment. Mary was Jesus’ mother. She had just lost her Son. It seems wrong that a person’s child should be the first to die. I’d like to think she knew what it meant, and I believe that she knew He would rise again. Nonetheless, her Child had died the most horrible death possible. He had suffered the most a human could suffer. If I were in her place, I’m not sure I would have had the hope I knew she had. I think again to the friends who ran away. Would I be with them, or would I be with Mary to receive Jesus’ body? What would I say to her? There probably would be nothing to say. I don’t think a single word of comfort would really be available, not when God is dead.

The Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in a tomb.

The finality of it just seems weird. What would I do, not knowing that this was not the end of the story? I think I’d be in shock. Death wasn’t supposed to happen; isn’t supposed to happen. It is meant to seem strange because it isn’t right. Yet God is willing to go even this far to save us. He died so that, in the end, we don’t have to. Jesus died and was laid in a tomb, and most thought that this was the end. Those in power hoped that this was the end. Time and time again, through the centuries, we are proven wrong. God is never outdone. The finality seems weird because it’s like an unresolved chord at the end of a song, or a spot on a canvas that hasn’t been painted, or the end of a story that hasn’t been written. Knowing that this isn’t the end of the story, but the sad end of a chapter, gives us what we need when we must hope against hope.

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.

Quick Answers To Strange Prayers

“What have I got myself into?” I sit here this afternoon with a message in my inbox from a teenage boy from exactly where, I don’t know, knowing that, in fact, this kid is an answer to a prayer. Nonetheless, I feel as though I’ve probably bit off more than I can chew. Two days ago, I was praying my Rosary, as I do every day, and the focus was on the Sorrowful mysteries. Whenever I focus on Christ’s Passion, the thing that bothers me most is that he had to endure it alone. He was as alone as anyone could possibly be, and that kills me. When I finished my Rosary, I said an extra prayer, which was, “Lord, I wish there was a way I could take some of that loneliness away from you.” Then it hit me. “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”

I can’t directly take away the loneliness of His Passion, but I can help someone else who is lonely. I had insomnia a couple of nights ago, so for something to do while I was trying to fall asleep, I joined a website that helps people find pen pals. I created my account, and on my profile, I said that I was hoping to make a new friend, and to be a help to someone who was lonely. I prayed that a lonely person would find me, but yesterday I decided I couldn’t just sit around and wait. Jesus went looking for those who needed His help, so I decided I needed to, as well.

I found the aforementioned kid’s profile, and he said he suffered from severe depression, and was looking for a friend. He’s fifteen, and he was looking for someone more around his age, but I sent him a message anyway, saying that I might be able to help him, or just be a friend. I told him that when I was younger I dealt with pretty bad loneliness, and I knew that it sucked. I didn’t expect him to reply, but surprisingly, he did. He was surprised that I’m twenty five, and he agreed to be email buddies. This was all in a conversation we had using the website’s mailbox, so I gave him my email address, and now I’m waiting. In the meantime, I’m also praying for him.

I worry that I won’t have the right words to talk to this kid, but I suppose I don’t have to. I most likely can’t physically be there to give him a hug when he needs it, but maybe all I need to do is listen. I often forget that it’s just as important, if not more important, to listen, than to say the “right” thing. Sometimes people don’t need to hear anything. Sometimes they just need to get their words; their thoughts; their pain out. If I can’t be the angel who comforted Jesus in the Garden, maybe I can be a friend who comforts this kid in his garden.

He Meant What He Said

Our car was in the shop for most of the summer. No one could figure out what was wrong with it. We had it back for about ten days. As of Sunday, it’s dead and in the shop again. I wrote a post about this, and about patience and forgiveness when we were first having these problems. Jesus has been teaching me things this summer, partly through this experience. He’s taught me that this is my cross to carry, and I can carry it with Him.

I’m mostly stuck at my house, but I can still work, and thankfully, I have a portable wheelchair that my dad can get in his truck, and I was able to get to the studio and cut the lead vocals and two guitar parts for my new song, Autumn Hero last night.It’s a worship song, and I call the Lord my Autumn Hero in the song because, for me, it evokes the idea of a world that has been saved but isn’t perfect. We’re still clinging to Summer, and the idea is that Summer will come again, but right now, we’re in an uncomfortable time of waiting. Admittedly, it’s not a perfect metaphor, but I like it, because Autumn is also a beautiful time, even though we have to “taste the cold.”

I slept really late today because I went to bed really late. As I’ve said before, I’m nocturnal. I’ll just stay up late tonight to get my work done. When I woke up today, my prayer was this: “Lord, I’m a mess, but I’m Your mess. I’m not leaving You. If I were to leave, I’d have nowhere to go. You are my Home. I literally can’t leave. I’m staying right here.” I don’t need to tell Him that, but I wanted to tell Him anyway. When you love someone, you tell them, even if they know it. What I meant was a little more than that, though. My Catholic faith is so ingrained in who I am at this point, that I can’t imagine going to another church. The Church is a mess, but it’s His mess.

Sometimes it seams like the world is out to get us. A bunch of bad stuff happens all at once, and it can feel like we’re drowning in it. Between the car and the problems in the Church, it does kind of feel like the world is trying to beat me down, on an emotional, if not a spiritual level, also. A lot of times, I end up waiting until the end of the day to commit to serious prayer. Lately I’ve been committing to praying the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet before work, as well as some “off-the-top-of-my-head” prayer, and that has helped a lot. I also pray when I start work, and while I’m working. I call it “picking a fight with the universe.”

Father Mike Schmitz often posts videos on YouTube, and a lot of them are really helpful. In one, he talked about having “anti-fragile” faith. He said that fragile faith is faith that gets broken when it comes up against difficulties. Then there is strong faith that can withstand difficulty and is no better or worse for it. Then there is anti-fragile faith, which gets stronger when it comes up against difficulties. This will probably sound like bragging, but I’ve been surprised to find that these frustrations I’ve encountered lately have, in fact, made my faith stronger. It honestly does come as a surprise, and it has nothing to do with me.

When God made me, he made a stubborn woman. I can at least say that. I think being stubborn is often only perceived as a bad thing. My own stubborn nature has been a huge help when it comes to trying times. The thing I’ve come to realize lately is that if we want Jesus, that automatically means we want the Cross. When He said to pick up our cross and follow Him, He meant it. For the longest time, I wanted Him, but I didn’t want the Cross. I realize now that it doesn’t work that way.

Learning to accept and carry my cross, whatever it might be, whether it’s the car, or my epilepsy, or something else, I try to carry it because I have to. I have nothing to prove. I just want Jesus, and I’ll follow Him through whatever mess I have to because I’m stubborn. I can’t do this on my own. I need His help, and I have to remember that, and it’s humbling, but I’m stubborn for Him. We carry our crosses because this is Friday, but Sunday will come. With that in mind, I want to end this post with one of my own songs.

https://writered.bandcamp.com/track/good-in-things

Suffering, Thunder, And Glory

Yesterday we had a pretty good thunderstorm near our house. I am twenty five, but there is still a five-year-old part of me that gets excited about thunder. My dad and I just finished watching all of what has been released of the series “Vikings.” A line that sticks out to me is when one of the main characters, Rollo, who is a viking warrior who marries a French princess, is explaining to his wife, “When you hear thunder, it’s just thunder, but when I hear thunder, I still hear Thor striking his hammer.”

Something I remembered as I watched the rain come down through my bedroom/office window yesterday was when God reveals himself to the prophet Elijah. 1 Kings 19-11-12 says, in effect, that God did not reveal himself in a great wind, or an earthquake or in a fire, but in a “still small voice.” This seems counter intuitive, but then I reflect on all the times it has seemed that God has spoken to me. As a kid, I was always looking for God in the thunder and lightning that I still love to this day. I don’t usually find him there, though.

I found myself reflecting, too on the idea the vikings had that, if there was thunder, then Thor was striking his hammer. That was just a given. The idea resonates with me. To me, as both a Christian and a fantasy writer, the idea that thunder is just thunder doesn’t quite cut it. When I hear thunder, I hear the sound of God’s glory. I can listen to a thousand worship songs, and don’t get me wrong, I love worship music. In fact, I think my favorite song is, “How Great Thou Art.” Those songs don’t compare to the thrill and joy I get when I hear thunder. I think that’s why the five-year-old in me will never grow up. What I mean is, God doesn’t necessarily speak through the thunder, but he can use it to remind people how awesome he is.

God’s glory is so obvious in his Creation that it’s easy to take it for granted. It’s evident in the sound of thunder, and the downpour falling on the roof. It’s evident in the flash of lighting, and in the dark, mighty clouds. It’s evident, too in the silence after the storm. Beyond that, though it’s evident in even the simplest things–the foods we eat, the things we smell, the colors we see, the softness of a pet’s fur or feathers–all of it.

Imagine how the world would be different if God hadn’t bothered to make color, or given us the ability to see color. Similarly, imagine if the world had been made without sound, or if humans didn’t hear sound for some reason. I acknowledge that some people don’t have the gift of sight, or of hearing. I would like to reflect on that, too.

I have been gifted with language. I have had a good education, and one thing I can confidently say I’m good at is writing, and I’m a moderately good speaker. On the other hand, I suffer from epilepsy. Epilepsy is a weird disorder, and comes in many forms. People experience it in different ways. In my case, I generally lose the ability to use and comprehend language, and in the worst cases, I lose awareness of my surroundings, but don’t exactly black out. Though it has no monetary value, language is something I personally value very highly, and it genuinely terrifies me when I lose the ability to communicate, even momentarily.

As part of my devotions every day, I read something from scripture. Sometimes I’ll just pick something out at random, sometimes I’ll use the daily Mass readings, and sometimes God will give me something to reflect on. Today I felt I needed to spend some time to reflect on the reading from today’s Morning Prayer (from the Liturgy of the Hours). It was from the book of Job. He poses the question, “If we take happiness from God’s hand, must we not take sorrow, too?” To be clear, God doesn’t want people to suffer, and he doesn’t impose suffering on people. He does allow people to suffer, and that’s hard to understand.

My dad has told me that when I’m having a seizure, or what I call “brain fuzz,” even though I don’t know I’m doing it, I sometimes repeat the word, “No” over and over. Something, maybe in my subconscious, is protesting, and I love that. I often know ahead of time when I’m going to have “brain fuzz.” My prayer used to be, “God, take this away.” When it became clear that He wasn’t going to, I changed it to, “Please let this one pass, but if you don’t, just stay with me.” Sometimes I think that, “No” is His way of saying with me that “this is not okay.”

In a way, I can appreciate what my brain fuzz does to me. I can appreciate how scary it is and how alone it makes me feel because I know that Jesus was alone through His Passion. This is very obvious when He says from the cross, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” When I lose the ability even to think words, I am sometimes tempted to feel that I have been abandoned. I believe, however, that that subconscious “No!” is His way of being with me, even if I don’t understand it. This is my choice, and in this way, I choose to view even my epilepsy, and in particular, that, “No!” as a gift.

How does any of that have to do with thunder or glory? Sometimes I reflect on things Jesus said or did, either in Scripture or in revelation to Saints, and though I love Him, He is intimidating. During the storm yesterday, I thought about how I find thunder exciting and comforting at the same time. God doesn’t need to use words to reveal Himself to us. I hear His glory in the thunder because, as the five-year-old part of me might say, He is big, and I am small, He is God, and I am not, and even when my epilepsy takes my language–my treasure–from me, He gives me that rebellious, glorious, “NO!”

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

People

Today was a house cleaner day, which meant my mom, brother and I had to be out. Part of my prayer routine is to read something from scripture, whither it’s a few lines or a whole chapter from the Bible. Often, I’ll just read part of or all of the daily Mass readings, which I did today. In particular, Jesus said in the Gospel reading for today, “Amen I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age…” I wondered, as I often do, what am I really willing to lose for him? The fact of the mater is, dying sounds much less scary to me than losing. It’s a weird thought.

Just a few minutes ago, I was praying the Rosary, but before I did, I prayed something else. In the Catholic liturgical year, it’s now what’s called Ordinary Time. During Ordinary Time I cycle through the mysteries of the Rosary every day. Today happened to be a day for the Sorrowful Mysteries. I really didn’t want to go through these because they focus on his Passion, and I just didn’t want to think about that at the moment. I told him that, but I said I would because he actually had to go through it, and that matters to me.

When I was about halfway done with my Rosary, my epilepsy started acting up, just enough to be disruptive, but not enough to totally stop me from praying. It went away by the time I was finished, and weirdly enough, I think this might have been his way of allowing me to share what he went through a little more intimately. To be clear, I don’t like the fuzz, and I don’t think he makes this happen. I think he allows stuff like this to happen, and I don’t need to know why. I can accept it.

Thinking about it, I didn’t know, for example, that death didn’t scare me until I nearly drowned once. I’ve lost things for other people–in other words, I’ve given things away–but I didn’t know I was willing to lose those things until it got to the point where I had to decide what was most important. The fact of the matter is, conflict terrifies me. The idea of having to make the choice between a friendship and my faith is awful. I worry about this in particular because I have one friend whose ideals on many issues are quite the opposite as mine. Still, our friendship is twenty years old, and I think it would take a lot to mess it up, but our centers of gravity are not the same.

Other than a few acquaintances, I’m the only Christian I know and see on a regular basis. I want other people to share my faith for a lot of reasons, but partly, and maybe a bit selfishly, because being the only of anything is lonely. The fact of the matter is, my faith, in many cases is viewed as hostile or offensive, or what have you, and what I’ve realized is, though it hasn’t even threatened to happen yet, I’m most afraid of losing people.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

I Give Up. I Can’t Do It. I Need Help.

I’m not always aware of my sins, but when I become aware of particularly problematic ones, it sucks. I realized something tonight, though. I think I only figured out what my problem is with God’s help. I have a habit of interpreting things rather literally. Because of that, I’m a little obsessive about being perfect. That’s problematic when I also want to be humble. I start doing really well, but as soon as I realize this, I get prideful about it, thinking I’m getting good at the whole holiness thing. Then of course I mess up, and it really brings me down.

Jesus said to be his disciple I had to pick up my cross, deny myself and follow him. For a long time I’ve thought that meant accepting what difficulties the world threw at me, and trusting God to get me through them. I still think that’s part of it, but what God helped me to understand tonight is that I can’t carry my cross by myself. No matter how hard I try to be holy; no matter how hard I try to be perfect, without his help, that cause is lost. To follow my Lord, I have to accept my weaknesses, I have to accept that I deal with certain fears and temptations, I have to accept that I’m not perfect, I have to accept that he sees my sins and loves me anyway, and at some point, I have to give up and let him take over.

The fact of the matter is, Jesus needed help to carry his cross. His was a physical one, and in that time, he was experiencing physical weakness and pain. He could only carry it so far before Simon had to help. My cross is a spiritual one. My cross is believing that I can be perfect on my own. I can’t, and earlier tonight I gave up. I gave up and I prayed. I basically told the Lord that I’m not perfect. I want to be perfect, but I can’t, and that bothers me. I told him that I want to give up and let him help me. Letting him help is hard for me. I’m actually the type of person who really doesn’t like help from anyone, unless I really need it. I have enough sense to know that I simply can’t do certain things. This is one of those things I simply can’t do. I give up. I need help. That is my prayer. “I give up. I can’t do this. I need help.” Jesus had Simon to help carry his cross. I have the Lord himself to help carry mine.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!