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.

What We Say In Silence

I didn’t write over the Triduum this year. Normally I do, but I was an emotional train wreck. I cried for most of the Easter Vigil Mass. I had taken a nap earlier on Saturday, so I wasn’t exactly tired. At 12:30, then, my dad and I started one of the Harry Potter movies and went to bed around 3:00.

Normally for us, Easter looks like getting up and having a feast with a bunch of relatives from New Hampshire and Maine. We had our book club on Friday, and planned to meet online for a bit. We talked about food and boredom and pets. Instead of our usual pile of food to feed an army, we got an order from Buffalo Wild Wing, and my mom ordered a chocolate cake and a carrot cake. After we chatted online, my dad and I watched the next Harry Potter movie. Then I went to pray.

It seemed like the Lord was asking, so I said, “I’m not angry with you. I just don’t know why this is happening, and I don’t know what you’re doing, and it’s kind of freaking me out.” That day I had Joy Of The Lord by Rend Collective stuck in my head despite not having listened to it in a while. The Chorus ends with, “In the darkness I’ll dance, in the shadows I’ll sing/ The joy of the Lord is my strength.” I thought about the first Easter. The disciples were together behind locked doors, afraid and uncertain about what even the next hour might bring. That felt familiar.

I imagined myself in that room with them. Most of them had fled and abandoned the Lord; all of them thought He was dead and that the previous three years of their lives had been a waste. They all knew that they were in very real danger. I imagined sitting there, and suddenly Jesus walks through the closed and locked door. Chairs are knocked over; people shout, but He raises His hand in blessing and says, “Peace.” In His language, though, it would have been “Shalom.” For some reason every fiber of my being hyper-focused on that “Shalom.” I wasn’t simply imagining this anymore; I was praying it.

In my meditation, He walked over to me, got down to my level (because I was sitting in a chair, sort of stunned), and showed me His hand. Instinctively, I took it, and it was like everything disappeared, even time. It was like He was silently saying, “I’m still here.” I waited for Him to do something; I was letting Him drive the bus at this point. I thought the scene would continue and He would show His scars to His disciples because that’s just what would happen next, but nothing else happened. For a moment, I thought about letting go so things could progress like they do in the “story,” but it was almost like He silently said, “You don’t have to,” so I didn’t.

When I finally opened my eyes and looked at my phone, I was surprised to see how much time had passed. I told Him that it feels like the world got pulled out from under me. Then I realized that His world had got pulled out from under Him, albeit in a different, and much more painful way, but He knows what it feels like to be thrown into all-of-a-sudden chaos. I also realized that He came back with scars.

I don’t think anyone is going to come out of this unscathed. Those who don’t contract the virus are still worried about their kids’ education, their financial situation, the health of their loved ones, their own mental health, their spiritual well being, or simply what the future as a whole will look like. For better or worse, this is changing us. The first thing Jesus said when He came back to His disciples was “Shalom.” For some reason that felt like I had found a point of gravity and I suddenly wasn’t just spinning off in space, bouncing off of asteroids. It felt like I had found a star and could rest there. Even though it wasn’t a physical touch, He held my hand and silently said, “I’m still here.”

Today I was thinking about constants and how valuable they are. My stupid bird still sleeps under my ear and screeches at the kids playing in the yard next door. I still play the same stupid video game with my dad. We can still watch Harry Potter. The water is still running. The lights still work. I can’t see my friend, I can’t go to the studio, I can’t go to Mass, and that stuff is scary. Most importantly, though, Jesus, the God and King of everything is still here. It’s a lot easier to listen to the chaos because it’s all over the news and social media and even in our heads and it can drive us crazy.

Yesterday, I started my meditation not really knowing what to expect. Early on, when things started shutting down, I was nervous, but said, “Okay, Lord, you got this,” but of course I’ve been listening to the chaos. Last night, in my meditation, the Lord stopped everything and said, “Shalom.” He’s done it before; He can calm the storm, and He can catch us when we’re sinking. It might still rage around us, but we can find His peace in our souls. Hold onto that Easter moment. Let Him hold your hand, and let Him be your star.

On Purpose

Yesterday my eyes decided to misbehave. Because of my medication, sometimes when I’m hungry, my eyes get “bouncy.” I was trying to read, but nature had other plans. I sat in my room with my eyes closed for at least half an hour and prayed because there wasn’t much else I could do. There were some things on my mind, so I laid it out for the Lord, and I said, “Take my hunger and my bouncy eyes and my boredom for an end to the pandemic.” Do I think my little suffering can singlehandedly end a pandemic? Of course not. I can, on the other hand, unite my little suffering to that of Christ’s on the Cross to help, in at least a small way, and I know that others are doing the same.

Next week is Holy Week, and it’s the first time I won’t be celebrating it in a church. My life is a little easier than it might be for a lot of people because I actually do some liturgical prayer every day. This year will be weird for me, though because I very much look forward to the Easter Triduum; Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night. I don’t want these three days to feel like any other three days at the end of any given week.

I mentioned in my last post that my plans for Lent got pretty screwed up. I hadn’t intended to, but because my dad did, I gave up movies and shows. I’ve been aimlessly poking around Facebook more than necessary, and I just finished reading the first installment of a really strange fantasy story and purchased the sequel on my Kindle. Instead of reading The Way of Perfection, I started reading Ascent of Mount Carmel by Saint John of the cross and started a virtual book club with my mom, aunt, grandmother, and cousins in which we’re reading Pride and Prejudice.

This Sunday is what’s usually called “Palm Sunday” in the Catholic Church. This is because the Gospel reading mentions that people came to greet Jesus carrying palm branches. This is only mentioned in one of the three Gospel readings, though. The Church’s liturgy runs on a three-year cycle, and the other two readings that are used mention branches, but not specifically palm branches. The point is that the people came to present themselves to Jesus. So on Sunday, I’ll get a branch from a bush in my yard, watch Mass online, and make a spiritual communion, like I have been.

I miss going to the church and seeing it decorated for a specific liturgical season. I miss the liturgical music, even if it isn’t performed well all the time. I miss the sign of peace. I miss what I now realize has been the Church’s guidance on what to do and when to do it and how on a given day. I miss the Sacraments, and I miss Adoration. I know I’m not alone in this. I think there are some things we can do to make Holy Week resemble something of what it should be, and I have a few suggestions.

  1. look online to see how you can live-stream Palm Sunday, Good Friday, The Easter Vigil, etc.
  2. For Palm Sunday, get a branch from your yard; make it as close to a “normal” Palm Sunday as possible.
  3. For Holy Thursday, Jesus said, “Couldn’t you sit with me for an hour?” Find a live stream perpetual adoration and sit with Him for an hour. I said it before; a computer screen doesn’t stop Him from doing what He does.
  4. Make Good Friday suck on purpose. I’m gonna cut myself off from social media, coffee, and maybe even music. I’m also going to watch the Passion of the Christ. Make it real. It was definitely real for Him, so make some sacrifice(s) and unite your sacrifice(s) to His.
  5. Find a live stream Easter Vigil or Easter Sunday Mass, and find some way to really celebrate. If you gave up movies for Lent, watch one you’ve been wanting to for a long time. More than that, though, praise and thank the Lord, ’cause He beat sin and death and saved your soul. Totally rock that. If you play, grab a guitar and make some noise. If you don’t, make a playlist for Him.

These are just some ideas. I hope this helps, and I hope we get back to normal soon. Stay inside, stay healthy, and have an epic Holy Week.

Celebrate Anyway

Last night my dad and I watched The Giant Mechanical Man. It was a cute, simple romance about two quirky people who fall in love working at the zoo. As it started, I smiled and I realized something. I told my dad, “This is the first time I’ve smiled in, like three days.” I haven’t left my house in a week, and I didn’t realize how hard that would be. It’s hard not to watch the news when you’re stuck inside with not much else to do. The news is never hopeful, so at dinner time I go to the kitchen where my mom has the TV on and hear about more cases and more deaths because of of the Corona virus.

My plan for this Lent was to give up a game I play on my phone and read The Way of Perfection by Saint Teresa of Avila. Then my dad decided to give up shows and movies. Since he’s my movie buddy, I did, too (we watched one last night because it was a feast day in the Church). Then the Virus got serious and we quarantined ourselves. I’m a very picky eater. My mom has been pretty creative about food, and I have to give her serious credit. Still, I very much miss takeout.

This past weekend was the first in a very long time that I didn’t receive the Eucharist. I’ve been telling myself that this waiting will make receiving Him for the first time once this is all over that much sweeter. I had planned on at least going to Adoration and praying with my friend at the studio, but everything has been shut down. The priests at the National Shrine of Divine Mercy have been streaming the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3:00 every day, and I’ve made a commitment to do it with them. My Lenten plans got seriously messed up, but I’m doing the best I can.

I prayed a lot last weekend wondering, since I couldn’t go to Mass, what I should do. A strange idea came to mind, and I think it was from the Lord. The Mass is, among other things, a celebration, and I got the sense that I was supposed to “celebrate anyway.” I struggled with this. I reminded myself that priests are still celebrating the Mass with or without the people there. I tried. I thought, “What do you need to celebrate…? Usually when you’re celebrating something, you need food and people.” I ate a cookie. I was not in a celebratory mood.

This thought that I should celebrate anyway has stuck with me, though. When things started getting really serious, I realized that we wouldn’t be celebrating Easter–at least not at our parish. Ultimately, that doesn’t change facts. At the Easter Vigil, which I’ll watch online, I’ll still say, “Christ is risen,” and it’ll still be true. My mom will probably make cookies, but it’ll just be the four of us–my parents and my brother and me; no aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, or grandparents. I’ll make a spiritual communion, and eat a couple of cookies.

I won’t feel like celebrating. That isn’t the point, though. The point is to honor and worship the Lord; our God who beat death and who can certainly beat this stupid virus. I think there’s more to this, though. When things like this happen, the question is bound to arise: why does a good God let bad things happen? I have wondered that myself in the past. This time, though, it just isn’t a factor for me. I know that a) He doesn’t want our suffering b) He’s with us through it, and c) He can bring about some greater good(s).

When Boston and then Portland suspended Mass in their dioceses I was, and still am upset. Then I remembered a book that sits on my desk. I pray Morning and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, which is the official public prayer of the Catholic Church, every day. I’m not cut off from the Church–the Body of Christ. This especially feels like a lifeline. My personal prayer lately has been, “As long as You’re here, I’m here,” because I know He is faithful. In a way, it’s more of a promise to myself than to Him. He is faithful to me, so I have to be faithful to Him. He’ll be with me–with all of us–through it, but we have to go through it.

I think this is an opportunity, albeit an unpleasant one, for us to really do some self-evaluation, spiritually speaking. I worried when I heard Mass was being suspended. Unfortunately, I think there will be some with “lukewarm” faith who will just “drop out,” and won’t come back. I decided that I would do the opposite. I decided that I would “lean in,” and intensify my prayer. I have to since I can’t receive the Eucharist. I discovered a live stream of perpetual Adoration on YouTube. It seemed too weird, or not “authentic” at first, and then I thought, “A computer screen isn’t going to stop You from doing what You do,” so I’ve gone to internet-Adoration a couple of times this week.

Several saints have written about consolation and desolation; in other words, when God seems very present and seems to be “love-bombing” you, and when you can’t exactly “feel” Him, or when you just don’t get any warm-fuzzies when you pray. The latter can happen particularly when external things aren’t going well. They ask this question: do you love the “gits” more than the Giver? I think He might be using this time when we’re cut off from the Eucharist to ask that question.

Sunday Lump

I’m not good at relaxing. I’m good at being lazy. I have a constant need to multitask because if I don’t, I procrastinate, and get nothing done. I haven’t been working on my book much of late. That’s part of the reason I started the music project, which I am enjoying very much. I think that’s okay. I think part of my problem, however, is that lately it’s felt like working on my book is just that–work. A book is a piece of art, and I’m an artist. While it’s true that working on my art is my job, it shouldn’t only feel like a job.

The music project has created stress because it takes up time that I would otherwise use to procrastinate or actually write, but that’s the point. I can’t afford to procrastinate anymore. I’m starting to enjoy working on the book again, but the funny thing is, between working on music, the book, and the blog, I’ve become a bit of a workaholic. The thing is, the music project doesn’t only involve writing and recording songs. It’s already started to involve self-promotion because I’ve released the single. That’s involved re-teaching myself how to use movie-maker, and upload videos to YouTube, how to promote my stuff on Facebook, and how to upload stuff to Bandcamp. It’s all technically simple, but if you’re not tech-savvy, it takes at least a little time.

Before I started writing this post, I glanced at a map I drew of the continental landscape of my book, and it gave me an idea. I was going to start working on it, but then stopped myself and laughed. I told myself to relax. My plan for today was to sit around and read. I haven’t been reading. I’ll do that this evening. I slept in, and hung out with my family instead. I’m going to afternoon Mass in a bit.

When I’m being lazy, I say I’m being a lump. A lot of times, I don’t mean to be a lump. I just am. Today, I’m forcing myself to enjoy myself, get a few minor things done–mainly prayerful things–and be a Sunday lump.

Convoluted Solutions

I just recovered from a two-hour long, very prayerful panic attack. Last night we finished recording and mixing the final version of my newest single, “Autumn Hero.” Last week I promised my Facebook followers (i.e. friends and family) that I would release the unmastered single this Friday (tomorrow), and the mastered version would be on the full album. When I went to make sure I could upload an Mp3 file to Bandcamp, I discovered that, in fact, I can’t. I only had the option of three other file types. I prayed about it, and downloaded the song my producer had sent me to my computer. Then I texted him and asked if it was complicated to convert an Mp3 to a WAV file. I still haven’t heard back.

For some reason, I also couldn’t figure out how to save the file to a particular place. Nonetheless, I had it on my computer, and I just kept it open while I tried to figure other things out. I do eventually have to get the whole album mastered, and I thought that, though I might have to disappoint my followers, I could at least try and figure out who I used to master my first album, and see how quickly they could master and convert this one song. I prayed about this, too, and the idea came into my head to look at the release date of my first album on my Bandcamp page. It was released on September sixteenth, 2014, so I looked back in my emails, but I couldn’t find the files for the album that had been sent.

Finally I reverted to the idea that just maybe there might be a way to convert the file myself. I prayed about it again, and I found a YouTube video that explained a fairly simple, albeit imperfect way to do it with iTunes. I don’t have iTunes on my computer, but my dad does. Thus my insanely convoluted solution was to forward the Mp3 to my dad, who could upload it to his iTunes, convert it by following the video I also included in my email, and email the converted version back to me so I can upload it to Bandcamp.

I know God is behind this project. Last night we ran into a technological problem at the studio. We figured out how to solve it incredibly quickly because I remembered to ask for help. Two weeks before that, we were nearly finished with “Autumn Hero,” when an entirely new song came to my mind in what must have been two minutes. I did not write that song. We’ve already started working on it, and I’m super excited. The new song is called, “Heart Of Love.” The funny thing is, it’s hard to sing, and I could modify the melody slightly to make it easier, but I just know I have to sing it how it was given to me.

Something Worth Doing

This morning after I did my morning prayer, I played a stupid game on my phone for a little while. I went to bed very late last night, and really, I just didn’t want to get up. I could afford to just chill for a little, but then a thought came to my mind. I couldn’t help questioning why I was playing that game. It’s not actually all that fun, and I’m so good at it by now that it’s basically mindless. I couldn’t help asking myself if it was God’s will for me to be playing that game. My ultimate conclusion was that, while it was perfectly acceptable for me to be playing a dumb game, it probably wasn’t exactly what He wanted me to be doing.

Anyone who really wants to follow Christ ultimately has to ask what God wants them to be doing. When asking this question, though, most of us, myself included, are usually wondering what God’s ultimate plan for our lives is. We’re looking at the forest, without always seeing the trees. I reflected on this, and I asked myself, “What would God want me to be doing right now? I don’t have to be ready for work for another hour or so, and it’s not like I have to go far (I would be traveling from eating lunch in the kitchen back to my bedroom which would then be my office).” I came to the conclusion that, even if I didn’t have a concrete answer, I did know that God would want me to be doing something worth doing.

That begs the question: what makes something worth doing? What gives value to an action, practice, or effort? Ultimately, what gives anything value? I recently visited a group of third order Carmelites, and am considering officially joining their order. I’ve only visited them once, and I have a lot to learn, but my visit was amazing, and the people were probably the nicest I’ve ever met. I mention this because at the end of my visit, one of the women gave me a glass tube. Contained inside was water from the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, a tiny shell from the Sea of Galilee, and some dust from Mount Carmel; a mountain in Israel where the first Carmelites created their order. Measuring the worth of that tube in terms of money makes it worthless, but I thought it was an amazing gift.

Last night I was reading about the history of the Rosary, and I read that when it started becoming incredibly popular and well known, people would make incredibly fancy ones with precious stones on gold or silver chains. Mine is made of wooden beads on a plain cord. I bought that one partly because I’m the cheapest woman alive, but partly because a fancy Rosary would not be my style. It’s value is contained in what I use it for. I think about the things I consider to be my treasures. I have some religious items that I consider treasure, and some of them actually are nice, but I also consider my ability to use the English language a kind of treasure. Technology is also a kind of treasure because the ability to communicate, learn, and quite frankly, to be entertained, is valuable.

I also discovered something late last night. The value or worth of anything must be determined by something greater than itself. I often find myself marveling at the fact that the God of the universe wants anything to do with me. I am one in literally several billion people, but my Heavenly Father literally loves the hell out of me. Making sense of that love is confusing at best, and last night I found myself thinking, “Lord, you knew I’d never be able to walk. You knew I’d have epilepsy. You knew I’d be just as messy as anyone else. You knew I’d give up on you, and give up on myself for a while. You made me anyway, and you still chased me down. I just don’t get it. I’m not even important.” At that moment something stopped me. I think He stopped me because my next thought was, “Actually, you think I’m pretty important. If you say I’m important, then I’m important.” That thought made me happy.

I don’t know what God’s ultimate plan is for my life, but I do know some things. I call my godparents “Aunt” and “Uncle,” but we’re not actually related. A few months ago, I learned that their daughter, so my kind-of cousin, is going to have a baby this winter. Even before I knew this, though, I realized that I had a growing desire to be a godmother. I thought it was kind of weird desire, but I prayed about it a handful of times. This past weekend, it was decided that I would be my “cousin’s” child’s godmother. I have an amazing relationship with both of my godparents, and I hope to have the same kind of relationship with my godchild.

I often listen to Christian playlists on Spotify while I’m working. There’s a song that sometimes comes on that I kind of hate because it’s about how Christians spend too much time singing empty words and twiddling our thumbs while the outside world suffers. This song kills me because I am a sympathetic person, and I hate to see people suffer, but because of my physical impediments, I can’t go out and actively do much about it. I didn’t mention the song specifically, but I mentioned my trepidation about it to my godfather. He told me that my prayers are more effective and heard more readily because I can’t go out and precisely because I want to help. Despite the fact that I’ve witnessed the truth of it, I’ve had to have it hammered into me time and again that prayer is powerful.

I’ve learned that prayer takes faith, and prayer takes patience. It is absolutely true that God often works in ways we don’t expect, and He often takes His time. Sometimes I realize that God has answered me months or even years after I prayed for or about something. Conversely, sometimes He’ll answer my prayers within thirty seconds of me praying. It takes perseverance, and it takes practice. I’ve been praying the Rosary every night for, I think, nearly a year now, and I still get distracted. Sometimes I get a lot out of it, and sometimes I don’t. The point isn’t what I can get out of it, though. The point is what it can do.

I want to focus mainly on the Rosary because numerous significant miracles have been attributed to it. In 1214 the Rosary was presented to St. Dominic by the Blessed Mother to defeat the Albigensian heresy, which taught that the spirit was good, but the body was evil. Thus, they taught that suicide was a commendable practice. The Rosary, while essentially viewed through the eyes of Mary, so to speak, focuses deeply on the life and humanity of Christ, especially since the Luminous Mysteries–those that focuss on his miracles weren’t included until later.

The devotion of people faithfully praying the Rosary is attributed to nonviolent resistance to, and ultimate defeat of Communism in Brazil in the 1960’s. It was attributed to the healing of Father Patrick Peyton, an Irish immigrant to the U.S. who was diagnosed with Tuberculosis, which in the 1930’s, when he was alive, was incurable. In 1945, when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, eight Jesuit priests were together praying the Rosary less than a mile from ground zero. They miraculously survived, and suffered no radiation poisoning. Though not a miracle, I can certainly say that praying the Rosary has helped me to grow closer to Jesus and develop a relationship with Mary that I previously didn’t have.

The prayers of individuals can work miracles. That is absolutely true. I strongly believe, and I think I’m supported by history, though, that a bunch of people praying for the same thing can more readily move mountains. Even from a human perspective, it’s the difference between one kid pestering Mom or Dad for something, or two, or three, or maybe even six kids, if they have friends with them, all asking for the same thing. If you’re like me, you don’t always have people around to pray with you. That’s why getting to know the Blessed Mother, and maybe a handful of Saints is important. They may not be physically here, but they can and do pray with you and for you.

All of this is meant as encouragement to my readers, but also as a reminder to myself. If you don’t have the time, the money, or the physical ability to “go out” and volunteer or donate to charity, and that is a sincere desire of your heart, then pray. Do what you can, and don’t worry about what you can’t. Every day I can read, I can write, I can edit, and I can pray. When school starts back up for the kids, I’ll be teaching CCD. If you focus only on what you can’t do, you will ultimately do nothing, and that helps no one. Pray for the people doing the things you want to do because in this way, you are helping them, and vicariously helping the people they are helping.

I have focused mainly on praying for others, but I would like to emphasize that it’s just as important to pray for yourself. I would argue that it’s just as important to pray about nothing. We are meant to be holy and have a relationship with God. To have a relationship with anyone, you have to talk to them. I recently went to see Beck live, and I had a ton of fun. I had a ton of fun with Jesus because I prayed through the whole thing. I just said stuff like, “I’m having an awesome time. Thank you for this.” Pray when something is bothering you. Pray when you need something. Pray when you’re late to church and need a parking spot. He’s usually quick to help with that one. Pray when you find something weird or funny, and share the weirdness or the humor with Him.

Lastly, I just want to say that It’s perfectly okay to waste some time. I did a little while ago because, quite frankly, my brain was a bit fried. It’s important to make note of the things we do and the reasons why we do them. In the end, I felt that writing this was what God would have me do today, and I certainly feel that it was something worth doing.