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.

Love Carries Me

On Saturday, the Lord made a mark on me that can’t be unmade. Saturday was the monthly meeting of our Carmelite Community, but it wasn’t like any other we’ve had this year. On Saturday I received the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and was officially admitted into formation. This signifies that I am officially part of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, I am consecrated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel (and through her, in a particular way, Our Lord), and I am dedicated to imitating Mary in humility, chastity, and prayer; contemplating our Lord. On Saturday, the Lord made me more His own than I already was.

Last week was a little chaotic. Nothing especially crazy happened, at least on a basic level; I was just busy, so I didn’t get to my reading for Saturday’s formation until Friday. Along with the reading were some reflection questions, and one of those questions was simple and to the point; why do you want to be a Carmelite? I knew my answer almost immediately; I want to know Him more, and be more His.

With mixed emotions I sometimes remember when I daydreamed about what my wedding might have looked like. For various reasons, I know that marriage is not in the cards for me. The Lord has other plans, and that’s just fine. After my clothing ceremony on Saturday, which I had with one other woman, several others made their First Promises (which for nuns/friars would be like temporary vows), and one made his Final Promises (which would be like perpetual vows), and I found myself thinking about that like a wedding ceremony.

For me, Final Promises is five years away, and I have so much to learn, but I want that. I find that the closer I get to the Lord, the more I want Him. That seems counter intuitive, but I think it makes sense given that He is infinite Love, and I’m finite. I think I’m finally beginning to understand really that He is my only satisfaction. Every good thing that exists has a limit. Every beautiful, fun, hilarious, heartbreaking, glorious story has an end; eventually the coffee in the cup runs out; my favorite songs fade to silence; one day I will have to return my bird to the Lord. God’s Goodness, and everything that comes with that; His Beauty; Mysteriousness; Faithfulness; Compassion; these have no limit, and my thirst for Him can never really be quenched.

The Scapular I received on Saturday is meant to be an outward sign of an inner change. I don’t feel different per se, but I know that I am different. I’ve changed a lot in the past year, and it wasn’t like I was hit with a lightning bolt on Saturday, but it was like hearing the Lord say, “I see the choices you’ve made for Me. Thank you.” I recently came across an explanation of what it means when Jesus says “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Me.” To deny yourself means to choose what God wants when what you want is something else. I realized that this past year, I’ve done that. I’ve changed things about my life that if the Lord hadn’t called me to Carmel, I probably would not have.

Promises, to me at least, seem very much like wedding vows. I had a thought the other day that I can love the Lord in a particular way precisely because I’m a woman. Obviously men love the Lord, too, but I imagine it’s a love of deep friendship and loyalty. Of course I have these same feelings, but I think because I’m a woman, I can love Him in a kind of romantic sense. There’s so much language in Scripture about the Lord’s relationship with His people being like that of a lover and His beloved. In fact, the Church, is often referred to with feminine language. When the Lord finally comes, there is language in Scripture of a wedding feast.

For a long time, I was wary of this kind of language. I wondered if I was allowed to love the Lord in this way. The fact of the matter is, though, I think I’m kind of supposed to. It’s not a the same as a “normal” or “usual” romance (for lack of a better word) between a man and a woman, but it is a kind of romance. Increasingly, there’s this ache in me because I want so badly to physically feel Him and audibly hear His voice. I want to sit somewhere with Him, and maybe not even talk about anything, but physically see Him with my eyes. Simply put, I want Him.

I’ve been a member of our Carmelite Community for a year now. I invited the priest who suggested I check this out in the first place (Father Patrick), and he came and concelebrated (was a copilot for) the Mass, and I invited my Godfather who came all the way from Maine. I hadn’t wanted to make a big deal of this, but my Community did. I was buried in really wonderful gifts from everyone. People didn’t just give me cards, but people had put thought into the things they gave me, and the things they wrote.

After October’s meeting I had a meeting with the leaders of our community who asked if I definitely wanted to continue my formation. I immediately said “yes” because I’ve enjoyed our meetings and I’ve been interested in what we’ve been learning about, and certainly, I’ve grown closer to the Lord through prayer. For a month, at different times I had taken it as a given that I would continue; at other times I was sincerely excited. For a week before Saturday, I had different feelings.

I had the feeling that it was wrong, and I grew increasingly nervous, but I also had the suspicion that these feelings were not natural. I ended up talking to Father Patrick on Wednesday, and he agreed with me that the devil was messing with my head. I mention this because I was incredibly nervous before the ceremony on Saturday, but I knew for sure that it was natural, and after the ceremony, I was, and still am insanely happy.

I think for the first time really, it feels like I know where I’m going. For a long time, that wasn’t the case. If life is a journey, though, I know where I want to get to, I know where I don’t want to go, and now it kind of feels like I finally have a spiritual road map. The crazy thing is, I’ve only been a Christian, let alone a Catholic for seven years or so. What the Lord can do in less than a decade is kind of insane. The beautiful thing is that I know that it’s been love that has carried me to where I am today. At times that’s been the love of learning things, at other times it’s been the blind leap of faith to chase the Lord, and at times, it has literally been Love Himself picking me up and carrying me because there have been times when I’ve needed Him to.

How To Erase The Smudge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living The Pipe Dream

When I was fourteen, I got a guitar for Christmas. It was an absolute piece of crap that would go out of tune after playing one song, or even before the end of a song. Soon after I got it, my friend, who had been taking lessons for a little while, taught me to play “Brain Stew” by Green Day. At that point I only knew how to play power chords, and I wasn’t going to start lessons until January, but I was immediately hooked. I learned some basic things in my first few lessons, and I wrote my first song. It was an angry punk song about a teacher I hated at school. It was terrible.

Like every other angry fourteen-year-old with a guitar, I had the pipe dream; I was going to be a total “rock star” in a punk band, tour all over the country, and generally be able to “get my way.” After my sophomore year, I mellowed out a little, which actually meant I went from being angry to being sad. That’s probably the best way I could describe it. Slowly, I resigned myself to the fact that the “rock star” thing wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t find band mates, and quite frankly, it was just unrealistic.

Still, I kept writing songs. A lot of them sucked, as would be expected. By the time I was nineteen, I was still playing guitar, and writing an occasional song, but mostly I was learning covers because I could play them by myself, and people at open mics sometimes recognized them. I enjoyed that, but it wasn’t “the dream,” and at that point, I had no real vision in mind for what my future might look like. I was your average college freshman without much of a plan.

At the time I started school in August, I was agnostic. By the end of October, I was Christian. I’ve written this part of the story before, but it’s important, so I’ll make it short. I was lonely, and I thought I needed a boyfriend. I had started learning how to pray, so I had been asking God for help with that. I didn’t know it was a deeper loneliness that couldn’t be filled with another human relationship. He let me get desperate. I begged. He needed to make me wait because He needed to teach me that He was there to listen, and that I could trust Him, and even though I was ultimately asking for the wrong thing, He was going to help me. He needed me to be desperate because He needed to use that to build an actual relationship. At my lowest point, I said something along the lines of, “Please! I need your help! I love you!”

I hadn’t known it until I said it, but I knew it was true. As soon as I said it, a feeling like I have never really felt before or since came over me. I don’t know how to describe it, but it inspired my song, “You Answered.” The third verse goes:

You came to me soft and slow
Sweet and warm like a summer dream
And fantasy starts to fade away
As you replace my empty spaces

After that, I started writing more songs. Most of them were worship songs, and a lot of them were terrible. Eventually, I had enough songs to put together my first album, which came out in 2014. I graduated in 2015, and took a hiatus from songwriting to take a stab at writing a novel. After about three years, I realized I was much better at music.

Actually, I hadn’t stopped writing songs altogether, but most of my material was terrible. Still, I had one good one hanging around that I had never recorded, so I went back to the studio. I had thought I would just release it as a single, but one night before one of my studio sessions, I wrote a song in about two minutes. That’s barely an exaggeration. Now I had a dilemma because it was good. I decided if I could pull together one or two more good songs I’d do an EP. Now that we’re nine songs into what will be a full length album, I’ve realized something.

When I was fourteen, I had the same pipe dream as every other angry teenager with a guitar. Most don’t get to be musicians as their career. A lot of kids just give up playing after a while. A lot of people keep it up as a hobby. A lot of people have regular 9-5 jobs on top of their music careers, which don’t often amount to more than playing a few local gigs every week. I’m not a “rock star,” but songwriting is my career. Am I a success? I’d say it depends on who you’re asking. Do I make money at this? Not yet. Do I write good songs? Heck yeah! How do I know? People like them. More importantly, I know God is helping me.

My God gave me my pipe dream. When my epilepsy came back in my sophomore year of college, I had to face some hard facts. Travel isn’t easy to begin with because of my Muscular Dystrophy. Performing is often hit or miss because my meds don’t completely control my epilepsy. Being a performing artist just wasn’t possible. What I didn’t realize for some time was that it’s precisely because of my disabilities that I’m able to do this. Having a “normal” job isn’t exactly an option for me. That’s why I have time to work on a book and have a songwriting career.

As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve realized that my “issues” have brought me closer to God, and He has had a plan all along. He has always known how much I love music. He allowed me to be that angry fourteen-year-old with a pipe dream, and in the end He gave me a choice. I could give up on that dream, or I could embrace it, or rather, His version of it. I’m great at writing lyrics. I’m a decent, but not absolutely fabulous singer, and I’m an average guitarist. I can write lyrics that glorify my God and hand them off to people who can glorify Him with their performing abilities that are doubtless, better than mine.

My dad suggested this to me several years ago. I didn’t choose this option because I was being overly possessive. Now I’m ready. It doesn’t make sense for me to hold onto something that I can’t use. I’m ready to write not for my glory, but for God’s. I don’t need recognition. I don’t need to be the star of the show. If nobody ever knows who wrote these songs, that’s okay. I will be overjoyed if one of my songs becomes popular because somebody else rocked it. I just want these songs to be heard. I love writing them, and I love the process. I even love struggling through my writer’s block because a lot of times, that’s when I pray the most.

In my song “Nothing Else,” there’s a couple lines that go: “This is enough/ a spark to start a fire.” I didn’t know God when I was fourteen. That first crummy guitar was a spark, though, and God could start a fire with that spark. Writing songs was the first thing I was really passionate about, and God used that passion to lead me right to Him. Of course the path was a little convoluted, but now I have more than a spark. I have His burning love that’s closer than touch, and He has my songwriting skills to use as He sees fit. Because of His love, I am living the pipe dream.

Winter Light

We changed the clocks back a couple of days ago. It’s cold and windy, and it’s getting dark awfully early now. There’s no way around it; it’s November, and Winter is fast approaching. I probably do more than my fair share of griping about Winter. Because I use a wheelchair, I have relatively bad circulation in my feet, so if I’m outside for any length of time on a cold or windy day, I get cold and stay cold. If I had an idol, it probably would be the space heater in my bedroom. At least I haven’t got to the point of naming it.

This Winter is feeling different than most, though. For the past few years, there has always been a new episode of Star Wars out around Christmas. As awesome as that is, I can only get so excited about a movie series. The reason I’m actually pretty stoked about this Winter, is that it will usher in a new member of our family. My godson is due to be born in January. I got him all kinds of Star Wars themed baby clothes because his parents are just as nerdy as I am.

What I’m really excited about, though, is his baptism. The baby clothes were more a gift for his parents, but I got him a personal gift from me. I was driving myself crazy trying to think of a good gift to give to a baby that would make sense and mean something to him when he’s older. Finally I gave up–sort of. Lately, it’s seemed like God has been letting me get stuck on purpose so I have to ask for help. As my mom and I were driving home from running errands, I said, “Lord, I am seriously out of ideas. Can you give me something?” It came instantly.

I got him a stuffed animal sparrow that makes little chirps when you squeeze it, and I’m going to have my dad make a nest for it. The idea is from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said that God cares for all His creation. He cares very much, even for each individual sparrow. Therefore, He said, there’s no reason for anyone to be afraid because a human being is worth much more than a multitude of sparrows. I’m going to write my godson a letter to put in the sparrow’s nest explaining it. I don’t know his name yet because I thought his parents were sold on Max, but they’ve decided they also like Luke, so they want to see him, and then they’ll decide. I like both.

Usually I associate Winter with darkness and boredom. Usually I see Winter as something to endure. This Winter is going t o be different. Jesus said that we are the light of the world. I don’t know his name yet, but I’ve been praying that my godson becomes a saint. I just know he can set the world on fire. God knows us and loves us even before we exist. I usually didn’t give this a whole lot of thought until I found out my godchild was a boy. For some reason, seeing the sonogram, and knowing his gender made me fall in love. This Winter is different because unlike most Winters, I see light on the horizon. I know that little light will drool, and poop, and cry, and otherwise be an annoying baby, but he’ll still be a bright and beautiful annoying baby.

Growing Up With Me

I just read a few posts from 2012-the year I started my blog. It’s interesting to see how the site has grown up as I’ve grown up. I already thought I was a Christian when I started blogging. The truth is, I didn’t personally know Jesus yet. I believed he was the God of the universe, and I vaguely knew that he saved the world, but I didn’t yet understand that he had saved my soul because he genuinely cared about me personally and wanted to be my friend. In 2012 I had some pretty funny, some good, and a lot of naive ideas. My posts were also a lot more varied in terms of subject matter back then, which I guess is neither here nor there. My posts these are largely about work and God, though sometimes they’re about stories in general or random life stuff. The blog has also largely turned into a way of procrastination, as well as a space to dig for treasure, and hopefully find some truth, whether I like that truth or not.

In the almost seven years I’ve kept the blog, I’ve learned a lot and I’ve gained just over three hundred followers. I don’t think all those people come here often, but that’s okay. This blog has been a companion in my many journeys that have taken place in the course of such short a time. It has been my companion through college, finals, insomnia, epilepsy, faith, hope, fear, love, and milestones. In a lot of ways, it’s kept me going. It’s been a place where I can share my truth, which sometimes, as ugly as it can be, just needs to be squirted out in muddy water colors. This is where frustration and triumph happens. This is where failures are confessed and victory proclaimed. This is where messes are made with the joy of a child, and I admit, in the grand scheme of things, I am one.

I write this as an encouragement to all my fellow bloggers, journalists, and writers in general. Tell the truth. Tell your truth, but more importantly, tell God’s truth. Fear nothing. Writing takes courage, and honestly, sometimes clicking the “Publish” button can be terrifying. Click it anyway. Sometimes we write something, expecting it to get us tons of attention, and no one gives us a second glance. Keep writing. In every circumstance, keep writing. When the world is falling apart keep writing. When you’re on cloud nine, write about it because sometimes the rest of us need to hear what cloud nine looks like. Sometimes your good day can be a happy five minutes for someone who is having an otherwise crappy day. Stories, especially true ones, teach us empathy, so write them. Keep writing, and don’t stop. Write without a reason. Write because you like to. Write because you know you’re good at it. Write because you think you’re good at it. Write even if you suck at it because it brings you joy. Just don’t stop.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Advent Reflection Notes (Week One)

Earlier today I finished doing a novena to Mary Undoer of Knots. It’s a specific way of doing the rosary that really underscore’s Mary’s power as an advocate for us with God. I also started taking an online Advent retreat. These are some notes I took from the videos I watched.

1: Jesus is why I can smile and cry at the same time.
-One of the videos talked about finding happiness, and the speaker talked about how so many people are, or at least seem to be unhappy. Happiness is a weird thing because it doesn’t mean being gleeful all the time. It’s hard to define it, but I think it’s about feeling real or authentic, at least in part. The other day I was praying, and I remember telling God, “This world isn’t satisfying.” That’s not to say I don’t like things in this world, it’s just that I know there’s something way better available.

2: Can I give Jesus an hour every day? What is my best time?
-I’ve been doing the rosary every day for a while, so I know I can pray for at least a solid twenty minutes. I don’t always pray at my best time, and sometimes I pray as a way to procrastinate instead of actually scheduling devoted time for God. I’m not entirely sure this is really the way to go, though. I feel like conversation, which is what prayer should be, should be more spontaneous.

3: When praying, let God speak first.
-I definitely don’t do this. I often pray when I need something or I’m feeling bad about something, so especially when nothing in particular is going on, I need to let him start the conversation.

4: “I’ve been praying for something for twenty years, so I’m beginning to have hope.” St. Padre Pio
-That’s definitely something to think about. I’ve been praying for something really important for several years now, and it hasn’t happened yet, but for one thing, I think the waiting has made me more patient, and maybe more persistent. I’d like to know more what St. Padre Pio meant by this because it’s counter intuitive.

5: God sometimes leads us by rejection. Rejection allows us to be alone with God.
-I’ve actually started to realize this on a personal level recently.

6: I worry about what I think I can’t do.
-Jesus asks of us what we can do, not what we can’t. What I forget is that what I’m capable of often surprises me. More to the point, what God is capable of through me will probably always surprise me.
-“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

7: If you assert something enough, does it at least sometimes make it true? Can I start to trust God more simply by telling him that I do?
-This was a question that popped into my head while watching one of the videos. I think the answer is, “no.” Trust is a choice.

Anyway, these are just some musings I had while watching the videos. I’m hoping to post something like this once a week for the remainder of Advent. Hopefully they’re at least interesting, if not particularly insightful. I did write in my last post that I want to give Jesus more room, which I think ultimately means giving him more time. This is certainly one way I’m trying to do that.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!