Tag Archives: Volunteering

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.

Wicked Cool!

In a recent post I said that I have decided to officially dedicate myself to Jesus. I’m happy to say that that’s still the plan. I’ve been learning a lot lately. Apparently, there are several different ways in which I can do this. It’s a little intimidating because there are apparently a bazillion different orders of nuns and Sisters who all do different stuff and follow different philosophies and what have you. I also learned, as of last night, that there’s a thing called a “consecrated lay person.” Basically, as far as I can tell, there are three different categories of religious life, and my first step is to figure out where I fit best. At the moment, I like things about all of them.

The first is that of cloistered nuns. These are generally ladies who live together away from secular society and dedicate their lives almost entirely to prayer. They live extremely simply, which allows them to not be distracted by outside influences.

The second is another group of Sisters who generally live together, but are much more a part of society, doing work to help people, etc.

The third group are “consecrated lay people,” which are people (dudes and ladies) who have chosen to forgo marriage and family life in order to serve Jesus as best they can. Like nuns or Sisters, they take official vows in the church, but don’t necessarily live together and tend to have “regular” jobs.

I like the idea of removing myself from the distractions of the world and focusing entirely on God, but I desperately want to help people in any way I can. I don’t think I’m very good at praying. The fact of the matter is, I probably need to “practice” more. I’m also realizing that I want to serve God, and I want to be free. I want structure, and I want to be able to randomly change and randomly do things. I know serving God doesn’t mean I’m not free. I just don’t presently know what the solution is or what the best fit is for me. Maybe, once again, I’ll end up doing something I never saw coming.  I am leaning towards one particular thing, but I’m not going to say what it is yet here. I have to see if it’s right first.

Last night I watched an awesome video by Father Mike Schmitz. At least for me, that guy is a rock star. It was actually the first time I’d ever even heard of him, but I ended up watching several hours worth of his stuff.. actually I listened whilst playing Minecraft. He’s funny and brilliant. But anyway… the point he was talking about was that love is physical, and love is a gift. When you love someone, you want to give them all of you. This can mean a lot of different things, in different relationships. He asked the question: what does that mean when we’re talking about a relationship with God? Obviously an infinite, omnipotent God doesn’t have a body–at least not now.

Two thousand years ago, he did. Jesus came to Earth as a finite person. He was both fully God and fully human, and he had every single person ever in mind. That’s why he gave us the Eucharist. In the Eucharist Jesus is giving us all of him. When we literally eat the body of Christ, we become one with him. It’s literally Jesus. I “believed” this, but I didn’t understand what it meant until I started thinking about being a religious person. He literally gives his entire self to me. I want to give my entire self to him. I have to.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Kind Of Like Eating Vegetables

I’m discovering that I have to approach a lot of things kind of like eating vegetables, even if they’re things I want to do. There’s a part of me that sincerely just wants to do nothing, and I mean NOTHING. There’s a part of me that just wants to lie in bed all day and think about random stuff without worrying about anything. I guess everyone’s probably got that part of them.

I’ve finally got back into a consistent writing routine. I write a minimum of half an hour every day whether I want to or not. There are some days where I feel like a literary genius, and there are days where I feel utterly uninspired. I do it because I want to finish my book and see what happens, but I also do it because I need structure in my life, and because it’s good for me. I’ve also been a lot better about reading the Bible, and I approach it in a similar way. I started a reading plan that splits the whole Bible up into daily reading assignments. I’m actually ahead of where I’m supposed to be because I read a minimum of one assigned reading every day whether I want to or not.

Honestly, things have been going pretty darn well lately. I’ve been writing more (either blogging or working on my novel), I’ve been reading more, and I’ve been praying more. The best thing that’s happened recently, though is that last night, my friend and a couple of her friends came over so the four of us could plan a prayer/service group that’s going to meet once per week. We already have several things planned, and I think this is going to go really well. We even have a meeting tomorrow with a social worker who’s connected to a homeless shelter to talk about one of our ideas.

I’m really loving teaching religious ed at my church this year, too. There’s a girl in my class who really actually seems to be interested and genuinely wants to have a serious spiritual life. She asks good questions and really tries hard to come up with good answers to our discussion questions. Our last class was about the importance of going to mass, and what the Eucharist actually means. I like going to church, but of course, there are days that I just don’t want to.

What I’m coming to realize is that I have to approach everything, even things I like doing, like eating vegetables sometimes. Sometimes I think a part of me just wants to be isolated and hide, partly because a lot of the things I like doing also take me outside of my comfort zone. I’m also coming to realize that a part of me doesn’t think I’m going to succeed at this stuff, so I have to force myself to do it.

My prayer group is already forcing me to do things that I’m not sure I know how to do or that I’m not sure I’m good at, but they’re also a really supportive bunch of girls. I’m feeling really optimistic about this. For the longest time I’ve been trying to find a community to belong to. I’ve been trying even just to find Christian friends. Periodically, I’ve given up and resigned myself to the fact that this might never happen. Might. I’ve been called an insufferable optimist, but I’m also a realist. The fact of the matter is that I was looking in the wrong places. I’ve known the friend I started this group with for several years, and I’ve known she was Christian for quite a long time. It just never occurred to me to suggest this to her. When I first met her, she didn’t seem that into the whole spirituality thing, and after a while she switched churches. I think that did it for her because now she’s really involved with her church and volunteers all the time. I like to think maybe God was getting us both ready, but that’s partly because I think I was probably just being dumb for a while. Maybe it’s both. Anyway, I’m really looking forward to some of the stuff we’re going to do, and hopefully it doesn’t have to be like eating vegetables.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

The Church Needs To Stop Being So Churchy

The Catholic Church needs to not try to be cool. It’s not. I know. I’m a part of it. It’s old fashioned and formal and quiet, and I think that’s the way it should be. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be contemporary. I would love to have contemporary worship in my church, and I love that the Church throughout the world uses technology to get the message out to more people. I’m also not saying that the Church shouldn’t be involved in current, secular culture. It absolutely should be. I read an article yesterday about how Pope Francis is planning on doing a lot of work to help the homeless in Rome. He’s already started a project to build public showers for them near the Vatican. This is great because he is someone all Christians can look to and say “That guy practices what he preaches.”

However, a couple of days ago I watched a video about going to confession because I’m not sure how I feel about it. As it is, I currently don’t. I didn’t find the video very convincing for a couple of reasons. The first was that it didn’t give much of a reason why I should go to confession. It mostly just gave an overview of the actual process. The second was that the video itself was pretty doofy. For one thing, it was animated, which isn’t a bad thing by default, but it seemed like it was making light of a serious subject. The animation was not very good, and I just found it annoying because it was downright cutesy. In the description, it didn’t say that the video was geared towards kids, but it might as well have been. It’s this kind of stuff that gets on my nerves. Don’t make this kind of stuff cute or cool. Make it seem important.

I saw another article that I didn’t read because the title was one giant, horrible pun. Maybe this is getting overly critical, but I know that the teachers at my home church tend to be very punny, and they try to create environments for young people that teenagers and young adults will actually enjoy, but then they call them things like Holy Hangout. Not everything the church does has to have a churchy name. In fact, more people might be interested in these kinds of things if they have even neutral names.

There’s an Episcopal church one town over from me that does open mics once a month. It’s very family friendly and performers have to keep it clean, but it’s not churchy at all. The only differences I can see between this open mic and an open mic at a bar or something are that there’s no alcohol, and it’s a bit less out of place for me to play worship songs. Honestly, though, I like playing worship songs in little cafes and bars because it might be the only way some of the people there get to hear about God. We can’t always separate church from other aspects of life. The Gospel isn’t meant to be heard only in church buildings. Maybe it’s obnoxious, but no one’s ever said anything to me, and quite frankly, I don’t care.

I feel like my job as a musician is to make people happy, but also to give them hope. I try not to be a preacher; I just explain my songs as briefly as possible and play. No matter where I’ve been, I’ve never got a bad response.

The congregation at my home church consists of an overwhelming number of old people compared to any other demographic. The next biggest group is families with young children. There are almost no parishioners between the ages of about 12 and 30. I think there are a few reasons for this. The first reason is that this young demographic has a choice. They can either sleep in or go to breakfast/dinner or meet up with family and friends on Sunday morning/Saturday afternoon. Churches tend not to offer services that are super convenient for young people.

However, the second reason this group tends not to go to church is because its not a priority. This tends to be a fairly worry-free period in a person’s life, especially for middle and high school students. People feel they need religion when they have things to worry about. Perhaps this is the reason why young families start going back to church: People have to worry about taking care of children for the first time, and perhaps this worry leads them to look to something bigger for guidance.

The third reason has to do with the first reason. Our culture is obsessed with efficiency. We are basically programmed to constantly ask ourselves “How much can I get done and how fast can I do it?” Because of this, we have to make choices about what the most important things are, and what can be left behind. Church tends not to be a huge priority because it doesn’t seem very productive to sit in a pew and listen for an hour. However, it’s been proven that living with this high-efficiency mindset leads to high stress levels, anxiety and depression in a lot of people. Prioritizing a few “less productive” things at least a few times a week is actually good for our health.

The third reason applies more to the demographic of people with teenage or adult children. There are almost no middle aged people in my parish. This is probably due to the fact that, despite their children being gone, or at least less of a handful, they are still working super hard and still trying to provide for their family; especially if they’re trying to pay college bills.

It seems that retirement age people tend to go back to church for a few reasons. They have time for it, or they don’t have many other things to do. Church becomes a social thing for them, especially if they are not savvy with social media or technology in general. In some cases, they feel worried about where they are in life and worried about what will happen to them on the other side.

This is all fine, except it makes my church feel like a retirement home as opposed to the vibrant community I know it could be.

Why Kids Hate Religious Education

I’ve been teaching CCD (Christian Child Development) for the past 2 months or so. The kids have a class about once every three weeks, and it’s been difficult to get them engaged and get them to like me. You might say that it doesn’t matter if they like me; it only matters if they’re absorbing the information. That tends to be the philosophy of a lot of teachers, at least from my experience, but it doesn’t work.

I had sucky math teachers in high school, which is the biggest reason that I suck at math. They all assumed that we were instinctively good at it, and they taught that way. They looked down on the students who clearly were not getting it, and it made me hate them and hate math. The exception was my trigonometry teacher. I took trig in my senior year of high school even though I didn’t have to because I thought it would look good on my college resume if I did well. It happened to be the one of the best high school classes I ever took. Our teacher liked us, and we liked him, even though some of us really struggled with math. We all ended up doing so well that he didn’t give us a final. He often taught things other than math as well. He taught us self worth, perseverance, kindness, and in some ways, love. Sometimes we would spend half a class not talking about math in any way what so ever, but it helped. It all helped.

So how does this apply to religious education? From my experience, the administration at our church looks down on teenagers. They act like 14 is the new 8, which is actually really bad, since at 14, a lot of people want to be thought of as adults. Because of this, the kids act out, or don’t engage at all. One of my co conspirators–err, teachers, acts exactly like many of my high school math teachers, from what I’ve heard. She says she teaches with rules. She will be taking none of their unruly shenanigans, and because of this, her classes tend to be very well behaved. They get through all of the material, and everything is hunky dory.

And you know what? Maybe it works. Maybe her students are engaged, and maybe they do grow in their love of Christ, but from my experience, this kind of teaching doesn’t work. Again, this is super subjective because I’m going off of my own experience. However, the point is, that I don’t teach that way. I let my students get distracted. I engage in their conversations, I use naughty language in class, and I let them know that we are equal and this is, or at least should be, a fun, safe place. I want to get to know my students, and I want them to get to know me. I want them to know that I think of them as people, not just as kids. I let them talk about their talents, and I talk about mine. I constantly remind them that all this is about is love. I want them to get to know love–of neighbor and self; of so called enemies, and of God.

Another problem I’ve run into is that some teachers assume that everyone at least believes in some idea of God. They don’t acknowledge the skeptical ones at all, and the fact of the matter is, that not everyone in CCD believes. Almost no one wants to be there. On the first day I had my students go around and say why they were there. Maybe peer pressure had something to do with it, but the unanimous answer was “my parents are making me.” I let them know that I get it. That was my answer to. I let them know that being skeptical is okay, and that I’m going to try and persuade them otherwise, but I’m never going to tell them that they have to believe anything. Faith is between them and God.

I decided to teach CCD in the hope that I could be helpful. If I can convince one kid that God is real and that Jesus loves them, I will be a happy camper. If I can’t, I want them to know that that’s fine, too.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Make Use Of Your Magic

I’ve spent many hours over the past 2 or 3 days trying to figure out if there was some kind of volunteer work I could do from home or close by in town. I don’t drive so I didn’t want my work to end up being inconvenient to my parents or anyone else who would be willing to drive me. What made things even more complicated was that my disability makes it impossible to do many hands-on tasks that I would sincerely love to do. I still haven’t found anything that’s close enough or even doable.

In Luke 14 Jesus says to a man who invited him to a banquet that he should not invite rich neighbors or friends and family to his lavish dinner party. Instead he should invite the poor, the lame, etc. His rich friends can and probably will repay him, but the poor can’t pay him back. If he takes care of them though, it’s out of love and compassion and he will be “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

I read this the other day and it really struck me. I want to help people because I should. Something I figured out while I was searching was that if you want to volunteer you have to pick a problem and a cause and focus on those and those alone. There are a lot of things that bother me, but a few of them are related. Needless hate and violence really bothers me. Apathy is likewise a big problem that is often overlooked. I remember hearing a story about a man who decided to commit suicide. He lived in a large city and his note said, “I’m going to the bridge. If one person smiles at me or even acknowledges me, I won’t jump.” The story did not have a happy ending.

I remember when we went down to Georgia for my graduation/18th birthday trip. We were spending a night in Charleston, South Carolina and we were wandering around trying to find a place to eat– obvious tourists. A young man noticed us and asked us if we needed any help in a very friendly voice. I don’t remember if we said yes or no, but I do remember that we were slightly in shock. We weren’t used to complete strangers being that nice to us.

Ironically, people often seem to care more about people oversees than own next door neighbors. There is poverty, hunger and homelessness right here in the U.S. I’m not saying our problems are more important than anyone else’s. However, I do think that solutions could start at home. I love the idea of paying it forward. If everyone made an individual effort to make one other person’s life better, that person might do the same for someone else. In a literal sense, I think we can spread love; if we try hard enough, we can spread it all over the globe.

Love and compassion can save lives. It trumps greed and selfishness and it brings people together instead of pushing them farther apart. I think the best thing is to do what you can.  If you can write, then write and inundate the internet with the shared message of love. If you can travel to foreign countries and build houses for people, do that because that seriously needs to be done. If you can sing, then belt it and make sure people hear that love will win.

I think sometimes people are guilted into inaction. If you’re not out on the front lines of a particular organization’s effort than you’re a terrible person. I definitely think that this kind of mentality is harmful. Every person has a different situation and a different skill set that can be useful for making this world a better place. The trick is to figure out how to put those skills to use. It’s an opportunity to be creative and challenge yourself while doing something wonderful.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!