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.

You Are Worth Hurting For

My last post was about my clothing ceremony in our Carmelite Community last month. Being part of this community has been interesting for me. To be perfectly honest, there is still a bit of the high school rebel in me that hasn’t died. That high school rebel wanted nothing more than to go against the grain at all costs, and was wary of joining anything. This is because it wasn’t easy for me to make friends growing up, and the friendships I had were those made and matured before I was six. I made a few other friends through the years, but they weren’t the kinds of friendships that really stuck.

When I came back to the Catholic Church, I was really happy for a while, but then I could tell that God was calling me to something more. I talked to Father Patrick about it because I thought I wanted to be a consecrated virgin; a woman who vows to be “in the world” as a representative of the Church, and a bride of Christ. That sounded really cool to me, but at the time I was maybe twenty-two. Father Patrick said I would need more structure and guidance, so he pointed me to Carmel. I was skeptical, but when I went to my first meeting at our community, I knew I had found what I was looking for.

It’s really the best of both worlds. I have the freedom to work and play and, largely, to pray how I want, but I also definitely have structure. There are things that I’m supposed to do every day, and though I thought it would be a burden, it gives me a sense of purpose. I had been wary of joining a community because I wasn’t sure it would be conducive to making authentic relationships. This past weekend we had an Advent/Christmas party, and I sang, while another of our members played guitar. Many of our members have heard some of my original music, and some have read my blog. I don’t know everyone exceptionally well, but yesterday I realized that I consider these people family.

Our aforementioned guitarist had printed off the lyrics to one of my original songs and when everyone sang it, it was almost like an out-of-body experience. An entire room was singing one of my songs. We won’t see each other again until after the New Year, and that’s really what I want to talk about. Our community has been welcoming to me from the beginning, and even at the first or second meeting I attended, I felt like I had found “home” this side of Heaven. At the party, with everyone singing my song, I had that feeling again.

Recently I realized something surprising. If I were to leave, I would be missed. I say this is surprising because I’ve learned something that I don’t like to admit: I have wounds from when I was bullied as a kid that seem to only have surfaced relatively recently. Within just the past few years, first Jesus, then this community have taught me that I didn’t value myself enough, and actually, I’m pretty awesome. I don’t know how many times I have to read, or hear song lyrics, or what have you, that reiterate what Jesus silently says to me from the cross: “I died for you. You are worth dying for.” That is an objective Truth that I can’t argue with, even on the days when every fiber of my being wants to. Over the past year, whether they know it or not, my community has silently said to me in various ways, “You are worth living for,” and I can’t argue with that either.

I am part of this community, and we are living in a world that suffers. To live for anyone in this world; to have real relationships with them, tends to mean hurting for and with them, too. This has been a tough year. Members of our community have suffered greatly. We are a family, not by blood, but by choice, and that means we share that hurt. I wrote in my last post that Love carries me. I meant that God has carried me, and continues to carry me through a lot, but the love of my community really carries me, too. It has also changed my heart because to be loved has serious healing power, and makes a person more loving themselves. To be more loving means one is more able, more likely, and more willing to hurt.

I can attest to the simple fact that it’s worth it. A relationship in which all parties know they are worth hurting for is a huge relief and fosters emotional and spiritual growth and openness. I know this simply from experience. Our culture is not conducive to building these kinds of relationships. Without even getting into specific reasons, it is evident that between social media and politics, we tend to come into conversations with strangers with immediate and unwarranted skepticism. It is our impulse to find out what they are wrong about instead of looking for things we have in common. I disagree with my best friend on basically everything, but she is still my best friend because we still have a lot in common. Most importantly though, she and I have always shared each other’s hurt.

I am wary of giving advice, but I think I can offer some here. Think about your relationships, in whatever form they may take. If you find that you have not been willing to share the hurt of others, think about why, and think about whether you are happy or not. Conversely, think about whether you have relationships in your life where others have been willing to share your hurt. Sharing the hurt of another doesn’t seem like it would produce happiness. It does not produce pleasure; it produces a kind of joy in knowing that you are helping. Knowing that someone is willing to share your hurt results in relief and validates that it matters, and it does matter. In either situation, if you find that either you don’t have anyone you suffer for, or you don’t have anyone who suffers for you, pray.

Know that it still gives Jesus relief when you reflect on His Passion, and know, too that you can offer your sufferings, whatever they may be to the Father, with Jesus’ suffering. Remember that He suffered, and chooses to suffer for you and with you, and know that you can complain to Him. That has been a difficult thing for me to learn. He’s not going to tell you to quit complaining. He gets it, and He knows that what you’re dealing with sucks. Don’t worry about how you say it. You can tell Him, “Lord, this sucks.” Speak to Him like you would a friend, because that’s who He is. Lastly, if you don’t have someone you suffer for, or who suffers for you, ask for some. I can tell you from experience that God will bring them into your life.

Waiting

Holy Saturday is an awkward day. It’s a weird time between remembering something awful, and anticipating something awesome. I never quite know what to do on this day. I know what to do on Good Friday. Yesterday I woke up at ten thinking, “What would be happening right now?” Then I realized that Jesus would have already been hanging on the cross for an hour. I’m an emotional person. I worked on my book yesterday, but I cried, too, and incessantly looked at the clock until three. I prayed, and thanked him, and started to figure out how magic would work in my universe. Last night I think I figured something out.

On Thursday I watched the Passion of the Christ for the first time. I thought I would cry, but I didn’t. I was just horrified. I’ve tried for a long time to figure out what he sees in me; why he loves me; why I’m worth saving to him. Ultimately, from a human perspective, there’s some lovable, endearing stuff about me, and I know that, but none of that is why he chooses me. He chooses me because I exist. He saves me because he loves me. He loves me because I’m his. Nothing about me makes me more or less worth it. I’m infinitely worth it to him no matter what, simply because he made me.

Still, I’m left with the question. What do I do today? The only person I’d be more than willing to bet knew for sure that Jesus would rise from the dead on the first Easter was his mom, so I wonder what she would have been doing. I imagine she would have been trying to help the apostles get through this day, mainly. Still, even knowing what was going to happen, she did have to watch her son tortured to death just a day earlier. Even for her, I imagine today would have been a day of weird mourning and anticipating. My grandfather died several years ago from Alzheimer’s. It was a long, slow death, and I prayed that God would end his suffering. I don’t know if that was the right thing to pray, but it was honest, and it was sad, but also relieving when he passed. It could only have been relieving because of the hope of Heaven.

I guess that’s kind of what this day is for. This day is for hoping. I never knew my other grandfather. My mom’s dad died of cancer when I was just a year old. I didn’t even know my dad’s father very well because he was quiet, and started getting sick when I was pretty young. Because I hope for Heaven, I look forward to the day I get to hang out with both of them, and other family who I’ve never even known. I’m going to the Easter Vigil tonight. It starts in darkness, but we light up the church passing the fire of one candle to the next, and tonight we get to announce that Christ is risen. Until then, we wait, and we hope, and until he comes in glory, we wait, and we hope.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Advent Reflection Notes (Week Two)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

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!

Waiting For A Reply

Over the past week or two I’ve been sort-of-half-in-touch with several musicians. I’ve posted several ads on Craigslist because I want to either join or start a band and I’ve been impatient. I mean really impatient. Part of it is that someone will read my ad and send me a note, so I’ll reply to them and then never hear back. Yesterday I got a note from a guy saying that he and his band are looking for a lead singer and they’d be interested in having me. He even said I was better than their previous singer. The one potentially problematic issue was that they live kind of far away.

I was really excited, so I sent him a note with my phone number saying I’d like to ask some questions and talk about stuff. So of course I’ve checked my email a million times today waiting for something. Anything. But of course, there’s nothing. I know I’m being impatient. It hasn’t even been twenty four hours and I’ve already considered putting yet another ad on Craigslist. I really want this to happen, though. They’re an established, committed band, and even though they don’t play the kind of music I write, I like their style. I could write for them. When I started taking guitar lessons, I wanted to be in a punk band. These guys play the kind of music I wanted to play but couldn’t because I’m just one person. Out of necessity, and because I like it, I write pop/folk music. I can branch out, and I want to.

I really want this guy to call me, or at least send me an email with I time he could. I’m so tired of making music by myself. I can write, but I have no idea how to get gigs. These guys can teach me. I can work with them, and I can learn how to promote my own material. I could perform and be successful with these guys. I listened to a couple of their songs, and I wasn’t wild about their lyrics, but they’re great musicians. With my lyrics and their musical talent we could be really great. I want to be part of this. I’m kind of losing my mind.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!