A Beggar At Home

A few nights ago I had a nightmare. I don’t usually have them, but within the past couple of weeks I’ve had two. Boredom, bad news, and an over-active imagination are a bad combination. Saturday morning, I had a hilarious dream. The dream was that it was all over. We were done with the “plague.” My friend had an even bigger music studio, and as Barnes and Noble has Starbucks in the store, the studio had a Burger King, so I was eating chicken nuggets at the music studio.

My mom has invented what I call Apocalypse Pizza. To make Apocalypse pizza you use Naan bread, olive oil, mozzarella cheese, and whatever other toppings you like. For me, it’s peppers and onions. It’s really easy to make and everyone in my family likes it. The problem? We’ve been eating almost nothing but Apocalypse Pizza for several days, or maybe a week. When I finished doing my Morning Prayer yesterday, and went to the kitchen, she said, “Do you want pizza?” I couldn’t forget my dream, so we went to the Burger King drive through.

Since I ate lunch in the car, we took a little drive to see if anyone was out, what was still open, etc. There’s a small lake close to where I live in Massachusetts. It’s a little weird because it’s in the middle of the town and is surrounded by pavement and business. It’s a very popular place for people to take a walk. It’s so popular that the Mayor asked people to refrain from “walking the lake.” When we went over there yesterday, it was packed.

We are creatures of habit, and as Americans, we don’t like being told what to do. Furthermore, humans are social animals, and “social distancing” and “quarantining” can be downright stressful. We’ve been asked to make sacrifices. No one likes sacrificing because it means discomfort. What’s more is that there are many cases when one has Covid-19 and has no symptoms. In these cases, one might assume they are perfectly healthy, visit a friend, young nephew or niece, grandparent, or whoever who is vulnerable that person ends up getting it, and getting it bad. It is better to assume one has it.

I’m really bored. I can’t do a really significant part of my work because I can’t go to the studio. I sympathize with those who absolutely have to go out to go to work, but to those who see this as an accidental vacation, please; as of yesterday, we have 304,826 confirmed cases of this in the United States. Please don’t walk the lake. Please don’t bring your kids to the playground. Please don’t go to the beach. We’ve been asked to stay at home until the end of April. We will likely be asked to stay at home for longer than that. This “plague” will die out sooner than later if everyone would just stay home.

It does mean making at least some of your own food instead of getting takeout all the time. It means finding more ways to entertain yourself and your kids because you can only watch so much Netflix. It might mean making your own coffee instead of going to Starbucks. I get that it’s inconvenient. I completely get that it’s a little lonely. I’m not asking this of you from the outside. I am asking this of you as somebody who is doing these things, too. I am asking this of you as somebody who can’t see her friend, and can’t fully celebrate the most important holiday of her faith.

Sacrificing and discomfort does suck. Being told what to do sucks. You might not be a man or woman of faith, and you might believe that this life is all there is. I won’t try to persuade you otherwise here. Still, you are being forced to sacrifice; your gym is probably closed, the restaurants you like are probably closed, and you are probably working from home. For me, I can stay home and stay inside because I can offer that as a sacrifice to my God. If you don’t know, or don’t believe that God exists, I’m begging you to make that same sacrifice simply for the good of the rest of the world, or even just to make your life more enjoyable.

Please, consider the beggar.

Thanks.

Never Left Behind

On the way to the studio this past week I realized something. A little over a year ago, on a Wednesday night, I picked up my phone to look at Facebook or something equally as pointless, and the words and melody to my song “Heart Of Love” popped into my head. I remember it was a Wednesday because my studio sessions are usually on Thursdays. We were about halfway done working on what I expected to be a single when I came in with my new song, knowing it was good, and knowing we had to do something with it.

Twelve songs later, I have an album, but I wouldn’t have it if God hadn’t dropped “Heart Of Love” on my head. Something every Christian prays at some point in their life in one way or another is, “Lord have mercy on me.” What I didn’t realize was that this album is an answer to that prayer. I realized this because unfortunately, our society has a few specific marks that one generally must have by about their mid twenties that qualify them as a “real” adult. What I mean by this is that our society has determined that every person has a base value, and depending on what “marks” one has by a certain age, one is determined to be more or less valuable; more or less “real.” These marks tend to be 1) if one has earned a degree and has at least a relatively well-paying job 2) one is confident and chaste as a single person (oddly enough for our culture), or they are in a steady, healthy relationship 3) one has their own apartment, or one is paying rent to their parents with the expectation and prospect of eventually moving out.

Given my circumstances, I have none of these “marks.” While it’s true that I am confident and chaste as a single woman, because it is not entirely by choice, by the estimates of our society, it seems not to “count.” This leaves me with a dilemma. I know my worth as a child of God. I have also internalized my perception of how the world sees me as a disabled woman. I know that I will not move out of my parents’ house, at least in the near future. Because my art and my skill at writing doesn’t make a tangible profit, I don’t have what society considers to be a “real” job. There have been times when it seems I have been regarded with pity or condescension. I know that this is how I have perceived things, and my perception can be faulty. Nonetheless, this gets internalized; I look at how I don’t have these “marks,” and I see myself as less “real;” less valuable than the friends and acquaintances who have these “marks.”

About three weeks ago, I got started working on an article that I initially did not want to write. I started the writing and research, nonetheless, because I felt that the Lord wanted me to write it (it’s still in the works). On Friday, I was hit once again by the fact that  because I don’t have a paying job, in the eyes of society, my work, despite the fact that it is work, doesn’t really “matter.” It’s “cool” that I write music, but because I’m not a well known songwriter or a touring artist, the compliments are sometimes perceived to come with a note of pity or condescension, whether it’s meant or not. I wrote in my last post about how our culture fosters a tendency to regard others with skepticism, and I admit, my perception is that of a skeptic.

I prayed about this before going to the studio, and it hit me that the world may not see my work for what it’s worth, and I may not see it for what it’s worth, but the Lord does. The Lord said to me, almost audibly, “What you write matters to me.” I recently wrote about the Let It Go Box, which I’ve decided to rename the Redemption Box. In short, you hand something over to God, and let Him take control of it and redeem it.

I realize that over time, though we never really talked about it, I gave Him the blog a long time ago. While working on what I thought would be a single, my friend and I prayed; we handed it over, though the Box wasn’t a concept at the time, and that single became an album. Over the past year, I’ve wondered often why God chose me to work on what I know is really His project. I realized that this project didn’t need to exist; He doesn’t need it. He doesn’t need my blog or my music to save the world. He gave me things to write because that is what I’m capable of doing, because I’m good at it, and because He cares about me. He gave me something to do because He knows I love Him in a way that only I can, and because I want to help.

This is His mercy. Mercy is when someone sees another suffering, and does something about it. He sees when others devalue me, or when I devalue myself, and  He asks me to write something, or helps me write a song, and in doing so, He reminds me that what I have to say matters. He reminds me that He is my God, He loves me, and He will never leave me behind.

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.

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.

No Normal

I’m starting work (meaning working on my book) late today for two reasons. I had to take care of some other stuff, which is now done, and because my dad is traveling for work this week, which my schedule is more adjustable, anyway. I wasn’t intending to write a blog post, but in the course of doing my things that needed to get done, I came across this quote:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Last night I came to the conclusion that while there is stability sometimes, there is no “normal.” In the past year, I’ve had to adjust to a “new normal” several times. This concept really solidified in my mind after Vermont’s funeral. At the time I had a desperate, but hopeful thought that eventually things would go “back to normal.” Then it hit me that they wouldn’t. Our family would have to adjust to a new normal. On a happier note, my brother is finishing his Bachelor’s degree this year, and will be commuting to school to get his Master’s (because he’s actually a genius). Finally all of our friends will be at home, generally at the same time. It will almost be like when we were kids. It will almost be like going back to what was normal for so many years.

Except it won’t. I still don’t know exactly what the future holds, but I’ve been trying to get in touch with a Secular Institute, which is a kind of religious organization that, in this particular case, helps people with disabilities, like myself, consecrate themselves entirely to God. I can’t entirely truthfully say that I don’t care about the consequences. I’m going to pursue this no matter the cost, but I don’t know how my friends will react. I want them to know that I’m still a total nerd and weirdo who will continue to play fantasy games with them. The only difference is that I’m officially making an unbreakable commitment to God. That will be a new normal for everyone to get used to, including myself.

I brought up the quote at the beginning of this post because I decided to do my “spiritual stuff” before work instead of after work today. Part of that “spiritual stuff” is just making sure I read something from Scripture. I had an idea of what I was going to read, but when I went to the website I usually use to read the Bible, this was the “verse of the day,” and for some reason, it sunk in deep, and it seemed like I just needed to leave it at that and think about it.

I do pray a lot. It’s often just conversational. The first part, “Rejoice always,” however, is difficult for me. It’s not about an emotional kind of joy. It’s about knowing, and being satisfied with the fact that Jesus saved us. That is always worth celebrating, even if whatever “new normal” we’re in is complicated, or weird, or even painful. The Gospel reading for this weekend was about when Jesus says to his apostles, “I no longer call you slaves, I call you friends.” Our priest explained that he said this to prepare them for what was about to happen. Before we are saved, we are slaves to sin. Jesus bought our freedom at a price.

At first, As I got to know Jesus, whenever I thought about that steep price, my response was always, “I’m sorry.” He’s had to teach me that I’m worth that to him, and because I’m worth that to him, I am objectively worth it. With his help, my response has changed to, “Thank you.” The fact of the matter is, my God intimidates me. The idea that anyone would go that far for me is insane, but the idea that the God of the Universe would go that far is both baffling and kind of scary.

I have to remind myself that God’s power is in his love. Jesus says in the Gospel that he is gentle and humble of heart. Saint Paul says that love is tender and kind. Sometimes the “new normal” sucks, but God is faithful. He is only ever good. If there is nothing else to be thankful for, remember that you’re still breathing; remember that you’re heart is till beating; remember that you’re alive; remember that the God of the universe wants to know you. That is something to be thankful for.

Don’t Be A Hero

I have certain times when I habitually pray throughout the day. It’s usually when I wake up, whenever I eat, while I’m in the shower, and when I go to bed. I often pray before I start work, or when I get writer’s block, but sometimes I forget. Otherwise, my prayers throughout the day are pretty random. I tell God when I notice the sky is pretty and things like that. I’m rather simple sometimes.

I realized something while I was praying in the shower this evening, though. I find myself apologizing to God a lot, and it’s not because I’m a sinner. I know I’m a sinner. I know I need to work on stuff, and I know he’s forgiven me, and I know he’ll always forgive me. What I apologize about is actually stupid. I apologize for things I don’t need to be sorry for. I apologize because I’m not a hero.

I realized that I still have a hero complex that I thought I left behind a long time ago. It drives me completely insane that I can’t have my own apartment so I can give homeless strangers a place to stay. It drives me crazy that I’m not “able-bodied” so I can get a well-paid job and adopt a troubled kid who really needs a good mom. The fact that I can’t go be a missionary in a third-world country makes me want to tear my hair out. It sucks that I know and believe that prayer is super powerful and works, but I don’t feel it.

I apologize that I’m not a hero, when I’m physically incapable of being a hero. That’s just it, though. This is my idea of a hero. Heroes do grande, noticeable things. I lurk in my bedroom and write weird stories, and I pray because that’s all I can do. I pray for the people doing the things I can’t do, and I pray for the people who need their help, but I want to be there.

I recently came across Saint Faustina, who is completely awesome. She had mystical encounters with Jesus, and this is what he said to her:

“I want you to be very little, because when you are little, I carry you close to My Heart. Because you are weak, I take you in My arms and carry you to the home of My Father.”

He also said,

“My child, know that the greatest obstacles to holiness are discouragement and exaggerated anxiety.”

 

Another mystic by the name of Sister Consolata Betrone received this message from Jesus:

“You only worry about loving me, and I will take care of everything else to the smallest detail.”

This is hard for me. I like to be independent. I don’t mind being told what to do or following directions or even working on a team, but I like to have an objective and, if possible, I like to have the freedom to be a little creative. I like to be able to complete the task I’ve been given and have that sense of accomplishment after. I think I was able to ignore my hero complex more when I was in high school and college because I had objectives and tasks I could complete and I got that sense of accomplishment when I passed a difficult test or got an “A” on a paper. Those were my duties. Come to class and participate. Pass the test. Write the paper. Do the homework. Get the degree. Graduate.

Now I’m in this weird position where I don’t feel as much like I have objectives. My mom told me to write a book. She didn’t give me a deadline. She didn’t tell me what it should be about. She didn’t give me work hours. She’s never complained when I’ve taken unnecessary time off. I feel like I’m floating around with no anchor. I know I can finish my mythology, and finishing each individual story does give me a small sense of accomplishment, but it’s certainly not a huge thrill. I have a list of stories that I need to write, and others may be added later, if need be. Once all my stories are written, I need to research and find an editor and either self-publish, or find publishers to submit to. What will come after that, I have no idea, but I hope I can be philanthropic.

Originally I was writing for two reasons. The first was because my mom told me to. The second was because my medical issues make it nearly, if not entirely impossible to get a “real” job. I want to go big, and I want to be a hero. Jesus says to get small, to love him, and to pray. He says to let him take care of everything. A while ago I realized I had only one real reason for writing my book. God is helping me write it. It’s his, and I want him to use it. Earlier I prayed that he would help me to lose the hero complex. I’m not a hero, and never can be in the way I think of a hero. I have to let Jesus be the hero.

 

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!