The Eternal Question

About a week ago, I was in the car. I do a lot of praying in the car because the car is boring, and I don’t drive, so I don’t have to pay attention to the road. At the time I had been thinking about the difficulty of balancing work and prayer. The Lord reminded me of the time he spent with Martha and Mary. Martha had been working to make everything perfect for the Lord, while Mary just sat with Him. Martha got annoyed with her sister, and Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

At the time, I had been thinking about spending too much time producing art or music, even if it is for God’s glory, and not actually spending enough time with Him. Earlier today, I was worried about a deeper, spiritual problem I’ve been facing, so I went to my room and prayed, but I did something that was definitely out of the ordinary. I said, “Can you just tell me a story?” I don’t really know how I did it, but I sort of let Him take control of my creativity, and this is the story He told me.

There was once a little girl who lived in a house with her mom and dad. They were loved by their friends and neighbors and they lived a very normal life. On an ordinary day, the little girl came home from school and sat on the floor to play. All of a sudden everything disappeared except for the square of floor she was sitting on. Above her there was nothing. Below her there was nothing. Behind her there was nothing, and in front of her there was nothing. To her left and her right, and in every direction besides, there was nothing. Everything she had ever known was gone. She was there, and the square she sat on was there and that was it. She was sad because everything she knew was gone, and as the square started to disappear, she became scared. She was worried because if the square was gone, she might fall into nothing forever. As the square disappeared, she reached out for Me, and I caught her, and brought her to myself and kept her there.

Then he asked me a question.

Is that okay?

I thought it was a weird story, but the strangest thing was that when everything disappeared, I felt this sense of peace. His question really seamed to be: “If literally everything else was gone except Me, would you be happy with that?” I’m realizing as I write this how weighty a question that is. That is literally a life or death question. When we die, we literally lose everything this world has to offer: everything we own; the place where we live; all the money we may have; even the identity this world gave us. When we die, we’ll face that question. Our answer determines where we spend eternity. I didn’t fully realize that when He initially asked the question, but I didn’t have to think about it. My answer was, and still is absolutely “Yes.”

I mentioned in my previous post that I deal with scrupulosity. It kind of means I have spiritual OCD. I get caught up in the “rules” while trying to be perfect, and I lose sight of the actual point of my faith, which is to have a loving relationship with the Lord. For a while now, I think it’s been like when Peter walked on water. He had faith enough to try something that absurd. For a moment, he was able to do it, but he saw that the water was getting rough and the wind was picking up. He lost sight of Jesus for just a moment, and he started sinking, but all he had to do was ask for help, and Jesus caught him. I’ve been so busy trying to be perfect, that I lost sight of the Person I’m trying to be perfect for. With His weird little story Jesus reminded me that He will catch me when I fall.

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.

A Song To Sing In The Dark

Recently I realized that I write my best songs when I’m pissed off. Something bad happens, and I cope by writing about it. That’s true for a lot of people, I know, but I think people cope by writing angry songs. I don’t write angry songs. I write defiant songs. I recently wrote a song about the Notre Dame fire. It happened on the same day as the Boston Marathon, so I tied the two events together. The second verse goes as follows:

Cheer for the runners
They all ran the race
Run for tomorrow
A glorious day
Tested by fire
The cross stood tall
The glory of Heaven
In old Notre Dame

The cross stood tall among ruins. God is never outdone. There are still places in the world where it’s illegal and even dangerous to be Christian. Recently, there have been shootings at places of worship in our own country. The cross standing among ruins was a powerful image for me. The Lord is greater than anything bad that could possibly happen. I reflected, too, that people can’t worship in Notre Dame any more, but buildings aren’t God’s Church. The people are His Church.

For the past two weeks, the people in Sri Lanka haven’t been able to celebrate Sunday Mass for fear of another attack. The Bishop has celebrated Mass privately, and the people have watched it televised. That would be tragic for me. I live in Suburban America, and I doubt the likelihood of anything like that happening in my home town. Still, there is a chance it could. There was a time in the early Church when Christians had to celebrate Mass in the Roman Catacombs. Still, they did it. They did it because Jesus conquered sin and death, they did it because He died for us, and they did it because He’s worth dying for. He’s worth suffering for.

The cross stood among the ruins in Notre Dame because the cross is our hope. The cross is what gave us life. The cross is a promise that as messy as things might be, and as messy as they might get, God is greater. The cross is a promise and a reminder that we are redeemed, and God can bring even greater light out of any darkness.

The title of my upcoming album is, “A Song To Sing In The Dark.” It’s from a line in my song, “Nothing Else.”

This is a song to sing in the dark
This is enough, a spark to start a fire
This is a prayer you answer with love
‘Cause you are God, and you are with us

I wrote the song a few years ago and released it as a single. All I remember is that I had been watching the news a little too much, and I was feeling depressed. The world looked like it was falling apart. The fact of the matter is, the world always looks like it’s falling apart. The cross is the symbol of our faith because Jesus overcame it. What had only appeared to be an instrument of death became a symbol of hope and life, and even more than that, a symbol of God’s undying love for us, and the promise of our salvation. We can look to the cross when we need a song to sing in the dark. Remember that the cross is a beginning, not an end.

The Messenger

I recently came across a story about a girl who fell into deep depression while at school in New York. One day she decided to write a letter. It was addressed to no one in particular, and it wasn’t about the girl writing; it was about whoever would find the letter. She told the finder of the letter that they were wonderful and beautiful, and that she hoped they would have lovely times to come. She noticed that writing the letter, and leaving it for someone to find made her feel better, so she kept writing and anonymously leaving letters.

Eventually, though, she started a blog about it, and the idea caught on. People started writing letters and leaving them on the bus, on park benches, on restaurant seats, and sticking out of books in libraries. People would comment on the blog posts of the girl who started the phenomenon, personally requesting letters of encouragement, and she would write and send letters to them. This is actually what inspired me to find a pen pal, but yesterday morning I dreamed that I found a group of boys who were doing it. The dream was so real that I took it as a sign from God that I should get a move on and start leaving love notes.

My mom and I went out to lunch yesterday, and the Paper Store was in the same plaza, so I scurried over there and found two stacks of sparkly cards with different designs on them. Last night my mom and I finished listening to an audiobook about a girl who converted from Islam to Christianity, called “Hiding in the Light.” I highly recommend it. The story was absolutely crazy. The point is, at various points, the girl quotes from Scripture. Towards the end of the book, she quoted the entirety of Psalm 29, so I looked it up to read it for myself. The last two verses really stuck with me: “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace.” Psalm 29:10-11

Today I wrote two love notes and went to the chapel where they have adoration most weekdays until midnight. I left one of the notes in an empty chair, but decided I’d keep the other with me to leave somewhere else. I ended up spending just over an hour in the chapel. I hadn’t really expected to, but almost as soon as I showed up, I started crying. I’ve been a bit of an emotional train wreck lately. I need to stop watching the news. Too much bad is happening. It just doesn’t seem like enough, or to be honest, really anything is being done about the abuse crisis in the Church, and that really bothers me. People are angry at God, and leaving the Church, and that’s no answer, and He doesn’t deserve that. There is other bad news, too though. I’m tired of violence and natural disasters. On top of all that, some people I know are having some weird relationship issues. All of this is just really weighing me down, and it seems to be causing me a fair amount of writer’s block, which isn’t helping matters.

While I was in the chapel, though, Jesus reminded me of two things. I wear a necklace with three treasures on it. One is a Miraculous Medal of Mary, the other is a medal of Saint Faustina with the Divine Mercy image on it, and the third is a tiny silver Sacred Heart. In particular, Jesus brought to my mind His Sacred Heart. He seemed to be saying, “I know. My Heart hurts, too.” He also brought to my mind a hymn that’s occasionally used in Church. It’s called “You Are Mine” by David Hass. I had my phone with me, so I looked up the lyrics. I couldn’t listen to it because I didn’t have my ear buds with me, but the song is written from Jesus’ point of view, and it was like He was silently singing to me. The Chorus of the song is: “Do not be afraid I am with you/ I have called you each by name/ Come and follow me/ I will lead you home/ I love you and you are mine.” I find that very comforting.

What I’m really struggling with right now is that it’s not my own problems that are causing me all this emotional trouble. It’s other people’s problems. It’s the problems of people I don’t even know. I realized while I was praying, though, that this must have been exactly what Gethsemane must have felt like. The whole thing just feels awkward and disjointed. On a strictly personal level, my life is going great right now. I can’t think of life on a strictly personal level any more, though. Life is always, and always has to be shared. On a scientific level, it’s just a fact; humans are social animals, but on a spiritual level, it’s even more weighty. We have to love because Jesus loved us first, and love can seriously hurt.

The ironic thing is that giving love in a real, tangible way seems to be the remedy for that hurt. Leaving the anonymous love note in the chapel felt good. Just writing the love notes feels good. I hope I can make people marginally happier with the love notes. I like the fact that it’s anonymous. It’s kind of nice to have it be a secret. I prayed over the two love notes I’ve written, so I like the idea that they’re really God’s love notes and I’m just the messenger. The note I left in the chapel was actually just the quote from Psalm 29. I’ve memorized it because, like the hymn, I find the finality of it comforting. “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood. The Lord sits enthroned as king forever.” No matter how insane the world gets, God is in control. God is over the flood. God is king forever. God is a good king and that will never change. I know that, and I can trust that.

I’ll Stick Around To Remind You

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. I’ve been busy loving a teenage boy from where, I don’t know, praying, working on my book, and working on music in the studio. I just finished up the second song, “Heart Of Love.” I don’t know where it’ll be on the album, but I’m just overjoyed at how good it sounds. A lot of love went into this song, on my end, for sure, but I’m convinced, from heaven as well. Ken and I pray before every session, and both of us have been convinced that we’ve had very little to do with this song. Even when the work was barely started, we couldn’t stop ourselves from laughing at how good it sounded.

Last week we finished “Heart Of Love” and started work on a song called “Sunset Sparrow,” which is partly dedicated to my new friend, but also to anyone who is suffering from loneliness or any kind of mental health issue. The first verse ends with a question: “Sunset Sparrow, can you see the city lights, and in the sky beyond, can you see the stars?” The Chorus goes like this: “If your answer’s ‘no,’ I’ll stick around to remind you, the night can’t last forever, and the morning’ll break through.”

A couple of weeks ago, my friend and I decided to watch “The Hunger Games.” There’s an interesting conversation in the first movie between President Snow and the guy who designed the game/arena. President Snow questions, “You like an underdog?” The guy responds by saying, “Everyone likes an underdog,” to which the president responds, “I don’t.” My friend reflected, “People don’t actually like underdogs. People like underdog stories.” Truthfully I haven’t thought about it a whole lot, but at the time, she seemed to be right, and I think she probably is.

I have also heard over and over that we live in a cut-throat, survival-of-the-fittest society. Though I have seen beautiful exceptions, I think, for the most part, this is overwhelmingly true, too. This leaves people afraid to reach out to one another in kindness because it leaves them vulnerable. Any show of weakness could mean defeat. I am reminded of the “Good Samaritan” story. Two of the three people who pass the wounded man–the underdog–pass him by. They are more interested in their own survival; the task at hand.

Jesus uses that story in a particular context as a teaching device, but I wonder what the wounded man–the underdog–would have been thinking. I had a very strange conversation with my new friend just a couple of days after we made contact. I asked him how his weekend had gone. His response was not a positive one. I spent two hours trying to convince him that he was lovable, that he was loved, that I don’t abandon my friends, and that I wasn’t going to abandon him. He countered by saying that he was very good at pushing people away, and that we couldn’t possibly really be friends because we had only known each other for two days, and then, it was only over the internet.

I spent the whole two hours inwardly hoping he wouldn’t ask me why I loved him because if he asked me, I don’t think I could have explained. The fact of the matter is, though, that, though I only really know his name and his age and the bare minimum of his personality, I love this kid, even if I can’t articulate a reason. Pope Benedict XVI said, “Only when God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively, it is good that I exist.” Saint Paul said that we can know God loves us because, and I am not quoting directly, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” I’ve recently come up with a prayer that I find exceedingly helpful when, in a sense, I have to remind myself of what I believe. “Lord, I’m a mess, but I’m your mess.”

For too long I tried to figure out why God loves me. Of course I know that God is Love, so I can infer that, in some sense, he has to love me. He kind of can’t help it. At the same time, I personally don’t have to exist. He wanted me with all my quirks and talents, and preferences, and what not, to exist. He created me knowing I’d be a mess, but he loves me too much not to have made me. Accepting my own messiness has not been easy. It probably never will be. By messiness, I don’t only mean sinfulness. I’m talking about other things, too, like the leftover insecurity that still occasionally tries to rear its head from when I was a teenager, or even my medical weirdness.

Acknowledging the mess is important, but if anyone only looks at their mess, they’re left with not much more than a bad mood. That’s why the second part of the prayer is important. By saying that I’m His mess, I am reminding myself that I belong to Him. It’s my pledge of loyalty, but also a way to say, “I know you love me, and I love you, too.” In a world where we’re convinced we have to do everything on our own, it’s easy to make the mistake of either not asking for help when we need it, or ignoring those who do need our help.

From talking with my new friend, I’ve discovered a new sense of the idea of tough love: “I’m going to love you whether you like it or not because you need it.” Sometimes unconditional love is uncomfortable. It can sometimes seem entirely idealistic and unrealistic, when, in fact, the opposite is true. The God of the universe who can literally do anything, and never changes, loves each person literally no matter what, even if our actions or words are sometimes not to His liking.

Last night I reflected on the fact that, while praying, I usually call God, “Lord.” That should be no surprise, except that, when Jesus instructed his disciples (i.e. us) to pray, he told us to address God as “Father.” That’s the whole point. God is the most perfect Father we could ever have. Even when we’re being “the actual worst,” He loves us. Sometimes when our loved ones are going through something particularly hard, or they do something particularly detrimental to themselves, another person, or our relationship, it’s tempting to decide, “I can’t deal with you right now,” and then “right now” lasts a long time. God, on the other hand, doesn’t think like that. Unlike humans, God can handle any mess, no matter how big, and nothing we do, and no matter how we feel, we are unconditionally loved.

I wrote “Sunset Sparrow” initially as a promise to my friend from my personal perspective. However, on further reflection, I’ve realized two things. The first is that I have never encountered the kind of deep darkness I’m finding in his soul. Maybe he’s being an overly dramatic teenager, but I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt. Secondly, though, I think the chorus of the song can be addressed to anyone. “I’ll stick around to remind you. The night can’t last forever, and the morning’ll break through.”

My upcoming album is a worship album, but I wanted the songs on it to be a bit less conventional than the usual fare of worship songs. The fact of the matter is, after a while, truth can only be said the same way so many times before it starts sounding like white noise. I hadn’t intended to write a song to reflect God’s faithfulness directly. On the other hand, I have asked Him to give me some words from His perspective that He wanted me to address to someone in particular, or the world in general. I had hoped He would give me something new to say, but no spectacular divine revelation came. Instead, He gave me new words to convey an ancient message: “I am faithful;” in other words, “I’ll stick around to remind you. The night can’t last forever, and the morning’ll break through.”

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.

Autumn Hero

I published my song, “Autumn Hero” on Bandcamp recently, and shared it on Facebook. However, I haven’t shared it with my readers here, yet. Most of you are familiar with my writing endeavors, but perhaps don’t know a whole lot about my music. I just finished making a lyric video for my new song, and thought you all might like to hear it. This song was actually sitting around in the “what-do-I-do-with-this” corner of my universe for at least a year, if not two, but didn’t start production until about two months ago. Despite the long wait, here it is.