The title says it all. I may be back, or I may not.
The title says it all. I may be back, or I may not.
Let’s see. How can I sit down right now and write an encouraging blog post for you? As you know, I’m not the most encouraging blogger. I kinda suck.
Anyway, I’ve been reading a book. Actually I’ve read it, but I’m reading it again. That’s how good it is. The book is Blessed Are The Misfits: Great News for Believers Who Are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They’re Missing Something. For short, I just call it Blessed Are The Misfits. You can tell from the title just what kind of book it is.
I won’t get into the details too much, but it is a perfect book for someone like me. The author, Brant Hansen, spends time describing how introverts and “weirdos” like he and I don’t really fit into the whole Church culture. (He’s coming from a Protestant viewpoint by the way.)
What I like is how he says that, even though we don’t fit in or aren’t “fired up” to share Jesus with people, we as Christians still have an obligation to love people.
To love people.
This is super hard for me because I generally don’t care much for humans. I have to work with them and teach them, but that doesn’t mean I like them.
Topaz, how can you call yourself a Catholic when you hate people?!
I try to love them. I also fall short a heck of a lot. That’s where God’s grace and effort on my part come in. Here is an excerpt from the book:
I know I don’t fit in. But I also know I’m supposed to love people, even those who will never, ever understand me and don’t even want to.
Obviously he’s talking about the “popular kids.” You know. The happy cliques, the look-at-me types, the ones who I went to school with, and the ones who I have to work with. (Nope. The popular cliquish people are also found in jobs in the adult world. It doesn’t end in high school. *eye roll*)
Hansen says at the end of an early chapter:
He [Jesus] knows this world is both cruel and inhospitable to Him and His people. But He told us God “so loves” it anyway.
He even plans to rescue it.
This is what I get from everything so far: I don’t have to force myself to become an extrovert in order to be the best Christian I can be. I just have to deny myself and try and love people. Because Jesus loved people. He still does. He even loves the people on heavy metal blogs and websites that talk about how they hate Him and that the Church He founded is a pile of garbage that we don’t need. (It breaks my heart, but I still visit those metal blogs and sites because, well, I love metal.)
Anyway, I hope you got something out of this post today. If not, then just remember to love people because God loves people. Even if it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever tried to do. And try to love the misfit types and “different” types too. Because God does.
Next Sunday is a solemnity called Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (colloquially known as Christ the King). It is the end of the Church’s liturgical calendar and is a time to reflect on the end of our lives on earth and on the second coming of Christ. (The priest in my old parish once called it “a funeral of sorts — our funerals.”)
Today’s scripture readings reflect and foreshadow these events. Daniel 12: 1-3 says:
At that time your people shall escape,
everyone who is found written in the book.
In Mark 13: 24-32, Jesus says:
In those days after the tribulation,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light…
He will send out the angels
and gather his elect from the four winds…
The priest at Mass this morning talked about how we should get rid of sinful habits in our lives so that we will be prepared to die and face the Lord. He also talked about the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the attacks in 2001 on the Twin Towers in New York.
“Do you think anyone was thinking: ‘I’m prepared to meet my Maker’? Probably no one.”
We all have daily struggles. Sometimes it’s hard to stay positive amid all the stress and hardships of daily life. I know it is for me. However, we must hold to the promise that awaits us. This will get us through the tough times. As the adage goes:
Those who persevere through a storm often find a rainbow.
So, in conclusion: Am I ready to meet my Maker if I should die today?
Nighttime depresses me. That’s when the demons come out. Don’t say that around the kids, my wife tells me. I don’t. I whisper it to her after they have gone to bed.
But she doesn’t understand. That’s why she is downstairs watching old reruns of Friends and I am upstairs in a dark room, praying that God will let Satan and his demons come after me. If you’re gonna let them come after me, then let them come; I’m tired of my life, I tell God.
Then a thought drifts through my bleak mind: A person in a third-world country would give an arm and a leg to have what I have. A good job. A nice house. A healthy family. Parents who love me. Et cetera.
But, what “normal” people (like my wife) don’t understand is that it’s all meaningless without a sound mind.
Again I tell God to turn the demons loose on me. Let them devour me once and for all. A dark, quiet room would normally freak me out, but the air feels almost tranquil right now. Almost like the night that I put myself to sleep with pills and tequila, never expecting to wake again.
“Who else do we turn to?” St. Peter asks Jesus in the Gospel of John. “You alone have the words of eternal life.”
In the Psalms, King David laments again and again; he always seems to find comfort in the Lord, though.
Lately that comfort escapes me.
My new psychiatrist (the first one I’ve visited since January) put me on a slew of new pills that leave me irritable and groggy. Just doing my basic job at work takes everything I’ve got. Other teachers have fun and are so relaxed and easygoing.
It must be nice.
I pray that I can be like that. I have prayed daily for that. But I’m getting tired.
As I end this post, the coyotes (real ones; not ones in my mind) begin howling. They will howl throughout the night, signaling the darkness of night that I fear.
My wife, who is not a Christian, reluctantly agreed to attend a baptismal class for our youngest son. I figured she would be bored out of her mind: The hour-long class would be full of Catholic terminology regarding a sacrament that Ayako had no clue about.
And there would be praying.
That evening, I found the courage to glance over at Ayako at some point during the class, and, sure enough, her eyes were glazed over. “How are you doing?” I asked meekly.
I got worried. The whole idea of baptizing our children was mine. I was the reason we were all here on a weeknight instead of at home in our highly-structured routine.
In my mind, I tried to hurry along the class so that I wouldn’t feel like I was keeping my wife hostage inside a Catholic church. Just a few more minutes, right? I kept asking myself nervously.
After 90 minutes, we were dismissed. Leaving Ayako with both kids, who were going stir crazy by then, I went up to the individuals in charge of the baptismal class to ask some questions.
Outside in the parking lot, I expected Ayako to either give me the silent treatment or start complaining about wasting her time. Instead, the first words out of her mouth were: “I liked that prayer.”
“The one at the beginning. It sounded like a poem.”
This is a very good sign! I thought, shocked that she actually enjoyed something about the class.
I went home and punched in some key words on the computer; I had no idea what the poem was called or anything. That’s why God gave us Google, I reminded myself.
Ayako even wanted me to print a copy for her which she now reads every night before going to bed.
The moral of this story? God is in control. He can work wonders. He changed a big fool such as me, and He can surely convert the heart of a tough little non-practicing Buddhist/Shintoist Japanese woman. Just not according to my timetable.
Anyway, here is the poem that I tracked down. It’s called “When God Says No” by Claudia Minden Welsz.
I asked God to take away my pride,
and God said, “No.”
He said it was not for Him to take away,
but for me to give up.
I asked God to make my handicapped child whole,
and God said, “No.”
He said her spirit is,
while her body is only temporary.
I asked God to grant me patience,
And God said, “No.”
He said patience is a by-product of tribulation.
It isn’t granted, it is earned.
I asked God to give me happiness,
And God said, “No.”
He said He gives blessings,
happiness is up to me.
I asked God to spare me pain,
and God said, “No.”
He said, “Suffering draws you apart from
worldly cares and brings you closer to Me.”
I asked God to make my spirit grow,
and God said, “No.”
He said I must grow on my own,
but He will prune me to make it fruitful.
I asked God if He loved me,
and God said, “Yes.”
He gave me His only Son, who died for me.
And I will be in Heaven someday
because I believe.
I asked God to help me love others
as much as He loves me,
and God said,
“Ah, finally, you have the idea.”
Last week I had yet another meeting with three individuals: my new supervisor, the dean, and the HR director. Talk about déjà vu. Sheesh.
I was actually hoping that this would be the final straw. I’m sick and tired of being the whipping boy for new supervisors and deans who want to make an example out of someone.
I told a colleague whom I despise how something was supposed to be done. She went above my head and right to my direct supervisor who is basically the assistant dean. This isn’t the public school system, for crying out loud! It’s higher education; you know, where instructors have a say in what they teach and how they teach it.
But I learned yet again that some people you can’t mess with because they are too connected to the right people.
So, the HR director, my supervisor, the dean, and I sat at the dean’s cramped little table in his office. Surprise! Another written warning. God was looking out for me because, technically, I was supposed to get a one-week suspension with pay, but HR said that since I have a new supervisor, they will just give me a second written warning. That was bittersweet. It was good because I still have employment. Bad because I really was hoping that they would terminate me.
At home, my wife
lectured yelled at me for not changing. According to her, this was all my fault because I haven’t been giving my best to my colleagues, supervisors, and students. I didn’t want to hear it, so I argued back.
Anyway, I spent the night thinking about what she said, and then I prayed like crazy for God to help me in such a difficult situation.
The following morning, the truth hit me square in the face. I jotted down as much as I could from the revelation that The Lord was giving me. I have listed my notes below.
Verse 29 is the summary, but I read the whole parable which opened my eyes to how I’m letting God down.
For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. (v. 29)
This is an awesome story about how God opens our eyes to see that He will deliver us from any predicament. This is why staying close to God is so important in our spiritual life.
Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the LORD opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (v. 17)
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
It’s not my supervisor I should be angry with; rather, I need to see this as a learning opportunity: God slapping me upside the head and finally saying, “Wake up! You’re headed the wrong way!”
Although these words are implicitly stated in the Bible, it is a wonderful passage about God speaking to His people who had been exiled to a foreign land. There was nothing but struggle after struggle for them. Instead of God saying, “I will help you right away! Your problems will disappear immediately,” He says the following:
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’ (verses 4-7)
In summary, do the best with what you have and always be faithful. God will act according to His timetable, not ours.
I recently came across this opinion piece on CNN’s website. The title caught my eye since I’m interested in all things Christianity and, being an English teacher, I can’t help but admire and love the works of O’Connor — not to mention the fact that she was Catholic.
Before reading anything in the Belief section of the website, I always scan the credentials of the writer to see from which angle the topic is being viewed. Needless to say, I was a bit shocked to find that this piece was written by a leader associated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Why would the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission be praising an odd, peacock-obsessed Catholic writer?
There was only one way to find out.
I do hope you take the time to read the following article. It is a sobering critique on American evangelical Christianity and how so much of it is feel-good, seeker-friendly entertainment to justify our sense of entitlement, all the while avoiding that dreaded “s” word: sin.
The following is the original column by Russell D. Moore in its entirety:
On my Christmas list of gifts to buy my evangelical friends, there’s a little book of prayers.
This is less predictable than it may seem, since the prayers aren’t from a celebrity evangelical preacher, but from a morbid, quirky Catholic who spent her short life with pet peacocks and wooden-leg-stealing Bible salesman stories.
But I think Flannery O’Connor’s newly published “Prayer Journal” is exactly what Christians need, maybe especially at Christmas.
The book, recently discovered in the writer’s papers in Georgia and now published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, reproduces the handwritten notebook prayers scribbled down by O’Connor during her years as a student at the University of Iowa.
The prayers are jarring because they are so personal and raw, clearly not written to “edify the saints” in a published manuscript. They are, well, just prayers.
Part of the rawness and authenticity of the prayers come with the way O’Connor refuses to sentimentalize her personal relationship with Jesus (thought it’s clear she has one). She is here constantly aware of her own fallenness and of the seeming silence of the God to whom she pours out these little notes.
O’Connor notes that her attention is “fugitive” in prayer. She confesses that hell seems more “feasible” in her mind than heaven because, “I can fancy the tortures of the damned but I cannot imagine the disembodied souls hanging in a crystal for all eternity praising God.”
She is constantly second-guessing whether her prayers for success as a writer are egocentric, or a genuine striving to use the gifts God has given her.
Moreover, O’Connor is constantly aware that she is a sinner, and she can’t get around that. Perhaps the most widely publicized sentence in the book is her confession that she “proved myself a glutton, for Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought. There’s nothing left to say of me.”
Even when she’s confessing sin, she seems aware of her sinfulness in doing that. She says of sin, “You can never finish eating it nor ever digest it. It has to be vomited,” but, she immediately concludes, “perhaps that is too literary a statement; this mustn’t get insincere.”
O’Connor’s prayers are hardly “inspirational,” in the sense that many American Christians want: a model of the “victorious Christian life” where “prayer changes things” and we’ve got “joy, joy, joy, down in our hearts, to stay.” That’s why we need them.
American evangelicalism, my own tradition, rightly emphasizes the biblical truth that the gospel is good news, that our sins are forgiven in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We rightly emphasize that the believer now has a personal connection to God, accessible in prayer through the priesthood of Jesus himself.
But sometimes we forget how hard that is in this time between the times.
Some of our worship services are so clean and antiseptic, led by grinning preachers and praise bands, talking about how happy Jesus makes us, that we forget that the Spirit prompts us to “groan” at our sin and the suffering all around us (Romans 8:22-23). This is especially true at Christmas, with so many evangelicals forgoing the dark longing of Advent to go straight to the tinsel-decked rejoicing of Christmas.
Some Christians, then, can wonder if something’s wrong with them when they feel as though God seems distant, or when, despite all the smiles at church, they still feel guilty for the way their hearts don’t seem to match up with their hymns.
But the good news isn’t that we are all put together. The good news is that though we’re wrecked and fallen and freakish, Jesus loves us anyway and has made peace for us with God and with each other. That’s not something we always feel. We see it by faith.
O’Connor, elsewhere in her letters, writes of what it means to agonize over one’s sin, to wonder “if your confessions have been adequate and if you are compounding sin on sin.” She concludes that this agony “drives some folks nuts and some folks to the Baptists,” while noting, “I feel sure that it will drive me nuts and not to the Baptists.”
Those of us who were “driven to the Baptists” can benefit from a book of prayers that remind us that the Christian life is exactly what Jesus promised it would be – the carrying of a cross.
We can be reminded in prayers such as these to remind ourselves that between now and resurrection we will never be, in ourselves, anything other than sinners. That’s why we need a Christ.
It’s only when we grapple with the darkness of a fallen cosmos, only when we’re honest about the fact that all our efforts look more like Herod’s throne than Bethlehem’s stable, that we can sing “Joy to the World.” Flannery O’Connor wasn’t an evangelical Protestant, but we need her.
We need her, especially perhaps, as we pray for peace on earth, goodwill to men, for Christmas in a Christ-haunted world.
Life has been better lately:
I’ve finally dealt successfully with a particularly nagging sin in my life.
My wife suddenly started sleeping in our bed again (that’s in, not with by the way).
I have a good chance of getting a better-paying job in the near future that would finally free my kids from the reduced-price lunch program at school.
So, driving home from work last week, I was pleased to know that it was the day for the glorious mysteries of the rosary.
Out of all four of my “rosary reports,” this is the only one where I was actually in a good mood beforehand. Below are my thoughts while praying the glorious mysteries last week.
1. The Resurrection – Fruit of the Spirit: Faith
The resurrection. Who wouldn’t be joyful after being reminded that Christ overcame death and is now reigning in glory? That would fire someone up right away. Jesus didn’t just conquer His fears and the painful agony of the cross. He conquered death. Satan has already lost!
If you’re still feeling down, don’t worry. Just ask God for an increase in faith. I do this all the time. Some days I can barely get out of bed due to my depression. All I have is my mustard seed of faith that God will help me; all I need to do is ask.
2. The Ascension – Fruit of the Spirit: Hope
After all that time with His apostles, Christ ascended into heaven to be with the Father. Just like the apostles, we have that special hope to be with the Lord after finishing our earthly lives.
It’s easy to have hope and to be happy when times are good. Right now this describes me. However, as little as a year ago, that depressed me. Why? Because I had the mindset of “what goes up must come down.” My hope was crushed because of my own lack of faith. These days, I rejoice when times are good. I feel that my walk with God has matured to the point where I don’t worry about tomorrow, “for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)
3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit – Fruit of the Spirit: Love of God
Just like Jesus said, the Holy Spirit came to rest on the apostles and Mary. They were waiting in anticipation, and Jesus stayed true to His word as always.
God is love, and he is always reliable. I had the hardest time accepting this truth because my dad was the complete opposite. So many people, as I did, picture God as they do their earthly father because, well, that’s all we know. But God doesn’t belittle us or wait for us to mess up so that He can punish us.
If you’re having a hard time accepting the fact that God is love — love in its purest form — then ask Him to help you. You’ll be amazed when He grants you the faith to accept and believe in His true nature.
4. The Assumption of Mary – Fruit of the Spirit: Grace of a Happy Death
The next two mysteries don’t go over very well with Protestants. No, the Bible doesn’t mention the Assumption or the Coronation of Mary. But where in the Bible does it say that everything we believe has to come from the Bible?
Anyway, this doesn’t mean that Mary ascended into heaven by her own power as Christ did. As Elijah and Enoch in the Old Testament, it was God who made it happen.
I used to fear death. In college, I flew a Cessna 172 on weekends, but I quit after about a year because my fear of dying overtook my passion for flying. It definitely wouldn’t have been a “happy death.”
What is a happy death? I believe it’s when we’re old and full of years, having lived a fulfilled, selfless life with our loved ones around us, with the hope that we will soon be with the Lord. That’s the only kind of death that I want for my family.
5. The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven – Fruit of the Spirit: Trust in Mary’s Intercession
I consider going to heaven a fringe benefit of being a Christian. Some people are too focused on it, but, honestly, it’s usually not even on my mind. I guess it’s because God has blessed me with a wonderful life right now. I’m not perfect. The world isn’t perfect. But life is good.
This mystery reminds me that I, like Mary, will receive a crown when I (prayerfully) get to heaven. What a glorious day that will be! In the bestseller Heaven is for Real, a non-Catholic book, someone asked Colton Burpo if he saw Mary in heaven, and if so, what she was doing. He responded and said that Mary was next to Jesus and never left His side. Just like a queen mother in the Old Testament. I found that inspiring even before I was Catholic.
Mary is praying for us, just like my good Christian grandparents who are in heaven. Recently I asked a friend to pray for my mental health. I trust that her intercession was effective. How much more effective and trustworthy would the intercession of “the mother of [the] Lord” (Luke 1:43) be?
With Thanksgiving coming up, everyone will soon be focused on
food what they’re thankful for. However, take some time out every day to count your blessings. You’ll feel a lot better.
I wish you, dear reader, a wonderful day.