Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Love, Actually (or I Hate Dictionaries)

Dear readers,
I hate dictionaries.
Actually, I'm an English major, so that's false. I get abnormal amounts of joy from learning what what words like "perambulator" and "clandestine" and "flossy" mean (yes, the urban kind counts, too. Sometimes.)
But the dictionary has no idea what poetry is. It can't define freedom. And it is absolutely clueless about love.

Take one:

...Okay, "constant affection"? Ain't nobody got time for that! I don't care how much I love you, I will eventually stop feeling affection for you long enough to go get myself some food. And maybe read a book. And what about when you squeeze the toothpaste tube in the wrong place or eat the last of the ice cream without telling me?!?! Does my irritation mean I stopped loving you?

We're done here.

Take two:

...Well, the verb edition is always somewhat better. But the whole"desire" thing bothers me. Like, I think lust and love are two separate words for a reason. To think love means only to desire someone makes you selfish at best and a total creep at worst. Love goes so far beyond that. Moral of the story: don't get your life philosophy off of Google.

So. Where do you get it? Real, actual love isn't hiding in a book somewhere.  I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about it, but I learn the most from trying to do it, which is a growing process involving lots of trial and error.

Act I
Did I mention I hate trial and error?  Specifically the error part. In my idealistic fairy-tale-reading mind that started on this crazy journey years ago, love and errors had nothing to do with each other.  Love was the one thing that was supposed to be error-less, perfect. In fact I'll take this opportunity to apologize to the first one or two poor guys I had crushes on, because I'm pretty sure I drove them crazy emulating a princess or Taylor Swift or whatever.  The point here being not to dwell on that long gone awkward phase (that I take comfort in knowing almost every teenager ever has to go through), but that love can't be an acting gig, even if you really really want to be some character that you perceive to be perfect.  Hint: they're probably not.

Plan B
 And once you drop the act and start putting your real self out there...welcome to the minefield. You will have to unpack many myths about love in your mind, and each lesson will leave you more vulnerable than the last.  Letting go of your mask is certainly difficult.  After all, if there is no "constant affection" for the polished, presentable version of you, how could the one eaten alive by doubts and fears and anxieties be lovable? But believe me when I say the scary version is the best version, the real version.  I tried safe love, which wasn't really love at all.  It was mutual affirmation.  I was perfectly accepting.  I was the eternal optimist, seeing only the good in people, and waking up from the dream was crushing.  I had fallen in love with idols that didn't exist.  I think I had hoped others would do the same for me; I, too, could be a myth, a perfect human, at least from a point of view that was not my own.  Inside I knew I was still far from ideal, but I wanted to be held more than I wanted to be fixed.

 Battle Plan 3
Hate is not blind.  When you feel unloved and you hate yourself, you will see everything.  Each flaw noted in your character will engrave itself on your heart making you terrified of being seen.  But in order to overcome this fear, in order to be stronger than hate, love can not be blind. Not to sound too Freudian, but you can't just forever suppress your dark side.  In fact, the part of you that feels the most hopeless and unlovable is probably the part of you that will crave love the most and drive you out of hiding.
 But it's also the part that will destroy you or even kill you if you feed it.  It's the part that when "loved" just grows darker, obscuring the person inside.  It's the part that can turn a princess into a monster. Vices are vain; they like to be noticed and the more you notice them the more they demand your attention. They swell up inside you leaving no room for anything else to breathe, so when you love them you are only hurting and suffocating the person you tried to love.  You need your flaws to be understood, certainly. To see only the good is a lie and thus is not good enough.  Seeing the demons and not running away is where love starts, but it does not end there.   You think it is rare to bee seen for who you are, but there is something yet more difficult to find- perhaps because you almost don't want to find it.  

You need someone who's willing to die with you. 

No, not in the Romeo-and-Juliet sense.  In fact, I don't advocate suicide at all.  But there is more than one way to die, and you have to choose one or go crazy.  Either your pompous, swelling, poisonous vices will kill your hope, or you must kill them.  The battle has already begun within you and it must be reconciled.  This may seem impossible and chances are you have avoided the fight.  Most of us do, most of us are so afraid to fight ourselves (the worst enemy of all) that we think the Jekyll and Hyde conflict is irreconcilable. But we are only irreconcilable if we refuse to be crucified.  Figuratively.  Being loved is what gives us the bravery we need to see ourselves as we truly are.  When someone loves you, they know all of the wounds that drain your happiness from you.  They know your secrets and they know the truth that you are not okay just as you are- not because they've judged you and you're not good enough for them, but because they can tell you want more for yourself.  The way you are doesn't scare them, or if it does their love is stronger than their fear.  You might even try to push them away but it won't work.  You will have no choice but to choose whether to love them back...and whether to believe in yourself like they believe in you.

Love always requires sacrifice, love always imposes demands.  The best loves are the ones that gently demand that we kill what is harming us and resurrect into a whole new life.  Love will put arrows through your heart, if you let it.  And after that, you will never be the same. I would avoid people who think they can change you, that's usually an indication that they're stuck at the idealistic fairytale level.  But even more, avoid people who think you will never change.  I promise you, even warn you, once you truly fall in love there is no going back to the past versions of you that will begin to die.  Love will see you as you are and will not move.  You will tremble under its gaze.  You'll run out of places to hide.

But finally, you will surrender...and you won't mind it at all.  Someday you will be ready to give up everything you have for the one you love.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I don't love dictionaries.

(Also, thank you to anyone who has been in my life and taught me anything about love, painful or otherwise I'm still very grateful. <3) 


Friday, August 21, 2015

Real Talk

I'll admit it: being a Christian is pretty irrational. Not entirely, I mean we have some pretty dang smart philosophers and theologians and even scientists in our tradition and stuff, but when it comes down to it, my faith is still a faith and not a proven theory.
So why do I believe? So many of my posts on here are founded on a worldview or a set of philosophical assumptions I haven't yet explained. Well, it's kind of hard to explain, honestly. There are many people smarter than me who have tried to account for questions like how do we know Jesus historically existed or what about scientific evidence that the miracles in the Bible actually happened: that type of thing is beyond the scope of this post.  And, I've met enough smart, kind, and good atheists and agnostics to know that there's still reasonable room for doubt. Heck, I do doubt sometimes. But I've never been able to abandon my faith completely.  So, for anyone who might be curious, here's not so much an explanation as a tour of the shape of my thoughts.

First, let's look at my dark side. So this thing called doubt happens. Like the rebel I am, I'll indulge in something like the following meditative exercise in denial...
You live in a vast, self-sustaining universe that can and does derive meaning from its own contents. You exist by a rather miraculous chance and you have one finite life. So, stop causing yourself so much pain worrying about this God thing and make the most of it.
My dear readers, I hope that bores you. Cause it bores me. I think humans have too great a sense of self to be impressed by the vastness or randomness of the universe. We have this nasty little habit of only taking interest or feeling passion if the thing means something. It doesn't matter whether you have a huge, vast box or a small, finite box- both are boring if they're empty, if you don't know what to do with them. So too with universes...and our lives.

No, this is not a "nothing-means-anything-without-a-God-to-give-it-meaning" argument. I'm a little too creative to go for that. I'm more interested in this desire for meaning, this obsession with turning lives into stories that make sense. Like, that seems pretty universal, right? To entertain my doubt a little further, could it be enough to just find yourself a purpose and live it to the best of your ability? I mean, clearly God isn't the only one who can assign meaning. I know tons of non-believers living intensely passionate and meaningful lives.  My atheist geography professor was wild about geography, more so than some Christians I know are about God. In fact, most people I know are very interested in something: their job, their favorite charity, their social life, their family, sex, drugs, donuts, watching documentaries on name it. I've concluded that we all find meanings for our lives. Granted, some are worthier meanings than others, but ultimately everyone finds one. And that bothers me. It bothers me because I think we feel like we have to find it. Like our lives are short and we'd better cram as much good stuff and meaning as we can into them or we don't get any.  We are charged with the burden of filling the vast, empty box in a fit of raging YOLO fever, or suffering from existential boredom. Which seems like a rather daunting and unfair task. Maybe this is just my overthinking brain, but I have this sense of indignance about the whole affair. Shouldn't life just be intrinsically thrilling? Shouldn't we get to say life is good just because it's life, without having to worry about making it good by adding to the package or through sheer willpower? These are the kinds of thoughts that really get me riled up enough to turn against the doubt machine. Like, what if I really could escape from the pursuit of happiness long enough to just be happy for once? What if, merely by existing we were all part of something bigger than ourselves, something we didn't have to earn or manufacture? This is where I find out I want not just meaning but a meaning so constant, so reliable, so much a part of who I am that I'd never have to be afraid of losing it, even with my crazy brain full of trust issues.

So I'm kind of like, "Sure, that sounds nice I guess but it also sounds very naive" which is something I hate to sound like. I have such an innocent good-girl persona that it gets to be both annoying and a lot of pressure, so out of defiance I've actually become extra skeptical in a world that already naturally infuses me with skepticism. I see the suffering and horror of this place where people die from each others' hatred and prejudice and pride, and wonder how just existing can be good when for many people it's more of a struggle than an adventure. I told one of my friends that if I wasn't into the whole Jesus thing I'd probably be a Buddhist. That's because the truth Buddhism is built on seems so freaking obvious: life is pain; pain is inevitable. Sometimes, I want what their spirituality claims to offer: an escape, a way to rise above and remove my soul from all the hurting and the dumb materialism.

But then. There's Him. There's this fascinating, irrational man who did this crazy thing that is the exact opposite of my temptation. He freely chose to come down from paradise in order to be tortured in the most excruciating way the ancient Romans could think of-- so excruciating, in fact, that the word "excruciating" is named after it-- the crucifixion. And the "reverse Nirvana," if you will, of this man on the cross leaves my head spinning. Either he was an idiot, or he truly has discovered the secret to turning everything I think I know upside down. (I think if there was a way to reverse all the pain in the world, that's a pretty stunning starting point.)
This, my dear readers (and yes you are dear to me if you've made it this far), is the root of Christian irrationality.  But it gets even crazier. What's crazier than the death of a God? The death of a God for love of the unlovable. Seriously, try asking somebody why they love you sometime.  They'll probably give you reasons: because you're nice or smart or attractive or interesting or you treat them well or whatever. Him? He doesn't love because of reasons; all our reasons change.  Sometimes we're not nice or funny or attractive; sometimes we're jerks. You know what his test of love was? "If you love me, keep my commands." (John 14:15) And we were all like "nope, uh-uh, YOLO LET'S GET TURNT" and kinda left him rejected.
So He came to us. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
Before we gave him any hope, any sign of interest, any real reason, he simply loved us enough to die for us. Not because we earned or deserved it. Just because we were designed as His.
Just because of our existence.
Because I'm me, Sarah.
It's crazy. It's crazy and I love it. It's crazy enough that I don't need any more of a reason to believe it's real.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Manifesto For Cultured Individuals

I love music.  I'm pretty sure if you read this blog much you've noticed I quote or reference a lot of musicians in these posts, ranging from Audrey Assad to Taylor Swift to Kid Cudi.  If I can sing to it, dance to it, or get inspired by it, the genre doesn't matter.  My taste is all over the place and I'm constantly looking for new tunes.  And often it happens that I'll be listening to a ridiculously catchy song for the first time (*cough* it'sgoingdownforreal *cough*) and have its melody stuck in my head refusing to budge until I look it up.  So I do.  And let's just say that upon further lyrical investigation I am personally ready to strangle Flo Rida, T.I., and Pitbull.  (jk that would not be the cultured ladylike thing to do.  But if there are any assassins for hire reading this, contact me in the comments or something.) Yes, something as initially delightful as music sometimes fills me with despair for the condition of the human race and its disregard for its own members.  So then I go whine on my blog about how I'm surrounded by uncultured swine, naturally.  And then have a guilty "Party Rock Anthem" dance party in my bedroom.

See, it's easy to complain, but ultimately I do not believe the culture is evil.  It's broken.  And I'm part of the problem, as was revealed to me in a profound Pinterest moment when I discovered this:

I have a problem with the culture.  I am part of the culture.  I am part of the problem. I think sometimes we get so caught up in blaming this group construct of "the society" or "the media" that can't threaten us back, because it can't threaten us back. Pick any issue you have with the world and I can pretty much guarantee it was caused by people, not by some ghostly blob as mysterious and unreachable as the Illuminati. But for some reason we like to ignore the space where we can actually effect change, that is, the personal level.  We also forget that by rejecting society completely, we are abandoning our chance to make a part of it good, and thus to contribute to the overall good.

If we recognize the truth we are then caught in an interesting situation.  We can't accept the culture as it is just because we think we're too insignificant to make a difference.  That's ultimately enabling the problem. (Farewell to half my playlist, as it goes down for real.) However, we also can't just reject the whole thing and cry in a secluded corner as we watch mankind go down for real.  (Sorry.  I'll stop now.) We have to stay involved in and informed about the world around us and make our little voices heard.  That's part of why this blog exists.

"But that's not enough,"  you say.  I agree.  Man does not live by opinionated Facebook comments alone.  And you boycotting Pitbull will unfortunately not silence the scourge of his lyrics.  You're not going to be able to build your own Utopia.  For most people, even just making simple moves to eliminate these harmful voices is difficult.  It takes what I like to call sacrifice.  And the definition of sacrifice is to give up something for the sake of something greater.  In other words, to change the world we need something positive to stand for, not just something negative to oppose.  Some of the wisest advice I ever received was to "fight vice with the opposite virtue." 

I have a friend who is an awesome example of this concept.  He's a fighter against human objectification and pornography because he knows these things sabotage authentic love and intimacy.  But the really cool thing is that he's also an amazing photographer.  He doesn't just rant about the wrong images his culture throws at him.  He contributes the right ones, ones that are truly beautiful. 

Guys, we don't have to conquer the culture, we have to reshape it.  We have to give people something compelling enough to replace the lies.  And it's ok to use tools that are attractive and familiar to do it.  That's why I think rap can be a form of evangelization.  That's why the Pope is on Twitter.   We can keep the broken pieces of our culture and fuse them into something good, a community of life.  So learn the lingo, try the tech, and meet the mob.  You don't have to lament the world you're in, because you are a part of it and you have within you the talents and ideas that will transform it.  Your love will manifest to our culture what it's missing.

You got this.  I believe in you. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Trouble With Love

Every love is as unique and unrepeatable as the person it is given to.
Heartbreak has been on my mind a lot lately because of a few friends who I care very deeply about and their recent life experiences. This is dedicated to them.

The trouble with love is that you can never repeat it. Tell someone that there are plenty of fish in the sea and expect to receive nothing but tears, ice-cold glares that could kill, or both. It's not a comforting response because they know that love isn't a little award that they can hold auditions for, passing on the trophy of their heart to whoever performs the best at the time. It's not an emotion they can just turn on and off, or grow out of, or experience in phases. Love is unscientific, and we can't and shouldn't take it lightly, or expect to be able to solve or cure it. Love is a choice, a choice that has already been made. And true love (or unconditional love) is an irreversible choice. It's one I would never criticize anyone for making. Maybe you think the dreaded ex was unworthy of a love that deep or powerful. I might agree with you. But I think I'm unworthy of it too. No one truly deserves to be loved entirely just as they are with all their flaws. The beauty of love is that it is given in spite of the fact that we don't deserve it. That's why trust and love are so closely connected. When someone loves you, you can be your imperfect self because they're not about keeping score and making you earn it. They just do it.

And if somebody really loves you like that, I don't think they ever stop.

But they might stop belonging with you. Breakups happen, friends move away or lose touch, people die. Sometimes we understand the reasons and sometimes we don't. Either way, we usually don't care. None of the reasons seem as important as that irreversible love we decided to risk for that person. It's too late to go back so excuses don't help. Nobody is more stubborn than a person with a broken heart. Everything looks empty compared to the love they lost. All possible alternatives whether present or future dull in comparison. They simply don't want to stop loving the person they love. And frankly, I don't think they should.

No, I'm not saying it's healthy to live in the past. I'm not saying "get over it" isn't valid advice. But I think we need to acknowledge that it's ok to keep loving somebody after you lose them, because love is not a limited resource. It is not possible to run out of love. When we love people, we don't go around tearing off little pieces of our hearts and handing them to others  until we just run out. The idea is so absurd (although unfortunately rather popular). No, once you love someone you realize that love is more specialized than that. It's something you build and learn together, a permanent monument that you can look back on for the rest of your life. And you never build the exact same thing twice. And that's ok.

One of my friends said it best when he told me "I have too much love to give to just one person." I think that's beautiful, and true of all of us.  We aren't diminished when we increase our love. No, love makes us grow, and love multiplies itself. I've had a couple of friends think, and sort of tell me, that they could never love again. I felt that loss and pain with them. But looking back, I smile because I realize they were proving themselves wrong with those seemingly hopeless conversations. They were loving again; loving me, building our friendships by sharing those dark experiences and trusting me to be there for them. "That's different," you say. Precisely. Of course it's different. And every other love they ever find from now on will be different. That's a good thing. Different loves mean different lessons, different discoveries, different adventures. It means that it's possible for us to grow and change and heal as people.  I wouldn't want the same love over again every time. It would ruin the specialness of those loves from my past that I still treasure even if I didn't get to stay with those people. And it would ruin the excitement and newness of my delightfully unpredictable future. Because love is new and different every time, I can believe that someday I will be a better person than I can imagine right now.

Besides, there is no need to threaten that which does not threaten you. Continuing to love someone you lost will never hurt your future because love is non-transferable. It can not be stolen, just as people can not be replaced.  Attention may come and go from one person to the next, but love is steadfast. It can't be corrupted like the emotions that we sometimes confuse with it. It endures all things.  And when the time comes to love again, how much better it is to look back and say you still want the best for those in your past, rather than trying to manufacture bitterness towards them.  No, moving on is not forgetting, or reaching a point where you don't care anymore.  Moving on is when you realize the best way to love someone is to want their freedom and their happiness, even if you can't be with them while they taste it.  So in a sense, letting go of someone is the final proof of your love for them.  It's not an easy test to pass, but it's an important one.

Real love takes sacrifice.  It's hard to find and impossible to repeat.  It can be extremely painful.  And yet somehow, I believe it's worth every bit of the trouble.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Confessions of a Catholic College Student

My dear readers,

I am not ok.  
I am weak.
I am imperfect.
And, I can't fix it.

I guess you could say I'm failing.  Because despite the above average GPA, the volunteering, the blog, (which has surpassed the 1,300 pageview milestone!)  and the smiles for everyone that are so natural they've become my default,  I have realized that Westley from The Princess Bride was right: "Life is pain, Highness.  Anyone who says differently is selling something."  Well...maybe that's the melancholic in me talking, but there are days when I agree with the Man in Black wholeheartedly.  There are so many people around me hurting, and as hard as try, I am less than enough to heal them.  Maybe that's because I haven't healed myself or fixed my own messes:  the cowardice, the impatience, the laziness...and to top it all off, the perfectionism. The one that makes all the other ones worse.  The one that tortures me because I don't have my life together and am almost clueless about where it's going. 

It's not exactly a secret that I'm Catholic.  I have chosen a faith that gives me a clear standard to live up to, and I constantly fall short of it.  I'm also the "big sister,"  the role model not only for my own siblings but for a lot of the younger girls at my church.  I'm the straight A student.  And I'm the friend that everyone at my college calls "innocent."  No pressure at all. 


I don't feel innocent.  I know that  I'm more like them than they realize.  We're all just looking for enough truth and purpose to back up our chaotic lives, and we're making plenty of mistakes along the way.  If anything, I am the least innocent because I have been shown a way that is good, and I throw it away deliberately.  I don't have the excuse of uncertainty that they do.  They are sincerely still searching and asking questions.  I have knowledge of good and evil, and yet I've fallen for the oldest trick in the book: the one where the serpent whispers "You will be like God,"  and I take matters into my own hands to make it happen.  And I do this all under the pretense of holiness, of earning my place in God's heart.  I try so very hard to look like I'm exemplary.  Now it's time for me to be vulnerable.  I confess to Almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned.  I have failed.  And I have beat myself up about it, too. 

See, I thought I was supposed to form myself into this indestructible force to be reckoned with.  I thought that's what Christianity was about.  I thought claiming to belong to God meant that I had to strive for an ideal, when really it's about striving to encounter a person. I thought I was supposed to be like God, but I'm actually just supposed to be united to God.  I thought I had to prove to the world that my faith was effective by becoming perfect, or close to it.

Well, turns out St. Paul is a killjoy and burst my bubble: "But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."  (2 Corinthians 12:9)

....Yeah.  That's right.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Sarah. (Cause St.  Paul would totally just be sassy with me like that.)  

For me or for anyone else to see the power of God, I have to accept that I am human.  I am not innocent.  I struggle all the time.  I experience pain just like everyone else, and I have to face my doubts and my temptations.  I am not sufficient for myself; that's His grace's job.  My weakness makes room for Him to be strong.  My humanity is an opportunity for me to meet God who I need so desperately to help deal with all this crazy life stuff.  The times I mess up are the times He gets to prove that He is merciful.  And above all, He loves me whether I've earned it or not.  

I still can't fix things.  I still don't really understand why my friends have to endure suffering, why I have to suffer, too.  I still get the urge to attempt to be god-like on my own instead of tapping into the love and power of the real deal.  He has to comfort me in the middle of the night when I realize I don't know what to do and I'm trying to be a false light to myself or to my friends.  Lucky for me, He knows how to suffer, how to feel abandoned, how to wish your burden would be taken away, and how to fix things when they look like Hell.  He knows how to win when all I do is fail. 

 I guess this is ultimately a love letter.  I love everyone who is not perfect.  I love the failures.  I love the ones who try to be innocent and the ones who have lost hope and given up on it.  I love brokenness, because it reminds me of the Healer...and Him I love most of all.  I love that what I see as a flaw, something to be condemned, He sees as a door, a place where we are vulnerable enough for Him to come in and love us with all His heart.  You don't have to be afraid to admit to the world you're not good enough.  He loves you anyway, and so do I.

~Sarah M. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Amor Vincit Omnia: To my future husband

My Dear Sir,

I may not know your name yet, or what your face looks like, or what you're passionate about.  I don't know how or when or where we'll find each other.  But I know you're a real, living breathing human being.  I know that one day we're going to choose each other, out of the billions of people in this world, and try to make a beautiful life together in spite of all the difficulties we'll have to face.

I also know that there's a 50 percent divorce rate.  I know that girls who think they're signing up for a fairy tale end up getting a load of paperwork and a scar instead.  I know that men often think they've found someone who respects them only to realize they're being substituted for an ideal they can never live up to.  I know that people are naive, impulsive, selfish, annoying, and sometimes downright heartbreaking and cruel.  And yet, I refuse to give up on love.  I refuse to believe it's impossible and I refuse to consider myself foolish for this belief.  But I'm not going to risk our marriage to blind belief and a 50/50 chance of survival, either.  If you're going to love me in spite of my imperfections (believe me, I know I'm messed up) then you and our future family deserve better than that.  I promise to do what it takes to give us a real chance at real love.  That's why, instead of eating chocolate, watching rom-coms, and worrying about the fact that I'm still single this Valentine's day, I want to take the time to think about how I can someday be the wife you deserve.  I want to start setting us up for success now.  Here's your Valentine's day present; my 5-point plan for reaching that thing they call true love. 

1. First off, I want to trash "the list."  You know, that product of daydreaming where I come up with all these "qualifications" you have to meet.  I will no longer attempt to pre-determine your required hair and eye and skin color, how often you have to take me on dates and how nice they have to be, what skills you're supposed to have, how much money you have to make.  I admit, in my early teens I used to have a list, but it's been gone for a while now because I don't want to be in love with a list.  I want to be in love with you.  I want to be open to falling for someone better for me than I ever could have imagined.  I don't want you to be perfect.  I want us to help each other be better people and strive for perfection together.  Instead of working on a collection of standards for you to meet to make me happy, I want to work on a collection of standards for myself, so I can make you happy.  I want to be as smart, courageous, kind, patient, and beautiful as I can be when we finally do team up. Because...

2. I want to give, not take.  I've seen enough of my friends' failed relationships to know that going into "love" with a what-can-I-get-out-of-it attitude doesn't work.  I promise not to focus on whether I got flowers for our 2-month anniversary, or whether you texted me back fast enough.  Love is not demanding.  If I say I love you, it shouldn't really be about me at all. I want what will bring good into your life. I want to be the woman who offers you her hand to hold, her shoulder to cry on, her brain to advise you, her energy to work for your dreams.  I want to surprise you with little signs of my affection and appreciation.  Maybe I'll even make you a sandwich (; But in all seriousness, I know that if we're going to get to forever, it's going to require that I stop thinking so much about myself.  If I choose you, that means I trust you not to take advantage of me, so I'm not afraid to give my all. 

3. I want to learn how to sacrifice.  Once we're married it's going to be difficult.  We'll have to learn how to compromise when we argue, how to care for each other when we're sick, how to pay our bills and split up the housework and take care of the kids.  I'll have to give up my pride, my time, my desires.  That's the "worse" part of for better or for worse.  But it's what makes us better people.  It's what divides the pretenders to love from the people who have the real deal going on.  Oh, also when I say "I do" to you, I'll be saying "I don't" to every other man on earth.  I'm giving up every other possibility for my life because I think a life with you is going to be worth it. I'm already teaching myself how to sacrifice, because honestly I suck at it.  I guess it takes a lot of practice.  I've decided not to have sex with anyone but you because I want to practice putting my love for you before any other impulse or desire I might have.  I need to be able to love you even when I don't feel like it, and I need to remind myself that love is not about feeling good but about choosing to keep your promises every day. From what I hear, that takes more practice than getting good at making love to each other. 

4. I want to be brave.  I'm not the most outspoken or daring person.  I miss a lot of opportunities because of that.  But when I meet you, I hope I'll have the courage to come out of my comfort zone, because even though love is scary, it's the best thing there is. Like my favorite C.S. Lewis quote says:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” 
 When we say our vows, you get all of me.  No holding back.  They say perfect love casts out fear, and I think they're right.  My new motto is Amor Vincit Omnia: Love Conquers All.

5. I want to pray for you.  I may have two essays to write and this letter to finish, but today I will pray for you; not for the first time and certainly not for the last.  It's one way I can be part of your life before we ever get to know each other.  I can already start my job of loving you, making your life better, helping you become the amazing person you are destined to be.  I have full confidence that you're already amazing, and I can't wait to be your Valentine.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Mark Twain's Anaconda Don't Want None: Musings on Free Will

"In the course of my reading I had come across a case where, many years ago, some hunters on the Great Plains organized a buffalo hunt for the entertainment of an English earl.  They had charming sport.  They killed seventy-two of those great animals; and ate part of one of them and left the seventy-one to rot.  In order to determine the difference between an anaconda and an earl (if any) I caused seven young calves to be turned into the anaconda's cage.  The grateful reptile immediately crushed one of them and swallowed it, then lay back satisfied.  It showed no further interest in the calves, and no disposition to harm them.  I tried this experiment with other anacondas; always with the same result.  The fact stood proven that the difference between an earl and an anaconda is that the earl is cruel and the anaconda isn't."  ~Mark Twain, "The Damned Human Race"

We are the cruelest creatures alive. We have all the knowledge we need to be kind and compassionate and yet we throw it out the window.  Animals can hurt others, but they don't have the full knowledge and thus the accountability that we do.  For them, everything is instinct.  They "don't want none" of the irrational, cruel things we stubbornly choose just because we can.  How terrifying and marvelous that we have that power to choose.  Our mistakes are catastrophic because we mean them.  They are deliberate.  And our love is exquisitely beautiful because we mean that, too.  We love being able to choose.  In fact, our very identity is tied to this ability and threatened when our liberty is trampled on.  We all want to avoid the mainstream enough to retain our sense of individuality and dignity.

Being stereotyped or told to conform makes us feel unloved, like our unique beauty is invisible.  We want to be seen, and loved as we are, not told we are inadequate because we don't match some ideal.  Freedom to choose, individuality, and love are three concepts that are essential to one another.  To love, there must be an individual to love and you must be able to choose this individual as opposed to any other.  To say "I do"  to one man or one woman in marriage is thrilling, special, meaningful only because you're saying "I don't" to millions  of others. There's nothing romantic or exciting about the last two people on earth hooking up because options are nonexistent.  Choice, the risk of rejecting many things for the sake of one, is what makes love beautiful. 

Despite its beauty, however, free will makes people uncomfortable. Some people claim that we only have the illusion of choice and that everything we do is predetermined by our circumstances.  I reject that idea for the same reason they embrace it: because it's easy and non-threatening.  People are afraid of being responsible for their slips into cruelty, afraid of the fact that their decisions can be both meaningful and irreversible.  They don't want none of the consequences of being a discerning human being and imagine that they're all like Mark Twain's anacondas- ruled by instinct. But the skeptics, the godless who want to silence their guilt aren't the only ones afraid of free will.

The believers are terrified of it.  They see that it's the weak link in their faith: no one likes thinking that God made us free to screw up His universe and hurt each other whenever we feel like it- which is unfortunately very frequently.  No one likes the thought that if they keep messing up they could go to hell, or that their non-believing friends could go to hell.  Fear of free will creates in the Christian a desperation to convert every person he knows.

And this same awful, beautiful free will always blows up in his desperate face.  His endeavors fail because everyone he meets can choose not to listen, reminding him that conversion has to be from the heart to be authentic, and that love requires choice.  So he throws up his hands and bemoans his inability to force-feed the fear of God into the heathens around him who are feasting on evil.  Right?

Wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong, he's doing it wrong.  Nobody in their right mind likes that guy.  He'd know he's doing it wrong if he actually looked at the God he believes in, the God who is the only one who's given me any idea of how to live with the reality of my crazy wonderful frightening free will.

 God cared.  He made humanity and cared what we did and what we thought.  Why? Because he chose to.  He could have made us to amuse Him, but he felt like making us capable of love.  Saint Augustine thought that was crazy.  He asked God "What am I to Thee that Thou demandest my love, and, if I give it not, art wroth with me, and threatenest me with grievous woes? (Confessions Book I)" See, the madness of it all is that by choosing to love us and to make us capable of loving Him, the God of ultimate power made himself vulnerable. He gave us the power to make decisions that mean something; the power to say "I do" or "I don't,"  the power to fall for Him like He fell for us or to reject and hurt Him.  He has a heart that is not afraid of rejection because it understands true love.  He thinks we are worth the risk.

If love means choosing something, there has to be a different choice, a wrong choice.  God had to give us an option besides Himself.  That's why He created Hell, not because he's vindictive and delights in tormenting and scaring the crap out of us.  The reality of Hell rips His heart out.  But He was willing to allow it because real love takes sacrifice.  He offered us Hell so that our choices could be real, could actually mean something- even if they mean we don't want Him.  That pierces His heart, but the pain is worth just the possibility of us loving Him.  It is to God "better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

So those Christians who think the Church has gone too soft and doesn't talk about Hell enough?  If they're trying to scare people out of freely choosing God, I couldn't disagree more.  If anything, I think we don't talk about suffering as a component of God's love enough.  God loves us in that suspenseful, nerve-racking, painful but worth every second of it kind of a way.  That's what we're failing to express, that's what those who reject God don't yet understand.  Fear is the enemy of love, not the will of God.  That's not how he treats His children.  He doesn't threaten, He teaches.  He doesn't want mindless submission, He wants us informed and in love.  He wants us to know what we're choosing. 

The more I realize this, the more I am convinced I need to abandon any methods of changing the world that involve cornering people or threatening their freedom.  I am in love with my God and so I choose to write about Him and make His truth available to the world in a new way.  I choose to follow the path His Church has laid out for me because I know He desires my ultimate good and teaches only what will help me.  But I hope everyone who reads my blog questions my writing and reaches conclusions freely.  To conquer fear and attain love, you have to think your own thoughts and make your own decisions.   And I'm pretty sure God agrees with me on that.  Otherwise, he would have made you a brainless anaconda or something. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sleeping With the Enemy: How to Wake Up for 2015

Hey, 2015.  I'm glad you're here.  I hope you're going to be wonderful.  I hope you change me.  I couldn't come up with a resolution because there are so many things I want to do better and so little time to do them. Also, I recently read this:"People don’t change because they decide to be better. If that happened, then New Year’s Resolutions would work. People decide to change because they elevate their loves." ~David Brooks

  I think my resolutions usually turn out badly because I keep looking towards myself, thinking I can decide to be better.  How am I supposed to grow stronger by trying to achieve greatness through my own strength?  It's not at all logical.  It's like trying to pull a car out of a swamp using the power of...the car that's stuck in the swamp.  I need an outside force in order to move.   And if  I'm not doing this life thing alone, I have to stop acting like it.  Pride is the first thing that has to go.  For me, pride always creates fear because deep down I know I will eventually collapse on my own.  Pride turns me into the worst version of myself; the weak and cowering one.  That is not who I choose to be.  Pope Francis says "Man is not fully himself until he is beyond himself." I need something to love that is beyond me. So how can I elevate my loves this year?  That has been my new question.

The best answer I have so far is this: do what wakes you upDo things that get you out of your routine, your comfort zone, that bubble that is the version of yourself that is centered on you.  Reawaken your taste for the higher things; develop your sense of wonderIn Fides et Ratio, JPII said "Without wonder, men and women would lapse into deadening routine and little by little would become incapable of a life which is genuinely personal."   Half the time when I mess up at life or lose my hope, it's not deliberate; it's because I wasn't aware.  I just sort of fall asleep and the enemy sneaks in and takes over before I realize it.  I'm just floating through life reactively.  Instead, I want to follow this motto:

Have you ever had a day, or even just a moment, when you're aware of everything?  Usually it happens when I encounter beauty, like if I'm out hiking or something and see a stunning view.  Suddenly this longing wells up in me and at the same time every breath I take and every ray of sunlight and every sound is about five times more pronounced than usual.  I'm there.  Other things that wake me up include striking lines from books, really great music...or my church.  Every time I attend Mass I can love God, but the beauty of Emmanuel my home parish with its shining altar and stained glass windows elevates my love.  It makes it easier to contemplate, fills me with wonder, whispers "Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you." (Isaiah 60:1) Beauty is one of the most powerful agents that wakes us up.  Its power is what made Fr. Nathan Cromly tell me to "Eat chocolate and listen to Bach!" for Lent.  Beauty and our appreciation for it are being stolen from us.  We have so many shallow engagements and practical technologies that overpower it.  We don't spend as much time going outside or being creative or simply sitting still, hushed, looking for it.  So this year I want to challenge you to seek out beauty.  Look at art, listen to music, work on your creative projects be it writing or photography or songwriting or anything else that fills you with wonder. 

I promise it's not a waste of time.  It will elevate your love for God.  Why?  First of all, you get to know Him and His beauty better by appreciating His work in a deeper way.  Second of all, good art is actually prayer; it's trying to touch God, a shot in the dark at the Mystery.  If you don't know how to pray, or how to elevate your current prayer life, start there.  I have this theory that God is always listening, especially when we are honestly expressing ourselves.  That's why I think "Day N' Nite" by Kid Cudi is a prayer, as messy and unpolished a one as it might be.  I think maybe even better than Chris Tomlin trying to figure out what rhymes besides "fire" and "desire" and putting it to the same 4 chords is Kendrick Lamar in the middle of the night pouring out his doubts and fears, rapping about how he's torn between smoking kush and reading Corinthians- and ending up somewhere in between. God loves authenticity.  So my second challenge is to be more fearlessly blunt in your prayers, even if they're messier that way.  Telling the truth allows you to be individual, to say what you are.  Then, He can work with you.  Lies are what will obscure you, say what you are not, and  steal your individuality.  Truth is beautiful, freeing. Honesty and vulnerability will elevate your love- it has for me. Writing my heart out, using my writing to expose my fears and doubts and dismantle them publicly has brought me closer to God and to my friends. 

 My friends.  Gosh, I love you guys.  You people are part of what wakes me up.  I encounter God through your loyalty, courage, and kindness.  You are agents of His grace, pulling me out of my swampy moments in life with your smiles, your humor, your support, and your prayers.  You remind me of His beauty and wonder because I see it in your faces and your actions.  Thank you.  Keep daring to love the people God places in your life harder, deeper.  That's my third and final challenge for you in the new year.  To love others, to seek God's beauty in them and to show it to them is probably the most elevating thing anyone could ever do.  All true love reflects God, and he will make it grow into something the world has no power to break.  So elevate your love for others to the boldest level it's ever reached.  With God, you have nothing to fear. 

I'm praying for all of you.  It's 2015 and we are awake

The Forgiveness Myth

I do not enjoy forgiving people because it makes me feel like a doormat. I would honestly rather get all Carrie Underwood/Miranda Lambert up...