Exerpts Continued

The last post was a brief history of my faith, as well as a quick explanation on why I feel called towards the Capuchins. However not everything they ask for is about your faith history. One of the key questions they focus on is my relationship with my family.

Since I am an only child and come from a single-parent household, most think that my family is much easier to explain. On the other hand, my relationship with my mother can be complicated. We don't fight or have some of the explosions that happen in other families, but my outlook on my mother and my memories of her are a big reason of why I feel called towards the priesthood. There are times I wonder if I'm just trying to live up to her expectation of public service and social justice. It is something I continue to work on.




It was a cold day in 1984, and I was home sick from school. Mom let me move our small black & white TV into my bedroom. She was in the kitchen that day with Bob, her boyfriend, making signs that said: “Vote!” She’s always been a staunch Democrat, and she was also making signs for Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferarro: two people we’d met in person earlier that year.

Later that day I heard a glass break in the kitchen, followed by shouting. I went to the kitchen, still in my pajamas, to see what was going on. There stood my mom, fists at her sides, staring up Bob who had his hand cocked back-ready to strike. My mother stands 4’11, while this man was easily over 6 feet tall. If it came to a fight, my mother would not last long.

I don’t know if they stood like that for 5 minutes, or if time stopped for me as I watched them. I don’t know if she saw me standing nearby; I don’t even know if she ever thought about how it might end. What I do remember is my mom, short yet defiant, saying in a calm voice: “Hit me. I dare you.”

He looked as if to swing, yet from the reaction on his face, it was as if he saw something in her eyes that told him he was in over his head. He turned, went to the closet to grab his coat, and slammed the door as he walked out. Mom started to cry. We never saw Bob again.

Thinking back, I’ve not seen my mother cry but a few times in my life. She has worked to be a strong, single parent mother. Perhaps that need to be strong for me is what imparted her with the strength of will to not only stand up to a man who outsized her, but the power to stand up to others in her lifetime. As she marched to Des Moines and argued with Governor Bandstand about welfare reform, I wonder if she drew on that experience to remind herself that she was capable of standing up to anyone.

Bob would be the last boyfriend my mom ever had. Since that time 28 years ago, my mother has never looked for another male companion. Some times I’ve asked if she was ever going to find a man and get married, only to hear her answer: “What the hell for?”

My mother is a fighter. I’ve never told her, but it’s the greatest quality I admire about her. She’s stood up for herself as well as others in times of need. When I ponder what my life would be like as a father, I wonder if I could display such courage to my children like the strong memory I have from that winter day in ’84.

While w don’t always agree, there has always been a high level of respect between my mother and I. There is rarely ever any shouting, and never any hateful outbursts. I’ve never done anything to show disrespect, and she has allowed me to live my life without scrutiny or hindrances. She’s always told me “You’ll never learn unless you make your own mistakes,” and she’s allowed me to learn about life.

There is an advertisement run by Mitt Romney, in which he speaks about how “every child is entitled to have a mother and father in the family.” She scoffs each time it plays on TV, in part because he’s Republican. More importantly, she knows that sometimes life isn’t always that picture perfect family of Mom, Dad, the kids, the house, the SUV, and the family dog. Sometimes God throws us a curveball in life, and we have to do the best we can. And no matter how many times Mitt talks about “family values,” I know my mom has more experience on the subject than any politician could ever dream of.

Exerpts: My Story

I will be out of town for the next few days to "catch up" on a few things in my life. In the meantime, I decided to leave two exerpts from my autobiography-one for today and one that will post tomorrow. They come directly from my paper I sent in to the Capuchins.

As I mentioned before, I wrote 5 smaller stories instead of one 5 page paper. The idea was to focus on certain times in my life, what they meant, and what I draw from those experiences. I had a chance to call the Vocations Director in Chicago and let him proofread the paper before I even submitted it. He loved it, so I'm confident it will work out well.

Enjoy, and I will see you all again when I get back in town.



"In memory of your death and resurrection, we offer this life-giving bread and this saving cup…"

By age 17 I’d memorized most of the Eucharistic Prayer. I like to think this is when God planted his seed.

During high school I served as the alterboy for Fr. Dick Host at St. James Church in Grand Rapids, MI. We were still new to the area, and my mother thought it would be a good idea for both of us to get involved with the church. Initially, I think she wanted a reason for me to go to church every Sunday, and being a volunteer was just the thing.

For three years I served at the Church, rarely ever missing a Mass. I became more familiar with the actual dynamics of the different parts of the Mass, why the priest did this or that, how each little thing had a specific name and purpose (I was confused when someone asked for a Purificator).

When I was younger Mass was just a kind of show. I know that sounds completely sacrilegious, but that’s the best way to describe it. As a kid, I saw what was happening at the alter, I watched how people sat/kneeled/stood, and I remember when everyone got in line to accept the Eucharist. Yet I never really took the time to understand why these things were important.

As I continued to help during Mass, my interests in religion and philosophy soon blossomed. I read as much as I could regarding other religions and beliefs. My senior year of high school I was reading Camus, Kafka, and even had someone try to explain Scientology to me.

I haven’t always been a regular at church since my days as an alter server, however I’ve always had that interest regarding philosophy, existentialism, and religion. For many years, I continued to look into the question of: “Why are we here?” Even then, I was searching for that “something.” Kierkegaard was too confusing, Nietzsche was too pessimistic, and I didn’t know enough Greek to truly understand Origen.

While I continuously try to understand more about religion and Catholicism, it took a while to truly develop a sense of spirituality. I knew God existed, I knew Jesus died for our sins. I had to learn how that affected me. And what continuously drew my attention was how Jesus served those less “desirable.” I couldn’t walk past a homeless person without giving money; I couldn’t let a friend go without telling me of their woes. I found my spirituality in the service of others, and while it took a while to truly understand it, I realize I’ve lived with it all my life.

Perhaps I’m subconsciously trying to live up to my mother, or maybe I’m the poor kid trying to make good. Perhaps these are real factors on why I want to join the Capuchins, but I don’t think it’s the main reason:

My godparents are far from the Church now; one is divorced three times and the other is a Seventh Day Adventist. I missed out a season of football because of Confirmation Classes in 8th grade. My best friend is an agnostic, most of my co-workers haven’t seen the inside of a church in years, and 99% of the people I talk to don’t have a clue what a Capuchin or a friar are.

I cannot convince them with words. But I can listen, I can pray, I can teach, I can feed; I can be someone’s hero. And God willing, I can also help someone believe.

That is what I feel I have been called to do.

Quitting My Job

Today I stopped being a pitboss at the Poker Room. There are many reasons behind the decision. There are moral issues, issues I have with other dealers and pitbosses, and I have my misplaced sense of complacency. I've wanted to "coast" to August 1. I realize that I won't be allowed to be that lazy.

Many times when you leave a job, there is a huge sense of loss, a sense of worry, and if the break was intense there can be some resentment. My boss, a good man who did a lot for me, felt bad about the decision, but I could understand his point of view. It was a lose/lose situation for both of us, and it was best if I just moved on.

I've already called Bossman at the car dealership. Several times when I was a pitboss, he called me asking me if I ever wanted to sell cars again. They have another sales guy working for them now, and I'm glad for him. My replacement wasn't really the "sales" type, and I was concerned about his prosperity after my leaving.

Most likely, I'll simply return to being a dealer on a full-time basis. There will be some embarrassment, perhaps a little shame. A year ago, I doubt I'd ever show my face in there again. Now, I plan on taking a few days to center myself and refresh some of the important things in my life, use the time the best I can, and return to dealing cards for money. It's not super cash, and I have the extra bills that came in to think about.

Things happen for a reason. I have to be honest enough to realize that I'll never know why my life is as it is, and the courage to accept whatever will happen next.

Fun With Flash

I see those generated video projects on YouTube and it seems so simple to make. I get a great idea, think of some images, songs, even a few key quotes...

Then I load it all into Macromedia Flash and I scream at my computer when the test video looks nothing like the graphic I just made. I'm not the computer tech I once was, but I have the knowledge and the basic understanding of using tools such as Flash and Dreamweaver. I know enough to get myself frustrated.

That "little idea" I had has grown into something mind-consuming, and I've been scrounging the Internets looking for images, information, statistics, and ideas for this little project of mine. And when I finally put in images and symbols and motion tweens, it all gets jumbled together by the evil computer machine and doesn't match my perfect vision. That's when I start screaming and throwing temper trantrums.

I know part of it is due to my lack of true schooling with Macromedia products. I'd love to take the time to actually learn how each of the buttons and tools work. But I also tend towards a perfectionist-which is rather interesting since I never claim to be perfect. I've suffered through several of these video projects before, and what happens is my focus on detail, my desire to get everything perfect, and my complete dissatisfaction with anything that does not fit into my mental picture. If I actually worked and lived like this, I'd be a pretty annoying guy to be around.

This trait only manifests itself when I sit down to play my guitar, draw, or create in any other form of media. As I get deeper and deeper into this project, I'm going to try and not let frustration get the best of me. I think the idea is great, and the premise is a noble one. Hopefully when I finish it, I will have created something nice and taught myself a little about patience.

Don't ask how long it took just to finish this part:
Edit: The image is too big for the regular area, so I added the code permanently to the bottom of the page.

Music and Discernment: An Inconvenient Truth

Yes, it's 3:43 AM and I'm still awake. It is impossible for me to get to sleep after working a Saturday at the poker room and then wake up for 9:30 Mass. My only option is to stay awake until Mass, then finally sleep afterwards. It's a new idea, and I'm hoping that I don't yawn while reading from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians.

So between practicing the reading and eating some Taco Bell (Fourth Meal!), I figured I could use up some time by updating my blog.

This weekend, the charity at the poker room is the AMBUCS, a charitable organization who's goal is to aid in the mobility of people with disabilities. The people are wonderful, and I've had a blast helping them out over the weekend. This is the part of being a pitboss that I really enjoy: knowing that all that gambling is going to some benefit.

As the night wound down, I spoke in length with one of the members of the regional AMBUCS office. He talked about how long he was going to sleep in the next morning, while I dreaded pulling the "all-nighter" just so I could get to church. Our conversation soon changed to the topic of religion, and eventually about my intention to join the Capuchin Postulancy this Fall.

We talked at length about priesthood, faith, and what it takes to make a difference in the world. Talking with him, I found I really enjoyed hearing about his beliefs, as well as answering questions about mine. I felt like we were learning something from each other at that moment, and how wonderful it was to have a conversation about faith, even in the midst of poker tables.

Now I've never been the "preachy" type. I don't try to force my beliefs on anyone, and I don't openly attack other religions (Stephen Colbert would say that different religions are merely "...different ways one can accept Jesus as their savior.") But when I talk about my faith and my vocational experience, I feel like I'm doing part of what I should be doing, spreading a message through my life. I admit I still feel awkward talking about myself in such a light. It's much easier to type here and have my text be read by random people, but to discuss my life face-to-face with any of my readers is a loftier goal. Side note: I own this book (and so can you!) corporate sponsor goes here

Seriously, I continue to learn more about what this Calling is all about. I still back-pedal now and then; I never claimed to be good at this discernment thing. But I learn something each day; I try to apply something new each day. And when I have ideas like talking more about my vocational journey, it helps to have that theme song to keep me going.

I liked the movie An Inconvenient Truth, but what really brought it home, what almost brought me to tears, was listing to Melissa Etheridge sing I Need to Wake Up. Like many other songs, when looked at from my perspective, the song takes on an entirely new meaning.

As I watched the nifty text during the credits, I imagined what it would be to see things written like: "Give 10 dollars to the next person who asks." "Give your attention to someone who needs it." "Help at your local soup kitchen." "Start a soup kitchen if there isn't one there." "Teach an English class for those who can't speak it. If you can't understand them, learn a new language."
The one line I wouldn't remove from all that: "When you pray; move your feet."

Maybe this is something I need to make in order for others to see. Hmmm......

Until then, here is I Need to Wake Up:

Have I been sleeping?
I've been so still, afraid of crumbling
Have I been careless?
Dismissing all the distant rumblings
Take me where I am supposed to be
To comprehend the things that I can't see

'Cause I need to move
I need to wake up
I need to change
I need to shake up
I need to speak out
Something's got to break up
I've been asleep
And I need to wake up now

And as a child
I danced like it was 1999
My dreams were wild
The promise of this new world would be mine
Now I am throwing off the carelessness of youth
To listen to an inconvenient truth

That I need to move
I need to wake up
I need to change
I need to shake up
I need to speak out
Something's got to break up
I've been asleep
And I need to wake up now

I am not an island
I am not alone
I am my intentions
Trapped here in this flesh and bone

I need to move
I need to wake up
I need to change
I need to shake up
I need to speak out
Something's got to break up
I've been asleep
And I need to wake up now

Yet Another Setback

2008 looked like a promising start in finishing up my debt. While my hours at work aren't what I expected (I rarely work 40 hours a week), the money takes care of my current bills as well as past debt. I also made plans to speed up the process by liquidating my Simple IRA. I know there's a serious tax liability, but between donations to my Church and the medical bills I'm paying, there should be enough of a tax credit to offset the $500ish liability.

I had the whole thing figured out - I even have it all mapped out in a wonderful Excel spreadsheet, until I got an unexpected call this morning.

"Good morning, Vito. This is xxx calling from St. Mary's Hospital. I was just calling to inquire about the bill for your recent hospitalization."

For those of you that remember, I went to the hospital in November because of a breakthrough seizure. I thought I had the total bill mapped out: $591 for the ambulance ride, $478 for the actual visit, and $21 to radiology for a single X-ray. That's just over $1000.

"Oh no, Mr. Martinez. We show a bill here of $2000."

My only response: "You gotta be &#*^ing kidding me!"

I quickly apologized, and told her how I'd received the bills already, and no where did I see a bill of that magnitude. Not to mention, my stay at the hospital lasted 4 hours - 3 of which were spent lying in a bed doing nothing but listen to the drunk guy next to me constantly calling the nurses "whores."

$2000. You gotta be &#*^ing kidding me. I could have had the same experience at a Red Roof Inn for only $45 and gotten a free Continental breakfast.

So to catch up...I could have been down to $1000 in total debt after liquidating my assets and applying my tax return to my bills. I added another $1000 onto that because of the doctor bills from my incident in November. Now, it is up to $4000 in net debt I have to pay after spending $3500 to pay off everything else. That puts the current total back up to $7500. I've asked for an itemized bill of everything I spent, and St. Mary's says they have a program which is supposed to help with some of the debt, based on my present income. Since I'm well under the middle-class tax bracket these days, I'm hoping something can be done about it. Until then, I need to figure out how much I have to pay per month to be debt free.

Is there a lesson in all this: yes.

First...get a tattoo on your forehead that says: "No ambulance rides please!"

Second...I'm beginning to understand the term "kicking and screaming" with regards to discernment. Each time I try to live this year in the way I want to, something comes up that forces me to turn back to prayer, to faith, and to letting God do His thing. Will God send me a check for $2000 with a simple message that says: "Here's looking out for ya. -G"

Probably not.

But each time I approach this decision about the Capuchins in a businesslike attitude rather than a religious mindset, things just don't work out. I worry about how things will get paid, I see "extra money" I can spend on stupid things, I find a reason to take my time in paying off debt. "There'll only by $1000 left to go by April. I could squeeze in a trip to Vegas before August!"

So when I hear priests talk about how "God took them, kicking and screaming, into the priesthood," I begin to understand. I want to do this my way, according to my rules, my Excel timeline, and my personally laid out budget. If I fight hard enough....

I shouldn't have to fight, and that's what I'm gonna try not to do. I'm just gonna sit with God about it, and see what He tells me to do. Probably not the best financial advice, but I think this is how I'm supposed to look at it.

On the bright side, with "Dubya" sending me that $500, 25% of the problem is done. =D

Remembering the Words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is not a photo of a 3rd world country. This is the Pine Ridge Reservation, located in the southwest corner of South Dakota. One of the largest reservations in America, it is also the poorest, in spite of the new casino. Tuberculosis and diabetes is 300% higher than the national average, with 50% of adults over 40 having diabetes. 8 out of 10 households are affected by alcoholism.

The boy in the photo most likely lives in a house without electricity, running water, or proper insulation. He will be lucky to ever find work in his lifetime. And according to statistics, he will not live past the age of 47.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. Day comes around, I always here people who think it's a wasted holiday; an excuse for government workers to take another paid day off. During this holiday, I'm reminded of kids like the one in the photo above, who may pass through this life without a second thought from the rest of us.

If we indeed are all God's children, I pray that we will start treating each other as such.

"If you want peace, work for justice." -Pope Paul VI

What Dreams May Come

It's about 3:30AM Sunday morning right now. The only reason I'm here in front of the computer and not asleep is because I woke from a very realistic and powerful dream. Wanting to savor and share the experience, I got out of bed, made a ham/pepperoni & cheese sandwich, fired up the notebook, and decided to write it all down.

Mmmm, I do love pepperoni.

For the first time in my life, I had a dream that I was up at the alter. It wasn't a flashback to when I was an alter-server, however it occurred in the same church where I attended years ago. The lights were out, the pews were filled, and from the back I started walking and talking. I realized I was walking towards the alter and giving an homily.

I remember talking about how this was my home parish and how this is where my faith formation really began. This is where my first priest (the first one that I really connected with) talked about living your faith outside of the church, as well as helping others in the community. I explained how this place was where God first saw fit to call me towards a religious life.

Most dreams about public speaking are essential nightmares. I've heard people talk about a dream where they found themselves at a podium as the keynote speaker for some topic they know nothing about. In school, I've heard of the dream where you're called to give a speech/book report. Neither of those sound like a fun experience.

Yet in my dream, I was calm and spoke with ease. The ideas flowed from my mouth(subconscious) without a gap. I remembered how my priest used to speak with candor during his homilies, and I carried on as he did. I was completely amazed by it.

As I continued to walk forward, I saw a person sitting in a pew wearing a mitre. Instantly I knew what that meant: somebody important was here! As I passed the pew, I saw a man who resembled Bishop Walter Hurley (bishop of the Grand Rapids Diocese) sitting with his shoulders slumped and his hand on his crosier. He looked either humbled or discontent, I couldn't tell. I was trying to pay attention to what I was talking about, after realizing that someone higher up was watching me. I'll get back to this part later.

(Most Rev. Hurley with newly 7 newly ordained Dominican priests.)

By the time I made it to the pulpit, I was talking about including prayer in our daily lives. I remember saying how prayer was "...more than just 10 Hail Mary's and an Our Father." I was talking about how prayer is actually taking time to sit and communicate with God or just be in His presence. I remember talking about how we could better enrich our lives and those around us if we spent more time in prayer each day. (Note: I have nothing against praying the Rosary, however repetitive prayers are hard for me to connect to God. I prefer the more spontaneous.)

I looked at the crowd of people sitting in the pews, and realized that it was a congregation I'd never seen before. There were no older parishioners or well-dressed church goers. The were all the same, but the most visual faces I remember were those in the front row: minorities that looked like bums or drug addicts. These people looked like they belonged out on the street, not inside a church. Yet as I looked, I realized they were all enraptured with what I was talking about. There was no one looking down at their missal or checking their watch. I could see I was connecting with them; they looked like they might applaud when I was finished.

That is when the dream falls apart and I wake up. I remember one of the parishioners asking me to "hold up a sec" while she ran to the bathroom, and then the dream fades as I wake up. In those waking moments, I remember a sense of sadness that it was only just a dream.

The dream holds thousands of interpretations: I am comfortable with the idea of talking spirituality with other people, it reflects my desire to help those less fortunate, or that St. James (the church in my dreams) is actually where I first felt called towards the priesthood; something I need to the last chapter of my autobiography.

As for the bishop, perhaps that was my subconscious longing for the diocesan priesthood saying: "Hey, don't forget about me!" Everything started with the idea of a parish priest, yet my journey has taken me on several detours from that original premise. While I feel I'm on the right path now, maybe that cowered guy dressed in full garb is my guilt at not staying in the diocese, or my subconscious reminding me of the email I got from the diocesan vocations director, telling me of the next Gifted and Called meeting he's having.

It's all very interesting and confusing. I think I'll turn off the notebook and try to get back to bed.

One last thing: I remember walking halfway down the isle, seeing the bishop, then turning back to hit the lightswitch. The church was illuminated and I continued with the homily. Perhaps that has something to do with it as well.

Discernment and Music: Mercedes Benz

I've been sick the past few days, and I just realized I let the weekend pass without another new song. Since I've been busy on my autobiography, "I'd like to do a song of great social and political import."

This one is a pretty simple, both in lyrics and the meaning. I've always been a fan of Janis, and while she sounds like a shrieking banshee at times, it's the message that counts. I'm sure when Mercedes used the song in a commercial, she rolled over in her grave.

It's funny...I wanted a Z3 so bad I could taste it. Interesting how things work out.

Enjoy, and be sure to click on the song at the bottom of the page so you can sing along!

It goes like this:

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all have Porsches, I must make amends
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends
So oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a color TV?
Dialing for Dollars is trying to find me
I'll wait for delivery each day until 3
So oh Lord, won't you buy me a color TV?

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a night on the town?
I'm counting on you Lord, please don't let me down
Prove that you love me and buy the next round
Oh Lord, won't you buy me a night on the town?

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends
So oh Lord, won't you buy me.....
A Mercedes Benz?

That's it!

The Word Is Out!

It seems like eons past, but merely 6 months ago, I would have cringed at the thought of openly discussing my vocational discernment. Thoughts of inadequacy mixed with feelings of doubt kept me quiet about this strange pull I was feeling. I didn't want this to be a "phase" or "the next thing Vito's into." Surely I was scared of what others might think, but I was scared about what it really meant to me.

These days, I talk about my calling the way I talk about other things in my life. Some have been more receptive than others, while some have really no words to say.

"You're seriously gonna be a priest? Oh my God, that's like so crazy!"

"And they're seriously gonna let you be a priest?"

"When you're done praying to baby Jesus, did you wanna stop by and play cards this weekend?"

Months ago, I feared hearing such things, and even now it would surprise most of you to know that these are comments from friends and co-workers. Should they be saying such things to me? Don't I find their comments hurtful?

It's taken a while to understand the motives and thoughts of people close to me, but after spending time in reflection, I honestly believe that I hear such comments from friends and family not out of malice, but out of confusion and ignorance; and the only way to conquer ignorance is to educate.

Let me explain further...obviously with another story from my life.

When I developed epilepsy at the age of 16, my first few seizures occurred when I was spending time with family. Growing up an only child meant my closest siblings were my cousins. Most of my cousins are guys, so there tends to be a lot of teasing and trash-talking.

However when I first had a seizure in front of them, the happy days were interrupted. This was something new for them - for all of us. It was scary, it was unsettling, but it was family. I am the eldest of the Martinez 3rd generation, so for boys 14 down to 10 to watch someone go into convulsions is not something to be taken lightly. Frankly, it scared the snot out of them.

Later, as I was diagnosed with Epilepsy and the family understood that I would have seizures for the rest of my life, it just became another part of who I am. And like most guys, when we don't completely understand something, or if it's a touchy subject to bring up, we joke about such things.

I see my vocation in a similar light. I've accepted that not everyone will be able to understand why I feel called to religious life. In most instances, explaining what a friar does is even more complicated than explaining my draw towards a vocation. For these friends and acquaintances, it's easier to joke about it. Sure it is a sensitive topic, but if I can get them to talk about it, even in a joking manner, and they realize that I'm neither offended nor shy about my calling, they may come to realize part of what this is all about. If I'm lucky, they'll start asking more important questions.

Until then, I will keep getting ribbed, but that's OK. Even when I hear: "So you haven't gotten laid in HOW long?" I still don't miss a beat:

"Well over a year...so about half as long as you."

I figure if my priest says he's going to give up celibacy for Lent, I'm still allowed to have a slightly skewed sense of humor.

Discipline At The Poker Table

So I've found another interesting, yet obvious way of helping pay down my debts: poker. Having so much knowledge of the game, strategy, rules, and player tendencies, I'm surprised I hadn't thought sooner of becoming a semi-professional poker player as a supplement to my income.

Before you start thinking: "What in the world are you doing? You wanna be a priest!" I do have several ground rules that I follow. As a pitboss, I see people throw away money each day I work because they lack the discipline or the self-control when playing cards. These "rules" suit my current situation, but if you are a poker player or just the occasional gambler, these rules might be of some use to you as well:

1. Know what you can spend. Tonight I went in, knowing I could lose $110 and still pay all my current bills as well as a few past bills that still reside on my credit report. I bought in once for 60, then for 50.

2. Set your winning point. The timeline on any poker player is bust if they don't know when to walk away as a winner. My goal was to either double up or call it quits when the $110 was done. After I doubled up, I decided that I would move my winning limit up to $340; the amount of the past-due bill I needed to pay.

3. Be patient. There's always the lure of "donking" chips away on hands like 9-4, J-7, or Q-8. All the poker books in the world cannot teach you to be patient and wait for your hands to come to you. If you spend too much time trying to chase a flush draw, you will end up broke. It took an hour and a half before I turned my last $30 into $412.

4. Walk away when you are done. That doesn't just include your winning limit; if you're tired or you have other things on your mind, do the smart thing and cash out. When I started to backslide from the $400, I left before I dropped under the $340 mark.

5. Give back. I make it a habit to tithe all of my winnings. Sometimes the collection plate gets more money than other weeks, but I make a conscious note to give at least 10% to my church. I don't do this because I'm trying to thank God for making sure my Aces didn't get cracked, I do this because they are poker winnings. It is extra money. Most people would gladly give to charity if they won the lottery, why not give if you only win $300?

6. Remember why you're playing. If you're sitting down to play poker with buddies and you're just there to have fun, you can probably throw out everything I just typed, with the exception of #5. I play because it fun, but more importantly it is something I am good at, and if I can pay off my debt faster by spending time at the No Limit cash tables, then I can use poker as a tool to reach a loftier goal.

Tonight was a good night at the poker tables, and with the extra money, I have money left in my bank account after all my bills are paid. I know the Food Pantry at my church is in need of more food, so I may spend another $60 at Aldi's to help them stock up on soup and canned vegetables. I don't know what St. Francis would think, but I do my best to follow the four major rules regarding gambling per the Catholic Church. Perhaps in the end, the experience, like all others, will help me serve others with gambling problems. Or maybe if they feel they can tell a priest their bad beat story, they can come to him about other things.

Discernment and Music: Give to Live

My week has been a struggle to find something worth while to discuss. Other writers can list an odd happening during their day, or use current events as a sounding board for their opinion. I've tried to keep the "soap-boxing" to a minimum, and focus more on my personal development and my journey towards the Capuchins. Ironically, that may have been why I've had little to share: a lack in personal or spiritual development.

Somewhere along the way, I slipped into a "coast" mode with my life. I simply need to pay back my personal debt and wait until the first of August for my "new" life to start. I found myself just counting the days until I would leave this life and enter the next...in a manner of speaking.

As I said my prayers last night before going to bed, I realized that I shouldn't just be waiting until one day where I can be a Capuchin. I can start to live that life right now. Each day, for the rest of my life, is an opportunity to live my life for Christ. Why wait to change the world when I can start right now?

I awoke with a new view on life. I felt a spring in my step, I was eager to leave for work, and I felt like I wasn't waiting 6.5 months for my life to restart, but that I'd live the rest of these days with a chance to prove to myself that this is the lifestyle I want.

As the day progressed, I found myself a little kinder, a little less tense, and a little more happy with my life. I'd done nothing to change the world, simply changed my outlook on life. I found the whole experience refreshing and inspiring; I now had something to write about when I got home.

On the drive home, I stopped by the local Walgreen's to grab a late night snack. As I parked the car, I saw an old man standing at the entrance to the pharmacy. The snow was coming down quite heavily as the old man put the hood of his tattered coat over his head. I could feel his eyes on me from when I pulled in until I got out of my car. I knew what was going to happen, just like 1000 times before. I'd already rehearsed excuses for not giving him a ride or any money.

I was thinking about how he would react if I offered to actually buy him something rather than give him money...a tactic used to validate a preconceived notion that he would merely buy booze and/or cigarettes with any money I gave him. Strangely enough, as he was telling me his story, I reached into my front pocket to dig for some change. I felt a few quarters, yet I decided that wasn't enough. Digging out my wallet, I saw two 10 dollar bills and a one. Instead of grabbing the single, I handed him one of the tens, content in the thought that I would not spend $10 in Walgreen's for anything. He thanked my graciously, and I told him "no problem" without even a thought. I walked into the store, bought my food, and really didn't worry about whether or not he was buying food with that money or he was saving up for a crack rock. Personally, I know I've spent $10 on seven-deuce offsuit plenty of times; I can waste money just like the next guy.

I decided to put a little faith in God, and hope that the money I gave him would be well spent. I felt better on the drive home, despite the fact that my gas needle was getting dangerously close to E. Before I could even regret that $10, I wondered what it would be like for those people who had to live outside as the snow continued to pour down. I have a wonderful apartment to return to, and I'm arriving to my location in a reliable (and warm) source of transportation. How many people sleeping in Grand Rapids have that?

I felt much better about myself. Maybe because I learned something today, or maybe because I knew I'd have a wonderful post to share with all of you. Perhaps both reasons are valid. I feel like I'm doing the right thing again...and it all started with prayer. I hate it when those vocation directors are right.

A wonderful story needs a theme for it, so as I parked my car, I happened to hear some Van Halen playing on one of the radio stations. While it wasn't the song I've listed, it reminded me of this song; both the lyrics as well as the acoustic guitar have always stuck with me. While Sammy Hagar wasn't known for much spiritual enlightenment via music (Mas Tequila isn't really Catholic-like), I think this song rings true on a lot of things I've started to see in life.

The song is unavailable on projectplaylist.com, however if you find a copy of the Right Here, Right Now CD by Van Halen, you will find this song on Disc 2.

I can see that you got fire in your eyes
And pain inside your heart
So many things have come
Torn your world apart
So baby, don't give up

If you want love, you gotta give a little
If you want faith, you gotta believe a little
If you want peace, turn your cheek a little
You gotta give, you gotta give to live.

An empty hand reaching for someone
An empty heart takes so little to fill
It's so much easier to push instead of pull
So baby, don't give up.

If you want love, you gotta give a little
If you want faith, you gotta believe a little
If you want peace, turn your cheek a little
You gotta give, you gotta give to live.

Each man's a country in his own right
And everybody needs a friend
One friend, one God, one country,
No man need defend

I believe in fate and destination
So much of that lies in our own hands
So if you know what you want
You can go out and get it
But baby, don't you ever give up.

If you want love, you gotta give a little
If you want faith, you gotta believe a little
If you want peace, turn your cheek a little
If you want love, you gotta give.

Empty Headed

No no, I haven't been lazy and forgotten about updating. I actually took an in-state vacation this weekend, hanging out with a friend in Kalamazoo. Unfortunately I forgot to bring my notebook and update the weblog in several days. I apologize for the abandonment.

One of the other unfortunate things now that I sit again in front of my laptop, I can think of nothing truly inspiring or even interesting. I wish I had something exciting to pass on, like a movie review or a deep philisophical discussion, most of the time was spent playing cribbage, watching TV, and eating food that probably shaved 10 years off my life. (I think Al Queda is using Outback's cheesy fries to lull us into a pleasant and lethargic state of mind!)

I figured I'd at least do the courtesy of letting everyone know I was still alive and kicking. Hope everyone has a good start in the new year.