Understanding Music In My Discernment

Before you continue reading, I need you to go to the bottom of this page, and find the music player. I recently added a track entitled Samba Pa Ti by Carlos Santana. You may have to scroll down on the music player to find it. Find the song, click on it, and then scroll back up to continue reading. This is sort of an interactive post; the multimedia adds to its flava.

It's OK, I'll wait until you get back.

This past week I've come home, in a manner of speaking. Much of my life before college surrounded music: writing, playing, and just the pure enjoyment of it. Many of my memories aren't just images, but sounds and music from those moments in time. This song is one of those few that speaks volumes, though there are no words.

In high school, I fell asleep each night to the sound of Carlos' guitar softly playing through my earphones. The piece is not a complicated one, but as you listen to each note being played, it sounds as if his entire heart, soul, and pain were being transferred through his guitar into this masterpiece of music. The guitar, the held-out notes....I feel the song more than I hear it.

It encompassed everything I loved about music. Playing guitar was not just an act of copying what others had done. It was a means of creation; a way to put into sound what one felt deep inside their soul. It was a gateway to my inner consciousness, and each time I hear this song, I feel I can better understand who I am.

These past few weeks I've tried to find where I would fit in with the Capuchins, what talents and gifts I could bring to such a brotherhood. What good is selling cars or dealing cards in a religious order? What special gift from God am I being called to share with the world?

As I've discerned, my musical gifts have been called upon more and more. I help my parish with the liturgical music now, along with my other duties at the church. I picked up a bass guitar last Sunday for the first time in 13 years, and was surprised I still knew what I was doing. I could still read music, decipher the root, 3rd, and 5th of any scale (major or minor), and that common chord progressions made as much sense as polynomial equations to a college kid taking Pre-Calc again. Everything I thought I'd forgotten just "came back to me."

I spend at least 1 hour a day in practice, and my fingers have that wonderful pain again. I remember how wonderful it was to be one with the instrument, how perfect things were. This was a gift I set aside for loftier, more pragmatic skills. Now that my life has come full circle after seeing what is most important to me, I realize that I gave up my greatest gift for 12 years in search of something "better." It pains me that I lost all that time.

When I was young, I dreamed of being able to have the skills of Santana. I wanted to be as good as he was, perform as well as he did, and to "wow" others like his songs do, even to this day. Now, I still see Santana as an inspiration, but because I remember how his music affected me on a level deeper than I could understand. Perhaps it took some growing up to understand that, but my love for music isn't just about being on stage, but about creating something that affects others. The guitar isn't just a way to get chicks, it's an outlet for my soul.

I'm happy to have found my love once again, and I hope that while you may not share the same love of music or Santana as I do, you can see how following a calling, no matter how untimely or inappropriate it may seem, God always gives us a way to get back on the right path.

Since it is a "samba for you," I'll leave you to enjoy this wonderful piece of music. Perhaps me and my Les Paul can create something just as beautiful someday.

Rockin' In The Free World

Yesterday marked a new page in my life: a day where my debt is less than my monthly income. After paying off a 12 year old credit card debt, I'm down to $2300 in total debt, and I feel great!

I wanted to reward myself, since this is something I've worked on even before I decided to pursue a vocation. However I didn't want to spend the money foolishly, like a trip to the casino or something stupid.

Instead, I reverted to one of my childhood dreams, a callback to some of those desires I gave up when I chose to follow more "worldly" careers. As I've delved back into that part of my life, I find myself writing again, as well as something I haven't done in years: play my guitar.

I admit I'm nowhere near as good as I was years ago, but I am relearning fast, and I have the patience to learn things I didn't have when I was young. Hard songs and chord progressions take practice and time....when I was a kid I just wanted to be Carlos Santana right then and there. Now I know that with work and effort you can be anything.

Since I lacked the self-discipline to keep up with my guitar skills, my gear never improved either. As new advances in guitars and amps became available, I chose to spend money on other hobbies or interests. Starting playing as a schoolkid did not give me the funds to buy that better equipment either. In the time I had the money, I'd given up on my guitar already. I feel sad for the lost time.

Fortunately, as I've come back into my love, I've rekindled the old dream of mine; the one thing I truly wanted:

This is a 1979 Gibson Les Paul. It is a maple body with maple headstock. Rosewood fretboard with abalone inlay, two humbucker pick-ups, grover locking tuning machines, shown here in cherry sunburst. This is not an instrument, rather a work of art. Guitarists from Paul McCartney, Peter Frampton, Zakk Wylde, Slash, Carlos Santana, Jimmy Page, Bob Marley, and John Lennon all used Les Pauls.

In the words of Chazz Michael Michaels, I could not love a human baby as much as I love this guitar.~

I know I will never own one, however since that time, Gibson bought a smaller company called Epiphone, allowing it to release guitars like the SG and the Les Paul at more affordable prices. So rather than spending the $3000 it would cost for a Gibson Les Paul, an Epiphone can be purchased starting at $400-$500. I'm negotiating as we speak.

Now I thought about this, actually gave it some serious discernment. Was I just getting this guitar to satisfy some childhood dream of owning an icon of great music, or was I making an investment into something I loved? Sure I'd started playing guitar again, and I had my acoustic to keep playing on. Isn't that all I really need? Do I need this beautiful piece of handiwork?

I go through this same thing each time I buy something; last time it was my winter coat. I thought of buying something cheap that would get me through the winter. However my eye caught on a real nice leather coat with a liner and hood for $200. On the one hand, buying cheap is how I should plan on living. I don't need to buy what I want, rather what I need. For the past year and a half, that has been bills. However buying quality is a better value in the long run, as long as you're not splurging. A mink coat would have been over the top, or a team coat for the same cost. My last leather coat lasted me 10 years; it lasted so long I grew out of it. The new coat should last me another 10 years, as long as I don't put on another 100 pounds.

Guitarists the world over love the Les Paul because it is a quality instrument. The crafting, the make, the electronics are all top notch. I don't need the super expensive Les Paul or a really awesome paint job, I'm looking for a guitar for an intermediate player that will last 15+ years. If I am serious about playing guitar, this is the one I should buy.

I've had recent experiences that have hastened my return to music, and now that I'm going back in that direction, I think it's time to make a childhood dream come true, even if it's only the cheap version of that dream.

That and I hear chicks dig guitar players.

Back To Chi-Town - A Scary Visit

Once again, I have a trip planned to Chicago this weekend. It seems like I commute back and forth twice a month; I'm already calling it my "second home." In actuality I do very little in the city. Most of my time is spent at St. Clare's Friary on Archer and Damen Ave. The few times that I do go out into the city, one of the friars or postulants are the guide.

The same will happen this weekend, as my visit is less about visiting and more about testing. This is the weekend I've been dreading: the one on one with the psychologist.

I was asked a few months ago if I'd ever had psych testing before. I answered no. Later I remembered that I in fact did seee a pyschologist when I was a kid, and that the experience was so embarrassing and awkward, I'd simply forgotten it ever happened. Even now, I cannot remember all of the "sessions," but I remember enough to still be wary of what's to come.

When I was around 11 or 12, my mom took me to the Vera French Center in Davenport, IA. They called themselves "counsellors," but I knew what they really were. I don't think there was anything wrong with me except being a pre-teenage boy going through puberty, and I think my mom acted more out of ignorance than concern for any real issue. It's also why I don't think it lasted longer than six months.

I believe it started with a few dumb things that kids do at that age: I'd taken money from my mom' secret hiding place, I was a latch-key kid as my mom worked odd hours to bring home money, and somehow I'd found a Playboy or two outside and my mom found my secret hiding place (one thing I always wondered: why do people leave porno mags outside?).

I definately wasn't an angel, but it was nothing out of the ordinary by today's standards. I don't think my mom was used to that kind of activity. My family comes from migrants and a culture where those things are unheard of. I think she was startled, didn't know what to do, and shot for the strongest solution she could find.

Initially I talked to an older gentleman and a woman. Both of them were very nice and smiled a lot as they asked their questions. They talked down to me a somewhat, but I imagined they worked with kids much younger than I, and this was the "getting to know" phase. I wasn't offended. They asked questions about what I thought of myself, about my friends, my sexuality, if I liked school. They never asked anything intrusive like: "How many animals have you killed in the past month?" or anything outrageous. I felt comfortable talking with them, and I think if the experience had ended there, all would be good.

After that session, they asked if I wanted to continue to see someone. Aha! I thought to myself. If there was something wrong with me, they wouldn't have asked, they would have scheduled me for more visits. They seemed like nice people, weren't really too agressive in trying to "figure me out," so I said I would come back to visit again.

Big mistake.

I don't remember the name of the doctor I saw after that, nor do I remember him ever smiling. I do remember being asked lots of questions in a small room, sitting in a wooden chair, and giving quick yes/no answers to him as my fingers traced over the arms of the chair. I remember awkward silences as he sat staring at me, as if trying to examine me. Any time he tried to start a conversation, it dissolved quickly. Something about him either intimidated me or just told me not to open up to this guy. I remember one snippet of a conversation:

Shrink: "Do you like to tell jokes?
Me: "Sure."
Shrink: "Can you tell me a joke?"
Me. (after long pause) "I can't think of any."

After six months (a session a month), he started spending more time talking to my mom than me. Without knowing it at the time, my ability to shut down and put of the emotional wall kept the psychologist from either finding anything wrong with me, or not considering it worth the trouble to continue working with me. Mom and I never had any issues after that, and I've never had to see a counsellor since. I think my "issues" were not so much a mental concern, but the product of being from a single-parent family, and I think a father-figure would have helped more than a therapist during that stage of life.

The one thing that scares me about this visit is that I won't be the same shy kid I used to be. In fact, I'll talk about any and everything to everyone. Hell, I'm talking about a repressed memory from my childhood with random people over the InterWeb. What is my fear? That he'll find something wrong with me.

Again, I don't think I'm much different from anyone else in this world. Sure I have my own issues to work out, personal quirks to tweak; I am far from perfect by anyone's standards. I just worry about how "abnormal" I'm allowed to be before the shrink starts to think "Hey this guy might be an issue."

God's gotten me through my worries of debt and self-worthiness. I pray He helps me get through this weekend.

My Crazy Week, Part 3: God's Work

OK technically the crazy week has run into the next week, making it a collection of crazy weeks. While the wordplay is fun and interesting, I just find it hard to keep up with everything that's happening. Today I argued on the phone with 4 different collection agencies regarding a bill from 1997. The twist in the story: none of them claimed to have the debt on file, and would not take payment. Imagine that...a collection agency that turns down $666 from a willing payee.

Later this evening, just as I was getting ready to deal at the first table, Mom called to tell me her Park Avenue broke down...on one of the snowiest days of Michigan. Instead of working, I drove an hour to pick her up, find out the transmission was shot, get it to the repair shop, and get home. Thankfully I got the car at my last job, and Bossman said he could get another transmission in for $450 out the door. Ask any mechanic...$450 for a tranny job is amazingly cheap.

It's good to know people. It's even better when you know people who aren't just giving one thing in hopes for another, they do good because that's what they're supposed to.

Last week I started volunteering my time at God's Kitchen in Grand Rapids, a soup kitchen run by Catholic Social Services. Not only do they run the daily kitchen, but they also provide a Meals On Wheels program that runs throghout the entire city of Grand Rapids. And just like any other volunteer program, they are always in need of more help.

I mentioned months ago about not waiting to be a Capuchin, how I can act and be a Capuchin each day with my actions. In the spirit of Lent, where we give up as well as give alms, I thought working at God's Kitchen provided the perfect opportunity to get into the action.

Just for a little history, God's Kitchen was started in the 1970's by a Catholic Worker Group in the heartside district of Grand Rapids. The outreach started as a group serving soup to homeless people out of the back of a Volkswagen van. As their outreach grew, they were given the old Capitol Diner on Division St. To this day, the meal served is called the Capitol Lunch in honor of the building, and the old menu still hangs on the wall, showing cheesburgers for 50 cents and pop for a nickel.

I called the week of Ash Wednesday, telling them of my interest in doing some work for them. I was asked to come in on Tuesday of the following week and help out with the lunch. She asked my availability, and I laughingly told her how I wasn't working during the day, and that since I was planning on joining the Capuchin community this fall, that work here seemed more important than any other work. We decided to let things go, and let God decide where he needed me.

That first Tuesday I worked out on the floor while the clients ate. I spent most of the time cleaning off tables, throwing trash away, and generally making people feel welcome instead of making them feel institutionalized. They are not only guests, but they are my brothers; this is the way I am feel. But honestly, I didn't feel like I was doing much at first.

I was a little let down. Outreach like this is what I wanted to do with my life...helping the poor and disenfranchised. Yet here I was, doing the work of God, but not feeling anything. Sure, I felt the altruistic happiness of doing something good for another human being. but I expected to feel that sense of belonging...a notice from God stating that "Yes, you have found where you need to be."

One table was a little shaky as I cleaned it, and accidently spilled one of the guest's coffee. I greatly apologized, saying "I'll get that cleaned up right away, sir," and quickly cleaned up the mess.

"What's your name?" he asked me. I promptly told him, looking away from the work and smiling.

"You know, Vito, I just got out of prison yesterday and I really didn't feel anything different until just now. When you called me sir and started to clean up the mess, it kinda snapped me back into the real world...I forgot what it was like to be a free man."

That was the voice I was hoping for...not a booming word of God from the sky, but a meek thank you from a man who'd been beat down by the system. It was so metaphorically on-point, I almost hugged the guy right there.

Doing the smart thing, I congratulated him on his return, got his name, and wished him well. In a way I felt justified in being where I was, helping those in need. In reality, we all need a little help of some kind, whether it be a warm meal, someone to make us feel at home, or someone to let us know we're on the right track. I don't expect every day at God's Kitchen to provide such an epiphany, but as long as people need a place to eat or a homebound person needs someone to bring them lunch, I'll do what I can.

My Crazy Week, Part 2: Pesky Bill Collectors

Funny thing about addictions...they kinda take over and make you forget to post the second part of a blog series. Yes, I am an addict. Not to crack, sudoku, internet porn, or any other wasteful past time. No, my addiction is much much cooler:

Sid Meier's Civilization 3: Call to Power is quite simply the greatest video game ever created. A turn-based game that mixes the conquest from Age of Empires with the management of Sim City, this game never gets old. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to win (i.e. take over the world), even if you play non-stop over an entire weekend.

I started a game Friday night after finishing at the poker room. I stopped to eat, sleep, go to church, and shower. The rest of the weekend was spent playing Civ3. It's both comforting and scary, being able to clear my mind of all things but the game; I look at it like a vacation...only cheaper and without airfare.

My meager ways have worked however; this week I took out a big chunk of my debt. After liquidating my simple IRA fund, I was infused with a huge cash amount to use. Since many of them are medical bills, I'm also saving all my receipts in hopes of writing it all off next spring.

Most collection agencies are happy to hear from me. Usually they are trying to find lost clients while I am actively calling and making arrangements to settle my debts. Having the large sum of money gave me some leverage, as some agencies were willing to settle for a lesser amount IF I paid a substantial lump sum. I figure I saved $350 easily.

I'm awaiting a decision on my recent $2000 hospital bill. I filled out an application for financial assistance, and I'm praying they can cover at least half of that amount. If so, then I can be out of debt before the summer.

However there are some collectors that just want to be pricks, and while I'm happy about the state of my personal affairs, this one agency has me quite pissed.

In January I paid a big chunck of a bill, $240 on a $340 medical claim. As I called to finish paying off the debt this week, I was given an unusual surprise:

"I'm don't know what to tell you, Mr. Martinez, but according to your account, you owe another $45 for legal fees and documents." I had tried to pay off the bill, but some lady, different than from who I had dealt with before, told me I owed more than the stated amount. I hadn't planned on putting up a fuss, until I was told: "There's no person that works here by that name."

I'm like most people: don't toy with my money (in this instance, my personal debt). I've had mail and phone calls telling me about the $340, no where is there mentioned a $45 fee. There was some arguing back and forth, and I told them they'd see the other $45 when Hell froze over.

Later that day, I realized I handled the situation all wrong, and that despite the extra charge, the idea was to pay off the debt. Feeling somewhat sheepish, I called the collection agency back the next day.

Even though I spoke to someone else, I apologized for my actions the previous day, and told them that I would pay the final $45 to clear the debt. Of course, they had some other ideas:

"I just spoke with my boss, and she said that there's a charge for sending someone out to serve the judgement notice."

I wanted to scream at her over the phone.

"Just yesterday, they said it was $45 to finish paying everything off. So you're saying that in the manner of one day, with a bill of $45, you chose to send the account to be served? How much is that?"

"I don't know right now," was her response.

"Forget my credit card number," I told her. "If you're gonna charge me for it, I'll see you guys in court. Then we can let the judge decide who's being stupid."

I'm not sure what legal recourse I have, or whether the judge will just tell me to pay it anyway. Regardless, if I have to pay for a court date, I might as well vent and complain. I'll be sure to tell him everything I can. Who knows, maybe I'll play the "religious card" and see what happens. How's that expression go: "All's fair in love and litigation?"

One part of the story I left out: after the first day, when I was angry about paying the extra $45 dollars, that was also my first day volunteering at God's Kitchen in downtown Grand Rapids. I think that time spent was beneficial; perhaps it gave me a better perspective...that it was better to just be done than to argue. Maybe when I go back this week I will see things that way again.

I'll talk more about God's Kitchen and Meals on Wheels next time. For now, thank God that I will be able to pay off all my debt before Postulancy in the fall!

(back to Civ3!)

My Crazy Week, Part 1: Back To Work

I truly truly truly apologize to my readers for not being present during the week. It's currently 1AM Saturday morning, and I've finally gotten time where I'm not dead tired or running out somewhere to write down an update of my crazy life.

(me pictured with another Capuchin Candidate. This pic is entitled: "Meet My New Catholic Friend")

After having fun in Chicago with the Capuchins, Monday was a day of getting back to work. My job loss two weeks ago was more like a demotion: I was still working at the same location but again as a dealer, not as a pitboss. I still had feelings of anger, revenge, and bitterness for some of the other people who worked there. Yet I knew that I was lucky to even have a job available, and even luckier to have a boss willing to give me another option while I continued to work until August 1st.

While I wanted to present a better image, a side that showed I was not angry nor upset, a poker dealer isn't hidden away. I will still deal with the same people I've dealt with for the past year. They knew me first as a dealer, they got to know me again as a pitboss, and they will see me again as a dealer. The questions, the inquiries, the rumors that must have already started before walking in the door...it all seemed a little unbearable.

I walked in the door of the poker room early, meeting one of the other pitbosses. He seemed surprised to see me; he was out of the loop on what happened and where I'd been in the last two weeks. I told him only that I was no longer a pitboss, I was here to be a dealer again, and that I was taking my time to further pursue my goal of becoming a Capuchin Postulant in the fall. Thankfully, he read between the lines and didn't ask me any further questions about it.

As people filtered in that Monday evening, I realized the best way to stay out of the spotlight was to be busy at work. I opened the first table and dealt nonstop for 3.5 hours (most dealers get a break each hour). I got the occasional "You're dealing again, Vito!" I responded in kind: "Yes, I am!" For those that lightly asked about my status as a dealer, I told them the same story as I'd told the other pitboss: I was taking more time to focus on my discernment for the Capuchins. Instantly everyone would ask: "What is a Capuchin?" and I told people about my calling while successfully diverting the topic of conversation away from my status as a dealer (an old trick I remembered from selling cars.)

Others wanted to know more. Still, I was light-hearted in my discussions. "Well it's a long story, and I can't talk without using my hands. So either I can deal cards or I can tell you this really long story. My guess is you wanna play some poker." This would get laughs, and people took the subtle hint that Vito didn't want to talk about it.

Of course, there was the nosy individual who came to my table as I was dealing and started asking me invasive questions: "How come you are dealing? Pitbosses can't deal. You're not a pitboss anymore? Why?"

I tried to keep answers short as I continued to deal cards, however I couldn't get this person to understand that I didn't want to talk. Finally, as they were begging me for information, I stopped mid-hand and looked up at him with the "look of death":

"This is neither the time nor the place for this discussion. Do you catch my drift?"

In unison, everyone at the poker table turned up to look at the other person, awaiting a response. Realizing they looked like a total ass, they apologized and left the table.

From that point on, few have tried to ask about what happened. Most are content to leave me with my personal business, however I use the opportunity to spread the news about my calling, my faith, and ultimately my plans for becoming a Capuchin. Even today, as I dealt cards to people I've known for a year, no one dares ask me directly about what happened. They are content to see me again, and happy to have me at the table (unless they lose a lot of money).

The one thing that gets me through the impending workplace drama is understanding others. It's human nature to want to know, to figure out what happened. It's also human nature to understand when we're being intrusive into someone else's life. Rather than fighting against a rumor mill, I've embraced that mill and filled it with information I wish to be spread: Vito is a man of God and plans on becoming a religious brother.

Now if I could only work something out with these pesky bill collectors...but that's a post for another day. =)

The Prodigal Son Returns!

Having spent the weekend in Chicago with the Capuchin brothers, I feel refreshed and renewed about the task ahead, the debt I need to pay, and what my life will be like in less than six months. I learned several things about the Postulancy, Pre-Noviciate, and the Noviciate. Also I had a chance to meet some of the other candidates who have applied and would be in my Postulancy class.

I see why I wanted to just get to August 1. Not because I wanted to simply run away from my problems, but because the desire to live in community, to share my faith and knowledge with brothers, to live that consecrated life, and to know that everything I am doing is because of my devotion to God. Yet not everything about community happens within the 4 walls of the friary. Here are a few of the things I learned about Capuchin living:

  1. We are all brothers and sisters, creatures created from God. That means I am as connected with my family as with people I don't know, as with the Earth, the wind, the stars....everything. This is the basis of Franciscan theology: God created all things, and we share that bond with everything.
  2. We also share another bond with Christians, as we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. This is the Capuchin's firm stance in the Church, the ministry and outreach it does, as well as prayer and Mass.
  3. In the Capuchin community, all are considered brothers without title. There is no "Father" or "Brother," just "Vito" or "Bill." Even the Postulants, guys who are just starting the community life are considered Capuchins, and have the privilege of being included on some (not all) decisions within the province. As such, postulants are allowed to sign their name with the O.F.M. Cap Post., indicating they are Capuchin, yet still a Postulant.

I learned a host of other things about the order, yet those were some of the ones that stuck out in my head. I will be headed back to Chicago in 2 weeks to do the psychological testing required for entering a religious vocation, Diocesan or Religious Order. I'm kind of daunted by the idea of someone poking at my memories, but it's all part of the process.

I've also been commissioned to write a Vocation Update for the Order. Each month they send out a bulletin regarding Capuchin life, vocations, and what's happening inside the province. You can look through past updates here.

On The Road Again

Tomorrow I leave again to visit the Capuchin Franciscans in Chicago, the Order and Province I hope to join this fall. It is a Pre-Postulancy Weekend, meaning that people who are seriously thinking about joining, as well as people who are just slightly interested or new to their vocational call, will all be together to learn about the order, it's history, and what it truly means to be a Capuchin Friar.

I do enjoy these types of weekends because I feel like the "veteran" discerner. I'm what they call a second-career candidate, meaning I didn't just come out of college and that I've "lived" before listening to my calling. Because of my unique situation, I offer a different viewpoint to the other guys coming out of high school or college and considering joining the Capuchins. That view allows me to see people from a different perspective, and often I get a different response from the friars than the other candidates.

I feel that if I eventually make it into the Order, I would like to do something in the Vocations Office. It's an exciting and confusing time for men and women as they figure out exactly where God is calling them. To be there during that time, to be a part of that calling, is interesting to me.

I leave tomorrow around 1 AM (weather permitting) and will make it in time to enjoy a fish dinner at the friary. I won't be back until Monday, when I start dealing again at the poker room after a two week vacation from being the pitboss. Will that ever be a weird and awkward situation!

Have a good weekend.

Pre-Lenten Blues

Fat Tuesday is usually a festive day mixed with paczkis and idealistic thoughts of giving up everything for Lent. However for me, I spent a lot of the time in contemplation and regret.

Between the bills and the job change, that final goal of paying off personal debt becomes harder and harder to reach. $3788 is not a huge amount; it averages to $630 a month. It's a realistic goal, unfortunately being a poker dealer again means I'll be lucky to get $800 a month.

This is not a fund raising blog, nor am I looking for handouts. Part of the reason I'm writing this is because I've chastized myself all day today for money that could have been better spent. I feel bad for leaving the car business, I feel bad for buying Chinese take-out yesterday, I feel bad because I should be free and clear from this problem already.

The reason that I've been so frustrated, even angry, is because it screws with my time table. I will go as far to say that God Himself is messing with my perfect schedule. The "plan" was to leave for Postulancy on August 1 with all debts paid and nothing left behind. Yet each large step comes with its own setback. First were the bills of the apartment ($2500). Then it was a change in job. Then there was the money used for my grandmother's last days ($700). In November I had the trip to ER ($2872). Now I am dealing cards again and making less money.

With each new expense, I feel like God doesn't want me to get to the finish line. I don't feel like I'm being dragged kicking and screaming into a vocation, rather I am running uphill and into the wind. Rather than a path through the woods, I feel like my discernment is a traffic jam: a long, frustrating maze of construction work and flashing lights that are confusing and painful, even though their goal is to make everything better. To think that God is hindering my journey is hurtful, but I'm starting to think that way.

I've talked with my Spiritual Director numerous times about "God's Plan vs. My Plan", and how the two are rarely ever the same. The argument I make is: "I am working towards religious life and eventually ordination, how could this not be His plan?" I never expected God to make this road any easier to travel, but to make it even tougher??? Am I being tested? Is God teasing me?

I realize I can't argue with a supernatural & all-powerful entity. I can't convince God that my way is the best way towards accomplishing this goal. I want to be in Chicago with the Capuchins this Fall. Spiritually, I don't know if that is God's plan for me.

I have to accept that He may have other plans and I'll still be in Grand Rapids on August 2.

I get a sinking feeling in my stomach when I think about it, like I just lost something huge. I don't want to give up, I don't want to admit I can't pay off this debt. I made a living of chasing goals and reaching them. "You can do anything!" is the line I was fed for years.

But this...today I had to admit for the first time that this is something completely different. If God's plan isn't for me to enter Postulancy this year, he has the power to make it so. And I can't fight that, nor can I distrust His plan.

I don't know if the lesson is patience, humility, or perseverence, but my journey is by no means finished. Only a month ago I felt like "coasting" the rest of the way. Now I realize the hardest days of discernment are yet to come. I pray that I am wrong, and will continue to pay off debts and prepare for Postulancy. However if that day comes and it's not in God's Plan, I'm sure I will know.

They told me at the beginning that "discernment without prayer was no discernment at all." Man, were they ever right.

Morning Prayer for Dummies

originally written on 1/30/08

It's about 8AM, and I did something highly unusual this morning: I spend about an hour in prayer.

I wasn't on my knees, prostrate, in front of a bed or knelt in front of a statue or candle; I laid on my buddies couch, arms folded and the hood of my Michigan hoodie pulled up for warmth, talking with God then spending time in contemplation.

Morning prayer is something I've always had an issue with, not because of my spirituality but because I'm not a morning person. Cognitive activity right after waking up is not a strong suit for me, and I could never imagine saying anything truly important or worth-while when I was still trying to get the sleep-gunk out of my eyes.

That's not to say I thought the idea of morning prayer was not important. I still have memories of my Grandfather saying prayers at the family alter (something I rarely see outside of a Mexican household) early each day before going to work. While Grandma was in the kitchen making tortillas, the TV was off and everyone was quiet as my Grandfather, one of the most stoic and hardworking men I've ever met, knelt before the alter and prayed for 15-20 minutes. I didn't know Spanish, so I never knew what he talked to God about, whether it was free-flowing prayer or if he was reciting the Rosary, but each day before work he got down and prayed.

As I laid in prayer, I also began to think about some of the reasons why I felt called towards the Capuchins, both Divine and worldly. Lately I've felt the need to be honest with myself and accept how I see certain "opportunities" by joining a religious order. I feel bad even thinking about those ideas, but it's better to face my thoughts now rather than later.

If you read the exerpts from my autobiography, you'll see a concern that I never mentioned before: my mother. She has been whole-heartedly supportive of my decision and has never pushed me either way, at least not consciously. Yet while I worry about becoming my mother or trying to live up to some expectation, I recognize existing patterns in life, mistakes my mother and my Grandfather already made - mistakes I've made myself.

Like my mother, I did not finish college. I simply didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I'd been told to get to college, but not what to focus on once I got there. After a few years of college, I simply dropped out. To this day I still have dreams of returning and feel remorse for not trudging through and getting some kind of degree. My mom has shared those same feelings with me when asked about why she never pursued her art career.

Also like my mother and grandfather, we have never worked in any specialized field. While my grandfather was a migrant worker and my mother had me, I've had the opportunity to become something specific, something important. I contact others from my graduating class and see the degrees, the accomplishments, the high-paying jobs and wonder where I screwed up. Where could I be had I "buckled down" a little more?

For about half an hour I sat with the thoughts of my mistakes, how I mirrored the same mistakes of my mom, and how that's affected my desire to become a priest. Maybe I'm not really called...maybe I just see the Catholic Church as a means to get me educated and doing something specialized and important. Perhaps I'm looking for the most "over-the-top" career so that at the class reunion, I can tell everyone that's a CEO or software engineer that yes, I finally did make something of myself.

The question I asked myself was whether or not I'd truly given up my own definition of success: the one where money, status, and power prove one's importance. I admit feeling jealousy when I saw how others were making much more than I did or doing jobs I once wish I could do. In my heart there is still jealousy, but I think I've gotten over the small stuff. I feel jealous that people are where they are, where they felt called to be, and I'm still back here, jobless and living at home, trying to decide where exactly my calling is leading me. I know it's not right to be jealous of others, but I am human.

I can't say I came to any catharsis on the matter, I simply sat (actually laid) with those thoughts until finally getting out of bed (couch). Is that jealousy still there? Probably. But I feel better having recognized it and being able to sit with it. I feel better seeing how beneficial morning prayer can be. I feel better that I am joining the Capuchins for my reasons alone, and not to appease others. And I feel better simply because I've been "more" awake this morning than I have in a long time.

Perhaps it's time to start making my own small alter for my room.