A Run and A Confession

I ran five miles tonight after three days break.

Afterward, I drove to Confession at St. Ray’s. I made for the last hour and spent most of it in line, waiting.

And what a wait it was!

I had conversations with three random women. When was the last time a stranger talked to me in public, doing anything? It was refreshing and unexpected.

At first I felt a bit self-conscious in my skirt, even though it’s an athletic skirt. Everyone else was so buttoned up and well, Catholic. Hee! But a woman in the pews pointed to my skirt and asked, “Do you play tennis? Cute!” We got to talking about exercise. She had a big black boot on her foot. “I’ve never been a runner,” she told me. But she loves tennis. She said she’s not sure what kind of work out she can do with her foot.
“Yoga?” I suggested. She agreed. Pointing to her arms, she grabbed one and jiggled it! She likes to lift free weights. She was wearing a bright orange shirt, black pants. Cute choppy blonde haircut.

The line moved up, so I moved. I said goodbye to her and we smiled at each other.

Two women in front and behind me were having a conversation. Whispered, so I couldn’t decipher what they were saying specifically.

I was looking at the woman in front of me, scoffing internally at her bright yellow banana clip– straight out of the ’90s!– and the wierd black pipecleaner thing she had somehow wound around it.

And while I was judging her, she began talking with me. The woman in front her saw my Shamrock Shuffle hoodie and asked if I had run in it. “Yes!” I said. “My daughter ran it,” she told me. I felt so proud. This hoodie wasn’t cheap but I knew I’d live in it. It felt so good to be recognized for an athletic achievement by a stranger. I’d told myself it’s just an 8k, a mere five miles. Small potatoes in the running world. But that’s five miles I couldn’t dream of two years ago!

It was her turn.  So it was just me and the woman behind me, who had a thick braided ponytail– almost white blonde. She was holding a small finger Rosary.

“Is it Amber?” I had asked.

She wasn’t sure. “I got it in Poland,” she told me.

I told her that on the other side when I got there, there were several nuns waiting in line.  “I wonder what nuns confess?” I mused.

She said a lot to me, but I couldn’t hear most of it. But clearly, she was alive with faith. She spoke of Jesus, I caught that much.

Then it was my turn.

I told Father that it’s been about a year since my last Confession. I had missed Advent. I was kneeling on a dark wood bench– there was simple cloth curtain separating us. It seemed to be a large confession booth. He was a good listener. It was almost 9 p.m., closing time, but he wasn’t hurrying me at all.

I was surprised at how good I felt– I wasn’t wracked with guilt about anything. I told him the truth– that I haven’t been to Mass much lately.  That I had a hot dog for lunch. That I quit choir so I could get to bed earlier and focus on running. That I gave up envy for Lent, and that I struggle with it. That I gave up sleeping in for Lent too– also for running– and have failed that on multiple accounts! That I want to be more independent. I’m trying to save my money.  That my parents are my best friends and I want to do right by them. That I want to learn the Rosary but it’s overwhelming and not happening yet.

I told him other things of course– but I’m keeping that to myself!

I was genuinely shocked by his reaction.

He didn’t chastise me once. Not even for going MIA from Mass for awhile.

Instead he told me that God wants us to progress in our lives. That I’m doing that with my running. That my tenacity will pay off.

He asked me to say One Hail Mary and one Gloria.

I left feeling lighter. I’m always inspired by how forgiving and open-minded priests can be. I should have gotten his name. I’d like to confess to him again. He had a soft accent.

I left feeling grateful and cleansed, like I do after a good run.

Confession was like a five mile run for my soul. I feel more spiritually fit.

If you haven’t been to Confession in a long time, don’t be afraid. Be honest. And let it go.

 

 

 

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Not the Poems

As I’m clearing out my possessions, my bookshelf is becoming vacant.

I donated three boxes of books to the library last week. It felt good.

I had a fourth box I didn’t bring. And I realized, it can’t go.

Not the poems. I donated several student publications I had collected since college. They were greedily picked over, and the look of delight on the workers’ faces was edifying, I admit. I liked knowing my books will find a new life with these eager readers. I gave them free chapbooks from traveling poets I’ve met. I gave them old student literary journals, a few I was published in myself.

But I’m unpacking that fourth box.

Not Sharon Olds.

Not Diane Wakoski.

Not Robbie Q. Telfer.

Not Meggie C. Royer.

Not Nick Flynn.

Not Sylvia Plath.

Not Robin Metz.

Not Ryan McLellan.

Not Jewel.

Not Neruda.

Not Susan Slaviero.

Not emily rose.

They stay with me. I will re-populate my shelves. But they are the townspeople, I will not evict them.

Michael Sweet Threw a Bible, and I Caught It: My First Christian Rock Show!

I’ve been avoiding music shows lately– I’m tired of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll being championed.

The gold set list on my black leather jacket-- God and rock 'n roll!

The gold set list on my black leather jacket– God and rock ‘n roll!

Tired of hearing rants about how wasted they got on the way to the show, challenging the audience to do shots. I know it’s all part of the image and that partying is what the industry is built upon. But I don’t drink or do drugs and although I go for the music and have a great time, I get tired of being one of the only sober people in the room. Tired of being hit on.

Luckily, my friend Tammie had invited me to see STRYPER last night! And I felt totally at home.

Everyone from the bands to the road crew setting up seemed to be sober. Maybe a few weren’t– but it definitely changed the atmosphere for the better. They played Tailgaters Sports Bar & Grill in Bolingbrook, IL.

People DRANK Coke, rather than bragging about doing it. I saw crosses, not cleavage, everywhere. Mostly, I saw a lot of respect. For the band, for the audience, for the venue.

The show was exactly what I needed after work, especially since a co-worker told me, “You look like a nun.”

She didn’t mean it as a compliment, although nuns ARE awesome. I ran home and dressed up for the first time in months, it seems. I wore a white shirt that I love with golden crosses all over it, and my favorite dangly heart earrings. I put on eye-liner and mascara and actually used hairspray! I searched frantically for the Stryper album I still have on CD, but couldn’t find it. My phone was nowhere to be found so I Facebooked my friend that I was leaving, Googled directions and wrote them down, and got to Tailgator’s within about 25 minutes.

My friend Tammie was waiting for me at the door, bless her. She’s always been a steadfast friend. Even better, she had bought our tickets in advance and we had a table RIGHT by the stage! In the left corner, where Michael Sweet would step out later on a few times.

The two opening bands were wonderful– Ignescent, and Signature. The first was definitely a Christian band, and I don’t think the second was, but I really enjoyed both! As always, I missed a lot that I couldn’t hear– but the musicianship and performances were great. I loved the fact that Ignescent front woman Jennifer Benson was a petite woman about my size. Seeing her up there rocking out– for the Lord!– was so inspiring. I loved that she still locked like a rocker, but modest as well. She had on a black dress, black shredded jeans, and a cute black skirt and black shoes. On the way to the bathroom, I met her! She talked to me for a few minutes and had the best smile. She was really sweet.

When I returned, Signature lead singer Sami Carava walked by me and gave me a sweaty kiss on the cheek, and I grinned.

And as set-up began for STRYPER, I saw the set list being duct-taped down, right in front of us! Black tape.

Bass player Tim Gaines was directly in front of us.

I asked Tammie to use her phone to look-up the verse on the banner behind the drum kit, Isiah 53:5. She had a Bible app! We scrolled down and found it, and I loved it.

Once the set began, I was transported.

Earlier, Tammie had posted a Facebook photo of a BIBLE Stryper had thrown into the crowd Friday night at an acoustic show at the same venue. This was the electric show. As soon as I saw that, I decided my goal would be to GET ONE myself! She also had a yellow guitar pick, given away for their 30th Anniversary tour– they began in 1984.

I saw the tiny hornet-yellow picks set up on each mic with an apparatus that had them lined up for the band members to toss to the crowd.

During, “Call and Respond,” Michael Sweet was throwing Bibles.

I JUMPED out of my chair and waved my hand without shame. “ME!! ME!!”

He looked at me, smiled and tossed one to me. I caught it!! It’s pocket-sized, perfect.

And suddenly, GOD is rock n’ roll. I am so excited to see a legendary band like Stryper endorsing the Bible. Plus, it’s the most genius gimmick ever. It’s the NIV, New Testament. It’s black, with a black band sticker.

They embodied the virtue of charity, throwing out several Bibles and guitar picks.

Sweet was riveting. I loved the Abalone squares on his guitar, and the fact that he wore nice black leather shoes, like a gentleman. Black jeans with yellow crosses down the leg and on his back pocket.

And it was so clearly about the MUSIC, the Lord, and the fans. He talked to us. But unlike every other front man I’ve ever seen, he wasn’t leering or gyrating. He was there to praise, not seduce. To commune with the fans, not challenge them to get wasted. He asked for a show of hands of fans who had been to past shows– smiled in recognition at some of them.

I realized why MUSIC is the booming business it is. It’s healing, on a soul level. And how much pressure Christian bands must face to conform– the gigs they lose and the money the pass up, to adhere to their faith. The pressure they all face to sexualize themselves to sell more albums.

I’m going to look for more Christian bands. Not so say I’m abandoning secular music– but I love the atmosphere of a Christian show and I’ll take the challenge to find more!

During a set break, Tammie showed me the Rosary she had made with rose petals from her mother’s funeral, 15 years ago. I was so happy she let me hold it, it was the most intricate Rosary I’ve ever seen. I’m Catholic and she’s Non-Denominational Christian, but we focus on what we have in common. Earlier this week, we’d talked about attempting to learn to pray the Rosary together. I love that she wants to share that with me, even though she’s not Catholic. What an extraordinary display of friendship.

Whenever I have doubts about this blog, Tammie is there reassure me I should keep going. She’s been a subscriber since she learned about it.

I felt Christ’s presence in that room. Maybe that’s a bold thing to say, but I’m alright with that.

I’ve been looking frantically for His presence– I only thought I could find it in Mass. I’ve been anxious because when my work schedule changes, I won’t likely be able to go to Mass as often, or maybe at all. But now I know you really don’t need to go to a church to find Him.

God, Christ, whoever you identify with– He’s all around us. If you only have the courage to look.

Seek the GOOD– and you will find it.

And I was reassured that I’m not alone in my faith walk. I never wondered what denomination anyone was– it didn’t matter. I felt united under God’s rock concert. We’re all struggling. We’re all trudging forward, best we can.

A man at the table to my immediate left held up two fingers in a cross sign. I saw people closing their eyes, being still- seemingly in prayer.

I loved when he said the band was going to “stop trying to be modern,” (If I heard that right!) and just go back to their roots. This was their last American tour stop before heading out to Brazil. What are the odds that I got to see them!? God’s brought me there for a reason.

I’m an old-fashioned gal, who doesn’t often feel at home in this newfangled world. Hear, hear! I was bummed that earlier I couldn’t find the CD of theirs I had bought in 2005, which still have! I wanted to show it to them, maybe try and get it signed. But look what I got instead!

God’s abundance. Thanks for reading this far– I know I’m a verbose lady!

They closed with an encore performance– “To HELL with the Devil!” That’s the only song I previously knew, and it was absolutely perfect. I was AWED that Sweet’s voice really IS as operatic as it sounded every time I played it in my car.

I bought my first and only Stryper CD in 2005, when I was living in Freeport and working as a news reporter. I interviewed a woman who was selling a bunch of random things in her home– and I snatched up that album.

Now I write on my own terms– with this blog.

The best moment of the night was after they closed with their encore performance, “To Hell with the Devil,” of course!! FINALLY, the audience all got to their feet. I had thought they were a little TOO respectful, all sitting down the whole time.

But it was also just like any other rock show– there were still drunk women lunging at the stage.

Last night was I reminded I’m right where I need to be for me, right now.

Especially when as the road crew packed up, a man HANDED ME the set list with a smile! I screamed and taped it on the back of my leather jacket. I didn’t worry about anyone stealing it, and no one did.

Tammie was so happy for me, too.

Robert Sweet fist-bumped me, and Ox Fox shook my hand as they exited the stage. They were so gracious.

We stopped at the merch table on the way out, and I decided to buy myself a birthday present: I’ll be 34 next month. I don’t have anything planned as of yet. I’ve gotten down on myself in the past for not having the markers of “adulthood” yet– not being settled down with a family and mortage.

I’m still renting and I’m single.

But God gave me this FREEDOM for a reason. And I’m grateful. I’ll enjoy it as long as I’ve got it!

I spied a hoodie with– what else?– To hell With the Devil– on the back, in yellow script lettering. I asked if there any smalls?

ONE left.

Most of my money these days goes toward basic expenses: food, bills, gas. Books. I rarely buy clothes.

But I decided I deserved this. And I gave myself permission to splurge and get it. Now I’ve got a perfect new hoodie for fall, and I can’t wait for Stryper fans to stop me and talk to me about it!

I’m sure that’ll inspire some conversations about religion and God, with all sorts of people.

I can’t wait.