Best Confession Ever: I Laughed, I Cried, I High-Fived!

Friday night to Saturday afternoon I attended my first Catholic retreat since moving to Kansas, and my first TRUE retreat since college. It was groundbreaking for me.

I chose to go because it was based on the Blessed Mother, and I have a devotion to her. And also because I thought it would be a wonderful way to meet some new Catholic friends, as it was hosted a local group for Catholic singles in the their 20’s and 30’s.  I already had some friends in it, who invited me and encouraged me to attend. It was meticulously and lovingly planned with a good balance of themed talks, group worship times such as Adoration and Mass, and also opportunities to break into small group discussions and prayers. Overnight accommodations and meals were included.

But Friday night was the most pivotal time for me. During Adoration, we could sign up for Confession if we chose. Three priests were available. It was also our choice between the traditional screen or face-to-face. I chose face-to-face and didn’t need to wait long. Maybe 20 minutes.

I was surprised to find a young, hip priest. Probably younger than me. He wore his red hair cut short and a long beard, along with a black hoodie with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows. He had on black sneakers to match his uniform, but no visible tattoos. He looked like someone I might be friends with if I met him somewhere else. He was in no hurry. He allowed me to talk a bit and then asked some questions, such as which sins I wanted forgiven. There was no judgement in his eyes or voice. He then asked WHO I wanted to forgive and I surprised myself when I named someone I had been struggling with a lot of resentment towards. I had no idea that apparently deep down, this anger at that person bothers me and I wanted to let it go. He then asked again and I was even more shocked to name… myself.

But it was clear he had expected this answer, and maybe had been gently leading me toward it. I’ve always been someone who enjoys the Sacrament and ritual of Confession. But this year if I’m honest, I’ve been disappointed because I missed out on it when I traditionally go, during December near Christmas. I moved from Illinois back home to Kansas with my parents in early November and at first we stayed with a cousin. Then about five weeks later, we moved into the new home they closed on, in the same city. So December was about unloading and unpacking, and my parents needed a lot of my help. I had abandoned my plans for Confession when they asked for my help and I never made it up at a different parish.

But now here was the opportunity to do that.

This priest listened with the patience and focus of someone much older. But especially, the  way he heard my confession belied how much he cherishes his job and his personal connection with Jesus. I’m used to a few questions, maybe a few “Mmm-hmmms,” and ultimately a “Go in peace, my child,” with the spiritual prescription of how many prayers will restore my soul. A lot of times I’ve left feeling that I wanted something more, wishing the priest had talked to me. But I always reminded myself that I had no idea how many people they were listening to and that my expectations were too high.

This priest also spoke softly and sparingly.  But like Silent Bob, the words he did choose were profound. Somehow I found myself laughing, most likely at my own astonishment that I was enjoying this so much much. Then I cried, after I forgave the person I named and myself. The relief was instant and total.

It was the first time that I felt a deeper meaning during Confession. I realized that through this priest, I felt the grace and love and holy presence of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

At the end he priest raised both hands above his head to bless me. And I first I raised mine too. Then he spoke, and I lowered my head and hands and surrendered all the feelings I had been carrying. Doubt, anxiety, depression, shame, envy, resentment.

He verbally released the “spirit” of several of these feelings. And I felt lighter.

Then I looked up and admitted with a joke,

“I thought at first you were going to high-five me!”

Of course then *he laughed, and we DID actually high-five overhead with both hands. Like we were teammates who had just played a great game together and were sharing the victory. Which, I suppose, we kind of did. Confession is a team effort.

I was lucky to have a priest who allowed me to feel safe in vulnerability and who cared enough to respond in detail to several things I shared. That is special. So of course, I asked which parish he serves and what his name was. I have been visiting several area parishes trying to find my *home, but there are so many! I will now make a point to attend a Mass there and seek him out next time I need to confess.

It was like having coffee with a friend who knows you well. Who has compassion for you but also gently calls you out and points you toward self-awareness.

I felt healed, full of hope. It was like the best runner’s high ever, only in my heart.

I’ve always felt more comfortable with Mary, but held Jesus at somewhat of a distance. Now, I feel open to the possibility of knowing Him more. What if I could replicate that feeling I had in Confession– directly with Jesus? It would take some work and time.

But oh, would it be worth it.

And quickly, I also had a wonderful moment of connection Friday night before that.

I met a new friend with electric blue hair and we talked non-stop! I noticed a beautiful navy prayer veil with her things, since she was sitting next to me at a table. I asked about it, having read about them online and how prayer veils were making a comeback with many modern women. She was happy with the compliment and asked if I wanted to try an extra one she had brought with her? It was in her room and she offered to get it and let me wear it to Adoration.

It was a white infinity style veil and she even had a little metal comb to fasten it to my hair. Walking to Adoration and then Confession wearing it, I felt something extra. I loved that my first opportunity to pray with one was an offer of friendship. I had wondered about buying one for myself and this showed me that it is absolutely something I want to do. I felt even more connected to the Blessed Mother, adorned in her beautiful veil.

What gifts I received this weekend!

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The Base Layer Quest: Building a Runner’s Wardrobe

This week I realized why it’s worth it to buy *actual running clothes– you need them to be consistent in different weather and conditions.

I had to give up a run day yesterday because it was 29 degrees and I quickly learned that a thermal shirt underneath a hoodie, plus two pairs of leggings, was not going to cut it. The two biggest struggles I have are estimating distances on my runs and figuring out proper layering/running ensembles that don’t encumber me and slow me down.

Now I get it: cotton is bulky and does nothing to wick sweat or preserve body heat. It’s useless. I can deal with cold legs– that’s kind of invigorating. But I need warmth for my upper body, especially since I want to be able to run minimum five miles in the cold. What you’re paying for with official running gear is fabrics designed to layer easily together and for flexible performance if the weather changes during your runs.

So today I bought my first base layer top! And it works, I tested it later.Boom, on sale.

Until now, I’ve been operating with a cheap substitutes from Old Navy, sometimes sales at other stores with cute sportswear. That’s fine for summer and spring runs. But as I transition to a strict training schedule, these old ensembles are holding me back.

Today I learned that I’m becoming knowledgeable as a “serious runner.” I questioned staff in three different stores about what brands are best for winter, and how they really hold up– how cold would would they run in these products? What are their temp deal-breakers?

As I bargain-shopped in a general sporting goods store, I got generic, dismissive answers. They were eager to end the conversation and go back to whatever work they were doing. But can I blame them? How can you be an expert on every sport, or even your section, if you’re just randomly assigned to that area?

The difference in going to a running store is that the staff live and race in these products– they have educated opinions. The veteran staff can debate performance of several brands for your need. They ask intelligent questions about my goals and my running– and they are excited to hear it! Best of all, I have answers for them! Confident answers.

“You’re a distance runner, not a sprinter,” my favorite staff told me today. I had told her of my goals for the Rockdale Ramblin’ Run 10k (6.2 miles) and the Soldier Field 10 Miler.

And I felt proud. I AM a distance runner. It’s just taken me a long time to find the confidence and make time in my schedule to fully commit. I’ve always been a “Big Picture” sort of gal about important decisions.

This staff is short like me and has been running all her life. I asked her work schedule and will be returning to her in the future. I told her my plan– slow and steady. Start with the most essential basics. That I felt a base layer top was more important than tights for now.

She agreed. “You’re doing this the right way,” she said. We were geeking out!

And after I went home and changed into that base layer, and it worked! I knocked out my 3.25 mile run and I felt good.

It’s all coming together.

Graveyard Run: Epic FAIL!

Not every run is a good ‘un, as I learned the hard way tonight!

I was excited to try this new running/game app, “Run, Zombies!” A co-worker told me about it and it sounded so novel and Halloweeny, I thought I’d be obsessed.

Even more, I thought the most fun way to test it out would be to make the setting appropriate: a local graveyard. No, I didn’t go at night– I don’t need any broken bones tripping over a headstone.

It was my fault for :

A.) Dressing too warmly, with a light hoodie.

B.) NOT applying the OFF! first.

Hilarious that I’ve successfully run several times through woodsy areas at several times of day/night without any bites– but tonight I was getting dive-bombed by those little blood-sucking fliers.

I just showed up at cemetery nearby and decided to park my car, then walk the the side and run the perimeter. I turned on the app/game and suddenly there was a British voice narrating in my ear. I didn’t select any music.

It was fun, but also a a bit boring. Once I heard there were “zoms”– slang for zombies– chasingbloo me, but nothing happened. I’m not sure if they got me or if they just backed off quickly, but it wasn’t the drama I had hoped to motivate me to run faster.

I did run through some of the graves.

Strangely, I came upon the headstone of the mother of a former friend, with whom I’ve lost touch for a few years now. All the time I knew her, I’d never been to see it. I recognized her father’s name first. I knelt down and said a little prayer to her, and for her daughter and family.

But I was a total wimp in other regards. I didn’t even last a full mile– I was about .75 when I checked.  I was too hot and didn’t have a t-shirt underneath.  The skeeters were awful.

I headed home.

I’ll try it again! But with better planning.

Not sure if this game will grow on me, or if it’s too confusing for me to enjoy.

This is absolutely the worst run I’ve had, and the first that I just got NOTHING out of!

Any advice for me? With all the reviews this app has gotten, I’m sure there are some devoted fans of “Zombies, Run!”

I thought of my friend Amanda, now passed. She WAS obsessed with zombies. She would have loved this game. She would have been the perfect person to call and describe this misadventure to.

Tonight I learned I need to pay more attention to weather or at least dress in layers, and NEVER underestimate the need for bug spray.

I want to take another stab at this app! Maybe in another graveyard.

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.