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!

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.

 

 

 

My Christmas Wish

I was hoping this year to bring someone to my church for Midnight Mass. I wanted to share it, especially since it was my first TRUE Midnight Mass.

Other years and other parishes, it started at 10:30 or 11:30– not the same. And this was my first time celebrating as a choir member.

Our rehearsal on Wednesday was a full two hours, and WOW was it fun!!

We sang a record NINE songs in 1.5 hours, though not each in entirety.

I realized how deeply embedded these songs are within me, as I didn’t need to read the lyrics to most of them. They are just part of growing up Catholic or Christian.

Yesterday at work I prepared myself with a Venti Peppermint Mocha. I needed to stay awake. It worked!

Our service was truly unlike any other I’ve attended.

We began with a male member, Jim, singing a solo to “Joseph’s Lullabye,” while a younger member performed a beautiful dance to it.

Then the choir entered from the wings on either side, holding candles.

The lights were turned off.

Slowly we proceeded in to “Silent Night,” one of my favorites.

And I loved the symbolism– of Jesus’s birth. Jesus, the Light of the World, coming into our midst. I was happy to hold a candle, to directly participate in illustrating the love of God for humanity, that He sent his son to live among us, to indeed become human.

I felt a deep kinship with my fellow choir members.

I recognized faces from the pews on Sunday– even though they had a small child or are older themselves. Many would choose an earlier Mass.

There was another service option– this morning, Christmas Day.

But everyone I wanted to see was there. It was community.

And my wish was granted by my dear friend, Dulcinea. She came to see me and support me. She took pictures as I filed in. She photographed our performance, and  best of all, got it on video!

Watching it, I saw reflected what I love about our choir. Rather than stoic and militant, we were alive with movement, joy, and familiarity.

We swayed, clapped, and looked at each other smiling. We cheered on our soloists! It was special.

This choir has given me something vital. A deep sense of belonging. A direct and FUN way to serve my parish while rejoicings simultaneously.

A new group of friends who share my religion and values.

One day, it’ll be me soloing!

We ended with “Joy to the World.”

Dear Lord, what a blessing!!

I feel cherished. I feel grateful. I feel loved.

Merry Christmas to all!

 

 

 

The Beauty of “War Room:” Don’t Believe the Bad Reviews

Last Wednesday I heard about the Kendrick Brothers’ movie “War Room,” at choir practice.

Our choir director said it was a prayerful movie and that anyone of faith should go see it. That despite the title, it had nothing do with actual, political war. That an unbeliever who saw this movie would be convinced of the power of prayer.

I was sold immediately. I’m a believer, but it sounded like just my kinda movie.

Thursday night, the next day, I was invited to my parents’ for dinner, along with a longtime family friend. She’s a mother of five, a grandmother and a devout Catholic woman– I grew up next to her family.  I had planned to invite her and my step-mother.

Once I brought it up, SHE said she had heard about the movie and planned to invite ME! We both enjoy movies and are single. My step-mother ended up canceling, but she and I kept our plans.

We decided to share a medium popcorn and she asked for butter– just like me. Apparently there wasn’t enough salt, so she poured a heaping pile of it in some napkins, then folded it up into her purse so that we could disperse it in the middle as we ate our way through it. It made me laugh.

I was so glad she went with me. Like me, she’s a movie talker!

After, she wanted to stay and watch the credits. We were the last to leave. Afterward, we went for dinner, which I hadn’t been expecting. I had the best time.

I won’t spoil it- -but I will share a few details.

It’s an ambitious movie that works because it’s focused on one small family, and the way the one family member’s decision to surrender to a disciplined prayerful life transforms the family’s circumstances in every area.

The hero is an elderly woman named Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie). I think she deserves an Oscar.

She’s got the sternness of Madea, with a little more empathy. She’s a small woman of fire– but she commands just as much respect as Madea. She’s the kind of woman who commands your attention. The kind of woman who refuses to accept your facade, no matter how good you think you are at hiding the pain. The kind of woman who reminds you that you deserve love. That you are accepted and forgiven, no matter what. The woman who teaches you about God’s grace.

Miss Clara notices something amiss in her realtor, Priscilla, and buts into her business in the loving way that older people tend to do. She wants to know about her marriage, her daughter, if she has a relationship with the Lord.

It parallels “Fried Green Tomatoes,” in that a woman’s life is set right by a deep friendship with an older woman, a mentor, who helps another adult woman who feels a bit lost.  This woman could have given up on a marriage that was held together only by contempt. Their own daughter felt unloved as a result of their constant fighting– there was no affection present at all. On the brink of infidelity, both partners in this marriage might have abandoned hope and ended up divorced.

But Priscilla (Elizabeth Jordan), the wife and mother who befriends Miss Clara, is so desperate she is open to prayer,

Miss Clara challenges her to fight FOR her husband, rather than with him. To fight in Jesus’ name.

And it’s Priscilla’s devotion to changing HERSELF, accepting her husband and loving him as is, and praying unceasingly for him, her daughter, and her own change of heart– that is what inspires.

It’s about acceptance, surrender, owning responsibilities, about amends.

About passing on your faith and what you’ve learned with others.

It’s about creating a physical space in your life to be with God and his Word– to pray for those you love most.

It’s about the Bible.

It makes me want to overhaul my own space– to create my own War Room. To eliminate the clutter.

To put the focus back where it out to be: on God.

I heard a lot of “That’s right!” and “Uh-huh,” and “AMEN!” in the rows surrounding us.

I know I will see this movie again.

Please, give it a chance. Even if you’re a non-believer. Especially if you are.

Returning Home on Holy Thursday

After Holy Thursday Mass, I have a wonderful feeling.

I was told about a chicken dinner at my most recent parish– the one I left for a smaller, closer one.

I was glad to go back. I never thought anyone would notice I was gone.

Happily, I was wrong.

During Peace, this parish gives a few minutes to walk around and talk– there are a lot of huggers. It’s not just a quick handshake and a stoic nod like in most Catholic parishes.

One woman came up to me with a smile and a hug and said, “I haven’t seen you in awhile.”

Another introduced herself to me and I said I’d been gone for a bit.

“Come home,” she said.

I found myself wanting to cry.

“I will,” I said.

One of my oldest friends’ father was there, as always– he beamed and gave me a hug. He’s always treated me like his own daughter.

The best part of Mass tonight was the foot washing. I haven’t seen that done in many years. The last time I experienced that was at a conference for young Catholics in our diocese. Roughly a decade ago, I’m guessing.

I lined up to have my feet washed. There was a small pitcher of water, a bowl, and someone with a towel. It symbolizes forgiveness– having your sins washed away.

Some of us lined up to have our feet washed, others stayed seated. In preparation we removed our socks and shoes. It was more difficult for me to volunteer to be washed than I expected. I was more comfortable with the idea of washing others’ feet. But I wanted to participate, so I took the role available. I had to put my ego away.

Foot washing is such an intimate act– it embodies humility and trust. The person doing the washing humbles themselves and those volunteering to be washed are also humbled– by making themselves vulnerable. Your feet are usually always covered and protected. Usually the only people who see us barefoot are are our families and those in our inner circle.

Another woman asked how work was doing for me– am I in the same place? I had asked her how I could volunteer to wash feet– “Next year,” she said with a smile.

Next year sounds wonderful.

During Holy Communion, I found myself weeping openly. I hadn’t realized how much I would miss this little parish– and especially not that anyone would miss me. I had gone to others that were more convenient– closer, with more Masses from which to choose. More activities, more people my age. I could hear better.

I even signed up officially at a different parish and took a picture to be included in their directory.

But I hadn’t felt anything. I kept going, hoping eventually it would grow on me.

Yet tonight, I felt something immediately in this parish. I felt welcomed. I felt MISSED.

No one asked WHY I had been gone– but only welcomed me back with love.

I felt gratitude. I felt sad that I had ever left. Like one of the lost sheep in the flock.

I had been searching for my spiritual home. Tonight, I returned.

I lit a candle afterwards, praying for this parish which captivates my heart. It’s struggling for attendance.

My attendance would help.

As I left Mass, I glanced up at the large Jesus on the back wall– a big cloth outline in which the names of all the parishioners were written on small pieces of felt and stuck on to symbolize that we all live in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

My name was still there, right where I left it.

A Small Book of Devotions

At Mass tonight, the woman in front of me was praying hard.

And I noticed she referred to a small plastic book throughout– it had a picture of Jesus on the cover.

It held prayer cards. During the pauses, she was reading and praying those.

After, I tapped her shoulder and told her I liked the idea. She said people ask her about it all the time. I asked her if she had one for The Blessed Mother as well? She does. She also has others for different Saints. What a great way to keep them close.

She was a very small woman, but her smile was huge. She was older. Her husband was there with her.

It’s very practical. We keep pictures of our family and friends close to us.

I think this woman is on to something. I hope I see her again.

Where do you even find little plastic sleeve books like that these days? A dollar store? Since pictures went digital, nobody carries around those little picture books. It’s all on the phone now!

But I’ve got a few, if nothing else.

I’ve certainly got enough prayer cards! Maybe this is a good way to organize them.

Boy in a Batman Vest: A Surprise Dinner Guest

God reassured me today in a moment when I was feeling vulnerable.

Right after my self-defense class, I went to dinner and ordered soup and grilled cheese. I was going to read my class workbook and go over what I’d learned. I was sitting in a booth.

And I was happily interrupted.

The table to my right had a family with two small children. The boy had a black Batman vest with a hoodie– the yellow and black logo on the upper right hand side. He came over to my table shyly, and introduced himself.

I’ll change their names.

The boy was Mark. I told him he could sit with me if he wanted. His mother apologized at first, but I assured her I enjoyed the company. She said it was fine, and there were a couple other adults at her table. He was so proud of his wicked Batman vest– especially the hood! Then his sister came over, Missie. I didn’t ask their ages. She was quieter, but sweet.

Mark picked up my key chain, which has a silver Mary and Jesus on it. He was fascinated by the swiveling pieces and liked the pictures inside. I don’t consider it my job to talk about that with a child, especially when I have no idea what their religious background, if any, might be. But I merely said that it was a lady, Mary, and her son, Jesus. He asked me about the buttons on the key faab– what do they do?

Then he wanted to draw a picture on the place mats. He showed me what he had drawn of his family. Then I told him I’d draw his Batman symbol, and he was happy about that. Missie was drawing too, she was the younger of them. Mark came over and sat by me and watched me draw.

It reminded me of when I was a little girl, and my Dad would draw bats for me. I drew them just the way he did!

He was thrilled with the Batman logo, and then I drew a regular bat. He made a drawing of me– I loved it. But I asked him, “Where’s my hair? It looks like I’m bald!” So he drew some spikes on there for me. I asked if he would write my name on it for me– he did. I showed him how, in capital letters. He worked very hard on writing the letters and I was impressed.

I drew a little portrait of Missie, she recognized herself. “That’s me!”

The mother and her family was ready to go, and I thanked the mother for letting her kiddos hang out with me. The kids said goodbye, and I finished eating my dinner.

When God is with you, you’re never alone. And children really do make the best company sometimes!