Order My Steps

Mass today was, again, wonderful!

I woke up late but still made it on time. Thankfully I had my ensemble laid out before I went to bed.

I’ve only been in this choir less than a month, but already I’m feeling such a part of it!!

And I discovered a bonus— when it’s a little windy, choir robes keep you warm.

I feel so much more engaged with Mass. I never realized before how many songs we actually sing. It’s a hustle to keep up with them all, and I love it! I still need my book and sheet lyrics for most, but the other members assured me it took all of them awhile to get it, too.

Everyone is so welcoming and laid-back. So many smiles and laughter. But what’s most amazing is that they’re not cliquey. They greet me with the same warmth as they do other parishioners they’ve known for years.

I’m beginning to open up a little more each week. People are beginning to call me by name and I’m slowly learning theirs, too. That’s one reason I love that we have a small parish. It’s mostly the same people each week. That stability really does make a difference.

Our big song today was “Order My Steps,” by Glenn Burleigh.

And today I noticed people so into the music that they stood up, hands up in the air.

After the song ended, most of the parish gave applause!!

I’m including a video of a different choir– I don’t have any footage of us. But I love this song.

Singing to our Lord is my new favorite way to praise Him!

On Trying Harder and Being Your Own Mirror: Womanity

I used to get away with it.

The most delicious crime– never wearing make-up. Largely neglecting my hair save for a ponytail. I washed it of course, but I never cared much about styling it. Rather, I let it be. It was full and shiny, always growing.

Save a bit of acne, my skin was always mostly clear. I used spot concealer for those areas. As I’m not naturally girly, spending too much time on my appearance is exasperating. I have patience for many things– but a beauty routine is not one of them. My arm tires holding a curling/flat iron. I can’t deal with those pesky round brushes that give you the perfect blow-out mane.

I stay away from women’s magazines– I’m at least that smart!

And I did the most natural thing– I chopped my hair into a pixie. What a relief!

I’m pretty secure about my looks most of the time.

But I do miss the comments I used to get about being pretty. I heard it often as a child, teen, young woman. All my life, really. People complimented my hair, soft like a cumulous cloud with a wave that rose vertical. I had natural highlights and a deep brunette base. My aunt, a nun everyone called “Sister,” always praised my wiry, curly eyebrows and told me they were like Brooke Shield’s (they weren’t!) and discouraged me from waxing/plucking them.

I still carry that– I’m proud to say my brows are still full. Though I do maintain them, like hedges.

She told me I was beautiful just the way I was, that I didn’t need to conform to beauty standards. And I believed her. It was the best lesson she could have given me– she never made me feel that my looks defined me. She taught me that God created us as we are– beautiful by design. She never made me feel as if I need to do anything to attract boys– she wanted me to just have fun with my friends, do my homework, and be an active girl. I was. Because her existence didn’t revolve around men’s approval or attraction, neither did mine.

I never felt that I needed a boyfriend to be complete. I spent all my time with my girlfriends back then. And we all celebrated each other and told each other that we love each other’s outfits, hair, our varying features. Sure, we were competitive as well. But it was mostly solidarity.

Maybe Sister’s influence is part of the reason I’m not married. She set a great example for me in that way.

But one of the hardest things about being single is that over time, you lose your friends. They’re still in your life– but if you don’t get married and have kids too, you don’t have that in common. They get progressively busy with their families and start hanging out with other couples and families. Your single friends get engaged and get into wedding planning mode. And once they’re married, it’s never quite the same.

You still keep in touch. But I miss the daily communication I enjoyed growing up– the notes, e-mails, cards, constant phone calls for hours, musing about every little detail. All the time we spent together in person, at each other’s homes and the way we became a part of each other’s families. The way we knew each other’s schedules and banal details. As women, that time evaporates when people get married and have kids, with increasing demands at work. Now we subsist on quick texts, Facebook is the middle-ground, scheduled phone calls for short allotments. We make actual plans when possible– though it may take weeks or longer to coordinate.

In college and most of my Twenties, I had a plethora of friends of both sexes. Socially I was in-demand.

Now I wrestle with the void left as those cherished long-time friends settle down, move away, or we grow apart. I am in a constant state of having to meet new people. It’s exhausting!

As a single woman, I no longer have constant positive reflections to rely on to feed my self-worth. I think unless you’re a model or a woman extremely skilled with beauty products with a lot of patience, the compliments decline rapidly as you grow older.

And “older” has already begun in my Thirties. I’m not ready! I thought they would last longer.

I have to supply my own validation.

I need to be my own mirror. Part of me wants to throw a fit and stamp my feet and just pout. Why?!

I have to consciously try harder now to feel beautiful.

And when I put effort in with my make-up and hair, I get compliments more often. They seem to take me more seriously when I put my “face” on. I seem to have more power.

And that makes me angry! Why should my appearance determine so much??

I crave that liberation many women say they acquire in their 50’s, where they just stop coloring their hair, embrace the gray, and stop caring about fashion.

But I’m too immature for that just yet. And yes, still vain. I’m trying to care less.

But I suppose I was spoiled growing up, because I never had to try. I was showered with praise for my beauty. That’s the quintessential tragedy for every woman as she ages.

That loss is a something visceral. I am on my guard so that I don’t become one of those women obsessed with beauty products and make-up and plastic surgery to feel young.

I see and accept the smiles lines, the brow wrinkles, the crows’ feet. I will not erase them.

But it does make me a little bit sad, I admit.

I work hard to remind myself that my worth is rooted in my integrity, my character, my intelligence. I work harder to be stylish, to compensate.

I delight in random compliments, especially from men.

Hey, I’m human.

I used to LOVE having my picture taken and posing in goofy ways with friends! Now it’s tapering off.

Now I’m always looking for the best angle. How can I avoid shadows? Which filter will smooth out those lines? Am I having a good skin day? I’m never wearing THAT shirt again! Maybe the person taking the picture should back up a bit, to provide a friendlier distance.

Now I find myself going, “No way!” and deleting more pictures than I’d like to admit. Posting strategically.

I must remain vigilant– if I become trapped now, I’ll be scrambling for the rest of my life in that game. I refuse to let Patriarchal standards win. I’m aware of that threat. But I do feel its glare.

I will not be the Bonsai tree, pruned with care to remain small and dainty.

But trying desperately to deny I care makes me feel more ridiculous. So, I’m admitting it.

I’m just a regular woman who, while still attractive, is noticing the maintenance needed, and resents it. I accept reality, but I don’t have to like it.

It’s all part of just growing up as a woman, grappling with the role of make-up and a beauty routine.

And the money it costs. That’s the worst! Not just the time, but the money.

I’m figuring it out, a bit at a time. I really wish I could laugh at this!

One thing, FORGET powder! Now it just makes me feel like Miss Havisham.

How are YOU dealing?? I’d love to know. Got any advice for me?

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.

After Mass: On Religion, Love, and the Gift of Faith

During Mass today, I realized what it’s about. Why I go.

Why we put up with all the idiosyncrasies of religion– the demands, the divisiveness.

We do it to be part of something bigger than ourselves. To share our lives in the midst of chaos and find a still point.

We do it to admit, “I need help. I can’t do do this alone.”

Admitting we need help is the hardest thing for most humans to do. We want to be self-reliant, we want to be okay, no matter what.

I love my church, because during peace, people walk around with open arms. They shake your hand, look you in the eye, smile.

My parents are local, and I enjoy seeing them. However, I don’t have siblings, and my family lives out of state. So I do feel lonely at times.

But in this church, I get hugs, just like I do with my family. And although there are still a lot of things I’m figuring out about my life, this church makes me feel anchored. Singing songs of praise makes me feel anchored. We spend the week busy, scrambling to get things done– we deserve to rest and just be thankful for what God has given us! To stand with others and testify that yes, we’re glad to be standing here, together. The services in my church usually run two hours– and I love that! At other churches, they are usually only 45 minutes to an hour, and everyone usually rushes right out after Holy Communion, and barely talks at all if they do stay. People in this church linger. A few times a month, they head into the parish hall for coffee. There’s no rush, they want to meet you, get to know you.

That makes me feel so happy. It’s just a simple church– and that’s why I like it. It’s not high-falutin’, it’s not about artifice.

It’s just about love, service, and appreciation.

Knowing that a family is depending on me to bring them Holy Communion anchors me.

I know that I can’t live my life alone, and that I’m never alone.

I’m learning that God is more than Bible verses and dogma. It’s more than prayer and Confession.

God is truly very basic.

God is a secure feeling of love.

God is a warmth in your heart that says, “Go ahead, you don’t have to be scared. I’m with you.”

God is the absolute confirmation that all you are, and all you haven’t been– is enough, because you’re doing the best you can.

And mostly, God is feeling so overwhelmed with that truth that all you want to do is share it with others.

And not by conversion– but by acceptance. By example. By trusting.

Be kind. Forgive. Help, with no expectations or conditions.

I feel God with me today. It’s an incredible lightness, to help us float through the storm.

We don’t need to know where we’re going or why– only that we’re on the right path.