Carry On, My Wayward Feet

“THUNDERSTRUCK! YES!”

I felt like a bad ass in a movie montage this morning at circa 5:45 a.m. as my training class headed out into the parking lot on our first group run on the street. Nine of us assembled and I was pumping my fist like John Bender at the end of “The Breakfast Club.”

AC/DC came over my Pandora into my my earbuds and we were warmed up. I was ready.  I had also jogged 1.5 miles to training this morning since my car is in the shop till about 8 a.m. and who am I going to ask for a ride at 5:30 a.m. anyway? I realized my predicament last night after a friend dropped me off, but decided then it didn’t matter. I was GOING!

My alarm went off at 4:15 this morning, I was up by 4:45, and out the door by 5:00 a.m. I gave myself 30 minutes to make it on foot and was still eight minutes early! Which is hilarious because otherwise I’m usually a couple minutes late.

Today was my favorite day in this training. We ran a full three miles and I kept my pace under 15 minutes!! I’ve been feeling anxious about the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle this Sunday, since it’s my first timed race and I need to finish in under 1:15 minutes to qualify as a finisher. I normally need 1:30 to complete five miles.

Now I’m believing I can accomplish this. My first mile was 13 minutes even! I was a straggler, but our trainer Gloria kept an eye on me and made sure I didn’t get left behind. She gave me some pointers– such as committing to using a set run/walk interval time. She said certain apps can help, and to ask my classmates for recommendations.

We ran at a 2 min run/1 mile walk interval. Usually I would think that I had no time for that– just trying not to get left behind would be the priority. But there was no pressure to do that– she would call out to me, “Walk!” I learned that even if you’re slow, the run/walk method is still a benefit. And I can feel a difference– my pace improved substantially today. My overall average was 14:42 miles, which would have me finishing the race with time to spare on Sunday!

And the coolest thing happened on the run– I saw some flashing light packs and sure enough, it was four members of the local running club I just joined. I waved and smiled at them– they run at 5 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday. When class is over I plan to transition to running with them to keep fit.

To recognize friends on the route was such an incredible feeling!

On the home stretch back, “Carry On My Wayward Son,” played by Kansas. Hell yeah.

When we ended the run, all of us stretched by the wire fence. I’m learning great dynamic stretches, too.

Best of all, I made a new friend today! I mentioned to someone I had jogged here and another short woman like myself who I had talked to before offered to give me a ride home. Since I’d already gotten in 4.5 miles in, I was happy to accept. Turns out, she’s Catholic, too! I saw the Rosary in her car and asked. She gave me her number for a ride to class anytime. 🙂

Life is extraordinary, if you’re willing to change up your routine a bit.

 

 

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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.

A Funeral and a Reservation: a Day of Affirmation and Family

Today, I went to a family funeral for my Uncle Ken.

It was a day of affirmation.

Uncle Ken lived to be 80, and was a devoted family man– married for 56 years to his wife, Patricia. He was a Navy veteran  of the Korean War and also retired from Nicor after 30 years of service.

I drank three cups of coffee in his honor today. He is the reason I became a black coffee-drinker overnight! One Thanksgiving we were at their home, and the usual creamer I preferred was not on the table. Only nondescript powdered creamer was available, so I sucked it up and braved a cup of black coffee.

Uncle Ken was seated across from me, and for some reason was very attentive to my cup. Each time it emptied, he kept refilling it! And I’m not sure why I felt the need to drain each one, but I did. So I drank all SIX cups he poured me. I needed them to keep up with all the family chatter! The next day, I tried to return to my usual cup with Irish creme added in– and couldn’t.

I was both shocked and impressed with myself. I felt more like an adult! I was in my early 20’s then. I laughed, and reported it the next time I saw him. He was quite impressed with his feat as well!

I wish I could have done six cups today, but three was all I could manage.

But I digress.

Today our family was linked together as beads in a Rosary– encircling Uncle Ken in prayer, connected by our Catholic faith and the solidarity of grief. Being together was a healing salve that allowed us to celebrate his life and strengthen our bonds with each other.

His abundant white hair was not styled the usual way– he had incredible hair. But it was still there, and we had the privilege of being able to say goodbye to him with an open casket before the public arrived. When it was my turn I knelt down, whispered a prayer to him, and lightly touched his shoulder to say goodbye.

As the priest announced the wake would be ending, he asked us to join him in prayer. We said the Our Father and the Hail Mary, and it wasn’t as strong as you would hear in Mass– it sounded as if maybe not quite half of us were saying it. But it was comforting nonetheless.

I realized for the first time why faith is something I’m so glad to have especially when confronted with funerals. Regardless of whether you’re there to honor a close family member or support a friend, the structure of our faith provides some familiarity in a situation defined by the unknown. We don’t  know how life will change without the person, we wrestle with guilt and sadness for the failed connections and the times we didn’t reach out enough. But at least in following the simplicity of a funeral service, there is some comfort in routine.

Many of us know the prayers being recited, even if we don’t know each other. Even if we have no idea how to speak to each other about the deceased or make small talk about something neutral, we have an opportunity to bond in prayer. We can give each other a hug, or a quick smile. We can pass a box of tissues.

Today I was astonished by how much warmth I felt from everyone there. Especially since I’m only family by marriage. Uncle Ken was my step-mother’s brother-in-law. But Diane’s family has never treated me like a step-cousin, or a step-anything. They never use that prefix. They welcome me, tease me and hug me as one of their own.

After the funeral Mass, we went to lunch together at a local steakhouse.

On my way there, my Dad called me.

“We’re in the back room honey,” he said. “We saved you a seat.”

I smiled at his kindness.

And I wondered if that’s what it’s like when we pass on and go to Heaven.

If when we wake into eternal rest — with any luck– we arrive at the pearly gates and St. Peter tells us that yes, we have a reservation. Our name is right there in his book. And then someone that we loved comes to escort us, saying,

“We saved you a seat! We’re so glad you’re here.”