Sunday, November 25, 2012

30 and not 13

This afternoon the Thanksgiving and post-Thanksgiving indulgence was really getting to me, so I decided I needed a long bike ride. My toddler was napping and my older two told me they preferred to stay home playing than come with me, so I set off on my cruiser alone, noticing how shockingly, breezily light it is without the baby seat and trailer. It almost felt like I might rise into thin air with the slightest wind. I made up my mind to bike down to (and through) the neighborhood where I grew up, ages 12 to 18. Though now I only live three miles away, it's funny how I simply never have a need to drive through the old neighborhood, so I haven't been in years. As I pedaled closer, I thought about how for a long time I've spent more time there in dreams than in reality.

I turned down the once-familiar street that passes by my old junior high and through almost a mile of neighborhood before it reaches the turn for my old house, and memories began to surface. I passed houses where I spent sleepover nights and teenage birthday parties, the bench my husband and I would sneak off to to make out, the gated development that used to be a vacant lot I would walk home through. I thought of all those kids who once lived in this unremarkable pocket of Chandler, Arizona, and all they have gone on to do in far-flung places. I biked around our junior high that still looks like a penitentiary, trying my luck at a game of remembering which rooms were where--locker rooms here, nurse's office there, and there the track where I circuited so many forced, unenjoyable miles. Finally I came to the turn for my old neighborhood--a smallish loop of maybe 50 houses. The look of things has remained strikingly the same. Same pink tile roofs, same squat orange trees, same can't-tell-one-from-the-next uniformity so typical of Phoenix. But I know the house. I curbed my pace as I approached and cruised by as slowly as possible, trying to take in as many details of my old home as possible (without looking like I was casing the joint). The screen door was closed but the door behind it was open so that I could almost see inside. I half considered riding up and knocking, saying, "I grew up in this house. I remember when it was built. I stood right there when it was just a foundation and a few beams. My mom picked out those terrible blue laminate countertops. Want to see where I spent summers laid out by the pool? Want to see where our hammock used to be, and our trampoline? Want to hear the story of the time a SWAT team surrounded this place?" But I knew today was not the day for that, me sweaty on my bike with no ID and the signature uncoolness of helmet hair. Still, that cloudy, wistful sadness of nostalgia whispered and tugged at me and threatened to overwhelm my heart with images of all the good and wonderful, bad and terrible things that happened in that house.

I felt so strange and sad.

Exiting the neighborhood, I figured I would spend the rest of the long ride home turning over these many memories in my mind and dwelling in the bittersweetness of nostalgia. But then a funny thing happened. I started to think of all those fantastic '90s songs I used to sit in my bedroom listening to on my boom box. I remembered Dave Matthews Band and Duncan Sheik and this band called the Longpigs who had one really great song on the Mission Impossible soundtrack. And I started singing--feeling silly and free and totally uninhibited like I didn't care who saw me (helmet head be damned!) I pedaled as fast as I could to see if the speed limit detector signs would report my speed to passing cars. And the whole way home I felt so relieved to be 30 and not 13.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Confession Time

Allow me to just say a few words about why the sacrament of confession is a truly wonderful thing.

I went to confession today. I'm not the type of Catholic to go every six weeks, as I've heard prescribed by the Church, but I do try to make it a handful of times a year. Seeing as how I could throw a hamsteak out my window and hit my church with it, I really have no excuse for not going more often than that. But today I knew it was time. There were some particular sins on my heart that needed to see the light of day, so when 3:30 came around, instead of going to Target to buy black tights and a gallon of milk like I wanted to do, I headed on over to the church basement. Whenever I walk to confession, I feel nervous and (frankly, sometimes) a little bit resentful that this is something I "have" to do, and there suddenly seem to be a thousand reasons why I don't really need to go. But then of course I always do, and like everyone tells you, I always feel better afterwards.

Today was a little different, though. Because of my burdensome sins (and no, I'm not going to tell you what they were…but, you know, feel free to speculate) I felt extravagantly nervous. It's a good thing there were only two people in line ahead of me, because my heart was pounding like a jackhammer and instead of praying about my sin, I was praying that I wouldn't throw up all over the church basement carpet. Somehow I'm always afraid someone's going to hear what I've done and treat me ungraciously, despite all my prior experience to the contrary.

So thank God for Father Charlie, the pastor of our church, St. Timothy's. He was a key player in our journey into Catholicism, and it is a huge blessing to have him leading our congregation. Going to confession today, I was actually hoping he wouldn't be my confessor because he knows me fairly well. (There's something to be said for anonymity when you're exposing yourself at your worst.) Well, God knows best, and lo and behold, when I walked into the confession room, there he was. But the moment I saw him and recognized the grace in his face, I knew things would be okay and I wouldn't be vomiting all over his priest-y closed-toe shoes. It's a funny thing, but uncovering my most hard-core sins actually led to the best confession I've ever had. Father Charlie's response to my sin was compassionate and real, just like Jesus' response to our sin. He neither minimized nor came down too harshly on my wrongdoing, but talked to me fairly and honestly about it. He gave me practical counsel for resisting and overcoming these sins.

We all want to hear God's voice, especially in the midst of our own guilt, and God isn't always going to speak in an audible voice. So often I believe he uses humans as his mouthpieces, and that's why (when done well) confession is so helpful. It allows a seasoned counselor to speak words of wisdom and comfort that we might not otherwise hear, even in prayer. And in the end, it gives us the promise of hearing an audible voice assure us that we are forgiven, that God's grace is greater than any of our sins.   

I am always so sorry to hear about the negative experiences some people have had with confession. Stories of shaming and harsh, useless penances break my heart because, especially after today, I know what a comfort and a sweet relief confession can be. (Sort of like when you hear stories of terrible parenting and you think, "But these are the people who are supposed to love this child!") When I think of an experience of confession like today's, though, I am reminded of the definition of a sacrament: an outward sign instituted by Christ to impart grace. That's a pretty awesome gift.

Maybe you should give it a try. ;)