March 28, 2013

reflections on a holy week

I love my church because I'm consistently doing things that
1. are awesome but
2. make me wildly uncomfortable

Case in point: Maundy Thursday.

I didn't actually know what that service entailed until about this time last year when I got there and learned that we, as a congregation, would be washing one another's feet. I was sitting with a friend, so there was no stranger danger [you know, when you're in danger of having to touch a stranger's foot], but still I was sweating it a little. It wasn't that I didn't want to touch her feet, because I felt confident her foot hygiene was fine, and I didn't think she'd judge my washing techniques. What made me nervous was letting another person hold my feet in their hands. I wasn't prepared. I hadn't had a pedicure in months, but unless I made a run for it, this was going to happen despite my chipped nail polish and calloused heels. The thing about our feet is that give away where we've been. In order to get anywhere our feet have to take us, so at the end of a day, our feet have on them all the mess of a day we lived and sinned in. And that's a scary thing to put in the hands of another person.

I tried to put myself in the position of the disciples on that night when Jesus knelt before them and took their feet in his hands. I tried to imagine the panic that the disciples must have felt when they prepared to have their dirtiest part examined, up close and personal, by their leader, their savior, their mentor. I imagine their thoughts were similar to mine. Suddenly I get why Simon Peter flipped out a little, tried to refuse. He wasn't ready. He hadn't prepared. Had he known Jesus would be washing his feet that night, maybe he would have walked more carefully on his way over. Maybe he would have avoided that one place where things tend to get especially messy. I thought of how I approach Jesus all the time - prepared, prettied, primped. Ready to go. Looking my Sunday best. Hoping maybe he won't pick up on the real, true, hot mess that is me.

But regardless of their lack of preparation, Jesus took their feet and washed them of the mess of the day. And in so doing, I think he sent a very clear message to the disciples (and by extension, to me): I know. I know the very messiest parts of your mess. I know where you've been. And I know what I'm doing. Then he instructed them to do the same for each other. It was a symbol of humility, of service, yes. But I think it's also a call for vulnerability in community.

At our Good Friday service the following day, we were given the opportunity to write down any sins we felt convicted of and nail it onto a giant wooden cross near the altar. [Revisit the above checklist for my feelings on this.] I thought up the parts of myself of which I'm most ashamed, and I scribbled them quickly, carefully, onto the paper. I approached the cross, praying no one would see what I'd written, and I remember thinking, my sin is too great. My list is too long. There's no way Jesus can cover this much. And there's no way, if Jesus had known what I would be doing, how I would betray and deny and doubt him, he would have done this for me. The previous day's thoughts began circling in my head as I put together the pieces.

I wonder if it's not exactly what he was saying when he washed the disciples' feet. Jesus knew full well how awful you and I would be. He knew he would be betrayed and denied by the very men whose actual feet he washed. And God sacrificed Christ that we might be saved in spite of it. Jesus saw their feet. He held them in his hands. He knew their messiest, dirtiest, most shameful places. He knew, and he gave his life anyway.

For the season of Lent, we purposefully omit my favorite part of the liturgy of my church [which, for the record, 1. is awesome and 2. no longer makes me uncomfortable]. At the end of service every Sunday, we mimic the action of throwing stuff at the cross. It's the best. Our pastor says the "all of our..." part, and then all together we say the rest, while I nearly throw my shoulder out sending them in the direction of the cross:

All of our problems - we send to the cross of Christ
All of our sins - we send to the cross of Christ
All the devil's works - we send to the cross of Christ
And all of our hopes - we set on the risen Christ

Sunday, finally, we will throw things again. Sunday is Easter and Easter is my favorite because it means that we are saved. We are free. We are loved. We have a place to throw our junk and a place to set our hopes. We have a Savior who loves to wash us clean and we have a community of believers to be our messy selves in. We get grace and mercy and all kinds of wonderful gifts we didn't earn and don't deserve.

Every year around this time, I get this song stuck in my head for days and days:

To make a wretch his treasure.
Me. A wretch. His treasure.


original: here

March 20, 2013

an open letter of apology on behalf of adolescent girls everywhere

Dear Mom,

Hello, hi. It's not been long since last we talked, but I just want to take a moment to say some things to you. If I may. It's about the times we rarely speak of - when I was... well, adolescent. 

See, I was in Target just the other day, minding my own business, browsing through the clothing, when I happened upon this mother and daughter, shopping together. The daughter, on the low end of her teens, was shopping for bras; certainly a sensitive venture in and of itself, but they seemed to be faring alright. They were bantering a little about brands, basically, what the girl wanted vs. what mom was willing to spend. Nothing too spectacular. I smiled a little as I listened to them go back and forth, even thought fondly about shopping with you, way back when, bickering at Kohls about how I'd rather be at Abercrombie. I walked into the dressing room to try on my items and promptly forgot about them, stepping back into my own little daze.

Oh but see, they followed me, back there to those dressing rooms. I recognized their voices and I noticed their presence, still focused more on my own current tastes than anything they were doing. I tried on a dress, pretty cute, a little long. I tried on one of those peplum shirts I always think I'm going to like and never do, remembered I don't like them, took it off. It was around this time, however, that their presence in my midst became relatively impossible to ignore.

For the love of all that is good and holy, I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Mom, for ever being that age, for ever using that tone, for ever screaming at you in a dressing room, because I know I did. Initially I was irritated - I wished they would take their brawl elsewhere so I could enjoy the serenity of the Target fitting rooms in peace. Then I was amused, for about a hot second, before my amusement was quickly replaced with something alarming and utterly distressing - like a ton of bricks it hit me - I was that girl. Like a PTSD flashback, all of a sudden it wasn't Arielle who was yelling, but me. I cringed, nearly fell to the ground in a dramatic heap of shame, certainly as red as the walls around me.

As a full-on therapist nowadays, I know that girl is (as I was) ridden with angst and body image issues and embarrassment and a whole gamut of things that, as a counselor, as a woman, I have empathy for. I possess that awareness, now. She (and adolescent me, by extension), on the other hand, did not. She just yelled and screamed and "UGH WHATEVER MOM YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND ME 'd" until she was, I can only imagine, blue in the face; and even that didn't stop her from continuing to be the actual most horrible.

While normally in these types of situations I find assurance - yknow, certain job security for my whole life long (God help me) - what I felt in this particular moment was an uncontrollable urge to apologize to you. And to my other family members, parents specifically, certainly you were not spared from my reign of terror, not clear from my path of destruction - though not necessarily dressing-room specific - to you I extend heartfelt apologies as well. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for any family vacations I may have ruined, any trips to the mall or the movies or a restaurant I may have taken a proverbial crap on with my hormones, angst, and changing-body anxiety. On behalf of teenage girls everywhere, to everyone, in fact: I'm sorry. I will work my whole life to repent for the atrocity of my behavior at fifteen. I will be a freaking delight for the remainder of my years and even then my debt may not be paid. But I'll die trying.

This may seem like sarcasm, but having been privy to Arielle's Target meltdown, I can assure you, it is genuine [and maybe just slightly hyperbolized for the sake of entertainment, but who's counting]. There may be no degree of apology, in reality, to repair the trauma of being close to an adolescent girl. But that's why I wrote you this letter, so you could feel affirmed and validated in a public forum. Much like the ones I used to yell at you in. See what I did there?

So in closing, I'm sorry for all the dressing rooms in which I am certain you were mortified as unsuspecting bystanders in their late 20's stood by in horror while I screamed at you.

But also? I still don't really see why we couldn't have just gone to Abercrombie.



For those of you reading at home who are not my mother/other parents, this is me in the very beginning of my adolescent years. I know what you're thinking - how could a girl in such stylin' short-alls be such a pain in the a-money-money? I'm as confused as you are. Seriously. Look how hard I rocked those short-alls.

March 15, 2013

romance, where I am

Last weekend I rode a train.

I've ridden a train once or twice in my lifetime, I think, but it certainly isn't my typical mode of transport. I didn't even so much realize trains were still a thing, except I was pretty sure I'd heard my brother talk about taking them sometimes when he lived in Chicago. But when my plans to drive to the mountains last Saturday were seemingly foiled by a snow storm [which really didn't end up being all that storm-y, but whatever], I booked myself a seat on the Amtrak. I set off that Saturday morning in the snow, unsure of pretty much everything about train-travel, filled with as much nervous excitement as I could muster before 8 am.

I will enjoy almost anything that makes me feel like I'm a character in a novel, and this was exactly that feeling. I was given a ticket at the station [on which my assigned car was written by hand!], located my designated seat on the aforementioned car, and sat down. The conductor, a jokey old man wearing the hat and everything, came by to check my ticket and wish me a nice ride. I heard: Breakfast is being served in the Dining Car, just three cars back before the Sleeping Car! as it was announced over a tinny loudspeaker and I about thought I'd died and gone to heaven. As the train pulled away from the station, whistling just like in the movies [Taffeta, darling...], leaving Denver behind us and heading off into the snowy tundra, it felt as though somehow I'd managed to step back in time. I knew when I arrived at my stop there would still be iBooks and iMessage and eTrade and all that other stuff that makes the world go 'round, but for those delightful couple hours, I was somewhere else entirely. In a glamorous version of my very own life, I was taking a train into the mountains.

It is well known among my contemporaries that I am a lover of old things. I could listen to Dean Martin all day long. I could watch only black and white movies and be satisfied. I prefer handwritten correspondence and real-life books to e-mails and e-books and whatever other e-things are replacing paper nowadays. This is not to say I don't appreciate my iPhone [etc.], because I do. I am as in touch with modern technology as the next person, but there is just something so inextricably romantic about these old things, the classics, the vintage, the antiques, I can't help but hold on to them. This struck me on my train ride; I more or less live knee-deep in romanticism. Where I spent years believing I am not some sappy romantic, avoiding the word wherever possible - it's exactly what I am. Turns out one can't simply avoid it. Sometimes romance finds you right where you are.

Now, this is not to say I've harbored some aversion to romance all these years; I just didn't understand it properly. Because the thing about romance I think goes unnoticed is it's not just the stuff of those icky Harlequin novels you find in the awkward book aisle at King Soopers. It's not only candlelit dinners and walks on the beach and whatever other stereotypes you'd like to call in, though it certainly can be - I don't mean to pigeon-hole the term to either end. But romance is also a sort of a mysteriousness, a  strange kind of beauty, adventurous and fascinating. It's watching a spectacular fireworks display. It's sitting in the back of a quiet house-turned-cafe, sipping a glass of wine. It's sitting on the top of a car way out on the dirt part of Andover Road, drinking limeade and looking up at an endless, starlit sky. It's going off on a jet ski all alone on a particularly quiet day with nothing but the sound of the wind whipping in your ears, an occasional splash of water in your face.

It's riding on a train through the snow up a mountain. And if there happens to be a cute boy to meet you at the station, I mean, it certainly doesn't hurt. Oh, and if there happens to be an unexpected actual fireworks display that evening? [!] As I waited at the tracks to board the train home the next day, writing the whole thing in my head, I felt thankful. Amused, almost, to be standing at these tracks, writing about romance like it was just another word I could throw around, now.

But like I said. Sometimes it just finds you where you are.