Conversations about confession.

hidingConfession was my least favorite lesson when I was a Sunday School student. A few weeks ago, I first attempted teaching it.

First I told everyone to close their eyes. “How many of you have confessed at least once before?” One hand rose. “Twice?” The hand dropped.

This does not concern me. Third grade feels very, very young. But also there is so much potential and so much to potentially screw up. In third grade, my Sunday School teacher arranged for us all to line up and confess to Abouna one by one. I was not ready for it.

When the eyes all open, the gazes stay fixed on the ground. The only one of them looking me in the eye is the little boy who has raised his hand.

We talk about sacraments, about the sacredness of your time with Abouna, about how before-confession is scary but after-confession is liberating. Then discussion. The first question is “Why might someone be afraid to confess?” and the initial response is, unsurprisingly, silence. But then, bit by bit, the room fills with words so familiar they might have come from my own mouth before I had experienced the beauty of confession.

“What if Abouna thinks I’m a bad person? What if he yells at me?”

“There are things I don’t ever want to talk about.”

“What if Abouna tells someone? Even though he’s not supposed to?”

“I have secrets. Secrets even my mom and dad don’t know about.”

Oh, child. Don’t we all?

We don’t get very far in the discussions before the questions are turned back to me. “When was the last time you confessed?”

So I tell them a secret of my own.

As I mentioned earlier, I confessed for the first time when I was in third grade. I was miserable and afraid and confession didn’t involve much talking on my end until the abouna finally dismissed me almost hopelessly.

I was so afraid.

The next time I confessed was more than ten years later. This is what I tell them, to their dropped jaws. These kids aren’t even ten years old themselves.

“I know why,” one of them pipes up.

I doubt that. “Why?”

“Because you didn’t do anything wrong!”

“Definitely not,” I laugh. I don’t tell them any more, and the discussion turns back to them.

I don’t tell them what I am about to tell you. What I tell you in hopes that you too will remember how difficult confession is when you teach about it; and if it was not difficult for you, how difficult it is for others. I spent too long in paradoxical guilt — the guilt of not confessing for so long kept me afraid of ever confessing — until one abouna saw me drowning in a sea of self-destructive guilt and threw me a Life Saver.

My first college retreat, I asked Abouna if I could confess with him. I asked him this as he was leaving. Literally walking out the door. “Tomorrow,” he replied in a hurry, as I had mostly hoped. But then he paused and looked back at me. “Tonight,” he said instead. My heart dropped.

I sit across from Abouna silently. For nearly a quarter of an hour, I do not say a word . He is so, so patient, and not nearly as quiet as I am. In fact, he won’t stop talking. He says every variation of “God loves you so much.”

With all the courage I can muster, finally, finally, I confess. For almost an hour, I tell Abouna absolutely everything as he counsels me, advises me,  and reminds me again and again of God’s love. He reads the absolution, and then Abouna looks me in the eye and says:  “You are so pure.” Just like that, I have found a father of confession. Some things are the same after that, but some things are never the same. I still sin, but my relationship with God is forever changed as the guilt of a lifetime is lifted off my shoulders.

I had repented to Christ before, but I had never heard Him reply. Now I had: the words from Abouna’s lips might has well have come from God Himself for how much they changed me.

So when I taught about confession, I could not pretend it was something easy. I could not speak from years and years of experience because all I have are a few. And I did not want to shame them into confession. Our God is not a god of shame. He is the God of grace and of mercy.

One of the beautiful things my father of confession does is suggest books for me to read between confessions. In one of them I read this line that struck me to the core.

I am afraid to tell you who I am because if I tell you who I am, you may not like who I am. And it is all I have.

Confession is telling God who you are, but it is also telling a priest–a fellow human–who you are. And that is frightening indeed.

I’m still not sure I figured out how to teach about confession. At the end of the lesson we took a poll. “Who still thinks confession is too frightening to try?” I said.

Tentatively, all hands save one went up. Maybe it will take a few more years and a few better Sunday School teachers before they are ready.

Maybe that’s okay.

freedom

7 Signs I Would Point Out To My First-Year Self

I still sometimes ignore these signs on the Good Ole College Road, but I gotta admit, I wish someone had pointed these out to me. Somehow hearing “it goes by so fast” and “these are the best years of your life” in a thousand different voices wasn’t incredibly useful 😉

change

1. CHANGE. You won’t change unless you open yourself up to it. You don’t suddenly become a party girl or a crazy awesome risk taker. Nor do you suddenly become a confident innovator and loving friend. Just like high school, you will make decisions and those decisions will define you. So make decisions towards the person you want to be. Growing involves change. Don’t be afraid of it.

betterdays

2. IT GETS BETTER. The first weeks of college will not be your favorite weeks. The first semester doesn’t contain the peake of college either and thank God. Second semester is better, and third semester is even better, and fourth semester is even better. The work gets harder but the worker gets smarter, and feels less alone, and makes friends she never could have imagined that laugh with her through all of it.

opportunity

3. TAKE CHANCES. Volunteer for things. Audition for parts. Sign up for listserves. Sure, you might ignore 90% of the emails and drop out of half the activities you signed up for at the Activities Fair, but who cares? It just takes one connection to turn into one opportunity to turn into one job. The person you audition for might end up being your “walking home at night” friend. The professor you hate might give you the most resume-worthy accomplishment you needed.

faith

4. TRUST GOD. Nudge worrying into trusting. Worrying is really dumb, and it only makes you feel weaker to indulge in it. Nudge that fear of the unknown into a chance to trust the Master of the Even the Unknown.

curvesandgrades

5. DON’T TRUST THE CURVE, JUST SCORE HIGH. Stop hoping everyone else fails so you can “beat the curve.” Do your best, score high, and let God take care of the letter grade. Start praying these people know what they are doing because they are the people trying to build you bridges and surgery robots and in general improve the standard of living and save lives.

acceptance

6. BE THANKFUL. A B is a good grade. A C isn’t the end of the world. Thank God for a passing grade and stop complaining.

brightfuture

7. BE CONFIDENT. Don’t let anyone make you feel stupid, not other students and not professors. They have no idea what your destiny holds and neither do you. You are made in the image of God, and you never claimed to get your strength from anywhere else.

Forget winter: college is coming.

It’s two weeks until classes, but the insanity of supplies and textbooks and last-minute class changes has already begun. Am I excited? Most definitely. But I’m also kind of nervous.

It’s just a fact: college is hard.

Whoever you are, whatever your year, whatever your major, if you want more out of college than free food, it’s going to be hard. And sometimes, it’s going to suck. Not just because it’s hard, but because there are times (and maybe it’s just engineering, but I doubt it)…

There are times when college can make you feel like an idiot.

I guess it’s not just college. Trying anything can make you feel sadly inadequate.

With copious amounts of free time this summer, I finally decided to follow one of my oldest ambitions and write a novel. You know what they say: write what you know. Among baking, math, and dreams, I landed on dreams.

I might very well have a problem because I consistently have really weird dreams that often involve death. There’s been the usual death-facing adventures via bombing or gunshots. There’s been an escape from a Siberian prison, stabbed with a syringe of poison, caught in a cruel real-life video game, and been an incredibly fat, male, sumo wrestler version of myself in a gladiator-style fight against a ferocious tiger.

followdreamsThat’s a frightful idea.

These nightmares became especially bad when writing this novel. The Bizarre Dreamer was a story of a man and his dreams about the end of the world. My brain was on overdrive about endings and disasters and The Worst Things Ever. My nights were spent exploring the inspiration provided by my subconscious, and my days were filled with making that into something coherent and meaningful.

I wanted to write a story so badly, and write a story I did. I finished the first draft and then ignored all the advice of everyone, and read it from cover to cover to next day. Upon finishing, I was struck with a sort of sinking realization.

wastedlifeWhat am I even doing with my life?

The story sucked at being a story, and I sucked at being a writer. My antagonist was less menacing than a shadow. The ending I’d looked forward to turned out anti-climatic in the worst ways. It’s honestly kind of embarrassing how much of a stronger writer my subconscious is, how much more tension exists in my dreams than in my story. What can I say? How do you respond when you realize that you aren’t all you hoped you’d be? I was kind of broken-hearted.

And then, like every disappointment in life, I picked my head up and got over it.

Sometimes you take a chance on something, and guess what? Sometimes—a lot of times in my case—you suck.

You think, “Hey, maybe this risk will work out,” and it doesn’t. It leaves you flat on your face, alone and miserable and worse off than you were before.

You try to solve a problem set and you work on it for hours and at the end of the day, you get an F on the homework you spent days laboring over.

Or you listen to the new serpent guy in the garden and try out some Forbidden Fruit and whoosh, goodbye Paradise, hello Earth.

You do the right thing, obey your dad, and suddenly he’s tying you down to an altar as the sacrifice.

You think your brothers will like your new coat of colors just as much as you do and then they sell you as a freaking slave.

You screw up and take Bathsheba as your wife, and everyone will talk about it for the next thousand years and more.

You failed? Sure. But you still tried. If you fail, when you fail, God does what God always does. Picks you up wherever you fell and flies you where you need to go. And the sin you committed turns into the greatest story of love and passion ever—such that an entire species and their relationship with God is never the same again. And you just went from slave to second-only-to-Pharaoh. And the mistake you made with Bathsheba turns into the King of Israel, Wise Man, and honored author of several books in the bestselling Book of all time.

So, Mr. College–bring it. How could we be afraid to fall when God’s right there to pick us up?

Falling on your face is far better than never trying to go anywhere at all.

Here’s to the Virgin.

The Virgin called out, “Come, George,” and St. George appeared.

“Examine this woman,” she told him, but the great martyr refused.

“You know,” he said, “that her case is closed.”

caseclosed

Thus goes the story of Tamav Irini’s mother and her healing after she was found fatally ill. The story is close to my heart because, once upon a time, my mother was diagnosed with cancer.

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A shoutout snack.

prebaking

This is a shoutout to our Jewish brothers and sisters  for their fabulous Hamantaschen. This is also called a shoutout snack because it’s so delicious it will make you shout out for joy.

With St. Mary’s fast (St. Mary was Jewish too! Isn’t this snack appropriate?)  too close to eat much of anything (besides the leftovers in the fridge), this is a recipe for the next two weeks.

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Their favorite part of a lesson.

I’m not trying to tempt anyone to break the tenth commandment or anything, but hands down, my third grade class is the best group of students ever.

They get to class early and sometimes don’t even climb into the baptismal tub.

They translate the lesson periodically into Arabic for their classmates.

They apologize when I lose my temper.

They ask the most insightful questions. (Last week we gathered Questions for Abounas. They want to know whether Abouna can hop on one foot and spin around in a circle. At the same time.)

Frankly, there are some things in which I unequivocally trust their judgement. These kids are the “they” are when I say that this is “their favorite part.”

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