I belong to a small group at my church. We meet weekly in the church nursery with our children and attempt to be prayerful and insightful while being beaned in the head with legos. It's a good time. The coordinator of all the small groups called me about a week ago and asked me to give a tiny (1-2 minute) talk at the end of mass about what being in a small group means to me, how great they are, and why everyone should join one for Lent. I was all set to beg off, but this wily woman called me on my birthday. The day that I make my goals for my new year. The day that I decided goal 6 was going to be "reach outside my comfort zone and try new things." Sigh. Never underestimate a Catholic woman's ability to guilt people into doing things, especially if the person she is trying to guilt is herself. Needless to say, I agreed to give the talk.
Like most sane people, I have a healthy fear of speaking in front of other people. I happily hang out here in the back of the class/internet, joking around, assisted by my spell check, my editing ability, and Wikipedia open in another window. That is how I like to pontificate and nosily share my opinions with the world. Or at least the part of the world that decides to pit-stop here on their way to Pinterest or Facebook. A captive audience at the end of an already long mass, because there is a baptism in the middle of it, is not my idea of folks I want to win over. In fact, I don't want to have to win over anyone. I like my audiences already loving and rooting for me from the get-go. Doesn't everyone?
A little back story: In college, I was quite involved in our campus church. I was kinda like Figaro; you know, here, there, up, down. (Oh holy cats, if she is gonna make opera references, she is gonna have to start winning people over.) OK. OK. Sorry. I was very involved. I was taking up the collection. I was passing out communion. I was helping the priest out on the altar. But mostly, I was reading. I was 19-years-old and a theater major, I didn't know yet to be afraid of reading in public. And like most 19-year-olds, I thought that I was good at everything. That is until I meet someone who really was.
You know Perfect Mom, right? Well, Perfect Moms don't pop into the world fully formed with their 2.5 children combed and posed next to them. Well, most don't; I do have this theory about Perfect Mom clones that I will share with you one day. Conspiracy theories aside, most Perfect Moms were once Perfect Babies, who grow to Perfect Toddlers, Preschoolers, and Kids, before they turn into Perfect Coeds and make Awkward Coeds' lives miserable. My college nemesis was a Perfect Coed and she was also Figaro-esque. She was pre-med (duh), an actress, tall, pretty, sweet, friendly, president of her sorority, and also very involved at church. We were often reading together; I would do one and then she would do one. Then we would let the priest read for awhile; wouldn't want him to feel left out, you know? It was fine. I didn't like it, but it was fine. And then, there was the day that it wasn't fine at all.
It is a winter day somewhere in the late 90s and I am assigned the first reading and Perfect Coed has the second reading. My reading is not an easy reading. First readings rarely are, being Old Testament and full of begets, whale antics, and all those Leviticus laws. But I have been practicing and I am ready to make the best of a tough situation. (Please remember that I am 19.) I make it up to the lectern in my Doc Martens and floral skirt combo, confidently beam at the congregation, lock eyes with my current crush, and then proceed to completely stumble through a reading stuffed with references to war, fortified cities, and gearing up for some mega battle. There is a lot of the Lord crushing things, and the line "but do you gird your loins." I remember this quite specifically. It is pretty hard to forget having to say anything about loins and girding them in the presence of tons of people, a priest, Perfect Coed, and one's crush. Especially when one is 19-years-old and awkward. Girding one's loins happens in the second line of the reading. I flush, fumble, and fall apart for the rest of it. I totally forget "This is the Word of the Lord" and just book it back to my place next to Perfect Coed, where I pretend to sing the Responsorial Psalm and actively pray for the floor to open up and swallow me. This would all be bad enough, but then Perfect Coed gets up there, in her adorable suit and matching heels. She brushes her Marcia Brady hair out of her face, calmly gazes across the church, and launches into "Love is Patient, Love is Kind." That's right, she has the Saint Paul reading that everyone adores and uses for their wedding. She reads it like she is making it up as she goes along and everyone in the church (including my crush) stares at her in amazement and wonder. It is like an angel has come down from on high to share her wisdom with us. I am pretty sure the sun comes out from behind a cloud, just to hear the pearls dripping from Perfect Coed's lips, which illuminates the stained glass behind her and bathes her in beautiful blue and red light. It is a nightmare.
Is it just me or does she glance at me and then enunciate the bejesus out of "The Word of the Lord?" Must just be me. She then floats back to our seats and I spend the rest of mass glaring at her and then feeling guilty for glaring at her. So, we are walking back up the aisle after mass, when she leans over and says "that was a really good try, Awkward Coed. It was a hard reading." Her pity makes me want to punch her. She walks ahead of me, and then my crush makes his way toward me. Oh my God, is he actually going to talk to me? Maybe this day isn't the worst day of my life after all.
"Hey, Awkward Coed."
"Hey." I am shooting for nonchalance. Pretty sure that doesn't happen.
"I was wondering....Well, that is, if you wouldn't mind....Well, this is kinda hard to ask, but..."
I am totally freaking out but trying to remain calm. He is asking me out. He is actually asking me out!
"Yes? What is it that you want to ask me?"
"Well, do you think you could introduce me to Perfect Coed?"
I would like to say that the floor did open up and swallow me, but it didn't. I introduce them and then slink away to cry in my dorm room. They don't end up together or anything that romantic-comedy, and I go on to have many other crushes in college. And I mean every definition of crush there. This isn't even the last time that I read at mass with Perfect Coed. We actually read together at the Baccalaureate Mass on the day we graduate from college, where she shows me up yet again. Although not quite as spectacularly as that cold winter Sunday that is etched in my mind forever.
I am now 35-years-old with a healthy fear of reading in front of people. However, I am reaching outside my comfort zone and trying new things, so I dutifully type up a 1-2 minutes speech and make plans to attend the 12:15pm mass to read it. Awkward Dad takes all the kids home after our regular mass and I am all alone in the pew. You would think this would help matters, but it makes it so much worse. I can't be the only mother in the world who now feels totally naked when I don't have a child next to me, you know, to blame my distractability on. I take a few deep breaths and try to get into some sort of prayerful place. The first reader climbs up to the lectern and starts to read;
"The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
But do you gird your loins;
stand up and tell them
all that I command you...."
Oh, there's more, but I stop listening and this starts going on in my head:
"Ha ha. Very funny, God."
"Oh, Awkward Mom. I just couldn't help it. You were so nervous and looking so silly, it was just the perfect set-up."
"Are you serious? I was nervous before. Now I am terrified. No one is here with me. No one is going to smile reassuringly at me. It is like Perfect Coed all over again. Literally now, so thanks."
"I am smiling at you."
"OK, yes, but..."
"No buts. You are fine. You got through it with Perfect Coed and you are gonna get through it today. Do you like being in a small group?"
"No buts! Do you want to share that with these people so maybe they can find that kind of community and warmth?"
"No buts! hee-hee butts..."
"Umm, God? You are starting to sound a little like Super Preschooler here."
"Well, Super Preschooler is not a bad one to sound like, I gave him an excellent sense of humor. The same one that I gave you, I might add. Just get up there and wow 'em. You are gonna do great, and P.S. you look great. No offense, Sweetie, but I am really glad you decided against the Doc Martens."
"Wow 'em? But... Sorry, no buts. I mean, I am not Perfect Coed."
"I know you aren't. I am so glad you aren't. You are you. You are competent, smart, funny, eloquent, passionate, and full of grace. Just like I made you. Now, go wow them. Well, at least try. Most of them are already thinking about the Super Bowl and totally tuned out."
Not sure if she wowed them, but she did try: "Hi, I’m
She only got 1 laugh, but as Awkward Dad says, "Awkward Mom is usually firing at a 10, but Church Awkward Mom needs to be dialed down to about a 3. Faith is fun, not frivolous."
What? I'm just over here wowing 'em.