Youth Sunday & Other Forms of Torture

We woke up at the crack of dawn to get to church by 8 am for the first of two back to back services led by the youth of the congregation.

A couple weeks ago the boys were asked to perform a Mozart duet as the closing voluntary. Those two short weeks felt like an eternity in hell, during which time I was roasting on a spit in slooooooow motion.

Just learn one page! I exhorted as they sturmed und dranged over the impossibility of pulling it together at such short notice. You can play the first page twice!

Please don’t be mean to your brother! I begged my older son, who becomes a complete tyrant when it comes to music.

You’re getting there! Just keep practicing!!! I nagged for two weeks straight.

Hey, Olympic committee! I totally deserve a gold medal for my performance of a lifetime! And a trip to Disney World. By myself.


And then the church sprung the torture known as “Rite 13” on me. I have now been subjected to this particular agony three times…Thank God it’s the last one I’ll ever have to endure.


This girl laughed in my face during the whole ceremony as tears leaked out of my eyes, and I guess that was a blessing, because it probably saved me from the ugly crying that would have disgraced us all…

It’s a wrap. I’m going to bed!

Weekend Snapshots 20

Last weekend was perfect, because of all the things that didn’t happen. The snow wiped clean a full slate of activities, and we got to stay home in our pjs all weekend long, reading and napping and drinking hot cocoa. This weekend was perfect, because of all the things that did happen…


My beloved book group met this Friday. My friend, who has been hosting us for years, always puts out a lavish spread, which includes a decadent dessert she’s made and tea served in beautiful heirloom tea cups. Last month Calamity Jane here broke the handle of the one in the front. My friend let me back into her house anyway, and she even managed to repair the handle with some super glue. Our book group nights are always such a special occasion, and so I like to get dressed up appropriately:

What could be better than kicking off the weekend hanging out with dear friends who love you even when you break their precious things, and to do it in my pjs?! (Pajamas seem to be the common denominator for all perfect weekends).


On Saturday morning I got an impromptu private concert with two of my favorite musicians:

Later that day another group of old friends and I got together over lunch. It was especially lovely, because it was a mini-reunion with our friend, who has moved away from Charlottesville. Drat! Forgot to take a photo! Next time, friends, next time!

As I drove away to the next appointment on my schedule, I got the news that the house we’ve been trying to sell is UNDER CONTRACT! Yahoooooooo!!!

Saturday was the first night of the two weeks that our church will be hosting PACEM, a roving homeless shelter that operates during the cold winter months in various churches around Charlottesville.

It was my first time ever being the nightly meal coordinator. My husband volunteered to make his famous lasagna:

and I had a willing crew of helpers, which included these three hooligans:


I wrote about Rite 13 here and here. The last time I went through this brutal and sadistic ritual, I had some warning and time to prepare myself for the ordeal. This time I was completely caught off guard and the consequences were absolutely devastating.

After the service, I recovered enough to insist on taking a photo to commemorate the momentous occasion of my son’s Rite 13 and my public breakdown. Predictably, he began to complain about having to stop and take a photo. What I could never have expected were the shocking words that came out of his older brother’s mouth:  “She gave birth to you. Take the picture!”

Holy smokes! There is a God. And He and now I’m thinking more likely – She is good. Really, really good. 

The kids all insisted on closed-mouth smiles, because they were afraid goldfish crackers would be stuck in their teeth…

And I even got to get a photo with my son, because I did give birth to him after all!

Rite 13, Pt. 2

Continued from yesterday’s post

We did a run-through of the liturgy. While all the other parents read the words out loud, I adopted a glazed, unfocused, slack-jawed look on my face and pretended I wasn’t even there. After the rehearsal, a couple of the youth leaders (saints of the highest order!) pulled me aside to warn me not to look in their direction during the actual ceremony. They would definitely be crying and they didn’t want to set me off. Please! Did they think they were dealing with an amateur? I was totally ready for this!

During the sermon, my son kept giving me sidelong glances. I could tell he was worried. Finally, it was time for Rite 13. He was called to the front along with eight other children and their parents.

As I took my place behind my son, I disassociated. I’m not quite sure where I went, but I was definitely not in that sanctuary with the rest of those poor souls. The only time my concentration was broken was when I heard my husband start to choke up. At that point, beads of sweat gathered on my brow, but I redoubled my efforts and managed to scramble and claw my way back to the safety of my alternate reality!

Those Episcopalians really know how to work the drama. At the end of the liturgy, the youth who had been sitting with their parents at the beginning of the service now leave them and sit together with their peers for the remainder of the hour. It’s the final jagged-edged knife to the heart, symbolizing the youth’s journey to adulthood.

I made it safely through. I know what you’re probably thinking. It was wrong of me not to have shown up for this once in a lifetime event. I should have experienced it, no matter how wrenching…A couple days after the service, in the privacy and sanctity of my own home, armed with a box of Kleenex, I did experience it. I pulled the text of the liturgy out of my purse where I had stowed it away. I allowed myself to really read it through, and I wept.

Here are some of the words:

Candidates, by the grace of God, you have lived through the pains and joys of childhood and have grown strong as young men and women. It is given to you to share in the power of God’s creation. You are blessed with the ability to create new ideas, new thoughts, new hopes for the world, and indeed to create new life. [Cue screeching of brakes sound effect! WHOA! Just…whoa!!!]

(Congregation in unison):
God of mercy and love, enfold these parents with your grace. Fill them with the joy of your presence. Rejoice with them as their sons and daughters become men and women. Strengthen them that they may support their daughters and sons as they begin the journey toward adulthood. Uphold them by your Spirit, that they may comfort them, although they can neither walk their road for them nor shield them from pain. Carry parents and children together safely through this journey, so that one day they may stand side by side as adults and friends, a joy and a comfort to each other all the days of their lives. Amen [These were the killer words that were the beginning of my undoing the first time I heard them].

(Parents address their sons and daughters in unison):
We thank God for the gift of your lives. As you begin to carve out the life that will be your own, we will stand behind you and support you. May we be patient and understanding, ready to guide and forgive, that in our love for you, you may know the love of God. You are holy and wonderful and blessed, and we will not look away from you. We are your parents, and we support you on this journey.


That’s my baby:

Hope your weekend is wonderful!

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Rite 13, Pt. 1

Rite 13. It sounds ominous, doesn’t it? It’s way scarier than you can possibly imagine.

A few months ago I was sitting in church, innocently zoning out in my pew. The next thing I knew a bunch of kids I’ve known since they were toddlers were called to the front along with their parents. What followed was the single most devastating ritual I’ve ever witnessed. I began weeping uncontrollably. I felt keen empathy for the poor parents, many of them good friends of mine, who were standing at the altar with their children, completely exposed as they dissolved into quivering puddles of tears. It took every ounce of willpower I possessed not to make the sanctuary reverberate with my ugly racking sobs.

What I was witnessing was “Rite 13,” a relatively new tradition and liturgy created in the eighties by sadistic Episcopalians in Durham, North Carolina to torture unsuspecting parents of adolescents everywhere. (As if we didn’t have enough to deal with already). It was conceived as a Protestant version of the bar and bat mitzvah of the Jewish tradition. This rite of passage has been adopted by many churches, including the Presbyterian church my family attends. Around their 13th birthday, youth are invited to participate in this liturgy with their parents.

This past Sunday my almost 13 year old son went through his Rite 13. I’ve been dreading this Sunday ever since witnessing the first one. Not wanting to make a complete spectacle of myself and embarrass him in front of all of his peers and the entire church with my ugly crying, I trained for this Sunday like it was an Olympic sport. Here’s how it all went down:

Over breakfast we discussed strategy. My son offered to piss me off so I wouldn’t cry.

“OK. That shouldn’t be too hard,” I readily agreed.

He wasn’t convinced. He kept narrowing his eyes at me and saying, “You’re not going to cry, right?”

I cracked my knuckles and said, “Nope. It’s going to be fine. I’ve got this.”

I told him he had to look respectable. I pulled out a pair of wrinkled khakis from the pile of clean, but unfolded laundry. They were horribly stained! I dug around his drawers and found an alternative: a pair of navy blue pants.

“Here, put these on!”

“Why can’t I just wear jeans?”

“PUT THEM ON!” I barked shrilly.

“Well, actually, I CAN’T, because the button’s missing.”

For the next fifteen minutes I hunted high and low for a needle. For the next ten minutes I tried to thread the needle. I swear it would have been easier to cram a camel through the eye of that needle. For the next ten minutes after that, my husband tried to thread the needle. Finally, I snatched it back from him, managed to thread the needle, find an extra button, and sew it on. We were now running late.

“OK! THEY’RE DONE! NOW PUT THEM ON, QUICK!” (Yes, from that point on, I really was speaking in all CAPS).

I ran out to the car where the rest of my family was already patiently waiting.

“WHERE IS HE?!” I asked impatiently as we waited and waited for the boy/man of the hour to make his appearance in his newly-mended pants.

My husband got out of the car and went back into the house to figure out what was taking him so long.

They both emerged from the house looking peevish and disgruntled.

“He can’t get it buttoned,” he grumbled.

It hadn’t occurred to me that the spare button I had found might not actually fit into the buttonhole.


We pulled into the parking lot and I managed to force the too-large button into the hole. (Are we detecting a recurring theme here)? I stood back to look at my son and only then realized that the size 16 pants he was wearing were at least two inches too short for his gangly legs. (Yep. There it is again).


We made it in time for the rehearsal. The time had finally come to put my months of training to the test…

Friday: Rite 13, Pt. 2

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