Thursday, September 10, 2009


For our nature walk today, we walked by a river with a large cliff of shale. I love shale. I think it's because the house I grew up in was across the street from a hillside of the rock, and I spent hours and hours playing fort in the ditches the years of rain made. Or just poking at the ground with a stick, splitting the shale into crumbling slivers. Fond memories. Of course, then the bulldozers came and flattened my playground so a developer could build character-less cookie cutters houses over the sweetness of my youth. But I don't have hard feelings about that...
As I watched Jared and Hilary wade in the cold water, I listened to the sound of pebbles falling from the top of the canyon as the soft rock let loose and tumbled to the water below. This massive tree behind me was a labyrinth of exposed roots. Clinging desperately to the soil which fell away moment by moment. Even in the short time we were there, the landscape was changing. The ground was shifting. Never staying in one place for very long. History in pictures. Time in a late summer morning.
I tried to count the layers of sediment, but I got lost not even halfway up. So many layers. One on top of another. I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes people unique. About the layers. Old pictures, whether in hand or just in memory seem so distant. Like that person doesn't even exist anymore. But that's not true. That part of me, who I was, what I thought, what I felt, what I knew and didn't know, didn't disappear. I just built another layer.

Every time I learn something, it's another layer. The narrow layers are from the experiences that passed by smoothly, without a great deal of pressure. But the thicker layers took much more force to create. Whether it was from my stubbornness, necessity, or circumstance, those layers took time. Pebble upon pebble. Speck upon speck. Built through sorrow and joy. Sometimes more sorrow. Sometimes more joy.
I wonder if I could count my layers. Or get lost halfway up. I wonder if I even realize who I really am. So many layers, but each one dependent on the other. The surface held up by the years of blood, sweat and tears beneath.

I wonder how much more has to fall away, cut by the river. The chill of the water. The sparkle of the sun. I wonder what the next thing will be that God asks me to change. To let loose of the old and watch it tumble down to the river below, so I can make room for the new layer. Deeper, higher, stronger. One layer at a time.

Friday, September 4, 2009


As I mentioned last week, I am determined, determined, determined that Thursday will be nature walk day. Well, this week was definitely a test of that determination.

Multiple things came up, pulling me in multiple directions. We also couldn't find where we were going, which didn't help. I was trying to get to the end of a 2.5 mile trail that runs from the lake area we visited last week. There was supposed to be another wetland preserve at the end of the trail, stuck in the middle of urban/suburban traffic mess. Finally, we found it. We were right on track to get my little carefully crafted plan fulfilled two weeks in a row.

We didn't take the walk then, though. And that event, not taking the walk, represents everything that is wrong with my ability to order my life.

I'm a worker bee. I'm in charge of a long list of things. I'm over children and family activities at church. And the teen group. And the crochet group. And the group that sends cards when people are sick. I'm a reader. I sing in the choir. I bake prosphora. I coordinate our monthly free community meal. Outside of church, I represent our parish on the board of our community's social service program. I run the weekly food pantry for them. That also requires checking the phone messages every day and returning calls. Processing new applicants. Writing checks for utility assistance. Coordinating volunteers. Packing food for the weekly food distribution. I also bake prosphora for one of the monasteries in town. It's a men's monastery, but it's also a homeless shelter. I clean for them and serve food. I also recently became involved with another monastery in town. This one is just one female monastic, serving the inner city with food and other assistance. She needs a lot of help, too.

I don't say that to brag about what I do for other people. To make myself sound so perfect. I say that to point out just how screwed up my priorities are! You see, I will drop everything to help the above people. Anytime, anywhere anyplace. I will do those things whenever and however they ask.

And my own home and family? What does that mean for them? Often I can balance things, but far too often, I can't. My sink is full of dirty dishes. The laundry is sky high. I tell Hilary to wait "just one more minute" a hundred times a day. I leave Jared on his own to plow through his school work so I can make yet another phone call. I'm so exhausted and spent by the end of the day, I have no attention left to devote to my hardworking husband.

As I sat there yesterday in my car, finally at the nature preserve parking lot, the entire weight of all these things crashed down on me. The nun called and needed me to come over immediately to help with a crisis with the monastery newsletter. A newsletter that every member of my family had already devoted a week of our lives to as we assembled and stuffed the mailing. She was literally crying. Have you ever heard a nun cry? Trust's terrible. Do I leave and not take the walk? I knew it would be tough to come back later. I had a meeting to scout out a possible new location for the food pantry. To top it off, the other monastery also called and said they realized they had no prosphora for the next day's Liturgy. Oh, and there was still more school to do with Jared, Hilary's nap, dinner to cook, Lonna to drive to her activities, and another phone call to be made to a woman who is offering me a part-time job...because I have so much free time. It was 2:00 p.m., but it felt like high noon. The moment of decision. Who do I serve? The world or my family? Who do I pick? Strangers and acquaintances or the faces of the ones I gave birth to?

Everything got fuzzy for a minute, as my brain went into official overload. Then, I stared at the dashboard of the car. I have two icons shoved around the gas gauge and the speedometer. St. Mary of Egypt, my patron, and Christ. Christ's eyes pulsed deep into my own. I thought of His words. I thought of His example. I thought of all those things I talked about in my last post. Resolving to love God more. In every way, just to love God more. I thought of Mary, how she fled from the world to the desert. How she sacrificed it all to save her own soul.

Everything slowly began to become clear. Loving God more means I need to get my life in order. God first. Family commitments first. Yes, I can still serve. I'm commanded to do so. But I can't be Martha all the time. I have to be Mary and sit at the feet of Jesus. I have to just...sit...peacefully...and listen.

I snapped into action. I pulled out of the parking lot with a new focus and a new commitment. I dropped Jared and Hilary off at the house so he could finish his schoolwork and she could take her nap. I went to the monastery. Handled the crisis. Called the school and had them send Lonna home on the bus so I didn't need to pick her up. Called the other monastery and told them they would just have to get the prosphora for the next day somewhere else (which turned out not to be a problem for them at all). Made all my phone calls while I was on the road. Came home, cooked dinner and drove Lonna to swim practice. That left me one hour. Just one hour before that meeting about the food pantry. One hour I could have definitely spent on the couch or something else brainless and meaningless. But I didn't. I put Jared and Hilary back in the car and retraced our steps to the nature preserve.

We got out of the car and walked down a short path from the parking lot. And as we rounded the bend, this is what we saw:

Oh, I wish I could have captured it in pictures! They just don't come anywhere near what this is. Acres and acres and acres of cattails!!! Does anyone else love cattails like me? I can't even explain what it is about them. I remember playing with the soft, brown tops as a child. Pushing through bunches of them by the creek. Back when I was shorter than they were. That must be what it is. A childhood memory. Always the strongest and sweetest.

The boardwalk snakes through the field. See that tree in the above picture? Maybe that shows how tall and dense the cattails are as they swallow up the tree. The boardwalk was elevated, so we were above the level of the plants, looking down. This is an ocean of tall, dense plants as far as the eye can see. I've never seen anything like it.

The sounds. The insects singing. And the swishing! Music. The rolling swirls of the breeze through the field. You could see the pattern of the wind, funneling from one end of the field to another. Clockwise. Then counterclockwise. Twisting the cattails one direction. Then another. An orchestrated harmony of simplicity. Cattails in the breeze. No obligations. No complications. Just bending with the breeze.
I managed to do it all (almost!) yesterday. I juggled and maneuvered and made everything work for one more day. But I'm not proud of it. I shouldn't have been in that predicament to start with. I have to stop being so rigid. I have to stop "doing" for others, rather than just "being" for God. I have to blow in the breeze like the cattails. Sometimes one way, and sometimes another, but never at my own design. Letting God pick the direction. Adding things to my life when He wants, and taking things away when He wants.
I learned a lot yesterday. About time. About priorities. About love. All from a field of cattails that I almost missed seeing.

Before the things. Before the tasks. Before it all. I'm obligated---to love. I don't fully know yet what exactly will change in my life, but I know there are changes to be made. Lord have mercy on me for not loving you with purity of heart! I believe...forgive my unbelief! Show me, Lord. Show me how to love.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

The beginning of the liturgical year is today, September 1. The day Jesus stood in the synagogue and proclaimed that He was the fulfillment of the prophecies. The One. The Gospel. The Word.

A time to pray for seasonable weather and praise God for the blessings of life and the earth. A time to bless water in case you've used up your supply from Theophany. A time for all things new and fresh.

So, I was thinking. I've always seen New Year's resolutions as a bit pointless. No one keeps them. It's just a reason to feel guilty a week (maybe a month) later, when your good intentions dissolve into reality. Resolving to change my life on January 1, just because it's January 1, doesn't make a lot of sense to me. But resolving to change my life because it's a time of thanksgiving and freshness in the Church year...that does make sense to me. The newness of this new year can become more than a shaky promise that fades after the confetti settles. It can be a true renewal.

My New Year's Resolution:

Love God more.

What? No long-winded promises to be bigger, better, richer or thinner? Nope. Just love God more. And if I can do that, everything else is taken care of.

I've been frustrated with people lately. Their actions. Their lack of action. I resolve to love God more, therefore I will see Christ in the people I interact with each day. I will forgive...seventy times seven times. Doesn't mean I will tolerate their sin, but I will love them and work with them for the glory of God (because Jesus came to the world to save sinners...of whom I am first). Time to focus on me and my own sin. I will repent.

I've been eating too much lately. Mindless eating. I've been trying to change what we eat and how we eat this year. We've made major changes and huge strides toward a better relationship with our bodies' fuel. But I still eat too much. I resolve to love God more, so I will remember that my body is not my was bought at a price. I will calm the passions through prayer and fasting. I will not make excuses, and I will not let my flesh dictate my life. I will overcome.

I have not been ordering my days well. I get distracted or lazy or well, um...lazy! I don't get done what needs to get done. I make the rest of my family live on the edge of chaos, and my home is often a source of stress rather than a haven. I resolve to love God more, therefore I will order my day the way God commands. I will put prayer first. I will put the needs of family before my own. I will not over-extend myself. I will not settle for just getting by. I will thrive.

I have not been loving God. Sure, I say the right things and appear to do the right things, but I haven't been loving God like I want to love Him. Like He deserves to be loved. Love is not always warm fuzzies. It's pushing through the tough times and doing what you said you were going to do because that love matters. Loving God is a daily event. An obligation, but more so, an opportunity. Loving God always leads to good. Loving God can never lead you wrong. It's a chance to change my life. To be new. A new year. A new me. With the God that makes all things new.

O Creator and Master of time and eternity, super-substantial God of all, O Merciful One: bless the course of this year, and in your boundless mercy, save all those who worship You our one and only Master and who cry out to You in fear:
"O Saviour, grant a happy year to all mankind!"

Troparion for the New Year

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I officially declare Thursday nature walk day. Despite rain, snow, grumpiness, laziness, or whatever else comes our way, Thursday is the day. In years past, I didn't schedule nature study. I just wrote it on the master plan and told myself that we would go once a week. Whichever day had the best weather or the least other things to do.

Well, that doesn't work for us. Nature study was the first thing to go when the sun wasn't shining or the apathy bug hit the house. So, this year, I'm scheduling it for each and every Thursday. No matter what!

As we left the house this afternoon, it started to rain. Not easily intimidated, I continued on my mission. There is a nature preserve very close by that we had yet to visit. Just as we arrived, the rain stopped...right on cue. This is my new favorite place!

It's woods and a garden all in one. The openness of a meadow of flowers and the density of a forest where the sun never hits the ground. Flowing water and creeping vines. Birds and deer and a multitude of singing insects. All putting on their best late summer show for us. Every living thing drank up the rain from up above, down below, and on all sides. The green was so vibrant. The plants were so thick and rich. The smell of life was so intense, it filled our noses and literally tingled. I felt like I was a thousand miles from the city, even though I was right in the middle of it. Oh, how I treasure our park system! The people who carved out these spaces and protected them from urban sprawl were geniuses. Absolute geniuses.

We watched minnows in the creek. Listened to the birds. Sketched trees in our nature journals. Time flew by, and before we new it, it was well past time to leave and pick Lonna up from school.

And what was Lonna doing on the second day of public school while we were communing with nature? Why learning about jock itch of course! Seems like in 8th grade health they just jump right the male reproductive system. Sigh. I miss her.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Great Big Year of Learning

My oldest daughter is going back to public school this year. After six years of homeschooling, she has an unquenchable desire to be around middle school girls. Not really a surprise. She never was a homeschool poster child. She never snuggled on the couch in rapturous love of read alouds. She never begged for the next hands on project.

On the contrary, Lonna watched the school bus go by and wished she was on it. She despised field trips and homeschool classes. She turned up her nose at pretty much every attempt I made to accommodate her learning style and interests. Lonna is a good learner, but she doesn't love to learn. She's not an academic. She just wants to be like her perception of everyone else, and she's still young enough to believe that's a goal that can actually be obtained.

So even though it literally goes against what I said I stand for, I'm sending my baby off to 8th grade on Wednesday. And even though we've known it's coming for a long time, it's almost unbelievable.

I've been thinking a lot about the first day of Kindergarten. I remember her so clearly standing in front of our house, posing for a picture with her seemingly giant backpack dwarfing her tiny, lovable cuteness. I remember walking her to her class while holding her hand just a little too firmly. I remember managing to hold back the tears just long enough to get to the parking lot. Then I let it all flow, sniffling and snotting the whole drive to work. I was a mess. This whole growing up thing wasn't at all what it was cracked up to be. I wanted to be the one to teach her things. To watch her grow and to share her life. Instead, we scurried through night after night of crazy busyness after I got home from work. Our lives lived separately. Our experiences individual rather than common. Homeschooling wasn't even in my vocabulary at that time, but my heart knew what I wanted, even though I didn't have the word to name it.

I also remember distinctly two years later when I went to her classroom to pack up her things for the last day. We were pulling her and her brother out of public school to embark on a new journey. Homeschooling. God had made a way in a way that I didn't even realize was a possibility. Just like something He would do! There was much trepidation and confusion, but there was an underlying support of faith and truth. We were doing the right thing. We were living our lives together. Whenever I planned for the future, I never calculated one of the kids going back to public school. Never once was it a possibility. Until it became a reality.

Homeschooling is not an educational choice. It's a lifestyle choice. It's who we are and how we interact. It's the rhythm of our day and the structure of our lives. If you don't live it, that won't make any sense, but if you do, you know how it's so much more than you can quantify or describe. It's an alternative lifestyle. It's against the norm. But it's our normal. It's us. We're homeschoolers. And now, our lives will never be the same. It's not just as simple as sending Lonna to school. It doesn't just change her life. It changes all of our lives.

I'm still trying to process this new dynamic. I look at my schedule and somehow my brain just can't grasp that she will be gone for almost 8 hours a day. I can't believe she won't be reading her History in the recliner with the cat on her lap. I can't fathom that she won't be complaining about those read alouds. I can't imagine that I won't be able to look at her face when I want to, just because I want to. I can't bear the thought of a house without her voice in it five days a week. It literally hurts with a crushing ache when I think about the depth of the level that I will miss her.

But I also know without a doubt that it's the right thing to do. I've always been quick to wax in poetic argument about how wonderful homeschooling is. How it is one of the best things that ever happened to our family. But the flip side of that argument also pertains. If I truly believe what I say, that homeschooling lets each family member reach his or her full potential, I have to also entertain the possibility that it doesn't work for one of my own family members. I've never been anti-public school. Rather, I bill myself as pro-family. What works for some families doesn't work for others. Don't just blindly follow our society's model. You don't HAVE to send your kid to school. Women don't HAVE to be career driven. There is another way. I advocate choosing what's best for your individual family. Not all mothers are built for homeschooling. There's no shame in that. Not all kids are built for homeschooling. There's no shame in that. But realizing that one of those kids is mine??? I did feel shame in that.

I felt like a failure. Like I didn't do enough for her. Like I just wasn't enough for her. But I finally realized it isn't me. Lonna is an individual. Doing what's best for her means saying she needs to go to school. Not because I can't teach her, but because I CAN teach her. I can teach her that I respect her and her choices. Even when they aren't the ones I would make for her.

So, this week, I sacrifice my dream of the idyllic homeschool. I lay aside my own plans. I let Lonna take the lead. She still looks so small to me, like the picture on the first day of Kindergarten. I guarantee I'm going to sniffle and snot my way through this day, too.

We're going to be a different family in many ways, but we're still us. Public school or homeschool. We're us. Nothing changes that. We're continuing to learn together, and as everyone knows, you learn the most from the lessons that are the hardest. My great big year of learning...starting now.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Back by Popular Demand

I guess I'll blog again. People keep suggesting it. O.K. O.K. Never fear! I'm not getting a big head from the hordes of people seeking after me. There's been about...oh...four people. :) That, and I think about things to write with nowhere to write them. Things to say and nowhere to say them.

I just finished reading back through this blog, and it was eye-opening. It's only been four months since I've written. Not a huge span of time. I feel like an almost completely different person, though.

First off, I had to change the ages of all my children. Summer is birthday season around here. I apparently give birth best in a 6 week span from the end of May to the beginning of July. That, or I conceive best somewhere around September---but we won't go there!

I'm now the mother of a teenager, although the hormone-charged atmosphere has existed in our home for awhile. Now it's just official. And Hilary is four. Does that mean I stop calling her "the baby" now? Doesn't seem at all like that is possible.

I had another angioplasty for Pulmonary Vein Stenosis in June. The fifth one in less than three years. Will the fifth time be the charm??? I don't know. My doctor seems to think so. But of course, she did the third time...and the fourth.

I went for my follow-up appointment the other day. I had a metabolic stress test to see if my exercise tolerance has improved any. I detest that test. It's not just the treadmill. It's the mask that they attach to your head so tight, it feels like your cheeks have become one with the plastic. It's the million and one wires and blood pressure cuffs and the incessant questions. "How are you doing? What number is the level of activity on the chart now? And now? And now?" It's the apparently clueless researcher who decided that you should never, ever hold onto the rails, even when the incline is seemingly straight up. The incline...oh, the incline. Don't they know that's my arch nemesis? Don't they know I can make it through an entire day with careful planning to never face a set of stairs or a sloping hill? I can fake healthy most of the time. Except for the hills. There's no covering up on the hills.

But I did better. I am improved. I'm back to where I was before the veins re-narrowed. Not where I was years ago before this all started, but that's not expected. There is no cure. Just management. It's been a decade now anyway. There's all kinds of things that have changed with my body in a decade. I'm older. And squishier.

This is as good as it gets for me. I can make it through the day without a nap. I can breathe without trying so hard. My lungs only hurt if I overdo things. Life is good. But will it last? That nagging question I face again for the fifth time. Will it last? That's the number one spiritual lesson I've gained from this experience...nothing lasts. We live our entire lives wasting our lives fighting that truth. If we truly believed that nothing lasts, we wouldn't be so materialistic. Vainly trying to hold onto things or acquire new things. Things. Things. Things. They really don't matter if you know nothing lasts. Also, if you truly believe that nothing lasts, the pain and sorrow and suffering shouldn't matter so much. The darkness can never be so black if you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But we don't see the light. We feel like the pain will never end. Like the time will never come. That the wait is just too long. So we ride the ride of uncertainity up and down and up and down. Chasing after the job or the income or the place that will finally be the one that makes us happy. Seeking the people and the behavior of those people that will finally meet our standards. Running from the trials and tribulations that could be meaningful learning experiences and refine us with fire, but we don't see the opportunities. All we see are the flames.

So, I'm dealing again with the truth that nothing lasts. Good or bad. Only God remains. Never changing. The one sure thing to look to. The one true thing to turn to. Nothing in this life lasts. But God is so much deeper and wider and higher than anything this life can throw at you. Nothing lasts...but God.

I also find it interesting how much my thought process about headcovering can change in four months. It's been over a year now since I've covered full-time. And you know what? I don't really think about it anymore. It's just me. It's what I do. I don't fret over it. I don't feel awkward or strange. I feel like me. My mind is no longer filled with the focus of the covering itself. How does it feel? Does it match? Is anyone else doing it? I'm over those things. My head and heart are free from that distraction to focus on the real meaning of the covering. The humility. The obedience. The prayer. So then, what exactly is my excuse? Because I'm not there yet. I'm not now on some enlightened path free of battles. No, I've let go of one set of distractions and just replaced them with others. What's my excuse for not praying more? For not being humble? For not being gentle? For not seeing the light? That indeed is something to think about.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


The weather is in transition, so I've been in a bit of a headcovering transition, too. Plus, I'm taking a walk down memory lane. Jared had his first soccer game of the season last week, and as I walked on the field, I remembered the time last year when I wore a skirt to one of his games. I was testing out this whole feminine, modest dress crazy idea that had been floating around in my head for awhile. "Could I do this? Could I really wear a skirt all the time? Yes...I think I could." The breeze on the sidelines and the smell of the grass made me distinctly remember those thoughts and feelings. The searching. The insecurity. The unknown.

Headcovering came soon after, and I struggled all of that long, hot summer in the house we lived in at the time with no air conditioning. My hair was so short, I couldn't wear many scarf styles at all, since my hair would stick out from under the scarves in frustrating stubbornness. I ended up settling on kerchiefs and knee-length skirts. Slowly adding to my wardrobe over the months. As I unpacked the storage container with my spring and summer clothes last week, I chuckled a bit to myself. Almost all of my skirts of last summer will not be worn this year. Now, my standards are different, and they are far too short. The shirts also are too low-cut or tight. As each day goes by, I cover more and more. Not too long ago, though, I felt like such a rebel, covering up in those skirts and kerchiefs.

I chuckled at perspective. How fluid that concept is in life and spirit. Last year, I was just starting a journey. Now, it's still the same journey, but the scenery is so vastly different. I'm the same person when I look in the mirror. Yes, the hair is much longer, and I delight in my ponytail after a year without a haircut, but I'm basically the same. If I could find a mirror that would give me an image of my heart, though, I hope the difference would be striking.

I settled into a good wardrobe and headcovering groove at the end of this winter. I knew what I felt comfortable in and what was easy. I've been a bit thrown off now, though. The heavy scarves don't seem appealing in the morning, and I've found myself digging out my kerchiefs that have lain unused for months. I struggle with being a bit headcovering obsessed at times. In my mind, there should be the elusive ultimate headcovering...the one I can throw on with any outfit and have it be perfection. Thus, my drawers full of oblong scarves, square scarves, snoods, kerchiefs, etc. Thus, the wide variety in tying styles with each day a completely different scenario.

It came to me near the end of Lent that I had to let that dream die. There is no perfect headcovering for me. There is no one piece of fabric that will make it all click. That won't happen, because it's not about the covering. It's all about me. I'm not ready to be satisfied with my appearance. I'm not ready to truly let my vanity go.

Do I worry about headcovering constantly? No. Does it keep me from living my life? No. Once I decide on a covering for the day, I'm committed, and I go about my business without anymore thought. I just have moments when I'm deciding which scarf matches which skirt that often drag on far too long. I tie and re-tie, checking every angle in the mirror and frowning at the result. I surf the internet searching for more and more coverings or more and more tying styles. I have my moments...

Before I lapse into headcovering despair though, I try to embrace the ebb and flow of perspective. Life is not concrete. It is an ever-changing landscape of point of view. Each moment changes our view on the next moment. Headcovering is not the end all and be all. It is the tool that gives me perspective. As I am not saved in one moment, but am being saved as I work out my salvation, I am also only in the middle of the headcovering process. I know I'm past the beginning, but the end is somewhere I can't even focus. I just live in the jumbled in-between, where I fall down and get back up. Fall down and get back up. I want to gain humility with headcovering. I am not there yet. I want to gain gentleness of action and spirit with headcovering. I am not there yet. I want to have a joyful, obedient spirit with headcovering. I am not there yet.

BUT...I'm working out my issues with headcovering. The issues that are all about me. My vanity. My lust for power. My selfishness. Those passions die slowly, and they don't go down without a fight. Headcovering is a process. It is not a solution.

Yesterday, we went to the beach at the lake for the first time this season. Ridiculously warm and unseasonable weather. Even though the water temps of Lake Erie still register in the 40's, we wanted to sit by the shore, dig in the sand, and pretend it's summer. What on earth was I going to wear? Last year, I used lake visits as an excuse to dump the whole headcovering, modest dress experiment. I wore shorts and and a revealing tank top. No headcovering. I can't do that anymore. That whole perspective thing...

I settled on digging out one of those skirts that are just too short this year and one of my much-neglected kerchiefs. I made sure we didn't need to stop anywhere, even just to get gas, because I didn't want to go into a store that uncovered. I felt lost and confused. What was this all really about anyway? Could I still be me with my knees showing? Who was I if I didn't meet that long list of standards I've worked so hard to create? As I left the house, my choice of dress and covering had absolutely nothing to do with prayer and humility. It was 100% about me and my self-focus.

We arrived at the lake, and I was still wandering. Feeling a bit like a freakish, obsessed fanatic, I traced figures in the sand with my finger by the edge of the water. Suddenly, two young women appeared with their small children. I almost couldn't believe it, but they each had on knee-length denim skirts and kerchiefs covering their heads. I laughed out loud and praised God for His goodness and His sense of humor. I needed a little encouragement, and He knew just how to provide it.

Yes, I'm on a journey, and I have my standards for myself, but I have to keep it all in perspective. Every woman is on a journey. For most, headcovering doesn't even factor into their lives at all. This is my moment. This is where I travel. It's not about how much or how little fabric. It's not about whether my scarf matches my skirt. It's about me. And God. And perspective.

So, my prayer today is that I will cover for God. Not for myself. Knee length or ankle length. Oblong or square. God, help me to plant gentleness. To nurture humility. To cultivate obedience. One moment at a time. your mercy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Holy Week

We took a gazillion and one pictures of Holy Week. Partly to document the events for the parish website and partly to cement the images in my mind.

Looking back, though, I am having a difficult time wading through the pictures to find the definitive ones. The pictures that captured the exact feelings of the moments they were taken. On any given day, Orthodoxy is a buffet of stimulation for the senses. Sights, sounds and smells ooze from every moment. Maybe the pictures just don't capture that???

How can I shrink down the moment in the Paschal Vigil, where all the lights are put out. The oppressiveness of that darkness. The weight of the stone in front of my own tomb. Trapped by death, standing huddled in anticipation. Then there it is---the spark. The new fire. The light of Christ's Resurrection coming into the world and into the depths of my soul. No picture does that justice.

But I am glad for the moments I did record. The peace of the setting sun at Bridegroom Matins.

The tomb. By tradition, we cover the face and feet of Jesus. Some things are so awesome, they are impossible to fully behold. The fact that God became man and lay dead in a's just too much to take in.

So, we don't see his face as we huddle around like the rest of the mourners in the icon. Kissing any bit of him we can reach.

Our priest kissing the feet of the crucified Christ on Holy Thursday, just moments after we literally nailed his lifesize icon to the cross. The ringing of the rock on the nails echoes in my ears. No picture captures the realization that Jesus died...and it's all my fault.

This icon actually hangs year round in our church. It sits over in the corner, and if Vespers is timed just right, the light shines on his face in a glowing sweetness. Too often though, it's just the last icon in the line to venerate before you're out the church and into the hall for that long-awaited cup of coffee after Liturgy. Too easily an afterthought. I liked seeing it moved into the center of the church and my consciousness. Now and until Ascension, the cross remains in its original corner, but there is no icon on it. My eye keeps drifting there. My brain knows there's something wrong...something missing. I smiled at the knowledge of the joyous reason that cross is empty and will never be needed again.

The candles around the tomb as we took our shift keeping vigil in the wee hours of the night on Saturday, continuously reading the Psalms in the darkness.

Hearing my son chant in his sweet, clear voice. Not a hint of a voice change yet. Shhhh! Don't tell him I said that. :)

After the Lamentations service on Friday, a group from our parish went "tomb hopping". We traveled around to six different local parishes. We smiled at our unity in the faith, thinking of all the Orthodox Christians around the world doing the exact same thing at the exact same moment. We prostrated in front of each tomb with the same reverence. He was still dead at each one. The night was still dark.
And finally, the joy of Pascha. When all the lights are turned on, the doors are opened, and the tomb is empty. Gone.

Hilary was obsessed with this dress. She's been waiting for weeks for Pascha. The main event was getting to wear the dress. The whole Resurrection thing was just a subplot.

Her three year old mind keeps struggling to grasp the week's events. She talks about how Jesus died. Him on the cross fascinates her. She keeps asking, "Why did he die?" Because He loves you, we respond over and over. Because He loves you. That seems to make her happy.

I guess the main reason the pictures don't seem to be enough is because my mind keeps being filled with images of Jerusalem. A garden. A mob. An earthquake. A tomb. So much more than what I see outside my window.

Holy Week makes me feel like I'm actually there. Won't let me focus on myself. Won't let me forget. Yes, I'm one the women weeping at the tomb, but I'm also denying him like Peter and shouting "Crucify him!" with the crowd. I hang my head in shame and repentence.

And now it's over. Back to "normal" life where we aren't attending three services a day and real honest to goodness meat fills our plates again. I'll miss the fast, though. I know I need it. I don't ever want to forget what happened and what I do everyday that made it necessary.

Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Light and Shade

I could have joined the 300,000 people for the St. Patrick's Day parade yesterday, but I decided I'd take advantage of the fact that more people downtown meant less people everywhere else. We started off the day with a trip to the art museum. They're in the middle of a massive construction project, which has really cramped my museum rat style. For the last four years, little to none of the art has been on display. It's finally coming back, with three years left to go on the project. I'm so pleased. Something about the wandering flow of an art museum speaks to my spirit's craving for peace. Drifting in simplicity from one room of discovery to the next. A gaze here. A prolonged soaking there. I think there's so much lack of art appreciation in the world, because most people know art only through photographs.

Nothing compares to standing in front of the real thing. Squinting at the brush strokes. The layers of paint piled up in three dimensions. Viewing the lines from one angle, and then seeing them with a completely different meaning from the other side of the room. The piercing eyes of a sculpture looking directly into your own. Imagining the subject. The artist. The moment. A concrete, tangible piece of God. All truth and beauty come from God, so even if the person claims not to believe in Him, their creation does. Man is capable of greatness only as a reflection of the Creator. The splendor of man is the splendor of God. Every time I look at a masterpiece, I thank God for sharing Himself with me through the genius of a temperamental painter. His touch is everywhere---if only you look for it.

Afterward, we went on a picnic. The sun was so bright. Spring finally came, even though I don't believe it's here to stay just yet. I'm sure old man winter has one or two more tricks up his sleeve. We went to one of our favorite parks. One we don't get to visit very often, since we moved to the other side of the metro area. Two creeks converge at this spot, and the beds of them are lined in a startling, blue-gray shale. We ate our Lenten feast of peanut butter in silence, our gazes lost in a small waterfall. As the children went off to play, I attempted to capture the gleaming sunbeams in the water. I accidentally caught my own shadow in the picture, and that was all I could think about for the rest of the trip.

I looked so different in my shadow. My headcovering especially jumped out at me. I saw myself clearly. I wasn't fighting the urge to critique my smile or weight like I normally would in a photograph. I couldn't see any of those things. All I saw was my life in silhouette. And it was beautiful.

My kids are growing up at warp speed. So different since the last time we visited this park. Lonna now too sophisticated to climb the hill with her brother. Jared actually brave enough to do it by himself. Hilary no longer afraid of the swings. I captured their youth in the shadows, and I held onto it, just for a moment.

I drove Lonna crazy snapping pictures of the ground as we walked, but that's O.K. Pretty much everything I do right now rubs her tween-ness the wrong way.

We all looked more defined in the shadows. Jared the protector. Peering from behind me. My two daughters. Two ends of a spectrum. The firstborn and the youngest.

And me. Not the woman I was last spring. I wonder what my shadow said then? Did it tell of my aching need to be obedient to something more than my own whims? Did it capture all my questions?

What is a woman? What does it mean to be feminine? More than bras and childbirth. There must be something more to how a woman talks, walks, feels, and speaks...

Did I even have a shape then? I remember feeling like a lost blob, shifting in and out of time and space, looking for center.

Have I found my definition yet? Who am I now? The edges look so crisp in my shadow, yet I still have so much left to face. I am far from obedient. I am far from humble.

I like the idea of the shadow, though. The unnecessary extras obscured. Like looking at the paintings. Viewing myself from a different angle. Better seen up close in person. The image of God. One brushstroke at a time.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sunday of Orthodoxy

My son and I went to the Vespers service for the Sunday of Orthodoxy last night. I love this service. It's guaranteed that I'll cry.

The Sunday of Orthodoxy is the first Sunday in Lent, even though it doesn't directly have anything to do with the Lenten season of preparing for the death, burial and Resurrection of Christ. It does have everything to do with Orthodoxy, though. It is the day we remember the end of the official controversy over those pesky, troublemaking icons. I say official, since I don't think that argument will ever actually end.

When I converted, I didn't have a difficult time accepting icons, but I didn't instantly fall in love, either. I didn't get the big deal. My art history minor told me that those poor Byzantines were just a little behind the times. The Renaissance thankfully came along to save us from the flat severeness of the icons, replacing them with more visually pleasing chubby cherubs and buxom virgins.

As my priest said in the sermon yesterday, though, if you understand icons, you understand pretty much everything we believe. We don't worship the wood and the paint. We look through the icon, passing on our love and respect to the person the picture represents. And everytime we do that, it becomes just a little bit easier to look past the flesh and externals of those around us to see the image of Christ in them. If we see Christ, then we can truly love. Icons are Orthodoxy. We touch, we kiss, we prostrate, we fast, we feast, we cross ourselves A LOT, we use our entire bodies to worship God. The icon is all of those in one. The closest earthly thing to capture the sweet portrait of a prayer.

So, to watch the procession of priests and children carrying icons brought a tear to my eye. I thought of all those who died defending the icons. I thought of my three year old, who shows the same level of excitement when she sees a picture of a beloved family member as when she sees a new icon...really just pictures of our extended family. I thought of the deep richness of the Faith, and I was overwhelmed by that depth and in awe of that richness.

My city has a Pan-Orthodox service for the Sunday of Orthodoxy. I don't even know how many Orthodox churches there are here. I'm OCA, Orthodox Church in America, and there's over a dozen of those in this region. I don't know where to begin counting the Greek, Russian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Romanian and all the rest. Point is, there's a lot. The service was in several languages. You could read the ethnic diversity in the faces of the crowd, as we sat in the Serbian cathedral. So many different traditions. One unanimous declaration:

This is the Faith of the Apostles.
This is the Faith of the Fathers.
This is the Faith of the Orthodox.
This is the Faith which has established the Universe.

When I was Protestant, I read about the early martyrs for the Faith, and they seemed so distant. That was another place; another time. Very few seemed to die for the faith now. Missionaries in the jungle. The occasional freak incident. All separate from the bouncy, upbeat newness of my Sunday morning church service. A worship of indivuality rather than community. A worship of the modern rather than the ancient. Not much to defend or die for.

Last night, I felt differently I thought of the Orthodox under Communism. The millions who died very recently for the Faith I now share. Orthodoxy is a faith with a history, and Orthodoxy is a faith with a present. As I sang, I felt connected with all of them in the past 2000 years. The Russian peasants, the early martyrs, the Greek next to me and the Serb across the aisle. Above all, I am Christian. That is my religion. But I worship God in the Orthodox manner, and for that, I am truly thankful.

In all my joy, I was saddened by one thing. Among all those people, there was only one other woman with her head covered. Actually, there were several older ladies with hats, but that could have been a covering, a desire to dress up, or a more pressing desire to protect their hair from the pouring rain outside. I apply no religious significance to their head gear. No, it was just me in my snood and the lady in the babushka in the back. I don't fully understand why no one covers here. They just don't.

It's hard to feel out of place in the group where I'm supposed to fit in more than anywhere, but it always happens to me at these gatherings. Covering is extremely rare in my neck of the woods, and that makes me sad if I think about it too much. So, I decided not to think about it. I turned my eyes from my neighbors and gazed at the iconostasis. There were the icons. The cloud of witnesses. And there, ALL the ladies were covered.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Did you know?

Did you know that Garlands of Grace does custom lengths? I'm so excited! We all got a little piece of the tax return pie to spend on whatever we wanted. Lonna bought clothes. Jared bought Legos. And I, of course, bought headcoverings!

In my ongoing quest to find the perfect covering style, one I can just put on and not think about, I took advantage of the offer at Garlands of Grace to request a custom length. Their Suzanne style is just too short for me. So, I measured the length I decided was just right. I came up with 20". This is definitely THE length. Doesn't fall over and get caught on my shoulder, yet it gives me the drape that I like.

Their workmanship as always is excellent. Same for customer service. Add these to my snoods from their collection, and I think I'm almost there. The place where my headcovering doesn't occupy the time it does in my schedule and thoughts. There are still those mornings where I feel like I'm defeating the purpose. Spending far too much time fighting with the covering. I want to put on my covering each morning with a meek and quiet spirit. Not caught up in worldly cares of how it just doesn't fit right or look right.

The perfect covering won't fix all those concerns, though. My heart must continue to change and purposefully turn my back on the grips of vanity. These coverings do help, though. I am grateful for them.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Typical Day at Our House

I used to record an average day in our life once a month on my old blog. I always like to read what other people do with their day, and it keeps me on schedule, since I know I have to write about it!

7:40 a.m. I stayed up too late watching the Oscars. Doesn't make much sense, considering I don't support most of what Hollywood stands for, but there it is. It was nice to see women in dresses at least! :) I'm late from the start. My schedule says I should get up a little after 7:00 a.m. That way, I can check my e-mail, pray and basically do things by myself before the kids wake up at 8:00 a.m.

I've never been much of a schedule person. My creativity encourages me to live in the moment. Got an idea? Follow it. Got another one? Let's switch paths and chase that rabbit trail. Important things get done along the way, but rarely in a logical order. Every day is completely different. A jagged criss-cross through life rather than a winding spiral around a grounded center. Works well some of the time. My life has been too chaotic to make room for all the randomness lately. The cracks are starting to show. I'm seeing more and more that sticking to the schedule is obedience, and that word means a lot to me.

So, with prayer I made the schedule. Asking God to be the priority in my day. Ordering my life in the way most productive for the salvation of all of our souls. Rushing from here to there; missing prayer times; living in general swings from laziness to high-energy scatteredness. None of that is conducive to prayer, meditation and simplicity. Virtues are cultured in a garden. They must be tended and given consistant attention. My garden has become the place I pass through on my way to the next thing. Not enough time in a life filled with spontaneity to stop and watch anything bloom. That is not the example I want to set for the kids.

Being obedient to the schedule is just as important as being obedient to my rule of prayer, the fast, the headcovering, or the other spiritual tools I've chosen to utilize. Following a schedule does not make me a slave to time. Rather it frees me from being a slave to my own desires and whims. The schedule sets a boundary around my day. Reminding me to pray. Making sure my priorities are centered. Teaching my kids that life is not something we do by the seat of our pants. A Godly life is deliberate and purposeful. A Godly life has a schedule. Ask the monastics. They seem to have figured this all out a long time ago.

8:00 a.m. Kids wake up--- also reluctantly. Everyone gets dressed and eats breakfast. Hilary, the three year old, is overjoyed to see that my husband took a personal day today. His long hours at work seem to affect her the most. She crawls into our bed with him. Lonna, Jared and I meet back together for Morning Prayers.

9:00 a.m. Grammar. We use Rod & Staff. I love this curriculum. It's rigorous and has given my kids a deep grasp of the English language. I love that they diagram sentences and approach Grammar old school style. It makes them better writers and readers. It's a Mennonite curriculum, so they do tend to roll their eyes at the repeated sentence examples referring to Brother John and his farm tools or the like. I appreciate the Scripture use, though. We review the previous lesson and introduce the next one. They have just a few minutes to work on the assignment. The rest will be completed in the afternoon.

Before you begin to think that our homeschool morning is an idyllic love fest around the kitchen table, please know that it absolutely is NOT. My children don't run to me each morning begging for lessons. They aren't always excited about what I'm excited about or doing extra homework on the side. That's O.K. They're human just like me.

I do not see homeschooling as our family educational choice. It's our family life choice. We've made the choice to learn together, about loving God, working out our salvation, and growing up, along with the secondary topics of English, Math and Science. There's no point in filling my kids' heads full of facts if they have no way to apply them. So, we've learned how history tells us about God and the journey of mankind rather than a list of dates. We've learned how science tells us about the awesomeness of creation and the omnipotence of God rather than a set of vocabulary words. We've learned how math tells us about the intricacies and capabilities of the human mind through time and space, rather than a set of flashcards. We've learned how literature and language tell us about the value of communicating with other people and the freedom of imagination rather than summarizing a theme. We've learned that we are not islands, shuffling along behind a hundred different people our own age day after day. We've learned that we are part of a community of all sizes, shapes and ages.

My job is not to raise children. My job is to raise adults. I want to give them the skills they need to work and live with others as Christian human beings. I raise them not for a mere lifetime here on Earth, but an eternity with God. In our school there is academics, but there is so much more. They're not always in the mood to do school, and that's helpful. It teaches them perseverance. The lessons in responsibility and diligence aren't written in the teacher's manual, but they're just as valuable as the rest.

9:30 a.m. We switch to Science. We're using Apologia's Exploring Creation with General Science. We read the lesson out loud together and do the experiment for the day. A couple days a week, we do additional work for science. We study the biographies of different scientists throughout the year, so we may read a book, watch a movie about his/her life and write about them. We go on nature walks every few weeks when the weather allows. We also read other science-related books. Today, it was just the basic text.

10:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m. The older ones move into independent work. One does Math using Teaching Textbooks, which is a computer-based math program. This is by far the best math curriculum I've ever found and probably the best homeschool curriculum for any subject period. I answer the occasional question, but other than that, the kids teach themselves through the program. Teaching Textbooks put the fun back in math for us. While one child does math, the other reads. The material changes from day to day. History and literature. Maybe something for Science or Art. At 10:30 a.m., they switch. Meanwhile, I do "school" with little Hilary. We read books, play games, and color. She loves doing workbooks like the big kids, so she eats up any I get for her. Basically, I'm giving her my undivided attention for an hour.

11:00 a.m. French. We are using a curriculum from Bob Jones University Press. We've learned Latin the last couple years, but they never bonded with any of the curricula I tried. I was disappointed, because Latin was my first love. We'll come back to it in later years. For now, we've moved on to French. I also took French in high school, and I definitely need it with this curriculum! This is not a choice for parents who don't know the language. There is major teacher involvement here. It's turning out to be way more work than I anticipated, but it's getting us to the place we want to be.

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Lunch. Lonna and Jared make their own lunch. I call it Life Skills class. :) I'm trying to teach them not just how to cook, but how to make good food choices. We all have issues in that area in this family. They like a long lunch, so we relax. Lonna reads one of the historical fiction novels she loves. Jared plays, reads comic books, or draws. Hilary plays. I usually read or do school research on the computer.

12:30 p.m.-2:00 p.m. The rest of the school day. Sometimes we do art, music, typing or another subject. We always wrap up loose ends. Today, they finish Grammar and the French homework I assigned. They read a book about Elizabethan England and the poetry of our poet of the month, Ogden Nash. Jared reads the book Mary, Bloody Mary to supplement History. Lonna reads Julie of the Wolves for Literature. They finish up their study guide questions for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

I design my own curriculum. Does that mean I personally write every lesson? Does that mean I'm a genius who knows everything there is to know about every subject? No, that means I'm a manager of my children's education. I look around and collect the necessary resources to help them reach their goals. I use textbooks for some subjects and teaching guides for others. Some lessons I do compile all on my own from library books, conversation and Elmer's glue. There is no school out of a box at our house. We choose the best possible option each year for each subject.

I consider homeschooling a profound responsibility. Noboby is making me do this. I made the choice to teach my children. Therefore, I take it very seriously. It is my job. If I worked outside the home, I would not show up late, not pay attention, do a crappy job and then expect to still get paid. Same goes for homeschooling. I have to earn it. I can't put my own personal interests in front of my time commitment to schooling. The stakes are high. It's my children's lives I'm talking about. Homeschooling isn't for wimps.

Hilary plays for a little bit longer, and then we read a book. Naptime begins. I read Scripture and doze off on the couch saying the Jesus Prayer. My day is so much better when I pray the Hours. Even if I'm just marking the hour with a quick remembrance and "Lord have mercy!".

Life is distracting. That is why me must pray continually. I'm easily distracted, so I especially need a rule of prayer. Back to that schedule again! My precious husband has been cleaning out the garage and doing laundry. How kind and thoughtful he is to use his day off to make my life easier! He switches to some well-deserved time with the Playstation.

When school time is over, Lonna and Jared can stop and take a break if they like. If there's homework, it can be done later in the evening. Or they can just keep working until it's done. The older they get, the more I try to give them choices and encourage them to take ownership of their education. My job is not to teach them a mindless list of facts to be spewed back out on a test and forgotten the next day. My job is to teach them how to learn and to love learning. To seek out answers and see how those answers always, always lead us back to God. Learning is life, and it does not fit in neat time compartments.

3:00 p.m. My nap lasts about 20 minutes. No time for more. It's shopping day, so I run down to the bakery outlet to reload our freezer with bread. When I return, I gather my coupons and make my list for the trip to the grocery store. Lonna and Jared do their chores, and I sneek back to my room for the 9th hour prayers.

4:00 p.m. We pile in my husband's car to go to swim team practice. My car is in the shop. Sigh... Even though my husband took a day off work to relax, we're having our own personal recession around here, so he's been working a second job for awhile. He stocks shelves at a local grocery/discount store most evenings. We drop Lonna and Jared off at swimming and head to his store. They have good prices on most things, and we get an extra 10% off employee discount. I pick out what I need, but I don't want to do all my shopping there. Hilary and I tell Daddy goodbye and head across the street to the store with the double coupons. Hilary plays in their play area while I shop.

6:00 p.m. Shopping is over just in time to pick Lonna and Jared up from practice. We come back home, and I make dinner (vegetable lo mein). Everyone is starving. Should have made something in the crock pot so it would have been ready.

7:30 p.m. We go to the library. Lonna and Jared look for their books first while I watch Hilary play with the toys. Then, they watch her while I search for school books.

8:45 p.m. Back home and pooped. I hit a point each day where I just don't have anymore energy. Hilary watches a video she picked out at the library, and I zone out on the couch in front of the other T.V.

10:15 p.m. Time to pick my husband up from work. Theoretically, everyone is supposed to get ready for bed while I'm gone. I give into Hilary's pleas and let her wait up for Daddy.

10:45 p.m. We're back and Jared is still in the shower. I don't know if he was playing with his Star Wars figures or searching for chest hair, but he was a long time. Sure enough, all the hot water is gone. I flop down on the bed and watch the news while I wait for the water heater. My eyes are barely open. Kirk irons his clothes for the next day. Finally, I take a shower.

11:30 p.m. I kiss my icons and pray for forgiveness. God grants me a peaceful sleep.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Thaw

It was only a week ago that we went to sleep believing the weatherman, who said we'd get 1"-3" of snow. We ended up getting 13". This was in addition to the 40" in January, the second snowiest on record. Everywhere I looked, things were distorted. The layers of snow made park benches seem crafted for gnomes or fairies, only a few inches between the seat and the ever rising ground level. Mailboxes peaked mysteriously out of massive piles of ice, hardened by the repeated splash from the snowplow. The branches of the trees grew plump and full, dressed in furry, white coats.

After lunch, we ditched school and headed to the park, the one with the good sledding hill. Can't pass up a chance to play. We still learned important lessons that day, like don't ever let your older siblings make you sit in the front of the sled. It never ends well.

The sun glared so brightly my eyes smarted, and the sky glowed a crisp, contrasting blue. The silence and stillness filled my ears. No voices. No rush from the river across the field, since it was crippled by a top sheet of dense ice. My mind overflowed with the vastness of the lack of sound.

Today, we returned to the park. Instead of sleds, the kids had bikes. Instead of mittens, we wore lightweight jackets. The stillness was replaced by the now raging scream of water. Our voices were whipped and thrown around in a confusion of sound, as the monster overpowered all else in sight, sound, and presence.

How quickly the snow relented. As we walked down the gently sloping path to the lookout point, every crevice was filled with water. No obstacle could hold it back as it sought out lower ground. Faster and faster, under the leaves, around the stones, and down the steps the water raced to join the river on its uncharted course.

The water reminded me of two things. In one way, the world is the water. The relentless torrent that tears down the spiritual protection I've so cautiously constructed. The influences I've let creep in have melted my resources and literally made them disappear. I've been distracted, and while I wasn't looking, the thaw has come.

In that case, the water scares me. The power of it. The murkiness that I can't see through. The current that I forgot to fight against. The whirlpools and hidden traps devised to pull me under. I thought I could do it with just enough prayer and just enough fasting. Just enough---not enough.

Ultimately though, the thaw reminds me of the Creator, who fashioned the flow of the weather. The living water. I think of the smell. I almost forgot what this smells like. The grass I haven't seen for over a month. The dampness of the rain. The life under the freeze. Still there...just sleeping.

While I was huddled up in my cave of hibernation, grumbling about this and whining about that, life was going on without me. The river never freezes solid. It still flows under the ice. Sluggish and out of focus, I wandered, blind to the edges of the path which were hidden under all the snow. Instead of praying more, I prayed less. Instead of looking to God, I looked within myself. Another thing that never ends well.

The thaw is a blessing. A chance to see my life again. Correct my path. Straighten my steps. In this case, the water is a cleansing. The melting of the external extras that are no longer needed. I watch them as they rush away on the current. Out of sight before I have a chance to miss them.

The cold returns tomorrow, and this brief illusion of spring will be but a distant memory in a few short days.

How do I stop myself from freezing again? How do I resist the urge to look the other way, crawl in my cave, and go back to sleep?

I pray that God will keep my nostrils full of the smell of wet grass, my ears bursting with the sound of rushing water, and my eyes dancing with the warm light of the thaw.

Jeremiah 2:13 says, "My people have committed two evils: They forsook Me, the fountain of living water, and hewed for themselves broken cisterns, unable to hold water."

Lord, have mercy on me for seeking my own way and building this sad, worthless excuse of a container. Fill me with the living water and help me to hold it. In the rivers that flow through prayer. In the pathways that run straight and true through fasting. In the thaw that returns life to all who have fallen asleep.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Jane Austen and the Pharisee

When I started covering, I instantly noticed how the covering reminded me to watch my tongue. It's difficult to stand around in full modest garb and cuss like a sailor, or yell at the kids, or gossip. I would feel the weight of the covering even more distinctly, and I would remember that if I'm going to dress the part, I have to act gentle and humble, too.

I'm getting too used to the covering. It's second nature now. I would never think of going out in public without one. It's just who I am. I don't even notice it's there half the time. And that is the problem...

As I was listening to the sermon yesterday for the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, I thought about my pride. I am too much like the Pharisee who is so very grateful that he is better than everyone else. I looked around the room, and I was reminded of all my snap judgments. I had jumped to a conclusion about almost every person there. I had neatly categorized them into the sorting compartments in my head. Certain people go in certain places, and some of those places are not pleasant to be. I judge too quickly and talk too freely. I do not cover my neighbor's sins but expose them, while my sin's stay deeply hidden.

I have a gnawing hunger to know the details of anyone's story. Probably two-thirds of that is my Southern roots, where knowing everyone's business is an accepted and celebrated pastime. When I moved north, I was surprised at the tight lips. In Kentucky, I could spend five minutes in a room full of women and come out with all the details regarding their husbands, birth stories, and opinions about people not present. Not so up here. People still talk, but they just take a bit longer to get the gossip wheel turning.

If there's a story to be told, I want to know it. Curiosity killed this cat---more than once. Still I listen for the juicy stories. Still I re-categorize the people in my life based on what I hear. Still I put myself ever higher than the rest, safe and comfortable in my "thank God that I am not like them" haven.

Last night, I watched the BBC version of Sense and Sensibility. Will they take away my English degree or my female identification card if I admit that I have not always been a Jane Austen fan? I ultimately respect and enjoy her work, but sometimes I get so annoyed at her characters. Austen's books are set in a time and a place where people held their tongues, and it caused huge messes of misunderstandings. Even though I knew the outcome, I just wanted to yell at Elinor to hurry up and tell him you love him already!!! Quit trying to be a lady and just say what you mean. Save everyone mountains of trouble.

But does it? Does talking make things easier or more difficult? I think I've been too bold and mouthy to avoid misunderstanding lately, and it just leads to deeper trouble. I think I've been too quick to talk and slow to listen. Too quick to judge and slow to acknowledge my own sins. Too much like the Pharisee and not at all like the Publican. The Pharisee thanked God that he was not like other men, but all the Publican could do was beat his chest and cry, "God be merciful to me, a sinner."

How do other people see me? What impression am I giving? Is my chin lifted to the sky in self-righteousness, or is my head bowed in repentance? Is my mouth running like a raging river, or is it closed to listen? Is my tongue wagging its opinion about everyone and everything or is it saying, "God be merciful to me, a sinner"?

Covering my head isn't enough. I have to cover my tongue. If I can just get it to stay still long enough to put on the covering!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Zacchaeus Sunday

There's something about Zacchaeus. I remember him from Sunday School. "Zacchaeus was a wee little man. A wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree to see what he could see...". I never thought much of Zacchaeus aside from the song. Cute story for kids. In the past year, I've thought a lot about Zacchaeus, though. I see him everywhere.

My children and I were Chrismated on Zacchaeus Sunday 2008. The date my priest picked as most convenient. The last Sunday of ordinary time before the liturgical calendar launches into the mystical journey of Great Lent. Zacchaeus didn't mean much to me that day. I remember making a mental note to study his story again. Take another look at the man whose day of remembrance now held a special meaning for me as well.

Weeks later, I attended my first Holy Unction service on Holy Wednesday. An Unction service is the Orthodox version of an old-time healing service. The sick in body, mind, and soul come with the hope of being relieved from their suffering in all its forms. While physical healing is the desired result, it is not a necessary outcome of the Sacrament. Sometimes God does not heal the body, but the ill can be given the strength and wisdom to bear the burden of sickness. A precious gift of its own.

Seven Epistle and seven Gospel readings make up the Unction service. Each time the priest reads the Gospel, he places the book on the head of a sick person. In this way, faith is deepened for all present and the sick especially feel the comfort of God's Word.

My priest read the first Gospel over a lady in our parish who is fighting a long and tiring battle with cancer. I was touched by the intimacy of the service. One more tie that binds me to the community of my parish family and Orthodox Christians around the world. Then, Father motioned to me. He placed the Gospel book on my head and began to read--- the story of Zacchaeus. The weight of the book bowed my head even lower as I stared at my hands in my lap. I was filled with memories of the days when I first became chronically ill with my cardiac disease. At the time, I was a spiritual wanderer, searching for the Truth in an ocean of Protestant denominations. I remember many Pentecostal healing services. I went "expecting" as directed, but I always left wanting. I longed for someone to tell me that the suffering had value. That God could still use me, even though I was broken. That God still loved me, even when he chose not to heal me. I didn't find it during those years, but I felt it at that Unction service. I felt comforted. I didn't expect God to heal me that day, but I left with something unexpected. Peace. Peace that there is beauty in suffering. And Zacchaeus was there...

Two more times over the summer this event repeated itself. I went on pilgrimage to two different monasteries and attended Holy Unction services. Each time, the familiar story was read over me without my requesting it. I was just the one that happened to be picked by the priests. It was always Zacchaeus. Each time I felt the peace. Each time I wondered more and more about this little man who kept showing up in ways that couldn't be coincidence.

I haven't thought about Zacchaeus for awhile. Until the Reader's schedule came out. I started reading at our Wednesday morning Divine Liturgy back in August. Our group for that service is small and I'm the youngest one by about, oh...30 years. No members of the choir are able to come. No readers. It was making for some odd services. A one man show for the priest, since he had to do all the parts.

So, I started reading the Epistle. Then added on the Hours before the service and the prayers after Communion at the end of the service. Mid-week Feast days and other occasional services followed. When I was a little girl, I dreamed of singing in church. Like the sopranos who would belt out the big numbers during the offering. But my voice is not a soloist's voice. No special numbers for me. So, finding the treasure of reading at this point in my life is a special gift. Learning to chant has enhanced my private prayers and opened up a new level of depth to the services.

I had never thought about reading on Sunday. I wasn't part of the choir/reader clique. The dynamics of our parish have changed recently, though, and Father made the announcement that he would be adding new readers to the rotation for Sunday morning. He e-mailed the new schedule out, and I scanned for my name. There I was...on Zacchaeus Sunday. As I read the Hours this morning, I thought again about that wee little man. What is the deal? What am I supposed to be learning from him? Is it God just giving me a reminder that He's out there? Kind of our little private joke. A nod and a wink. Or is it more?

I listened to the Gospel with a close ear, searching for a clue to the significance. Nothing. No lightening bolt mountaintop experience. Just the same story. Same sycamore tree.

Father started the sermon. Zacchaeus was a tax collector in the way that gave tax collectors a bad name. He cheated. He took advantage. He was a small man in more than just his stature. Yet, he climbed up in a tree in the middle of a crowd. With all the people he controlled watching. His job was to hold people under his thumb. Since he was short, he probably tried extra hard to make sure he looked as intimidating as possible. His appearance was extremely important. But on that day, he looked absolutely ridiculous. I'm sure they laughed at him. Hanging from a sycamore tree looking at this crazy Jesus guy walking down the road. Some might even have got quite a view up his robes. An embarrassing situation. Not at all his usual image. But he did it. To see Jesus.

Sometimes you have to be willing to look ridiculous to follow Christ. When Father said those words, I finally, finally got it. That's why that wee little man keeps following me around.

Even though I didn't know it last year at my Chrismation, the first time Zacchaeus appeared, God was going to lead me down a new path. He was going to ask me to dress modest and put on a the the swim meets where the other two hundred women in the room have on pants. He was going to ask me to cover my head...when no one else in my parish does...when my relatives think I'm crazy...when in the world's eyes, I look ridiculous.

I was talking to a friend the other day about a bit of the loneliness I feel in covering. I don't expect anyone else I know to do it, but gee whiz, it sure would be nice to have just one person who understands! A spiritual buddy of sorts who knows what it feels like to look a little ridiculous and choose to get up the next day and do it all over again. Someone who makes the same choice to buck the system of the world's standards and climb up a tree, hanging out on a limb, just to get a little, teeny glimpse of Jesus. No matter how it looks.

I don't have someone like that in my parish. But I have Zacchaeus. We keep bumping into each other. With a wink and a nod of understanding. He knows what it's like to look ridiculous for Christ, and he knows how much it's worth it. Because Jesus called him down from the tree. To make him a new man. To change him forever through one, ridiculous moment.

I'll climb that tree. I'll hang out on that limb. Just to see Christ. Just to follow Him. I'm starting to get a knack for looking ridiculous...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Scheduling Conflicts

Can I say how much I loooooove my snood from Garlands of Grace? I got it for Christmas, and I wish I had all the colors. It's probably my favorite headcovering. I like the old-fashioned girlishness, and I especially like the comfort. I can turn my head any which way. It doesn't budge, slip, pinch, or itch. It feels like nothing is there, which is an incredibly important quality to find in a headcovering.

I think I will love it more when I actually have the hair to fill it out. Right now, I wear a bandanna tied in a basic kerchief style underneath to give the illusion that I have long, flowing locks under there. Otherwise, the snood would just kind of hang pitifully. Someday I'll have the real thing to cover up.

No one else in my family seems to share my snood enthusiasm, though. They neither hate it nor love it. But, I actually got a compliment from my oldest today regarding my clothes. She said, "I like your dress, Mom. I mean...I wouldn't wear it, but it looks good on you!" Ah, my heart is full... :)

I'm procrastinating. I have a pile of crocheting to do. I have two afghans for family members that I've been working on for a ridiculously long period of time. There's the scarf that my daughter has been requesting all winter. I also have an afghan to assemble for the charity crochet/knit/fiber arts group at my parish.

I used to run a group online, where I accepted items from all over the country and beyond to distribute to the children my husband worked with in foster/residential care. We distributed hundreds of afghans, hats, scarves, handmade toys, and other goodies over the two years the group was up and running. It was a great experience and a deep privilege to be able to find homes for the gifts that my members lovingly made. The group kind of ran its course, though, and I admit I was burned out. I ended the group last fall.

I decided to start a new group for people I know in real life at my parish, and make it a fun social event as well. The ladies come over to my house once a month, and we eat, chat, laugh, and work on our projects. Right now, we're finishing up blankets for an orphanage in Guatemala that a group from the parish is visiting next week. That means I have another deadline to add to my list.

My basket of crochet UFO's (UnFinished Objects) is a visual reminder of all the unfinished things in my life. It seems like every corner of my world has one. They hang on a chain around my neck, weighing me down with frustration, stress, and dissatisfaction. The laundry that should be done. The household project put off until tomorrow---again. The homeschool planning that is done at the last minute rather than in advance. The paperwork for my charity work that has been piling up---for weeks. The Scripture that doesn't get read. The prayers that go unsaid. Unfinished business.

I know my health problems limit my energy. I have legitimate excuses for putting some things off. But it has to stop somewhere. There has to be a time when I accept no excuses.

For all my unfinished business, I find the time to finish quite a bit. The game with my son that has to wait, because I have to finish my computer time first. The book for my three year old that falls by the wayside, because I have to finish my phone call. The prayers that are rushed or non-existent, because I have to finish my television show. The things that matter don't get done, so the things that don't matter can.

It sure sounds bad when I read it in print. Sins are so ugly without the rose-colored glasses, aren't they? Guess I need to get down to business. Finish a few things I started, and leave a few lesser things undone.

I think tomorrow, I'll make a conscious effort to finish at least one thing on my list. Also, I'll pray like I mean it, not bits and pieces fit into the craziness of the day. Lastly, I'll stop what I'm doing to do something for someone else. When I'm asked, I won't say "wait a second", "when I'm done", or "huh? I wasn't paying attention to what you were saying, because I was too wrapped up in my selfish, self-centered universe where my own comfort, schedule, and convenience is really the only thing that ultimately matters to me". Rather, I'll answer "can you?" with "yes"; "have you?" with "already finished", and "when?" with "right now".

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Battle Cry

Ephesians 6:13-17 "Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

I remember learning about these verses in Sunday School. We'd dress up as warriors with our armor. We sang songs about going into battle, spiritual battle that is, protected by the thick, unfailing armor of God. But do I actually use my armor? Have I taken it up? Because I most certainly can just leave it aside and not take advantage of the tools God has given me.

I go out into battle far too often without my armor. I fight the fights that end in bloodshed (usually mine). I do it all by myself. Why do I do this? How many times do I have to fail before I realize I can't do it all by myself?

"Having girded your waist with truth"

I especially despise lying. With my children, it is one of the things that brings swift and immediate discipline. I will not tolerate it. Be who you are. Say what you mean. No place for deception. That being said, I allow far too much that is not the truth into our home and hearts. The television, music, the internet, the media in all forms. Lies. Just lies. Lies that say you have to look this way, talk this way, or be this way to amount to anything in the world. Lies that say God's way is only for those loony conservatives who just don't get it. Lies that say the world is a bright, shiny place where there's no pain, no consequences, and no one, single, absolute Truth. I let too many lies go by in my life. From the mouths of the world and my own lips.

"Having put on the breastplate of righteousness"

The breastplate literally covers your heart. All the vital organs that you cannot function without. Do I have righteousness, and do I use it to cover what is most vital to my survival? Well, I know I can always build righteousness. That genuine holiness, moving more and more toward becoming an accurate image of God. The Christian life is called a struggle for a reason. It ain't easy, friends! It's a down in the muck, clawing and fighting struggle. It's exhausting and glorious in the same moment. It's a battle against myself. A tough and suitable opponent. I need that breastplate. I need to focus on covering my heart, my vital being with righteousness. A show of fake piety won't cut it. That's just flimsy cardboard that any arrow can get through. I need the real deal. Which means I have to be the real deal. I have to struggle more and not run when the going gets tough. There's too many convenient excuses in my life.

"Having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace"

Where do I walk? The road of peace or the road of contention? Am I a representative of the gospel of peace in my home? No. I'm not. I start conflicts with my family. Sure, the kids might have done something absolutely infuriating, but who actually picked the fight? My three year old has a long list of habits that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. But am I teaching her the gospel of peace? Do I respond to her in loving teaching and direction like the words of Christ or in short, frustrated, loveless tones? When my husband asks me to do something, do I jump to do it with selfless, peaceful love, or do I respond with selfishness and disapproval? Do I accept everyone around me with an open love and peaceful welcoming, or do I judge them for everything from their lifestyle choices to their appearance? Do I walk in peace? Are my feet surrounded, shod with peace? There is not enough peace in my life---and it's my fault.

"Taking the shield of faith."

How much do I really believe? How deep is my faith---really? If my faith could be turned into a literal shield that I had to hold up against literal darts, would I stand a chance? I believe there is a God. I believe in the Incarnation. I believe in the Resurrection. I believe in the Holy Spirit. But do I believe, do I have faith in everything He says? Do I really have faith that can move mountains? That can walk on water? That's as big as mustard seed? I don't. I trust God with the things I think he can handle. But there's some things, I'd rather keep to myself. I guess I don't think he's big enough. I guess I don't think he cares enough. I guess I just don't have enough faith. There's a difference between believing and trusting. I believe God. But I don't always turn everything---all my sorrows, all my pain, all my worries---over to him. I take up and put down my shield when it's convenient. When I think I can just handle this one by myself. I need more faith. I believe---forgive my unbelief!

"The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

I have this one covered, right? I'm a Bible fan. I've read and re-read the Word. Memorized it. Dog-eared it. Not a problem. But reading isn't enough. You actually have to apply the words to your life. Do I let the Spirit of God fill me from fingertip to toe and travel before me like a flashing, razor sharp sword? No, I don't. I miss far too many opportunities to actually fight spiritual battles. Going gets tough...and I'm gone. Down the street, around the corner, out of the country kind of gone. I choose my battles, rather than letting myself be chosen. I know good and well exactly which things I need to wage against at this moment. I know them with every inch of my being. But I won't fight them all. I make the choice. My sword is far too often by my side, just waiting. Unused. I admit defeat before I ever fight. I have to fight if I'm going to let God win.

"Taking the helmet of salvation."

I saved this one until the end. I've talked a lot about covering the rest of my body. I leave the head for last. Sure, all Christians have a helmet, but mine's a bit different. All the rest of my armor is figurative. I don't walk around with a literal shield or a literal sword. But I walk around with a literal helmet. My headcovering. And is that helmet my salvation? Does it save me? Well, no "thing" in itself does that. But am I using my headcovering as a means of my salvation? Am I letting it change me? Not the fabric, but everything it represents. Am I letting it humble me---in the gentle humility of the Theotokos? Am I letting it make me more obedient---to God and to my family? Am I letting it make me meek---not weak, but the meekness that inherits the Earth? Am I letting it make me more modest---not just in flesh, but in spirit? Am I letting it suck out and spit out the evil and darkness in my soul to bring me on the path to working out my salvation? No, I'm not. I put on my headcovering each day in different ways. Sometimes I grasp the depth and the beauty of this gift that God has shown me. This powerful weapon on my journey toward Him. Far too often, though, I put it on out of habit. Just another garment to cover things up, rather than to bring them to light. Far too often, I don't pay attention to the fiery darts around me. I don't even notice the wicked one. I'm too farsighted. I keep looking for him out there in others, when all along, he's right here in me. I am not humble. I am not meek. I am not modest. Not enough. I'm just not doing enough.

I have some weak spots in my armor. Some of it, I haven't even taken up. I need to to reinforce it, to polish it, to attend to it with the depth of attention and intention that I give to so much uselessness in my life. I have to, because I want to quit hiding, running, and avoiding. I want to face my spiritual battles head on. I want to put on my armor and stand. This is like no ordinary armor. It's not heavy and constricting and limiting. It's a light and easy weight, because I never have to carry it alone.