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