Monday, April 30, 2007


While changing the spider-man sheets on my 4 and 8 year-old-sons’ bunk bed, I found no less then thirty pieces of pastel colored foil, once containing chocolate Easter eggs, stuffed inside pillowcases like drug money. My two underage smugglers had been hording contraband candy for weeks without raising an ounce of suspicion from me, their optimistic mother; quite frankly, I was dumbfounded by my ignorance. Throughout the interrogation they lowered their eyes with solemnity, “I’m sorry mom,” they mechanically offered. But I couldn’t help speculating that behind the punishment induced, “shoot, I got caught” tears, were a couple of strong wills arming themselves against my chastising assaults. I lectured until the steady stream of words pouring from out my lips ceased to be relevant to the crime at hand. But genuine remorse, I discovered, cannot be forced through hardened hearts, embittered by the emotional tirades of a stretched thin parent. Honesty cannot bloom in rocky soil.

“Get out of this office!” I lashed at my children just yesterday. “Go to your rooms! I do not want to see you, or hear you, or be near you right now, do you understand?!” I had tried to maintain my composure, to be kind and mature even while their two straight hours of bickering pounded at my head like a hammer. But then I snapped…I reached my limit, the thin layer of resolve separating feelings from ideals split down the middle allowing anger to flow unimpeded.
“I wish it could be like before,” whispered my oldest child, “like earlier when you were happy.”
“Look Elijah,” I fumed. “I have had it with the fighting! It makes me sick, sometimes, how you treat each other!”
“How about,” he suggested, “I sit right here quietly until you can calm down, and when you’re ready, we can go back to being like old times.”
And suddenly I was aware of how I looked to my kids: wild-eyed, evil, and monstrous.

Just when I think I have it all down, I am humiliated by a lack of self-control. My lasting impression, echoing down the hallway with empty threats, verifies not that certain behavior is unacceptable, but rather that mom is crazy. It is naïve to imagine I would never give way to the stress of being pulled in five directions. It is understandable, I daresay, to lose patience when sleep is scarce and demands are high. But to sweep it under the rug, to move on without apologizing for unloading adult issues on my children, does a grave disservice to our relationship. It undermines the values I try to teach them by example.

I am sorry my little ones. Let us try again tomorrow to be respectful of each other, and sincere in our efforts to love, to learn, and to grow.

Friday, April 27, 2007


It’s not that I’m ungrateful for my own healthy childhood, free from the horrors of Polio, Mumps and Measles. Nor do I wish upon any boy or girl the annoyance of oatmeal baths and Calamine lotion, spread like icing over pock infested skin. I’m just a little confused, here, about what constitutes an emergency in a society intolerant of fevers, rashes, acne, or the wrinkles confirming everyone’s greatest fear: we are all getting older by the minute. As if I feel didn’t feel bad enough about being so …well, imperfect, I am now made into a monster on top of that if I answer anything but an enthusiastic “NO!” to my doctor’s loaded question of, “Do you really want your daughter to suffer through the flu … DO YOU?”
“Close the shades, kids! Lock the front door! Your brother has the sniffles, and a cough! Keep it from the neighbors that we let nature take its course. ‘Don’t you know there’s a pill for that?’ they’d say.”

What did parents do before Google, advertised prescriptions, or reruns of the Oprah Winfrey show? What kind of supernatural wisdom enabled them to dress, feed, discipline, and entertain their families without cable? How did they not go clinically insane at having to wait for a letter, a dress to be sewn, or strawberries to come into season? Admittedly, my own mothering intuition is getting a bit rusty, and more often than I care to divulge do I self-medicate impending dilemmas using nothing but a debit card and an overcrowded Walmart, soothing the sores of humanity with Playstations, DVD’s, and super-sized bags of Fritos. Now that I think about it, when was the last time I used my instincts to work through anything?

It’s not that I’m ungrateful for the abundance of food, information, and electronic devices available on a moment’s notice, to make this life more palatable. Nor do I wish upon any boy or girl hardships or bouts of boredom. I am just a little worried about my own kid’s chances of survival if, God forbid, a tragedy came upon us. How would they find the wherewithal to persevere, despite discomfort, if I teach them by example that pain and inconvenience are unacceptable? How will they know their own strength, if they never bear a burden on their shoulders? So if you see my children whining, indignant over hearing the word “no,” don’t worry, it’s not that I’ve lost my check book but that I’ve found my own opinions, and the nerve to make a choice all by myself.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Rise and Walk

Thirty-eight years with lifeless limbs. Three decades of bodily affliction. Almost 14,000 days of not participating in life, love, or labor. Within eyesight is his one chance for liberation. Every morning they gather, the outcasts of humanity tossed aside like broken tools, because here they are considered broken, and dirty, and useless. Every morning they come, bearing lesions, mutations, blinded eyes, and the scars of tragedy and rejection. Every morning they congregate at the pool, the pool within his eyesight, for healing.

But as the waves begin to roll, as the uproar of desperate bodies pushing, scratching, and tearing at each other for the chance to be first, for the chance to be whole, reaches its chaotic climax, this paralytic man averts his eyes. It is too painful to watch the phenomenon of a mended life take place, again, before him. The shouts of elation from the fortunate recipient, dripping with new opportunities available only to the unimpaired, are like fingernails on a chalkboard. The sound of another’s joy serves to magnify his sorrow, for on his own it is impossible to reach the water.

“Do you want to be healed?”
Who would ask such a thing? But the face now in view is as serious as death, and this man had stopped to look at him directly, not through him like a colorless piece of glass.
“There is no one,” replies the paralytic “ who will carry me to the pool when the water is troubled.”
“Then rise,” says the stranger, “take up your pallet and walk.”

Here are two commandments of equal importance: Rise and walk.
If the story had ended differently (“You are healed, now stay right there”), I could justify being bathed in the restorative waters of baptism only to take back my place on the ground, contorting healthy limbs into the same broken and useless positions as before, refusing to stand or run. I would do well to grab hands with the ex-paralytic as he tromps triumphantly through town, oblivious to the judgments of society, yelling, “Jesus! It was Jesus who gave me back my life,” validating our gifts of wholeness by moving forward.

Salvation equals transformation, a total response to God. A hasty sign of the cross as I rush to meet my day, the attendance of services when its convenient, a flippant swallowing of the body and blood of Christ without trembling, without confessing, without believing in the miracle that it is, is like crawling on a treadmill heading nowhere. I am so tired, yet not any closer to deliverance from my same old sins. I’ve not changed because I expect that change should fall into my lap, just by snapping my fingers and saying the magic words. “Lord have mercy,” is but a meaningless expression, unless I’m willing to accept that mercy in whatever form He deems best. When I feel it: the sacrifice, the knots in my stomach as I hand my life over in faith, then I’ll begin to see progress, spurred on by the Holy Spirit: “Rise and Walk, Rise and Walk, Rise and Walk”

Do I want to be healed? It’s a legitimate question, because sometimes I honestly don’t know. I pray for this out of habit, while I cling to the floor, to what’s familiar– my empty request floating upwards, and then evaporating long before reaching its destination. Only when I despise this crippled existence will I find the discipline necessary to respond with my time, my desires, and my opened heart. When I am thankful, truly thankful, I will pick up my pallet and march, oblivious to the judgments of society. “Jesus!” I will shout without embarrassment or hesitation, “It was Jesus who gave me back my life!” Please… grab my hand, we’ll be stronger in numbers, and let's pick up the pace toward Home.

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Friday, April 20, 2007


Five-year-old Priscilla would like to go around the block on her bike, alone. In fact, she assures me, she wants this more than anything she has ever wanted before. Holding my gaze, widening her eyes, and weakening my resolve with her china doll complexion, she begs for an affirmative answer from me, her mother, now clenching the fate of an anxious daughter in her hands. But once she turns that corner, I can no longer see her, my Priscilla, who up until this afternoon was contented with living under my feet, my wings, and my field of vision. The severity of my indecision highlights an inability to adjust to the needs of my young children, brazenly seeking out their independence. Her request opens doors I’d just assume keep locked a little longer.

For a moment I am transported to the future, to a time when those same pleading eyes will pierce my gut with a request for the car keys, an out of state college application, or an internship in Paris for the summer. For a second, I am bewildered by her current desire to ride that hot pink bike around the world. What about the craters and cracks in the sidewalk, and the cars not watching their speed? What about the unleashed dogs, the landmines, and the hypodermic needles aimed at her slender arms, her veins light blue and innocent, as innocent as a newborn baby. My baby, Priscilla, still believes that the world is good.

“I think children should wear helmets all the time,” declares my friend, half-jokingly.
“Here, here!” I concur, “and bullet-proof vests, and floaties on their elbows to keep them buoyant.” I had dreamed of the day when I could take back my arm from around the bulbous belly of a toddler, when my hip would be loosed from the straddling of impish limbs. It does get awfully hectic – wiping spills, cooling fiery tempers, and playing endless games of hide-and-seek. It does get lonely and frustrating – slowing down your life to raise a family. But growing pains are called just that because they stretch and pull our limits, broadening horizons and limbering constrictive tendencies that bind us to ourselves. I, for one, grew awfully attached to the outpouring of lavish affection, soothing my frazzled nerves with puckered kisses.

It is tempting to put my foot down, and forbid this heinous act of getting older, or to lock up my children with the holiday dishes where porcelain flesh cannot be nicked by carelessness. “Is it worse,” I wonder, “to watch my sons and daughters suffocate behind protective glass, or to have to take my chances with their freedom? Should I teach them fear or let them choose to fly?” When I think back on my own enchanted childhood, barefoot and bold with unrestraint, I am warmed by memories of neighborhood jaunts, sunburned noses, and secrets shared with giggles over Popsicles, cold and sweet. But I also squirm with disbelief at the foolishness of some of my choices. “It’s different now,” I‘d like to claim, but maybe it’s only me that changed while shedding waning youth like dried out skin.

What good is love if it’s all bunched up and wrinkled in my pocket? What good is teaching goodness if that goodness isn’t shared? What a gift to ignite a torch for all those flailing in their blindness, and to bless the murky darkness with its light. What a gift to light my children with compassion. “Be wise my little ones, but be not afraid to step out and seize the moments fresh and fleeting. Be aware of, but not inhibited by affliction. Be strong, be brave, be conscious of the suffering and the joys of vulnerability, and then love with open hands and open hearts!”

“Please mamma, I can do this. I know how to get back to home!” Priscilla states her case with authentic fervor. But it is more than just permission she is asking for. She is caught, held fast, between her roles as “little” and “getting bigger.” That burrowing gaze is fierce but her sucking thumb, still wet and rosy, betrays the stoic courage now presented. Priscilla needs my confidence, in her, in me, and in that bike’s ability to maneuver around the dangers, on a sidewalk I cannot see from where I’m standing. “O.K.,” I say, “start pedaling,” as I hold my breath and wait for her return.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


“Didn’t we just do this?” I asked the back of my husband’s head, not sure if sleep had overtaken him.
“H-m-m?” he responded, hesitantly, because I am a free flowing, conversational, force to be reckoned with. A seemingly innocuous question, blurted from my nimble lips, can evolve into a discourse on anything under the sun.
“Weren’t we just here in these same positions, whispering to each other ‘goodnight’?”
No answer, only deep inhalations mocking my insomnia with sounds of slumber.

I understand that time is methodical, weatherproof, and constant, but lately I could swear that when I blink on a Tuesday my eyes open up to a Thursday afternoon. “Where is Wednesday?” I marvel, while stuffing my son’s feet into shoes that fit him perfectly 15 minutes ago. “What happened to March, for that matter?” It hits me hardest in the evenings, when I sink into a still warm pillow wondering if I ever really left this bed at all, cringing at my similarities to tumbleweed blown forth by a gusty wind, to grass withering up in anonymity.

This can’t be right, I’m sure of it. Huge chunks of life skipped over and wasted are bound to make me shudder in the end. I have stacked my days like building blocks, piling one upon another to construct a mythical future of my dreams. What a hindrance it would be to examine each brick before moving ahead to the next one. So I throw them on, slap them on, as fast as I can manage inspired by a fairy tail conclusion. But nobody knows what the weather might bring, when lightening may strike us down. It would sure be a shame to have labored so intensely on a fantasy never to be realized. If only it were possible for each and every brick to contain inherent worth all on its own.

“The wise thief,” we sing at Holy Friday Matins, “didst Thou make worthy of Paradise in a single moment, O Lord;” a single moment to transform a doomed man’s destiny. If I thought my soul were on the line maybe I would view the 86, 400 seconds in my day as a little more worthy of seizing. If I thought I’d be held accountable for the millions of moments I’ve let slip through my fingers, I might tremble with shame and regret. If I took my faith more seriously, I would burst into each new morning, wringing out of that brick every possible opportunity to repent and express my gratitude.

“I wish that it was Friday… If only it were summer…” Let’s face it, I will never be satisfied. And thank goodness for that, or I might exchange my hopes for acceptance. “Give us this day our daily bread,” we pray. Just enough to keep us focused on the present, where decisions on life, love, God, and salvation are rife with enduring significance, where we meet the Holy Spirit in our minute-to-minute choices to either serve Christ or ourselves. Oh, the miracle of a sunrise! Oh, the grace of starting over, waking up to a clean, blank, slate! Finally, there is hope for a taste of true contentment, in slowing down and surrendering selfish ambitions. I am tired of the running. I am weary from the building of earthly kingdoms destined for destruction. This day is a perfect day for standing still.

“You are a great father,” I whisper to my husband, in the darkness of yet another night. Because I appreciate him with all my heart, and this day I want for him to know that. I want to seize a moment before it’s gone. It is time to take them seriously, my destiny, my faith, my choices, because one never knows what the weather might bring or when lightening may strike me down. In the blink of an eye I will step into eternity, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on my soul.”

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Love laced with dread; love strangled by horrific possibilities; an unexplained ache while embracing my child or waving goodbye to my spouse; the fear, contaminating joy so sweet, whispering in my ear, “You would die, wither up and waste away if that baby, that parent, that husband left this world before you,” is not congruent with a victorious Resurrection. This fear is the first thing I want to examine, repent of, and obliterate as an heir of the living Christ.

Abraham walked with Isaac up a mountain. Throughout that long journey he conversed with his son, maybe joking and laughing sharing memories of previous years when Isaac was younger and naïve, naïve as a fish swimming open mouthed straight for a hook pierced worm, trusting that the nourishment will be his free and clear. Abraham, fondling the dagger in his cloak, perhaps slicing his finger over the blade, marched on toward the unthinkable guided only by his devotion to God. I can tolerate this story when that same God is foremost on my mind and in my heart. But when the order is reversed, when the blessings tower over my Creator, that story both offends and frightens me to tears.

“Why must you love God more?” ask my jealous children in unison. “We love you more than anything!”
“Don’t you see?” I answer, as much to myself as to them “My own love is broken and imperfect. Only by loving God first can I love you best, can I open my hands and give you freedom.”
Possession is tricky because it feels like devotion, even while it smothers and frets. Possession keeps one busy with the paying of bills, the charting of goals, the changing of sheets on a bunk bed. It tells you that if you try hard enough, worry obsessively enough, and make the right plans and resolutions, it will all work out in the end; it will all come together just as you devised. Possession stuffs love into a box of reasonable shape and size quite satisfied with the assuredness of that embrace.

There is no room in this soul for Christ and anything else. To add my own agenda is to compromise the purity of my faith. To desire nothing but sunny days and a woundless existence, is to close my mind to the will of God. There is so much evil in this world. Just trying to keep on top of it, wagging your head in disbelief, can be a full-time occupation. The longer I look, the more effort I invest into stockpiling my basement with generators, water bottles, and bird-flu vaccines, the less confidant my prayers become. It is hard to pray and duct tape windows simultaneously. It is hard to long for heaven when your one goal in life is to keep your family anchored to this earth.

If I could bottle the courage sprung forth during the Paschal Liturgy when I sang along with Jesus to Mary, the Theotokos:
Do not lament me, O Mother, seeing me in the tomb, for I shall arise and be eternally glorified as God,
I would drink of it continually. I would bathe in it, cleansing my tormented thoughts with the healing promise of the crucified Christ. I would shout at the top of my lungs, echoing with transcendental volume off the walls of an empty tomb, the words of St. John Chrysostom:
O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated! Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down! Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Love sanctified by sacrifice; love disinfected by death and resurrection; an unexplained peace while embracing my child or waving goodbye to my spouse; this hope, intensifying joy so sweet, whispering in my ear that hell has been conquered, is the gift our Risen Lord freely offers. This hope is the only thing I want to make room for as an heir of the living Christ. May He grant me the fortitude to march on toward the unknowable guided only by my devotion to Him.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Indeed He Is Risen!

“I have a question I’m scared to ask,” said eight year-old Elijah after our reading of the parable of the ten virgins waiting for the bridegroom. “I am afraid,” he went on “that just saying it is a really bad sin.”

“O.k.,” I gulped, inwardly ransacking my brain for an age appropriate explanation of the term virgin, just in case.
“What is it?” I finally managed to respond calmly.
“Well … what if, I mean… wonder if the scientists are right? What if there is no God?”

“H-m-m,” I lingered, not expecting to have to answer this question so soon. Not expecting doubt and logic to creep in at such an early age, and highjack the trusting nature of my son. “That is the essence of faith,” I weakly offered. “To believe what cannot be seen.” And at that moment, I wanted to force my conviction through him but I could clearly view his soul apart from mine, resistant to being commandeered by another. I saw for the first time, with excitement and trepidation, Elijah’s struggle for a faith of his own.

How will he understand and absorb this Pascha that Christ is Risen, when our street looks the same, when kids at school are still mean, when our house remains cluttered with dirty socks and colored pencils? How must I live in order to validate our Church’s song of Resurrection? What can I offer, neck deep in the logistics of raising a family, that would stand out and affirm to my children that death has been trampled, that our chains have been loosed, and that our purpose for living has been defined with piercing clarity? How will he know Christ is Risen, when I am still the same sinful and flustered mom that I have always been?

And it’s not just Elijah or his brother and sisters, but also my neighbors, my acquaintances, the strangers I randomly come into contact with who are summing up my values by my actions at that moment. Who are culling fact from chatter by my love or lack thereof. Christ is Risen! What does that look like? How is my world different because of it? I wonder, now, if I no longer ask the difficult questions because habit outweighs my ideology; because my faith has literally been thrown on a to-do list to be checked off with each Scripture verse read and feast celebrated. “What if there is no God?” I never pause to ponder or second-guess.

My little doubting Thomas, reaching for nail holes, brings me to shame with his quest for the Truth; for the real God, not a pocket sized deity created in man’s image to pull out on a whim at our convenience. I don’t want to check-off Pascha and move on. So I ask myself, for the sake of my family, for the sake of my neighbor, for the sake of my relevance as a follower of Christ, “What will I do with the reality of a risen Savior?” The apostles gave up every earthly comfort to spread that Gospel message. Monastics turn from worldly ambitions to devote their bodies, minds, and spirits to prayer. Martyrs boldly declared their devotion by offering theirs lives as a sacrifice. I could, and certainly should, at least reassess my priorities to reflect my position on the one thing needful and authenticate my Paschal cry: “Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen! Crawl out of your grave,” I must remind myself, “and dance with contagious and unselfconscious joy!”

“You should never be afraid to ask us anything,” I tell Elijah later on. “It is good to search, and wrestle with those doubts so your faith will be genuine, not just a hand-me-down from dad and me.” I wanted to go on, then, and say I was sorry for my excessive worry, for my lack of patience, for skipping blessings before meals. I wanted to explain my misguided attempts at training him to “fit in,” at brushing off chances to really listen because there is so very much I want to accomplish, so much busywork to distract me from the nudging of the Holy Spirit. But enough with the words, enough with the lectures, he will know that Christ is Risen when that Truth swallows and digests our household, when he witnesses first-hand that even sinful and flustered mothers can rise above logistics, and capture Heaven through the cross.

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