Tuesday, June 26, 2007


The novelty of summer is wearing thin. For two glorious weeks my children frolicked in the freedom they had to sleep in, lounge around the inflatable pool, and cruise bikes back and forth across our sidewalk. But then suddenly, and without warning, I felt eight, glazed-over eyeballs peering into my back as I cleared the kitchen table of breakfast dishes. “Can I help you?” I asked, squeezing myself between the wall of kids blocking access to the sink.

“May we watch T.V.?” they begged.

“No, it’s a beautiful day. Why don’t you play outside?” I suggested.

“There’s nothing to do!” they whined. And then I cringed, knowing exactly what was coming up next. “We’re bored!”

Already? I couldn’t believe it. There was an attic full of toys, a garage packed out with scooters, wagons, and sidewalk chalk, there were baskets of crayons, glitter glue, and construction paper all at their disposal. Interestingly, however, my gut reaction was to speedily “fix” the horrific situation of my family not feeling entertained. I offered all kinds of warm weather solutions, from a sprinkler run to inviting over friends that lived nearby.

Everybody is out of town,” Elijah argued, “and it stinks playing all by ourselves.” Halfway through wondering what fantastic vacation our entire neighborhood had ventured on without us, I finally came to my senses. Looking down at the jean shorts and t-shirt I hurriedly threw on that morning, rather than a crisp white uniform with anchor patches on the sleeves, I remembered that I was not, in fact, a cruise director. And that planning round-the-clock, fun filled activities was, thankfully, not part of my job description. Instinctively, my own mother’s voice cleared this cluttered head with rationality before exiting out my lips with the famous,

“If you really need something to do, just let me know! I’ll go grab you a broom.”

Why is it that boredom is frightening to a caregiver? Why is it so easy to get caught up in the fast paced, spoon-fed methods used to educate, and lure our children into begging us for more stuff and stimulation? It's tempting, for this adoring and anxious mother, to buy into the commonly held belief that down time, unscheduled time, will ultimately put my child at a disadvantage. This paranoia, I admit, has managed to leak into the very Orthodox Liturgy that I find so fulfilling, but that my children … well, let’s just say, view as an acquired taste. Growing up, I learned about God through flannel graph Bible stories and catchy choruses while my parents, sitting without me in the sanctuary, took bullet pointed notes on the sermon. I think of that often as my kids squirm and fidget their way through an hour-and-a-half of Scripture reading, litanies, and hymns. I think of it as an acquaintance tells me about her own church with a rock band and puppet theatre just for the kids, leaving adults free to listen to the pastor uninterrupted. But just as I’m ready to wish this Christian tinted, youth focused, extravaganza upon my own antsy children, I recall how in early adulthood, I was floored to discover that hyped up, feel good,” me” centered convictions, can fall to pieces when rubber hits the road.

At eight-years-old, few things were as delectable to me as a pink and airy cloud of cotton candy. Pulling off thick, sticky handfuls with delight, I would stuff them into my mouth letting my tongue dissolve the sugar into nothing. The energy boost hit quickly and satisfaction was immediate, but when my belly began to rumble, the cotton candy with its complete lack of nutritive substance was unable to relieve the pangs of hunger. For that, I needed something solid and savory I could sink my young teeth into. In college, I experienced what could best be described as a “let down.” Sugar driven highs can drop as suddenly as the downward slope of a roller coaster. In the same way, emotionally driven, spiritual highs can plummet when the pangs of real life, unsweetened life, begin to rumble in one’s gut. Without sacraments in which to sink my restless spirit, I worked constantly on conjuring up consistant warm fuzzys that would validate my God was love. I confessed my sins in private, but they continued to weigh me down; I was never quite convinced that forgiveness had been granted. I wandered from denomination to denomination, dismayed and discontented with services I would stuff into my heart only to have them dissolve hours later, leaving me starving for something more concrete, less informal, and beyond the banality of my everyday existence.

What I pray for Elijah, Priscilla, Benjamin, and Mary is that they would pace themselves steadily throughout the natural ups and downs of life. I desire for them a faith deeply rooted in Traditions uninfluenced by the trends of modern culture. Dissatisfaction will find these kids soon enough despite the efforts of this generation’s moms and dads led to believe that bigger, louder, and more amusing is better, and that immediate gratification is most certainly in their children’s best interest. By candy coating the reality that sin and death are enemies to be fought with vigilant prayer, endurance, and self-sacrifice, I send unequipped soldiers, my sweet sons and daughters, into a battle they will be ill prepared for. By fearing their boredom, I unwittingly take sides with an adversary intent on distracting them from the soul demanding, comfort resistant, and uncompromising Truth. It might sound cruel to deny them a jazzier version of worship; it may seem excessive to make my kids stand with respect for the Gospel and the Lord’s Prayer. But to raise them with an understanding of how losing yourself, and how submitting yourself to the same Church passed down from the apostles, can bring peace that transcends all logical understanding, and can transform a worn out, worn thin, human being into a unconquerable warrior for Christ, well…let’s just say, that would be a gift worth the effort put forth throughout a few hectic years of Sunday mornings.

Remind me of this, when I’m biting my cheek while restraining our youngest son from impromptu karate kicks before communion. And I will smile encouragingly back at you, as you swoop up your screaming toddler with strong and loving arms, whispering into her tiny ear teachings on the icons, candles, and incense - guiding her, from infancy, toward salvation.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007


My son, Elijah, has a heart as big as the moon, and he wears it on his sleeve for anyone to delight in or to carelessly crack in two. In Chicago we had neighbor boys who made sport of his innocence, luring Elijah out to play a game of hide and seek only to leave him counting and then searching for the playmates who had snickered and scattered away with no intention of returning. Needless to say, their cruelty was infuriating, and I warned Elijah not to go out when they called him. “But why, mom? I don’t care if they only play for a little bit.” And his pleading eyes, lonely eyes, begged me to give the boys another chance.

Elijah and Priscilla were out riding bikes on the sidewalk one afternoon, while I nursed the baby, keeping my eagle eye on their every move from the front steps. Immediately, upon hearing the sound of laughter, adolescent boy laughter as ominous as dark clouds before a storm, I tensed up. My son’s trusting face brightened at the possibility of playing with anyone besides his own sister, and as the boys neared our house Elijah ran to meet them, talking incessantly I assumed about Star Wars, his current obsession. From my post I glared at them, daring these kids to cross me by teasing my son. As they all came closer, I was surprised to hear the actual one-way conversation, differing vastly from six-year-old musings on Darth Vadar. “Do you guys know Jesus?” Elijah was asking. “You should know Him! He loves you. Jesus is your Savior.” I just couldn’t take it, them rolling their eyes and exchanging knowing glances. “That’s enough Elijah,” I called out sternly, “Come on inside.”

It is said that the Emperor Nero tied Christians to a stake, and burned them like torches for the amusement of his party guests. I wish I could say that such accounts brought me courage, but truth be told, these violent depictions tend to leave me nauseous and sad. What is worse is that the tears welling up as I read about Saints enduring brutality and torture for the sake of their faith are, quite honestly, tears of despair. They are tears for myself, tears of fear, tears of weakness and shame. I try to picture it: me in front of a ruthless ruler who is demanding an answer to the simple question, “To whom do you pledge your allegiance?” And I look around me, greedily, at all of the accumulated things and plans competing for that prestigious honor. With so much at stake, with so much to lose, no wonder I am very afraid.

My full belly, warm bed, and opportunities for success are jewels I wear guiltily, feeling garish in front of those so unadorned. I assume of course, with pity, that these gaudy gems are everyone’s desire - like a child relishing a lollipop might feel sorry for his poor parents who must dine on only wine and roasted lamb. But those who have lost everything have nothing left to lose, so they run, sprint, and race for the finish line unencumbered by fear or the weights of this world, pulling and luring and dividing allegiances between earth and heaven. I, on the other hand, must move slowly and cautiously so as not to misplace or have stolen even one of my precious gems, so heavily and precariously fastened around my neck. Here, in my utopia of an existence, it is my intellect, my possessions, and my reputation on the line rather than my flesh, so pale and tender. What I haven’t lost, as of yet, keeps me paralyzed with trepidation.

I am scared to put my dollars in the candle box at Church because I might want them later for coffee. I am scared to approach my lonely neighbor because she may need more from me than I feel up to giving. I am scared to abandon our efforts toward attaining a comfortable lifestyle because I really, really like to be comfortable. I am scared to love boldly, or to support with zeal the tenets of my faith that have become irrelevant and unenlightened in a culture where the word “no” is synonymous with stupidity. I am scared of the rolling eyes and exchanging glances. But mostly, I am afraid of standing side-by-side with faithful martyrs in front of God and His heavenly hosts, stuttering my way through a lame explanation while weeping and groaning with regret.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Blessed are they who untangle themselves from time-wasting, self-protecting, soul-crushing fear, and run and run with freedom. Blessed are they who could never be confused for anything or anyone but a follower of Jesus Christ. Blessed are they who impress upon their children the importance of being uncompromising witnesses to the Gospel. Blessed am I for not being denied despite hiding my offering money, ignoring my needy neighbor, and chastising my evangelizing son. May I be so fortunate for the opportunity to express my gratitude through sacrifice, to carry my cross with conviction.

This previously published blog is being featured this week on Ancient Faith Radio.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007


“What in the world are you doing?” My father seemed genuinely perplexed, and I had no logical explanation for why my hands were completely covered with sticky strings of chewed up gum. For the previous half-hour I’d been bored out of my nine-year-old mind in the bleachers of a junior high gymnasium, where my brother, sporting tube socks and a red uniform, was playing basketball. Halfway through the game, I attempted to entertain myself by seeing how far I could stretch a flavorless wad of Big Red before it separated into two distinct pieces.
If I had just pulled it once, I probably could have safely returned the gum back to my mouth without too much mess, or better yet could have tossed it into a garbage can. But I didn’t pull it once, or even twice, it was more like three or four times that I swirled and twisted the pink, shiny, elasticized delicacy around my fingers. And by that time…oh boy, the damage was beyond repair. Frantically, I picked at the strands trying to free myself from their tacky web, stubbornly conjoining all ten digits. The next great plan of rubbing my palms together, accomplished nothing but pressing sweat and dirt into an already disgusting mixture of sugar, spit, and skin. I dreaded the moment when my dad would look down and discover my embarrassing predicament. I vowed to never again become entangled.

A couple of years ago, I had a health scare that, thanks be to God, was resolved on its own. I’ve thought little of it since, once relief swept through scattering gut knotting apprehension like dust balls sent packing by one lucid enough to maintain tidiness. But recently, while going about my busy existence, I was randomly assaulted by a grievous suggestion, “What if it comes back again?” That single, arbitrary, unsubstantiated thought would eventually spread like gangrene through my subconscious, decomposing a once healthy mindset, and deadening my rationality. If I had just entertained the notion once, I probably could have safely returned it to the uttermost recesses of my brain without too much mess, or better yet could have tossed it out completely. But I didn’t entertain it once, or even twice, it more like twenty or thirty times that I wrestled with the tentacled assumption foretelling my imminent demise. And by that time…oh boy, the damage was irrefutable.

“I am a failure.”
“I am untalented.”
“I am evil.”
“I am dissatisfied with the life I wake up to each morning.”
It isn’t the loud temptations, I daresay, that lure most of us away from our faith, but rather these silently hurled implications distorting convictions, and contaminating our beliefs. It is highly unlikely that I will ever rob a bank, betray my spouse, or commit murder; I am acutely aware of the sinfulness surrounding all such acts of passion. Having a strong sense of morality, however, makes me a relatively easy target, for I often become lazy and self-assured. When my prayers turn flippant, and my mind becomes distracted by everyday concerns and responsibilities, I float further and further from the security of God’s will until … BAM! I am blindsided by an idea so frightening, so disturbing, and so persuasive it becomes impossible to extricate myself from the tacky web of lies, stubbornly conjoining all my faculties. The pouting, the anxiety, the depression that then ensues is like hell on earth as joy, hope, and love become elusive.

Observe your thoughts, and beware of what you have in your heart and your spirit, knowing that the demons put ideas into you so as to corrupt your soul by making it think of that which is not right, in order to turn your spirit from the consideration of your sins and of God, said St. Gregory of Nyssa. I can’t afford to step away, even briefly, from the edifying presence of my Savior. I can’t assume I have the strength to conquer morbid ponderings on my own. Don’t touch! Don’t taste! Don’t listen! I mustn’t dare to avert my gaze from Christ. He who prays often will escape temptation; instructed the Abba Evagrius, but thoughts will trouble the heart of the careless. I’ve come crawling home, dreading the shame of surrendering my humiliating predicament. “I fell for it again, Lord please have mercy! Disentangle me from these fleshly preoccupations! Forgive me like the father who embraced his prodigal son, dirty and disappointed from assuaging his own desires. Fill my soul with what is holy, and what is peaceful.”

So what in the world am I doing, wasting time all curled up and fruitless? The power of the cross stands firm to uphold me, if only I’d lean my full weight upon it. If only I’d reprioritize every single thing in my life till it pointed to, sang of, and rejoiced in the Resurrection. If only I’d trash the junk before it spoils all that it touches, and kept my motives clean with fervent prayer. “Finally, brethren, says Paul in Phillipians, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – medidate on these things.

If only I’d chew on that for a change.

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Monday, June 04, 2007


What started out as just a snag had been pulled at, one small tug at a time, until the whole situation became hopelessly unraveled. I couldn’t tell you what the argument was about or how it had escalated to such dramatic proportions, but I can describe in detail the look of malice on his face, and the sickening sensation of failure that left me nauseous.

Mothering an oldest child is like riding a roller coaster for the very first time; the unknown intensifies your entire experience. That stomach dropping rush of barreling through the highs and the lows, euphoria mixed with terror, can never quite be duplicated again. No one in this world can tear at my heart like Elijah.

On that particular Friday morning two enormous hazel eyes stared me down with contempt. The boundary between mother and son had been smudged by the hurt we were each heaping upon the other with every word exchanged. All of us have limits, and buttons to be pushed. None are more qualified to find them both, than those who know us best. My son has a fierce sense of justice. If he feels he's been judged unfairly, he will not back down — even in the face of stern consequences. “You do not understand!” he repeated, over and over again, drowning out my attempted explanations. I knew, in the back of my mind, that I should cut it off right then and there, that we should separate and regroup. But I wanted respect, and an acknowledgment of wrongdoing. I was obsessed with dominating his defiant spirit.

When he ran to his bedroom and started up with the slamming of his dresser drawers, I knew exactly what he was doing, and to my shame I didn’t care. Emerging seconds later with a fully loaded backpack, he announced to me his plans of running away. “I’m leaving this place, and I’m never coming back!” My six-year-old, my baby boy, stood trembling before me, cheeks red and wet from fury mixed with sadness. A part of me was tempted to let him go, but as he reached for the doorknob I lowered my voice and the boom on this out of control situation. “Elijah, you will go to your room, put down that backpack and sit with me on this couch, do you understand?” Too tired to resist, he followed my orders, and now I started sniffling with emotion.

“We are a family,” I finally managed to mutter once both of us were seated, eye-to-eye. “For better or worse God put us together. We can feel angry, annoyed, and disheartened, but leaving is never an option! Love means sticking together, even when we don’t feel like it. Love is hard work and requires an awful lot of ‘I’m sorrys’ and forgiveness. You can be mad at me and I can be mad at you but we never give up, you got it?” As I held Elijah, I apologized for my part in the argument, for exasperating him instead of maintaining my composure. We agreed that threats of abandonment would not be tolerated. Two years later, that moment on our couch in Chicago remains significant to both of us. “Remember mom,” Elijah will ask out of nowhere, “when I wanted to run away?”

“I certainly do sweetheart. I certainly do.”

Sometimes I can’t quite grasp the miracle of God concerned with me. How is it possible that He has not permanently been turned off by my stupid behavior? But if I search no further than even two feet away, I can find hope in my love for Troy, Elijah, Priscilla, Benjamin, and Mary. My pack, united for better or worse, was brought together for the purpose of salvation. For here, right before me, are unlimited opportunities to experience the nonsensical fulfillment of giving without expecting anything in return. I learn, in the most practical of ways, that true love, divine love, does not leave, does not give up, and does not give in. Family keeps us humble, keeps us praying, and keeps us from drifting into the soul-numbing abyss of self-indulgence.

More than once, I have stared dumbfounded into the positive end of a pregnancy test. “I really don’t think I have the strength to do this again,” I said to Troy, to God, and to anyone else who made eye contact. Yet even in that, I found Love, providing just enough daily bread to keep me from dying of hunger, to keep me in remembrance of His presence in my life. On a daily basis I am overwhelmed by the eternal responsibility of raising children, but when they are sleeping, all curled in their beds as still as the night itself, I kiss each in turn, from youngest to oldest, thankful to tears for such beauty.

This blog, originally posted several months ago, will be aired this week of Ancient Faith Radio.

Click HERE to visit my podcast site. This is a service of Ancient Faith Radio.