Tuesday, September 25, 2007


In my defense, I was already jumpy, thanks to a $5,000.00 sewer bill and a finicky old house as unpredictable and endearing as my two-year-old daughter – with the laughing and stumbling, leaking and staining, and the undoing of that which was once orderly and fully functional. When my mother pointed out the pool of water growing ominously beneath our refrigerator, I panicked. Mentally, I began calculating the cost of replacing faulty appliances, ripping up moldy linoleum, or patching pipes ready to burst from the influx of water now mysteriously flooding my kitchen. We mopped, but the puddle kept stubbornly refilling. Was it coming from behind the stove? Was there a blockage forcing the water to escape by way of cracks in our baseboards? I piled towels, crouched on all fours to track down the origin of this impending disaster. Where was my husband, it was nearly 5:30 p.m.? “Hand me my cell phone!” I ordered.

“Hello,” said Troy so even keeled, unflappable and unemotional as ever.

“How do you turn off the water?” I barked, irrationally angry that I was dealing with this all by myself.


“Because a small lake is forming on the kitchen floor and I can’t stop it or find where it’s coming from!”

“Just relax, I’ll be home in a second.”

“Fine!” I snapped, mumbling under my breath about how frustrating it is to not be taken seriously.

Five minutes later the doorknob turned. Troy calmly walked in, set down his bag and visually assessed my “I’ve had it up to here" expression, the soaking wet mop, and the layer of towels draped dramatically atop sunny yellow tiles. Without saying a word he stepped over all my misguided attempts at taking ownership of this problem and opened the refrigerator door. I watched him lean down, and to my horror, snap closed the spout of a 2.5-gallon plastic jug of drinking water slowly emptying its contents over leftovers before streaming like a river into the larger body of water below. “You have to shut this,” he smirked. And I looked on, dumbfounded, at the evidence of my totally unnecessary hysteria revealing more about my temperament than I cared to lay claim to. “Ha, Ha!” I responded, “very funny.” Because what else is there to say in the face of such ridiculousness?

I notice this trait in my children and I cringe with guilt as Elijah frets feverishly over strong winds and rolling thunder. As Priscilla stalks the school nurse, bringing home slips of paper from her office near every other day with the words “bug bite,” “stomach ache,” or “scraped” scrawled upon them. What message do I send when I talk like our existence isn’t random but live as if I am sweating and inching my way across a tightrope, like one wrong move, one subtle shift within atmospheric conditions, could send all my hopes and happiness freefalling into a netless abyss. Out of love, I over sympathize, identifying with the anxiousness I should be nipping in the bud – my furrowed brow betraying stabs at bravery. For when the hype and horror of nightly news gets trapped beneath my skin, when sickness makes a tiny body burn, when tomorrow’s demands start disfiguring current joy, I tend to run around in circles like a chicken without its head - all dizzy, directionless, and unproductive.

Too many of my decisions are thoughtless reactions to stimuli neither truthful nor transcendent. So easily and impulsively do I buckle under the stress of negative circumstances. To parent this way, as one pushed helplessly here and there, to and fro like a tumbleweed by the side of a highway, only guarantees my losing out on fleeting opportunities to purposefully root my family in the Faith. “What’s wrong mom?” asks Elijah, his unnervingly perceptive gaze peeling back a layer of confidence, paper-thin. My mouth moves reassuringly but what’s communicated loud and clear is a lukewarm conviction that Christ’s omniscient and omnipotent hand holds this earth, and my cares, firm within it. When my priest states, unwaveringly, that nothing in this world is worth our anxiety, it’s like a balm to my spirit, chapped and raw. Every week I come for this, I soak in the nourishment of hymns, flat out defiant and unyielding to the taunts of greed and death. And although I am weak, forever breaking promises to live as Christ, it is my duty to pass that same assurance on to my children. It is my spiritual obligation and my pathway toward Salvation, to illustrate for them daily how a life with and for Christ is quite different, altogether, than one without Him.

It’s like trying to mop up an ocean: this goal of staying unflustered for Elijah, Priscilla, Benjamin, and Mary. The wisest thing for me would be to put down the towels, quit conjuring up the most outlandish, worst-case scenarios, and surrender all my misguided attempts at taking ownership of a challenge impossible without God’s intervention. It’s ok for them to see that I’m not naturally a stoic. It is good to pray together, and often, for the courage to get through any situation. But it is also necessary that I stop, think, and remember who I am, where my hope lies, and how my actions convey more about the Truth than fluffy explanations regarding love, goodness, and Heaven. “I don’t like that face mama,” says four-year-old Ben when I scowl at the mess, at the never-ending pile of laundry. “I don’t either,” I say, once I realize that my meanest stares, my hissy fits, my fuming and agonizing accomplish nothing. One folded shirt at a time, one deep breath before up and declaring that the sky is falling, one brief prayer as I approach my child who is frustrated, frustrating, or frightened; how will the words and my demeanor be different when I yield to God and let Him fill Him my mouth, my soul, the members of my family with His mercy?

“Troy!” I whisper frantically, waving him over to our bedroom. “Do you hear that? Something’s moving in the corner!” I tiptoe behind him ready to bolt if confronted by a bat, a mouse, a raccoon. “What do you think it is, should I get a net?” But he’s already walking toward the scratchy noises. “Is this what you heard?” he whispers back, eyes wide with mock alarm. Slowly he reaches his hand toward our clock radio and turns up the volume so that the sound I am freaking out over (static between stations) plays louder.

“Shut up!” I laugh, tackling him down.

“What would you do without me?” he teases.

It’s a legitimate question, but one not worth wrestling over presently. Not today, while he’s here right in front of me - to delight in, to make me smile, to keep me humble.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007


I wish I could say that I had planned to go, that last week I had dutifully checked my Church calendar, noticed that the Elevation of the Cross was right around the corner, and immediately made attending that festal Liturgy a priority. But here’s how it really went down: Thursday afternoon my husband said, “Tomorrow is Elevation of the Cross, would you like to go?”

“Is the service here in town?” I asked.

“No, but the parish in Merrillville is having Liturgy at 9:00 am.”

“H-m-m,” I stalled, because Merrillville was at least 40 minutes away. That would mean getting my older two onto the bus, getting myself (and our younger two) dressed for doing something besides swinging, and then hightailing it out of here to make it on time. I wouldn’t say that I jumped at the chance, but since I am trying to be a better listener, a more reflexive responder to the nudging of the Holy Spirit, I did eventually answer that question in the affirmative; we would go to the service - in Merrillville - in the morning.

It seemed like a rather innocuous choice, that spur of the moment decision to show up at Church. But with all the resistance I faced, beginning bright and early on Friday, you would have thought I had decided to sell all my possessions and donate the proceeds to the poor. I mean, really, I had begrudgingly shifted my priorities to make room for this special feast, and yet here I was being attacked on all sides, worn down to the nub until I almost called the whole thing off entirely. At 6:15 am all four of my children woke up simultaneously on the absolute worst side of their beds. This gave me zero alone time to pull myself together. Three out of six members of our family had no clean underwear. Toothbrushes were mysteriously out of place, tucked away in miscellaneous drawers and under bunk beds rife with dust bunnies. There were spills, missing tennis shoes, weepy accusations, and two lunches to be made in three minutes flat. This would have been hectic enough, on its own, but add to that an empty stomach and the fog of exhaustion stubbornly clouding my mood, grieving for its usual mug of coffee, and I start resembling the Dr. Jeckyl half of Mr. Hyde. If I were God, I thought (most inappropriately), buckling under the strain of my crabbiness, “I wouldn’t even want me in Church – not with this lousy attitude.”

But lo and behold, there I was one hour later in the parking lot of The Protection of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church, pulling Benji’s dress pants over the bunched up waistband of his pajamas bottoms (Ben was, unfortunately, one of the unlucky family members whose undergarments still lay wet and mildewing in the washing machine). We filed in, picked a spot to set up camp, and waited for the service to begin. Even then, while actually present in the nave of this beautiful parish whose stained glass windows sparkled and shone from the sunlight gazing upon them, I had my doubts; my head was full of distractions and nagging concerns determined to keep me absent, if not physically, then mentally from all meditations on Christ. Silently, meekly, I prayed for attentiveness as the ringing of the bells invited all of us to come, to worship, to be uplifted by the power of the Cross. I sang with the choir. I bowed toward the censer. I participated, despite my chaotic circumstances, initial grumpiness, and the occasional need to reprimand four-year-old Ben and two-year-old Mary, and I was blessed.

Just give it a shot, I dare you, and you’ll know I am talking about. I am not suggesting something extreme, here - anything sacrificial of your time, for the sake of the Faith, will do: a commitment to saying the Lord’s Prayer before bed and upon rising, making it to a Saturday evening Vespers, cracking open the Bible; attempt to push yourself just a fraction beyond where you were yesterday and watch hell try its darndest to overwhelm you, to trip you up, to keep you sidetracked and tangled in the mayhem of earthly cares. Believe me, I’ve fallen for it at least 10,000 times. I’ve surrendered over and over again to the touchable, the knowable, the present reality that demands its own precedence - claming unlawful dibs on my heart, on my spirit, on my mind. God’s love is not hypnotic, luring me uncontrollably into His presence. God’s love is not interested in competing with money, comfortableness, or notoriety for a measly portion of my soul. God’s love will not shout over the noise, will not twist my arm into submission, will not reveal itself until I turn, ever so slightly, toward Him and then miraculously I feel it everywhere: in the voices of my singing children, in the phone call from a friend, in the light infused brilliance of a stained glass window within a Church I didn’t particularly want to visit, but am now so very grateful that I did.

On Saturday, I wake early enough to grab my grocery list and hit the Super Walmart before it fills like a sport’s bar on game night. It is a mundane task, one that I dread on a weekly basis and yet this Saturday the 15 minutes of drive time required to get from here to there becomes an unexpected moment of thanksgiving. A hymn from yesterday’s feast became embedded in my subconscious and now spontaneously pours from out my mouth in song: Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship O Master, and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify! And from behind the wheel of a 98 Subaru heading south on Highway 49 to Valparaiso, I see glimpses of Heaven peeking through the triviality of this run-of-the-mill errand and I become dangerously aware of my true purpose. I turn, just ever so slightly, towards the love of Christ Jesus and the resistance, binding my every good intention, unravels like a thread that’s been snipped – evaporates in the brightness of God’s mercy.

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Monday, September 10, 2007


Be careful what you pray for.

A week ago, I was all set to write about rules of prayer and my habit of making “on-the-go” intercessions. Not that interspersing “Lord Have Mercys” with dish washing and teeth brushing isn’t profitable, on the contrary, frequently pondering upon Christ helps to order my priorities, provides me with at least a little more patience, and is crucial for maintaining my sanity throughout the day. But there is something altogether different about standing before icons, pausing in silence while my mind empties itself of surface garbage, setting aside all other activities and distractions before opening my will up to God’s. I wanted to explore the difference between formal and spontaneous prayer, the importance of including both in one’s schedule, but then I was knocked down, took a shot to the jugular, I was humiliated, devastated on a Friday afternoon and I can focus on nothing else until I deal with what it is screaming in my heart.

Screaming. I have a screamer. What two-year-old Mary lacks in size she more than makes up for in volume. She is a spitfire, an impish stick of dynamite, and we adore her, screaming and all. "When you stop screaming,” we say, laying her in the crib, “we will get you out.” For although she is delectable and funny and snuggly such hysteria cannot be encouraged, rewarded, or extinguished by way of explanations. In Chicago, our street was abuzz with children’s laughter, with the scolding of parents, and yes, with the screaming of babies learning to sleep on their own, of siblings arguing, and of toddlers not getting their way. “Is that my son?” I’d ask myself, putting an ear to his bedroom door. “Oh no, it’s the little girl that lives next to us,” and I’d breath a sigh of relief. Nap time had not been cut short after all.

But here, in my new small town, where gardens are tended to devotedly, where houses are inhabited by the same families for decades, where the quiet has a sound of its own, the buzz of little children, my little children (the only ones within earshot) comes across more like a jackhammer ripping up quaintness and tranquility. I know this because Friday I got a telephone phone call. “Hello?” I said, over the chaos of my older kids raiding the cupboards for after-school snacks and of Mary, having just been denied a piece of unwrapped and dirt covered candy, characteristically screaming in her crib. What met my ear was a verbal assault most upsetting. Apparently, my mothering skills were being questioned by the neighborhood (or at least two people within it). I was horrified and deeply offended by the accusations from neighbors I had always considered friendly and welcoming. I was told that such screaming was not natural and that either I was mistreating Mary (and my daughter's siblings) or that something was just plain wrong with her. It was so bizarre, so hard to wrap my mind around. And I sobbed like I hadn’t sobbed in years.

That morning, inspired by reflections on prayer, I awoke fifteen minutes earlier than normal. Before getting out of my pajamas or putting in my contacts, I lit two candles and opened an actual prayer book. Taking a deep breath, I tried to reign in my thoughts so they could meditate on the words my mouth would soon deliver. “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Having invoked the Holy Trinity I commenced with the morning prayers:

“O Lord, grant that I may greet the coming day in peace. Help me to rely upon your holy will at every moment. In every hour of the day, reveal your will to me. Bless my association with all who surround me. Teach me to treat whatever may happen to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by you. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will. Teach me to pray. Pray yourself in me.”

I will tell you dear friends, that this entreaty by Metropolitan Philaret enveloped me fully. I can assure you, by God’s grace, that I was spiritually uplifted even when crushed down, with the remembrance of Christ’s omnipotence. “How would you have me respond?” was my spontaneous prayer, born out of the formal prayers carved into a day as of yet unknown, carved into my soul by the effort it took to recite them. I would eventually go to my accusers, apologize for the noise, assure them that we love, oh do we love, our children. I may have been believed or I may never have the satisfaction of being vindicated. I may continue to be whispered about for years to come, wrongfully slandered, and grievously misunderstood. Be careful what you pray for. Things like patience, humility, a desire to please God alone. Because His answers can burn like a scalding hot branding iron while we are being marked, set apart, as His own.

I was all set to write about rules of prayer and my habit of making “on-the-go” intercessions. I was all set to talk about these things objectively until life dealt a blow most unexpected. Rules of prayer, formal prayer, are not merely a “good idea”. Offering the initial moments of a brand new morning to God, absolutely, unequivocally, beats sleeping in, checking e-mail, or wiping down bathroom sinks, when it comes to protecting my soul. There is no one else, nothing else, more worthy of my time, my praise, my exertions. There is no one else, nothing else, who can lead me through despair and into the Kingdom of Heaven. There is no one else, nothing else that should obstruct my vision of Christ Jesus, because He is love, perfect love, unshakable love, a love that will never forsake me.

“Are you ready to calm down?” I ask my tiny daughter whose eyelashes glisten with beads of wetness, leftover tears from a tantrum. “Uh-huh,” she says, reaching out her arms for the hug I, too, am longing for. I breathe in the smell of her, sweat mixed with diaper cream, the sweetest scent I know upon this earth. “Lord have mercy,” I pray, spontaneously. “Please grant me wisdom, please guide my every decision, please help me to a better mother. Amen.”

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007


My sister-in-law was the first to clue me in. “No way,” I said “the 80’s?” It was hard imagine what could be salvageable from an era defined by parachute pants, feather earrings, and armfuls of rubber bracelets. Photos of myself from that decade made it pretty obvious, to me anyway, that some looks were not worth digging out, dusting off, and putting back into circulation. “Oh yes,” she assured me, “walk downtown Chicago and you’ll see all kinds five inch leather belts riding the hips of those more confident, or long strands of bright plastic beads bumping up against collar raised polo’s.”

“Well, that’s Chicago,” I conceded, doubting highly that the rest of America’s Heartland would jump onto that particular break dancing, “Material Girl” blasting bandwagon. We Hoosiers prefer to just blend in, if you know what I mean. Last week, however, while escorting my kids to the bus stop, I passed a Junior High student from my neighborhood all decked out in a mini skirt and pink footless leggings. Matching fingerless gloves, stretching clear up to her elbows, completed an ensemble unmistakably inspired by Valley Girls gagging with spoons all of twenty years earlier. I was like totally flabbergasted!

It amazes me how impossible it seems to stay current with the ethical, technological, and fashion conscious trends passing though our culture like Christmas time mall shoppers streaming in and out of revolving doors. “Don’t you ever IM? (or instant message for those of you, like myself, so hopelessly backwards)” my brother teased me when I guessed that LOL stood for lots of laughs. I recently heard that even e-mail is being viewed as “so last year” by teenagers who fluently text their friends in a language unrecognizable to their ignorant parents. Global Warming? Yes. War in Iraq? Yes. Smoking bans? Oh, Yes. Alternatives to Evolution? The slightest questioning of sexual promiscuity or pro-choice rhetoric? No. No. And No. It is smart to take note of them, but certainly don’t hang your hat on any one value, style, or agenda. And I wouldn't get too comfortable with your low-carb diet, caffeine addiction, and preference for bottled water because tomorrow may very well reveal that excessive amounts of protein combined with espresso and the toxins in those plastic containers is a dangerous, even lethal, combination.

Attesting to either wisdom or weakness, I am the last person you’d see out shaking and rocking the boat, but in support of free speech, equality, and thighs too dimply for leggings, would I be so out of line to ask a few questions weighing heavily upon my heart? Like can’t we all just agree that wide legged pants are more flattering? Does anyone else, besides me, feel nervous about the breakneck speed with which our nation is sprinting forward into uncharted territories? Shouldn’t some things be immune to faddishness? “Christians Can Be Cool!” I read in the Chicago Tribune several weeks ago. Church plants are sprouting up all over the city defying “yesterday’s” overly conservative approach to spreading the Gospel. Slickly dressed pastors use incense, bass guitars, and literary references to reach community members who might normally view church attendance as social suicide. “I like it here,” one new parishioner commented, who had stopped attending church ten years ago because of too many stifling rules and regulations. “I appreciate that I can completely be myself and just worship God.”

Dare I suggest that a lifetime of subtle shifting, away from the primary responsibility of all Christians to abandon everything for the sake of the cross, might compromise the fullness of the Faith? Should I not feel concern over a trend that encourages individualism in the name of Jesus, the purest example of selflessness that ever was or shall be? Is it not my place to shout “Come and See!” when asked if anything good, trustworthy, and uncompromising can be found in this overly depressed and anxious world? Is it not a privilege to espouse a doctrine that has succesfully remained impervious to the assaults of time, liberalism, and persecution?

If I have found, within the Orthodox Church, an anchor more than capable of keeping all of us who insist on fighting against the current from drifting into dangerous waters without even realizing how far off course we've gone, would it not be shameful to keep silent? Yes. Yes. Five times over, yes. Then why do I skirt the issue, tip toe around the uncomfortableness, get all flushed and fidgety when questioned about my beliefs? The truth is, I am timid. I by no means have all of the answers. I am sincerely not interested in proving anyone right or wrong. It’s just that I feel so fulfilled whereas before I was dissatisfied and I thought you’d like to know that, in case you are dissatisfied too with the slipperiness of modern values, styles and agendas keeping Truth from sticking anywhere for long.

“This is a really old show,” I told the children, prefacing our viewing of The Little Rascals.

“Tell me about it!” smirked eight-year-old Elijah. “When was it made? Like in 1986?”I chalked that comment up there with his, “Hey mom, what was your favorite dot com when you were a little girl?” And I can hardly believe the answer myself, that there was a time before Internet, before the now expected gratification of buying, knowing, and communicating anything in an instant. I forget what a busy signal sounds like, how to work a payphone, the amount of paychecks it took to get my Sears coat out of lay-a-way, and what possessed me to smear these lips with frosty pink gloss or coat my auburn eyelashes with turquoise mascara. Keep up! Keep up! If you blink you’ll miss everything, or in the words of the poet Bob Dylan,

Come gather 'round people

Wherever you roam

And admit that the waters

Around you have grown

And accept it that soon

You’ll be drenched to the bone

If your time to you is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’

Or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin’

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