Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Casual passing comments I normally wouldn’t think twice about suddenly felt all sharp-edged, malignant, and irritating. Last minute wrapping, packing and meal planning played their holiday part (though I swore up and down that they wouldn’t) in relegating the birth of Christ to an overlooked eighth item on my to-do list. The mothering role I normally don with gracious acceptance, this past week felt tight and overly restrictive. Prayer was all but banished from my frantic schedule. “No room!” I cried most ashamedly, most helplessly, like a house packed over-full with obnoxious boarders. “No room,” I whispered gravely upon entering my local parish on Monday evening, already lit and cloudy with candles and incense.
I know better I really do, but discarded theories have a tendency to rise again from out of my mental ashes when I’m too distracted to shred to pieces their faulty conclusions. A pious existence, I so erroneously convinced myself, is built cautiously piece by piece from the outside in. First I look the part, sound the part, claim the part as my own - then, and only then, will I be blessed with the authenticity that will truly set me aside as a spiritual force to reckoned with. In this state of mind, I don’t make use of the Fast as much as I try to conquer it. It’s not an opportunity so much as a challenge that will prove to Christ and to everyone else on earth that I am serious about my Faith. “How can we be an encouragement to others?” I will ask my teammate, God, while munching on lentils and flipping through the pages of Father Hopko’s Winter Pascha. I‘ll be sincere in my desire to promote Christianity but I’ll forget that the playing field is level. There is a secret, prideful piece of me that subconsciously supposes I have less to be redeemed of than my peers.
How badly I wanted to play the part of the subservient shepherds, turning my attention from the work at hand to worship and fall down before the Christ child. I was oh so very sure that this was the year I had it in me. But then one peripheral thing led seamlessly to another and the Fasting foods ran low, the kids were out of school, we traveled back and forth from here to there and back home again. I neglected to secure the precariously layered attributes designed to make me look like, feel like, morph into the real deal and so they crumbled at my feet like the concrete victim of a violent demolition. Rather than verifying my commitment, the Nativity Fast would highlight beyond what I was capable of denying, my limitations, my unworthiness, my just as desperate need as every other flagrant sinner for a savior.
An hour before heading out the door for the Matins of Nativity service, I seriously wondered if I would even be welcome, so undisciplined were my choices, reactions, inner ramblings the three days previous. My role, evidently, in our Lord’s incarnation would neither be that of the bright shining star leading wise, searching men to the King of Righteousness. “No room,” I had said, more than once, more than twice, sealing my humbling fate as the infamous innkeeper. I didn’t march through the doors of St. Elizabeth’s with triumph, elation, a sense of tranquility. I more like crawled on my hands and knees, dragging my growling belly eager for some scraps to relieve the hunger. I came to Jesus like a beggar offering only the flimsy hope that he would see me as I am and love me anyway.
The pure untainted reverence of the Orthodox Christian Church is incomparable in its theological depth and ethereal beauty, and the Matins and Liturgy of Nativity were no exception. It is disorienting, if you’re not used to it, the solid line She sacramentally draws between the divinity of God and the humanity of us who are the recipients of His mercy. The services are formal, lengthy enough to challenge your ability to stay focused, but if you’re starving for the savory Truth, unsweetened, there is plenty available to sink your bared jaws into. Come ravenous and be filled; come empty of assumptions about yourself, your neighbor, about Christ and His unknowable, unfathomable ways and feel your mind and heart explode with the magnitude of His glory. I came, I repented, I left anchored to that manger and all the more grateful for the gift God placed inside it of His Son. The guest of honor has arrived because of, not despite, my miserable failures; I am nothing, He is everything to me.
“Christ is Born!” I sang the Troparion, I participated in the penitential prayers. “Glorify Him!” I screwed up as usual, but I’m reminded of my rightful place because of it - as one indebted fully, one so glaringly ill equipped for Fasting, talking, or rule obeying my way into Christ’s good graces. Even lousy innkeepers are offered the sacred chance to house the Prince of Peace within their souls - If I accept, If I believe, If I admit I need His help to clear the clutter and deny the impulses to think any more or less of myself than necessary. Off of me, eyes, off of me! Fill your sight with Goodness and Heaven, with Forgiveness, with Holiness, with the inextinguishable Light of the birth and resurrection of the God who cared enough to become a man.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
“I believe, O Lord, and I confess…” we all began, the whole shivering lot of us who had braved the freezing elements to make sense of our separate yet inextricably linked lives by partaking of the body and blood of Christ Jesus. I assumed she wasn’t interested in the words that every Sunday cut straight through the irrelevant drivel vying desperately for my undivided attention, but children are usually listening most when you least expect them to.
“…Of thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of thy Mystery to thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess thee: Remember me, O Lord, in thy Kingdom.”
“What does that mean?” whispered Priscilla, her exaggeratedly hushed tone as inconspicuous as a passing garbage truck.
“Shh!” was my instinctive response until I realized that her interruption was valid, an honest to goodness inquiry into an element of our Faith as opposed to a third request to go downstairs and use the restroom. “What does what mean?” I quickly added, modeling with my own voice a more appropriate volume.
“Neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss,” my daughter clarified.
“Shame on me,” I thought, had I really never explained that to her before?
Swiftly, I delivered the abbreviated version into my right hand cupped tightly around her ear: Trust. Betrayal. Kiss. Death. I spoke hurriedly and without inflection. But the sheer unfairness of it all needn’t of have been dramatized or embellished for Priscilla’s sake. The cold straight facts were enough to get her steaming. She whipped her face around to meet my gaze - eyes steely, lips pursed, forehead wrinkled. I felt pressure to mirror her revolted expression but the righteous indignation necessary for making it look authentic quite simply wasn’t there at my disposal. “He hung himself out of shame,” I told her finally, to let her know that Judas felt bad in the end - really, horribly bad about his actions.
“Good,” said Priscilla, and she meant it.
I wasn’t always this placid, so unperturbed by Biblical accounts of sacrifice, injustice, crucifixion. Time and repetition played their part to dull my astonishment, like a scar makes numb the initial stinging pangs of bodily violence. At five-years-old I was removed from a pre-release screening of “The Jesus Film.” A guilty verdict passed down upon the innocent was just more than I could process at that age. “Crucify Him! Free Barabbas!” they yelled, and I hated that condemning mob - so much so that I shouted right back at them. “Don’t do this!” I hysterically protested, in the midst of a crowded theater. “Stop it! You can’t! I won’t let you kill my Jesus!”
Every Holy Week the death of Christ is solemnly and reverently commemorated. At the Holy Friday service I will ponder, and even shed tears over, such an agonizing and unfathomable act of mercy. But it is highly unlikely I’ll become so engrossed in His suffering that I lose all control of my faculties, that I’ll make a public spectacle of myself on behalf of Christ. I did feel the heat, however, off my daughter’s fiery earnestness, and for the first time in a long time the profoundness of the incarnation undeniably singed my soul; her curiosity sparked a wondering of my own: How could a person having been that close to Jesus, having witnessed firsthand both His glory and humility, having seen Him heal the sick and feed the poor, have turned against Him over something so transitory as money? How could, or for that matter, how can the Son of God allow Himself to be so utterly disrespected by His own creation?
Jesus did not resist the soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus did not call down the powers of Heaven to alleviate the afflictions of His torture. Jesus did not establish an earthly kingdom. Jesus doesn’t force us to worship, to emulate, to adore Him. “Well where’s the greatness in that?” any honest child will question. “Well where’s the greatness in that?” this worn and weathered adult hasn’t even thought to ask, or meditate upon, in ages. What is so significant (now with Christmas fast approaching) about a baby and a stable and virgin mother and some shepherds? Why should the quality of my life be enhanced because of this Feast? At the Matins of Nativity, as in every Orthodox service, we sing hymns packed tightly with theology and you if you listen, really listen, they’ll blow your mind:
How is He contained in a womb
Whom nothing can contain?
How can He be held in the arms of His mother
Who remains forever in the bosom of His Father?
It is according to His good will,
As He knows and as He desires!
For being without flesh,
He of His own good will has been made flesh;
And He Who Is has for our sake become what He was not.
From His birth to death to Resurrection, Christ’s message was immaculately consistent. Every controversial move he made, or refused to make, while on earth fell in line with a mission of love, as a means to salvation. Love over comfort. Love over power. Love over vengeance and pride. Love over zealousness. Love most victorious over mortality, poverty, and degradation. Love perfected through self-restraint. Love first revealed in the most humble of circumstances to the most ordinary of human beings – like us, if only we were searching as intently as they were then for a savior. If only the news of His birth hadn’t become so commonplace, so watered down, such a sentimental excuse for having a party.
God is with us! Understand all ye nations and submit yourselves, for God is with us! said the holy prophet Isaiah; that, dear Priscilla, is the very pertinent message I long for us to absorb as a family this holiday season. That is a Truth worth getting all worked up over, for Love destroying death is the ultimate in significance. So inspire me with your illimitable devotion. Infect me with your contagious enthrallment. God became man now how I will I respond? For your sakes, may my reaction be bold, unmistakable, and enduring; for my sake may it be genuine and courageous. Let those of us who have hung all our hope on the cross listen awe struck to the angel’s announcement, dirty our knees prostrating reverently before the manger, and then run - impulsively sharing the miraculousness of the Gospel with everyone we meet along the way, making public spectacles of ourselves out of joy, out of Christ sanctioned love, unashamedly overcome by a renewed and child like wonder. “Christ is Born!” we must continually proclaim like we mean it, “Glorify Him!”
Click HERE to listen to this post on Ancient Faith Radio (beginning 12/20).
Monday, December 17, 2007
I’m getting too old for this. I expected my fourth child in six years to be a delicate whisper of sweetness, yet all three of her determined sibling's temperaments combined cannot compete in any real way with the impressive stubbornness of our one little Mary. On Saturday night, we were inundated with a snowstorm. It was touch and go there for awhile regarding Liturgy on Sunday, but eventually we made the decision to pull boots on over our dress pants and tights and try our luck with the unplowed roads that lead to St. Elizabeth’s.
Mary got her heart set on a ridiculously large, blue striped, Land’s End dress that belongs to her six-year-old sister, Priscilla, and a pair of old white sandals. I try to be open minded, to let the girls modestly express their own sense of style but every single thing about Mary’s outfit was impractical– the prospect of her tripping and freezing off those impossibly tiny toes was, unfortunately, more than I could ignore in good conscience. “No sweetheart,” we told her and it all went downhill from there. The screaming lasted a solid 40 minutes, which translated to three and a quarter hours in Temper Tantrum Land where every nerve-fraying second drags on like a Junior High band concert – you stick around out of loyalty, wishing all the while for an alcoholic beverage to take the edge off.
We held Mary firmly, we presented her with many charming options in terms of attire, we tried to distract her with a strawberry cereal bar –her most favorite snack in the world. But the anger only intensified until (I am convinced) she forgot completely what had started the smoldering fire, now raging uncontrollably within her, in the first place. “Let’s just take her anyway and see if she calms down in the car,” my husband suggested, but that sounded like a giant, stress- induced migraine waiting to happen. We were shouting such ideas back and forth to each other when suddenly there was a break in the storm…silence, oh good grief what a beautiful sound! I hurried to Mary’s bedroom where just seconds earlier she had been howling in her crib, only to find her peacefully snoring; beads of sweat on her small pixie forehead were the sole remaining evidence of a struggle. I changed into jeans and tennis shoes; this mom wasn’t going anywhere. “Rest, Mary, rest. Life’s overwhelmed you.”
“Where’s daddy?” asked my newly awakened daughter an hour and a half later, all smiles and kisses and sunshine.
“At Church,” I told her, “where mama and Mary should be.”
“Oh-h-h! Church!” she said happily, tracing the ever-increasing fine lines on my face with her fingers. I could have swallowed her whole right then and there; so delectable to me did she seem at that moment. The affront to our ears, my morning plans, was forgiven in a heartbeat - the resiliency of maternal devotion in continual affect. I’ve got my hands full all right with this one, but free time is overrated anyway. Who needs predictability when there’s wild, messy love to keep me permanently engaged in the present?
But I’ll certainly take that glass of Merlot if you’re offering.
Friday, December 14, 2007
If there were a contest (involving prize money) for the person who could contain the largest amount of ideas, irrational concerns, analyzations, theories and reflections inside their head at any one given moment, I would totally become a contestant because I think I’d have an amazing shot at cleaning up and clearing out my competition. Just this week our oldest son, Elijah, who had recently caught an itchy case of pink eye from his brother, yelled out to me in the middle of the night that his vision was blurry. I ran into his room, flipping on the light to investigate, but he was talking all gibberish and refused to open his eyelids so I could get a better look. After sleeping not one lousy wink, racking my brain for a fool-proof plan that would get him to the doctor and his sister Priscilla to school while five-year-old Ben and two-year-old Mary tagged along, I nauseously pulled myself out of bed only to be greeted by a clear-eyed, happy-go-lucky Elijah who had no memory whatsoever of awaking me. “
I have read several books on the Holocaust and now feel guilty every time it is freezing cold outside and I am shivering in my down coat and long underwear, knowing that those who spent time in the concentration camps had to labor in much harsher and more agonizing weather conditions, without socks, Isotoner gloves, or fur lined boots. I question vigorously my intentions regarding everything. I wonder curiously about the lives of the family members in the car ahead us on the highway – Where do they live? Where are they going? Are they happy?
Within people who smile genuinely, unselfconsciously, at everyone they come into contact with, I find breathtaking and inspiring beauty - like our children’s librarian with the sun shiny voice and mild mannered demeanor. I think about how much effort it must take to treat all of us so warmly, even when she’s tired, distracted, or cranky. I think if I could be like anyone, it would be her. It’s both a blessing and a curse – having a mind that runs on cruise control, never stopping, pulling over, or slowing down. How would it be, I often wonder, to let things go like my husband, sleeping peacefully all curled up with his “wait and see” attitude? How would it sound without the steady hum of an ongoing internal dialogue to serenade me? I wish I had the key to shut down this thought-guzzling contraption every now and then…but not really, because sometimes in the labyrinth of my psyche Christ reveals Himself. God is good; God is attentive; God is merciful to grant me clarity through the chaos.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
It is with great sheepishness that I share with you my memories of being lectured about the true meaning of Christmas at the “I really should have known better” age of sixteen. In early December of 1990, I came down with a most horrendous case of Chicken Pox producing ugly itchy scabs on my limbs, my scalp, down my throat and between my toes. At the height of my agony, I had an overwhelming desire to clip my fingernails and yet, much to my frustration, not a single pair of fingernail clippers could be found in our bi-level home. Their absence triggered a tearful tantrum on my part directed at every member of our family who had dared to trim their own fingernails without remembering where exactly they had left the much-coveted clippers. I was furious, I was uncomfortable, and I was horrified by own appearance. A stoic, I most certainly was not.
A couple weeks later I gathered around our Christmas tree with the family I had since forgiven. The first gift I opened was, quite appropriately, a brand new pair of fingernail clippers. “Ha ha,” I said, “very funny!” laying them aside to make room for the watch, the sweater, the c.d., or whatever it was I wanted that year, I just knew was still festively wrapped and waiting for me. When my turn arrived again, however, mom and dad (with a fair amount snickering) presented a medium sized box stuffed generously with tissue paper, at the bottom of which I found yet another pair of …you guessed it, silver fingernail clippers. Eventually (in between the tearing open of perfectly legitimate offerings), I’d unwrap half a dozen of them.
“C’mon Molly,” they said, when I pouted like a preschooler, “don’t get all mad about it, we were only joking with you.” But exactly like a preschooler, I was incapable of snapping out of the disappointed funk clouding for me the brightness of Christ’s birth, just because things hadn’t gone the way I envisioned. I had wanted every last gift with my name on it to contain something that would “wow” me, something that would make me happy, something quite impractical and excessive. I knew it was selfish and I clearly understood that my attitude was immature and inappropriate. But sometimes that gap between what we long for and what we actually get seems a little too wide for stepping over gracefully.
It wasn’t until I submitted myself to the Orthodox Church that I began to feel truly self-conscious about my knee jerk reaction to failed expectations - one very similar to that of a scowling third grader, blaming the pitcher for his lousy aim after raising her foot fiercely at recess only to have the kick ball whoosh right under it into the waiting arms of the other team’s catcher. Disappointment meant that something had gone awry: I hadn’t prayed hard enough, I didn’t plan well enough or in most cases, someone else has screwed up and I was paying the price for it. In other words, the let down in question almost always seemed to reek of unfairness. But at some point, between the penitential prostrations of Lent and countless recitations of the Prayer of St. Ephraim, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Morning Prayer of Metropolitan Philaret, it began to dawn on me that, for followers of Christ, there really is no such thing as random happenstance, no unforeseen bumps in the road sabotaging our efforts toward success.
“…Thy will be done.”
“…all things are sent by You”
“…give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love.”
An untimely sinus infection, an embarrassing professional blunder, a phone call from my husband to say he’s running an hour late just as I take our dinner out of the oven, can make me writhe and howl internally with aggravation. I can point my damning finger out of spitefulness; I can beat my breast till its bruised and tear out my hair, but nothing changes – nothing that is except for the potential cooling of my passions, if I so choose to use these disappointments to my spiritual advantage. Authentic tranquility is gained only through bumping up against life over and over and over again until I am numb to the irritation, until I stop wincing, until I become thankful for the blows that knock me soundly off my high horse and straight into the arms of our loving God.
St. Gregory the Great encouraged us to persevere throughout this process when he said,
"Hold to patience in your hearts, my friends, and put it into action when the situation calls for it. Don't let any abusive word from your neighbor stir up hatred in you, and don't allow any loss of things that pass away to upset you. If you are steadfast in fearing the loss of those things that last forever, you will never take seriously the loss of those that pass away; if you keep your eyes fixed on the glory of our eternal recompense, you will not resent a temporal injury. You must bear with those who oppose you, but also love those you fear with. Seek an eternal reward in return for your temporal losses. "
All the money we saved to update our decrepit old bathroom ended up being spent on a busted sewer pipe…Lord have mercy. I wrote half a manuscript and a proposal; they were rejected upon submission…Lord have mercy. I was eight and a half weeks pregnant and then I miscarried our baby…Lord have mercy. We wanted that job in Louisville but Troy was turned down…Lord have mercy. I am heartsick over the loss of my time, my earthly dreams, my resources that now feel so important, but more than anything …Dear God, more anything - I want a whole lot less of me and all of You when the present gives way to eternity. “Lord have mercy on my weak but willing soul.”
This Christmas I promise to be sweeter, to be downright exuberant over the festively wrapped comb I will get from Priscilla, the hand drawn comic I’ll receive from Elijah, the rock-n-roll dance I’ll be entertained with by Ben, the sticky kisses I might get (if I’m lucky) from little Mary, and most especially over the one single gift that makes all other joys and sorrows pale in comparison to its splendor - a savior which is Christ the Lord.
Click HERE to listen to this post on Ancient Faith Radio (beginning 12/13).
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Elijah is home today with pink eye - the very best case scenario for a kid, due to the fact that he feels fine but has to stay away from other kids because he’s contagious. He took it upon himself to make brunch using an Usborne cookbook for children, and the pancakes turned out beautifully. He is proud of himself and I am encouraged, due to the fact that next year I may need his help if (brace yourselves) I do, indeed, decide to pull the kids out of public school. My mind is going crazy with that possibility. I am a big believer in one year at a time decisions regarding education. Last year, enrolling both Elijah and Priscilla in the public school system was a positive choice, one I continue to feel good about. The structured environment has been great for both of them. I have seen them be challenged and then rise to the occasion; in other words, I know what they are capable of. I needed to catch my breath, I needed for the kids to get older, I needed (and still need) to finish writing the book, I need to use this next semester wisely. I can’t fully explain, without using overly long and rambling sentences, why this sudden desire has taken a hold of me. So much of mothering is intuition – gut reactions that make us sometimes head in directions we never thought possible. I am nervous to make this leap and I am just as nervous not to.
It is humbling to start over, to have to panhandle every home school mom I come across for advice and information. The Hound of Heaven is always at my heels, breathing down my neck, reminding me that, of course, I can’t do anything on my own. Don’t get too comfortable, right? Comfortable is what makes me lazy and unresponsive. I am desperate for meaning in the form of salvation. I am increasingly aware of Truths I want to share with my family while there’s time. I am so freaking in love with my crazy kids… enough to stretch myself (Please God, help that to be true) if I am asked to.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
In January, after Christmas and so many, many weeks before the warmth of April, I will pass by a mirror and be surprised that a human image is staring back at me; so immersed will I become in the tasks at hand, binding me and my identity (as an individual) to the needs of my family. Without the luxury of conversation with neighbors at the bus stop or parents at the park to distract me, I will be forced to look more critically at the state of my soul. How many minor setbacks in the form of spills, tantrums, and broken stuff will I be able to handle before I cease to consider the words that leave my mouth? How will I respond to the claustrophobia pulling down upon my spirit like a leaded weight? Where will I find my significance when no one seems to be watching or appreciating my efforts? What will I do with the unique opportunities provided throughout these days of isolation to lose myself, to detach my hope and happiness from the assuaging of personal desires?
“I have to get out of here!” every inch of my body, my heart, my intellect will want to scream, but will I, really? Have to get out, I mean. Balance, the avoidance of extremes, is the only thing that will save me from going under. Too many sudden moves, stringent expectations, or generalized summarizations of my character (based solely on ever fluctuating emotions) will push me right up to the edge of despair. So I’ll take a bath, read a book that inspires me, serve cereal for dinner if I have to, inhale deeply and pray for the endurance to last a little bit longer. I won’t, shouldn’t, can’t think ahead – tomorrow has enough trouble, joy, and enlightenment of its own.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
When he knelt beside my bed to tell me we were moving, I could visibly see the pain, the trepidation, reddening his eyes; I could hear the tension tightening around his voice. “I’m really sorry,” he repeated over and over again. I felt cold, and sick, and angry, so heartbroken and fearful. That summer I had made the varsity team - warm-up pants, polyester vests, and short pleated skirts had already been ordered in my exact size, bearing my name. “After football season,” he promised. But I said nothing, as if an event unacknowledged couldn’t come to fruition, as if withholding my approval could change his mind.
I tore through the days that fall like fire devouring pine trees in a forest, taking advantage of my parent’s sympathy to stay out longer. Joy rides, home games, and “5th quarter” parties were quite literally all I cared about or lived for. Winter set in and still I rejected the inevitable, even as mom sorted, listed, and planned ahead. Then boxes were assembled, a moving truck reserved; reality roared louder than determined ignorance could muffle, extinguishing all hope of a clean escape. It would take years to find the good in that upheaval, of my circumstances, my security, my surroundings. Now I look back, decades later, with vision sharp, mature, and lucid - I see a girl who would find enlightenment through disruption. I see myself - exactly where I should be.
“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it,” said Flannery O’Connor. And yet its avoidance, or outright refutation, is a far too common way to pass the time. Occasionally, I do feel a bit like Noah, hammering away at an ark under sunny skies. “Experts” have been studying the weather patterns, presenting fully funded research boasting airtight conclusions. The storm is not coming, we’ve been assured, and it is rude, immoral, and unthinkable to claim otherwise.
I am not so likely to abandon the project altogether, as much as I am apt to fit it in (like a hair or a doctor’s appointment) to my busy schedule. “This ark thing is a part of what I do,” I reassure those rolling their eyes, “but I have other interests also, many valid traits you’d find endearing.” Sometimes, I’ll feel a drop or two and labor away with renewed vigor; then just like that, once again I ‘m dry as a bone. Messages I had silenced find their smooth, hypnotic, voice. “Come play with us!” they yell, and I want to. What I choose (either work or rest) cannot prevent Christ’s love and wrath from overflowing and spilling downward. Attempted dodging of the issue postpones nothing. Reality will roar louder than determined ignorance can muffle, “God is holy! God is just! God is good!”
Truth is scary because, potentially, it could eat you alive, it could continually ask for more until you are empty. Oh man, am I partial to these existing circumstances - so attached to their security, and my surroundings. Remove them from me and surely I would perish; I would crumble into nothing, into dust. But the saints, our examples, claim otherwise from across that wide expanse of fatality and sorrow. They have lived and died and lived again victoriously, “Come find peace with us!” they offer, and I want to.
St. Mary of Paris lost her infant daughter and she suffered grievously, like anybody would. The heavens opened up to receive her beloved child, ripping in two a flimsy semblance of normality:
“And I am convinced,” she said “that anyone who has shared this experience of eternity, if only once; who has understood which way he is going, if only once; who has perceived the One who precedes him, if only once: such a person will find it hard to deviate from this path, to him all comforts will appear ephemeral, all treasures valueless, all companions, superfluous if in their midst he fails to see the one Companion, bearing his cross.”
“We have found the True faith,” I sing each and every Sunday, “worshipping the undivided Trinity, who has saved us.” There is really nothing open in that statement for interpretation. Whatever I choose (either a willing spirit or the preservation of my life as it is right now) will not thwart in any way the plans of God. The tools for salvation, He’s so mercifully made available but how (or if) I use them is my prerogative. “Come play with us?” you say. Dear friends, come pray with me, find shelter in the Ark of Christ’s Church before the waters start to rise, before Truth reveals Himself in all His terrifying, unyielding, and irresistible glory.
Click HERE to listen to this post on Ancient Faith Radio (beginning 12/7).
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Guess how crabby I get when my idealized self stands just inches out of reach, looking more muscular, organized, and outgoing than this all too human, flabby thighed, mother pressing her nose against the glass dividing heavily marketed pipe dreams from reality? Guess how sore my neck has become from craning over fences for a nice long look at where the grass is always greener, the children better behaved, and where scrapbooks are filled to overflowing with anecdotes and updated photographs? Guess how few people have been blessed by my neurotic desire to be perfect?
I have one, two, three, four kids who are happiest when I am contented, with the idiosyncrasies that make me as irreplaceable as a well worn rag doll adored for her ability to take a lickin’ and keep on givin’ much needed affection, warmth, and security. I have a husband who would like to be heard – the kind of hearing where you put down the broom, the dish rag, or the magazine in order to look at a person, square in the face, with attention. Guess who left my presence shaking their head in disbelief at all the stupid things I said? Nobody, that’s who; we’re all too busy pondering our own deficiencies.
Guess what would happen if I offered my “as is” companionship to a sister who was lonely, if I served my sub par cooking to a brother who was hungry, or if I turned my negative thoughts to God in prayer for someone, anyone, other than myself? I would be free, I tell you, from wasting time and empty calories on a boatload of superficialities. I would be a better example to my daughters, watching closely for cues on how a woman ought to carry herself – with humility (I long to show them), with grace, and with the conviction that there is beauty in every life (including their own) that bears the image of Christ Jesus, lives designed to love without restraint.
Monday, December 03, 2007
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:
Monkey on your head!
Because I have heard it, or at least some variant on that theme (cat on your head, robot on your head, etc.) approximately three thousand times in the past five years. I dreamt of the day when my babies could verbally communicate, and then this is what came spewing forth like fizz from a shaken soda can: a steady stream of nonsensical jokes that could barely be delivered through hysterical giggling.
For kids, rib aching laughter is always just a silly voice, an exaggerated dance move, or an altered lyric (“Jingle Bells, Batman smells,” you get the picture), away. It is sitting there on the tips of their tongues, dying to be unleashed by the slightest of efforts from their siblings, classmates, or their own imagination. We were born, apparently, with the capacity to be very joyful.
Its been awhile since I laughed till I cried, till I doubled-over in fits of snorts, gasps, and howls. With awareness, of tragic possibilities, came gravity of the least amusing variety. Adulthood has slowly but surely flattened my effervescence; it takes a whole lot more than it used to to get me going. But oh, the release when I do! All regrets, “what if’s”, and “shoulds” fade impotently into the background while I seize a present moment to reclaim my youthful tendencies toward facetiousness.
This past Summer I got together with some old and very dear friends of mine from college. My children watched on dumbfounded as their “not so funny” mother broke out near constantly into open-mouthed cackling of the most satisfying and delightful variety. I was nineteen again as my former roommate (now in her mid-thirties with a five-year-old son of her own) recounted tripping and landing sprawled out “bear skin rug” style on the crowded cafeteria floor, the contents of her full lunch tray strewn haphazardly all around her. Memories were just sitting there on the tips of our tongues, dying to be unleashed by the slightest of efforts. We took much needed pleasure in our nostalgia heavy fellowship – and it was good.
Last week, my eldest son Elijah came home from school with a riddle:
“Why is it so hard to tell a joke at a party?”
“I don’t know,” I said distractedly. “Why?”
“Because the punch line is too long!”
I stopped abruptly, mid-chuckle, to revel in an astonishing phenomenon. “Wait a minute…I get it!! That’s actually and truly funny!” I said. But his eyes weren’t smiling expectantly like they used to. “Yeah, I guess so,” he shrugged without an ounce of slapstick hilarity, and I missed it immediately – the inanity of his innocence, the rainbow colored glasses through which he comically viewed his days. So I did what any jaded mother would do: tickled him mercilessly until a grin broke out like sunlight piercing holes though cloudy skies. I did anything I possibly could to keep him laughing.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Kids have very little respect for the time-honored tradition of sleeping in on a Saturday morning. And just because Troy and I stay up until well near midnight, snuggling on the couch and watching a movie, the internal clock of our two-year-old will not adjust itself to compensate for this wild act of self-indulgence. It is also imperative to remember that at 6:00am, following an evening of romantic popcorn munching, that same said two-year-old (when brought into bed with us) will not be lured into dreamland by my heavy breathing and clamped shut eyelids. But then, really, what better way is there to shake off the exhaustion of yet another hectic week than to be serenaded by sounds of Mary dramatically stretching, Elijah tossing out trivia questions regarding King Ahab and Jezebel (questions I don’t know the answers to, and if I were more awake would inquire why he does), Benji finally offering his new Transformer toy to Elijah to play with (for just a little bit), and Priscilla (a girl after my own heart) dozing away in her bedroom oblivious to the noise and commotion?
It is a frigid morning here in Indiana - a dreary, icy, “keep your jammies on” sort of day. And were all home together with no concrete plans in sight. The coffee is hot, the possibilities are limitless, and I am deliriously contented.
At its best our age is an age of searchers and discoverers, and at its worst, an age that has domesticated despair and learned to live with it happily.