Wednesday, February 27, 2008


So I have decided that what the internet, heck...let's just say it, what the world really needs is one more blogsite. Wouldn't you agree? In order to do my part I have created a sister blog to Close to Home called The Hesitant Homeschooler which is, as you probably surmised, a blog dedicated fully to my decision to keep my kids at home in the fall and educate them myself. The ramblings you will find within it will be interesting only...I repeat, only if you have, are, or are going to Homeschool and find that task to be both wonderful and nauseatingly scary at the same time. If that does not describe your situation, please stick with the blog you are currently reading. I am in need, here, of much prayer, encouragement, and advice. If you have any of these to offer then hop on over - I truly would appreciate it.

Monday, February 25, 2008


I was the kid with her knees pressed firmly against the back of the booth, resting my chin on crossed arms while staring unflinchingly at the couple behind us as they ate their Bob Evans breakfast and pretended not to notice, until that is my mother shoved me downward by the shoulders, whispering, “Honestly, Molly, that is rude!” I was a sidetracked kind of child who too many times to count looked up in terror at the unrecognizable face belonging to the pant’s leg I mistakenly thought was my father’s. I was easily lost in shopping malls and grocery stores, left lingering in toy aisles as the rest of my family moved on to the check out line assuming I was there right beside them. Now here I am, twenty-five years later, a mother with a drifter of her own. “Look me in the eyes,” I tell him, positioning myself directly within his field of vision. “We are leaving in five minutes, please stop what you are doing and get ready to go.” It’s all hypocrisy for the most part, my telling him to pay attention when I am always living life with my head in the clouds, or in the murky puddles of mud pooling here and there and everywhere around me.

Left to my own devices, it is probable that I would float indefinitely from to whim-to-whim, losing time, confidence, and distance to the numerous stops and starts of my shifting ideologies and preoccupations. I’m not disciplined enough nor was I created to stay focused on salvation all by my lonesome. I am saved, being saved, aboard the Ark of the Orthodox Church within a body of Christians past and present sailing onward in unison toward the Kingdom of Heaven. What may appear to be repetitious and overly restrictive such as centuries old litanies, reoccurring fasts and feasts, and an ancient Liturgy unmodified, in reality caters mystically to our longing for stability in a world of rapid change and conflicting morals. What may seem to some like cold outdated Traditions are really, truly, miraculously, a most relevant source of enlightenment and spiritual healing.

It’s a sensible Faith as well as one of mystery. The thrice everything in Orthodoxy, for example, serves a very practical purpose for one such as myself whose thoughts start bucking like a bronco at the mere notion of being contained. By that last “Amen” or “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal,” I am usually able to reign in my mind and return to the work at hand of giving thanks to the Holy Trinity for the hope and untaintable purity of God’s perfect goodness. Just recently I was struck all over again by the usefulness of reiteration when I started joining my husband in his nightly rule of prayer. At first I didn’t understand what could possibly be so beneficial about forty recitations of “The Jesus Prayer” (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy upon me a sinner) in front of icons of Christ and the Theotokos prior to going to bed; I was right to assume I didn’t naturally have the patience for it. For the first ten, I fidgeted; by the second ten, I was desperate to be anywhere besides standing in that skin crawling chasm of quiet. But during those last intercessions, by quite obviously the grace of God, I was able finally to make it through to other side of restlessness, finding peace in a moment of not doing, not telling, not asking, not trying but just being in the presence of Jesus.

On Friday, I was teary, overwhelmed and exhausted from attempting to be all things to all people. On Saturday, I was hyper: cleaning house, making more plans than I had energy, time, or skills for, and baking cupcakes for my eldest son’s birthday. On Sunday I was standing with my family for the Gospel reading when the parable of the Prodigal Son, a passage I know from experience (and our Church calendar) is but two short weeks from the beginning of Great Lent, mercifully grabbed hold of my antsy spirit with its vivid and poignant message of repentance. Left to my own devices, it is certain that I would flounder in the noise and rush of my fears and secular ambitions. Without a prescribed Fast, fleshed out generously by Lenten services and the fellowship of my brothers and sisters in Christ, it would be awfully, so very awfully difficult to carve out a period of time fully dedicated to the reordering of my priorities and the tidying of my dusty, cluttered soul. “Stop what you are doing,” says our Lord though His Church, “and start preparing yourself for my Resurrection.”

“Get in the car, please, get in the car, get in the car, get in the car,” I told five-year-old Benjamin just this afternoon.

“What did you say?” he asked me.

I got close to him, bent down on one knee and cupped his chin in the palm of my mittened hand. I repeated myself for the fifth time in the matter of a minute or two, and then he got it. As his mother I do my best to show love not by giving up on his ability to mature, not by revving up the minivan and leaving without him, but by recognizing his limitations, going to where he is and communicating with absolute clarity, “It is time now, sweetheart, to head home.”

Click HERE to listen to this post (beginning 2/28). This is a service of Ancient Faith Radio.

Friday, February 22, 2008


I thought that my maternal intuitions would just show up upon your arrival, like the breast milk and out of town visitors. I thought you’d look familiar but I saw nothing of myself in your mass of black hair and ruddy skin. I thought that I was ready to settle down and be a mother but I fought my restless spirit tooth and nail as we sat in the rocking chair for hours at a time while you cried, and I cried, while we cried together. I thought it would be easier, raising children.

I remember when you started reaching for me from the arms of distant relatives and strangers, many of whom were older, wiser, more comfortable with babies. That you preferred my inexperience to the clucks and coos of others was surprising to me though it shouldn’t have been, as you were formed inside my belly, being nourished off my body, as your attachment had nothing to do with my qualifications. It felt good… no, amazing to be wanted over anything or anyone else.

It’s a wonder to me now that all first-born children don’t end up skittish, indecisive and with a permanent nervous twitch in their eye. With all the worrying…no, obsessing that I did over developmental stages, dietary habits, and any behavior other than sitting quietly with a smile, one would think, my dear Elijah, that you were well on your way toward a lifetime of pull-ups and playground squabbles. I erroneously believed that by reaching our emotional limits we were proving ourselves defective, rather than human. I did that just today, doused your adolescent smoldering with excessive measures more appropriate for a raging fire. I overreacted and I shouldn’t have…I am sorry.

I adore your imagination, and the way you soften your voice when talking with your two-your-old sister. I delight in your ability to read aloud from any text with inflection, making proper use of commas and exclamation points. I am challenged by your ever more complicated inquiries about relationships and faith and evil. I am abundantly thankful that you trust me enough to share your secrets with. I am amazed everyday that you are just like me and nothing like me simultaneously. When I pause to really stare at you as an individual, instead of as a duty, I see muscles in your calves, the sharpening of your facial features, impending signs of manhood that nearly take my breath away. Last week, I swear, you were joined to me at the hip and now you're pining for your freedom, off and running in hot pursuit of independence.

I used to assume that only other people had nine-year-olds, more mature moms and dads with steely will power and an unlimited supply of patience. My existance, I figured, would be one continuous saga of toilet training, nursing, night waking, and Sesame Street. That you grew up this much without my noticing makes me determined to slow down, to stop over evaluating, to just enjoy you. Elijah, you are an incredible young man, whether because of me or in spite of me, I couldn’t say. I hope you know that everything in my life is more significant because you’re in it. You are a gift, my path to Christ, my motivation to quit messing around with trivialities and start tending to the things that truly matter. I love you! I love you! I love you!

Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


“Um, excuse me,” said the woman next to us, “your son just bowled in our lane.” While trying to help six-year-old Priscilla garner at least enough momentum to shove her own magenta bowling ball toward the neat rows of pins without it stopping short of its target and rolling back to her, five-year-old Benji had gone ahead and started his own game wherever the heck he wanted. Two-year-old Mary, meanwhile, had found a Skittle to eat in an ashtray. It went on like that for an hour and a half – congratulatory high-fives for each turn played out in surreal-like slow motion interspersed with clenched-teeth orders to stop army crawling under chairs and reaching hands into the 30 year-old vending machine advertising yellowed with age Shasta cans for a dollar. I think we had fun …I mean, I certainly hope so.

I wonder every once in a while what my kids will remember about me, about the quality of their childhood overall. I have visions of them as teenagers grumbling amongst their friends about curfews, after school jobs and overly rigid restrictions. I try to assure myself that this is normal and most certainly to be expected, but next thing you know I am laboring over pancakes poured strategically to look like Mickey Mouse, I am intentionally padding my resume. “But what can we do all together that is really special - and free,” I’ll ask my husband, imagining sing-a-longs, daisy chains and six delectable pairs of matching denim overalls. “What I can provide them with, as their mother, to keep them happy?”

“Don’t you think being with your kids is more important than getting exercise?” grumbled Priscilla under her breath when told she couldn’t practice reading to me at that moment. Ugh, the weight of guilt made each leg lift, squat, and lunge feel painfully self-centered and shameful, but I finished the workout anyway because…well, to be honest if it’s not this thing, or that thing, it’s another. I am always making choices I can’t be sure about - trying to separate love from perfection.

“Babydoll, this world’s not going to cater to your preferences and you and I both need to accept that. I want for you patience, thankfulness, and fortitude more, much more than immediate gratification. Someday, (gulp) you may despise me for this; making faces of disgust that will tear me to pieces and I will second-guess a stern and seemingly unfair decision. I pray now for the strength, for the faith to think eternally, to stay open for Christ to pour through me and quench your thirst like pure water gushing forth from a rusted out spigot."

Elijah’s birthday is on Saturday and we can’t afford the twelve guest pizza party he was wishing for. I wanted to, of course, I tried to stretch and strain our budget but then it hit me that sometimes its okay to say no. We will gather as a family and joyfully celebrate his nine years on this earth as our son, sharing memories that have grown sweeter over time. We will cultivate a conviction that life itself is a gift to be treasured and offered back as a first fruit to Him that granted it. I will probably bake the cake a tad too long; there will certainly be squabbles over who gets the icing laden corner piece. I will reprimand for rowdiness and cheer enthusiastically over blown out candles. And he will know without a doubt that he is cherished…

I mean, I certainly, certainly hope so.

Monday, February 18, 2008


All that was missing to complete my metamorphosis into Jane Fonda was a pair of leg warmers, and coordination. Having been under the impression that most workout facilities had long since abandoned traditional step aerobics for salsa dancing, circuit training, and kickboxing, I was surprised to see that my local YMCA had chosen to stay faithful to its early 90’s roots by offering a 9:00 am old school step aerobics class that included free babysitting.

Now I am the antithesis of adventuresome, a keep your seatbelt buckled and feet on the ground type of girl. The circumstances that justified my donning of spandex and willingness to make a complete fool out of myself were obviously dire indeed. I was sluggish, melancholy, out of shape, and claustrophobic due to an Indiana winter that is lasting way too long and the walls of my house shifting inward.

“Can I join your group?" I asked the perky instructor when she waltzed all smiles and waves through the doorway.

“Well, I’d be so disappointed if you didn’t!” She chirped breezily, looking past me to her regulars already stretching and chatting and uninterested in my presence. I was twenty years younger than all of them. “Grab your steps from the closet!” she yelled out, and so I did, placing mine down in the furthest back, least conspicuous corner. And then BOOM, BOOM, BOOM the music started pumping, we all began marching, our instructor reviewed the basics which I heard but couldn’t process, couldn’t mimic with any consistency if my life depended on it. When she mamboed, I straddled, when she singled, I doubled, when the whole class pivoted, I was mortified to see myself reflected in the mirror, up front and fully outed as a novice. The pressure to perform better made me worse of course, how predictable. “Oops!” called our instructor when I missed the step entirely and nearly fell to my knees on the floor, “Be careful!”

But here’s the thing, despite my clumsiness I had been moving nevertheless for close to an hour. Sweat was streaming down my face, muscles loosened, extended, and flexed; I had energy whereas earlier I was dragging. The most difficult part of all it was following through on my desire for better health, for crawling out of a fruitless rut, straightening a cyclical pattern one hopelessly awkward knee lift at a time. Grumbling, I’ve learned, can shelter me from the inconvenience of evaluating my life on a long-term scale, but when the novelty of self-pity begins to lose its sticky sweetness turning bitter as the months and years pass by, I start forgetting what contentment tastes like, feasting rather on mediocrity; I settle down with lethargy and malnourishment. But oh the possibilities if I exchange habitual laziness for determination.

Twelve years ago, I sat regularly on my backside with a list of spiritual grievances and a fine toothcomb. I picked apart the pastor’s sermon, turned my nose up at schmaltzy choruses, and ridiculed trite consumerism that profited off an oft-disturbing mix of Christ and culture. I was cynical, vain, and stalemated, heading nowhere in a hurry. And then a well-intentioned professor gave advice that got me thinking: “Don't jump ship!" she urged me. "Stick around and do your best to help fix what you feel is broken.” I realized, then, so very clearly that it was I who was falling to pieces, it was my choices I’d eventually be held accountable for. The environment in which I found myself had provided me too much freedom to gorge frequently and heartily on my own self-righteousness. What I needed was a diet based primarily upon the premise that one’s spirit functions better on less talk and a lot more action. What I found in the Orthodox Church was a frighteningly mysterious, fad resistant, saint endorsed prescription that had the Christ empowered wherewithal to heal me.

At first I felt foolish, confused, and nervous about the movements I was positive I could never master. It was too different, too demanding of my pride, my intellect, my personal interpretations of Scripture, redemption, and eternity. There was incense and icons and priests and fasting, there were regulars - parishioners who took all this in stride. Then there was me - overwhelmed, sometimes in tears, but nevertheless becoming stretched, breaking through the hardened barriers I had built around Christianity with westernized bricks manufactured in the age of Reformation. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, was the sound of my resistance being shattered with each Truth revealed within the context of the Traditions established at Pentecost, of not an off shoot, not one of a thousand denominations but of the original Church, protected from heresy by the Holy Spirit and the blood of Her martyrs.

I’m still fumbling like a novice but my instructor, my priest, is there to guide me. “Be careful,” he’ll say in confession when I’ve missed the mark. I keep my eyes on the “Great cloud of Witnesses” who have walked this path before me, whose example of steadfast devotion to self-denial and sacrificial cross-bearing is a gift to all of us who are weary and in need of the inspiration to stay focused on the prize of our salvation. This Church is like the mirror that made so obvious my many missteps, in Her reflection I see myself for what I am: a hollowed out vessel made of skin and flesh and bones, incapable of selflessness, or of love, or of wisdom, or of peace without Christ’s presence filling every square of inch of my being. The most difficult part of all of it is following through on your desire for something more than the grumbling, the trendiness and disenchantment. “But that’s crazy,” you argue, “I could never,” you protest, “or could I – oh, how do I proceed?” As a friend and fellow traveler, who was lost but found her Home, I urge you only my brothers and sisters to Come and See.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Looking back, I am sure it had more to do with grammar than with an overall lack of interest and believability, but at the time I was perplexed about how in the world one could manage to receive a “just average” C grade on their written testimony. I was eighteen-years-old, a freshman in a conservative Bible college and the assignment had seemed odd to me from the start. Within seven to ten pages we were to document the details of our personal conversion, to narrate the story of our salvation. Not being a recovering drug addict, formally promiscuous or atheistic, I was clearly at a disadvantage from the start. It would be tricky, I knew, to contrive some sort of compelling chronicle out of, “Once when I was four, I invited Jesus into my heart. The end.” The truth of the matter was, I had no “before” and “after” just a perpetually seamless habit of belief. So I went on and on about countless rededications at Church camp and emotionally charged altar calls. I did my best to convince myself, and the intimidating professor who would evaluate my ability to articulate just when exactly I had crossed that line from “hell- bound” into “saved,” that I was chosen by God for eternal security, for guaranteed citizenship in His Kingdom.

By the time I was my kids’ age I was convicted most wholeheartedly that the process of my salvation was complete. Parents looked on adoringly as my fellow Sunday school classmates and I recited with the stutters and stammers our scriptural promise:

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Our roles now were that of "evangelizers", telling others how to obtain what we, the believers, had already secured: a “get out of hell free” pass thanks to the sacrificial mercy of God and His only son. “My sins were pardoned and yours can be to, just repeat this simple prayer after me.” One’s testimony, I learned, became paramount, a most vital tool for witnessing. It stunk that mine was lame and poorly drafted. The dirty little secret that I carried into adulthood was that I had never lead someone to Christ. I used to feel a lot of pressure to, upon every new introduction at school, at work, and at play. I could hardly absorb what a lost sinner was saying, so utterly and devotedly one tracked was my mind. How could I coolly, blithely, slip in a compelling reference to my savior? At first I was just nervous, eventually I became embarrassed, and finally I lost a taste for it completely. During that last phase a girl at the park struck up a conversation with me. Five minutes into it she pulled out this technique:

“If you died tonight, are you positive you’d go to Heaven?”

Good grief, was I? I felt sick to my stomach, turned off by the notion that she had approached me on a mission, just as I had unskillfully zeroed in upon others to fulfill my own Christian duty. What does one do when they are aching for more of Christ, yet their soul has been saved for good and now all they feel that is left is to procure the most relevant and effective means for outreach? What if you suspected that your “once saved, always saved” confidence was keeping you at arms length from the fullness of His presence?

Every once in awhile it will suddenly strike me as significant that my children are quite clueless about pinpointed conversions. Their ignorance of what once defined my faith is very telling. I traveled centuries back in time to find the richness I’d hoped existed; I traded certainty for awe and perseverance. Salvation became as beginingless as God, Himself, as endless as infinity, as unlimited as His glory and as unownable as the firmament; I went from being finished to starting over.

If I did have a chance to redeem myself, to re-write my paper only this time using spell check and a totally revamped definition of what exactly it means to be saved, according to the ancient Traditions of my current home, the Orthodox Christian Church, I believe it would go something like this:

I was originally saved over two thousand years ago when God the Son took on human flesh and offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice for all of mankind, defeating the power of sin by suffering on the Cross and destroying death through His miraculous Resurrection. I am being saved daily through my intentional decisions to follow Jesus’ example within each situation that I find myself, viewing paradise not as just a someday destination but as the everyday experience of self-denial, of being filled, through the Eucharist, obedience, and love for others, with Christ. I will, (Lord have mercy), be saved at the Great and final Judgement when I give an account for a lifetime of actions, when it becomes clear whether or not I cooperated with the grace so generously bestowed upon me. Who of us, having been blessed beyond all comprehension, should feel the need to insure that regardless of our choices a reward will be ours free and clear? Who of us dare to sit idle with our assurances, interpreting the conditions of the Bridegroom’s invitation while our lamps for illumining the darkness run out of oil?

My individual salvation is being worked out with fear and trembling through the unique responsibilities God deemed best to set before me. Based upon the model of the publican who beat his breast and begged for leniency, I am careful to not assume I have a handle on the spiritual state of others. I would do best, rather, to stay focused on my own flagrant shortcomings, reverencing both friends and enemies, all of whom were created in God’s image, as living icons of Christ Jesus. I share my faith, yes, but not out of obligation; a soul that’s found its meaning cannot help but be a witness to such joy. My ongoing testimony is presented through acts of service, in accordance with Christ’s commandment to love God by loving your neighbor. I pray ceaselessly for the courage to fight the good fight, staying faithful until my very last breath upon this earth.

I’ m not sure how I’d fare with that version. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea to have to allow for a bit of mystery within theology. But since my transcripts won’t be affected I’ll go ahead and bend the rules, bucking a neat and tidy ending for the vigorous endorsement of a “get your hands dirty” type of absolute participation in the sacramental plan God compassionately engineered to continuously draw us closer to Himself throughout eternity.

Click HERE to listen to this post (beginning 2/14). This is a service of Ancient Faith Radio.

Monday, February 04, 2008


You remember the haircut, right (see my last post for a thorough explanation)? Well there’s an addendum to that story I’d both like and not like to share with you. It involves the explicit instructions from my daughter’s stylist not to remove the rubber band holding together nine inches of hair being donated to Locks of Love, an organization (I was corrected by a friend of mine) that makes wigs not for cancer patients but rather for individuals afflicted by alopecia areata, a mysterious medical condition involving sudden hair loss. We promised to be careful while carrying home the correctly bound ponytail I had placed in a freezer bag for protection. Being somewhat predisposed to screw these kinds of things up I was unusually determined to be responsible, even pre-addressing the manila envelope that was to be mailed off that week containing Priscilla’s contribution; I was proud of myself for following through on all of the details.

So later on when my little girl innocently opened the bag to look again at the long silky waves now intended for another child, when the rubber band holding everything together somehow loosened and the strands of hair fell free, when she and I tried to gather them back up but they wouldn’t cooperate, wouldn’t stay together, I chastised her severely for an unintentional error. I felt myself bumping up against the line dividing “appropriateness” from “overkill” but I plowed it through it anyway in obedience to the insatiable appetite of my own irritation. When I looked up she was gone, I stood alone with my recklessness while a fistful of useless curls slipped through my fingers.

Three months ago, I watched on dumbfounded as a grim faced doctor told my sister-in-law that the stinging sensation in her abdomen was not an ulcer but a freakishly large growth that could possibly be malignant. It was all quite surreal, like an act in a play; I kept waiting to hear "Cut! Let's do that scene over!" “Don't cry, don't cry” I begged of myself, “Hold it together for Paige.” But over the weeks that would follow, throughout episodes of excruciating pain, a trip to the Mayo clinic and a stint in intensive care, it was Paige who comforted me; it was her faith, her courage that uplifted all of us. Eventually, there’d be a diagnoses: sclerosing mesenteritis, a rare disease of the mesentery tissue that can thankfully be treated with steroids; eventually, there'd be healing and hope. "You were amazing," I told her, "I could never have been that calm."

“I am good in a crisis,” she honestly explained, "its everyday life that is difficult.”

When my husband, Troy, says on any given month that things will be tight, I stoically rise to the challenge, spending money on nothing but food, bills, and gas. When nausea keeps the feverish head of one of my sons or daughters buried in a grocery bag-lined mop bucket, I will empty it repeatedly, rub his or her heaving back, and not complain although sleep will be scarce for both of us. I would die for the sake of the Cross, I work endlessly to tune out the empty promises of materialism, but don’t you dare infringe on my quiet time or take for yourself the last chocolate chip cookie. Yes, Paige, I know exactly what you mean - its not tragedy or sacrifice but rather banal annoyances that have the greatest potential to destroy me.

Priscilla, where are you?” I searched through each room; she was hiding and rightly so, I had hurt her deeply. Then a sniffle from under my bed led me finally to her hand, outstretched where I could see it, open wide so I could grasp it and pull her toward me. “I’m a dumb girl,” she quivered, through a heart breaking jumble of whimpering, snot and tears. “I ruined everything,” she went on and I ached as she made obvious the shame she was wrestling with because of me. “Shhh, shhh,” was all I could initially muster. “Lord have mercy,” I silently pleaded. And then I wrapped myself around her, kissed her cheeks to calm her down. “I’m so sorry, baby. It was an accident, a complete and total accident. Mama’s very sorry that she was harsh with you. I apologize, Priscilla, can you forgive me?” And of course she did because she’s resilient like that, but woe to me if I test that elasticity too often.

“You know,” I said, that evening, “while Priscilla and I were washing dishes, after a cherished red goblet had inexplicably shattered just seconds earlier, “it seems like your mom has a lot to learn. What do you think God’s been teaching me today?” She examined my face before stating her answer. Could she really talk to a parent about their weaknesses?

“W-e-l-l,” she began timidly, contemplating all of her many options “maybe patience?”

“You are absolutely right, sweetheart,” I assured her. “Help us not forget that all things are sent by You. Have you heard mom pray that before?” Thus began a conversation about frustrations that have a purpose, that when examined in light of salvation can lead one straight to Christ. And I honestly think their working because with each spilled box of beads, dropped gallon of brand new apple juice emptying its sticky contents all over my kitchen floor, I become less exasperated, more likely to grab a broom or hand out some paper towels then lose my temper. Longsuffering, I need to remind myself daily, is an earned discipline. I must bear some weight before I gain the strength to follow Jesus’ example, to stand back up and walk again after being struck by wickedness or affliction. I’ve got my “count to ten” rule, a spray bottle of disinfectant, and several icons hanging within my view. Please prepare me, most Holy Trinity, for what is coming around the corner. Out of love for my family and for the furtherance of Your glory, may I exchange my impulsivity for restraint. There is never an empty moment when your sights are set on Heaven, no lack of opportunities to save one’s soul.