The boys found this remarkable creature in our front yard on Wednesday. I was completely mesmerized by its graceful slow-pokiness and lime sherbet shade of green. How peaceful and uncomplicated was its trek over the mulch and beneath our Rhododendron. “Farewell, Beautiful,” I whispered when he (she?) was finally out of sight, then hurried back to hurrying around because I, unlike my stately and sauntering friend here, have been tearing through these days like a turbulent tornado.
Last night, I had a break down – just a few tearful sniffles. My mama arms were achy from carrying, and unsuccessfully balancing, too, too many goals at once. The countdown to autumn is on and I’m sure you can relate to all of the “Must have dones” before school starts. I was blubbering about this to my husband, my husband with plenty on his own plate, and he assured me so calmly, kindly, confidently that all would be fine. My heart swelled with relief (ok, so maybe I was fishing for a little assurance), and renewed adoration for my even-keeled life partner with whom, by my side, I am just better.
Tomorrow morning we’ll pack up the van and head to Upper Michigan for some unstructured quiet and relaxation. We’ll be away for awhile, as a family, from our usual daily responsibilities and I, for one, am very, very thankful for this special opportunity. Toodeloo, planner and kitchen whiteboard all covered in “do this firsts” and “don’t forgets”! I plan on catching my breath, and gaining a little perspective, before returning.Read More
IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And – which is more – you'll be a Man, my son!
- Rudyard Kipling
Of course a Christian could take issue with some of the lines in that last stanza regarding the gaining of earth and taking a cautiously distant approach to dealing with others…or maybe I'm reading too much into it. Overall, however, I believe this powerful poem paints a portrait of an endangered species: a self-disciplined, industrious, resilient, ethical, patient, courageous man.
Oh, goodness gracious, I hope so. I pray I'm wrong about the slew of boys growing up in an age of You Tube, 4G smart phones and all kinds of other instantly accessible ways to avoid waiting for anything, plain old physical hard work, and paying undivided attention to the needs of neighbors and family members having a really hard time raising (or even coming close to meeting) the bar as far as "Manhood," as defined in this piece, is concerned.
When I look at my oldest son, on the cusp of his teen years, so many emotions grip my heart. How does one go about teaching loyalty, simplicity, long-suffering, humility, honesty to their children over the hypnotic noise of materialism? Ugh…it's just so hard to get through to them sometimes! But then again, I think of my husband; he was only a kid when I met him, raw and untested, pierced, tattooed, clad in hoodies and Dickie pants, attached to a skate board. When we were dating, I didn't dwell too much on the important questions like: Would he make it a priority to immerse our family in the life of the Church? Would he be willing to put himself through graduate school while working full time and raising three little ones in order to secure a better future for us? Would he spend his days off sweating his way through an ongoing list of often physically grueling and tedious household projects? Is he the kind of person that would sacrifice his wants to help others? Would he be frugal?
No, I was just a girl myself all loopy in love and blissfully naive to the trials and growing pains awaiting those much younger versions of Troy and me. I'd no idea what a catch I had until later – when things got stressful, crazy, considerably less romantic and he didn't run but rather transformed, right before my eyes, into an upstanding, dedicated, persevering kind of guy any parent would beam with pride over. "Be an involved father, a supportive spouse," I sometimes tell (nearly beg) my maturing Elijah, when I forget that examples speak louder and longer than words. I pray fervently for the resolve to desire for him not just positive experiences but character-building lessons in disappointment – lessons that when viewed as spiritually edifying (as opposed to pointless) produce in a way that lectures never can tenacity, faith in the unseen, and control over one's impulses.
I guess this is me reminding myself to parent mindfully…prayerfully. Too many constrictions, too much leniency, not enough listening, not enough expecting respect, not enough confidence in our children to rise above the challenges specific to their generation in order to become godly, compassionate, purposeful (focused!) men and women, can inhibit my sons and daughters from reaching their full potential. I'm going to screw-up …like several times a day…but if every single morning I pause in front of my icon corner to ask Christ to correct my thinking, realign my priorities as a mother, I stand a much better chance of getting it right every once in awhile too – of maybe, just maybe, getting Troy's and my convictions to stick under their skin that they might find them again later and absorb them as their own.
Lord have mercy on us flawed and forgetful, yet ever optismistic in light of God's grace, moms and dads!
May we parents never take for granted the great privilege and responsibility set before us!
Read more poetry HERE.Read More
I arrived home late Wednesday afternoon and immediately went to sleep on the couch. Paige, Janie and I had unfortunately fallen ill the night before, taking turns into the wee hours of the morning throwing up in the Johnson’s bathroom. They could not have been sweeter or more gracious to us throughout the nasty ordeal – ”Are you better, Molly? Are you happy? Really, really happy?” Russell and Elliot, the three-year-old twins, asked me repeatedly while I was camped out on a stack of towels in their hallway, being too tired and all to keep getting in and out of bed.
Admittedly, we weren’t the most hygienic of house guests; I shutter to think of the germs we left behind. Before my stomach withered up and died, however, I had the privilege of intimately participating for a moment in the day-to-day rhythm of my dear friend’s all consuming existence as a mom of four teeny-tinies - an intensely spiritual, physically demanding kind of rhythm that has brought to the surface of her being a level of courage and determination I could not help but stand in awe of. I was reminded while observing her, while admiring a great deal her grit, resilience, unconditional love, how apropos the term “working out your salvation” is for parents of young children. It’s a damn hard job – that’s all there is to it, rife with exhaustion, exasperation and insecurity. It’s a vocation with rewards that aren’t necessarily immediate but certainly eternal and remarkably effective at stripping away even those secret, seemingly inaccessible layers of selfishness and pride that sometimes, unbeknownst to us, prevent the desperateness necessary for not just “belief” but a total and humble surrendering of our will and ideals to the mercy and wisdom of Christ.
There is a message board in Beth’s kitchen I can’t get out of my head. In fact while posting these photos, I was thinking about it all over again. “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” my friend wrote on it with chalk, followed by a menu of meals for the week and a reminder to bring treats that Sunday for coffee hour after Liturgy. Pinned to the cork part is a small poster of a woman in an American flag dress scattering seeds that says, “Vote for small farms and local food,” attached to that is a business card for the St. Joseph Worker House. It’s the quiet and often unseen decisions and convictions that reveal the truth about a person’s character. It was her sink filled with dishes - child-sized plates containing the remnants of nourishing homemade snacks and lunches, a mixing bowl dirtied from combining the ingredients for a traditional Name’s Day cake; it was the piles of laundry in varying stages of completion, the Bible story books next to the cook books pulled out in the mornings and read aloud after breakfast; it was the beach towels and miniature bathing suits drying on the fence in their back yard, the signs everywhere you looked that little ones are growing and playing and praying and being immaculately taken care of in that home by two parents sacrificing so very much on their behalf, that moved me to the core.
They made me want to try harder, to give a little more of myself, to make mindful choices that will benefit others in the long-term even in if that means letting go of some comfort and convenience in the present. Tomorrow , we leave to pick up our own four kids from Papa’s and Nana’s. How good (what a relief!) to know I’m not struggling and learning and delighting all alone in this salvific process of parenthood. I love you all!Read More
I'm going to miss those filthy feet.
How will I ever know what to do with a morning not dictated by four starving bellies and just as many separate requests for ways to spend the day ahead - requests that rarely include such thrilling activities as silently reading on the couch, organizing dresser drawers, or combing the dusty aisles of our local antique shoppe (without breaking stuff) for eclectic treasures?
Today I am packing up shorts, t-shirts, underwear, jammies, and swimsuits for my excited sons and daughters before sending them off for a week…seven days…a quarter of a month…to my in-laws. And here's the kicker – we are not paying them a dime for this extraordinarily brave undertaking involving watching not just our kids but their other four grandchildren as well. Troy's parents actually offered,without a smidgen of begging or bribery on our part, to turn their orderly and peaceful home into a makeshift summer camp, starring themselves as the counselors, cooks, and groundskeepers. At first, I was nervous – nervous for them – when they originally proposed to us this too good to be true opportunity. I mean, look, I adore my kids but I cannot pretend for a second they're not a handful. "Now I want you to be sweet and respectful and obedient and not too loud, not too hyper, not too…anything, for Papa and Nana!" I've caught myself (more than once) pleading. "And for goodness sake, please don't bicker! You'll give them headaches."
Yes, at first I was ridiculously paranoid (I mean my in-laws did manage to survive the adolescence and young adulthood of my husband after all); I short-circuited when initially confronted with a considerable chunk of time alone, but I am slowly, surely, adjusting to the idea quite nicely. So what's first on my offspring-free agenda? A trip to Iowa to visit the Johnsons- you know the Johnsons, I blogged about their remarkable family HERE. Then Troy and I have some things we'd like to accomplish around the house. We will also be going out to dinner and probably hit a movie (maybe I'll throw on a dress and we'll call it a date!).
By next Saturday morning, however, I bet I'll be pretty darn hungry for some bear hugs from my wild little crew. I will be anxious, I am certain, to pick them up and bring them home again. Sure, a few quiet mornings here and there are a treat to be savored, but I am hopelessly addicted to the mayhem of family life.
Thank you, thank you, Papa and Nana, for this rare and much appreciated chance to catch my breath!
Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! I'll be back with an update on Thursday!
Arise my body, my small body, we have striven
Enough, and He is merciful; we are forgiven.
Arise small body, puppet-like and pale, and go,
White as the bed-clothes into bed, and cold as snow,
Undress with small, cold fingers and put out the light,
And be alone, hush'd mortal, in the sacred night,
-A meadow whipt flat with the rain, a cup
Emptied and clean, a garment washed and folded up,
Faded in colour, thinned almost to raggedness
By dirt and by the washing of that dirtiness.
Be not too quickly warm again. Lie cold; consent
To weariness' and pardon's watery element.
Drink up the bitter water, breathe the chilly death;
Soon enough comes the riot of our blood and breath.
I've heard plenty of legitimate reasons why many have chosen (after nibbling on various brands of Christianity only to come away with a bitter taste in their mouths) to throw the baby out with the bath water, spiritually speaking. What kind of God, they wonder, would choose to save only some, leaving those unchosen damned by default, or condemn those never exposed to the Gospel (because rules are rules) to hell? What kind of Christ, they ask, would allow so much unfairness, or stir up devastating natural disasters to get a point across via His grey-suited silver-haired televangelist mouthpiece?
So you don't believe in a God who seems kind of stingy with His calculating mercy – a mercy tempered by the political and moral leanings of his outspoken followers? You don't buy into the kitschiness, the hundreds of conflicting messages, the dry formulism, the hypocrisy…?
Neither do I.
I used to be timid about revealing my "religious affiliation" to others for the exact reasons I mentioned above, but now I cannot help shouting from the rooftops (and if you knew me, you'd understand that shouting stuff from rooftops was never really my thing) that there is more, more, more to the Christian faith than what's been presented here in the West just these last two hundred years!
This past Lent, I was listening to a podcast by Father Thomas Hopko, an Orthodox priest and Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary. He was discussing suffering and my ears perked up when he mentioned those who have been abused or impoverished or tortured throughout their life by physical or mental infirmities, etc. standing before Christ at the Great and Final Judgement. Would their sins, their lack of faith due to such unfathomable circumstances, be forever held against them? For decades, I had wrestled with that very question, I mean really and truly struggled with it, and thus that afternoon I held my breath and waited anxiously for Fr. Hopko to offer his thoughts on the matter. When he explained his conviction that each of us will be will held accountable for what we've been given and therefore those who have suffered most will be saved based solely on the bearing of that pain, I cried with relief. Yes!! Amen! I'm certain I actually said aloud. In response, I became determined not to selfishly squander the many blessings bestowed upon me but to instead try and emulate the Good Samaritan by actively utilizing my health, my network of support, my early exposure to faith, my full tummy, my met emotional needs, etc. to shower unbiased compassion on any and everyone.
Let's face it, I've cried a lot since becoming Orthodox. I cried because it was terrifying as heck to risk losing so much (familiarity, my reputation, my pride, the approval of those I adored, my personal preferences) in a no holds barred pursuit of the Truth. I cried when discovering that on the other side of my fear of the unknown lay awe and growth and Love and fire. I cry during Divine Liturgy when our priest invokes the Holy Spirit to make the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ that we might consume Him. I cry because life is so, so hard for so many people and yet their pain is not in vain, it does not go unnoticed; the mystery of Eternity stretches far beyond what we can see and understand from here on earth. I cry because submissively accepting that fact is very difficult and liberating and overwhelming and necessary and purifying, simultaneously.
I am crying as I type this because, Praise be to God, in spite of everything,
He is merciful; we are forgiven.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.
- Philo of Alexandria
Read more poetry HERE.Read More