Those who know me know I’m known to fall apart on the eve of a family vacation, and this year’s spring break trip was no different. Under normal circumstances, I get flustered by the logistics of suitcase stuffing, planning, and anticipating the possible pitfalls of an all day car ride; let’s see there’s motion sickness, boredom, sudden raging thirstiness and bickering to prepare for. Too many traveling supplies can be just as troublesome as not enough. Always, always, I’m tweaking and reconsidering that perfect packing balance.
So on top of the usual scurrying and mental check listing, I had moving on my mind. This is crunch time as far as relocating to our new residence is concerned. There was a part of me wishing we could reschedule our big Smoky Mountain adventure – just postpone it a little until after we were all settled into this next phase of our lives. Now wouldn’t that be pleasantly convenient? I mean if there were such a thing as being “all settled in” to a certain chapter or stage of our existence, that is. How quickly I forget that transition is my constant reality.
Last Saturday morning, I was still distracted by a head-full of “if-onlys” even as we locked up the house and headed south. We still need bedding, a shower curtain and a plan for the downstairs homework area off the kitchen, I was busy nagging myself for the thousandth time. And what color should we paint the bathroom and hallway? I pondered ad-nauseum all the way to Louisville, where we were stopping for the night to stay with dear friends. And despite my utter happiness at reuniting with those said friends, sharing wonderful meals and fellowshipping with them, I still couldn’t completely release the internal agitation keeping me focused on tomorrow. Despite deciding in advance to attend Liturgy at their parish for the Feast of Annunciation, I was struggling with a desire to forgo Church just this once and get our show back on the road already. Despite… despite… is the name of the game. There’s always something, it seems, standing between me and a contentment free of strings or stipulations.
Now, I don’t know about you, but this far into Lent is when I’ve usually become stripped enough of pride and will power to finally come face-to-face with my wholly unattractive limitations. Gone were my spiritual reserves that had carried me expectantly, gladly, through those first moments of the Fast. I was running on fumes – dangerously close to empty. Why put yourself through that? I’ve been asked in not so many words by others correct in their assertion that God’s love can not be earned via sacrificial works. Why set yourself up to fail by pursuing such lofty ascetical standards?
Initially, I’ll admit, I was driven by infatuation – an intense attraction to all that was unfamiliarly mystical about my new faith. I fasted just as much to distance myself from a non-liturgical past as to cement myself in the ancient, mysterious and sacramental Tradition of Orthodoxy, of which I longed to belong to completely. Over the next fourteen years, I’d learn eventually by doing that the lows born of committing for a season to the snuffing out of passions enslaving my soul to earthly cares are just as profound as the highs. Of course, I stumble. Of course, I fail repeatedly to pray, hold my tongue, eat simply, give freely. Of course, I fall short and have to repent over and over again of my addiction to serving myself before Christ or my neighbor.
Never before had I’d been so painfully aware of my unworthiness and thus my desperate dependence on Christ’s mercy, however, as when I started participating in Great Lent. And never before had His Resurrection flooded me so with such pure and lasting joy, hope and gratitude. How do I describe to someone, unless they’ve experienced it themselves, the illogical rightness and goodness found in a life-long striving for salvation, from self-centeredness and fear, as a community bolstered by the Eucharist, the unconditional Love of Christ Himself? Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it hurts, like exercise hurts even as it strengthens and tones and heals you. Yes, there is meaning and growth and freedom and, above all else, humility to be found in continuously wrestling with your own vices that Christ’s light might shine forth through you just a little brighter and less hindered every day.
So there I was at the gorgeous St Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church, preoccupied and tired, half-heartedly trying to reign in my thoughts that I might worship with my friends and family. Litanies were prayed, the Feast Day Troparian sung, the Gospel read, then Father Alexis stepped forward to deliver his homily. And you know what He talked about? Awareness. Staying aware of the presence of God. Close your eyes, he told us. Think about where you are. Breath in, breath out. Let go of your worries and distractions. We pursued silence as a congregation. Together, with faith and love, we drew near.
What a gift that was! What a gratuitous act of mercy to guide me, in spite of me, into stillness when I couldn’t manage it on my own. It is hardly a new concept to me, chasing after inner quiet, but one I need, need, need, to be reminded about practically every other second. It was a gift, in fact, that kept on giving throughout the next four days we spent in the Smokies, just being amidst breathtaking scenery. Think about where you are, BE where you are, was my mantra, while hiking, playing Taboo, catching up with cousins, uncles and aunts, sipping coffee on the porch. And now I’m home, where my schedule, like your schedule, is fast and furious – the scenery not nearly so picturesque. Now, I’m imploring God for the stamina to maintain my tunnel vision throughout vespers tonight, then Divine Liturgy tomorrow, and on through these last days of Lent.
Can you feel it? Those first tremors of Paschal excitement? Death will be trampled! Life bestowed! Christ will Rise! Christ has Risen!
It’s been, “mom,mom,mom,mom,mom,science fair project,mom,mom,I need…,mom,permission slip,hungry,mom,mom,where’s my…, mom,it’s due tomorrow!”
Today, I thought, would be a day of catching up, cleaning up, packing up for the spring break trip to Tennessee we’re leaving for on (yikes!) Saturday morning, and packing up as well for moving to our new house, our new life, shortly after our return. I thought today I’d do something productive – productive as I am tempted to always define productive: creating order out of dishevelment. But when your thirteen-year-old son calls from school to actually request your presence on an eight hour field trip with his drama class to a play in downtown Chicago, you drop all those best laid plans, strap on your walking sandals and leave the house “as is.”
I’m off on an adventure I hadn’t seen coming – and working on wrapping my mind around it, sinking into it, allowing it to enter like an unexpected guest bearing sweet memories and perspective.
This is living.Read More
This weekend felt full and productive – worth documenting. As you may or may not know by now, my family and I are bucking all kinds of present day, every man for himself, social norms by teaming up with my parents and investing in a home and life we will all share together. Oh and did I mention my brother and his family will be living around the corner? We’re just community-ing it up, pulling together our resources and planting ourselves for the long haul in this neighborhood we’ve grown to cherish over the last six years. The past two weeks, my mom and I have been knocking ourselves out getting the kids’ new rooms finished while they were in school. Saturday morning we surprised them with the finished products. Click on the link below to see Benji’s sweet reaction:
Later that day Troy and I painted our master bedroom a restful shade of blue-ish gray. My plan is to replicate THIS room as closely as possible, including the framed prints of black and white branches over the bed. I shot and edited these photos for that very purpose:
While Troy and I were busy being home improvement weekend warriors, the kids found this little guy:
They named him Skittles and wanted to keep him. “Oh please mom,” they begged, “let us keep him!” I was tempted, because he was awfully cute, and I’m a card-carrying softie, but then I remembered the mouse we tried to keep as a pet. Do I even need to tell you that it was me, only me, who ended up cleaning his stinky cage every week? In the end, I came to my senses and we released him next to a swamp.
Saturday, the 17th, was the 17th wedding anniversary of my brother and sister-in-law. Congratulations, Bobby and Paige! I love you both, and your three beautiful daughters! Isabelle and Jane kept us company for much of the weekend in their St. Patrick’s day finest:
If you weren’t wearing green in our neck of the woods, there was pinching involved. Having forgotten that tradition, I was almost in danger of being harassed all of Saturday in my red workout pants and grey t-shirt – until Priscilla saved me, that is, by placing a neon green chip clip in my hair.
Let’s see, there was also March Madness. We all filled out brackets this year:
I have no earthly idea how I’m fairing. Not so good, I’d imagine. Mary, on the other hand, made some surprisingly accurate predictions. She’s a daddy’s girl after all. Basketball schmasketball, if only sports didn’t make me glaze over so. I’m glad I have Troy to keep my kids active. Yay for dads, and moms, who lure their children out of doors to kick a ball, swing a bat, or just run till they drop into bed all dirt-smudged and sweaty!
This morning at Divine Liturgy, we venerated the Cross and installed our new parish council.
I adore church, honest to goodness. What a beautiful service – such a powerful reminder of what matters: faith, love and sacrifice. I adore the people in our congregation, my church family. I adore making pysanky eggs at coffee hour. I feel braver after liturgy, and peaceful, content. I feel excited for Pascha.
Forgive my rambling throughout this post – this hodge podge of staccato narratives. Tonight, I felt drawn to count my blessings. Oh how many blessings I have to ponder! Tonight I lie down in peace, because the Lord sustains me. Sweet dreams, all!Read More
I am in between homes: my old one and new one. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel scattered. The thing about moving is that the tasks required for moving seem to breed before your eyes. One “to-do” gives birth to three others, ones you didn’t see coming only five minutes prior. And though I’ve attempted to officially claim, “Time out, I’m in the middle of something!”, the school projects, e-mails, everyday living chores, etc. just keep on knocking.
For someone who likes to check things off and plow forward, dwelling in la-la land can be challenging. Focusing on the finish line (In this case, that magical moment in 2017 when all our stuff has finally been sorted through and packed and unpacked, the rooms painted and arranged) will drive me crazy in a break out into hives and shove potato chips in my mouth kind of way. You’d think after mothering for this long, I’d be super used to falling into bed every night having left most if not all of my current projects half done or an eighth done. Apparently, being able to embrace each step in a journey as an enlightening and fulfilling experience in and of itself is a virtue I’ve haven’t exactly mastered yet. This exchanging of one house for another house, one stage for another stage, has not so subtly highlighted some personal character issues that could use some tending to – patience with this or any process being a big one.
This morning Mary went to school with paint in her hair and Ben with paint on his cheek, evidence of the fact that, yes, I didn’t get around to scrubbing them properly but also of a small sort of victory. For a week now I’ve been nagging myself to get those shelves painted for the girls’ room, get those shelves painted for the girls’ room, get those shelves painted….
Well, yesterday, it was summery – too gorgeous to be inside. On a whim, I grabbed a can of white ceiling paint from the basement and a couple of brushes. I laid out an old fitted sheet right smack in the back yard, piquing the curiosity of my youngest two. And for the next surprisingly pleasant half hour or so, the three of us painted those shelves, and their brackets, and the grass, and the walkway, and ourselves.
It wasn’t everything, but it was certainly something, and something is better than nothing near every time.Read More
Where are you possibly going to put that? asked the husband.
In the office, said his defensive wife, gripping an oversized framed floral print.
It’ll never fit in there, he patronizingly replied.
You know what you are? She shot back. A real buzz kill!
Ikea, for those of you living in the remote Amazon jungle, is an immense Swedish warehouse crammed with mass produced home furnishings you have to put together yourself. Ikea is overwhelming, over stimulating, overly adept at whetting your appetite for hooks, bins, shelves and funky picture frames. Ikea tests every which way one’s resolve to stay calm, rational and within their budget, but when you’re moving, it’s hard to avoid making a trek out there at least once…once, if you’re lucky.
We were in need of some inexpensive loft beds for the girls, so Saturday morning we woke up moderately early and braced ourselves for the hour drive into Illinois and subsequent several hours of navigating display after display of dream kitchens, living rooms, and closets. I had done my homework, however, and armed with my very specific shopping list was determined to protect both my sanity and marriage from the chaos of way too many people mixed with way too many options. Yes, Troy and I were going to rise above the pettiness and tension we’d already witnessed on the first floor of that house organizing mecca. Besides, its Lent you know so I was more on guard than usual, or so I thought, for sneaky sucker punches to my Lenten resolution to remain selfless.
Only twice did I attempt to stray from our plan, having been hypnotized by the colorful area rugs and sensational pendant lamps. But ever so gently did my sweet husband guide me back on course. “You’re right, I agreed meekly. We don’t need all that stuff. How passionless I was becoming, just as flexible as a willow tree! In the check out line, we were smiling with relief and proverbially patting ourselves on our backs. Ha ha! We’d done it! We’d beat the system, leaving with only the necessities, and still quite fond of one another. Even the boys, who we’d dragged along, were still in a decent mood – Good grief! Was there nothing we couldn’t overcome?
Will this be it for you? Asked the cashier, before hitting us with the grand total. Yesiree, it was! I couldn’t wait to get out of there! Here’s our debit card, now just point us to the loading area!
Wait…what? Uh? What do you mean it’s been denied? We just got our tax return back and….ohhhhhhhhh, shoot…our debit card has a daily limit on it, a limit smaller than the cost of two loft beds, two mattresses and a couple of reading lights.
Did you bring your wallet? Troy asked me – the wallet containing our other credit card.
Umm, no, I answered with just a hint of panic in my voice, I didn’t think I’d need it.
And now the cashier was staring at us, the people in line were staring at us. We had become “that couple” they’d all talk about on their way home – the tense couple forced to leave Ikea, after having invested an entire day there, empty handed. See, nothing could be done, the cashier explained to us unsympathetically. It was better luck next time, and don’t let the sliding door hit ya on the way out.
And with that the wall of placidness I’d tried to build over the last two weeks completely and utterly crumbled.
We said nothing to one another for the first 30 minutes, driving in silence except for my sniffling, because, yes, I had started to cry out of frustration. Uuuggh, it was maddeningly disappointing to have wasted the bulk of a weekend, not to mention a half a tank of gas, due to such a silly mistake. I always bring my wallet when I go out. Why not this time? Why in the world did I not bring my wallet…!?
In the midst of my inner raging, I felt a hand on my knee. Well, that was pretty disappointing; Troy said cautiously, attempting to fill the deafening quiet with some much needed perspective.
Yeah, it was pretty SUCK-EY! I snapped, obviously not ready to be mature about it, and not willing to chalk it up yet to another lesson learned. Man, I wrestled with that angst. I mean, C’mon, in the grand scheme of things, it was not that big of a deal but I was mad, mad, mad – mad like Jonah when his shade tree wilted. Mad and struggling like crazy to get to the other side of the anger without offending anyone or allowing it to poison the remainder of my family’s afternoon. God, help me, I implored – It was all I could do to mentally form that prayer, and trust that eventually my heart would come to mean it. This too shall pass, they always say, as it always does. And after awhile of inward fuming and pouting and floor stomping, my ire indeed dissipated. I was even able to laugh about it (a little bit ; ) ) over dinner.
Yes, I was reminded in a big way it’s not the crises that undo me as much as the smaller unanticipated setbacks that grate on my nerves and make my skin crawl like nails on a chalkboard. These hiccups you can’t prepare for are what ultimately reveal our true character, unearthing the buried vices still binding our souls. If what I desire is to eventually become freed from the constricting ties of my stubborn will, I’ll need plenty of opportunities to practice reacting with grace and acceptance when my best laid plans fall through. Let us not forgot that all things are sent by You, I mutter most every morning. Growth requires that I believe that, even when it hurts. Thy will be done, is one loaded and challenging statement of faith for us Christ followers, not to be uttered off-handedly or void of appropriate fear and trembling. No pain (or annoyance, or irritation), no gain when it comes to transforming what is self-serving into God and neighbor-serving.
I’ve got a long way to go yet.
It is necessary most of all for one who is fasting to curb anger, to accustom himself to meekness and condescension, to have a contrite heart, to repulse impure thoughts and desires, to examine his conscience, to put his mind to the test and to verify what good has been done by us in this or any other week, and which deficiency we have corrected in ourselves in the present week. This is true fasting.
- St. John Chrysostom
So now is when I put on my big girl pants by obediently taking heed of that wise advice and reflecting on what I need to work on this third week of the fast, spiritually speaking. – and by viewing my crash and burn moment as the patience-stretching gift it truly was. This is the day, this present day with all its salvific and unforeseen joys and trials, that the Lord has made.
I will redouble my efforts to rejoice and be glad in it.