Archive for September, 2004

Moving on

When I was still wandering around in the wilderness of my own stubborn selfishness, God saw fit to have mercy on me. Not that I merited mercy–heck, that’s what grace is all about. So, when I wasn’t looking for anything more than just to survive, he came along and gave me a new beginning.

All my life, people had come and gone like so many passengers on a train. There were happy reunions, tearful goodbyes, but nothing left indelible marks on my soul. At times, I thought I was incapable of having real love in my life; that was for other people, not me. And yet, I clung to the hope of it with tenacity. I kept believing, despite all evidence to the contrary, that someone, some day, would love me with the kind of love that is only possible because of God.

And so it was that I met my husband. When I wasn’t looking, expecting or perhaps, even wanting another relationship, I found it thrown soundly into my lap. It was undeniable. No hesitation, no reservation, not a moment of doubt–this was what God had wanted for me all along.

Easy? Nope. I had three kids and an ex-husband. How could it be “easy”? While we never doubted we were made for each other, we had arrived at this place from quite divergent starting points. There were obstacles to overcome that came with the territory and others that were flung in our path by the evil one. But through it all, there was a dedication to one another, a commitment to honesty that denied any attempt to keep a bit of ourselves protected from the possibility of pain.

We married. He adopted my children and moved all of us, including my mother, to our present home. There was a promise that I would always have the freedom to practice my faith…and the promise that he would do everything within his power to see me restored to full communion (For several years, I’d been kept away from the Sacraments quite properly for willfully marrying outside and without the blessing of the Church).

Living in NE Texas/SE Oklahoma, is not conducive to maintaining an active parish life; especially when there are no parishes to be found. I did some searching in the first months after our move, to no avail. So I waited. We put up our icon corner and prayed as best we could.

When I finally found what is now our parish listed on the Internet in July 2002, I wasn’t sure how it would work out for us. Driving nearly seventy miles one way to go to church was not unusual to my Orthodox mind, but my husband was a Methodist, and it had been a long time since he’d gone to church, period. But, faithful to his word, my husband not only went once, he went Sunday after Sunday and entered the catacumenate. And none to soon, for we found out that things were soon to change–again.

(to be continued)


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Why “Anna”? Because St. Anna believed in the impossible. There’s little more difficult to believe than an elderly woman being able to give birth–except me believing my life could ever be extricated from muck and mire.

All those months and years when life seemed at its lowest ebb, I hung on to a promise…the promise that came in the form of my daughter’s names. If I sat at the feet of Christ, God would honor my prayers…he would not forsake me. I would see the redemption of my family–one way or another. I clung to it as my lifeline to a future.

When I divorced, life didn’t get easier. The trials were just different. I wish I could say that I took the opportunity presented to me by my divorce and turned immediately back into a path of Truth and light. But I didn’t. I wandered around, broken and hurting, just managing to hang on to my sanity, my job, and my children. I wanted someone to love me, someone to fix the heart that had been broken. I had a couple of relationships, but none of them were of lasting consequence. I was so tired of fighting the battle of raising children and working on my own, that I entered into a marriage of convenience…stupid, stupid me.

In the process, I found a new parish; a new spiritual father/confessor and I slowly began to heal. It wasn’t easy. And often I found myself making two steps forward, then three back. I realized the mistake I’d made in a loveless marriage and ended it–not amicably, but without too much collateral damage. I dropped out of church for a time, again unable to face God when I felt “broken”.

But God remained faithful. I wasn’t hiding from him, just myself. And in the middle of the desert wanderings, he still poured out his blessings upon me.

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On the way to life.

On a pleasant morning in the summer of 1990, I was sitting in my work vehicle, reading Scripture and praying. As I was reading the account of Mary and Martha’s exchange with Christ, I heard a voice speaking to me, whether it was audible or not I can’t tell you. In an instant I knew that it was God, and what he said shocked me completely: “You’re pregnant. You’re going to have a girl and I want you to name her Mary Elizabeth. Mary for the sister of Lazarus, who chose the better thing, to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn. And Elizabeth for the mother of John the Baptist, who had faith that what was promised would come about.”

I was shocked. Not so much by hearing the voice, but with the thought of being pregnant. Not to go into more detail than is necessary, it was the last thing on my mind…and could only be attributed to a single instance a couple weeks before…much too early to know. I had to be hearing things, didn’t I?

I took a pregnancy test. This was long before the days of “early” pregnancy tests for the home market. I was several days away from even having the possibility of knowing something was “amiss”, so I figured I’d take the test, it would turn out negative and I’d just chalk it up to not enough sleep. I was wrong. It was positive.

When I talked with my ex, he was not thrilled. We had one girl and he was hoping for a boy. God telling me that I was having another girl did NOT please him. Life got harder by the day as his drinking got worse, he lost his job, then found another…then started to get emotionally involved with a woman at work. All this time, I’m trying to sort out the move he wants to make into Orthodoxy. Not terribly long after our baptism, he asks me to give him a reason “not” to have an affair.

Zoom forward a couple years. Daughter #3 makes her presence known, and this time there’s talk about the “convenience” of having another child…especially another girl. I had left him once, then returned when he agreed to counseling. Jobs and school came and went.

When #3 was just four weeks old, the bottom fell out of our world. I can’t discuss the parameters here, but things went from bad to worse. For two years were embroiled in legal proceedings that left him devastated and me feeling as though I were all alone. He apostatized and turned to prurient interests in the Evil One. I had hung on for the sake of my children, now I knew I would be forced to let go for their sakes.

When the legal situation ended, a month to the day, my father died. I’d spent the last two years telling him that as soon as the mess was over, we’d be able to spend more time together. The opportunity never arose for more than a weekend visit. I had kept my ex’s behaviour to myself, never letting on to my parents. I knew it would kill my dad, and I couldn’t bring him grief. Now he was gone…and my reason for keeping quiet died with him.

I left. And the world didn’t suddenly improve–in many respects it got worse.

But why do I start out telling you about hearing the voice of God and then go into what seems to be a quagmire of despair?

Hope. Faith. Love.

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Thirteen years ago, I was baptized into the Holy Orthodox Church. I had been a faithful heterodox since as long as I could remember, attending youth groups, camp, Sunday School, college religious organizations, and attending seminary. For 31 years, I’d done just about everything you could think of to do along the lines of evangelicalism…and I was not happy.

My ex-husband decided to visit the parish festival of a Romanian Orthodox Church and eleven months later we were baptized and chrismated, along with our, then, two daughters. I remember thinking, “How did I wind up here?” (Of course, I think I spent a lot of time just wondering how I was going to get the baby dressed after her baptism.) I had come along somewhat reluctantly. My ex had seemed so certain that “this” was going to be a new beginning for us. In a sense it was, just not with the outcome he expected.

I clearly recall the night I told our priest I thought we were ready to be received.  Father and I  were sitting amongst a pile of papers in an office looking for something relatively important. He asked me if I was ready to accept all of what it meant to be Orthodox. And I, being somewhat terminally honest, said “Do I understand it all? No. But based on what I do understand, I’m ready to trust God for the remainder.”

And that’s truly how I felt. I didn’t understand everything. I still struggled with things like the veneration of the Theotokos and infant baptism, but everything else pointed me toward Orthodoxy as the Truth, and I wanted to live the Truth.

My ex chose a well-known patron, but I didn’t have an idea in the world who I could turn to for support–I barely believed in saints! I looked at my priest and said “You give me my name”. I had no idea what it was until I heard the name spoken, “Anna”.

Why on earth did Father choose that name for me? I was 31, with two children, a full-time job and an alcoholic husband. What did I have in common with the mother of the Theotokos? I didn’t know then, and I’m not certain I do now, but I have accepted it, fully. Several years ago, I had my name legally changed to “Anna” and have not looked back for a moment.

(to be continued)

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where it is that journal entries, email, and list posts go when you saw them one hour and the next they're gone? Can you possibly fathom the wealth of information and meaningful communication that is floating, homeless in cyberspace?

Wherever that is, my entry for this morning resides.

Perhaps it's just as well. I'm far too introspective in the early morning. I tend to wax pedantic rather than honest before I've faced at least one or two daily humiliations.

But what I did describe was my inward struggle with sin, and the root cause: lack of prayer. Not that I don't pray, but I have not come to the point of unceasing prayer; to the point where my flesh lives in subjection to the will of God.

My priest and I were talking yesterday. I've become convinced that I possess a truly amazing lack of discipline and self-control. I become focused and fixated on a task but I find it difficult to keep up any discipline over an extended period. I don't know why. This ability served me well for getting through school, but has caused me ample frustration in other areas of my life. I do well in a structured setting, but I stink at free-form life.

The answer seems to lie in prayer and fasting. Now that shouldn't take any relatively serious Orthodox Christian by surprise. But I confess I'm just beginning to comprehend the full extent to which prayer is vital.

Here I am: Thinking about prayer. Thinking about "moderation in all things". (Being the person I am at present, I'm tempted to run headlong into a study of the subject...spending countless hours reading whatever I can lay my hands upon. But that's not moderation, either. Guess I'll go lay some tile in the bathroom and do the Jesus Prayer.


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On the first day

I thought I would try my hand at blogging. After all, I’m as frustrated a writer as the next person. I do worry a little about the self-indulgence of the format, however. Who am I to think that my words have merit? But, if in the exercise, someone happens along who can then see they’re not alone in their pilgrimage, perhaps it will prove redemptive.

Currently, I’m trying to complete some minor renovations in our master bath; attempting to do so before my husband returns home from his business trip. The painting is complete; I just have to finish laying the floor tile.

While I was patching holes in the concrete floor, my #2 child came in to talk and I soon found myself in the midst of a discussion on how we can know God is real. Before you get the impression that my daughter is a great spiritual seeker, you need to understand, this is said daughter’s way of getting me to forget that she’s in a bit of a bind with me. She honestly thinks I will get so caught up in her “dilemma” that I will forget she’s in trouble and her consequence will be mitigated by my “concern” for her spiritual life.

All that being said, it’s a bit hard to explain my faith to someone else. I simply know that I know. I always have. And, while I’ve had my share of wandering around in the wilderness trying to figure out the right path to salvation, I’ve never questioned (not too seriously at least) the reality of our Creator.

I don’t know that I am able to tell another person how to “know” God exists.  Frankly, I am not even certain whether you should. Where in Scripture or Holy Tradition is the example of setting out to “prove” God? What I see are men and women who live in such a way as to cause others to ask “why” or “how”. In the process of theosis, we should be becoming more indwelt by Christ, so that in seeing us, people “see” God. No one looks at you and says “Do you exist?” (Well, no one but a first semester philosophy student out to impress the girl in the next row–or a grad student working on yet another thesis designed to “once and for all” settle the question.)

So, now I wonder. If my children look at me and wonder if God exists, what am I doing wrong, or failing to do? I think that’s a good starting point for one day.


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