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Gee whiz! here I am, posting again after five years.

It’s been busy. I was elected mayor of our small town in April 2007, and soon found out that politics…well, they’re really a pain, and nearly impossible if you try to do them with integrity. After two years of a four-year term, I decided enough was enough. If I couldn’t do the job and retain who I was, I wasn’t going to do it any longer.

I found out people don’t always want help, or progress. I found out that they often care much less about the process than the end result–ends, means, justification runs rampant.

And that’s not me. To me, how you get somewhere is as important as the destination.

It was a tough time for my family. They made sacrifices, and we had a few heated disagreements. When it was all over, we breathed a collective sigh of relief and went back to life as usual–except that it hasn’t been usual.

Daughter #1 had entered and left the Army. She’s firmly ensconced in San Antonio now.  Daughter #2 graduated from high school and has struck out on her own, while #3 daughter started high school–and decided she’d found a love for music. Julie’s a junior now, finishing up another 4.0 year. My son has grabbed life by the horns. We started home school and we’ve had a blast.

John and I share a mutual love of fossil hunting, and all things rock. We take trips together, and spend hours pouring over obscure bits.  So much more interesting than politics.

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The following is part of a post I recently answered on a Yahoo group. The poster was having trouble with feeling out of control of their life…and asked a question I’ve posed to God myself a time or two in the past “Why can’t I just learn my lesson so the trials will stop?”

God’s listening. He hears every word of every prayer…and all those other words that we speak in the course of the day. When we cry out to God “I can’t bear any more” he isn’t ignoring us, he’s letting us hear ourselves say…”I’m not in control. I hate this. I don’t want life to be like this! I love and it’s hurting me that the ones I love aren’t doing what I think they should –or I’m angry with you for not stepping in and changing things…you know you COULD do that, you ARE God, after all.”

Yep. He’s God. And, in spite of what we see all around us, he is in control. But that absolute hardest part about being a child of God is accepting that he has allowed sin to remain in the world. What we want is for God to remove the consequences of sin from our lives (sound familiar?). We say “God has created us with free will and we have the ability to choose good”. But we don’t like to admit that we also choose the wrong. And not just ourselves, we suffer the consequences of other people’s choices! Sometimes WE do everything right, only to have our lives obliterated by the poor choice of another. “That’s not fair!” we cry. Nope. It’s not “fair”. However God isn’t always about “fair” he’s about the ultimate redemption of his creation, about preserving his children’s eternal soul, not their mortal bodies. God is all over accountability…and he’s the most accountable of us all. It would be easy for him to just speak a word and knock the world into oblivion and start all over again. But that’s not what a responsible parent does when his children make poor choices. (He did that once you remember, and vowed never to do so again.) Instead, he set us up with everything necessary to regain Paradise. We CAN make the right choices and learn how to live above the circumstances of our earthly existence–deification–and it begins to matter less and less what happens in the world, because we don’t LIVE there. In the meantime, he’s giving everyone ample opportunity to get their acts together, and when the time is right, he’ll bring it all to fruition.

Remember the sin of the Israelites? They looked for an earthly kingdom. Their messiah was/is one who will set them free from bondage and raise them up as triumphant rulers. They were not looking for Christ…they missed him completely, despite all God had done to prepare them. We must not make the same mistake, and assume that the kingdom of heaven is rooted in this world or that our lives should be “easier”. Our lives are the starting point for learning about the nature of God. How do you learn about his mercy and forgiveness unless you find yourself sorely in need of it? How do you begin to get comfortable with living in the presence of the Most Holy, Almighty King, if you run from struggle to make yourself holy? And, if you could do it all yourself, you’d be God…and we all know that’s not happening!

We want to “learn our lesson” so the trials will stop. When we say that, we haven’t truly learned to trust our Creator. The trials are a part of life. They are what purify our souls. They bring us to the point of absolute dependence…and an understanding that it is ONLY in God that we live and move and have our being. And, if you’re being tried, then you can trust that God is at work in your heart and life…the Evil One doesn’t usually bother with those already in his grasp–he fights against holiness and what he sees of God in you.

And yes, it hurts when we see those we love making foolish choices or suffering horrible consequences. And it’s only a small taste of what God experiences every moment of every day. We’re in good company.
Lessons learned the hard way are often the best remembered

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To what end?

On the Orthodox Women’s list, someone brought up the concept that blogging might actually be a form of “giving one’s opinion”, of “speaking unnecessarily”. I’m rolling that concept around in my mind, along with the question of whether or not the world honestly needs my thoughts to be committed to bytes.

Honestly, I have to say, it probably doesn’t “need” it. But in a larger sense, I need it. I’m not here to give political commentary, and by no means should my words be construed as having any intrinsic value. No, I’m just here to share with whomever passes by what I’ve learned, how I have failed (wherein I do most of my learning) and what I hope for the future.

Having said all that…

Today, I’m thinking about the brevity of life. How quickly this existence can pass and eternity come up to slap us in the spiritual face!

Why? Oh, I’m completely morbid when it comes to how often I think about death. No, not in the Emily Dickenson sense, dwelling on the concept until it permeates my entire thought process, but I do manage to have the idea flit across my mind numerous times during the week. My priest tells me that it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be reminded of death; that it keeps us on our spiritual toes; we simply can’t live in fear of it to the point where we are prevented from living.

In my former life as an evangelical Christian, I can recall how much of what I did from day to day (or didn’t do, as the case may be) was motivated much more by a fear of Hell than an understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven. Not to say Hell isn’t important to Orthodoxy, far from it. But I can recall many a sermon where the concept of salvation was presented more as a salvation from hell, than a restoration of our relationship to God. Altar call after altar call focused on escape. No one wants to go to hell…at least no one I know. But how many of us truly want to experience the fullness of what it means to be a Christian?

Before we go raising our hands and waving enthusiastically, let’s stop and “count the cost”. Are we ready to deny ourselves? Are we ready to lose the affection of some family or friends if necessary? Can we stand the scrutiny of a world that actively works against the cause of Christ? Could we follow in martyrdom if it was asked of us? Are we ready to endure all the trials that are certain to those who take up their cross and follow Christ?

I recall, nearly twenty years ago, reading an article in Discipleship Magazine, a heavily reform-influenced evangelical publication, that dealt with this topic–and it had a strong part to play in my spiritual journey. Now, there’s not a lot of stuff that I carry over from those days, but this was one of those nuggets of truth one unearths from time to time from the oddest of places.

The article spoke of how seldom we truly act on what we say we believe. If we did, would we accept such a poor level of holiness from ourselves? No. We’d be constantly driven to rid ourselves of sin “which so easily besets us”. If I call myself a Christian, yet do not deny myself so that my brother who is in need is fed and clothed, am I not foremost a liar? If I say that I wish to follow Christ, but cannot stand at confession, how will I ever manage to stand before the Judgment Seat, when all is laid bare?

Thankful am I that the Holy Angels and all the Saints support us, but they can take us only so far without a willing spirit, and even that we must pray for the Holy Spirit to renew. We must take an active part in preparing ourselves to run the race. We must run, and stumbling, pick ourselves up again. We have the resources of the Church and the Kingdom of Heaven upon which to call, but we must remember this is not a cake walk. We are working out our salvation and must be about that exercise each and every day.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, a renew a right spirit within me!

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My mother died a little over a month ago and with her ended the first half of my life. Why do I say that? Well, I’m 44, and it’s not a leap of logic to assume I’ll not live much more than 44 more years. But still, that’s not the full reason for my statement.

Our lives were inextricably united through the bonds of the mother/daughter relationship. For better or worse, I could not shed her influence–or the annoying way she had of drawing out my former name to its ultimate artificially-increased syllabic resonance. Accepting me has meant accepting her with all her faults and embracing the fact of my upbringing under her care.

It sounds like she was horrible. Not so. She was human. Faulted, as we all are, but a creature of God, nonetheless. Her last years were pockmarked with terrible errors in judgment, and the ravages of old age: crankiness and childishness. I was not ready for that. When I’d left home at 18, she was still relatively young (60) and with opportunities before her that seemed, at least on the face of things, promising.

When did she get old? She went from 60 to 87 in such a short span of time (the time it took me to get from 18 to 44) that I didn’t notice it. I turned around and someone replaced my caretaker with one for whom care was needed. I have four children of my own, but I was still her child, and I could look to her as “Momma”.

The last two years of our mutual lives were eventful. Life and death struggles. We shared a common moment of revelation; she of a reoccurrence of her cancer, and I of my unexpected, but welcomed, fourth pregnancy. On Tuesday it was cancer; Wednesday, the next baby. From that moment, the ensuing 20+ months brought unfathomable change. Surviving the pregnancy was tough on us both. But she not only survived, but lived to see John’s first birthday. Her delight was to rock him to sleep and to teach him to play peek-a-boo. Her pain was when she became too weak to tolerate his weight on her lap. The last full day of her life, she taught him to blow kisses, since she could not kiss him through the oxygen mask. Then, suddenly, the crisis came and the end came nearly as quickly as the beginning.

The mantle of matriarch passed between us quietly, with few words and no fanfare. She went on a respirator and I was making the decisions that would influence how her last hours would play out. I asked her for one final approval: Did I do the right thing? I’d placed her on the ventilator…that gave us only two or three extra hours in which to exchange glances, and ask “yes” or “no”. Then came coma, and shortly thereafter, death…I told her I’d wanted to give her every chance. And she shook her head “yes” and squeezed my hand with surprising strength.

Those final conscious hours were a gift, not for her as much as for me. I didn’t spend them reviewing the whole of our lives together or discussing the journey she faced. I held her hand, talked with the nurses, and assumed life would go on from this minute to the next. And that was the way she wanted it, I think. No talk of death. She wanted life to go on…for me, for my family. Death would care for itself, a bridge that would be crossed when it came time. She reached out for me as they were loading her into an ambulance to transfer from one hospital to another. I kissed her cheek. I promised I would be with her soon. She nodded, and let go of my hand only when they lifted her into the vehicle. In a moment, someone gave her an injection. Closing her eyes for the last time, she slipped into a deep sleep from which she never awakened.

The next day, after a moleben with Fr. Seraphim at the hospital, we gave her one last chance at consciousness, reducing some of the sedatives temporarily. She moved a finger ever so slightly once or twice, but that was all. She quietly stepped aside and it was time for me to make difficult decisions, to be the torch-bearer. Time to see what would come of the child she’d borne. We removed the life support and her frail body quickly gave up to the inevitable. I did not hold on to her, crying and begging for her to remain. I simply closed the door behind her and walked out to face a new world; a world where I would be “Momma”.

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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?

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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