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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)

Have you ever wondered…

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.

Anna

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.

Anna