Memories of His Mercy- A Review

IMG_6133It can be a lonely journey.  For those of us who’ve ventured away from the warm, familiar arms of Western Christianity into the unknown, mysterious, and foreign embrace of Eastern Orthodoxy, it is a profound comfort to walk alongside fellow pilgrims.  We find parts of our story in theirs; we can co-suffer, and ,also, rejoice together as we encounter the ancient faith, it’s healing, depth, and richness.

I never met Fr. Peter Gillquist of blessed memory, but in his memoir Memories of His Mercy, Recollections of the Grace and Providence of God, I came to know this fellow pilgrim and heard his heart for His Savior and for the lost.  When he converted to Eastern Orthodoxy he brought not only himself, not only his family, but his whole church with him!  What began as his passion for understanding the early church grew into the discovery that it had never ceased to exist; that it continued to this day in uninterrupted succession.

His memoir beautifully chronicles the ways in which God met him in the journey.  One poignant example was in how God provided money for a breakfast that he and his wife were hosting for fellow Campus Crusade collegians.  The day before they had no money to purchase the needed groceries, but unexpectedly received a ten dollar bill in the mail, anonymously sent.  Again and again he recalls the big and little ways that God encouraged him and his wife Marilyn over the years as they stepped out in faith.

I resonate with how much he treasures his upbringing, his years serving as an evangelical, his experiences at Wheaton and in Campus Crusade.  Becoming Orthodox wasn’t a cessation of that, but a fulfillment.  His ministry has reached so many, and it’s easy to see that it will continue to do so through his books.  May we be encouraged by this faithful, holy, and devout man and his heart to share the gospel.

 

 

“Moses”

 

You, cast upon this resting water
Held by bowing reeds, attending
Steady nursemaids, heads bowed
They peer at their charge, basket-borne
Searching mouth and fists tightening
The air is emptied of her-smell, touch, voice, and the reeds know no lullabies
You cry–of course you do and
The water stirs and perfumed hands
Find you, reeds parting, nursemaids swaying, watching.

 

70119659_10157957315898352_4031855610877181952_o

The Cross and the Stag- The Life of a Saint in a Graphic Novel

69641967_10157907034903352_5565236816191160320_oPerhaps I’m not the only mother of a child who struggled to read, nor the only to find that graphic novels, comics, and Big Nate style hybrid books were part of the key to helping such a child to ease into reading, spurred on by visual story to decode the text that would give the key to understanding.

When I met the author of The Cross and the Stag, Gabriel Wilson, at a writer’s conference, I was intrigued by his project with Ancient Faith, the Among the Saints Series.  Graphic novels with beautifully rendered illustrations that tell the stories of our beloved saints?  I immediately thought of my newly-illumined eleven year old son and how much he’d appreciate this way of learning about the saints.

The Cross and the Stag tells the story of the life of St. Eustathius, his wife, and two sons through their conversion to Christianity, their seemingly insurmountable trials and tests of faith, and their martyrdom circa AD 118-126.  I had heard his story before, but somehow seeing it illustrated placed and grounded my imagination into the scene, the horrors he faced as he lost all that he held dear were inescapably before my eyes, indelible as ink.

As a mother raising six children, I am so incredibly grateful for every tool available to teach my kids about the heroes of our faith.  Finishing the book in one sitting, my eleven year old wrote out his thoughts, among them:  “Never give up God, even in the hardest times.  It’s hard for me to find God when I miss a playdate or something, but St. Eustathius lost his cattle, servants, grain, and got his wife taken away from him.  He thought his kids were dead, but he kept praying to God.”  What a powerful example of perseverance for all of us to aspire to!

image1

 

Dandelions For Kings, A Reflection on Fasting

It is one of the first thoughts as my eyes blink their way into the morning light, as my body stretches taut and I yawn, expanding every cubic inch of bronchial space.  “What day is it?” I wonder, which also means, “What can I make for breakfast?”  My belly rumbles at the thought of buttered toast, coffee with heavy cream, eggs over easy, the yolks running vibrant yellow ochre.  My brain settles the calculation, and oh, it’s Wednesday.  That means black coffee, peanut butter toast, no eggs, no yellow ochre pooling in the plate.

I didn’t grow up this way, and it doesn’t come naturally to any of us to limit our consumption of certain foods as a part of our spiritual discipline.  I’m a very bumbling beginner, often failing to plan enough in advance to have a fasting-friendly meal ready for my large family.  I keep trying to remind myself to just keep getting a little better, week by week, each Wednesday and Friday and during the other extended fasts of the church calendar, not missing the forest for the trees.  Keep picking up the rhythm of soaking beans on Tuesday night, of keeping coconut cream around to make the coffee less harsh, of finding recipes that give us a good protein boost that can be assembled quickly during sports seasons.  I am just beginning to get the mechanics right, and have far to go to fast well, physically and spiritually, to fast from envy, from sloth, from all that hinders growth in Christ.

My small offerings feel like handing bouquets of dandelions to a king, small bundles of yellow ochre.  I can only offer these little, imperfect sacrifices to the One who offers me Himself.  It’s humbling in the extreme to struggle to even give up my dandelions, the small comforts of foods I love.  The cream in my coffee and the eggs on my plate, running into pools of yellow ochre.diapers3

 

What Busyness Takes

There will not be that ideal moment to write; when all ripe tomatoes are cleared from the weighted, fragrant vines, when the laundry is all tucked into drawers and relaxing onto hangers, when the children are deep into quiet, peaceful play, and the to do list is a crossed-off list of merry accomplishment.  Such a moment would last, at best, a span of minutes, and so I write anyways.  I just left to help a frustrated toddler remove his wooden cars from his little barn toy where he had hopelessly wedged them.

Financial burdens led me this past year into multiple jobs and homeschooling my five year old, with a baby and toddler at home as well.  I did babysitting at a local church, I became a direct care worker for a disabled person, and I continued my soap business, albeit without a partner, who moved out of state.  Though there was love in my offering, I felt, and still feel, hollowed out by the weight of the work of that year.  The children I cared for gave me their smiles and their joy, and I love them.  The person I care for with a disability has given me concrete perspective on suffering and perseverance.  My small soap company has given me just enough to stave off needing loans to pay for our childrens’ education, and gave me the opportunity to grow in my craft.  All these good things, and yet, there was too much, leaving not enough of me to breathe.  Not enough of me to connect at day’s end with my kids and husband and friends.  I missed the kids’ sports, social events, and quiet evening time playing games around the table, because I was working or falling asleep standing up.

Activities give, but busyness takes, and I’ve found that I cannot live well with what it takes.  We are taking steps to reduce my work.  We enrolled the homeschooled kiddo, and I declined to babysit this year.  I put in a request to drop to one morning a week for direct care.  I wrote to one of my wholesale customers that I’d be unlikely to make the quantity of soaps they’d requested (this was a sorrow as I love the shop’s owner and have sold at their location for years).  I am fully owning that I’m one person and that I can’t breathe; that I require open stretches of time that aren’t stalked and menaced by a workload that endlessly intones, “back to work, back to work”.  I need my energy that has been consumed by busyness; I need it to be a “horsey” for my baby to ride on, I need it to cook wholesome food for my growing kids, I need it for cheering on my kids while they play sports.  They have first dibs on what I have to give.

I don’t want to miss these years.  I don’t want to produce a thousand bars of soap if it means I’m too tired to read a bedtime story to these little ones who grow an inch every time I look away.  I’m putting a stop to the madness that can be stopped, so that I can reasonably  deal with the madness that can’t.55458331_10157517776583352_5915649093199200256_o55819024_10157527981533352_787634639161262080_o56396022_10157545627993352_5875322391126605824_o57568478_10157581165648352_7460836377630867456_odrawing

 

What the House Holds

The floor still creaks the same, and the hall gives the sound a shape that my heart knows.   I shed snow pants, boots, and gloves there, the bluish light of four o’clock in winter peering in through the living room windows.  Warm light at the end of the hall, the clamor of pots being wrestled out of the cupboards, the light dry sizzle of meat on cast iron, drew me, with reddened nose and cheeks and hat hair, wet socks, and frozen toes.

The stools at the counter made their own bark of wood-on-wood, because some of the legs had lost their felt circles, and I slipped my feet on to the rungs and climbed to watch her.  My mother was a whirlwind in the kitchen; frying, steaming, baking, cleaning, and it’s only after the years have made me a mother that I can see my limbs took notes, my hands work the same way, resting on my hips when I’m thinking what to do next.  Stir the sauce and bang the wooden spoon on the edge to clean it.

Why do my eyes fill so?

Voyeurism can take many forms.  I stalk my childhood home on real estate sites.  I see pictures of the rooms; I hear the rooms.  My memories lays over the changed paint and fixtures; it places the characters back in the scene.  My brother draws with me in the dining room, my sister is slouched in a wing chair by the fireplace, listening to music on her Walkman.  Our cat Annie weaves through our legs under the table.  But then, the photo reasserts itself, gone are the leather chairs that came from a courthouse once upon a Montana auction.  Gone are the purrs under the table, gone the table, and the small people who didn’t know all that the house held.

These were the rooms that heard my Grandma Gwen’s voice; I can still hear her voice and how the room would shape it.  Even a grown woman can still want to curl up in a lap like hers and hear, “Oh now, it’s okay.  You’re going to be just fine.”

Why do my eyes pour so?

I banged those doors in anger, teenage rage blasting the frames.  Even so, there was still the warmth of the kitchen at the end of the hallway.  There was a bone-wearied parent yet stirring, scrubbing, and kneading; work that called down the hall “Even so, I love you”.

There were sadnesses, houses hold those too; somehow as years pass I find less of them in my memory; they are outshone by all the life and light that was there.

I write from my house, this house that accepts all these new characters as if they were expected, written in the script from the first shovelful of dirt at the turn of the century, when the house was becoming, rising up from a field, sticks and lathe and brick.

There they are, gathered on stools that scrape against the tile, felt pads lost, watching me cook.  They don’t know yet; all that this house holds.

 

On Solitude, Capes, and Norms

IMG_1836As a mother of a brood of half a dozen children (all chatty extroverts) and the wife of an extremely social husband, myself being an introvert on the level of a wannabe hermit, there is no greater luxury for me than time alone, time quiet.  The thoughts I find there simply don’t surface amid noise and clamor and others.

A half hour of picking berries in a quiet glen, the ruby red wineberries rolling into my palm with a touch.  The birds spoke, and I gathered words and impressions along with the berries, so tart and so sweet.  The quiet; it clears space, it clears the throat of my innermost voice.

I push a cart through the thrift store, a favorite haunt, to see what the spinning machine of materialism would spit out upon the racks and shelves.  I take it in, the sequined mini skirt, or tube top perhaps?  Who went to a store and said to themselves, “Why, this is JUST the thing!”  There, sagging on the hangers, were the wide lapel, navy-inspired office suits with their gold braid buttons and polyester glory, shoulder pads showing bravely stiff amidst the drooping.  Nappy sweaters that had fooled their owners:  “I am so nice and soft!”, and one dryer cycle later, “Never mind, I am shamefully matted.”

My hands run over the racks, pausing when my fingertips feel linen, wool, silk, cotton.  I check the ingredients.  Rayon, polyester, and any of their clever aliases go back.  I examine the silk lining of a short cropped jacket (a sign of good craftsmanship), wondering if it would go well with a makeshift Regency costume.  Why?  Well…a person with an imagination always has reasons.

A friend found a sparkly purple dress at a yard sale for a dollar.  She lamented that she had no occasion to wear it to, to justify the great expense, of course.  So she invented an annual occasion, The Purple Dress Party.  I attended, I came away inspired.  I’ve been somewhat smitten with period dress since the newest Pride and Prejudice came out.  I wanted to wear everything the characters wore.  I was spurred further on by reading Ruth Goodman’s delightful works “How To Be a Tudor” and “How To Be a Victorian”.  A question that I’ve had percolating for nearly twenty years has been this:  “If I love the dress of another era, why do I not wear those clothes?  What stops me?”  And then, “Well, I suppose I could throw a Jane Austen dinner party every year….”

A friend wrote on Facebook the other day of her insatiable desire to own a full length cape.  I heartily concurred.  What stops me?  Only the lack of a Caped Caper Club, an annual night when lady friends don capes and walk a local trail in hilarious seriousness. Think of the urban legends that may result!?!

Whatever it is that’s kept me relatively normal apparel-wise, it may not always hold such sway.  Already I wrap myself in pashmina shawls, wear long skirts and soft leather shoes.  There are hints that I embrace a more romantic form of dress; that the barest threads of convention to norms is all that keeps me from capes, pinafores, and muslin gowns.  That and not wishing to hopelessly embarrass my teenagers.

It’s a small thing, to hear those oft-muffled thoughts, yearnings of dressing artfully and beautifully, but it is a gift of the quiet, a gift of solitude.