home days

Doodling with Mo Willems

So many thoughts flying around my mind lately. It’s kinda a constant flipping back and forth between “this isn’t so bad!” and “do we need to stock up on more food/water/should we get a Bede? There’s no more toilet paper!”

I’m finally past the need to constantly check to find out if there’s new news. I heard on the podcast Pansuit Politics to “seek out your news, don’t let it come to you in your feed”, so my consumption of FB is way down.

These big world changes keep pointing me toward the need to pray more. Sylvia Leonartis (@orthodoxmom on IG) posted about reports from Mount Athos of Saints appearing to the monks crying, and saying the people have forgotten them. This morning we decided to say the commemoration of the Saints from the St. Tikhon’s prayer book and it was so comforting .

I had every intention to sing Vespers at home tonight, but it got late and we needed to have dinner, so I decided to turn dinner into a prayer for my family. Tostadas from a bag, beans from a can, and fajita peppers done quick in the oven but served in a more-pretty-than-normal way. The kids have #quarantinehairdontcare but I really loved this photo. Our home feels more cozy and homey than it ever has -partly from recent renovations, but mostly because we’re doing more and more connected home things.

Vegan tostada dinner (or, just tortillas for dinner as the girls know it)

Missing Vespers also pushed me to pray a service I don’t think I’ve ever done at home. After the girls went to bed I read compline and it was a really lovely evening service. It was a good reminder that there are so many different services/prayers outside of the ones we normally do in church that I always have a available to me.

I’m so grateful for all the free resources that are coming out of this for homeschoolers- the Cincinnati Zoo is doing educational “home safari” videos on their YouTube, we’ve been learning doodling with Mo Willems, Audible just announced a free library for kids and teens, and Adventures in Odyssey is free for 4 weeks right now! My husband grew up listening and the kids love them too so between those and Audible, I’m hoping next week can involve less screen time.

It’s been cold and rainy, so homemade bread has been in order, as well as multiple mugs of tea or the new homeopathic Lemon drink called Umka that we’ve been loving. Keeping our throats hydrated and washing down all the germs with hot drinks. Hoping to plant some Basil and Chamomile seeds in some egg cartons next week with the girls, something to check and take care of and remind us that growth happens first in the dark under the dirt places.

from where I stand: presancitified and a pandemic

I’m blessed to be a part of the “skeleton crew” at my parish right now, so I was able to attend Presanctified Liturgy tonight.

There were a few moments in the service that really stood out to me especially under the circumstances that I wanted to share.

First, the Old Testament reading tonight was about Noah- you guessed it- isolating himself on a boat to avoid a flood, and keep his family and all the animals safe. I firmly believe that God speaks to us through the scriptures, and I’ve often had moments where whatever I’m struggling with “happens” to pop up in the appointed readings for the day. This little reminder that there are times called for in the Bible where God’s people had to be apart and separate for the good of the whole world was especially balm for my anxious heart.

Side note: because we are not permitted to hold choir rehearsals anymore, my sister Natalie who was singing with me and I had not had a chance to practice the unique Prokiemenon for tonight, and then I found out it was going to be live-streamed and felt a bit nervous about it, but of course, grace was shown and we’re were able to sight read it fairly well. I’m always so grateful and say a prayer to St. Cecelia or St. Romanos or whomever is helping us make it through all the music when something like that happens.

Then, as we moved nearer to the time of partying of the Presanctified gifts and our priest read the prayers, I caught a line that I normally don’t pay much attention to, if I’m honest, but felt especially comforting as we stood in an empty church singing without the rest of our church family with us.

Part of the prayers right before communion says it this way: “And with Your mighty hand, grant Communion of Your most pure Body and precious Blood to us, and through us to all the people.”

And through us to all the people.

Even though we are a small group, blessed to partake on behalf of our entire congregation, there in the prayers we were told that through us communing of Christ, we carry Christ out to all the people. It’s actually a pretty big responsibility that I will hopefully not take too lightly. Because it depends on me living it out to the few I’m in contact with now. I have to carry Christ to them in my words, deeds, and thoughts or I have squandered the gift given to me.

I hope if you are unable to commune in this time, you know that there are lots of people (in monasteries, in those skeleton crews) who are still carrying out Christ into the world, but that you also already have Him with you. He is everywhere and filling all things. May we all find a deeper gratitude and awareness of what it is that we agree to when we commune of the precious Body Blood of our Savior in this and all seasons.

Stay safe and healthy, and love your neighbor- from the proper social distance. Hehe.

Rekindled: Artefact 2020

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The light had gone out.

At the very most it was smoldering, fighting for oxygen and trying to climb it’s way back up the wick. The bright little ember was clamoring for fuel, but it was in short supply. Occasionally a gentle breeze would come along, filling the simmering light with a bit of air, but inevitably, someone would come along and stomp it out, or spit into their fingers and stifle the tiny flame with a single pinch.

“A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoking flax He will not quench: but He will bring forth judgement in truth.” Isaiah 42:3

I knew that my flame was but an ember on a stub of a candle, and here I was, standing in the presence of those carrying torches. The Artefact Institute is made up of creatives who’s flames have been fanned by the Holy Spirit. I know it must be so, because the light is safe and warm, and when you come in contact with it you are not consumed, but refined. I was blessed to spend 4 days at a conference hosted by them at St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Louisville this past weekend. I had registered for the conference as a conducting student, hoping to learn more about the technicalities of conducting church music. I didn’t sign up for the intensely therapeautic experience that would come along with that technical training, but it seems it was all a package deal.

My candle was given to me as a young girl, the granddaughter of a pastor and daughter of a church pianist. Music and church have always gone hand in hand, but the music was all feeling in our protestant years. Entering into Orthodoxy at 13 and abandoning the music of my childhood, I flung myself into chant, consumed with doing worship the “right way” and perpetually afraid of going back to the place of emotional manipulation that ruled the praise bands of my youth.

High school music performance turned music into a competition among peers, a ranking of your value based on your skill level. Never mind that there wasn’t really any help in improving your skill, just a push to keep performing, practicing on your own in a walled up practice room, and the lingering feeling of being a tiny whisper in a sea of voices that mechanically combined to produce sound. We were an instrument to be used by the conductor, inferior to their knowledge and ability, and there to make them look good in hopes of not having their programs cut. The passing of stress from the teacher to the students was obvious, and sometimes the students even pushed back, not at all fostering an environment of love of music, but anticipation for the high of performance only. Rehearsals were drudged through, flat and uninspired, and the performances adrenaline filled and sharp, everyone on edge with the pressure of performance.

I was left in a type of no mans land, convinced that worship should be solemn and emotionless, yet feeling so much in the depths of my heart at each service I sang. I didn’t want music in church to become a performance either- in the tradition of my school years.

I had no awareness to these wounds that had hardened the tissue of my heart, callousing me to the desire to refine my craft and share the depths I felt in these pieces of music.

Day One, in the conducting workshop at Artefact, I was given the label “conducting PTSD” and I almost broke down in tears right in the middle of the class room (I later made it out to the car and let the release of the pain have it’s moment). The wounds were laid bare I was bleeding out, all the pain dripping all over me, each moment of kindness opening another wound, my eyes blacking out to the room.

Here were two professional conductors, with years of study and experience-who in any other avenue of education I would not have a chance of access to- patiently guiding my hands through the air. I experimented with an unfamiliar skill over and over, implanting the new skill into the nerves in my muscles and the lines in my brain. Skillful surgeons of the heart, they sewed the wounds back together with the gentlest thread. They were physical therapists, gently moving my body back into alignment to perform its work efficiently. Once the music stopped, and it was time for critique, they became psychologists, encouraging me in the work I was doing, asking how it felt, what I wanted to change, offering their insights and piercing statements.

One conductor gave the remark, “you have a lot of music in you” that hit my heart and sent the toxic shame that dwelt there bubbling up in my throat, getting stuck there and the pressure of it building behind my eyes. None of these instructors had any training in psychology or physical therapy, but I couldn’t help but see the very same methods being used by them naturally, rooted in of the purity of the spirit in their hearts. I can only wonder- if the world had more of these spirits truly dwelling within it, maybe we wouldn’t need so many therapists to come behind and clean the blood off the floor.

They not only taught us in words about crafting culture, they showed us what a culture of love and respect looked like in every aspect of the time we spent together. I can only hope to take flicker of their flames back with me to carry that spirit to those in my parish. If all of us who participated in this once in a lifetime experience can carry these flames outward, we will be carrying out a living culture, and abandoning the dying culture that surrounds us. Thank God for those willing to share the flame.

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Woodworking and candles for a shrine to the Theotokos at St. Michael Orthodox Church in Louisville, KY

Yes and No, Revisited

I wrote this post series two years ago, and I’ve learned a lot since then. I’m leaving the series up on the blog as a reminder to myself that people change, and for transparency, but I’ve recently felt pulled to address some parts I now view differently.

Yes and No Phases, Introvert and Extrovert, love languages- these are all words I’ve used in the past to label my, my husband’s, and other people’s behaviors.

But behaviors aren’t people, and neither are labels.

In the two years since writing the Yes and No series, I’ve used Yes and No selfishly, and I’ve used them humbly- and not always discerned in the moment which one I’m doing. God has pricked my conscience in the moment, and I’ve ignored it and said yes or no anyway, but there have also been times where I have listened and not liked the outcome. Mostly because it was “hard” and “not what I wanted”.

I don’t want to throw away the lists I made, or the terms all together, but I’m learning to find a way to redeem them. When I first wrote about Yes and No, it was from the cerebral perspective of finding the best solution, going with it, and finding “success” and “happiness”. I cringe reading those words now, because while I have found joy in saying yes and no, it’s not been because I followed my list and determined the best one- it’s been because I simply listened and said the words God put on my heart.

In the moments where I have chosen to ignore that voice, and turned to my falsely reassuring labels- for example: I’m an extrovert so I need this social time or I won’t be able to be okay- I’ve found myself regretting the decision. I was also then forced to look at my selfishness and do the hard thing I was avoiding by saying yes or no anyway! My ego will often take center stage as well and convince me that I’ve found the best or perfect solution, only to find I’ve only found the perfect solution to avoid my discomfort. And I end up hurting people along the way.

The solutions I look back on now as truly life-giving and perfect, are ones that weren’t really a singular perfect decision, but a lot of little decisions I made while still feeling a bit lost and unsure of the outcome, but confident that God was pulling me in a direction I needed to go.

Sometimes labels played a part in those decisions- but often they were labels I wanted to run away from, and not put on myself. Labels that made me uncomfortable with my sinfulness and the ways it had impacted those around me.

I’ve realized that I often turn to these labels to try and make other people understand me and my motivations, in an attempt to gain control over how they see me. In reality, I have no control over how people see me. I do have control over how I respond to what God is asking of me, and how I choose to view myself. When I view myself as broken and incomplete, I tend to turn toward these earthly labels to validate my sins and shortcomings and make myself artificially feel better for a time. And honestly, doing that has kept me alive, especially when the thoughts of self hatred were so overwhelming. Gradually though, even the validating labels weren’t enough- so I sought out more labels, ones that were more detailed and thorough, in an attempt to not be misunderstood by having a detailed reason as to why I was doing what I was.

Even if those reasons were true, it didn’t make them right. Just because I had a label to validate my actions didn’t make them right- or holy.

And now, since I’ve thoroughly engrained those labels into my mind about myself, they’ve started become the lenses through which I view others- another tool to encourage judgement, anger and hatred.

A timely reminder from my Parousia Press Little Church Planner

So I’m trying to take the information my eyes process with the glasses on, and use it to find the things I need to pray for others about, use it to love them and meet them where they are. And to do the same to myself.

If you do read that post, and want to use the labels, I am by no means against it. I just want to make sure that the use of a tool for evil is not done because of my words. I will continue to pray that God be with anyone who reads my writing, and hides from them any stumbling block that may lead them off course. To Him be all glory, power and dominion, now and ever and unto ages of ages.

from where I stand: worshiping with the angels

From where I stand is a series of my reflections from thoughts I have during services as I lead my parish at the chanter stand. Maybe some good can come from my wandering mind…

By Charlie Mackesy

Our parish has had several new catechumens in the last year or so. It’s been a good reminder for me that I really am not so far removed from that place of newness and learning. From the pains in my calves as they learned to stand for long services, the fidgeting of a slightly uncomfortableness in a new place.

One of the catechumens I’ve noticed has a habit of movement throughout the service. I stand up at the front to sing so being distracted by the congregation is a part of the job. Side to side, swaying and even stepping one foot up while doing so, their hands touch in front of their torso, fidgeting and trying to find something to do. During one service I began sneaking peeks, wondering how long until their body would be comfortable and calm. But it never happened. The whole service, fidgeting and swaying.

It reminded me much of how my children are in church- very incapable of remaining in one place, fingers finding something to do, feet unable to stay on the ground. And then I remembered- even though my children have been baptized into this church, it is still new to them. It is still a skill that needs honing, a practice their earthly bodies are learning the control to master. And I too,really, know nothing of heavenly worship. As I’ve heard Fr. Stephen Freeman say, church is just playing heaven for adults. We all learn through play, through mimicking those who do the real thing, until one day we’re the real mama, no baby doll but a real live baby in our arms.

This is why we sing “represent the Cherubim”. We are learning to be like the angels. And how patient they are with us. They’ve been worshiping God in this manner for their whole existence. They know how to keep the music and service going while quietly redirecting the attention of all the children in their care. They love to see us all with them in church, but they understand that it’s hard for us. It’s hard to stay still. It’s hard to leave my hands and headscarf and my skirt and all the other distractions alone and keep my hands focused on the crosses they need to do. To keep my lips quiet of earthly conversation and open to sing the words of heaven. But the angels stay with us, patient and understanding that this is all still really new to us too. That we are really just catechumens of heaven, learning as much as we can so when we are to enter into the true church of heaven we will know what to do, what to say, how to be.

The angels do not become angry and pull us out of the service when we cannot focus- they stay right next to us and remind us gently to keep our thoughts on God.

We are all children, playing church while our angels show us the way in our minds, hearts and bodies. If I forget this, I become a pharisee-following the rules and annoyed at those who can’t keep up, but lacking the kingdom of heaven to share with those who are learning too.

this holy space

A list- of what you don’t get with a 118 year old house:

• 3 beds

• 2 baths

• open floor plan

• a finished basement

• a garage

Now, what you do get with a 118 year old house:

• 1 tiny attic bedroom

• 1 giant loft with 2 awkward nooks

• 1 downstairs bedroom connected to the dining room by double pocket doors

• a kitchen with pink and white checkered tile and cabinets that let mice and *gulp* rats in (don’t worry, we fixed this)

• a creepy old basement that looks like a horror movie (what’s behind that door? Is that red paint or blood? Paint! *whew*)

• 2 off street parking spots that force you to go up two sets of stairs with three under 4 in tow and make groceries a full on workout.

All these parts of this house, they are by most standards: inconvenient, inefficient and downright annoying. I will admit my second list to be part comic relief, part complaining, and part resignation.

We stumbled upon this house almost 4 years ago- only a year of marriage under our belts, a four month old baby taking up most of our waking and sleeping hours, and our current residence being the basement of my husband’s parents’ house in the country (thank you, mom and dad!). We thought we would be basement country dwellers for a while-possibly a year or more-while we saved up to purchase a small starter home.

A few weeks in to the arrangement, I was going mad. Not because my in-laws were stifling (they are actually the best people you could possibly do something like that with), but because my own nature needed a house or space of my own to keep. I felt useless and worthless.

A chance conversation with a relative revealed that they were working on getting a small, old house ready to try and sell, and if we wanted to take a look we could. They were even willing to let us rent it for a winter before we decided if we wanted to buy it!

Long story short, it needed work, but we were willing to do it. We didn’t quite have a clear vision of what we wanted it to be, but it had *potential*. It didn’t really make logical sense to take on such a big project for a first house, but it truly felt like God had put it in our laps. We couldn’t say no.

Fast forward to today: two babies have been brought home here, a couple grand have been added to our credit cards, three Christmas trees have lived and been taken to the curb here, rooms have been painted and repainted, carpet torn out, floors replaced, spaces configured, reconfigured, emptied, filled, cleaned and dirtied. We have half a bathroom more than when we started!

This house, this unlikely house, has taught me so many lessons about gratefulness, creativity, frugality, problem solving, and myself. It’s shown me so completely how God can have a much bigger plan for us than we could ever imagine. I never truly thought we would be here more than three years, and now it seems like we could never leave.

There’s a bit of nostalgia that motivates me to stay here, but it’s mostly the realization that this smallish space not only pushes us all together, but pushes me forward. In the phases I had very little time for creative output, it provided me with some in the form of rearranging to meet our needs. This home has pushed me closer to my children. It’s pushed me out into the world- you can’t stay inside a small house for very long. And then it’s pulled me back into welcome solitude when I knew I was over socializing and over expending.

My feelings of uselessness and worthlessness didn’t disappear once I had this space to keep- if anything they worsened. However, this home was the space that witnessed my lowest lows, and it is the place I have built myself back up in. It has been a safe place to learn (and continue to learn) to be myself, to be a wife, to be a mother, and to be a friend.

Your home doesn’t have to look like mine for this work can happen. Our apartments, houses, townhouses, duplexes, subdivisions, our roofs- these are our dwellings, and thereby the indwelling places of the Holy Spirit.

Our homes are holy spaces, where we break bread together, where we yell and cry and say “forgive me” and laugh and wrestle and do dishes and bake cookies and nap and read stacks of books. I can no longer view my home as a suffocating or inconvenient place- it’s precisely where God wants me to be.

There’s a Raisin Stuck to my Shoe

This past Sunday, I found myself struggling to pay attention and actively pray in Liturgy.

Now, this doesn’t sound much different from any other Sunday as a mama of two toddlers, but my kids were actually not the cause of my distraction! It wasn’t even the babe growing inside me or the tiredness of pregnancy that weighed me down either.

It was a raisin. Stuck to my shoe. Sticking to the rug every time I lifted my foot. Making me worry “can other people see this giant blob on the bottom of my white flat every time I move my foot? Will everyone notice when I go up for communion. Ugh.”

Really? I was worrying about what other people think about me having something stuck to my shoe. A remnant of my girls’ leave-the-sanctuary-for-a-snack-during-homily time was my biggest concern as I approached the Body and Blood of Christ.

As I became aware of my silly obsession, I quickly realized the lesson laying before me. There is never a “perfect” time for prayer. There is never an easy time to pray. Even when the usual distractions and frustrations are not a problem, we will always find something to distract us.

It felt like an apropos lesson on Meatfare Sunday (the Sunday before Lent begins), and one I’m hoping to keep in mind throughout this entire season. Every time I find a way or reason that I can’t pray, every time my girls decide to cry in unison, every time the food burns or the thing breaks, or the hard news comes, I will say “it’s just a raisin. Pray.”