• the mothering arts

    Cultivating Culture: Service


    This particular episode is probably one of my favorites from the new season. I’ve listened to it twice and my husband has listened to it; it’s been food for some very deep conversations in our house lately.

    Having a servant’s heart towards others is very important to our family culture, but as James and I both realized listening to this episode, we’ve never sat down and really spelled out why- nor have we been purposeful and pragmatic about what cultivating a culture of service in our family would look like.

    For James and I, though, choosing servant leadership in our family and community has been a very conscious choice since early in our marriage. It has been very important to us that we serve wherever we are needed in whatever capacity, to be the sort of help we wish to see in the world. We both have been very mindful that the little jobs are important- the jobs no one sees- and that instead of complaining about things left undone in our community, we need to pick up the tools and go to work ourselves. However, we’ve never really articulated to our children why this is so important to us.

    We are definitely fixing that now! ~grin~

    This isn’t to say that we don’t already practice a lot of cultivation of servanthood- it’s just that we are going to be far more intentional about it now.

    There were a few things in this episode that really stood out to me.

    I, myself, am a former military dependent, and I remember myself how the community of strangers always showed up to help in various ways and how we dropped everything to show up for them when things got crazy. How it wasn’t unusual for my dad to mow our next door neighbor’s yard (we lived in military housing his entire career) or fix a sink for the young mom three doors down. I myself watched others’ little ones as a young teen. It was profoundly a culture of service without commendation or notice. It was just woven into the fabric of the community. It was just “something you do”. It certainly has carried out into my civilian life- and it is a big part of why I help people without questioning why they need the help. I, too, am “paying it forward” for all the help my family received when I was young. I join Christina in wishing that aspect of community extended into the civilian world, and to be quite honest, as ‘soldiers of Christ’ it should be a noticeable hallmark of any Christian community. But it isn’t. How can we change that?

    At time stamp 14:48, she mentions that her husband appreciates a sort of mantra from Georges Hébert : “Être fort pour être utile” (“Being strong to be useful”). She mentions that many in their circle work out and keep fit not from a sense of vanity but so that they can continue to be of service in whatever capacity they are needed. This really struck me, not only in the physical sense, but also in the spiritual and emotional sense. What would our daily rhythms look like if we are keeping this in mind as a family? Are we ready to step into service at a moment’s notice? What would that take? I personally hate working out and I really struggle with it. Putting it in the context of what Christina was saying helps me think differently about it.

    Perhaps where I could most relate to Christina’s words was in her discussion of how illness had affected how and why they serve, and how it had affected her “vision” of others. She says in more than a few places how she wouldn’t have the eyes to see how someone is struggling if she hadn’t experienced it herself. It calls to mind the quote I shared last Wednesday in a way. I know for my own self that my vision has been profoundly changed by my own life experiences. I know what it is like to have to move house at 34 weeks pregnant by myself and no one willing to help: it’s why I show up with my big strong boy-men to help others every time. I know what it is like to show up in church with a fussy baby and minutes of sleep, trying to keep from crying as my toddlers head butt a parishioner: it’s why I am always on the lookout to be of service to the young parents in our parish. I know how sudden illness can suddenly wreck everything a family holds dear- I’m still living it myself: it’s why I am always going to show up for other families in crisis. But I especially love how Christina describes these actions of service as “giving refreshment”. Holding a fussy baby for a tired mom for a few minutes takes so little of us but grants such a deep breath to the mom.

    In investment terms, the return on our tiny bit of work is huge. If we could keep that in mind, how much quicker would we be to step up and help others?

    I could also relate to how she herself has struggled with accepting help, how she has had interactions with others who find it strange that they would be willing to help, and how sometimes they’ve had to just take a step back and not help. It’s quite sad, really, when you think of it, the weed of pride creeping in. We were made for each other. We were made to be in community, and we were made to need each other. Sometimes having a servant’s heart also means that we need to be humble and realize our limitations, and accept offered help gratefully! Goodness I am preaching to myself here, please understand. I kept thinking to myself after I listened through the episode again- if we truly believe that all comes from God’s hand, whether by our own hand or others’, who are we to disdain it? Try to push it away?

    There’s a particular situation our family finds ourself in at the moment that is very, very humbling on multiple levels. We would not be surviving our day to day lives without a few key people pouring into us. I know this deep down in my heart. I am unbelievably and profoundly grateful that these people are willing to sacrifice their own resources for us so that we may be able to keep our heads above water. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I struggle with the weed of pride: how it annoys me sometimes that we need so much help, why can’t we just get it together, I should be helping them, not the other way around. But like Jacob/Israel, our hip bone has been broken and we walk with a limp now, to testify to the Glory of God and not our own. I must remember this, and root out the prideful thoughts that threaten my joy and delight in His provision.

    What about you? Have you listened to the episode? What stood out to you?

  • WIP Fridays

    Artful adventures…

    I have a lot of sketches in the notebooks from the last few months, but it’s only been within recent days that I’ve been able to start painting them in. I love how there has been a trend of little flower fairies and gnomes lately. The three gnomes were a collaboration with my children last week: we were stuck waiting for something and they were bored and trying so hard to behave, so I showed them my “to paint” file. They picked out what to draw, and I drew as they watched. Later, they chose the colors. When we finished it, we realized it looked a lot like Ron, Harry, and Hermione, so the story goes that Ron cast a de-gnoming charm in the Weasley garden and it went a bit…sideways. Hence Harry’s look of shock. Hermione looks like she’s going to start giggling at the sight of them any second now…

    The last piece this week was inspired by a larger print from the ladies at Common Place Quarterly. I can’t recommend the publication enough. I only had a few pennies to spare for “fun money”, and I cancelled everything else I had so I could keep this. Anyways, each issue comes with some lovely goodies, and this latest issue had a print of Psalm 46 in it. Verse five really stood out to me, so I wanted to pull it out and make a larger watercolor print of it.

  • the home arts,  the kitchen arts,  the learning arts,  the mothering arts

    A good listen…

    I’ve really been enjoying the new season of The Mason Jar from Circe Institute. Karen Kern has taken the reins from Cindy Rollins (of Ordo Amoris, if you remember that wonderful blog!), and the first eight episodes are regarding cultivating culture within your home. While it may be a “homeschooling” podcast, these episodes will encourage and challenge any parent. I’m chewing on what I’ve listened to so far; I have so much I want to say about it, but I’m marinating right now. Definitely go have a listen!

  • Orthodoxy,  prayers of the saints

    Wordfull Wednesday- On Sickness

    We get sick and we suffer for different reasons, but often it’s because we have sinned, voluntary or involuntary, or because we have wandered away from God. But, if you are sick, don’t be afraid and don’t worry because sickness is a great gift from God. The sick are God’s special children. The sick are under God’s special protection. They have God’s special blessing. They have God’s love. They are in His embrace, whereas someone who has health might not be. The sick person, the suffering person, the person with illness is in a privileged place, or a potentially privileged place, with respect to God. Those who have never known sickness, and those who have never known suffering, often have a lack of empathy; and often their heart is narrow and small and restricted, and not able to open up and embrace the suffering of others because they just don’t know it. The sick, on the other hand, are often the most loving and understanding and compassionate people that you will ever meet, and they are the ones who will have boldness before God in their prayers for others.

    So don’t be afraid of your illness. Leave it to God. Do what the doctors tell you. When you take your medication, you receive Christ. It’s not bad, or a sign of a lack of faith, to take your medication. When you take your medication, you are receiving a blessing, you are receiving Christ Himself. Do what the doctors say, take your medications, go for your tests, but have no anxiety. Sometimes what’s worse than being sick is being afraid of getting sick. Leave it to God. Whatever God gives you is best for you. God never gives you a Cross without first weighing and measuring it very carefully to make sure that the Cross will result in your spiritual growth. So don’t think it’s random, don’t think it’s chance, don’t think it’s too much. It’s been very carefully weighed and very carefully measured, so that it will result in spiritual growth and spiritual benefit.

    As much as the body wastes away, that much is our life in God renewed. God cannot be born within us without birth pangs. And the suffering that we experience, whether it’s emotional suffering or physical suffering, these are the birth pangs, the travail, the suffering in our life that will enable God to be born and to grow within us. So we should feel pity for the person who has not tasted involuntary pain because that person is not likely to impose upon himself a sufficient amount of voluntary pain. So feel pity for the person who does not know involuntary pain because they’re not going to inflict it on themselves. They’re going to want to stay in their comfortable place, their comfort-zone, and they’re going to resist all kinds of change. Sickness is a visitation from God, a divine visitation. Sickness humbles us, it teaches us, it reshapes us, it awakens us to reality, it enables us to see what is truly important and of value. It is not a punishment, but a divine visitation for our correction and education.

    Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra Monastery

    From: A lecture entitled, “Blessed are the Pure in Heart: Reflections on the Spiritual Nature of Suffering,” by Father Maximos Constas, Patristic Nectar Publications (2017).

    The above was shared with me by my Godmother, and it has brought me tremendous encouragement and comfort. I hope it will for you, too, whatever you may be facing. The italicized portions are my own emphasis.
  • Ebenezer

    Learning to fly

    My grandmother died in March.

    Like so many other things that have happened to me in the last three and a half years, it is only now, months later, that the weight of loss is becoming felt, that I can even begin to process it.

    The week she fell sick was a very intense one for my own family of little ducklings. Some had been ill. Some were hurting. Tears had been shed. Lies had been revealed. One child of mine was spinning so far off center that the fear was that they would topple completely. Tearful conversations with our priest and counselors. Endless nights of broken sleep and whispered prayers. 

    A text message landed like a fiery arrow in the midst of trials.

    She’s really sick. She isn’t responding. Your father is headed there.

    My grandmother is the universal constant in the physics of my life. No matter how the storms raged or the waves crashed or every damn dish slid to the floor in the aftermath, no matter how many mistakes I made, no matter how many times I failed, one thing was certain. Grandma loves me.

    We were compadres, we two. She was the feistiest, funniest, most beautiful woman I knew. Few things were certain in my young life, but I knew when I grew up that I wanted to be like her.  We had so many inside jokes. She knew things out of the depths of my heart that I have never told anyone but her. Months, even years, could slip by as we both grew older, but as soon as we spoke again or saw each other, we picked right up where we left off. I never quite felt lonely, even if I hadn’t spoken to her in months. I knew she was with me. 

    I know she is with me even now. 

    My husband understood all this, the strong threads that pulled us together, Grandma and I, and before I could even really think about it, I was on a plane. 

    I was on a plane with no idea what I would face on the other end, if she would still be living…or how I would arrive at the hospital. Or where I would sleep. 

    Others would find this strange, this wild jump into westward skies.

    For me, it’s a normal fact of life. Sickness falls so quickly, you can’t plan for it. You can’t make it fit. Sickness doesn’t care. You can fly halfway across the continent with less than $20 in your pocket and sickness will endlessly march on. 

    But under that endless marching blast of reality, there is a whisper, sweet: His eye is on the sparrow.

    Lean into it and fly.

    One three hour flight and two metro trains later, I walked up a parking lot and into a hospital. It, like all its sisters, was sterile and cold. And very familiar. 

    I slipped into an ICU room and was greeted by a surprised family that couldn’t imagine that I’d come so quickly. 

    I immediately felt a grief for them, those family members. Not her, not my dear lovely bird getting ready to take wing, but for them. 

    They did not know the shapes and contours of this place, the dark angles, the companions that sat in the room with you whether you wanted them to or not: fear, anger, dehumanization at the hands of a medical machine that can’t really understand that that which you hold most dear, your autonomy, your sense of self, and your very body is slipping beyond your control. Very rarely are compassion and mercy found in these halls. Some patients heal, some go to God. This is the way of things. You learn this when you spend endless hours in endless rooms with no answers and prayer the only thing to buoy you. 

    They did not know this. They were learning in it in the fire. I wanted to quench it for them and I could not. 

    You have to stay in the moment in a hospital room. To think forward or backwards will break your spirit in ways I find hard to define, but I know the brokeness. You can’t play what if. You just have to exist. You have to eat and sleep and care for yourself, somehow, as the world caves in around you and all time loses meaning. But you have to stay in the moment. 

    I dwelt in that space. I sang to her. I rubbed the backs of my father and grandfather and aunt. I ran my hands along my grandmother’s arms, held her hand, pulled the hair back from her face, kissed her cheek. I held space for peace. I, in my own feeble and broken way, began to understand what a myrrh-bearing woman was, how to be a midwife of loss. I got them to laugh, her closest loves, and I held them as they cried. 

    When I knew it was growing close, her Home going, I knelt over her and whispered a prayer of my Orthodox faith, said every Vespers service, a sort of hope and request to God:

    Lord, now lettest thou thy servant, the handmaiden of God, Marylin, depart in peace, according to Your Word. For her eyes have seen Your salvation, a Light to lighten the Gentiles, the Glory of Your people, Israel.

    I kissed her and left the room, as all the family did in that moment, at a family member’s request. It would be the last time I spoke with her. 

    She passed about an hour later, while we were all in the room, just returned from a breakfast we all sort of desperately needed but none of us wanted to go get or even eat. It’s one of those strange realities of hospital life, that need to keep leaving and eating and going and hoping and sleeping when the one you love lies broken in a bed. It feels so discordant. 

    I was endlessly grateful in that moment that I was in a Catholic hospital, and the saints were with me in a visual form. I normally don’t get that lucky with hospitals. But there was St. Anthony (my third son’s patron saint, no less), St. Joseph, St. Francis. The angels Gabriel and Micheal. And of course, the Theotokos, the Mother of Christ. Christ himself. Everywhere. I could reach out and touch and draw strength. A crucifix above the bed. We were not alone in this shattering moment. We aren’t ever, really, God with us, Emmanuel, but I was grateful for something to fix my eyes on. 

    My faith has never meant more to me than it did in that moment. I could fall into the arms of the Church and be caught in my loss. I had a language, a prayer, to wrap around my grief.

    The next week was brutal. Anyone who has gone through a familial loss can tell you of the bittersweet tapestry that is woven afterwards. Loss and pain and hurt, fraying of edges where the glue has just left us, joy, laughter, hope, but mostly, pain. A person of peace must stay at peace, be the peace when everyone around them is spinning shards of pain. I hope I did this well. I may never know. 

    Utterly drained, I returned home to my own ducklings. The loss fresh. She was the one who taught me to love my children endlessly and beyond the depths. She was the one who taught me how to love caring for my home, how to bring beauty. To come home into the job she had taught me how to do…I kept questioning if I had learned my lessons at her knee well enough. I think I still am. It is in this I feel the loss of her most profoundly. I can’t ask her anymore, hear her wisdom. 

    The months that have followed her death have only grown in their complexity.

    We sardonically refer to 2015 as the year of hell. It’s a bit of a nod to a Doctor Who episode, but in that episode, it’s called the year that never was. Anyways. In the thick of that year, I comforted myself with the thought that if we could survive the year, we could survive just about anything. Two children desperately ill, constant hospitalizations. Transfusions. Surgeries. Broken cars. No transportation. Empty cupboards. Empty stomachs. Near homelessness. 

    “It won’t ever be as bad as it is this year,” I’d tell myself. “ One foot in front of the other. We’ll make it through. Just a season. Just a season. Keep swimming.”

    How many times our heads went underwater that year. 

    How many times have they slipped underwater since. How intense the storms are right now, another year of loss and intense medical and financial pressures that will just. not. ease. up. It feels just as heavy and just as scary as 2015.

    And somehow, in God’s grace and infinite wisdom, our heads break water again, and we can breathe, buoyed by His people. 

    My grandmother seems as effortlessly close to me now as she always did then, as I walk through these dark, dark days. I feel her counsel as I try to make the best decisions for my ducklings. I hear her tell me that His grace is sufficient for this moment. 

    This is what I hear her say, my Grandmother. What she whispers in my ear:

    His Eye is on the sparrow.

    We are seen and known and heard and loved. 

    She teaches me to fly.