• prayers of the saints

    Walking with a limp…

    I want to preface what I am saying here by acknowledging that we are beyond, beyond privileged to have good insurance, and therefore, relatively good health care. This is not true for many I know personally, and it needs to be acknowledged before I dive in. Knowing this, consider also that if this is our story, full of privilege, how much worse it is for your friends and family members who don’t have this access? If we are drowning with our level of access, how far under water are those you know who don’t? Please think carefully about how you can ally with them and care for them in the midst of medical storms.

    A few people have been gently curious about why our finances are still so intensely strained. It doesn’t offend me, and I’m glad to briefly answer. Simply put, the medical debt that occurred with Elliana’s and Josiah’s first hospitalizations has been roughly cut in half. However, life didn’t stop that year and hasn’t stopped since. Josiah has been hospitalized repeatedly since; Elliana and Josiah have both required out of state trips to teaching hospitals; Elliana and Josiah have both required surgery; my husband has been hospitalized and required surgery; our special needs son was recently hospitalized. Keep in mind also, that we have a fall full of medical travel, surgery, and therapies. We have to travel either eight hours or four hours for Josiah’s care (depending on what it is), as the local hospitals here are too small to have the right specialists. Our medical debt overall has more than doubled and there isn’t an obvious end or solution in sight.

    Even with a job change and an increase in salary, better insurance, and all sorts of help and intervention, we still have to pay out an intense amount towards medical costs. We live on roughly one third to one quarter of James’ income, with about a quarter of that amount going to living expenses like utilities, housing, and transportation, leaving about $400/mo for us to purchase groceries and other household needs for a family of eight (though more often, recently, it is about $250/mo due to our current copay load.) Over half of our income every month goes strictly to medical debt, and it often is more like two thirds on high needs months when payment is required up front for a surgery or hospitalization that we couldn’t plan for. The margin is incredibly thin. A sudden hospitalization can put us under water; and it’s not super unusual to occasionally have a medical bill go in to collections. We regularly cancel routine care appointments and things like needed dental surgeries (three of our children have required dental surgeries since January of this year, and it still hasn’t happened yet and James has needed dental work for 2 years now) and orthopedic surgeries (two of our kids need to have them; they keep getting rescheduled because we can’t afford it and it isn’t quite emergent yet; however one became emergent and will happen Aug 21st.) Part of these being rescheduled is because something more emergent happens in front of them- but either way, we often can’t afford routine care. This year that has been especially true. It’s been a bit better other years.

    We often have to make hard choices with medical care, which means that things often go unattended until emergent and can no longer be avoided. Our copay load alone most months is roughly $350-400. Without a dear friend providing for the copays as much as they are able, we’d be even farther in the hole. We wouldn’t be able to afford them and would have to cancel all non-emergency care.

    This isn’t even the portions of care we are required to pay for, which is only 10% if completely covered by insurance. Even at ten percent, those can run into the hundreds and thousands of dollars, depending on the care required. It seems like there is only one major surgery or hospitalization we can plan for a year; the rest happen quickly and abruptly, without notice.

    It is a nightmare I would wish on no one.

    We don’t qualify for state or federal aid (like Medicare/Medicaid, SNAP, welfare) because my husband makes too much, but we apply for any aid we can through the hospitals and medical debt assistance organizations. Sometimes we are approved. Most of the time we are not (again, because he ‘makes too much’). We have considered bankruptcy but have been advised against it as it would not deal with the medical debt. We continue to do all we can to liquidate our assets. I myself have applied for many jobs over the last three years, but at this point we have acknowledged the near impossibility of me working. I spend most weeks driving back and forth between doctors appointments and other such like. Hospitalizations happen on a regular basis. No regular nine to five or service job is willing to work with me and the schedule we keep. I can’t even really work the freelance jobs I used to do in web and graphic design; I don’t have the mental or physical capacity to keep up with them.

    All this being said, however scary it seems on paper in black and white…I have also seen God provide us in such amazing ways over these years. Just when we think we’ve hit the bottom of the barrel and don’t know where our next meal will come from, somebody will drop off some groceries, a unexpected check will arrive- all sorts of things, crazy out of the blue things that could only happen in God’s timing. We have learned to hope and to trust and do the best with what we have, knowing that God will provide.

  • 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.
  • Art,  collecting stories,  Orthodoxy,  prayers of the saints,  WIP Fridays

    Art Friday: Fear and Paper Tigers…

    birdbeginnings firstflowers flowersinprocess flowersketch3

    All fear is a paper tiger, my dear friends. All of it. If something you fear is drawing near you, some suffering, pain, or torment- if it’s coming to you like a ghost across the water- know it is our perfect, All-Knowing and All- Loving Lord that can lead us to a higher path.

    Father Stephen Mathewes,  “Do Not Be Afraid” Homily, Aug 21, 2016

    We’ve had a stretch of weeks that have been difficult, to say the least.  They just are what they are. The circumstances underlying why they’ve been hard won’t change any time soon. We all face seasons like this, some of us longer than others, some deeper than others. All you can do, essentially, is to continue to live. To put one foot in front of the other, to take one breath after another, to string one prayer after another. Fear tends to stop us in our tracks. I think I’ve gotten stuck more times than not in the last two years, holding my breath.

    My dear friend, mentor, and chrismating priest, Father Stephen Mathewes, gave a homily on fear this past Sunday. Tuning in with my children on Monday morning as we began our school day on a very rough morning, we all sat quietly and listened to the broadcast as part of our morning’s school work in religious studies. We tend to draw or color quietly (all of us, even me!) as we listen to his homilies. As Fr. Steve joked with the congregation at the opening, we all laughed along, noting with glee the laughter of a dear friend in the background, as this church family was our own for nearly two years before we moved. Father Steve began into his homily and the children kept scribbling furiously at their drawings. I, however, found my hand dropping from my sketch as I leaned in to catch every word. Eventually my pencil rolled on the floor.

    I’ve been having a lot of arguments with myself about fear over the last month or so, and I was rather shocked to hear that Fr. Steve had apparently been listening in on my inner dialogue. His answers were pretty bang on the money, my friends. Funny how that works. (It’s a good quick listen if you have ten minutes or so!)

    Given what I’ve gone through in the last two years, I realize that so often fear has overtaken me quicker than I can recognize it coming, and it’s not till I’m in over my head that I sort of gasp for air and let go of the breath I’ve been holding. I wondered about this as I listened to Father speak. What sort of radar might I have, what sort of an early warning system could I put in place? A “you need to pray NOW” blazing sign, if one could be had? It puzzled me.

    Picking up my pencil off the floor as Father finished his remarks, the answer was quite literally staring me in the face. Little delicate flowers stared up at me from the page.


    There’s reams and reams of commentary in the world about creating and fear- about how fear and perfectionism block us from getting to the page. I absolutely agree with them. But also ask any creator, and they’ll tell you that they create because they can’t not create. It’s like ants in their pants.

    I know the feeling well.

    I also know how destitute my life has been of creating in the last two years.

    It’s no mistake that within the last month and a half I’ve sketched, painted, collaged, and scrapbooked more pages than nearly the last five years combined. While our life is still quite difficult, the children’s health has finally stabilized, giving us all more time to think, to sleep, to dream, to just be. Fear has a much harder foothold to find now.

    It’s my giant neon sign: if I’m not creating for days, weeks on end, I’m holding my breath. If I’m holding my breath, I am not abiding in Christ, and fear has stopped me in my tracks. Creating helps me push back the darkness and take a deep breath. I won’t ever starve myself of it again, if I can help it.

    Dear friend, you may not be wired as I am, but I’d bet you’ve got a early warning system you might not have considered yet. Maybe you love to read but there just hasn’t been time. Maybe your brain fog clears when you’ve taken a long hike, but it’s been months since you’ve strapped on your boots. I’m not sure what it might be, but I think you’ll be able to identify it by how starved you feel when you don’t have it. If it’s missing, if you’re starving, your PRAY NOW sign is blinking a bright, startling red. It’s your sign to remember Who is holding you, to take a deep breath, and to shred that paper tiger that’s got you all wrapped up. Ask me how I know.


  • beautiful things,  Faith,  Orthodoxy,  prayers of the saints

    Lo, now that we come to sunset…

    eveninglight1 eveninglight2 eveninglight3 eveninglight4

    A few nights ago I could tell by the light through the trees that the sunset was going to be achingly beautiful that night, so we made our way down to the river to capture it.

    One of my favorite prayers from our Great Vespers service (which happens every Saturday night in preparation for Divine Liturgy the following morning) is when we chant Psalm 140. Here’s the first verse and a lovely recording:

    Lord, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee.
    Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

    Towards the end of the service, we sing O Gladsome Light.

    O Gladsome Light of the holy glory of the Immortal Father,
    heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ.
    Now we have come to the setting of the sun
    and behold the light of evening.
    We praise God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
    For it is right at all times to worship Thee
    with voices of praise, O Son of God and Giver of Life,
    therefore all the world glorifies Thee.

    So often now when I see the sunset, these prayers are echoing in my mind and heart. They bring deep and abiding comfort, and remind me to always look for the light.