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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Always There is Advent


The rhythm of our family life has been turned on its head since we've begun this multifaceted journey into Orthodoxy.  Most of the holy days and seasons that we used to order our lives by have changed in focus or date, or have even faded into the background to accommodate the Byzantine rite and its calendar.  I'm not sure what to make of this Advent period in my new ecclesiastical home. The focus seems to fall most strongly on the Nativity fast and its corresponding self examination and confession.   Not so different really, but no Advent wreath flickers in our parish church.  The O Antiphons do not echo there.

 My daughter tells me she would prefer to be married in a Byzantine style church.  This daughter that I had always pictured kneeling at the altar rail of a high church Western parish in the glow of stained glass and aumbry light.  No bells will peel for my girl and her beloved.  We have entered a new country - one that, although unfamiliar, we have chosen gratefully and peacefully.

Still, the darkness grows long in the California mountains.  Broom and dustpan beckon us to clean our home and our souls.  Eerie night hangs low and ominously questions -- are we ready?  It is Advent still.

Are we ready for the birth of a king?  Are we prepared for him to enter our lives full force and dwell in clean swept quarters?  Are we ready for his return?  And so, in the midst of new rhythms and of family growth and change, we fall into old habits cast in new light.  Nights are spent cleaning and praying, examining our lives and waiting hopefully upon approaching light.

Change is coming.  I can feel it around the edges of our lives.  And so this year, as every year in Advent, I wonder: Have we prepared adequately?  have we taught and learned what was needful?  Have we stored up skills and wisdom and sufficient strength of character to bear the challenge?  Have we done it justice?

No...no, of course we haven't.  There is always more that is needful, much that was neglected.  I am sorely inadequate.  I can hardly manage my own life, much less pass the skills of life and home management on to another.  And yet the wheel turns, and gray hairs come, and daughters grow more wise and ready. Ready to embark on a life that she is not fully prepared for.  I have not done her justice.


Still, it is Advent.  Time to prepare. Time to examine and correct.  Time to light flames of hope that accumulate to form a great light as time progresses.  Each year, there is Advent.  Perhaps the greatest lesson is self appraisal and renewal.  Perhaps the greatest lesson is the lighting of flickering hope for a future of continual growth and progress.

So then, she is ready, because each year of her life she has lit candles of purple and pink and whispered into ominous darkness: O Come O Come Emmanuel. Come and bring us true hope.

Pax Christi dear ones,
~Michelle
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
And Ransom Captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Courtship: What I Have Learned (Too Late)

Roses - gift from Sir Merton Russell-Cotes,
1921 by Matha Mutrie from Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum;
via The Public Catalogue Foundation
1. It really doesn't matter what you call it. In spite of the current fervor in Christian circles over the "courtship vs. dating" phenomenon, you don't particularly have to define it. You simply need to teach principles that you deem right. Even if you entertain some regrets over potential downsides of your chosen approach, your child is still going to absorb what you believe and value; and then she's going to live it.

2. Adverse effects of your parenting mistakes are a given. Your well-loved child is smarter than you know. She'll adjust accordingly. Let it go; you've got bread to bake and laundry to do,- there isn't time for self flagellation.

3.  At some point, you are finished.  All that time spent exercising concern over how to best guide the process may be a bit excessive.  You don't really need to guide the process much at all; you've already taught her what to look for and how to honor it when she finds it.  You can't get any of that worry-wasted time back, but you can save time now by getting out of the way.  You've raised an adult; allow her to become one.

4. There are actually stellar and God-fearing young men whom you would happily hand your daughter over to.  All that wretched anxiety was misspent.

5.  In spite of your decades long and deeply held intention to welcome said stellar young man into your family embrace with love, you can best accomplish that by respecting his independence and leaving him alone. He has a mother and doesn't require another.  The granting of autonomy does not equal rejection.  Who knew? Life is chock full of unanticipated realities.

Pax Christi dear ones,
You'll make a terrible lot of mistakes; there isn't value in dwelling on them,
~Michelle

Wondering where we started from? 
This is part 7 of a series.
Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Part 3 is here.
Part 4 is here.
Part 5 is here.

Part 6 is here.
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Monday, October 20, 2014

Men and Women and Tires

My husband knelt on the dirt alongside a farmer's field to change our daughter's tire last night. I sat in our Jeep watching him finish the job in the glare of headlights. Under cover of darkness, I realized again how profoundly grateful I am for him.

All these years together, as I have fretted and planned, worried and analyzed, evaluated and adjusted our life together, he has simply stood calmly and quietly by. He has stepped in only when he needs to, in order to keep me from tipping the boat with my agitation. He mostly lets me wear myself out until I throw my hands up and rest.

I sometimes wish I could be like that- level, uniform, resilient. For all my building and fashioning of family, it would all collapse if he were not the bedrock on which it all rests. I can plan all the routes - and I do a lot of that - but it would be fruitless if he didn't keep me calmly reassured and step in to change the tires when they need changing.

While he was changing that tire, I watched my daughter. I could see it in her expression and posture: She was running over the incident in her mind, using "if-only" as a mantra, worrying about the expense of replacing the damaged wheel, questioning her decision to buy the wheels in the first place - churning in disquietude. She has her mother in her - poor girl. Her father, though, just kept changing the tire and then got into her car to drive it home, in case there was a problem with the spare. I love men.

I think that we, as the daughters of several waves of feminism, rarely give men their due. Yet, as bullets fly in movie theaters, men step in and risk their own safety to protect women that they do not know. For thousands of years, men have gone to war to protect women and children. Ordinary men get up each morning to go to work and then come home without complaint.  They ride out the emotional cycles of the women that they love. They kneel on dirt and asphalt to change tires for stranded women. It's a marvel really.

Still, men are curious creatures to a woman's mind. They're physical; we're emotional. They are hands-on while we live in our hearts and minds. How the twain ever meet is a mystery.

Millennia of experiences on the part of our foremothers have written on our DNA the need for caution. A man can physically harm a woman, or he can shield her from injury and abuse. He can provide protection, support, and leadership for a woman and her children; or he can abandon her and leave them in danger. He can be a partner to her, or he can demean and control her. He can be faithful, or he can emotionally destroy her.

While both are made vulnerable, I think that it's not quite such a huge risk for a man to enter into a relationship with a woman. He is relatively safe without her. She is unsafe without him, but she could be harmed by him. She must trust him to provide for her and her children. She must trust him to choose not to expose them to harm. Regardless of the advances women may have made in recent decades, I believe that these cautions are woven into our makeup and that they influence the steps that we take.

So, while physical intimacy- no matter how innocent -may be his natural means of communication and union, she must know him - really know him - first. She must fret and analyze, plan and consider. She must hear what he thinks, values, plans, and hopes for. She must know the priorities and beliefs upon which he bases his decisions, before she can submit to those decisions. She has to know where he is headed, and how he will decide changes in course, before she can follow. She must hear his words before she can be open to the vulnerability in which she receives his touch, no matter how much that touch is wanted.

It must baffle them.  We must baffle them. Yet, generation after generation, somehow, together we vanquish these obstacles and pair bonds remarkably form and endure.  Men learn to buttress women and stand by them. They learn to fill our needs, even when they don't understand them. They show kindness and patience. Then, they transform into fathers who change tires in the dirt on the edge of farmers' night-black fields, and they hug daughters who are unnerved. They send daughters to ride home with their mothers for talking. They take the keys and drive home on spare tires to shield wives and daughters from harm.

Pax Christi dear ones,
~Michelle

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Seven Quick Takes ~ Onset of Fall 2014


--- 1 ---

It feels like a woodstove sort of weekend.  I think it might actually get cold enough to make a fire. Fingers crossed; we shall see.  I have visions of hot chocolate, popcorn, and movie viewing in front of a glowing stove.  My efforts to include young people in these plans seem not to be panning out; nonetheless, I am looking forward to it.  My anticipation of embracing a Fall evening, and the likelihood that Papa and I will be doing it alone this year, both serve as reminders that the seasons change quickly, and each ought be savored.



--- 2 ---


I am learning that it is awfully difficult to stop being a mother.  Even when one knows that her child is old enough to become a mother herself.  Now I know why my mother still asks me, even though I'm 47, if I "have to go potty" before we leave the house on a roadtrip.

--- 3 ---

First progress reports of the school year were due today.  For some reason, this annual milestone starts me thinking about our annual family reunion.  We're looking forward to it, as always.  I find myself musing on the way that the generations cycle through these gatherings.





--- 4 ---

Elyse has been driving eight to ten hours, and spending two nights away from home, most weeks of late. I have four hours a week of drive time on her, but, I'm more accustomed to it than she is. I see it wearing on her.  She's tired.  I have my reservations about whether she should be doing the full measure of this driving, but that is not really a topic for a blog post.  It inspires reflection on all the driving we have done in our years of family life.  We seem to be drawn to small towns and wilderness, which does not facilitate short commutes to work or church.

--- 5 ---

My author copies of  Let Us Keep The Feast: Living the Church Year at Home (Complete Collection) arrived in my mailbox.  Nice to have a project finished and move on to the next!

--- 6 ---

I'm a bit surprised by Elyse's maturity level lately.  I'm not sure why I'm surprised.  She's always been sensible and wise beyond her years.  Somehow, though, I didn't anticipate the fact that I wouldn't really need to worry about her much, because it turns out that she has actually been listening all these years.  Who knew?

At any rate, she seems to be exhibiting one of her frequent resurgences of interest in producing cakes. This is always a bad omen for my waistline.  It is my ardent intention to encourage her current plans to send some of these cakes south of here.  This seems a marvelous plan to both me and my bathroom scale.






--- 7 ---

I got nothin' for number seven, which is really a fantastic phenomenon.  I guess everything is mostly okay at the moment.  


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Friday, October 10, 2014

Lucky?

My husband was having a conversation with a good friend the other day.  Something about life and home and family and the stresses that inevitably come. After some talk of his own experiences, this friend turned to my husband and said, "Well, we can't all be lucky like you."

My husband came home that evening and told me about it.  My first reaction was the same as his had been: "lucky?!". We were mildly irked, in spite of our mutual fondness for this fine person, because his comment had, I suppose, invalidated our story. Still, we both put it aside as something that, "doesn't matter."

Boutonniere-whitesuitCC BY 2.5view termsDavid Ball - Own work
For days though, it has niggled at me. Why, I have wondered, does it bother me?  What does it matter? With a day off of work and lace in my hands, my thoughts are always more clear.  I now know why it matters.  Here is why:

I hope you don't think we're lucky.

I'm sure it might look that way.  With the marital harmony and financial security of middle life, things must look smooth and easy, like a gift that we didn't have to unwrap.  But, I do hope that you don't misunderstand.

I hope you don't think that we are lucky, while you are young and are wondering, as we both did at times, whether you have made the right choice of a spouse, -because you will wonder.  I hope that when you're sitting on the ground at the top of the hill at two in the morning , as I once did, and listening to the horses scrape and wuffle in the dark with tears in your eyes because you aren't happy - that you don't think I am lucky. I hope that when the stack of bills is tall and the money is low, as it has been for us at times over the years, you don't think that we are lucky. I hope that when you wish you hadn't married this person -(because you will have those times)- you don't think that we are lucky.  Because marriage is bigger than me and you.  Marriage is about vocation and commitment and family.  Marriage is about blessing society and the Church. Marriage is about making a choice and sticking to it.  Marriage is about holding fast during the rocky times, because you will find the smooth stretches.  Marriage isn't to make you happy.  Marriage is about being married.  The really amazing gift is that in the process of being committed to marriage and family, together you sort out the living and then contentment settles in on you and engulfs you in a deeper joy than simple happiness could ever provide.

I hope you don't think we are lucky, because if you do, you may think that you are not.  You may think that and then walk away from one of the only earthly things that can truly bring you joy.  You might give up before you've had a chance to really learn to live.

Hochzeitsfotograf-Wedding-RingCC BY 3.0SebCon - Own work
We are not lucky.  We are stubborn and committed.  We believe in marriage and family.  We believe in holding fast when the waves are crashing and the ship seems unstable.  We believe in battening down the hatches and staying aboard until the ship can be righted. That's all.

Stay the course.  As long as you are not in danger or dealing with someone so psychologically unhealthy that things cannot possibly be made right, stay the course.  You will find peace and harmony and contentment.  You will find your way together, and throughout the journey, you will look beside you and see the same person that you began it with.  Holding steady.  Being true.  Toward the end, youth will have faded and children will move on, but that person will still be there, breathing in the dark while you sit on the bed at two in the morning, listening with tears in your eyes, because you are happy and because you are not alone and because you cannot imagine anyone else lying beside you.  Stay the course, because you're not going to be lucky, but, friends, luck has nothing to do with it.

Pax Christi dear ones,
~Michelle

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How to Know if He is The One

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When Kids Do What You Say

When I was my daughter's age, I was applying to a master's degree program. I was a child of the 80s, impacted by feminism, yet aware, of a feminine backlash against it on the horizon. I thought I was quite crafty, having chosen a field that would allow me to collect an admirable salary in context of a flexible career field. My children (we had though there would be many) would never step foot in daycare, yet I would do my empowered duty by contributing to family finances if needed. I thought it was a splendid plan.  Twenty-seven years later, I'm not so sure. Our goal was for me to be home full time, but it just never seemed to fully happen. I am absolutely certain that had we put my husband through grad school before we put me through, and I had stayed home full time as a wife and mother, all three of our lives would have been better. I suppose this may not be true of every family, but it is certainly true of ours.


In our defense, one of us was always home with Elyse.  We essentially both worked part time and cared for her the rest of the time. For a while, my husband packed her up with his tools and home schooled her while working.  She essentially had the life of a child with a stay-at-home parent, but neither of her parents had the life of a stay-at-home parent or of the spouse of one. In retrospect, we could have done better, for all three of us.  Someone needs to mind the home fires, and it is difficult to do that part time.

True to our values, and partly in response to our experiences, she's been raised with a strong focus on home and family.  She's been taught that being a wife and mother is a high calling, and that the lives of every member of a family are blessed when mom is dedicated to honoring, respecting, and caring for her husband, and dedicates all of her time and efforts to attending to his needs and to the rearing of their children.  This seems a marvelous plan when a daughter is young.  One ought instill in a child one's sincere beliefs, yes? The problem is, then she may become an adult and actually want to do it.


This is when the parental panic starts. My bright and capable child who had been carefully groomed for University of California admission doesn't want to finish an undergraduate degree? Wait, she's doing what I taught her to do. Is there even a man out there who wants this anymore? Will she be safe?  Will she be valued?  Is there a complimentary piece to this two piece puzzle?  What was I thinking?


I suppose I was thinking that I don't want her to have the stresses I had, by trying to fill both roles.  I imagine I was concerned about shielding her children from growing up as she did, with a mother who couldn't dedicate all of her efforts to home and family without being emotionally strangled by work pressures.  The picture changes, though, when a daughter reaches an age when you can no longer view her as one person, but now as one half of a yet-unidentified union. Someone has to have raised the other half.  A half that fits.  A half that wants to fit. A half that will not view her as failing to "pull her own weight." What was I thinking?

I suppose that I was blinding trusting.
I suppose that there isn't any reason to withdraw that trust.


She doesn't have any doubts.  But she is twenty.  She is young and naive and trusting.
Maybe she has it right, or maybe she's too young to know any better?  Only time will tell.


She sits at a sewing table each day and diligently pursues home industry. Lace runs through her fingers as I craft clinical reports.  She does the shop's bookkeeping to the ticking of a wooden cuckoo clock while I watch the cold, black schoolroom clock in my office. She kneads bread on the kitchen table while I hone phonological systems at a laminate therapy table. Our home is blessed with her daily presence there, while it is taxed by my absence, I'm sure.  She has chosen the better part. I just hope that there is a man out there who will choose to embrace her in the role she has chosen.


I suppose that he is out there.  I suppose that there are families preparing the other half of this puzzle. Of course there are.  We can't be the only crazy ones.  I suppose one ought to stay the course.  And trust.

Pax Christi,
~Michelle

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

More Trucks than Cars and Finding Home

Elyse invited someone to a country music concert the other day.  It gave me pause and a smile.  I'm guessing that someone who grew up in posh southern California does not expect to spend an evening in "Nashville-West" central California with the redneck descendant of a Wyoming cattle ranching family. This should be interesting.

By Alexandre Buisse (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
As I pondered this on my way home from work today, I turned north onto the back road. My surroundings progressively shifted to windmills, ranch land, and more trucks than cars-- and my stress fell away. I'm most comfortable in the familiar. I spend my work days surrounded by poverty and gang affiliations. I've stopped wearing my wedding and anniversary rings to work. I've stopped going out to lunch there too; an experience that Elyse had, while picking up lunch for us, has scared us straight.  We pack lunches now.

I struggle to see the face of God in the parents of the children that I serve. Their lives are different from mine. Their values and guiding tenets come from a different place.  None of them grew up on stories of cattle ranching in winter and damming the Snake River with the family oxen so that Jackson's Hole, Wyoming, could be born. (Yes, we still call it that.)

We share a human story though. We share a God.  And so I struggle.  I struggle to temper with good sense my efforts to put away fear.  I grapple with finding common ground and serving without resentment. I wrestle with my biases to see the face of God in faces that have confronted experiences that I have been shielded from. I do not know the end of this story, but I suspect that I have been placed here to find my way through it.

Nevertheless, as farmland gradually surrounds me, and an old man waves to me from a green tractor, I allow myself to sigh deeply and settle into gratitude to be home.  Perhaps I will learn to find home and family fully in the faces of all of God's children, -but not entirely just yet.  Perhaps that is the coveted outcome of a lifelong journey.

Pax Christi dear ones,
~Michelle

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