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Monday, September 22, 2014

How to Know if He is The One

My generation didn't do a good job teaching your generation about marriage. In fact, we nearly obliterated it.  We dosed it with birth control and bludgeoned it with a focus on self satisfaction. We offended it with infidelity and called it freedom, when real freedom is the experience of unconditional loyalty. We made a mess of things.

It's no wonder you're confused. You're struggling to learn how to determine who "the one" is.  I'm not sure how to answer that question. I'm pretty sure it's not even the right question.  You're probably better off asking how to choose a companion for your journey toward salvation, rather than asking how to find the one who will be some semblance of psuedo-salvation.  You're likely better off asking how to find someone who will hold your hand on the journey and not let go.

I've just celebrated 25 years of marriage with my love. Twenty-five years is a long time I suppose, but it's really been so full of forward motion that I've hardly noticed the time passing.  As I look back over my shoulder to try to analyze what has passed, I realize that I can't see without my glasses on anymore.  There are wrinkles and stretch marks where there weren't before, and the 21 year old body that fit in my wedding dress is a distant memory. (You think it won't happen to you, but tomorrow afternoon it will.) He's still here though. He's beside me holding my hand and laughing with me in the middle of the night and we're still worried that we'll wake the baby in the house who is now twenty. How did that happen?  I cannot fathom the speedy passage of time.

As I strain to see those first months and years, they are a tad blurry.  They rest in a fog of memory.  I'm sure they were a heady time, a mix of chemistry and giggles.  They must have been right? That's how we all expect that they would be.  Honestly, I can't remember though.

I do remember a man who drove two and a half hours to work on the 405 freeway in the summer in a laughable little Datsun pickup with no air conditioning, because there were bills to be paid. I remember nights crying over religious conversion that tore his world asunder from the clear cut path he had been taught to follow. I remember the late night laughing when we were too tired to sleep and silliness seemed overwhelmingly funny. I remember his baffled patience when I was worried about attractive women around him and wasn't yet ready to understand that seeing the obvious is different from loving the secret hidden things.  (You'll get there; understanding will come.) I remember a man who drove five hours round trip to pick up what I needed to nurse a sweet newborn girl who would ask adult questions about life choices one day.  I remember last week waking before he did and staring into the now-lined face of a 49 year old man, (who, just days earlier, had been a skinny boy who had held open doors for me,) and pondering the profound intimacy that I had never understood I would have.

There must have been heady excitement and chemistry.  There must have been? Now there is just an intense mysterious bond that reaches deeper than I knew there were places to experience. Now there is the same hand in mine.  It's an old hand now, world worn and rough.  It's pounded countless nails into drywall and taken out the trash a thousand times and then again. It's held mine in the delivery room and in quiet moments while I drift to sleep.  It has stroked newborn skin and the hair of a young adult daughter with love. I know his hand will be there in mine as long as there is life in it, no matter what comes.

That is what I would wish for you.  Loyalty and unconditional companionship.  Patience in error, and service in the face of fatigue. Love that transcends fleeting youth and the dissipation of initial chemical attraction.  A father for your children who will place them above his own needs and wants. A man who will go shopping for dresses with you if you want him to.  A man who will hold you at night when your waist is thicker and the wrinkles come. A man who will hold your hand and never let it go.

Pax Christi dear ones,

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Nothing New, Just Trusting God

California has been in a preeeeetty bad drought lately. 

The deserts are more desert-y and the forests are catching on fire. It’s easy to feel hopeless when something like that is happening. It’s easy to feel hopeless with anything in life—work, relationships, loss, etc.

This is no new revelation for anyone, we’ve heard it from blog post after blog post, but I think people need reminding because we always forget. I’ve been having trust issues too. I start to not trust because things aren’t going my way, and then I get scared, and I forget that the Lord is always watching and always guiding me to something better.

God reminds us to trust Him, because when we grasp and flounder for control, everything spirals out of control. Sometimes He has to remind us that we need Him.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. -Isaiah 41:10

Whenever I go to work with Mom, there is a sign planted out in the middle of the desert that says “If my people humble themselves and pray, I will heal their land.”  

So I tried it last night, I tried to be humble and realize there’s nothing I can do without God’s help, and that I was trying to control things and make them go my way, when the Creator has something so much better planned. I stopped asking for that cheap artificially sweetened chocolate when God has the real good stuff from Sweden. I asked Him to help me trust because there is no peace without trust, and I asked him to keep us coming ever closer, and I asked for rain.

:) I woke up to that rain. Even if we've heard something a hundred times before, we need to hear it one more time.

- Elyse

"Here comes rain again" by Juni from Kyoto, Japan - Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Incense on our Mountain, and the Gift of Music

St. Seraphim of Sarov icon near the church doors
 (the "old" St. Seraphim of Sarov Church in Anapa, Russia), 
Alexei Zoubov

There are advantages to mountain living. One of them is spending ordinary days in a place where others travel to spend vacations. There are disadvantages too, like driving an hour to church every Sunday morning. Occasionally though, both poles of the dichotomy collide. This month, we've been able to drive five minutes to church with people who are on vacation, sort of, at the local Orthodox summer camp.

I've always known it was there - all these years that I've rested, impatient but easy, on the knowledge that our path would lead to Orthodoxy. Nights under a star packed sky, as I've sat on our deck facing gazing upon the mountain and contemplating our tiny family's place in the Christian constellation, it has been an ever present beacon on the landscape of our forest home. A camp sharing a corner of our canopy of pines - a place where incense rises. It has been a familiar companion, but one we have not accessed before now.

I don't think we've ever driven a mere five miles to church.  We've always lived at least 55 miles away from our parish home. Our five minute trips to camp have taught us a few things.  One was that other people can get up at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning.  Imagine that.  Another was that there are, in fact, Orthodox young adults.  Not in tiny mountain towns, perhaps, but they exist. As we've barged in upon their Sunday mornings, we've been grateful for the kind hospitality of seeming strangers who share our walk with Christ.

Muir Woods National Monument, California, USA /
Personal picture taken by user Urban, 2004 {{GFDL}}
We've learned other things. We were impacted by music this weekend. Living with a daughter who has many years of choir under her belt, and having come from an Anglican parish with a proud heritage of really good music, we are not unaware of the impact of music on spiritual life. Personally, I don't have much talent for it, but we all know the power of those who do. Standing in a tiny wooden chapel, under the gaze of saints and through the haze of incense, we were blessed by the voices of a fine, yet likely makeshift, summer choir- most particularly, the really fine voice of one young man whom we do not know and almost assuredly never will.  My husband stood at the sink at home in our little cabin after liturgy and said, "that is the best Orthodox liturgy I have experienced to date." I don't know how to describe the reasons it was so good. Something about enunciation and plosives and other music speak that did not really register with my linguistic speech pathologist brain while Elyse explained it on the way home. But, it was a gift.

As I reflect on it today, I realize that we have been given a gift by some tall kid with glasses and a really exquisite voice, but he'll almost certainly never know that. In the same vein, but in sharp contrast, I'm sure that through the years, I've sown pain into the lives of others without even knowing it; - a poorly considered word here; impatience there - I'm sure it has happened a multitude of times. We have such power, as individuals, to bless and heal, or to harm. Something like the children of vacation renters who crush our tiny newly sprouted baby pines under foot while they run rough shod over the forest floor. They cannot begin to realize that the 300 foot Jeffrey pine to their left would not exist had one of their fore bearers done the same many decades back. Honestly, they're just playing in the snow. What then, of our own choices in the lives of others?  What impact might we have?

I'm grateful for the endowments others have bestowed upon me through my 47 years. Kindnesses remembered. I'm sorry too, for the harms I have surely dealt. May they be healed by the hand of One who is love. And God bless the tall kid with the glasses. Thank you for an experience that has shored us up in our journey to Orthodoxy.

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? 
~Micah 6:8

Pax Christi dear readers,
your comments and kindnesses have blessed our family life,

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On Distinctions

 "Oh, I don't reject Christ. I love Christ. It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ... 
If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, 
all of India would be Christian today."

There's a bit of controversy on the internet over whether Ghandi really said that. Whether the words are his or not, I think we might listen to them. The internet, as we all know, can be a dangerous place.  The anonymity it provides can facilitate some stinky behavior on the part of otherwise kind people. Unfortunately, the Christian blog-o-sphere is not immune to this. Instead, it seems laden with Christian-on-Christian judgment and distinction making.

Ancient icon of  the apostles Peter and Paul
By unknown, photo by George Shuklin (Russian Museum)
 [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
We seem to spend  a lot of time making distinctions among ourselves.

Catholic - Protestant.
       Denominational - Non Denominational
              Novus Ordo - Latin Mass
                     Anglican - Episcopalian

These distinctions are important.  They embody belief and creed. They matter.

Once we've established them for ourselves though, I'm not sure that spending inordinate amounts of time distinguishing ourselves from others - by building fences and then herding others in and out of them - is particularly useful to a life of discipleship. After all, if we are spending all of our time with our eyes on the one another with a mind toward distinction and division, then our eyes are not on Christ or his commandment to love.

It's important to establish truth and to teach it.  I'm not so sure that it's particularly valuable to focus on beating eachother over the head with it.  At any rate, it's probably not a particularly effective teaching method.

We can't be much more different than Peter and Paul were from one another, and yet they found powerful unity in Christ.

Truth matters. Elevating ourselves by pointing out our differences from others does not.  

And it's tiring, isn't it?  Pushing eachother around?  Setting one another up for inspection? Herding one another in-- and out? I wonder how much more we would be served by sitting down to tea and learning about one another? I'd bet that we could actually understand one another's points of view without losing our own. Don't you think?  I do.

And couldn't some of that herding energy be used for serving?

I think it could.

"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?
~Luke 6:46

May I find a path toward non-judgement.  May I learn to live as Christ did.  May I learn to love.
Heaven knows, I have a long way to go.

Pax Christi dear ones,

Sunday, June 22, 2014

There's a strange man out there... and prayer

Schaduw op het BuurkerkhofCC BY-SA 3.0view terms
Victor van Werkhooven - Own work
There's a strange man out there. I've likely never met him. I have no idea where he is.  I know he has a beard, because I know my daughter.

I worry for him.

He is swimming in sea of secular corruption and struggling with a society that is not God affirming. He has pornography at his fingertips and is faced with the task of achieving professional success in an economy that is hardly promising. He is surrounded by women who have been suckled on a hook-up-culture.  He has the challenge of honoring his parents while emerging into manhood.  Although he has likely not yet set eyes on her, he holds the heart, security, and the hopes and dreams of my daughter in his hands. He will raise my grandchildren.

I've been praying for him for years.  His parents rest in my heart's embrace; I understand their task and their worries. Daily, they enter my prayers.  Three unseen people - a mystery - held close, are the focus of so many supplications. The nucleus of years of soul-yearning before God.

We've been preparing her these twenty years.

She's learned to love family and home. She's trained her gaze on our Lord. She's entered college at 16, so that she might exit equally quickly to nurture an entrepreneurial spirit. She's dug deeply into child development. She's learned to show kindness and to give mercy and to struggle against passing judgement. She's learned to respect and value men and to honor their strengths and their differences.  She's learned not to worry like her mother does. She's learned to pray and to set boundaries and to prepare her family's tax returns. She's struggled with taming emotions and has tackled skills for making rational decisions. She's learned to manage customers' orders and create beauty and ship her creations all over the world. She's poured over instructions for perfect madeleines. She's learned to laugh at the silliness of it all. She's learned to how to love.

She's learned that she's only scratched the surface and that her growth and development must never end. She's learned that she must overcome her parents' vast inadequacies.

Ніжний ранковий світлоCC BY-SA 3.0  Balkhovitin - Own work, National park "Sviati Hory" (Holy Mountains),Donetsk OblastUkraine
I cannot raise him, though.

I can only trust that he is growing strong and righteous and prayerful in a warm and solid family embrace. I can only hope that they have taught him to respect her and protect her and provide for her. I can only anticipate that he smiles at toddlers who scream in church and puts one on his knee once in a while.  I can yearn to trust that his father has taught him to be a man and to love a woman.  I can have faith that his mother holds him warmly and tightly-- and that he knows that she believes in him. I can be optimistic that he understands that pornography will train him to respond to streaming images rather a warm, breathing woman who loves him; and that it will place a chasm between him and his beloved.  I can only hope that he has extraordinary strength.

I can only pray.

I'm sure my concerns seem obsessive to some, - premature, unnecessary.  I don't think I'm alone though. I think that for those for whom family is held above all other earth-bound concerns, the awareness that our children will transition into families of their own weighs both joyously and anxiously heavy.

And so we pray.

"Remember (him), O Lord our God, and the parents who have reared (him), for the prayers of parents confirm the foundation of houses."
(~Orthodox Service of Marriage, adapted)

God bless our children this day and always,
Pax Christi dear ones,

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Monday, June 16, 2014

A Bright Spot in a Deteriorating Culture

Family Excursion (4199790470)CC BY 2.0
Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia - Family Excursion Uploaded by russavia
A friend told me this morning that her atheist husband accompanies her and their boys to church each week. I'm sure she had no idea how strongly that would strike me. I actually texted my husband about it.

We have a thing around here about men taking their families to church, whether they buy into it or not. We've always felt that a good man, a good father, takes his family to church. It's his role. Whether he falls asleep for the whole service, or his mind drifts far away, his bottom ought be in a pew as leader of his family -- if that's where his wife feels that she and her children should be.

It doesn't happen often. It's a rather common occurrence for moms to cart their children to church each week, struggles and all, while dad sits in front of the television.  Granted, situations are individual and it's easy to make a blanket statement, but not necessarily appropriate to apply it universally.  Each family must find their own way.  Still, here's to the man who takes his wife and boys to church at the expense of his own comfort. Here's to a leader and protector who merits respect. He's made our day. May their family be held ever in the arms of Almighty God.

The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.  ~G. K. CHESTERTON, The New Jerusalem

Pax Christi dear ones,

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Silence Broken

I sat in a church wreathed in incense this weekend, yet it wasn’t a high holy day.  Their processions run backwards – or ours do.  My textile hungry eye has been trained on the brocade of a phelonion instead of a chasuble these past weeks.  Funny thing is, we spend more of the liturgy sitting, here in this place, than we did in our Anglican church--although the people sitting near me wouldn’t suspect much standing from folks with their toes not far from the Tiber. We live in Christian neighborhoods different, yet inexorably tied to a past unity.  One thousand years of precious unification- did they know, those first millennium Christians, that they lived in a golden age?

We were here, in this same place, some eighteen years ago.  Elyse was about two, I imagine.  She played in the aisle, under the gaze of icons, with a boy child, a bit older than she, as his older sister looked on.  I’m pretty certain I’ve spotted him—towering over his preschool height, although I don’t see an older sister, so the accuracy of my recollection is anyone’s guess.   Much time has passed, yet, here we are.  I knew we would be back, but I hadn’t known my face would be quite so lined by the time that occurred, or that my toddler would be twenty before we passed through these doors to pray through an Orthodox liturgy again.

I reflect upon my husband’s fortitude.  Born into the security of Mormon culture, with clear expectations for how his life would unfold, he surely wouldn’t have expected that a crazy girl with an obsession for historic Christianity would turn his orderly world upside down.  He surely never expected, while an ocean away and knocking on the doors of annoyed English people,  to receive the anointing of Confirmation at the feet of an Anglican bishop one day.  And yet, we married on the seal of an agreement that we would seek after truth like a wolf pack upon prey.  I don’t think he realized incense would be on the air as a predator's nostrils sought their treasure. 
Eternity Veil EVM19 in Cream on Black Embroidered Net

About six months ago, my very Anglo-Catholic fingers typed a quick note to someone, to ensure that she was aware that we were not Catholic. She had set up a group that required Catholicism for entry, and had invited me to it.  We have always been aware that Anglo-Catholicism can look an awful lot like Catholicism, and have regularly spoken about the nature of our religious affiliation on the blog, to provide clarification for those who would be concerned about such things.  Still, we occasionally run into a customer or reader who is surprised to discover that we were Anglican.  Usually, it doesn’t impact the relationship negatively.  Certainly, lace is lace, and spiritual reflections are spiritual reflections—regardless of whether the fingers that weave them lean toward Rome or Canterbury, or as in our case at the time, hang somewhere in a balance between the two.  This particular relationship though, took a distinctly different turn once the revelation was clear.  Since then, I have wondered whether sharing of our personal lives is beneficial to readers.  I have also wondered whether I had anything at all to share, if it were not myself. And so, I've been silent – for about six months now. 

As I reflect on those six months, though, I see clearly that they were not a happy ones.  I am nothing if not a writer and a crafter of thoughts and of swaths of lace that fall on the heads and hearts of praying women as they grapple through the dark forests of life, grasping for God.  I would like to be someone stable, with a secure foundation and a straight path, that others could follow.  I am not though.  I am a woman who has been on a long trek full of twist and turns.  

Copyright Elyse Bychek, 2013
And so, I cannot lead.  I can barely keep my closets organized.  But, I can continue to stand beside you on this journey.  I can continue to pray for you by name as my fingers glide over lace that will rest lightly and embrace you, as you seek God in prayer, across continents and languages.  I can continue to share our lives with you as we work out our salvation.  I can continue to walk alongside you in a desperate search for union with God.

It is then, time to write again.  I’ve missed you.  I suppose you’ll be hearing a very different sort of story.  The teacher of Western liturgical tradition that used to visit with you over a cup of tea is now lost, an infant, somewhere near Jerusalem and wondering how to relate to all of the Catholic garden statues lovingly gazing at her through her kitchen window with one eyebrow raised and smirks on their faces.  Some of you will leave, surely; each of us must be true to our journey.  The rest of you ought buckle up, I suppose – it may be a bumpy ride.  Nonetheless, I’m glad you’re here to share in the experience.

Pax Christi dear ones,
Latin or not—I've been sending you my love with those words for too many years to be changing that signature.

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Our Lady of Walsingham, how we have loved you. Pray for us.

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