Complimenting the Choir

I have sung at the chanter’s stand and choir for about 5 years non-stop. In high school and college, my church and campus ministry had a rotation for people in the worship band or praise team, so there was no need for me to make a weekly commitment. Save August 2009, December 2011, and a few random Sundays of illness, I spend services as a choir member…or at some services, I AM the choir.

Yesterday, I got two lovely compliments that encouraged me more than any others combined. It was the Feast of the Dormition of The Mother of God, which is  the last major feast of the church year. Beautiful hymns encourage Christians to prayer. While in line to receive a blessing at the end, a woman approached me. “Your voice is so beautiful. It helped me to pray today. Thank you.

After the pitch-in breakfast, a man approached me as I got up to leave. “Thank you for singing today. It lifted us all up [to heaven].”

I had enjoyed Vigil the night before and Liturgy yesterday morning – the people I was singing with were on pitch and we could trade harmonizing ad lib. As a musician, those are the service moments you love. When you aren’t just singing but making music and able to have a few moments of prayer yourself.

Many a dissertation is written on Orthodox services, and I have a very simple understanding of them. I can say, however, that the reason Orthodox Christians gather is to pray. Liturgy is a prayer. Vespers, Vigil, and all other daily services are for prayer. Everything in an Orthodox church is a call to prayer and to see as best we can with earthly eyes and hearts the Glory of God.

Yet, when you sing in the choir, you give up that freedom to pray. I have experienced so many, Orthodox or not, who view the choir or worship leaders as “untouchables” or that the work of a musician is so much more honorable than they in the crowd. My voice being audible during the service in NO WAY makes me amazing and you liturgical dust.

Complimenting your choir member or director with a “woe is me” or “Gosh, you’re important” tone is flawed. Please stop doing that.

The choir members have given up their freedom to pray because we have to think about other things – like staying in tune. This also goes for the opposite – to “mentally check-out” during a service is disastrous. And because Orthodoxy involves the body, we also give up the freedom to prostrate, bow, or even bless ourselves without whacking our hand or forehead on a music stand.

God has given us a gift. We are to use it, and most of us do with glad hearts! But it does not come without sacrifice. Knowing that you were able to pray makes my sacrifice worth it.

I have had people compliment my voice after it has sung both the sacred and secular. Very few have gone to say how it has moved them to better prayer. That sufficiently humbled me to know they were praying as I was singing yet thinking about whether or not I chose the most comfortable shoes for a 3-hour service.

Bullied: Part 1

Do you remember the first time you saw yourself in the mirror and finally had a shred of hope that you just might be physically attractive and desirable? That you were not the despicable and horrible human that others kept saying you were for so long?

It was the summer I turned 15; my family had moved back to Kansas the previous year after 6 ½ in South Dakota. While I had a minor disappointment with a boy the past year, I had been getting some attention from others and had successes in extra-curricular activities about my confidence. I was uncertain on what to do with compliments. If I said “Thank you,” I feared I would look like a snob, but if I ignored them, it would be rude. I think I usually stammered or tried to shrug things off.

It was a day I had very little planned. I was still in my PJs at the breakfast table when my brother came from the basement. He thought I was wearing a casual sundress for the day and is a pretty cool guy when it comes to his sisters. He asked, “Where did you get that dress?” in the way that men from my family say with uncertainty on how to word a compliment, yet in a way that the women know the men noticed.

“Um, Jeff, these are my PJs.”

Him: “Oh.”

After that comment and finishing breakfast, I walked back to my room to change into my real clothes for the day. At the end of the short, narrow hallway was an oval mirror. I caught a glimpse I had never considered before. It wasn’t an imaginary catwalk to my room, or a trial run of how I would saunter through The Mall. Just enough of a second glance to where I could say, “Maybe I’m not fat and ugly.” My self-esteem and self-perception were still hovering above empty, but there was something about those 10 feet down the hall that gave me hope. Not everyone was out to be better than me. My obvious features of height and hips were not necessarily a negative. And maybe my acne-prone face and shoulders weren’t as horrible as others made it seem.

I still had plenty of emotional breakdowns between that moment and now. I still considered shopping a war and personal assault. The number on the size was all-important as to how I felt about myself for the next month or so.  Some hurts have scabbed over, yet I’m reminded of their scars at the most random times. Just when I think that I’ve answered all the questions and satiated the emotional holes left from my middle school years, the emptiness slinks in the cracks on bad days.

The mid-90s seemed more concerned with sexual harassment and whether or not kids knew about HIV transmission. The line between “kids being kids” and bullying had not gotten the attention of the past 10 years. Sometimes I wonder how I would feel if I could have stood up for myself in the schoolyard. What if one day I would have just punched someone in the face? What if I could sue for the therapy bills not covered by insurance? What if I had taken a few more sick days or convinced my parents to get me out of that school?

What happened cannot be changed. But I have hope. Not because I saw myself as pretty one summer day, half my life ago.

Because I’m learning to forgive people that I will never see again and who will never know how deeply their words cut to my heart. Because I can look at the world around and know that God created things that are good. Because I am to look and myself and say that I am the chief of sinners and forgive others’ trespasses, debts, and sins.

It is not easy, nor should anyone be demanded to produce these results overnight. Be filled with Truth to combat the lies. That is the first step. The other steps will follow, but always seek Truth.

What I Miss from My Protestant Days

So, it’s the week before Easter! (I love saying that to make people’s heads turn!) Yes, it’s one of those years that “Greek” Easter is WAY late. Oh well.

As I was experiencing Palm Sunday on April 28, I realized something for the first time since converting: There is only one thing I miss from my Protestant experience. Being a pesky convert to Orthodox Christianity, I have 25+ years of low-church Protestantism to frame my religious education and lay theological training. When I was still in my inquiry and catechism into Orthodoxy, I was answering a lot of questions from concerned Protestants, such as:

  • Now that he’s dumped you, will you still go to the Orthodox church?
  • Do you feel God is less approachable in prayer?
  • Where is ____ in the Bible?
  • Are the Orthodox Calvinists?

I attempted to answer these and many others with as much sense and grace as possible. I don’t miss the debates over Predestination/Calvinism vs. Free Will/Armenian. I don’t miss how some churches try to spice up their church service with new stage lights, decorations, a sermon series or bible study on the most recently published book, etc. I don’t miss the sanctuary being renamed to “Big Church” or “The Auditorium” or “God’s House” etc. I don’t miss the debates over “seeker sensitive” vs. “feeding the sheep.”

I definitely do not miss “P&W time” that is filled with repetitive words and bland music. (This will be its own post in the future).

I miss having a cup of coffee and breakfast before going to church.

02020011

Especially this last Sunday, I was seriously wanting pancakes and coffee with real cream. Between all the times I sang, “Lord, have mercy” or “Grant this, O Lord” and the longer hymns – I kept trying to focus on Christ triumphantly entering Jerusalem, “Hosanna in the Highest” … Coffee. Pancakes with eggs over easy.

For those of you unaware as to why this is a craving: If an Orthodox Christian is to partake of communion, he/she is to fast from bedtime/midnight until partaking of communion during Liturgy. There are other fasting guidelines during Lent, however, it still stays that if you are going to take communion, you should fast the night before and morning of. Some mornings, I feel fine. I make it through everything no complaint. Other mornings, there is a twinge, but I power through. The mornings like this past Sunday – I got to experience the grace of God and know that in my weakness he is strong. Mind you, I wasn’t all happy about this.

I was hungry. My back and knees hurt. (Lord, have mercy) I was sore. (Lord, have mercy) I was tired.  (Oh, thank God! We’re at the Creed.) I wanted nothing more than to cry and whine (When will I ever get to be parishioner that can sit whenever I want). My throat is drying out. (My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.)

Yet, even on these “bad days” where I long for my simple cup of coffee with a crossword before church, I’m reminded that my inner struggle is exactly why I need The Orthodox Church. One of the prayers for the Eucharist (Communion) asks that it be given to each according to his need. As I partake, I’m reminded again that the Eucharist is given “for the remission of sins and everlasting life.”

Some days, my prayer is that Christ continue to refine me. Show me where I need to forgive and love more. Other days, my prayer is that I be reminded that I need Christ more than coffee and comfortable Sunday mornings.

My other projects

Some friends and I recently began another blog, and I finally wrote my first post!

More fun to come on TRS, but nursing school has been kicking my rear along with all the new orientation classes at my hospital job.

We survived.

Dear officially single ladies/men,

Well, we made it through another Valentine’s Day.

Some of us tried to ignore the day all together. We didn’t wear red or pink. We limited our exposure to anything that eked of romance, love, or for that matter, kindness. It was just another day where everyone else was crazy, and we were the only neutral or sane party. The day is best spent in bed with vodka or other depressant drug of choice.

The bitter and jaded side is represented by those that tell others to, “Go f- yourself!” or other snarky responses that communicate, “I hate myself. I hate this day. I hate anyone who is remotely happy right now. Give me your chocolate.”

There is a combo of the bitter and jaded with an amicable personality. These are the people that share comics such as this one or these examples:

puritanvalentines

In the end, they wish others “Happy Valentine’s Day!” with a smile.

Then there is the attitude I’m working towards – enjoying the opportunity to appreciate those around you. While the world is in a chocolate coma, they still hand out the best candy options. No chalky message hearts for them. No Sponge Bob or Dora the Explorer valentines for them (unless consistent with their general personality).

It is hard to be ignored and single on a day that focuses on Cupid, St. Valentine, and Eros. Some years, “Girls’ Night” suffices. Sometime the guys in the college or singles groups would plan nice steak dinners. When I worked in a school, the student parties and fun of the day meant that kids dropped chocolate and cards at my feet. Even with cards, parties, and gifts, the loneliness still creeps in. For that I have no remedy.

But guess what? It’s February 15. The sun rose this morning. Whatever your adaptive or maladaptive coping mechanism was for yesterday, it’s done. Welcome to the rest of the year.

On Again, Off Again

In the flurry of nursing school, I failed to wrap up the summer online dating stories – not that there are many left. Based on my past few posts and that no excitement exudes from this writing, I think you already know the result.

I’ve been out of the loop so much regarding my online communicating that I completely forgot to delete one profile until I got an email 2 months after not visiting the site. Out of sight/site, out of mind apparently.

This time around, I chose two sites that I had never utilized before. One was specifically geared towards Orthodox Christians. My synopsis: do not waste your time. After this website and my two-part review of Heaven Help the Single Christian, I have become thoroughly convinced that Orthodox Christians do Liturgy and the Liturgical cycle very well. Yet, efforts to make Secular and Evangelical things “Ortho-friendly” are rather mediocre. Orthodox Online Dating has a horrible search function (takes for-ev-er to enter information then hard to get back to the results once you clicked a profile) and it’s trying to be a replacement for Orthodox Circle (if you don’t know what this is, you must have blinked) – which was bad to begin with. Thus, you’re taking two mediocre/badly organized things and melding them into one bigger mediocre/badly organized thing.

From the Ortho-world, I sent and received a few emails, but no significant communication from people I would want in my life permanently. Oh well. I guess it’s better to network the Matushkas and Presbyteras in my favor.

In case you’re wondering how I described myself, I provide the following:

The past 10 years have been full of change and growth for me: new career (from music teacher to nurse), new state (Kansas to Indiana) and new faith (Evangelical Christian to Orthodox Christianity). Yes, I’m a “pesky convert.” Anyway, I’ve grown a lot personally and spiritually since college and am looking for someone who will appreciate the personal work I’ve done. Other interests and activities: chanting, cooking, baking, entertaining/hospitality, blogging/journaling, times with friends, anything on BBC (i.e. Sherlock), and in the coming months I will LOVE to read my nursing textbooks… 😛

I have a strong desire to love people through hospitality and taking care of their physical needs in order that their emotional needs can then be met. This is part of the reason behind my career shift. It leaves plenty to talk about in my life along with never allowing it to be “boring.”

Also, when it came time to describe “the person I would like to meet”:

Points for: being pious/serious about his Orthdox faith, enjoys sharing hospitality, being clear with your intentions, being 5’10” (or taller) OR getting over your fear of me being taller than you. I’m 5’10” w/o heels….it’s a bit hard in Ortho-world to find guys taller than me.

Points off for: being a bad communicator, not having a direction or sense of direction for your life, and wanting a reptile for a pet.

Stay tuned for the next story…it’s a good one.

Passion and Purity

I mentioned this oldie-but-goodie previously. My fall break was spent Iowa being Auntie and having lots of playtime with preschoolers. We didn’t exactly master the maze, but they let me take a picture anyway:

I had no idea that a quick glance through my sister’s bookshelf would lead me to the words I desperately needed to hear at this point in my life.

If you’re Protestant, you have probably heard of Elisabeth Elliot; if you’re not familiar with her or her story, look here. Her first husband, Jim Elliot, was one of five American missionaries killed by the Auca Indians of Ecuador in 1956; the account was later told through the movie The End of the Spear in 2006. Among other books in theology and the stories of her mission work after her husband’s death, she published Passion and Purity in the early 80s, which became the gold standard of relationship advice by the time I was a teenager in the 1990s.

I skipped out on reading P&P, for reasons unknown, but read other books on courtship and what to do while waiting for marriage. I only became frustrated with each book I read and never liked the answers each author proposed.

With the niecephews asleep and little conversations among the adults, I skimmed the bookshelves and pulled out P&P. I rarely read introductions to books but this time I did. What first captivated me was the brief outline of her friendship, courtship, and marriage to Jim. 5 years – FIVE!!! YEARS! – between the time that Jim first announced his love for Elisabeth and when they married. He wasn’t even certain whether or not he was called to marriage when he confessed his feelings! The second aspect of her writing that made me realize I needed the wisdom of her journey was her honesty: the loneliness, impatience, the questions, the thoughts, the struggle, the silence.

It shocked and relieved me how verbally open both of them were with their mutual attraction. Yet, it made sense. If neither of them had to skirt around the “Does he/she like me?”, they could get on with the real questions of “What are my gifts and how am I to use them? Is marriage in God’s plan for me? Will our paths coincide for ministry?”

Where I was emotionally and spiritually in my teens and early 20s, I don’t think Passion and Purity would have been a good book for me to read. Had I read it then, I envision my thought pattern being something like the following:

Well, Elisabeth Elliot devoted herself to Christ and got what she wanted: marriage. Sure, it ended sadly with Jim’s martyrdom, but she at least got married and had a kid. Now she’s famous. So really, I just need to pressure and guilt myself into having a great relationship with Christ so life can go my way. Eventually, a nice guy will see what an awesome Christian I am and will prove himself worthy of my attention.

Yes, I like to think that I’m constantly on a pedestal.

Thankfully, I read P&P now after a few bad relationships and multiple confusing situations. Here are the better thoughts:

It was a hard 5 years. But her first commitment was to Christ, yet even in the face of all that happened, she didn’t manipulate circumstances to be near Jim, distract him, nor deny her own calling for ministry to “make things happen”. She was honest with her circumstances and sinfulness. She had to give everything to Christ, sometimes minute by minute.

I agreed with most everything that Elisabeth and Jim shared (she printed several of his letters), except for one view of marriage. Their reticence towards marriage was expressed through a “if you’re married, you can’t be as committed to Christ.” Granted, Orthodoxy acknowledges that marriage can divide one’s attention, yet marriage is part of salvation rather than distracting from it.

Without divulging too many details for my complicated life and why I needed Mrs. Elliot’s words of wisdom, here’s the short story:

This past summer, an acquaintance and I crossed paths during his cross-country travels. It became apparent during this visit that the chemistry both of us felt during our previous meetings needed to be addressed. Being able to hear his opinions and say what I felt was a relief for me – to finally have things out in the open where they could be discussed without the other going “Huh?” Yet, the timing couldn’t have been worse: we live half a continent apart and both of us have 2 years of schooling left.

The words, “I don’t do long-distance” at first were a let-down. A week later, they felt like a ton of bricks. It’s a tough place to be and one that will drive me to further prayer and conversations, though honestly, it’s driven me more to some tears and cries of, “Seriously, God!!! Ugh!” I am not approaching this as having a “back-up” in place if no one else comes along, nor is that how I’m encouraging him to feel. Honestly, who wants to be told, “Well, nothing else is working, so you’ll do.” I still struggle with how to handle any subsequent visits we’ve had –having a clear calling does not make me immune to hormones or free from distractions.

And while my situation has distinct differences from the Elliot’s, I needed to hear of her experience. I don’t have a man who has expressed his love and affection for me solely. But I have an opportunity to pray, to follow my calling through nursing school, to not manipulate circumstances, and to make certain my commitment is to Christ. I am guaranteed nothing with this or any other relationship opportunity. And unless my life and faith is based on Christ and practiced in the Church, I can not face the trials to come, single or married.

The above picture is titled: It’s MY Blog, it’s my picture, I can insert it randomly in posts if I want!!!

Fall Break

TRS spent her fall break in the Ice Cream Capitol of the World. So much fun with the niecephews!

After they went to bed, there was about a half hour spent checking email, Facebook, and other random stuff. I looked through the bookshelf in the guest room for some light reading and found this:

In all my years as a good, church-going girl, I never read the gold standard of dating. I read Quest for Love, Lady in Waiting, and I Kissed Dating Goodbye, but somehow this one passed me by. Maybe I thought I got all the wisdom in the other books. Or maybe since I read other things about the Elliots, I thought I knew what she would say.

What I didn’t realize is how applicable her words and wisdom would be to me. I devoured the book – in less than 4 hours.

Review and more thoughts later. I have to get my homework done.

Happy New Year!

I was sifting through my drafts and found that I had yet to post this goody from WAY back. Originally on Facebook Wednesday, September 2, 2009. I had yet to fully convert to Orthodoxy, but I was getting there. I missed posting this for this year’s Induction (September 1). Forgive me.

====================================================== A Year

Quotes….2

Still sorting through some of the scraps of paper from moving. Yesterday, I shared some from my friend who has a lot of wisdom and wit.

Today, I share the thoughts and quotes from a particularly hard time in my life. I had been hurt. I didn’t know where forgiveness and healthy boundaries intersect. So, I did what every rational Orthodox female should do: go meet with her priest and cry.

I highly recommend this solution. I was given several things to think about in that meeting.

One from Archimandrite Vassilios (unsourced):

If God honors you with suffering, then the grace of God will come and teach you what can not be taught.

I was also given three tools for the process of forgiveness:

  1. Pity those who hurt you, because they are pitiful
  2. Pray for your oppressors by name
  3. Forgive and let go.

It is only now in typing these that I realize this is exactly what Christ did on the cross.

I also find it funny that as a Protestant, I saw my dad draw out various scriptural truths and the path to salvation on napkins. Now that I’m Orthodox, various quotes of the Church Fathers and Elders are given to me on napkins. Some things never change.

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