Moms

I am not a mother.

Yet, last night at a baby shower, I had a wonderful time chatting with mothers of all sorts. I still feel new to my church community, even though I’ve been attending faithfully since moving about two years ago. I love how the community is adjusting to the changes – they celebrate births, baptisms, marriages, chrismations. And they mourn together and help when someone of the community has a physical or spiritual need.

I am so thankful for the opportunity last night to talk with those moms and women of my community.

I started the evening talking with a mom adjusting to her high school freshman daughter. She’s asking herself, “How do I help her find her way, but let her do it?” She recognizes the talents, brains, and abilities and is excited to see how her daughter will use them. But is also wondering how to let go and give her daughter room.

Mom B is lively with three college-age and beyond kids. One is planning a wedding, one seriously dating, and one still trying to figure out life.

Mom C has 3 children under the age of 8. Her baby has multiple food allergies, and since she’s nursing, she has to cut those foods out. Her other two are a lively handful and she’s homeschooling. She was so vulnerable in sharing that some of the negative behaviors she sees in her children, she knows they got from her. Thus, to have her children change and nurture their spirit, she has to change.

Mom D was the guest of honor and will be a new mom after only one year of marriage. I’ve loved getting to know her these months; she’s so chill and relaxed with the perfect amount of sarcasm.

In this period of my life where I’m engaged and preparing for marriage and the possibility of motherhood, I am always struck with how open these and other women have been with their lives. I’m honored that they want to know me and my struggles in this time as well.  Some have shared the worst parts of their engagements and marriages with me. They shared their children’s delights and joy; they shared their struggles, fears, and what is at the heart of their prayers. This is not as a “WARNING: RUN NOW!” but rather an encouragement to build the good foundation and habits in my marriage and (eventual) parenting.

I guess this is a “fluffy” post where I can pinpoint the exact “meaning” of my experience. It’s amazing how going through drastic changes in my life allows people to feel confident in sharing their joyful and difficult experiences. And maybe that is the “glue” of a community.

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Why I’ve been absent…

One semester left.

That’s what I keep telling myself.

One semester. 16 weeks. Just keep going.

Part of being absent has been not figuring out how to process my patients’ and my story for blogging. You know, HIPPA and all that. I find there is meaning in their lives, and I want to say more than “wow, I worked in a hospital with patients today” but some people will make you believe THAT is too much.

Anyway, there’s another reason I’ve been more absent. Blogging was a way for me to process, and lately, someone else has gotten my verbal processing.

Someone who took me here, after we attended a family wedding over the weekend:DSCF2370

And did this, next to Bridal Veil Falls:DSCF2372

Although, I was so excited/shocked/”Is this really happening??” that I didn’t even give him time to ask. I just said “Yes!” several times, until I realized that I completely stole his thunder. To which I said, “Um, I assume you were going to ask me to marry you?” Then he showed me the ring, and because everyone asks for a close-up:DSCF2375The only down-side of getting proposed to at Niagara Falls is that you are right on the line between US and Canadian cell service. I had to wait until we were off Goat Island and 5 miles on US soil before I could call my own parents!

 

Dating a Seminarian

I entered a new frontier the past summer – I’m “in a relationship.” But as this requires as much adjustment and introspection as being single, don’t think that my blog has suddenly lost its purpose.

Yep, you heard me, being single – a content single – requires as much introspection and processing as dating someone.

Anyway, my boyfriend is an Orthodox Seminary graduate. With my involvement over at Orthogals, it was suggested that I write an advice feature on dating a seminarian. Since this would involve his life, I ran the idea past him. The conversation:

Me: So, the Orthogals are wondering if I can write a feature on dating a seminarian. What do you think?
Him: Um, I don’t think that’s a good idea.
Me: (seeing his reticence and suddenly being aware of the personal nature of it) On second thought, maybe not.
Him: Actually, let me give you my advice for dating a seminarian – DON’T.
Me: Yeah, if people actually look at the demands life will have on that family, they wouldn’t seek it out.

Later, I was chatting with my priest about life and how mine was shaping up. In hearing that my relationship involved a seminarian, my priest offered his wife as a resource to me. Of note, Preoteasa is the Romanian equivalent to the Arabic Khouria and Russian Matushka – all are terms of respect for the priest’s wife. In my parish, it has been abbreviated to “P’sa.” The conversation as follows:

Me: Your husband volunteered you as a source of advice for me.
P’sa: Oh? For what?
Me: Dating a seminarian.
P’sa: Run. Run FAR away. 

So, ladies, there you have it from both the potential priest and the wife of one – don’t seek out that position and enter with caution if you do get called.

 

When The End Comes

Sorry that I’ve been absent for so long. There has been so much to juggle the past few months, and since I have a few people with whom I can verbally process my life, I guess blogging hasn’t been a top priority. I have plans to fill in some of my thoughts and experiences from the summer, but they will have to wait.

The reason for this entry, however, is that last night I received word from Stewie that The Brain finished his battle/war with ALS.

While I hate that a terrible disease has taken yet another person in such a cruel way, my emotion is not so much based on anger or depression or bitterness. I am actually relieved to know that he fought his battle in the only way he could and was able to let go. I am relieved to know that Stewie will have the opportunity to sleep through the night for the first time in over 2 years. I am relieved to know that The Brain was able to let go of this life and not give up hope.

I’m sure there will be more writings and musings of my grieving. But they will be dampened as I do not feel my life will make as much of an adjustment compared with others.

I have been struck the past few months in how complete the prayers of Orthodoxy are for the human experience. When we let go of our pride that says only extemporaneous or spontaneous prayers are best, we find a vast wealth of wisdom. So, I leave you with several of the prayers available in the Orthodox Prayer Book published by Holy Protection Monastery in Colorado (aka “The Blue Romanian Prayer Book”)

Oh good Lord, remember Your servant(s) _______ and forgive them all in which they have transgressed in their lives, for only You are without sin and can grant rest to the departed. In Your divine wisdom and love for mankind, You bestow all things and provide for all the needs of man. O Creator, rest the souls of Your servants _____ who have placed their hope in You, O Lord, the Fashioner, the Creator and our God. Amont the saints, O Christ, rest the souls of Your servants where there is neither pain nor grief nor sighing, but life everlasting.

In one of my conversations with The Brain before I left for nursing school, he expressed to me his fear of being forgotten after his death. So, I now can pray the words I reassured to him that day: Memory eternal.

 

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.

When The End is Near

The past two weeks The Brain has been in rapid decline. I am thankful I was able to see him over Memorial Day when an hour-long conversation did not take all his energy for the day. Besides, since last Thanksgiving, I try to do most of the talking. He has recently consented to swapping out his usual king-sized mattress for a hospital bed and does not balk at any medication interventions to control secretions or pain. From what I read in updates, he is not uncomfortable but there is a huge battle with peripheral edema that refuses to go down. Edema, or swelling, is a sign that the kidneys are not motivated to keep filtering the extra water and usual waste products out of the body.

We talked about ALS our last day of lecture in Med-Surg 2 along with other “chronic neurological disorders.” I had to work hard to not dominate the discussion. The question was posed to the class, “What do you tell a patient who asks you if there is a cure for ALS?”

Under my breath I muttered, “You tell them to plan their last vacation.”

When going over some of the collaborative care for ALS, a group recommended Physical Therapy along with some other options. I spoke up and said that physical therapy is good, but the patient is not going to improve over time. Rather, massage therapy might be better as it had been beneficial for The Brain. Unused muscles cramp up and become rigid; if the patient will allow a massage therapist to work with the muscles early on, the later neuropathy due to muscle atrophy is greatly reduced. Having helped multiple people move or even roll in bed, those with loose muscles are MUCH easier than those with rigid and spastic muscles.

As I said earlier, hospice nursing is different. You know that your patient will not beat their disease or win the battle with their body. I knew when I first started working for The Brain and Stewie that there would be an end; I just didn’t know if I would be working for them when it came.

My prayer has not changed nor has my view of reality to the situation. Reality is merely coming into focus more clearly, along with the true reality that we are all given the gift of our lives, and we get to share those with others. I am continually thankful for Stewie and The Brain sharing theirs with me, even as ALS is sneaking around the back for its last hurrah.

Thus, as always, Lord have mercy.

It still happens in your 30s…

I’m in my early 30s and still “open to a relationship.”

This past weekend, I had my first Skype conversation with a man I’d been introduced to online (via friends – you don’t always have to go through a site to be online dating, I guess.) This means that we enjoyed each other’s written words and recent pictures enough that the conversation warranted the next step: the video chat. Anyway, we had been emailing back and forth for a few weeks, and our respective schedules had finally cleared up to where we set the time.

The day of said Skype date, you want to know what happened? No, massive storms and internet outages didn’t occur. No catastrophes.

I developed a painful pimple on my chin.

When I felt it brewing the night before, I just had to chuckle. Seriously? The stuff that plagues you as a teenager the day before Prom still happens before a first date in your 30s???

Thankfully, Skype doesn’t always have the best of pictures, so a little make-up went a long way. But you want to know the other funny thing about having your first coffee date over the interwebs (other than it being Dutch treat?)… you only have to look good from waist up! Thank you bare feet and cooperative hair!

It was a good conversation. Enough that there are to be more in the future. In the mean time, I guess I’m going to dig out my benzol peroxide and keep looking for the ultimate face wash.

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.

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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.

Fortune Cookie Predicts Lent

Today, I attended a Health Literacy in-service. While there are plenty of things I could blog about from my 6.25 contact education hours, I would like to focus on my fortune from lunch.

A WISH WILL BE GRANTED AFTER A LONG DELAY.

I didn’t think that Chinese restaurants and fortune cookie companies knew about Lent. I have been wishing intently for cheese and meat and bacon and… …

6-ish weeks of Lent. Yep, I’d say that’s a long delay.

Still Going, Still Waiting

I woke up Saturday morning thinking about The Brain and Stewie. It has been a while since I wrote an update on his condition and life in their house. Stewie keeps me and a few other close friends posted on their daily activities and The Brain’s downward progress. Until medical research gives the world another picture of disease progression, there’s only one way for a person with ALS to progress  – downhill.

Saturday, shortly after I woke up, I thought of The Brain and all that has changed for him and Stewie since I left them in August. And I finally did something I’ve been needing to for about a month – I cried. The Brain is such a fighter, and if it weren’t for BiPAP machines that help him breathe, I am certain he would not still be alive. The news of this last week is that The Brain is losing more control over the last of his voluntary muscular functions (I’m toning this down for those of you more squeamish). He’s also battling over-production of saliva along with less ability to swallow. The risk of him falling out of equipment to help transfer him in and out of his wheelchair grows everyday. What he can eat without choking is a dwindling list. When he sleeps, his breathing pattern changes.

Someone asked me recently what I thought his timeline was, beings that The Brain has outlived every one of my guesses. I could only respond by saying the disease is a waiting game. Lungs with less than 10% of their usual function that are hardening will eventually stop oxygenating his body. For now, only one day at a time.

I’m heavily distracted tonight. Some of it is Lent (Remember, I’m Orthodox. Easter/Pascha hasn’t happened yet). Some of it is school – Oh, the guilt of my studying doused with heavy distractions never being enough. But I know part of my mind-wandering is The Brain and wondering how he is really doing.

How odd to be in the midst of Lent with The Brain and Stewie always in the back of my mind. This is a time of spiritual refocusing that culminates in the proclamation that “CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH. AND UPON THOSE IN THE TOMBS BESTOWING LIFE!” So, here I am to be celebrating the Risen Christ and the Hope he gives us over death, yet, each day greets The Brain with the reality that he is closer to death. While each of us is closer everyday, how much more sobering to see a person for whom it is a present reality rather than a passing thought.

During the Paschal service, we are reminded of the power of our Hope in Christ. “O Death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory?”

It still doesn’t mean that while The Brain is alive I don’t feel the sting of his or Stewie’s suffering.

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