The Wallet

The Wallet

 

“My escape is to just get in a boat and disappear on the water. ” Carl Hiaasen

Boys of all ages and shapes love the freedom and excitement of a boat ride on a full lake in May.  There is a freedom on the water.  Hair blowing, sunglasses on, the smell of gasoline…all is well at the beginning of summer.

Just a couple of months after my son turned 16, he and a school friend were out on the upper Lake Hartwell in our little blue skiff enjoying those first days of summer break.  Of course, these radiant waters, like the sirens to the Greek sailors of yore, were calling my teen boys to test the parameters of the new Yamaha engine we had just installed.  They had to make and crest waves.  They had to turn donuts.  And, they had to push the ability of the small craft to stay afloat amidst a variety of maneuvers mixed with speed and wind.   Ultimately, what happened next was quite predictable.  They flipped the boat and swamped all the contents.  Paddles and jackets and half consumed water bottles could be seen floating along with a plastic bag and briefly, a hat.  Although stunned, the big boys weren’t injured and were able to right the small boat and return home.

As the adrenaline wore off,  the teens began to work through all the things that were in the boat just minutes before it went asunder.  There were water bottles, food packages, fishing poles and tackle, sunglasses, wallets, and cell phones.

“Oh no!  My wallet was in my pocket!” was the gasp I heard.  “All the gift cards I got from my birthday were in the wallet.”

“Did you have cash in there?”  his dad inquired.

“Maybe $5 – $10 bucks,” was the assessment.

For months, stories were told of the perilous incident.  Various theories surfaced of how the boat flipped, where it happened, and why the boys were able to right the craft.   Everybody  was profoundly grateful that the boys were safe and that the whole business only amounted to  some lost items.  We were thankful God had spared them from their own bad judgments.

And…just as quickly as that fantastic summer-freedom feeling came, it went.  Like the release of water from Hartwell Dam on a sweltering August day, those carefree times were gone.  Summers, Christmases, proms and graduations whirled by in a fast current of ceaseless days.

Then, on a recent December afternoon, a package arrived at our non lake house.   The padded manila envelope was addressed to my oldest, now almost 22.  Home for the holiday, he found the package and opened it.

“Ya’ll come here and see this!” was the call.  The family gathered ’round our kitchen counter while he emptied the contents onto the flat surface.

What took place next was truly astonishing.  Carefully, and with great curiosity, my son opened a flat and dingy rectangular object.  We all stood there gazing, and upon closer inspection, realized what it was!!  A smile of recognition came to my boy’s lips.

“This is my wallet!”  he blasted.  “This is the wallet I lost when we flipped the skiff.”

Sure enough!  It was the wallet of a 16 year old boy, a perfect time capsule of a by-gone era.  The wallet, lost by a boy, was now opened by a man!  The case itself was constructed of grey duct tape.  The contents, although water battered,  were undisturbed:  gift cards, a driver’s license and a library card.  The remnants of a heavily water tattered $5 and $1 bill were displayed along with a few tarnished coins.  And, there was a note.  The note told of how the young finder had seen the wallet near the boat ramp on GA 123 in Toccoa, GA.  She collected the wallet and intended to return it to its owner, but, as often happens, time got the better deal and it ended up in the top drawer of a dresser.  The writer of the note, finding the wallet one morning and realizing it had not been returned, mailed it to my son along with a little sticky note affixed inside:  “Looks like you had a $1 and a $5 in the wallet — Thought I would replace that for you.  Cherish the memory!”

 

I was at a loss for words, which is unusual!  What a kind and generous thing to do, return a water-logged, trashed duct-taped wallet to a kid you will likely never meet!!

While my son was contemplating the gift cards, I was struck by the generosity of a person I will never be able to thank!  A person who took the time to be kind!  That can be a rare thing.  But, people are good!  Lake people are good and I will cherish the memory.

We Got the Grad!

We Got the Grad!

There’s a lot of hype associated with getting that perfect graduation picture.   You know, that intense feeling that you need a perfect memory of you with your first born child wearing  his college regalia right after the ceremony.   Throw in some traditions like, “your grandfather had his picture taken from this very spot” or “all graduates take their pictures by the this campus feature” and you have the perfect storm.

It was the morning after my son’s graduation.   All smiles, we approached the quintessential grad photo location on Florida State’s palm studded campus:  Westcott Fountain.   Dozens of happy parents and students were waiting for their “moment” to take a picture with their grad in front of the historic fountain.  Both my husband and I had our pictures taken here some 30 years before.   Of course we would wait forty five minutes in the heat for our perfect picture moment.  This was “what you did!”

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There was plenty of joking and playing around while we waited.  It was a glorious day; that North Florida heat was beating down on the bald and the young.

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I nervously tinkered with my aged camera, checking out my lenses in the sun, working my filters.

Finally, we were up.  I told the folks behind us, ” We may be a minute. There are quite a few of us.”  The group behind us looked at their watches, “No problem.  We’ll give you a couple of minutes.”

Yikes!  A couple of minutes to get four grandparents, five kids, an uncle and a best friend into a picture, all looking the right direction, all in focus, all smiling.  This is going to be fun.

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First, we got the graduate.  That was easy, a few lens changes and the lighting was fine.  Then more joined.  Finally, we got the whole bunch and had the best friend take the family group shot.  Whew!  What a relief!

We can use these for our Christmas picture…what a great looking family…so proud of our graduate…isn’t she a neat mom with her camera set up… you go girl…now we can get out of the heat…isn’t that lady together! These thoughts and more went through my mind.

By now, we had been moved off to the side for the next group’s time in the sun.

“Momma Naz,” I heard Chase say.  “I think I got some good pictures.”

“Thank you for taking ’em!” was my reply.

“I didn’t happen to hear a shutter click though.  You must have a really quiet camera,” he added.

“What?” my hyped-mamma, camera ears heard the words you never want to hear.

“There was no click? What do you mean you didn’t hear the shutter?”  I ran over, grabbed the camera and scrolled to the most recent shot.  There were no family pictures.  No pictures with grandparents.  No picture with my Uncle who had driven up from Port Richey.  No Christmas card shot!  My heart sunk.  Chase had taken the cell pictures first and, after the delay,  the camera had automatically shut off!

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Ugggg! What are we going to do now?   I had to think fast.

The older family members were melting.  Tempers were flaring.

“Well get ’em off the cell phone,” said the graduate.

The grandparents and the favorite uncle left.

Tears were starting to come.

“NO!!”  I suddenly felt like Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!  We would get that damn picture.

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I took a side angle of our group in front of the camera hoping no one would get too upset with us.  I prepped Chase on how to turn on a camera.

Round two was shot, with mostly smiles but a few growls.  I ran to the camera.  Better to check just in case.    The horror!  Every frame was blurry!!

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“Let’s get out of here!” was the agitated command from the rear.   The graduate gave an evil eye.

“NO!”  Clark Griswold snapped again.  We will do this!   I prepped Chase on how NOT to turn the camera to manual focus.  “Keep it on AutoFocus,” I barked.

Round three. Half grunts, twisted lips and mangled brows, but we got it in focus.  Strangely, I felt vindicated, like someone had done me some wrong and now we were even.  Maybe it was my sun-baked brain telling me that taking pictures is my only important role in the world.

The truth is, no one did me wrong and I’m not a great photographer.   I just got too hyped up about getting some stupid graduation photos.  And, of course, Murphy’s Law kicked in to remind me that my priorities were all wrong.

Of course, there are more important things!  We got the grad!  Whether I captured a decent picture or not, he’s still a grad. He finished it and I am so proud of him!

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peake mom &

Confessions of a Previously Pro-Choice Woman

Confessions of a Previously Pro-Choice Woman

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There’s been a lot of talk lately about life, abortion and women’s rights.

I’ve been thinking about my own struggle with these issues.  Perhaps my story can give perspective to others who grapple with these things.

As an only child, I grew up in a home with two loving parents, both of whom wanted to limit their family size to one!  My mother, influenced by the thinking of the day, was concerned that there would not be enough global resources to support the world’s growing population by the year 1980.  My father, who had two children from a previous marriage, was reluctant to even have a third child.  This small, quiet environment of restricted society was my crucible.

As I grew older, and went to college, I was convinced that it was absolutely outrageous that women should be straddled with all of the burden of pregnancy, especially when men can walk away at any time.  The idea that our society didn’t hold men accountable at the same level as women for the caring and raising of children — that was egregious to me!  So, I became all about pro-choice.  A woman had a right to choose if she wanted to keep her child!  What if, God forbid, a woman was raped!  Or, what if, the young girl was pregnant and couldn’t support a child because she was still in school?  These questions plagued me.

At this point, I never considered the child. The child never played a role in any of these scenarios.

Somewhere along the way though, God changed my heart.  It didn’t happen all at once, like at a seminar or during a sermon.  It happened because He, in His infinite wisdom, changed the way I thought about children.

Maybe, the change began when my husband and I were unable to have a child as soon as we decided, “Let’s get pregnant!”  Two years, several fertility treatments and a lot of prayer brought our first child, a boy.  It was during that experience that I realized how precious life is, and how wonderful it is to welcome a new baby into the family!

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At first, I wanted to have “a couple of kids” like everyone else.  “Maybe we’ll have a boy and a girl, ” I told my husband.

But, when I found out I was pregnant with my third, I was irate with my hubby!

“How could you do this to me?”  “Everyone is going to think we are freaks!”  I yelled in a hormonal fit!  Three kids, this close together is not what I signed up for!

My loving, non-reactionary husband, was calm.

“You are going to be okay!  I don’t give a damn what people think! I am excited that we have another beautiful life coming into our lives.”

His words were reassuring.  But I had a ways to go.

After my third child, a friend gave me a magazine called Above Rubies.  This publication devoted to encouraging mothers was a concentration of articles and testimonies focused on the joy of having children and families!  I devoured this reading and the seed was planted that children, (note the plural)  are a gift, not a burden.

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Surprisingly, I now wanted a fourth child, and wasn’t mad when I discovered we were pregnant yet again.

Unfortunately, with this pregnancy, a new struggle occurred. In public, complete strangers would stare and make comments about my family as if I were “irresponsible” to have yet “another” child. “Are all of those yours?” they would ask.  “You know what causes that, don’t you?” They would question sarcastically as they saw my rounded belly! Sometimes, I think people just wanted to make conversation, but other times, you could tell that a person was truly agitated that we were making “too many” babies!

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My father showed up at the birth of my fourth. He was smiling and gave me a dime.  “Put this between your knees and squeeze!”  He chuckled. “It’s the natural form of birth control.” He thought he was being cute. Holding my newborn son in my arms I looked at him and thought, “Which one of your four siblings would you want to erase, Dad?” I kept silent.

Still I continued to receive pressure from both family and friends to “quit having kids already.”

My uncle said to me when I was pregnant with my fifth, “Isn’t that about enough?” This is quite an audacious query to put before an eight-month pregnant lady!  Why did he feel he had the right to make such a comment?  I really believe he thought I was out-of-line to have more than my share of children.

In 1957, journalist Mike Wallace interviewed Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood.  In this interview, Sanger revealed what became an agenda to change the way our society thinks about fertility:  “I think the greatest sin in the world is bringing children into this world.”  My uncle, like so many in our culture, had bought into this line of thinking.

“You guys can do whatever you want, but I think you’re crazy,” a close family member told me one day when I told her of my impending fifth birth. How is a young mother to deal with this kind of pressure?

Looking back, I realize that the struggles I’ve had with abortion, birth control, family life and women’s rights are all related!  There is a culture in our country, perhaps even the dominate culture, that doesn’t value children.  Many don’t see children as a gift from God.  Many don’t see them as precious.  Rather, many around us see children as a burden, an expense, a hassle.   As a nation, I believe we aren’t going to progress on this issue until we address this pervasive thinking.

Our ideas about abortion won’t be changed at the clinic or at the women’s march.  Our ideas about life and family will only be changed in the heart when God shows us that we are more complete, more joyful even, when we give of ourselves to others and to our children.

To wrap this up, I want to tell you about something that miraculously happened in my dad’s heart with the birth of my fifth!  When I told him that we would be having another baby he said, “I am glad.  You are a good mother.”  He came to the hospital and held his new grandson.  “You did good!” he said softly.  What a change in this man!

God is the healer of hearts, the changer of minds and the giver of children!!  Glory be to Him!

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Who is Saint Angelina?

Who is Saint Angelina?

My relationship with her began in 2005 when my priest Father Jacob Myers asked, “Who is your patron saint?”  I looked at him intently, “What is that?”

“That is the saint whose name you take on as a Christian when you are Chrismated into the Orthodox Church.

“Oh!” I responded, feeling as if I were somehow incomplete.

Sitting at his disheveled desk, he shuffled with some papers and leaned slightly back in his chair. “You should have Saint Angelina as your Saint,” Father flung the name at me with a wry smile. “She is a wonderful mother of boys.  You will be good for each other!”

“…good for each other?”  What did Father mean by that comment?  I am a mother of boys. I pondered the idea for a while and then a small boy probably came over and rubbed his nose on my skirt and that was the end of the discussion!  From that moment on, St. Angelina of Serbia was my saint-name.

For the next 10 years, each time I approached the Holy Eucharist, Father would address me as, “Servant of God, Angelina.”  This title agreed with me, but I was much too busy to go beyond merely accepting what Father Jacob told me about Angelina.  With five children at home, a husband, a part-time job and a new faith to learn, I had my hands full.

St. Angelina of Serbia

 

Then, one day last year, I got to thinking about Angelina and how we would be good for each other.  Before I could really get to know my saint, I had to tackle my hurdle about saints and their roles in our lives.  Why know these people, I thought?  Why have a saint-name?  It took about 10 years of being an Orthodox Christian before I could honestly answer these questions.

As a lay person from a non-Orthodox background, this is how I have come to understand the idea of saints and their roles in our lives.  The saints of the church are men and women who have proclaimed and followed Jesus Christ.  Some followed Him all of their lives; some followed only at the end, but all made a decision to follow.  Many lived their earthly lives before the common era.  All of these godly people struggled and persevered in the face of persecution, rejection, horrible circumstances or spiritual trials. Now,they are at the feel of Jesus praying.

Having a saint-name is a holy privilege.  As children adopted into the family of God, our saint-name is our spiritual family name and reminds us that we are part of God’s earthly and heavenly family.  Having a patron saint directly connects us with a spiritual family member who has already gone through this life with its struggles and trials.

Knowing your saint is like knowing an elderly relative who has already lived through your season of life.  She has been there and is already at the feet of Christ praying for you.  And, just as you might ask your great aunt to pray for you with a job situation or a new marriage, you can ask your saint to pray for you and she will.

Once I began to understand and be cool with this mystical idea that saints know us, care about us and pray for us, then it was easy to take the next step.  And that step was getting to know Angelina and her life.

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St. Angelina of Serbia, who lived nearly 600 years ago, was a godly mother and wife. She was married to St. Stephen Brankovich and together they had two boys. She was made a widow by the Ottoman Turks, who gouged out her husband’s eyes.  Together, with her boys, she relocated her husband’s relics to his beloved homeland of Serbia. In spite of this and the persecution she received at the hands of the Ottomans, she continued to raise her sons to an adulthood of faithfulness. Angelina was devoted to prayer and acts of mercy all of her life.  Today, St. Angelina is the most revered saint in Serbia along with St. Militza!  What a legacy.

As a model of prayer, a woman of charity and a mother of love and kindness, St. Angelina has already been good for me!  This 15th century woman of God reminds me daily that living a life of prayer and humility in a self-oriented culture that devalues faith and family is the most important thing.  In her icon, we see her holding a small cathedral, which symbolizes that she is  a pillar of the church.

After writing  and pondering, I looked around and realized we didn’t have an icon of St. Angelina at church.  So, in December, I got together with my godson and we made a couple of wooden icons, one of the Dormition of the Theotokos and one of St. Angelina.

Seeing Angelina frequently reminds me of that important thing that Fr. Jacob told me, “that we would be good for each other.”  If I am to meet my end of the bargain, I’ve got to get walking in her footsteps.

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Angelina of Serbia

I Want My Wife to be a Successful Person

I Want My Wife to be a Successful Person

It was one of those magical days that come between Christmas and New Years.  The 3rd day of Christmas to be exact.  The family was all together,  the gifting and cooking and church going was complete and kids and parents alike were in holiday happiness.  A short trip was scheduled over to the cabin where fireside chats, woodland walks, and evening games would  ensue with neighbors.

On our family road trips, sometimes an older teen, to the interest of those present, will open up like a March blooming camellia and start talking. This is notable because traveling teens have ear buds in and screens going.  True interaction will come after a coffee stop or a gas station break.  The officious teen will lead a robust discussion in the tight space of a vehicle traveling at 65 mph.  “Is Wal-Mart better than Target?”  “Does Global Warming really come from cow farts?” and “Has Homeschooling scarred  me for life?” are a few of our most recent, vital topics.   Most everyone in the large SUV will participate in these conversations, although at times they can get overly intense.  On this occasion, it was my 21 year old who was speculating on the future.

“And, do you want your wife to stay at home with the kids?” asked a younger son to the older.

“Well, she doesn’t have to.   I want her to be a successful person.  But, if staying home is what she wants to do, I’ll support it. ”

The bomb had dropped.  It dropped on me like a rotten peach in a gusty Georgia thunderstorm.  It was the word successful that flattened me.

The others continued on with the conversation, but my mind drifted inward.  Looking out at the barren trees and slick highway, I contemplated the comment: “I want my wife to be a successful person.”  Well there is certainly nothing wrong with that.  I want his wife to be successful too.  I want everyone to be successful.  But, somehow this comment mirrored back.

What is success?  And, do I need to be doing something outside the home to be successful?

Can a modern woman, who spends 20 + years raising and homeschooling children rather than pursuing a career outside the home be considered successful?  Is raising children a worthy career?

These questions welled up inside me.

“I’m going to get my resume done this year,” I thought.

I didn’t say anything for awhile and the conversation moved onto another topic, like “Was Fidel Castro a fascist or a communist?”

“This conversation isn’t about me,” I wagered silently and was able to keep my mouth shut.  My boys will figure out how to run their own families.

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I would like to tell you that I figured it all out that day and that all is well with my psyche. I could also sit here with my laptop and my cup of tea and tell you that there is a Bible verse somewhere that tells me I’m doing the right thing.   But, that is not the point of this post.  The point is that I still struggle with my identity and my role in this world.  I wrangle with being  important or successful.  I grapple with being a quality role model for my daughter.  And, the truth is, I’ll probably continue this tussle until I get on the other side of this child-rearing season.  After all, there are lovely women in my family who manage to effectively juggle both career and motherhood.  I will have to see them and hear their praises.  The point is, I have to get “cool” with what I am doing and not worry about what others think or do.  I’ve got to see my glass as full.  I was supposed to do that in my 20’s!  But, alas, here we are three decades later, still chipping away.   Maybe, 2017 will be different.  This is the hope we have at the beginning of something new:  that we can change and grow and do things better!  It is the hope we have in Jesus: That He will prepare us in His good timing!

Happy New Year to each of you!  May it be blessed with peace and joy and new beginnings!

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Mission Life:  Squeezing Your Sponge!

Mission Life: Squeezing Your Sponge!

I have a lot to say about mission life!  So, I’m going to write several posts about this over the next few weeks.

Basically, what I want to say about mission life are these things:  1. It’s busy, 2. it’s hard, 3. it’s good for the soul,  4. everyone should try it sometime.

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preparing for baptism

Jesus on the cross

Chrismation

 

What is mission life anyway?  Mission life is small and the amount of responsibilities taken on by those who are there is large.  Mission churches typically have 25 families or less.  Our church has about 15 families. In a mission, you are trying to achieve everything a full parish does, trying to have the complete life of the church.  But, you have less families working at it.  So, as the adage goes, “It’s all hands on deck.”  This makes church life BUSY!  On any typical Sunday, I’m greeting people at the door, making sure there are bowls for coffee hour, plugging  in the coffee after the creed, adjusting the thermometer because we’re all sweating and possibly singing in the choir.   A teenager chants, serves behind the altar and helps on the building committee.  Little kids pass out bulletins and make the lemonade for coffee hour.   There’s no staff, employees or janitor.  So, we are all cleaning, cooking, and serving.

By its very nature, mission life is hard.  There aren’t already established programs.  There may not be people in your age group or station in life.  The church probably doesn’t have a cry room.  The priest may visit monthly or live out of town.  You know everyone really, really well.  Probably too well. It’s too easy to say something that is really stupid. You have to show up without makeup sometimes. Kids get too comfortable with the surroundings and don’t always act appropriately.  If you don’t show up,  perhaps there will be no choir or no coffee.

But, and this refers to # 3 above, it’s good for you.   Mission work is work that really matters.  We are bringing the ancient faith to a place where there was none before.  We are making an impact here for Christ.  People are coming to the faith.  Those of us working in the mission are being saved by grace.  Our salvation is literally being worked out here in the midst of this endeavor.  Why is this?  Because we are struggling here.  We are struggling with ourselves and with each other.  When we continue to show up here every week and assume these roles, we are growing!  When our kids have to take on roles they wouldn’t really choose, they are growing as men and women of God.  When we learn to repent for saying stupid things for the 5th time, we are learning to remain silent.

If God gives you the chance, you should participate in getting a church off the ground.  Why?  Because you have to squeeze your sponge and let the others drink!  How would the church grow if not for that?  At some point, you have to figure you aren’t going to be here forever and you might as well give back.  Mission life isn’t easy, but it’s good. Squeezing our sponges, giving back what we’ve been given, is the Mission life.

Dedicating the space for Christ and His church

Orthodox Mission Life

Stop and Feel the Foam

Stop and Feel the Foam

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Here comes the foam moving up the beach, first in flat white sheets,

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then piling up into cloud-like banks!

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Sometimes you gotta stop and feel the foam!

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This egret was headed down to see the foam piling up… so we followed.

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What at first seemed kinda gross ended up being, in the words of my 9 year old, “squishy, sticky and fun!”

Plus, it gave me a chance to practice my photography skills at high noon, something I haven’t been very comfortable with before now.

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Since there are no August roses down here in this part of Florida, were feeling the foam instead.

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I’m hoping I can hold onto this beachy mentality when we start school in a couple of weeks.  I hope to keep feeling the foam regularly!!