Angels Unaware

jenelle-ball-6163-unsplashI have two friends who often get signs from guardian angels or loved ones on the other side of the veil. Every now and then they will post a picture online of the signs that have materialized: angel symbols in unusual places like a tattoo on the shoulder of someone who photobombs a selfie, a feather, a cardinal or bluejay, or the repeat of certain numbers, like 1:11 on a clock.

I don’t really get these sorts of signs. The closest I come is frequently glancing at the clock at precisely 3:33 pm. Makes me wonder what is the significance of that time. Maybe it’s because three is my favorite number? But it got me to wondering why I don’t ever get signs from those who have passed, or why I don’t feel that I have a connection with my guardian angel. I wish I did. So very many people in my family and a few friends have passed, you would think I’d have a connection with someone, but no. Nothing. Radio silence.

It seems most people aren’t concerned with this sort of thing, whatsoever. But I often ponder what happens after we die. Where exactly are the souls of those who have passed? Part of me wants to know the science behind it, not just the mysticism. Can they hear us? Should we be having an ongoing dialogue with them? I mean, I catch myself periodically talking to my parents like they are right here with me, but then I stop because maybe I’m just crazy.

Speaking of crazy, I’ve been trying to have a dialogue with my guardian angel lately, just acknowledging that he or she is there. Saying, “hey,” and thank you for the guidance so far. Part of me feels silly because I haven’t had any overt experiences with angels and I don’t know why that would start now other than I’m actually trying to make a connection. I would probably get really freaked out if I encountered one at this point in life but I’m still curious. Can I get my angel’s name, at least? Maybe I’m too much of a baby Christian to have that kind of relationship. For example, I’ve spoken more about my faith on this blog than I ever do in real life. I practice my faith quietly…hoping that it shows in my actions versus my words…and maybe that’s not enough to be granted the gift of a sign.

I do think guardian angels are real, though. Now to be clear, I have had a couple of close calls and I think my angel intervened. These aren’t amazing stories or anything, but when I was 18, I hit a patch of black ice driving on a turn heading down Blaine Hill late one November night after work ended. My car made an instantaneous 90 degree turn to the left and I would have gone straight off the hillside landing who-knows-how-many-feet-below except something caused the car to turn yet another 90 degrees and come to a complete stop on the edge of the road, now headed uphill. A coworker happened to be right behind me and saw the whole thing transpire. He jumped out of his vehicle to check on me, and while he didn’t say it was a miraculous recovery on my part, both he and I knew I was almost a goner. I have no idea what stopped my car. It could have been sheer terror and adrenaline, and my foot jammed on the brake pedal. Sure it could. But it could’ve been something else.

How many of us go about our daily business unaware of the angels around us?

I experienced a different encounter on New Year’s Day when my husband and I visited a church we had hoped to make our new place of worship, given that we had moved into our current house the week before. It was a small but beautiful Orthodox church the next town over from where we lived.

10-15 minutes into the service, our little family of three made up half of the attendance, including the priest who had so far only spoken church Slavonic, a language I have heard since I was a kid but don’t understand, at all. I looked at my 2.5 year old kid, then to my husband and told him, “I can’t do this. I can’t go to a church that doesn’t speak English. The service must be in English if there is any hope our kid stays Orthodox when he’s older. Let’s go.”

Set aside for a minute how ridiculous it is to make language an important criteria for church, but that gives you an idea what you contend with when you’re Orthodox Christian in America. However, I digress…

We left. I still feel bad about bailing 15 minutes into the service, but I just couldn’t do it.  Outside the church on the sidewalk, our 2.5 year old repeatedly threw himself down on the ground, having a tantrum about leaving. Except this wasn’t your normal toddler tantrum. He wasn’t wailing and writhing…he was trying hard to make his point known. He wasn’t simply upset we were leaving; no, he was trying to say something very specific. He kept pointing to a spot a few feet away from him, saying, “Look!  Look!” and nothing more, except from my vantage, he was pointing at thin air, nothing that we could see.

It was one of those time-stands-still moments. Something told me he saw an angel. Don’t little kids have a connection we adults have shut off? What else could it have been? I promise you, we saw nothing there. I even got down on his level to see what I was missing. Still nothing as far as we could tell. I honestly felt like he saw an angel and he was trying desperately to tell us not to leave. Our son couldn’t put it into words. He simply did not want to go.

That was one of my last encounters and now it was years ago. My physical body simply hasn’t been very intuitive lately.

For whatever reason “signs from beyond” caught my attention this week and I read a completely random article online about the top ten signs that angels are near you. The number one sign is feathers. Makes sense to the common man, right? Angels have wings, and the good ones have white ones or so we think, so of course there would be feathers nearby.

FullSizeRenderThe very next day I got into my vehicle. It was a bright, sunny day and there I saw it, in the corner of my eye: the tiniest feather, stuck in the interior on the front passenger side. It’s so small, it would be easy to miss, but I didn’t. I never have feathers in my car. Mud? Yes. Petrified McDonald’s Happy Meal french fries from days gone by? Yes. Feathers? Never. Not once in the 33 years I’ve been driving.

How can I not smile about the little message my guardian angel left me?

PS – Then again maybe my guardian angel has been screaming to get my attention. We have a down comforter in our bedroom and it must have a hole or something because that thing spews feathers non-stop. It often looks like a couple of geese had a fight in our bedroom. Call me dense but I take that to be a sign that we need a new comforter, lol.

This “message from beyond” thing is hard. =)

Photo by Jenelle Ball on Unsplash

A Mother’s Prayer

First published on Facebook March 5, 2011. Edited slightly today for small changes I’ve made since then.

On Facebook several months ago, someone posed the question, “What do you wish for your children?” Excellent question.

My oldest son was already five or six by that point, and I wasn’t sure if I knew what I considered to be essential for my kids. I had an idea, but I had not boiled it down to the essence. That’s the great thing about having children. It forces you to get clear – crystal clear – about what you value and to live by those same values.

And I got to thinking that whatever I wish for my children is what I ought to be praying for my children. After all, a wish is a prayer. And a prayer is a thought that turns into words that turns into action and maybe reality. At least there is a better chance of it turning into reality than what is not articulated in prayer.

Now, I’ve been a Christian all my life but not a very good one. I’m not a gifted, Bible-verse-quoting one. I stumble around as far as Christians go. The discipline in my prayer is lacking severely so I’ve been working on it. But this question about what I wish for my children has tumbled around in my head enough that I’ve built a prayer around it. I worked on it and worked on it, until it felt real to me and had a natural, meditative cadence.

milada-vigerova-36934-unsplashI have no idea if my prayer is a good, worthy, humble one. But I have high hopes for my children, which means I lift up my prayer to God who listens and grants us what we need in His time according to His will. I don’t have a lot of patience, so this has been a tough lesson for me personally, but that’s just the way it is. His time, his way.

I would often recite this prayer in my car on the way to work, one run-through for each child, then for my husband, and then for a few other people as my heart so moved me. Every now and then I insert a special petition for whatever else my loved ones may be going through in life. For purposes of sharing, however, I’ll refer to them collectively. Here is my prayer.


It isn’t enough for me to simply share the prayer. I want to share how to came to find these words. Just as there is poetry and deep meaning behind each word of the Lord’s Prayer, each phrase of my prayer has an expanded meaning, at least to me. So here it goes:

God bless them: this is a simple appeal to God to grant His blessings upon my beautiful children in whatever form He wishes.

God bless them and keep them safe from harm: I scares me to think of the evil in the world, and safety of our children has become such a screamingly real issue these many years, so I ask for His blessings again and beseech Him to project my precious children, please.

May they grow strong:  strong in spirit, emotional fortitude, physical strength. Life on this earth requires stamina. I want them to always build upon this strength: body, mind and soul.

May they live long: let them experience the fullness of a long life and live to see their children’s children.

Happy, and healthy: and may that life be foremost a happy one, and then a healthy one.  Since it has taken me quite a while to recapture happiness and health is not something I have mastered, I wish for this first. No matter what else happens in life, what bigger blessings could I hope for my children?

Wealthy: maybe it’s a bit much to ask that they be blessed with wealth, but I’m going to ask anyway. I don’t mean I want the wealth of a millionaire for them; I just don’t want them to struggle with money issues…and if wealth means nothing more than an accumulation of grace here for the riches of God’s kingdom later, I’ll take it.

And wise: may they be fair and knowledgeable and gracious and balanced and live with perspective on the good and bad that inevitably come with life. Wise can mean so many things, and maybe it too is a bit much to ask but I don’t want any of our kids to be naive. I want them to know their way in this world, and maybe guide others.

May they always know love: love in its purest form, starting unconditionally and forever with us, their parents. But let love envelop them from all angles – siblings, grandmother, aunts, uncles, Godparents, cousins, teachers and friends. And then, when they leave home, may they still be surrounded by the love of good friends and be directed toward their soulmates. May they never let anyone stomp on their hearts; may they always seek out and be surrounded by the purest love. And then, when each has found the love of his or her life, may our children know the love of a child of their own, one or more as they choose. I want them to always know love in their lives. It doesn’t matter how many people are involved, only the quality and constant presence of that love. I have ached with prolonged loneliness for years on end; it is my wish that my children never know this feeling.

May they find joy and passion in life: I know life will come with inevitable sorrows, but we must actively cultivate the joy.  I want them to find it, keep it, sustain it. And passion – ah, that’s a loaded word. But I hope each child finds something that will interest them, jazz them so much that time stands still and it doesn’t feel like work. What a joy that will be! I truly believe they go hand in hand. This is another area where I personally have pecked along, unsure of what brought me joy with no one to guide me in that discovery, and then I was blocked from it when I found it. It is my job as a mother to help my children discover their inherent joy, talents and passions and help bring them to fruition.

May it uplift them and all those around them: joy and passion can take all kinds of forms but I don’t mean self-serving, self-destructive, incurred-at-the-expense-of-others joy and passion. I mean the kind of joy and passion that does nothing but uplift their spirit and that of everyone around them. Happy, positive, life-affirming, wholesome joy and passion. Filling-the-bucket joy and passion. That kind of joy and passion.

May their thoughts, words, and deeds be positive, confident, and kind: may what they think turn into what they say and turn into action. May they dwell on the positive instead of relentlessly focusing on the negative. May they find confidence deep within themselves and let it shine. And please, Lord, let them be kind to one another, to those they meet in this journey of life, and to themselves.

And may they give thanks for their blessings all the days of their life: we practice gratitude in our house, and I hope this is something they carry in their heart always and express and teach others to do the same.

For this I pray: Yes, for this I pray. This is what I pray, beseech of the Lord, want for all my children, and will actively work toward, doing whatever I can to make it a reality.

Amen:  It is so, so be it, let it be.  That is the definition of amen, after all.

The joy and love I have for all three of my children knows no end.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

The Standardized Vacation

On a recent Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, the host and her co-host sister talked about the benefits of a “standardized vacation”. It struck a chord with me.

I’m a travel buff. Have suitcase, let’s go! I’ve been one to explore new places as often as I can for as long as I’ve lived but there is something to be said about hitting the easy button especially now that we have kids. Enter: the standardized vacation.

Here’s the basic premise: same location, same hotel, same time of year, same length of time, same people, same restaurants, same activities.

Beautifully simple.

Nothing to think about, nothing to plan. Just do what you did last time, and build upon what you know, if you want.

anton-sharov-133628-unsplashMyrtle Beach, SC, has become our go-to vacation, like 5 million other Ohioans if I had to guess! We found our favorite hotel about 10 years ago, and we even get booked to the exact same room each time we go. It’s glorious.

We know exactly what to pack. Rule #1 is more bathing suits, fewer clothes. Rule #2 is bring a laundry basket and a small bottle of Tide so I can do a quick load mid-way through the trip and recycle what we wear. Rule #3 is bring whatever gadget you can’t live without and the charger. We’re not hard-core enough to unplug entirely while we holiday.

Last night my husband and I laid in bed and talked about how excited we were for this trip. We drive it. He’s not a fan of the drive, but he talked about how he was actually looking forward to it this year because he knows exactly what to expect. No thinking involved whatsoever.

Seriously, we laugh the whole way to South Carolina because nearly every car on I-77 has Ohio plates and we know where they’re going: Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head. It’s 11-hours non-stop, which means we have found ways to minimize the number of stops along the way and make it a 12 hour trip max, barring traffic.

Our routine involves hitting the road at 5am. We gas up and load the suitcases the night before. The kids sleep walk to the van with their pillows and PJs on, and they’re crashed out for the first four hours of the trip. From our house in Ohio this takes us to Charleston, WV, where the kids change clothes, we all get a potty break, we gas up if need be, and switch drivers. I’m better on the curvy roads though West Virginia regardless of the weather, courtesy of growing up in the tri-state area of Ohio, Pennsylvania, & West Virginia.

Waze is my favorite travel app for this trip. It’s crowd-sourced in terms of traffic jams, road hazards, and speed traps monitored by police or state highway patrolmen. Waze conveys the speed limit and whether you’re over it, and gives you that wonderful metric, the estimated time of arrival, otherwise known as the “time to beat”. LOOOOOOVE Waze.

The car is still pretty quiet as the kids are now awake but on their devices with their headphones or maybe they watch a new movie we buy and laugh. The two of us adults get loads of time to talk and talk, or we take turns napping while the other drives.

I drive four hours till we hit the North Carolina border while all of us nosh on ham sandwiches, snacks, and drinks we’ve packed, and then we stop again for a bio break, gas up and switch drivers for the last time. Then my husband drives the final four hours to our hotel where we check in, unpack, relax for a bit, and then head out to dinner.

We hit up Walmart for some food while we’re in the area. Our hotel has a kitchenette so we alternate meals out and in for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is free at the hotel so we eat up and take our time feasting on all kinds of hot and cold food items.

I remember the first time we made this trip as a married couple with an 18-month old baby in tow. I basically had my husband back the van floor to ceiling with the entire nursery: you know, Pack-n-Play, stroller, tub toys, travel high chair, lovies, baby food, an entire box of diapers….it was endless. You couldn’t even see out the back window. He looked at me like I was nuts. I wanted all the comforts of home. Nothing like having a baby attached to your hip on vacation. It defeats the purpose of getting away for a few days if you don’t have a way for your precious kid to be mobile, clean, and safe.

Now it’s funny how little we need. Beach towels, beach toys, electronic gadgets, headphones, chargers, bathing suits, sunscreen, sandals, laundry basket with detergent, clothes for three days to last us through eight, sandwiches, snacks, drinks, and that’s it. I don’t even sweat it anymore. If we forget something, we just buy it down there.

It helps that we go the same week each time, for the same length of time. We know what restaurants we’ll hit up. We rent beach chairs for the week. There is nothing else to even think about other than which putt-putt place we’ll visit on which day. If we want to sleep, we sleep. If we want to splash in the pool or lazy river, we do. If the kids want to build sandcastles or boogie board, they do. No debating, no thinking about it. We just rotate between 3-4 activities at most. It’s as low key as vacation can get.

And me? Mama Louie? I sit and read under a giant umbrella with my coverup, sunglasses, sunhat, and SPF maxed out, courtesy of a melanoma diagnosis 25+ years ago. It’s a bummer as all the kids just can’t quite understand why I can’t play with them in the sun. Thankfully they have these bronzed bodies courtesy of their Hawaiian and Asian genes and didn’t inherit my pale Eastern European skin.

Man, we love the ocean. Now some people prefer lower-key, very scenic Hilton Head over Myrtle Beach because they think the latter is over commercialized. Parts of it are, but we don’t do that stuff. We don’t walk Ocean Boulevard at all hours, slipping in and out of the souvenir shops. We just skip that. It’s pretty easy to avoid the mass of humanity while you’re there.

Yep, our hang is the beach itself and the amazing putt-putt places. Our kids think putt-putt (mini-golf to some of you) is the most glorious thing ever. It doesn’t take much to entertain our kids and we’re fine keeping it that way, at least for a few more years.

We’re all excited to go back. Hawaii, California, Utah, Colorado, and Florida have been incredible these last few years but it’s time to hit the easy button and return to our home away from home, just the five of us. We have often wished that we were there with a larger group but then we realize that others may not enjoy the next-to-nothing we like to do, so our week away is always just us.

I can already hear the waves in my mind.

Image by Anton Sharon on

Celebrity Talk Is Cheap, So They Say…

I’ve noticed a trend among conservative or right-leaning individuals in the US to bash the opinion of celebrities which are often more left-leaning and liberal. This strikes me as really odd.

I’m not even one to be awestruck by celebrities…I’m kinda put off by our country’s celebrity worship culture…but to bash celebrities for having an opinion? Something about that rubs me the wrong way.

gritte-346468-unsplashThe arguments against celebrity opinion have had a couple of different facets, regardless of whether the celebrities in question are artists like singers, actors, and comedians or athletes:

  1. Celebrities have a huge following among the national and even the world population, making their extracurricular activities particularly vile because their opinions contaminate the thinking of large swaths of people who look up to them.
  2. Celebrities get paid money to do whatever it is they do and therefore they should simply stick to that and nothing else. Like a certain Fox News person coached Lebron James recently, “Shut up and dribble.”
  3. Celebrities live in gilded mansions with bodyguards and have no idea how common people live so therefore their opinion has no value in the real world.
  4. Celebrities by and large exhibit a liberal point of view, one where anything goes and any manner of amoral behavior is perfectly acceptable.
  5. Celebrities contribute nothing of value to society, unlike the common man who holds down a “real” job, so the very platform upon which celebrities exist in the first place has no merit whatsoever, destroying any credibility they could possibly have to express their opinions.

Let’s break these arguments down.

1. Celebrities have a huge following and unduly influence whole populations of people.

Yes, people become famous for all kinds of reasons. And other people will follow the antics of the rich and famous for all sorts of reasons. For heaven’s sake, there was even a show about this on TV several years ago. I never watched it. The showcasing of how people flaunt their wealth never appealed to me. Instead I admired people who used their wealth or their talents to positively impact the world around them. But I digress.

Sometimes a celebrity’s efforts are awe-inspiring, like Olympians who train for years to hone their skill. Olympians understand sacrifice, humility, teamwork, sportsmanship, rules, endurance, strength, failure, perseverance, disappointment, success, luck, and glory. Other people are eager to connect on a personal level with these individuals, to understand what it takes to be a champion, what it takes to be the best in a given sport. Because more often than not, the characteristics these athletes exhibit are transcendent, traits that can be applied and lead to success in real life. Despite the Herculean efforts these athletes exhibit, the common man connects deeply to these stories of human triumph.

Even if someone isn’t Olympic caliber, as an athlete they still have a talent, and a passion or zest for the sport that got them to national or sometimes international levels of recognition. Many of the same attributes apply.  There is a reason why so many parents want their kids to play a sport because of the life skills it teaches them. Sure, some parents only see dollar signs and want their kids to make it big, but there is inherent value delivered via sports that is realized later in life. Certainly it’s inspiring for a kid to see someone who happens to look like them also be the best they can be.

Much of the same could be said for actors and musicians, really. Those kinds of celebrities touch people’s hearts in an altogether different way, an emotional one. But that’s just like life, isn’t it? It takes all sorts of people to make the world go round, and some people value the heart over the body and vice versa.  Actors and musicians and writers literally tell the stories of our humanity. They elicit a huge range of emotions and replay the ancient tales of what it means to be human. To be able to do that well, to touch us or get us to laugh even in dire times, is a gift.

So sure, actors and musicians, comedians and writers, are admired for their work, and they are asked about what it takes to get there. But it doesn’t stop there. These artists are often inspired by the people whose stories they tell, inspired enough oftentimes to want to be an advocate for change when they aren’t on stage. Sometimes their art is a parallel to what goes on in American life. How can these artists tell a story and avoid talking about what it means to them personally, especially when they are interviewed and asked those very questions? They are gifted storytellers of their chosen medium…of course they are asked about their work, and use their gift to tell the story yet again and again but in a different way.

Now granted, there are celebrities who are famous simply for being famous. Take Paris Hilton…whose only claim to fame was her family money. Her antics were ridiculous. And yet she somehow got her own “reality” TV show which only served to prolong and heighten her fame. I saw no redeeming value in Paris Hilton. I couldn’t understand people who wanted to emulate her, or who just outright adored her. Maybe she was adorable, but she mostly played dumb. I wasn’t a fan of her for all those reasons…I tried to avoid her but it was hard to escape her influence on pop culture for those several years she was the It Girl.

And then there are the people who become celebrities for infamous reasons…like the over-tanned mom, or the over-zealous, misguided, trigger-happy vigilantes like George Zimmerman. Go figure. Our First Amendment gives all kinds of people a platform to use their voice for their 15 minutes of fame or to prolong it even further on Twitter and social media as they now have the option to do.

No doubt, if you have a way to touch millions of people, you’ve been given a gift beyond the art or the physical prowess that got you there in the first place. The Bible says we should not hide our light under a bushel. For better or worse, celebrities use a gift that was given to them.

2. Celebrities get paid to do what they do. They should do that and nothing more. I.e., “Shut up and dribble.”

Yeah. I have a problem with the “shut up and dribble” kinds of statements. It sounds so incredibly sinister to me, like a master to a slave, not to mention the overtly racial overtones directed toward Lebron James.  This is akin to saying, “Shut your piehole. I don’t care one wit about you as a human being. You are here purely for my entertainment and enjoyment, period. I command you do to what I want and nothing more!”


Can you imagine saying something like that to a waiter? “Shut up and deliver my food.” Or a teacher? “Shut up and teach my kid.” Or a mechanic? “Shut up and service my car.”

In a society where we recognize that we should acknowledge each other as human beings, see the whole person, connect with one another and engage in dialogue….we have a part of society that looks down on others as if they were servants instead of equals.

Even if that isn’t what people mean, that’s how it sounds. And that’s downright ugly.

Good thing Ronald Reagan didn’t follow that sort of advice long ago. Where would we be as a nation without The Great Orator? Should he have stuck with acting? Was it wrong for him to evolve into a governor, and then a president?

3. Celebrities live in gilded mansions with bodyguards and insane amounts of money. They have no idea how the common people live and couldn’t possibly speak on their behalf.

Certainly there are certain celebrities who were born into rich and famous families, and they could very well be out of touch with the average American. Jane Fonda, I’m looking at you.

However the vast majority of celebrities grew up in average families like you and me. They didn’t have gobs of money growing up. They didn’t have bodyguards. They didn’t jet-set around the world or live in mansions. Sometimes they struggled for years before they made it big…struggled on a level that the average American with a steady job can’t appreciate.

And there are celebrities who have been rich and famous for decades, part of that enormous Baby Boom generation that has so strongly influenced American life for 40-50 years now. Over time they may have forgotten what it was like when they were young. They hire bodyguards for sure, because even benign crazy people don’t respect personal space or personal property, and some level of protection is completely reasonable.

But to bitch and moan that celebrities are out of touch with the common man? As if these people don’t deal with illness and sorrow, insults and betrayal, death and destruction… These unhappy events come for us all over the course of a lifetime. Some of us become more somber and wise because of it, and some of them embrace the joy of life even harder as a result.

4. Celebrities by and large exhibit a liberal point of view where anything goes, including all kinds of amoral behavior.

Yes, all kinds of celebrities exhibit a liberal point of view, and a whole bunch of them are conservative too. Perhaps we should disregard the esteemed opinions of Scott Baio, Clint Eastwood (who was talking to an empty chair on national television a few years ago), and Stacey Dash, who’s now running for Congress. Should I list a few more? Who was it that visited the White House last year? Kid Rock and Ted Nugent? Role models, are they?

And what about this criticism of amoral behavior? I struggle with this one a bit. Is it amoral when pastor Joel Osteen refused to open his enormous church to hundreds of Houstonians in need of shelter post hurricane, even though that is exactly what Christ coaches us to do?

Or is “love is love is love is love is love is love” amoral?

I’m confused by this. One man’s morality is another man’s sin. It isn’t quite as binary as you might want to believe it is.

5. Celebrities contribute nothing of value to society, rendering invalid their platform to speak, unlike people with “real” jobs.

Really? I suppose I could repeat all of my earlier points on this one. As a society, we place value on what celebrities say and do, for good and bad. Some of us have exerted a certain level of effort to be in the spotlight…a moving piece of art, a sacrifice and precision in sport that enthralls us, an ability to communicate that connects with our souls and minds. These celebrities came from somewhere to get where they are. They come from us.

If you had a platform, you’d use it too. You use it every time you share your own opinion at the coffee shop, water cooler, or Facebook. Celebrities just happen to have a much larger audience than you.

Maybe I just have a soft spot for expressive types, since I am one myself and I feel most at home around those sorts of people too.

Surprise! Now I want you to go back through each of my points. You could easily make the argument that Donald Trump is one of those celebrities that people disdain so much. For heaven’s sake…he came from money he didn’t earn himself. Lived in a bubble his entire life, a gilded penthouse literally. Never held a common man’s job and avoided military service when he was needed. He is a reality TV star and that was the extent of his celebrity to a very large degree until he graduated to the biggest stage in the world. Until this election, he held a liberal point of view. ANYTHING goes with this guy. He is the very definition of amoral.

Tell me again how celebrities ought to shut up. It would be a boring world indeed if they did. It seems to me you can’t complain about some celebrities and not all of them. Like it or not, their opinions are here to stay.

Image by Gritte on

Controlled Chaos

Monday evening. Sitting here trying to figure out how another weekend blew by. I can’t believe February is almost over and I wonder what I have to show for it. I am just exhausted from the never ending stream of things to do for myself, our family, each individual kid, our extended family, friends, the house…’s endless. And I feel guilty because I don’t volunteer for anything in our community…but I have no idea how I could possibly squeeze that in along with the demands of my job. I don’t have the stamina and I don’t want to let people down. It’s just non-stop crazy.

For the longest time I’ve been fascinated with the concept of a patron saint, someone Godly that represents a body of people or maybe even an individual. I often wondered who my patron saint would be. Then it hit me. If I had a personal patron saint, it would have to be Martha, always the busy body. Mary Magdalene sat and visited with Christ because she realized the gift before them all, while Martha huffed and puffed that there was so much to do to and no one offering to help.

Yeah, Martha’s my home girl.

You should see my massive “to do” list. I scare people when I show it to them. I break it up into three buckets – the stuff that I really want to tackle this week, the stuff that needs to happen fairly soon (maybe the following week), and a third list of stuff that needs to happen eventually. I write all of it down so I don’t forget about it, and I have a version for work and for my personal life.

I keep all of it on Microsoft OneNote on my work computer. I discovered this life-changing tool maybe about five years ago and can’t believe I had not found it sooner. All you need to do is type…everything is automatically saved. You can easily drag and move around whatever you type on the page, so whatever I put in one bucket can easily move into another if the timing changes.

As things pop in my head throughout the day (at the most inopportune times, of course), I can write them down on the respective lists, and then organize them by theme (different projects at work, meeting agenda planning, action planning, vacation checklists, blog ideas, home projects, etc.)

If you have access to the Microsoft Suite on your work computer, I urge you check this software out because it has made a world of difference in how I stay organized, versus writing tasks and ideas down on random pieces of paper and then transferring it to a master list that I would write over and over, like you used to do with those Franklin Day Planners once upon a time. I can’t do it justice in explaining the value of OneNote in this blog. Really, I can’t. You just have to see for yourself.

85fifteen-323873-unsplashFor some crazy reason I also started using a personal planner last year, Ink + Volt. I now have a red 2018 Ink + Volt planner. I don’t know why I use both methods to stay organized, but I do. I know there are all kinds of planners out there but I don’t need a cutesy one with stickers. Mine has a substantial cover – book quality – with page markers and prompts to ponder. It’s big enough to be easy to write in and small enough to throw in my purse. It has a section for you to plan your year, each month, and each week.

I enjoy checking off a task that I teed up for the week but lately I keep carrying over the same stuff from week to week. True, I’ve been making minor progress on each of my tasks but I am not getting the satisfaction of being completely finished. That bugs me.

March is almost upon us and in my planner, there is a prompt for what I will focus on in March. I feel so scattered. I don’t know what to do.

On one hand, it’s Lent. Lent gets all kinds of bad rap from people who don’t observe it, and I’m not exactly a role model when it comes to my personal observation of it, but one of the purposes or benefits of Lent is to close yourself off from outside distractions and draw inward. Many people use this time to pray, to fast, to break from the demands of the outside world. This is a good thing, a very necessary and helpful thing. Good thing it comes around once a year. And I suppose I could do that. I probably should do that. If you only knew how scattered and fractured my mind was, you’d know why this is a good idea.

But March is also my husband’s 50th birthday, and a way to celebrate and honor him. This is a man who at this point has lived eight years longer than his own father, a topic comes up quite often for an event that happened 42 years ago. No matter what I do, I don’t do enough to honor my husband. He deserves every good thing and I continually fail him as a wife, supporting him the way I ought to. I’m still really selfish and let my needs come first. Right this very moment I should be ordering a cake but I may very well just go to bed, at 7:30 pm.

I’m also having mixed success with the detox I started last month (see Detox Day 5), and feeling kinda bad about that. And I still haven’t cured the wanderlust that hit me pretty hard 10 days ago. Which leads me right back to Help Wanted. Sometimes you just want to call up your mom, wave the white flag, and ask for and get the help you need. But I don’t have that option. I’ve never had that option. I’m not looking for pity – it’s just the way it is.

So today I’m tired. And feeling a little uninspired. And wondering what March has in store for us. Will it feed our souls or punch us in the gut? Will it be the punctuation needed at the end of winter’s monologue? And why do I feel the need to control chaos anyway?



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Dear Fellow Parishioners

For the record, I’m weighing whether or not to read this letter aloud during coffee hour or have it added to next week’s church bulletin…

Dear fellow parishioners,

Recently a question was raised whether the church rules had been relaxed such that it was now ok for people to walk in and out whenever they wished during the Divine Liturgy. In particular, a comment was raised about children in the parish with “bladder problems”, and how on at least one witnessed occasion, someone walked in during the Gospel reading and brushed up against the robes of Deacon Dan while he was preaching.

Let me confess right now that our youngest, the youngest child of your newly elected church president, is one of those children. He’s 7. He loves church. We’ve made a point to sit in the front rows since he was a baby precisely because he was enthralled watching the priests and seeing the icons, and these last few years he’s been pretty close to the action when Deacon Dan reads the Gospel.

Archangel-Michael-webOver the years at Archangel Michael, this son of ours would ask me questions about the icons during liturgy. I took the time to teach him right then and there, in the middle of service, because it was so encouraging to me when he would remark over the story he recognized in the pictures. Our son spends an inordinate amount of time hugging me during liturgy, and I feel like it must make for the biggest scene to all those who sit behind us, but you know what? He’s 7. And I love him, so I hug him back, the entire time. I want every little thing about church to be a positive experience for him, because the language, the motions, the things we do over 90 long minutes, don’t really resonate too well for him since he’s just a little kid.

I mean, I know plenty of Orthodox Christian adults who don’t understand the language, the motions, and the things we do in church despite witnessing it every single week over their lifetime, so I cut our youngest some slack for not understanding. And like his two siblings before him, he’s going through classes right now to receive the sacrament of holy confession for the first time this Palm Sunday. I’m sure he’s learning more about liturgy in the process, to supplement what I, a cradle Orthodox, have been trying to teach him these few short years. But 2nd grade, when a child is 7-8 years old, is when the church considers the child to be of the “age of reason”. So again, I cut him some slack if he isn’t a perfect angel in church every Sunday. His halo might need a little polishing, but it isn’t too awfully crooked.

We drive 35-40 minutes each Sunday to arrive at Sunday School which is supposed to start at 9 but doesn’t really start until 9:10 or 9:15, and then we jump straight into church at 10:00 am. No break in between. At this point, he’s the only one that has breakfast.

For whatever reason, during each of the last five Sundays he has told me about 20 minutes into liturgy that he needs to use the potty. I tell him no, and then I see that look of desperation on his face. He pleads with me a couple more times, and I try to hold firm, but realize that I know my kid, and he’s not being mischievous. For whatever reason, he’s gotta go. Nature calls. After all, 2nd graders get potty breaks mid-morning in elementary school, no big deal. I judge whether it’s too close to the Gospel to let him go, but I usually let him because each time he’s asked, he has enough time to return to his seat before then. I don’t follow him to the back of the church to police his actions because he doesn’t need that kind of supervision.

I’ll be honest, I’m a little exasperated myself, because one recent Sunday our youngest had to go an unprecedented 2nd time during liturgy. I shot him that look that only moms can deliver, and chided him, “You JUST went!”, but you know what? I trust that he knows his own body and his own needs, and I’m not going to crush his spirit over something like this because he’s only human, and he’s only 7.

It’s a good thing it takes all types to make the world go round. The way I see it, you can be dismayed over the lack of formality and respect during liturgy, which I suspect has been an issue for a couple of millennia, or you can rejoice that young people grace the halls of this temple when so many other churches are falling silent without the melody of young children inside.

There is a time and a place for everything under the sun, so it says in Ecclesiastes. So in this time and place, I want to say to the other parents with young children in the church: you are welcome here.

  • What? Your infant is crying inconsolably? That is music to our ears, because you, and your child, are the future of this church.
  • Your toddler squeals with delight having broken free, running a beeline toward the altar? That is a joy to behold. Didn’t the Lord say, “Let the little children come to me”?
  • Oh, what did you say? You have a rambunctious child, maybe even one with ADHD? I get it. I know you’re exhausted and overwhelmed and YET you still come to church anyway with your family in tow. GOD BLESS YOU. You have a choice and you choose to spend it with us in communion.
  • And to those of you with a child on the spectrum who is longing for a welcoming community? I pray that we offer that collectively to you. I get how hard it is for your kid to fit in and you want nothing more than for him or her to be welcomed here. I pray that we open our arms to you in a loving embrace.

You are welcome here. Don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise. We are all sinners. We are all broken in some way. No one here is perfect, but we come together to grow and learn and love in Christ. Some of us know the rules of the church very well, while others of us know only the love in the heart. No one is to despise the other because of it. If you had heard the Epistle reading I delivered this morning (Romans 13: 11-14:4), that was the whole point.

Yet sometimes, because we’re human, because we don’t understand what cross you already bear, our guidance can sound unforgiving. However I want you to know that we welcome you. Come exactly as you are. Just come, and be in communion, in a community, with us.

In Christ, Denise

PS – The restroom, should you or your child need it in the middle of liturgy, is toward the back of the church toward the elevator. You are most welcome to use it.

Itching to Go Go Go

Saturday morning. For the first time in ages we don’t have anywhere we need to go, anything we need to do. Seriously. I just checked our online family calendar and the last time our Saturday was completely clear was July 22. Almost seven months ago.

Sigh. Life as an American family in the Midwest.

For the last two weeks, I had forewarned the whole family that today was the day we would clear out this storage room in our basement, the one we have dubbed the “yoga room” ever since we moved in 13 years ago. I always thought it would be cool to have a little sanctuary in the home, a room where you could light a candle, go to be still and quiet, meditate, pray, or maybe even stretch and do some yoga. All these years later, it’s still a storage closet.

I should take a picture of this room to show you what it looks like today. It’s a total mess. We just throw things in there when we don’t have a home for it or don’t know what to do with it, or maybe the kids have outgrown something. But today that room is out of control. We still have empty boxes from when we moved in stored in there.

So today is the day we’ll clean it out: stage what we’ll keep, donate, and trash.

Except I’m itching to go. Go anywhere. Oh man, the travel bug has bitten me hard today.

Honestly we have a WHOLE DAY with total freedom and we can just get in the car and go. I don’t know where. Maybe we’ll make a trip to Detroit and visit the Henry Ford Museum. We’ve never been to Detroit, really, and my friend’s visit to the museum last year inspired me to go check it out. It’s three hours away from our house. It’s a day’s round trip, if we want to make it that. I suppose there are other places we could go but they aren’t novel. Traveling to Columbus is pretty close, and our family there is wonderful and the shopping is amazing, but it isn’t something NEW. Besides, I’ve got that new year’s resolution going about not buying one stitch of new clothing. That’s mostly a rule for myself, but there is no need for temptation.

So now I’m torn between the knowledge that June 30 is likely our next totally free weekend when we can tackle the yoga room (believe me, it’s a family of five effort but why in the world would we want to spend a potentially beautiful summer day in the basement??), and the wanderlust I feel right now. Darn it. I don’t want to be the rational, responsible adult at the moment. I just wanna go go go.

I’ve always loved road trips. Seeing new places. Anything, anything at all, to inject a little diversity into the same old, boring, day to day experience.

And I am bored. I don’t travel for work like I used to. I used to get my fix of travel as I often flew to a new city every week, sometimes a couple of times during the week. Now I commute 30 minutes one way on a country road to another small town which is a remarkably pleasant, bucolic drive. Sometimes the sunrise will leave a blanket of pink fog on the gently rolling farmland and it takes my breath away. I wonder if any of my coworkers making the same commute see how beautiful it is, or whether they take it for granted. Equally as lovely are the golden sunsets I sometimes catch on the drive home; honestly the scenery is what you’d see in a movie, it’s that gorgeous. And once in a while, I am completely mesmerized by a huge swarm of starlings dancing over the countryside, morphing into their fantastical shapes. Sometimes the air is black with starlings, like you’re staring at a lava lamp in the sky.

I never stop to take a photo because I can’t possibly recreate the beauty I see with my own eyes on an old iPhone.


Beautiful as that commute can be oftentimes, I am itching to go go go!

I’m trying hard to resist the urge to take a random day off because that’s not really enough to satisfy the travel bug. Every single day, I’m reminding myself that we are using a few days of the kids’ spring break in late March to hit up a water park an hour from our home. It will definitely be a change of scenery, but I’m a little worried that it won’t be enough to tame the travel bug. I also get to head to Georgia for two days in March for a conference.

And if those two trips aren’t enough, then at least our trip to Cuba in April should do it. My husband turns 50 next month. He loves cigars and music, and obviously neither of us have been to Cuba before so boom!  Royal Caribbean had just the right offering to satisfy him. As a musician, he had the good fortune of traveling the world a bit more than I have, so the usual ideas of where to go to celebrate his golden birthday were not so novel but Cuba fits the bill.

He and I have an ongoing rivalry as to who will visit all 50 states first. He’s currently beating me 47 to 45 or something like that. I am a teeny bit miffed about it because I had been way ahead of him for years, but during one of our anniversary trips he got to knock off Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi when we road tripped it from New Orleans to Destin, Florida. He hadn’t been to any of these states before. So not fair!

For the record, I haven’t been to Alaska, Oregon, New Mexico, North Dakota, or Delaware. I’m sneaking in one of those states this year. Don’t know how. Don’t know exactly when. But I’m going.

I’m itching to go go go. But today, the yoga room is calling my name.

PS – Four hours later the yoga room has been mostly emptied out. Some stuff has been already been donated, and the rest has been staged for this week’s trash. I’ll be channeling my inner om inside that room in a few months. I promise to share pictures.