The beach ball of Holy Week

DSC_0809I love Holy Week. I love Pascha and the longer I’m Orthodox, the more I like Lent (or grow to appreciate what it does for me).

Some years, I’ve been able to unplug from life during Holy Week, coming into a rhythm that allows the week to almost seamlessly merge into the celebration of Great and Holy Saturday and Pascha. Those years I’m usually with my sister, godson and their family at Holy Assumption Orthodox Church in Canton, and I’ve taken days off and am plugged into only the cycle of services and my family there.

This year is not that year. A new job and new responsibilities means less time off. Teaching made for a Lent without one Presanctified Liturgy (one of my favorite services). And life backed up into Holy Week this year, putting me in places other than the pews on days I would normally be in church.

I had a sneaking feeling this would happen. I usually care A LOT and my frustration of missed expectation causes an anxiety and frustration that are the exact opposite of the mindset I tried to cultivate during the Lenten season. I tried to do better this year, and it helped.

I finally got to church tonight, for Holy Unction. I missed the Bridegroom matins services earlier in the week (though I subjected Huntington University’s CO342 to a video of the hymns. My class, my rules.)

As I stood before Fr. Andrew, my palms open to receive the holy oil, I almost felt as if time closed in around me. The feelings I battled all week, like trying to keep a beach ball under the water while sitting on it, dissipated and nothing else seemed to exist.

I never wanted to leave.

Those who know me, know how much anxiety the current political situation is causing me. You know that, for someone committed to truth-telling, the constant lying, gaslighting and nonsense is beyond a challenge. I have not done a good job of keeping what matters in the foreground. I surrendered Lent in some very real ways to that which I cannot control. Another beach ball: something too big to keep under wraps, and too buoyant to keep under control.

I have three more days of services left in this journey: the Liturgy of St. James with the marathon service of Holy Thursday (the 12 Passion Gospels) that takes us to the Cross, and the Lamentations service of Holy Friday leading us up to the Feast of the Resurrection, Pascha.

There will be some work in there, a rubble pile, weather to complain about and distractions aplenty. If you’re thinking of it, I’d welcome your prayers for continued growth and focus during the remainder of this journey.

The beauty of the weeks leading up to Pascha–the Sunday of Mary of Egypt, Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday, etc.–is that I am constantly reminded that it is never too late, I am never so far gone that I cannot welcome the King.

After Fr. Andrew anointed my head, my throat and my palms with the oil, I kissed the Gospel book, the icon of the Theotokos and Christ, and I slowly left the santuary.

The journey of Holy Week continues.

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Picking up rocks

 

 

Confession last week, just me, my priest and the icons. And all the things I drag with me.

This time, the lesson of this year’s Great Lent, it was resentment. It really wasn’t pretty.

I really should ask Fr. Andrew if Helo can come to confession with me. I guarantee he knows EXACTLY what I need to tell him, because whatever it is about that little dog and our SAR journey together, it reveals my character: constantly, in all its ugly glory.

(Aa could probably chip in too, but he comes to church, so if he’s really fed up, I guess he could corner the priest.)

Over the past few months, as frustration continued to build in my professional life, and training Helo in this new task of human remains detection did not take off as easily as I thought it might (read: felt entitled to), I found myself struggling with a creeping resentment.

Here’s the funny thing about that: resentment undoes any good you might have done, it adds fuel to anger, and just really makes you feel miserable. It is as emotionally untenable as picking up a good-size pebble and sticking it in your boot, then going on a lengthy hike.

As I drove away, back to TJTP which is nowhere near as fun as I wish it was, I thought about where resentment came from, for me.

I resented a whole bunch of things, and what they were will remain between me, God, Fr. Andrew and the saints who were listening in.

In general, though it was disappointment + entitlement – motivation. Whatever I thought I earned (read: entitled to have) and didn’t get, minus the motivation to either go reclaim it, get better or move on…

It was a mess. It made me nag my dog, badgering him to fix problems that were really mine, over-correcting him for mistakes he made because I sent him bad information. It made me sleep in too late, stay up too late, grumble too much and generally just not give a shit.

And I never would have noticed, or would have noticed much later, had it not been for Helo and his special nature, the way he tried to fill the void of the absence of leadership in our team. He did this by making decisions (incorrectly) or just flat ignoring me and my wasteful words and negative energy.

Saturday, a few days after this all occurred to me, I sent him out to find some of the stuff we find, this time on a longer training problem. I worked on handling me, more than him. As the heat rose on the gravel pit where we had placed the source, Helo chased it into the cool spots and up around the ridges, doing exactly what I asked him to do pretty much most of the time.

I worked on realizing that this is where we are. If we were supposed to be someplace else, that’s where we’d be. This was, as a friend told me the week before, the place where the universe wanted me for the higher purpose.

It’s where I’m supposed to be to be saved, to cook off the ego and the entitlement, shake free the rocks of resentment.

A few hours later, I was back in the gravel pit again, this time watching the boss work the same problem with her K-9. The problem had become much more complicated by time. The sun was higher in the sky, the scent more diffuse and harder to chase, but they got there. She remained calm, never nagged, listening and watching the dog communicate with her in the way they do–with flicks of tails or ears, changes in body language, a glance up, a nose down.

As she worked, I found a small white rock, worn smooth by the sand and the water and the years. I worried it with my fingers as we walked back to our trucks to finish the day. I carried it home in my pocket.

I will, however, be sure to keep it out of my shoe.

(Gratuitous photograph of Helo taken by my sister-in-law on a day when my character was particularly revealed. Sigh)_DSC0221

 

Are we there yet?

In which I try not to step in it anymore

“The wise thief didst thou make worthy of paradise in a single moment. By the wood of Thy cross, illumine me as well. And save me.”

I will sing this hymn late next week as we move closer to Pascha. I have never needed to sing this hymn more than I need to sing it now. Lent is always hard. ALWAYS. You try to turn your brain more inward, make it function alongside your soul, make yourself one being: Mind/Spirit/Body. You try to clean up, clear out and make a firmer move toward holiness, toward becoming deified. You mean it.

And I meant it this year. I always do. But things are getting so damn complicated anymore. The Job That Doesn’t Pay takes up a good 12 hours a week, on average. Add that to the Job That (barely) Pays and it’s 40+ and the 6.5 hours of commute time to get to that one…sigh. I’ve been a bit busy. And recent events and ridiculousness are leaving my faith frayed to dangerous extremes.

I do guilt extremely well. It’s an aggravating holdover from my Western Christian days, the days obsessed with legal standing and paying debts and all that other crap. So I feel really really guilty about missing Lenten church services (for TJTDP) to get my stuff together for a search, and for missing last weekend for a 48-hour training. There’s going to be Lazarus Saturday skipped for more training.

The corrective to that guilt, though, was the live rescue of a missing person by a K9 on our team. This work with TJTDP is necessary and I need to do it. My dog’s good at it and it’s a skill we can share. So we’re getting over that right quick.

In the middle of all this, the actual obligations, my home state decided to wade into controversy up to its eyeballs. I tried very hard to hide under a rock and ignore it, but I found it discussed everywhere, by everybody. It was as inescapable as the wind in an open field, even in places I felt were safe. It’s personal to me because I know the people behind the bill, and I know their care and concern for the “least of these” extends only to those who are adult white males, married to women. They advised my old churches on how to hide child abuse. They lobby to keep states from cracking down on abuse in religious schools, colleges and mission organizations. They are getting fitted for their millstones. (And no, I am not sorry I said that.) They miss, of course, that the Golden Rule (and pretty much all the teachings of all the Gospel) is best distilled down to “Don’t Be an Asshole.” I know, it’s hard.

I found out one of my favorite humans in all the universe suffered a terrible loss. My heart broke for her.

So I hid this week, flat out. Skipped a Wednesday liturgy, where I knew the controversy would be hanging out at the potluck. I took my pup and went to a rubble pile. Nothing makes you “present” like trying not to fall into a jagged piece of concrete, rebar sticking out everywhere, looming up where you want to put your foot.

I guess I just found my analogy. This Lent has been an absolute disaster. And I have misstepped, over-stepped and caused landslides of anger in my own heart. I find myself now, as the thief, in the last minute, the midnight hour, trying to get it right. I am reaching out and reaching up. If you read this, and you are so inclined, I ask for your prayers over the next nine days as I approach the Feast of Pascha. Pray I might find a quiet place inside my soul to retreat, even when all around me seems to be going all to hell.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a very obvious sinner.

An icon in the ditch

Our team had a good week. We kept a search a “rescue” instead of “recovery.” Our dogs did what humans couldn’t. Thank God for that. Early Friday morning, two of our dogs and two of our handlers pushed law enforcement to extend the search for just one more run, one more time. And they brought an elderly man, suffering from dementia, to his family, to a warm and comfortable house in suburban Fort Wayne. The place he belongs was just a few thousand yards from where he would have probably died, had a handsome rescued German Shepherd named Tick not pushed through the brush, scampered down a ravine and found the man, in the dead, cold middle of the night, and told all the humans in the vicinity “he’s here!”

That’s what I wanted to write about yesterday and this morning. I thought about all the times I hide for Tick, how much fun I have with him, regardless of how tired I am, or how cold or hot it is, so that he believes that humans in random places in rubble piles or forests or buildings are the absolute bees knees.  I wanted to write about how Tick’s handler is one helping to turn my Helo into a fierce, feisty little search-beast.

That’s what I was going to tell you.

But as we had our de-brief this morning, and the handlers talked about how they walked and walked, through deep mud and brambles, and how they felt when they got to him, I realized this is a different story.

SAR is about humanity. It’s about icons. It’s about the image of God, what makes us of infinite value. It’s about our souls. It’s about helping, bringing home, about restoration, and hope.

It’s about taking great care, covering the wounds, warming cold limbs, bundling up, and touching softly. It’s about removing your own coat, taking your own time, expending your own effort. It’s about asking a name, looking in eyes, holding a hand and making one safe.

It’s about Mercy. Grace. Hope. Love. And it might not even matter why a person does this, but in that moment, it is about that connection. It is about human. It is about the Image. It is about Love.

It is about all of us.

 

(But K9 SAR is also about puppies. Here’s Tick.)

tick

 

Chasing deer and Forgiveness Sunday.

Helo and I failed our second attempt at an area search certification back in December. He chased a deer. It’s an awful powerful distraction to work through, particularly when you (the dog) are yards away from your handler, already in a hunting mode (looking for a human) and a deer pops up out of the underbrush right in front of you.

It’s an awful powerful frustration to work through, if you’re the rookie handler and your dog just disappears, the little ringing of the bell on his collar fading to nothing. You call out and pray his loyalty to you and commitment to a recall is strong enough to overcome the lure of the escaping prey.

It was. But neither of us recovered. He came back to me looking like a crack addict, pupils dilated and crazy, his brain done for the day in a flood of adrenaline. For my part, I felt like I was losing a fight in the end of the last round. Punching wildly, I sent him back out to search. He found his next “victim” but instead of barking, sat down next to him and gave him a kiss. He then trotted back to me, looked up at me with his intense amber eyes. “I was supposed to do something differently there, wasn’t I.”

We were done. Back to the drawing board…which for us is not my search strategy or building his alert, but overcoming very understandable and natural desires to do what we do: to hunt and to fight/defend.

Today is Forgiveness Sunday in the Orthodox Church, where we gather together as parish families and seek the forgiveness of each other while we sing the hymns of Lent and the Resurrection. If I were closer to church, and not over-committed in my day, I’d be there. Sometimes though I feel like I’ve had so few interactions with my parish family that, apart from being offensive in my absence, I pretty much need to seek forgiveness from everyone else.

I chase deer all the time, my eyes glaze over as I relentlessly pursue being right or having a fight. I am easy to anger, very quick to speak, to flash hot with indignation or defense. I use a particular word, the “duct tape” of the human language, frequently as a subject, a noun, or a descriptor, in some sentences all three.

I never really understood the Orthodox idea of the “passions” until that Saturday afternoon in the woods near Camp Atterbury. These things I do are often justified, certainly in my mind, by reasonable needs, desires or wants. I am right, ergo it is OK for me to throw a fit to prove how right I am. Or you are wrong and it is hurting people, therefore it is perfectly fine for me to lose my cool and my mind. It’s not unusual for a dog to chase a deer. It’s not even a bad thing, under most circumstances.

But we’re not in most circumstances. We have a very specific job to do, and that job, finding lost people, requires us to put aside what we would rather be doing, or even could be doing. I have to ride his fuzzy little ass now to keep that hunting instinct in check, or better yet, channeled to the proper quarry for him now: humans.

My life isn’t actually most circumstances either. It’s a world populated with people with their own critical needs, hurts, fears, and losses. It’s a world that doesn’t need me losing control, even if understandable or justifiable. It’s a world that needs me to be what I am called to be: a little Christ, a person who loves well and fully, without regard for my own position. I don’t believe that means I am a pushover, but it probably means I can’t tell my bosses their ideas are %&$^# moronic. Probably, at least, not.

So for all those here in the digital world, or in my flesh-and-blood world I have offended, hurt, irritated or just generally treated badly: Forgive me, my brothers and sisters.

A start to Lent

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace.

I hadn’t dressed for a crime scene last Wednesday. I dressed for court. And I was so proud of myself for getting up early and getting round, competing with A (now the hubby) who bounces out of bed early every morning, all ready to go.  But I didn’t get to court. I got a phone call. A woman, maybe a child, shot at a bus stop in a bad neighborhood. Temperatures were in the low 20’s. It was going to be a long morning.

Help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me.

There’s really nothing like that first view at the death scene. The crime scene tape, the blood-stained sheet…your brain wants it to be a TV show or something. But if you’re paying attention, you know it’s not. You know that that sheet covers a person, a human being, a child of God. Who was a moment ago, but who is not now. You want to distance yourself from that, so you make a joke with the cop you know or you talk with the prosecutor about how cold it is. You do anything to not think, at that very moment, about the awful.

Bless my dealings with all who surround me.

I wear a ridiculous hat in the wintertime. It is awesome — alpaca wool with a cream pompom on top. It covers my ears and it is warm. In the suburbs, when standing outside a palatial two-story while FBI agents search it, it makes me appear harmless to the neighbors as they speculate about where that money came from. In other neighborhoods, though, it is just as ridiculous as it looks. It looks as out of place as you would expect it would amid  people with cigarettes and tattoos on their necks, pants sagging and flat-billed baseball hats cocked sideways.

“Man, I heard he just pulled her off that m****f***in’ bus. Just shot her, right there. Said ‘you ain’t riding this bus’ and …f***.”

“S***.”

“Yeah, then that m****f*** just ran. Nobody knows where he’s at.”

Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that Your will governs all.

I saw the victim’s advocate taking two small children from the back of a police car. Their little worried faces shielded from the cruel reality just half a block away. I do not think they know yet what no child should ever know. I smile at the advocate. I see her all the time in the courthouse–shepherding the families of the dead, comforting the abused as they face the ones who took what did not belong to them. She smiles back, that smile you get when its nothing to smile about, but you don’t know what else to do.

In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings.

After hours at the edge of the police tape, my feet freezing off in spite of the brief refuge in a friendly officer’s squad car, my photographer and a columnist and I head out. The columnist to the office. The photographer and I were headed there, but the scanner traffic sent us somewhere else. Another neighborhood, a better neighborhood, where the police are putting on body armor and preparing to storm a house. They think the m****f*** who just ran off after putting a shotgun to a mother’s head in front of a city bus may be holed up inside.

So we go there. We watch them prepare to kill a person. And we wait for that to happen.

In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are sent by You.

There was nothing at that house, in spite of their searching and patience. I walk back to my car and selfishly rejoice that I won’t hear that shot today. I also give thanks it’s not my husband putting on the tactical gear and getting in that mindset.  Then I feel bad and think about how it will probably be another one of my coworkers hearing that shot later because they’ll find that guy and it’s going to be someone else’s husband pulling that trigger. And we all know this is only going to end one way. We tell more jokes because it’s more awful.

Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering or embarrassing others.

I go to a couple meetings, but the difference in the environment is striking. Just a few hours ago, I saw the firemen spray the gore off the sidewalk. I saw evidence teams put the woman’s backpack in a garbage bag. And now I’m listening to some suit talking about how he blah blah blah blah. I can’t even concentrate, so I pile my plate with veggies. It’s Lent. I’m supposed to be feeding my soul, right?

Give me strength to bear the fatigue of this coming day with all that it will bring.

Early in the afternoon, we learn the shooter holed up in another house with a 3-year-old child as a hostage. Another reporter is there, keeping watch. I’m back in the newsroom to write.

Wednesday night was the first Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. I love that service. Probably my favorite service, not counting Pascha. But I’ve been downing coffee, nibbling on carrots and nuts, and swearing up a storm. So much for a fast leading up to the Eucharist.

J’s phone rings. It’s the other reporter.  The 3-year-old is safe. The shooter is dead. She’ll come back and we’ll write a story about how horrible things happen. They happen all the time, but this day they happened at the corner of East Pettit and Reed.

Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray You Yourself in me.

I don’t make it to church. No icons surround me on my drive home, just images of that woman, her white tennis shoes sticking out from under the sheet.

Amen

The italicized phrases are from St. Philaret of Moscow’s Morning Prayer. I try to say it every day. Some days it means more than others.

On trying not to be the white rabbit

Vanity are all the works and quests of man, and they have no being after death has come.

“There’s still time for a Mary moment.”

Monday night, after absolutely being a raging jackass ALL day long (don’t believe me? I have phone numbers for people you can call to confirm), I walked into church and straight to confession. I did not even put my purse down.

After I confessed, I told Fr. Andrew I was still struggling with the over-business, the inability to quiet my soul and my penchant for behaving like a really grumpy Martha in this Lenten season. (see earlier post)

There’s still time, he said.

Still time.

Because I took Holy Wednesday through Bright Monday off (more time, more church), I was able to do something yesterday I have never done before.

I sang in a funeral. The choir was small, so I volunteered to pitch in and tried not to hit too many sour notes while we committed the woman’s soul to God. She died after a two-year battle with cancer and a lifelong battle with mental illness. And through it all, she loved God.

In the text of the funeral hymns, there is this gem. “Vanity are all the works and quests of man, and they have no being after death has come.”

I don’t know, maybe reading it in a different form than on a bumper sticker like “he who dies with the most toys still dies,” but for some reason it stuck with me and has been bouncing around in my head for 24 hours now. It stood in direct opposition to my sense of busy, my over-competitive way of being at the newsroom, and a reminder of how this whole thing is a paradox. Maybe a tautology, I don’t know.

We have time left to do what we should, but it may not be as much as we want.

A few weeks ago, we received news in our family that a dear friend is very sick, also with cancer. She is the closest thing I have to an aunt, and it is impossible to overestimate her and her husband’s importance to us. The fiance drove me up to my mom’s after we received the news, so I could hold my new niece and give my mom a hug. On the way back, he let me blather on about memories of times with this woman and her family. And we talked about how you always think you have more time –to introduce the fiance, to return a phone call, to drop by to have a cup of coffee.

So with that in the back of my mind, my chronic busy feeling, the wrinkles developing around my eyes and my increasing need to go to bed earlier and earlier, I stood at the funeral and I sang.

Vanity are all the works and quests of man, and they have no being after death has come.

I hope that that which I have busied myself has had some value further on from here. I hope that I make better choices about how I live in the moments I have. I hope that as I go to another funeral this week, this one for the Son of God as we take His most precious body down from the Cross and spend time in mourning, awaiting His most glorious Resurrection, I remember that there is still time for the Mary moment–to find myself at the feet of Him who loved me so much He became man, rose from the dead and promises me that I will one day rise as well.

I hope I remember this paradox and find a way to live within it.

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night, and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching; and again unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, lest thou be overcome with sleep, lest thou be given up to death, and be shut out from the Kingdom. But rouse thyself and cry: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God, through the Mother of God, have mercy on us.