Icons, part the infinity

(This is the theme of my life. This is apparently what I am to always remember, to never forget, to paste to the front of my consciousness.

The Icon and The Human. The Image of God.)

It’s another December with a sad story about a girl gone missing, albeit one a long time ago. It’s also that time of year when my heart feels heavy for a variety of reasons unconnected to anything obvious. I feel dark.

Helo and I have been busy with searching, seeking out those who are not with their people at the time of their passing and to return them to where they belong in some form or fashion. That can add to the darkness, even when there are answers, because the questions themselves are heavy, and block out the light.

So I need very much the Advent, the arrival of The Word and the dawning of the Light.

We’ll start at the end, with the sentencing Friday of the man guilty of modern Fort Wayne’s original sin, the first girl missing and killed near the high Holy Days.

My new job, back in news, takes me occasionally back to the courtroom, though I have much more control over the what and the when. (It’s nice to be the boss.) On Friday, I spent the morning at the sentencing hearing, and helping my reporter craft her story on the matter, while I put a written version together for our website.

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The courtroom was filled with the image of the little girl, a picture I could conjure in my sleep having seen it so much for so long. On Friday, it was all over the t-shirts of her family, an innocent image reflecting nagging grief. I saw how tired they were, and heard their exhaustion as they spoke of what he took from them. I observed the still-smoldering rage of those who hunt the monsters. I saw, again, the ripples of the Fall, spreading out and contaminating all that it touches, breaking and distorting on its way through time.

I cannot reach this time of year without thinking of the other A-named girls: Alejandra and Aliana, whose stories intersected mine through journalism and drove me to search work. I will likely again light candles in their memory, pray for peace for those who miss them, those who hunted their killers and all of us impacted by their deaths.

My church has new icons up, a magnificent project with the Theotokos and infant Christ above the altar. Before court, I listened to a story my arts reporter did on the project, her interview with Fr. Andrew as he discussed the importance of the image to us who worship in this way, the Icon as connection of the physical and the spiritual, the Holy Scriptures without words.

I thought about all I’ve seen in recent weeks in both jobs, my heart heavy with the thought of what those families carry in the waiting, albeit 30 minutes or 30 years.

The recovery work, like the journalism work, is so intricately connected to Orthodoxy I do not believe they could exist without each other. Every time I unclip the leash and tell him to “Search”, every time I uncap the pen to capture the story, I feel like I am chasing icons, chronicling the image of God as it presents itself around me.

I don’t mean this to sound too holy, but I think it might. I’m sorry about that. I just cannot seem to shake this feeling that I need this hunt to remind myself of my own nature, to aid in my recovery from the fall.

I have often wondered if the thing our cadaver dogs detect, what distinguishes human remains from all other organic material, even that of other mammals, is this strange thing, this image of God we carry. I wish Helo could tell me, but he only tells me when he finds it. I still don’t know exactly what he’s sussing out. I’m sure some will cringe at the spiritual way I approach such an odd and grim task. I am not sorry about it though.

Anyway, I’m sorry for the meandering. It’s been awhile since I’ve been here. There’s been sadness and success since my last post. I guess I needed to process. Thanks for listening.

Advent is upon us. The light is dawning soon.

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It’s really not political.

Humans, being. Again.

I know I post a lot of stuff. (I really just try to keep ya’ll informed. Doing the news thing, social-like.)

But I want to be clear: to me this is a moral thing.

If you give me a Democrat who recognizes the inherent dignities of every human being, born and unborn, I will vote for them.

If you give me a Republican who recognizes the inherent dignities of every human being, born and unborn, I will vote for them.

Since neither does either very well, I base my choices on which candidate does so better.

And I try to do journalism that amplifies the voices of those who get drowned out, to make sure that truth is told, to be ethical.

Repeat after me:

Holy InnocentsThe unborn baby is being made in the image of God.

The Honduran immigrant baby being pulled out of her mother’s arms is made in the image of God.

The transgendered person using a restaurant bathroom with you is made in the image of God.

The rural unemployed mom struggling with opioid addiction and keeping the lights on is made in the image of God.

The Syrians fleeing violence across the Mediterranean Sea are made in the image of God.

These are icons. These are what we must protect.

Jesus Carries the Cross
From “The Stations of the Cross” at the Church of the Advocate in downtown Philadelphia. All of the icons or religious artwork have been replaced with photographs of refugees or the poor. A heartbreaking reminder.

I try to keep it simple:

Is this a human being? yes.

If yes, is its dignity being threatened? Yes or no

If yes, help it. If no, applaud its victory.

Humans do not infest or inconvenience.

Humans are.

 

The Stranger

When I backed out of my driveway this morning, I noticed a guest: a small juvenile robin sitting on our door frame. It’s mother chattered nervously nearby.

When A trimmed the hedges this evening, he maneuvered around the little one, again to the chatter and now with added dive-bombing activity of the parents.

I took Helo outside tonight, to take some pictures and enjoy the freedom of a cool-ish evening before summer heat settles in. It was a long week at TJTP and I needed a breather.

I knew what was coming in the afternoon, and I made sure to spend some time in the prayer corner Thursday morning. A reading from Matthew:

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

A visit from the Attorney General demanded coverage, and I sat in room filled with old sources, old friends, and new sources and new friends. I listened to the words of my Holy Scripture being twisted into knots to justify the unjustifiable, to explain the inexplicable.

Anyway, back to the yard.

So I am trying to both take a picture of Helo and throw his tug, and I hear a cacophony from the sycamore over the woodshed. It’s both robin parents, beside themselves. The baby is nearby.

Keeping a close eye on my dog, who would eat it in a minute, I try to find the bird. There it sits, tucked in the root of another tree on the other side of the yard. My heart is glad it’s there, and worries about the barn cat catching scent. There’s nothing I can do, other than allay the parents’ fears and keep Helo out of the way. I put him up as quickly as I can, keeping him moving quickly on the opposite side of the baby.

A natural instinct: protecting your offspring. The killdeer stagger and flop around to keep Helo away from their poorly-planned nest sites. The robins, they shriek in terror, clattering and calling to their beloved.

If I am filled with compassion for a baby bird, how much more so is my God. How much more so should I be for the parents approaching our southern border to find a twisted knot of American ideals and misapplied Scriptures.

They are of more value than many sparrows.DSC_0118 (3)

Don’t stand silent. Do what you can do to keep the predators away. Move them to safety if you can. Don’t just pray and cross your fingers that it will all work out because that is not going to work if you don’t do something.

If you are a Christian, this cannot be you. He’s been clear about it from the get.

Leviticus, Job, the prophetic books–It’s all over the Old Testament.

Then there’s this verse: Matthew 25:35

I was a stranger, and you invited Me in.

That’s unequivocal. Don’t pretend it only applies to the four-walled auditorium where you spend a couple of hours on Sunday.

It applies to all of us, out here in the open. In the yard. Under the tree. Along the border. At the ballot box.

I hope the robin is OK. I’m not going to stress them out by taking her from them.

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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.

I promise.

Here’s what I have. I ask you, my sisters and brothers, to hold me accountable, to add to this list, or to expand it in your own life where it applies.

Or ignore it completely. That always remains an option.

I want to go on record.

I promise to do my dead-level best to:

  • Love mercy
  • Do justly
  • Walk humbly with my God
  • Expand the Garden of peace beyond the borders of my own spiritual community whenever possible
  • Pray more
  • Love better
  • Do whatever I need to do to build stronger connections, maintain the bridges between us, and to repair the places that have eroded due to neglect and error.

I promise I will step in when I see injustice. I promise I will try to always stand on the side of the oppressed, the minority, the wounded, the suffering, and the wandering.

I promise I will help you find your words, perform your duty, carry your burden, and find rest.

I promise there is no such thing as alternate facts.

I promise you Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and the people who voted for them, are icons, made in the image of God.

I promise I will always try my best to tell the truth, to call out falsehood when I see it, and to encourage others to do the same.

I promise to continue to mean what I say every liturgy “we pray for this country, its ruler, its people, civil authorities and armed forces.”

I promise to speak out against greed and injustice.

I promise to listen to your stories.

I promise to have “Lord, have mercy” on my lips as much as possible.cropped-mg_6828.jpg

 

Capturing the moments, and living there

 

There’s a very common saying in working dogs: Train the dog in front of you. Not the one you wish you had.

Everyone knows it. Every new handler hear it constantly from their training directors, from their fellow handlers.

It’s a real temptation, this “next dog.” The mystery K9 you will pluck from the pound, or drop $2,000 on from a well-known working line breeder, the dog that will achieve certification in like two months, never have a bad day, never take a dump in the middle of a search problem, and probably won’t even shed.

We dream of this dog. We see this dog elsewhere on our teams, handled by those who clearly don’t appreciate these magnificent animals as well as we would if we had them. We know that the next dog will be amazing.

Meanwhile, our hardworking K9 sits dutifully at our side, waiting for whatever command we are going to give them, hoping we get the timing better on this next reward and that we don’t miss their cues and leave them out there too long by our misdirection.

There’s another problem new handlers face, and that is that they are new handlers. This is also news to us, er, them. So as new handlers, our timing is always off. We don’t understand enough to really get the training done we need. We know this, deep down inside. And it makes us grumpy. We are anxious. We are angry. We misplace our frustration and put it where it doesn’t belong: our partners.

The only thing harder than taking a pet dog and turning it into a working K9 is taking an inexperienced pet dog owner and turning her into a working K9 handler, a person with confidence, patience, wisdom, strength and humility.

It’s hard to be that inexperienced pet dog owner. It’s harder to make the journey.

My first few years as a SAR K9 handler have been unbelievably difficult, a Sisyphean exercise on the hill of my own ego. We have failed more than we’ve succeeded, and much of our struggle has been because I am very, very slow on the uptake. Did you know that you have to let go of control to work a SAR dog? Yes. It’s true.

Ugh.

SAR and training a dog for SAR works for my salvation. I say this a lot, because it is true. All those things that make good handlers good handlers are good traits for humans, godly traits even.

I’m hopeful that we are getting there. I think the photos below are proof.

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We’re not quite sure…

The above photograph was taken on a cold day in March. I was really distracted and angry at where we found ourselves, progress-wise. Helo knew it. Even though he found what we were looking for, the look on his face tells me that he does not trust me, he does not know how I will react and he’s really not sure he wants to be there right now.

When I first saw this photograph, I was embarrassed. There it was, in living color, for me to see: my strained relationship with my partner, my ego in the way of our work, my desire to work another dog, any other dog, was clearly felt by him on this day.

It broke my heart.

So for the past couple months, I stopped worrying about Helo and nagging him about the work he was doing. All of our training sessions were spent working on me, my attitude, my focus, putting my heart in the right place. I needed to control my emotions, my passions, in order to give him the space to succeed.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. Same place in the search problem, right before the final indication.

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I’ve got it!

Different dog. Different team. This picture brought tears to my eyes for completely different reasons.

For the past two years, I’ve been looking past the dog I had, and yet at the same time depending on his performance to validate me as a handler. How unfair is that to such a loyal, attentive and gifted creature!?

It has taken a lot of work. And like all journeys and trips worth taking, it’s going to take a lot more to get to where we need to be.

I share this tonight, a departure from my usual musings on the human condition, to share this bit of my condition. I ask for your continued prayers, your support as I work to be the handler Helo needs me to be, the wife my husband needs me to be, the human being that the world needs me to be.

For just like you shouldn’t look past your dog to the next one, we can’t look past the life we have right now to live the one we don’t have. This is our day. These are our choices, our moments. Live in them, fully.

Thankful thoughts

For my peeps, whom I love. The extended version.

 

I posted Wednesday night on Facebook about how grateful I am for the people in my life. I meant it, and I want to expand a bit on it here.

Believe it or not, I am an introvert. I behave like an extrovert for TJTP, but I do not find big groups of people enjoyable or energizing. However, I really do love people on a personal level. I love hearing their stories, seeing their scars, learning from them and watching them grow.

And I have been richly blessed by the people in my life, with genuine connections to so many people. It makes me tear up sometimes when I think about it. (shhh don’t tell)

The main difference between Orthodoxy and all other strains of Christianity I had explored is literally “Communion,” the sharing in the Sacraments. The Mysteries of God really do connect us in a way that is mystical and sturdy. I find an instant connection with those in the Church.

I often say that training Helo is working for my salvation. I believe that quite wholeheartedly. Training dogs is humbling work. Admitting you don’t know how to communicate in a way that’s understandable is embarrassing to a professional communicator. It’s humbling to fail so much at something into which you are putting so much. It is always very hard for me to ask for help. It’s hard to put yourself out there, with your dog, in testing, or competition or work. It’s even harder when you fail.

Helo and I have failed. Many many times. But we’re getting better. We’re growing.

I know that I have had the support of my Church people, through prayer and encouragement. Thank you all for that. Thank you for asking me at coffee hour how training is going, for listening to me talk about the joys of human remains detection over donuts, for praying for our safety in our work, and for praying for me and asking about the TJTP. That job gets a bit lonely at times and I know I have your love there. It means a lot.

My family and non-dog/SAR friends have been pretty awesome as well. I have been a total chatterbox for two years now on the miracles and wonders of lying in the woods and waiting for a dog to come and bark at me. I have badgered many about coming to hide in holes and boxes, regardless of weather or conditions. I have moaned about our latest struggle and babbled like a brook about any success we have had. Please know I am trying not to take you all for granted. We can’t do this without you and your patience. Thank you. Thank you.

At some level too, not the Mystical one of actual Communion, but at a very deep and meaningful human level– a way that I think it should be for everyone somewhere in their lives– my dog people have saved me this year too. There has been a true communion of connection and support.

When you are passionate about something, and you find others who share that passion and that drive; and who are committed to helping you cultivate it more in yourself, it’s just extraordinary.

New friends whose paths I crossed at seminars or elsewhere, for whom I felt an instant “THIS PERSON needs to be in my life”; Facebook friends who have trained and worked for years, who are quick to answer questions, to offer tips and patience; my teammates who deal with me with unfailing patience and humor, for you all I am so thankful.

Such connections are a gift. To those reading this for whom this is true, thank you. Thank you for investing in my life, in my skills, in my dog. Thank you for caring enough to check on us, spur us on, pull us up when we’ve been down.

I light candles in the back of the Church for those whom I love and who are on my mind. It’s been a veritable forest quite frequently in recent months for all of you.

Love,

Me.