Friday, March 22, 2019

The Harder Way, the Better Way

"I wanted a baby without the agony of waiting and uncertainty, but all these years later I can say with confidence: for me, the harder way was the better way.... [T]he best gifts, like the gifts of my sons and my daughters,...are those that invite our participation, our prayer, our desire, and only then, when we have so much more to give, our gratitude" --Christie Purifoy, page 117 of Placemaker
I received my copy of Christie Purifoy's new release, Placemaker, in the mail last week. I have a rather silly habit of opening books to random pages--usually without considering first--and reading whatever I see there. This delightful new purchase was no exception, as I lifted it from its cardboard wrapping, and the paragraph I saw is the one from which I have quoted above. 
What a serendipitous spot to turn to! I immediately thought, "This book is as good as I hoped it would be!"
Of course, the beauty and delight of Placemaker are no surprise, keeping step with everything else of Christie's that I have read. But the ideas of this quote are particularly meaningful to me, as they represent the spirit that I want to acquire as I wait to be able to have children. 
I long for the day when I can fully agree with that first sentence, and I am thankful that part of me, at least, agrees with it now. My feelings, unsurprisingly, fluctuate as circumstances fluctuate. But, when I'm not overcome by difficult emotions, I know that God is giving me the best gifts for my particular story, blessings that I will only be able to appreciate when I can see the full picture, the full story. 
And, so, I intend to meditate on these words, so I can hold onto the thought that this harder way is the better way, that my desire and my participation are making the fulfillment all the sweeter and all the more worth the wait.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

How Does God View Me As I Wait on Him?

I've been considering an important question lately: How does God view me as I wait on Him? I've realized that my attitude about this--my subconscious assumptions--strongly determines how I feel as I wait. This is a really tricky area in which I've found myself believing all kinds of lies.
I can't definitively answer the question, "Why does God want me to wait for things that I long for?" I can think of some possible reasons: circumstances needing to line up in a way that's ideal from God's perspective, or the value of how I'll be transformed through developing patience. But more importantly, I need to recognize that God's love for me determines both what He allows in my life, and what His attitude toward me is. 
When God doesn't give me a speedy "yes" to my prayers, it's an easy, easy thing for me to start thinking that He doesn't care about my desires, and that my feelings don't matter to Him. I am amazed at how readily my mind adopts this way of thinking. Yet this is the age-old trick of the evil one. When Satan spoke to Eve in the Garden, his whole argument was essentially that God was lying to her and that He wasn't the loving Father that He claims to be, but rather was trying to keep good things away from her. And this is the very same lie that I'm believing when I tell myself that God doesn't really care about me and my waiting.
I read Psalm 27 recently (or Psalm 28 in Western Bibles), and it says, "The Lord is my helper and my champion;/ In Him my heart hoped, and I was helped,/ And my flesh revived" (verse 7). This verse reminds us that God is not just passively watching us, and He is not even simply cheering us on: He is our champion, actively pursuing our cause, protecting us, fighting on our behalf, dedicated to our good. I've learned the value of champions from playing board games; when my opponent's champion comes onto the board, I get very concerned and target him immediately, because I know what a powerful force he is. And I find the image of the all-powerful, all-seeing God as my champion to be incredibly encouraging. 
I've realized that I need to actively ask myself what I believe about God, reminding myself that He "is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). Sometimes I get the idea that God is even scoffing at me, contemptuous of my hope that wonderful things may come to me, and this makes me want to abandon my hopes in shame. But, again, who would plant that idea in my head? It is not from the Lord; it's from the adversary, who can defeat me most easily simply by convincing me not to fight him at all.
I know this is a theme that I need to ponder more, and I will most likely come back to it in a later post. In the mean time, I hope these thoughts encourage you in whatever area you may be facing doubt or struggle right now.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Falling in Love with Lent: Learning to Love the Waiting (Guest Post by Elissa Bjeletich)

I am incredibly delighted to introduce my first guest post here at Hopeful Patience! I greatly admire Elissa Bjeletich, whose work I discovered through Ancient Faith Radio. She co-authored the wonderful new book Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago here and on Ancient Faith Publishing's website (https://store.ancientfaith.com/tending-the-garden-of-our-hearts-daily-lenten-meditations-for-families/). Elissa and her husband, Marko, have five daughters and live outside of Austin, Texas. Elissa directs and teaches Sunday School at Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, writes books and hosts podcasts, contributes to curriculum projects, and works at an Orthodox summer camp. In light of her new book, I asked her to write about how the practice of Great Lent helps us develop hopeful patience.  

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Patience does not come to me naturally; God has been teaching me faithfully for many years, and I am a poor student. I am ever so slowly learning to embrace patience, to (occasionally) live joyfully in this present moment without pining for other moments I imagine are still ahead. Too often, I have shortchanged the present time, as if it were just a stopover on the road to something else.
When I was teenager, I was pretty sure that nothing I did really mattered because I was not yet an adult. As soon as I finished college, I could not wait to get going — to get married, to buy a house, to have children. I considered slowing down and enjoying my life as it already was, and promptly rejected that idea to resume pining and plotting to get where I was going. I hated the waiting.
The funny thing is that once I got there, once I was a married woman with children, there was always another thing. Another child, another move, another stage that had to come so that I could stop waiting.
And then it happened. People started having serious problems. My third daughter had a cleft lip and palate. I began to spend a lot of time in waiting rooms. My daughter smiled at people, sparked conversations. Our life was happening in waiting rooms. I began to really face this question of waiting in a whole new way. Were we losing time because we were waiting — or was waiting just the place where I was living life? Had waiting always been the destination?
My fourth child, my son, died on his 45th day. I asked myself, what were those 45 days? They were the days of his life. And they were beautiful. We don’t know how many days we’ll receive, and we may not accomplish anything in this world. Is a 45-day life worth living? Of course it is. Of course it was. I knew that the grieving would take a long time and could not be hurried. I could not hurry it. I could not push forward. It was time to wait, and to learn how waiting could be processing. Grieving was the thing I was doing, not the thing that I was waiting to finish.
By the time my sixth child, Mariana, went into liver failure and was placed on the transplant list, perhaps we were experts at waiting. We waited for a liver and then we waited for a month for her to come out of her post-surgical coma. Waiting wasn’t as hard any more. I had made peace with it.
I recently read a guest post by Dr. Daniel Opperwal on one of my favorite blogs, Nicole Roccas’s Time Eternal. [https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/timeeternal/the-joy-of-waiting-time-and-psalmody-in-st-benedict-guest-post/#more-1114] He wrote, “[…] we learn to actually love this waiting; it becomes a joy, not a burden, when it is ornamented by our voices lifted in ancient prayer. To fall in love with the waiting is the birth of patience […]”
Those words ring in my heart: To fall in love with the waiting is the birth of patience…  What if we can learn to embrace the waiting, to fall in love with it? I am at peace with the waiting, but what if I could love it? Would I finally then experience that holy gift of the Spirit, patience?
As we prepare to embark on Great Lent, I am struck by its relationship to waiting.  I converted to Orthodoxy twenty years ago, and my fast was always limited by the fact that I was constantly pregnant or nursing for years. But eventually, I was free to fast, and it was hard to learn that discipline. I found that my first fasts were mostly about the waiting for the feast ahead, about getting through this hard time (Lent) so that we could enjoy the good time (Pascha). But then as Bright Week faded I would find again and again that I missed the fasting. I missed the evening services and the quiet prayers. I missed the fast. Over the years, I have found that when the Sunday of Zacchaeus alerts me that Great Lent is on the horizon, I can’t stop smiling. There he is, up in that tree. It’s about time. I can feel it. I am ready for Lent; I need Lent; I love Lent.
It’s not about enduring Lent so that we can reach the Resurrection; it’s about falling in love with Lent itself, with the waiting. And when Judgement Sunday arrives, and we see Christ enthroned in His glory, separating the sheep from the goats, we are reminded that we’re not just waiting for Pascha: we await Christ’s Second Coming, the General Resurrection and the True Pascha.
Embracing Great Lent means embracing the human condition: we struggle and suffer as we await the glorious coming of our Lord, the final destruction of death and the resurrection of all.
We will always be waiting, until the end of days. If we can fall in love with the waiting, we have a chance at abundant life.
Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. (James 5:7-9)


Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Cultivating Friendship with the Clarksons in "Girls' Club"

Today three of my favorite influencers, Sally Clarkson and her daughters Sarah and Joy, are releasing their new book, Girls' Club: Cultivating Lasting Friendship in a Lonely World. You can find it on Amazon at this link: https://amzn.to/2C43WIY. I was given the opportunity to read the first three chapters of the book for this review, and getting this taste has made me eager to read the rest of the book!
I love the genuine, heartfelt writing style of authors Sally Clarkson and her daughters Sarah and Joy. As a reader, they make me feel like they are talking to me personally. In the documentary "Won't You Be My Neighbor?", I heard Mr. Rogers say that, when he addressed his audience, he would always picture that he was speaking personally to one child. In the same way, the Clarksons give the sense that they want to connect with the reader as a unique person.
I especially connect with Sarah's chapter, Chapter 2. Sarah has a beautifully unique way with words that draws me to everything she writes, and she expresses sadness and struggle in such a way that I can see them as a pathway to beauty rather than a dismal end in themselves. In this chapter, she speaks about loneliness, and she shows the reader that the ultimate reason that loneliness plagues us is the Fall: "The fallenness of the world means that each of us experiences an essential loneliness, a deep sense of separation from each other, of being isolated and even unlovable." Seeing loneliness in the context of the Fall helps the reader realize that such an experience is nothing to be ashamed of and is a common experience in this world. This acknowledgment counteracts the lie that we are somehow different from "normal people," somehow lacking, if we struggle with feeling isolated. And, as Sarah speaks lovingly to her readers, she encourages us to "begin to live by the voice of love," to "combat the isolating patterns of life in a far-too-busy world."
In Girls' Club, the Clarksons offer women great encouragement, affirming the vast power of women to influence the world for goodness, beauty, and life. We women need to hear these messages of affirmation to remember how God sees us, and how much He wants to strengthen us to do His work in the world. 
I'll be getting my full-length copy of Girls' Club soon, so keep an eye out for my full review!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Ancient Faith Book Review: Journeying through Lent with "Tending the Garden of Our Hearts"

I follow the work of several Western Christian writers and speakers, and they often reference doing daily devotionals as a family. While I know that there are many devotional books available from Western sources, I am not aware of many such Orthodox Christian resources. So I was delighted to learn that Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger had created Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Family Meditations for Great Lent. This book, releasing through Ancient Faith Publishing, comes out February 5th (just over a month before Orthodox Lent begins).
Reading Tending the Garden has brought me great joy, and, as a result, I have already begun getting excited for Great Lent, Holy Week, and Pascha (the Resurrection).
Before I began reading, I wondered if the writing style would feel more geared toward children and not as useful for adults. However, I quickly found myself encountering new, helpful ways of thinking about Orthodox ideas. The writing style felt accessible to children, but not off-putting to adults. I think the book will work equally great as a daily Lenten devotional for my family now, when we're adults only, and with kids in the future.
In the book, the weeks of Great Lent are organized into themes. I often wondered how authors Elissa and Kristina came up with so many well-thought-out topics to connect with each theme. For example, they mention a number of saints that I knew little or nothing about, such as Elder Dobri. He is described in the fourth week of Lent, which focuses on the Cross and the ways that different people have taken up their cross and followed Christ (Matt. 16:24).
Elder Dobri was a Bulgarian who fell asleep in the Lord just last year. This very humble man lived a simple life of holiness. In his nineties, he spent much of his time begging on the street outside of a cathedral in Sofia, the capital city. People later learned that the money Elder Dobri collected all went to several different churches to fund their restoration. He himself was living in a small building in the churchyard of his native village, where he slept on the floor and ate very little. And, when he wasn't collecting money, he was helping with repair work on the church where he lived. People recognized Elder Dobri's holiness because "he simply radiated kindness and meekness and love.... When people put some money into his cup, he would give them a loving look and thank them for their charity" (pg. 132).
I love reading about saints like this--people who, in our ordinary world, found ways to embrace the love of God and pour it out to others. Some of the other saints discussed in the book include St. Xenia of St. Petersburg, St. Constantine the Great, Mother Maria of Paris, and St. John of the Ladder. The rich diversity encourages readers to consider what their own unique path to holiness might be, recognizing that God has unique plans for each of us that won't be exactly like anyone else's life story. And, really, the whole purpose of "tending the garden of our hearts" is to seek holiness in our lives, to learn to become channels of God's love into the world.
So I am resoundingly recommending this wonderful new book from Ancient Faith Publishing, with much gratitude to the authors for their excellent, whole-hearted work, which will bless many families this Lent and in the years to come.