Friday, January 17, 2020

Blessed Feast of St. Anthony the Great!

Today is the feast day of St. Anthony the Great, the patron saint of my Orthodox Christian parish. I am so thankful that St. Anthony led me to his parish almost 12 years ago. I had just read his life, written by St. Athanasius, in a college class at UCSD, of all places (it was a rare bright spot in my experience studying Literature there). Before that school term, I don't think I had any idea who St. Anthony was!

I came across the quote below in his life as it is told at

"St. Anthony's staunchness was greater than the wiles of the Enemy. Taking the form of ferocious beasts, the devils tried to force the saint to leave that place, but he defeated them by trusting in the Lord. Looking up, the saint saw the roof opening, as it were, and a ray of light coming down toward him. The demons disappeared and he cried out, 'Where have You been, O Merciful Jesus? Why didn't You appear from the very beginning to end my pain?'

"The Lord replied, 'I was here, Anthony, but wanted to see your struggle. Now, since you have not yielded, I shall always help you and make your name known throughout all the world.' After this vision St. Anthony was healed of his wounds and felt stronger than before."

What a beautiful thought that the Lord is right here with us in our struggles, not absent, not indifferent, but watching intently to see our faithfulness, make His presence known, and bless us with greater strength!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

"Limits Lead Us to the Water"

"I have come to recognize that life without limits is formless. Without limits, our purpose in each place we plant our feet is more difficult to discern. Our life's current, and those good works God prepared in advance for us to do, are much harder to find. When we pray for guidance, perhaps God's answer is every way He hems us in, like a river. ...Limits lead us to the water. Like a tree, I will send out my roots toward the stream, grateful for every hard rock and difficult stone that tells me This is the way, walk in it."
--Christie Purifoy, Placemaker

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Update on What I Will Post Going Forward

These last few months I’ve been in a season that makes it difficult to write for my blog. There are two aspects of that. One is that I had surgery to remove ovarian cysts and endometriosis in September (this surgery may or may not have solved my infertility issues). The other is that I’ve been in a particular new struggle in my infertility journey. Both of these aspects have meant that, while I have had plenty of thoughts to ponder and wrestle with, they haven’t been topics that I feel comfortable sharing publicly.
However, I do want to continue sharing beautiful, hopeful thoughts and actively encouraging others. So, I’ve decided that I will return to posting every Tuesday—both here on the blog and on my Instagram account, @michellednwrites—and I will primarily post quotations from wise people that are meaningful to me or that I hope will encourage others. I will either post a quotation on its own, or I may write some sort of commentary, depending on what feels right at the time.
So, keep an eye out for new posts on Tuesdays, and here is today’s quote:

"Maybe it's the darling tow-headed toddler who crosses herself like an angel, maybe it's the screaming four-year-old in the row ahead of us whose action figures have been taken away until after Liturgy. Whatever it is, there's something about church that makes us feel even more barren than anywhere else on the face of the Earth." 
--Nicole M. Roccas, Under the Laurel Tree: Grieving Infertility with Saints Joachim and Anna

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Review of Dr. Nicole Roccas's "Under the Laurel Tree: Grieving Infertility with Saints Joachim and Anna"

Author Nicole Roccas has done a great service to the Orthodox world—and beyond—by creating Under the Laurel Tree: Grieving Infertility with Saints Joachim and Anna. The premise of the book is a necessary one in so many ways. For one thing, speaking of infertility from an Orthodox perspective makes her work a rarity. More than that, focusing on the grieving process means that the work is fitting for a variety of audience members. In my experience, there are more books written about how an author waited on God and finally received children. While I think that Under the Laurel Tree would still appeal to people whose infertility ended with the birth of a child, I really value the book’s focus on the journey of walking with God through the grief of infertility—on the spiritual growth to be gained through the struggle of infertility—rather than on the idea that being “cured” is defined by becoming a parent. As Dr. Roccas eloquently states in one of the “golden lines” of the book: “Healing from the shame of infertility comes not when/if we finally get pregnant, but rather when we ultimately surrender to our full worth as men and women, children of the living God whose image we bear and whose love we can never escape.”
I also really enjoyed her in-depth look at the story of Joachim and Anna, as told in the second-century work The Protoevangelium of James. Dr. Roccas discusses the somewhat controversial nature of the source material (some in the Orthodox Church have questioned its authenticity, but the Church has drawn upon it heavily to design the feasts of the Virgin Mary that are celebrated during the Church Year). As Dr. Roccas explains—and I agree—even if there are any historical inaccuracies in the details, they do not diminish the value and authenticity of the emotional experience that The Protoevangelium portrays. Each chapter of the book’s main section begins with an excerpt from the story of Joachim and Anna. I found that the parts of the story that Dr. Roccas quotes were at times confusing, but her commentary helped to clarify what could be gleaned from the story even when the details were hard to understand for someone coming from our modern context.
Dr. Roccas expertly weaves humor into the book, so that I found it surprisingly funny despite the serious subject matter. Her writing style is so relatable and goes a long way toward making the reader feel understood and accepted for whatever feelings he or she may have experienced during infertility. That being said, I would recommend this book both for those who have experienced or are experiencing infertility, and for those who have not but wish to better understand the experience.
I am so thankful that this book is available now as a resource in the Orthodox world. I so enjoyed reading my review copy and am delighted to recommend it to others!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

God's Providence in the Life of Fr. Peter Gillquist: A Review of "Memories of His Mercy"

As a member of the Antiochian Archdiocese, I know Fr. Peter Gillquist for his instrumental role in leading the former “Evangelical Orthodox” into the Antiochian branch of the Orthodox Church. My parish, St. Anthony the Great in San Diego, was founded and led for many years by Fr. Jon Braun, who worked closely with Fr. Peter in searching for and joining the Orthodox Church.
Written near the end of Fr. Peter’s life, Memories of His Mercy was published after his falling asleep in the Lord in July 2012. As the subtitle states, the book is filled with “Recollections of the Grace and Providence of God” that appeared throughout his life.
It was delightful to get to know more of Fr. Peter’s life story in this remarkable, encouraging book. It felt like Fr. Peter was sitting beside me and regaling me with stories of his life. The conversational tone makes the book a quick and easy read.
Fr. Peter’s legacy is one of a great evangelist. As such, it is no surprise that when he speaks about the Christian faith, he makes profound truths sound straightforward. In one chapter, he discusses the need for evangelical Protestants and Orthodox Christians to dialogue with each other clearly about their beliefs. In writing about the famous debate over whether we as Christians are saved “by faith” or “by works,” Fr. Peter explains, “The fact is, none of us, either through our works or through our faith, are ever going to come up spotless or in any way able to merit our salvation. In the end, it’s got to be the mercy of God that qualifies us” (113). I feel like he boiled this concept down in a way that just makes sense, without sounding complicated or confusing.
I love to hear the stories of how God provided for the Gillquist family’s needs, often at just the right time. That’s the kind of story that strengthens my faith, helping me to keep trusting that God will provide for my family. Fr. Peter writes about finding a $10 bill in the mail when he and his wife were early in their marriage, had no money, and needed to go grocery shopping: “Throughout our lives this kind of thing happened. That day, we hadn’t even known we needed the money, and yet there it was, a total surprise! Over the years, these loving gestures of provision from our Lord have caused us to give thanks to Him; He has known our needs before we even asked Him” (48).
Another quote from the book that I love is, “God would always give us the strength we needed to accomplish any task He asked us to undertake” (62). These are words I want to live by.
Toward the end of the book, Fr. Peter discusses his battle with cancer. He describes deciding to “rely more heavily on the prayers of other saints, both on earth and in heaven” (155). I found this to be an interesting idea, because I tend to think that maybe I’m being lazy or neglectful if I ask others to pray for my needs but don’t remember to pray for those needs myself. I thought he made a really meaningful point by saying that “an illness can easily degenerate into a pity party” if we turn inward instead of casting our cares upon the Lord (156). I like the idea that maybe God doesn’t want me to focus on my needs and difficulties as much as on “the greater reality of Christ, His Church, and His Kingdom” (156).
According to the back cover, Fr. Peter’s stated goal for this book was “to share with other people the faithfulness of God in a way that I hope will motivate them to trust in Him more than they do now.” That purpose motivated me to read this book, and I’m so glad I did. It is a strong source of encouragement and enrichment for those pursuing the long race of the Christian life.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Review of "The Cross and the Stag: The Incredible Adventures of St. Eustathius," A Graphic Novel by Gabriel Wilson

Ever since I first heard the story of St. Eustathius and his family, about 10 years ago, I have been intrigued by these saints. When I read saints’ lives, I often lament the lack of detail that has come down to us. It’s so much easier to connect with saints as real people, part of the “great cloud of witnesses” who are cheering me on, when I can know some of the vivid details and twists and turns of their real lives. When it comes to St. Eustathius’s family, I can really connect with their story and see it as a source of strength for my own.
Before reading Gabriel Wilson’s graphic novel, The Cross and the Stag, I was concerned that it might extrapolate and add details to St. Eustathius’s life that would fictionalize it. However, I was quite pleased to observe that all of the events were very true to what I knew about St. Eustathius, and any dramatizations felt like realistic interpretations of the story.
The members of this holy family are commemorated for the faithfulness that they all maintained amidst their trials, despite separation and loss. Reading about them was perfect timing for me, as I am facing my own difficult time and having a great need to hold onto my faith despite adversity. It was definitely God’s plan, through the intercessions of His saints, that this book should come to me right now.
I love that St. Eustathius’s wife received the name “Theopiste” at her baptism. This name means “faith in God.” What an interesting name for someone whose faith was going to be severely tested beginning soon after her baptism! I think that if my name were “faith in God,” it might feel a tiny bit easier to hold onto that faith. I’m so glad that I can pray and ask for St. Theopiste’s intercessions, and that I can imagine how she is cheering me on to keep practicing trust in God’s plans, confusing as they may seem. In her own life, she was separated from her husband and sons for years, and yet she clung to God. I want to be like that, firm enough in my knowledge of His goodness that no circumstances can shake my belief in Him.
While I am not someone who is typically drawn to graphic novels, I was immediately attracted to the cover of this one,

and I wasn’t disappointed. Overall I thought the art was very well done and helped to bring the story to life. This image is one of my favorites:

So, I highly recommend The Cross and the Stag, the first in Ancient Faith Publishing’s new series Among the Saints, and I am looking forward to the next one! 

I received a review copy of The Cross and the Stag: The Incredible Adventures of St. Eustathius from Ancient Faith Publishing in exchange for my honest review. Check out the link to get your own copy!