Thursday, July 30, 2020

Untangling Yarn...

This piece was supposed to be published in a magazine and then Covid happened before my contract was signed so, in the end, it is still mine. I decided to put it on my site. The irony here is that I actually have a hernia that I developed after writing this. It sat in my files for a long time before I finally decided to clean it up for sale. I think in the end, it is still valuable because it really is a strong metaphor for life. We live in the open spaces of our lives. At a time when things are so chaotic and people are so vitriolic, we can remind ourselves to look for those open spaces.

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Last night, as I lay in my bed trying to fall asleep, I moved and my fingers grazed across one of my many abdominal scars. It reminds me of how sometimes I will be happily knitting and I will pull on my carefully wound balls and out will come a length of tangled yarn. Like life, yarn is like that. I carefully wind balls and they look beautiful and perfect but inside is a terrifying tangle of fear and doubt that will pull out exactly when I need to draw on my resources. I cannot go any further until I untangle it.

Touching scars is my way of feeling out and understanding the realities of what is and what was. After my critical illness, all I know is to run my fingers across the surgical scars like trying to untangle yarn. There isn’t a protocol or method or algorithm. I random pull at strings and see what moves and what can be pulled apart to make a space that is not bound up in the knot. I have to learn to move around some knots and undo others until more and more of the yarn falls into my lap, sometimes a little worse for the wear but still untangled. I live in these undone lengths and open spaces.

Years ago, I had already been through many surgeries when I started to have severe abdominal pain. It was caused by a hernia that bulged out of the place where two different months old surgical incisions intersected. We scheduled surgery and I left the doctor’s office in tears, embarrassed but unable to stop myself.

Three days before surgery, I was out with my husband when I felt a pop. My intestines had slipped into the hole. I went to the ladies room to see a lemon sized bulge in my belly. I hid in the accessible stall and cried and bit my lip and held my breath and pushed but could not get it to go back. I began to panic. I locked the door and laid down in front of the sinks and tried again but still couldn’t. Laying on the bathroom floor, I stared up on the ceiling and felt myself sinking into yet another crisis. My insides were literally knotted and I was unable to untangle them. I forced myself to stand and walk out and get my husband. He practically flew to the hospital and by the time we were there, I was in agony and vomiting violently.

When I was opened, I was riddled with hernias and the surgeons ran out of blue mesh to close them so one hernia would be a tension repair. That hernia was smaller, only 5 centimeters long. He tried to go into this site laparoscopically, like the other two sites that day. Unfortunately, my body resisted, too full of scar tissue from the previous surgeries. They moved their tools for another angle and tried again, then again one last time. Three times they tried and three times they failed.

Finally, he resorted to a full open tension repair. I woke to five sets of laparoscopic incisions and a full open where a total of seven hernias were closed over three sites. My body was a minefield with fifteen small holes, each closed with a single stitch, and two short incisions with only a few and then a longer incision with twelve. My body was neatly held together with bits of string, sewn up like a garment knitted in pieces. While the larger scar that lives where the lemon-sized hernia once was is heavy enough, it is not the one I go to in moments of weakness. It is the open-hernia-repair, the one that carries with it the weight of so many failures. My body resisted healing, perhaps I do not know how to be healed?

“Does this feel worse?” I whisper as I take my husband’s hand and place it over a dimpled scar. I pick up my head off the bed so that if there is a new hernia, he will feel the pressure of my insides trying to force their way out again, death spilling out of the place where life should be, like tangles of yarn falling from my ball of wound yarn.

“No. You are better now.”

I consider this for a moment but then shake my head, “Feel it again.”

He does and then repeats himself, “You are better now. It has been years since your last surgery, more than five. You are better.”

I rest my head against his warm shoulder and take my hand off my belly to place it on his chest. His skin is warm and his breathing is steady but I want to touch the scar again, feel its edges and see what it has to tell me. There is likely nothing it has to say to me anymore but I am afraid of finding otherwise. I slowly pull back my hand but he gently grasps it. He places my hand over his heart where he holds it, and me, steady. He knows. He knows the way that my hands cannot leave these knots, even though it has been five years.

I suddenly realize that this is an open space. As I sat here, grappling with the tangle that I perceived fell out of the center of my ball, I realize that it was an illusion. I can pick up these loops and see that they are perfectly fine. I may have pulled out more than I intended to but there is no harm done. I can return to knitting the fabric of my life, punctuated by the steady breathing of my husband and his hands that hold mine steady.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Home...

I am a big fan of John Green’s podcast, Anthropocene Reviewed. I keep his episode about Indianapolis downloaded on my phone and I listen to it repeatedly to remind me that home is before and I live in the after but that home is also something I am building, particularly for my youngest children who are very much products of this place. This is their home of fond nostalgic longing. This is their before.

I think memories of home are what we carry in our hearts and take with us as we go out into the world. We bond with others by taking out those pieces of our homes and sharing them. When we find someone who has similar aspects to their own bits of home and instantly we find our hearts warming and loneliness abated. It does not matter when or where I live, I carry that conceptualized idea of home with me.

This is especially important to me when I consider my faith. Our little mission has but few parishioners and I feel their loss greatly in this time of quarantine. I already grieve my broader family, some days more than others. The ways that I interact with others like myself fall into the usual categories of Facebook and Instagram and phone dates and thousands of texts riding cell signals to faraway Colorado. The particulars of my situation are distinct but the overall message is not. I think most of us live lives searching for connection in a world that has eschewed roots and friendships and God.

This makes the ministry of Ancient Faith so important. I produce content for them; I write and speak on the radio and at conferences. What I say sounds really self-serving and I know that but I am serious. When I sold my first book, I conducted my interactions over the internet and mail through emails and contracts and reviews of PDF proofs. It was sterile and efficient, or so I thought, until the first time I went to a conference and Tonya Maddox wrapped me in a hug. She treated me like a relative at a reunion and not just another author publishing her first book under the guiding eye of her husband, John Maddox. I have watched as others within the organization have done the same for me and for others. There is a lot of love here and it is all because they love Christ first and their home is in Him.

The way people who work with Ancient Faith interact with others is real. I have a friend who was going through a profoundly dark time in her life and listened to Chrissi Hart read children’s books for hours and hours on end. Her gentle and lilting voice soothing when nothing else was. The way that readers and listeners interact with us is just as real. When Chrissi’s husband was valiantly fighting cancer, this same friend prayed for hours and hours for the woman who had sat with her in her own darkest hour. This is real, very real. We have this because Ancient Faith is a new agora, a place where we meet to and share our Christian lives and in turn love each other as Christ loved us.

The quarantine has been hard in so many ways. We have been out of our churches. We have been shut away from our friends and family. We have turned our worlds inward. As we come out of quarantine, how will the landscape look? What will remain of the world that we left behind? Unless people donate to Ancient Faith, which is a non-profit, that landscape will have a gaping void in it. The agora that we built, you and I built together, where we come together to press the like sides of our little homes together, will no longer exist. No new books. No new conferences. It also means no more of the free materials like the radio or the podcasts or the videos. We will all have lost something real.

I have been paid for my books but not the emails or the phone calls or the hugs given in hallways. I pray for you. I keep a list of running prayer requests and I take this seriously. I don’t do this for money. I do this because I can see Christ in your heart and you can see Him in mine. No one who produces content for Ancient Faith is in it for the money. They are in it because that is where we find you and you are worth finding.

I hope that no matter what, you will pray for everyone involved at Ancient Faith. I hope that you will pray that this new agora will last. I hope that if you are able to give, you will. I hope to see you after this quarantine and when I do, I will show you my heart and you will show me yours and we will see our homes in both the before and the after.

You can click HERE to donate. I am on team HMS Swimmy with some of my favorite folks from Ancient Faith. You can pray at any time and anywhere and I hope you will. I am thinking of you. I hope you can feel it in your heart.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Waiting...


I woke up this morning to sun and birds and though it was barely above freezing, I could tell that today would be warm. Well, warm by the relative standards of spring in the Keweenaw. Today is Bright Saturday and I was looking forward to Liturgy and a procession with the artos that I baked a week ago for just this moment. We were lucky to avoid the snow during the procession on Pascha although by the time we left the church, it was chillingly cold and windy with several inches on the ground. Today was clear and sunny with an expected high in the low fifties which is pretty good for late April. Today’s procession in the warmth and sunshine would be glorious. It was to be my consolation.

My husband is the priest and I am the chanter and one of our five sons serves so it is a family affair. Today, I brought four of the six daughters so we could have a small procession. We have been keeping things small, smaller than this at times, and live streaming services over Facebook to anyone who misses church and craves a few minutes of opportunity to live vicariously.

We are clumsy. It is hard to have so few people. There are never enough people to hold books or doors or move the camera for Holy Communion. We all try to fill multiple roles at the same time, moving like circus performers spinning plates on poles. Sometimes we move gracefully and glide past and around each other with those plates spinning smoothly over our heads. Often we fumble and lose track of one plate while attending another. We drop many, many plates and step on each other’s lines and are slow to respond but we are there. I never watch the live stream and I simply hope for the best and pray that the others watching at home are gentle in their judgments.

Today would be that last of the Pascha services, the last of the sung Pascha hours, the last of the Pascha canon, the last of the feast of feasts and it would culminate with a procession of small girls carrying an icon of the Resurrection and the Artos while their father and brother and the lone monk of this isolated community processed around the church. I walked behind them singing, as loudly as I was able, the Paschal canon for the last Bright Week service of 2020. It certainly felt bright and Bright. I felt bright. 2020 hasn’t felt so warm and hopeful for such a long time. It felt like waking up from a bad dream to find the morning dawning clear and full of light.

After we sliced the artos and saved some for the children at home, after some coffee and juice, after a hasty lunch on paper plates, the real world dripped back in like water through the weak seam of a rowboat. There is still a quarantine. State law now mandates that a quick run to the grocery store requires a mask and a queue and to be counted as I enter and exit. Finding toilet paper is a triumph and I am still hoarding bread flour so I can bake the bread that my husband will consecrate during Liturgy. I had been holding my breath, waiting for Pascha, and for what would happen on the other side. Now I am here and I find that I don’t know what I was waiting for but only that I was waiting.

We see the incredibly stark division between life now and life two months ago but are also profoundly conscious of the slow passage of hours and days as we wait to be released from homes to go out and find what the lay of the land looks like these days. There are just shy of three more weeks of quarantine here and it is a day marked out on people’s calendars. That is the day that life begins, it is when we come out of the dark and into the light. I know better, or I should know better. I have seen the Light of Lights and it has come down to dwell among men.

Quarantine was easier while it was winter, while it snowed, while the wind battered our farmhouse out on the peninsula. It was easier to shelter in place as we sheltered from winter. The seasons are shifting and the weather is turning and the earth becoming exposed. Our woods call to the children and teens and they take daily walks down to the creek and wander the ravines that their father and his father and his father before him walked. With the warm weather and the hope of hearing the peeper frogs in the evening comes a disorienting sense that I can’t see what it is we are escaping.

I have a sense that I am standing before a closed door and wondering who is on the other side. Once the door is opened, I cannot go back, I can only go forward. Knowing this, I will take a piece of Pascha with me. I will knock and know that the door will open and when it does, it will let in the King of Glory and where He goes, so I will follow.

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. Psalm 24:7-10

Monday, January 27, 2020

Golden Whispers and the New Martyrs of Russia

We are in the thick of winter, the midpoint when the old Finns say “the bear turns over to the other side”. This is the time of the year when we find the feast of the New Martyrs of Russia approaching. We will take down the icons of the feast from their places on the walls of the temple and set them down lower and look at them. I will watch my children all approach them to venerate and each one will pause to look for the appropriate person to kiss and in that moment they will reflect on who each one is and in what gruesome way they died. This day is one of many days in which the altar is draped in red, a stark visual reminder of the blood of those who gave everything up in the name of the God I love.

My husband is ethnically Finnish but a Russian Orthodox priest. Most of the people we serve at this tiny, far-flung community in this rugged wilderness are also ethnically Finnish but not all. Some are from Russia, some arriving a long time ago and some more recently. Some American melting pot families mix into the parish for good measure. The one thing that we all have in common is that the communal memory of the weight of the Bolshevik yoke looms large. Particularly for the more recent Russians, this shapes their way of approaching the mysteries of the Church. Their customs tinged with layers of discreet gestures passed down by babas who worshipped in secret in the days of Soviet bread lines.

I have to find ways of talking about these martyrs with my children and the children of the mission community of the monastery. When children see icons from these days, there are terrible scenes of nuns being thrown into mine shafts and priests falling before the guns of soldiers. A dear friend’s great-great-grandfather was a priest-martyr in those days and when my children recall this, I want them to have a deep familiarity with these truths and to still be filled with awe and hope and even comfort.

I have the new book The Sleepy Bear and the Golden Whispers by T. Anne Mancuso from St. Innocent Press. It is the story of how a bear woke in the deep of winter and sheltered Metropolitan Peter Krutitsy with its own body. She manages to tell readers of how the elderly hierarch was thrown from the boxcar of a train traveling at full speed, and even illustrate it, in a way that is not frightening for children.

One of the strengths of this book is that it avoids being silly and trite, it avoids the fluff but still manages to be tender and gentle. Her words and her art are as soft as the titular bear but also as strong and honest. I cannot abide patronizing and vapid religious literature for children. I want my children to have a faith that can endure, one that is not the silly toys of childhood. This requires stories that can become their framework and give them strength for the world that is out there. That world is broken and is dark at times, it is a place where elderly monks are thrown like garbage from a speeding train. It is a world that needs golden words and not caricatures of faith.

Dear Matushka uses the Jesus Prayer as an element of her story, the words leaving the saint’s mouth as golden breath. This element is carried forward to the gold foil words on the cover of the book. The idea that our prayers are golden is evocative and points to the richness that is our faith.

I am planning on bringing this book to the monastery on the Feast of the New Martyrs. We will look at this icon and read this story and make our own Golden Words and our own bears. We will remember the solace and comfort that God gave to his servant in a very dark time. God is present even in our darkness, He is the light and sweetness that exists there, like golden words and the body of a warm, resting bear.

When the Bolsheviks and the Soviets who followed them martyred all these great and holy people, they lashed out like desperate children throwing weak fists in a temper tantrum. Death was destroyed long ago, it has no power over us. They cannot actually kill us, they can only try. It brings to mind the poem “Prometheus” by Lord Byron.

“Titan! to thee the strife was given
Between the suffering and the will
Which torture where they cannot kill…”

Not included within this book is how Vladyka Peter was finally martyred. On a cold October day, he was shot to death after enduring much torture where they could not kill. He served hard labor in desperate prison conditions that led to partial paralysis. It would be easy to find ourselves questioning God. Would a merciful God allow such a holy and pious man, one who refused to apostatize, to suffer so greatly? The answer is that he was always protected, that God preserved him from before he was born, that real death has long since been destroyed. The bear is a reminder of this. It is the consolation that God sent to remind not just Vladyka but all of us that He knows how we suffer and that He is with us. I want my children to remember that, especially when they look on the icon written by Fr. Cyprian of Jordanville, another figure whose presence sifts into our consciousness like incense in the church.

One of my great privileges is to sing the Canon pieces at Vigil and one that never fails to move me is the Irmos to the Fifth Ode in the Seventh Resurrectional Tone.

“Night is bereft of light for those without faith, O Christ, but for the faithful, there is enlightenment in the sweetness of Thy words; wherefore I rise early unto Thee and sing of Thy Divinity.”
God sends to us moments of consolation and light like Vladyka Peter finding the bear in the dark woods. Early in the morning, he rose and found himself in the light of the sun and living in gratitude. When my children look on the icons of the church, and their eyes rest on those stark images of nuns and priests, I want them to also see Vladyka resting with the bear in the snowy woods. I want them to remember that always. When they walk through the snowy woods that surround our farm, I want the memory of bear to fill their imaginations so that they can almost see a bear sleeping, wrapped around a very courageous saint. I want them to pray the Jesus Prayer and practically see the glint of their golden whispers. I want them to see and know and remember.

Vladyka Peter of Krutitsy, pray for us!

As a side note: It is worth mentioning that our own Vladyka, Archbishop Peter of Chicago and Mid-America, is named for this great saint which makes him especially important to the people of our diocese.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Job, the Problem of Evil, and Gleaning

Sometimes I think about Job. His life is a difficult one to process. It’s hard to imagine being in the middle of a divine tug-of-war. I don’t know what it all means or really how the Church in Her great wisdom has chosen to come to terms with it or explain it to Her children. This is strange given that I should. I think about him often enough that I really should have looked this up. But I haven’t. So I just think about him in an abstract way. No matter what I have lost, he lost more, and he deserved it less than me or pretty much anyone else. He still lost it. I still lose. It’s not a matter of being a good person or loving God enough. We still lose.

We lose all manner of things. We lose our tempers, our keys, socks, storage container lids, jobs, and even love. The tiny things can feel enormously burdensome because they seem to pile up on top of the greater things. In the end, the sense of loss can be pervasive. We both want to wallow in the loss but are also ashamed of that desire.

I can be nearly despondent over misplacing one of my shoes and even be reduced to tears. Then I find myself thinking of an acquaintance whose son drowned some years back. I both want to embrace my loss and hide from it at the same time because the loss of others is greater. I don’t know how to think about my loss, either the great or the small. I actually grit my teeth when people talk about smaller losses when they find out about my greatest. I struggle to forgive them because I am petty.

Maybe the answer lies in not what we have lost but what remains and what God gives back over to us. I have to think that is why we know that Job received so much back from God. What was taken and what was given had nothing to do with Job and his worthiness nor did it have anything to do with the worthiness of others. It was always a gift that was freely given. Gifts should be received with gratitude. I don’t know about anyone else but I am seldom as grateful as I should be.

Gratitude is what I need more of and it is what I see in the story of Job. I can be grateful for the other shoes I have so that losing one is not actually a problem. I can be grateful for the gift that is my children without insinuating anything about the woman who lost hers. I can even be grateful for her witness of profound love for her child. Her child is worth grieving over and over and again and again. We should all be so loved that we are so missed. I can be grateful that others trust their grief to me instead of being small and petty.

In being grateful and gracious, we are supposed to leave some of the produce in the fields for the poor. It is not our generosity but the generosity of God that gives these things over to others; we merely respect this. Or at least, we should. Often we do not even do this. We soak up all the goodness and horde it, weeping for what is lost when our cup runneth over. My inability to be grateful for what God has left for me is the same stoniness that causes me to harvest my blessings too carefully.

Sometimes I think about Job. I think about how he teaches me both to glean and to leave something for the gleaners.


Monday, June 3, 2019

Feeling like I am flying...

As a child, I was always in trouble for talking in class. It didn’t matter where the teachers moved me, I was always talking to someone. If I was sent to the office to do my work in a study carrel next to the disciplinarian’s office, I would talk to anyone who walked past. I just like talking.

I went to a Catholic high school and once a year, families of potential students took tours. At all small, private schools like this, the students are required to do some volunteer work and so the teachers always asked me to lead tours. I was happy to talk to people and tell them the same things over and over again. Of all the tasks that could have possibly given me, this was the best. Sister Mary Katherine of the Most Precious Blood told my father that she thought I liked to talk because I was too self-absorbed. I can imagine that it looked like that. The thing is, I like talking to people because they often talk back to me and I want to know what goes on in their heads. I talk, so I can listen.

I also have a weird habit of liking to glance in the windows of people’s houses as I walk down the street. I am not talking about being a weird creeper who sneaks up and looks in the windows but the kind of peek that I can achieve while not slacking my place as I walk along the street. I think about the people inside and what they are doing and what they are saying and what kinds of books they are reading and maybe what they are having for dinner. In a way, I am perpetually Alice asking her governess what the people lived on. I just like to know more about people.

When I am traveling, I like to look out of the windows of the plane as we approach the destination city. I like to look at the cars and trucks on the road and think about the people in them. I wonder if they are sipping coffee and what is playing on the radio. I think about the people in the houses and the lives they are living and the children who play on swing sets in backyards. Do they like to jump off the swing as it reaches its peak? Do they feel like they are flying?

Back in the day, when I was that high school where I gave tours, I used to sit in class and think about the people flying away in the planes that took off from the nearby airport. It was back when Denver’s Stapleton Airport was still in action, long before Denver International Airport’s white peaks stood in stark contrast to the eastern plains. Machebeuf Catholic High School was also its old location in Park Hill. The sounds of planes were so common that I usually didn’t even notice them but on Fridays, it seemed like there were so many more, and by the end of the week, my attention was waning. I would find myself thinking about the people on those planes and wonder where they were going and why and hoping it was for some beautifully tragic and romantic reason.

As an adult, I think about the children whose homes and schools pepper the landscape around the airport I am flying into. Do they think about us in the plane? Are we maybe thinking about each other at the exact same moment? It could happen. I could be landing in this city and passing over this child’s house at the exact moment that he is out in the yard and despite how many planes pass over his house, he thinks about the people in the one. I always want to wave but I don’t because I don’t want the people sitting next to me to think I am crazy. Of course, I am a little crazy, I am a writer and we have to break our brains a little to write. It is just part of the gig.

I flew into Chicago recently and I had all these same thoughts that I always do. As I flew in, I looked at the houses and schools and all the cars along the road and I thought about all of these people and especially of the children. This trip did not turn out the way I had wanted it to because my flight from Chicago back to the Upper Peninsula was canceled because of weather. It was mid-May and it was snowing back at the farm. I could not get rebooked for a full twenty-four hours and the airline temporarily misplaced my bag, they found it later, and I ended up grabbing a cab to a dumpy motel at the end of the runway. I didn’t have so much a toothbrush but I lay down to sleep, closing my eyes while the planes full of people who were actually going places took off and flew over my head.

In the morning, I washed up the best that I could and I put on the same clothes that I had worn the day before, and I checked out of the motel. I walked to the cheap pancake restaurant in the parking lot of the motel and ordered some breakfast. I don’t like eating alone. I like eating just fine, in fact, I like it a lot, I just don’t like eating alone. I was approaching the novel that I had bought I started to get a little concerned about how I was going to keep myself occupied. My unfinished knitting was in my bag and somewhere in the bowels of the airport along the with the novel I was borrowing from a friend. I was killing time with coffee and even dessert.

A friend of a friend of mine was coming to get me and give me a couple of hours of respite from the airport along with more (better) coffee and a toothbrush. I decided to wait outside. Sitting on the bench outside of the restaurant, I looked up at the airplanes taking off over my head. I thought about how I had listened jealously to the sound of other people’s flights leaving the night before and how I had looked down as I was flying in yesterday afternoon. I wondered if I would remember to think about the people in this restaurant when it was finally my turn to take off later today. Will I remember to think of the people scattered around the area who might be hunkered down and waiting, waiting for flights that are delayed or even canceled for all kinds of reasons. I took a photo so I could send it to my husband. He probably didn’t understand why it was important to me but it was.

Later on, in the late afternoon, I was sitting in the airport, waiting for my plane to take off and hoping that I would be home in my own bed in a few hours. I had bought a new novel, a good thick one, and settled in with a water bottle and enough room to stretch out a little. At the gate next to us, a tired throng of Canadians moved in after their gate had been changed. They all looked tired and uncomfortable and all of them just wanted to be back home.

“This always happens when we come to America,” an older woman leaned in to tell me.
I wasn’t sure if she assumed I was Canadian as well but she opened the door and I was ready to talk. I chatted and got to know the circle of people around me. I will talk to anyone who is willing to listen, sometimes I find myself talking to people who are unwilling, but I keep at it. Suddenly an announcement came over the loud-speaker and we all hushed to hear it. I was afraid it was my flight but it wasn’t. The Canadians were being delayed again and moved to another gate. I felt awful for them because I had been at the airport for most of the last twenty-four hours. I also felt bad for the Canada-Air representative. The passengers reamed him in a strangely polite and quintessentially Canadian way.

A woman in a beautiful sari run through with glittery threads got right in his face and said in a clipped Indian accent. “I am sorry but if we are to talk about what is bad service, it would be this, you know. This is what we would call bad service. I am sorry but it is.”

Properly admonished, he replied, “Yes, ma'am. I am sorry.” They nodded at each other and the Canadians all shuffled along to their gate. I was left alone with my novel while I waited for my flight.

Ultimately, my plane did take off and I did get out of Chicago. My plane left flying over all the little houses and other buildings that pepper the area around the airport. I forgot to think about the pancake restaurant and dumpy motel and the people who might be down there waiting for their planes. I forgot to think about the children who might be getting ready for the night or even reading their own novels next to bedside lamps. Instead, I thought of my own bed waiting for me in a little green and white farmhouse near the lake and the many Canadian beds waiting hopefully for tired and spent travelers.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Review of "Spyridon's Shoes"...

Several weeks back, I received a review copy of Spyridon’s Shoes by Khouria Christine Rodgers and I have been meaning to get that review actually written and not just outlined. Every time I sit down to work on it, another of my kids picks up this book and starts it so I wait for them to finish. Today, I had a teen get the book for me and one of the middle schoolers called out, “I put it there to wait for me! I was going to start it today!”

“Haven’t you read it once already?”

“No! I read it to the little girls, this time it is for me!

This is the kind of book it is. It's a quick read, taking only about an hour, and is well suited to kids in the middle school years but was easily read by my ten-year-old. It is engaging enough that my sixteen-year-old read it as soon as the mail was delivered, in a single sitting.

It opens on the main character, a boy, which is well noticed by my children who feel like most main characters these days are girls. I think this an important point because even though I have six daughters, I also have five sons and I know that often boys like to read about other boys. The cover shows a scene in the second chapter in which Spyros is helped by an elderly monk who washes and bandages his foot and gives him his own shoe to keep those wraps in place. The story grows from this very tender and compassionate beginning.

This story is about St. Spyridon but rather than an account of his life, it is rather a story about this boy’s encounter with him. I like this perspective. While it might be in my daily life that I come across people who are living saints, I won’t be able to appreciate them. It’s a sad truth. I think that this is something that kids can agree with because their lives are often full of not truly appreciating what they have. This is okay, it's a learned skill, one I am still not very good at yet. I can be patient with them on this.

There is another reason I really like this approach. As a child, I liked reading about saints but I always wondered about the people they interceded for and what happened in their lives. Growing up, I was surrounded by images of saints. My Mexican grandmother had a print of the Christ Child, the Santo NiƱo, surrounded by smaller little images of people being saved by Christ. Around the frame of the print, she tucked in photos of people she had prayed for or was currently prayed for so that they could be another widening circle of grateful recipients. Sometimes I would ask about this person or that one and she would happily tell me. Only one little image on the print was unknown to her. It featured two women with their hands held up in the air as a bandit wielding a gun approached them. They had been saved and I always wanted to know more but she didn’t have more to offer.

As an adult, I carry this wonder with me. I think about St Spyridon and his worn-out shoes and wonder about all those people he has walked out to help. I can wonder how it would feel to approach him and offer a small measure of gratitude. In this book, the boy has this very opportunity. Khouria Christine gives us an opportunity to think about this saint and his very real work in the world and what it would be like to approach him. I think this is why my children keep returning to this book again and again. They want to know what it would be like to step into his shoe and walk with Spyros, touching holiness and being healed by it.

I won’t spoil this book for you but I will tell you that I, with my tender little heart, cried at the ending. I think I will also have to pick this book up again and again. You will, too.

I was not compensated for my review and was not required to provide a positive review. I did receive a free copy which is super cool because we really, really liked it. The book is available from major online retailers but also through the publisher HERE. Ask your church bookstore to carry it.