The end of an era

large_5394134125I am challenged this week by the Daily Post to go into my mental storage and examine some things that I’ve been holding onto though I do not use them. It’s like a good old fashioned changing of the closets, donation drive, and yard sale preparation post! There are so many things I’ve held onto over the years that I keep in boxes or curios just collecting dust, literally or figuratively,and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why I need my Cabbage Patch Kid, my Pound Puppy, my third grade report card, the tiara purchased for the wedding I never got around to having, my uterus…..

Stop.

What?

Yeah, I said it.

There were many things in life I thought I’d have. A hysterectomy at 33 wasn’t one of them. Sure, the doctors were always clear with me that it would be a miracle if I made it to thirty without a hysterectomy, but I always held out hope that I’d beat the odds. I did beat the odds. I beat the odds by a lot. I made it to 33. I made it ten years longer than we thought I’d make it. I had the baby that doctors didn’t think I’d be able to carry. I delivered him naturally, which (most) doctors said I wouldn’t be able to do. Shouldn’t that be enough for me? Why isn’t that enough for me?

Because I wanted more. My son is soon to be eight years old, and I just gave away his cloth diapers over the winter, because I figured that if I ever did have another, well, it wasn’t going to be soon, and I was running out of storage space. I’ve been holding onto hope for so long that I would find the right man, get married, and have more babies. I don’t want to give that up.

I want my girl. I want to have a baby girl of my very own and name her after my late sister and my baby sister. Lisa Brigid.

I want to share a pregnancy and a child with a husband who loves us, not live in fear of a man who seems to think that the only thing less worthy of survival than the growing life in my belly is the woman who carries him.

Instead, I have dysfunction. I’ve had dysfunction since I’ve had, well, function. I’ll spare you the gory medical details, but I’ll say that this will be my fourteenth surgery in that area, with the last being a total reconstruction of the “working parts,” as it were, that enabled me to have my son. I’ve spent years finding and trying every option and treatment available to put off the inevitable hysterectomy, until they finally stopped working and the quality of my life has become too far reduced. I know this is the right decision. I really do. Please don’t misunderstand.

I love my life. I love my son. I love what we’ve carved out for ourselves in our little house with our dogs and our autonomy. I just always pictured something so different for us. I pictured a big family. While I know it’s still a possibility, it’s something different. It’s changed.

When I came out of the scheduler’s office at the OB/GYN, and was checking out, surrounded by pregnant women, I met the sweetest couple. They were older, and this was their first child. The father was in a state of shock, but through his shock, what came through so overpoweringly was this abundance of love and pride and happiness. Mom was all giggles, and Dad could only say “wow” over and over. It was the greatest thing. It hit me shortly after that I will never experience this in my life. 

I think I’ve always harbored some hope that that sort of experience would help me heal from the abuse during my own pregnancy.

But I have more dysfunction.

Physical and emotional dysfunction, I suppose.

I will have to heal another way.

So while I cannot go through the boxes in my mental closet, pack this item away, and give it to charity, it is time to say goodbye. My hysterectomy is twenty days from now. My childbearing years are over. There will be no more pregnancies. There will be no more babies borne from this body. I cannot give this away.

All I can do is lay this at the feet of my Creator, and ask my Physician to heal me.


photo credit: ninacoco via photopin cc

pingback: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/leftovers/

Hysterectomy Support by HysterSisters.com 

Long Week

medium_5506821377Poor Jack is having such a difficult time this week.

Last fall, we had a family move in next door.  The second time I met them was when the oldest boy came to invite Jack to play outside. Those two boys have been inseparable since! They have spent at least two or three days a week outside in the yards or in one of their bedrooms or another.  They’ve gone for walks together, ridden their bikes in the empty parking lot across the street, and done their Christmas shopping together! They’ve just been INSEPARABLE and CONSTANTLY together.

Yesterday, our neighbors moved.  Now, they only moved about a mile away, and the boys will still get to see each other at least once a week.  But it’s just so hard on Jack, who is used to being able to walk out the door and spend the afternoon in the yard playing cops and robbers with his best friend.

And since I am here, he takes it out on me, so that instead of comforting him when he is sad, I am having to punish him for treating me badly.

Pray for us.

I am so happy for our friends who were able to find a home that is better suited to their needs, but I am so sad for Jack, and I am so frustrated with his behavior.

I hope we get another set of awesome neighbors with kids who like to run and play, because childhood SHOULD be about running around and playing outside with your friends.

I am very thankful that we’ve had several months of being able to have that experience every day.  It taught me to let go a little – that I don’t have to watch him every second of every day.  It taught him to PLAY, and have fun, and to not be QUITE so clingy and afraid to leave his mother’s side. We’re growing up, I guess. We’re starting to recover from our past hurts and move forward.

We do have other friends in the neighborhood, but having this family sharing a fence line with me made it so easy for them to be inseparable.  Some days, when I am ill, even going half a block is daunting.  I definitely prefer being able to be at home when I don’t feel well.  Yet, I don’t want to keep Jack at home because I am not well.  Even though I seek the comfort of my couch and my living room, I know he doesn’t always.  He wants his friends. He wants to play.  He wants to run around and be a superhero who saves the world from the evil Spoctopus from Jupiter!

And his mother wants an hour or two when she doesn’t have to entertain a busy six-year-old so she can vacuum the floors in peace, or cook dinner without a million questions, or (SHOCK!!) read the NEWS!

My child is a lot like I am.  He wants to play, but not alone. He would rather sit in the living room with me, bored out of his mind, than go outside and play tee ball without a friend. I get it.  I can’t even manage to clean the kitchen after he goes to bed without a phone in my ear or an audio book on mp3.  Even talk radio helps! There’s got to be some sort of balance, though, between always being BUSY or having someone around, and never seeing anyone.  I guess we both need to learn the value of being quiet and solitary every now and then.

Anyway, that’s our week so far.  We started reading the Hobbit together, and Jack is reading Danny and the Dinosaur for very first book report.  We’re starting a nature study next week, which promises to be a lot of fun, and we’re starting art, piano, and French this month too. I am trying to find a job that I can do (maybe from home? That would be ideal!).

In the meantime, by way of trying to make ends meet, I am asking you to visit my website, shop if you can, and share with your friends and family.  I sell several items (mostly hats) that I knit and crochet, and I am always open to taking custom orders (my favorite was a recent set for a baptism – gown, bonnet, sweater, and blanket).  I also have several home businesses doing direct sales primarily online with SoyLicious (candles, home fragrance, soy soaps), At Home (decor), LilyBean and Baxter (anything you can imagine – personalized), Kitsy Lane (jewelry – lots under $20), Spirit Lockets (customized jewelry), and Meredith Lily (more personalized, event/party supplies, etc – still in pre-launch phase).  Please check it out and tell a friend – all your friends! You can find my website at cloverandcross.weebly.com/

 


 

photo credit: rottnapples via photopin cc

Toxicity

medium_7417267034A close girlfriend and fellow struggling single mom came to me tonight with yet more proof that while we’ve been thousands of miles away for our entire relationship, our lives are so interconnected it’s ridiculous.  Kindred spirits?

But yet again, as we have done so many times before, we find ourselves facing similar issues with “friends.”  Yes, that was in quotes.  Bear with me, and you will understand why.

We are single mothers.  We have left our family and communities’ pervasive faith practices. We are disabled.  We are stay-at-home moms.  We are, in short, not really people that most others will understand, and we don’t get out much.  So meeting people (ANY people) is difficult. Even for me, in the Church, it is difficult, but I think I went into a little detail on that in a previous post.  The fact is that there is really not a niche into which we fit.  We’re always just far enough outside the box that finding a spot to be is difficult.  We have been taught our entire lives that man, humankind, PEOPLE were not created to be alone, but we tend to end up there if by default.

I’m not complaining. Not really.  It’s just important for me to say that the way our social interactions are framed is so powerful that, frankly, I really can’t finish this sentence because our social interactions are important enough that I can’t find words to explain it. That’s pretty rare for me.

It’s not just casual social encounters though, difficult though those may be. It is, you see, that those social encounters are supposed to be the way to find other kindred spirits, and if not kindred spirits, at least people who can share some measure of genuine love in this life. What I am finding, though, is that while struggling to find our fit, we do what I know I’ve always done: we fall in with the wrong crowd.

So we’re approaching middle age (yes. I went there. I kind of panicked a little when I did.). Our “wrong crowd” is not the same as it was in adolescence when we went so far astray. It’s the ones who seem on the surface to be kindred spirits, but are something more predatory, whether they intend to be or not.  We’re talking about the dreaded TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS.  The one-sided, codependent, disordered, dysfunctional relationships that so damage our hearts, but yet we hate to just end them, because our hearts so crave another heart to share our life experiences with.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last year or so healing good relationships and ending bad ones. I’ve made more progress, sadly, in the latter than the former, but I pray that those needed and healthy relationships will heal and strengthen in time.

My friend and I shared some stories about some of these toxic relationships this evening, and then I was faced with an interesting question online! So I decided I would share that question and my response here, because I can’t respond there, and it sounded like an alright blog to write.

This was posed:

When you have a toxic relationship, how do you create and force the boundaries you must have? Do you keep fighting to make it healthy and stand up for yourself? or do you just walk away? What if you are attached to the kids involved. and you know that if you speak up for yourself and demand respect/kindness, you will be cut off from the children. what then? I obviously have problems with this. when i want to help people that obviously need me, but use and are abusive in speech, what then?

And here was my response:

 There’s not a perfect system. There’s a long drawn-out process that can take years.

Here’s the primer: I back away, slowly at first. Less time, less availability, less involvement. Sometimes this is almost passive-aggressive, because I will just AVOID. This is not good. It’s better to say “I need some time to myself right now, but I will call you.” Not only does this give you distance and responsibility, but it sets your first boundary: Please respect my need for time to myself, and don’t bug me about it.

While I am doing this, I am figuring out a way to voice what needs to be said out of love. If I can’t say it out of love, I just go ahead and cut off the relationship. (Note: love is not a desire to force a change to “fix” someone, but the willingness to accept them, warts and all, and love them whether they change or not. My priest once told me sometimes, you can love and respect someone best from a safe distance.)

Once I have had some distance, I make my statement, basically. This is what I am feeling, and this is what I expect will be done on your end in the future, because I value you. I am reasonable. I am accommodating to a fault. I am not your wife, mother, or doormat. We can discuss it then, or we can take some time to think things over before meeting again.

I continue to maintain distance and see what happens. If my boundaries are respected, we can see about developing a new closeness. If they are not, then this is not going to work.

I have to take the children out of the equation. And to do this, I focus on them. It is not healthy for them to see their parent abusing or being abused in a relationship, and my child comes first. I will not allow him to be around someone who is abusing me, and I hope that this will be a wake-up call to the other parent that their child(ren) can be just as damaged by seeing these relationship patterns. I may make a note to discuss this when discussing my boundaries. If there is a strong bong with the other person’s child, we might be able to negotiate a way for that relationship to continue while we maintain distance (let’s get the kids together for a play date. I will watch them at my house on Thursday at three while you go get some coffee or something)

I check myself. Do I want to help them when they obviously need me because I love them or because I need to be needed? Because I need to fix things? Am I giving into some codependent tendencies?  How am I going to work on changing this in myself while I have some space and distance? If I am being codependent, I can reasonably expect to be used.

I contemplate the relationship. I can do half the work in healing an unhealthy relationship, but I can do NONE of the work in healing an unhealthy friend. And if they aren’t willing to meet me half-way in the friendship, it’s time to cut anchor.

In time, with distance and clear boundaries, one of two things will happen: there will be progress, or there will come a time to cut ties. I have personally had all three. Yes, I know. One or the other doesn’t give a third choice. But I cut ties in a toxic relationship and six months later got a message with a lengthy and detailed apology. I decided to hear out my friend, and we met for lunch. We’re not FRIENDS, so to speak, again, and I am maintaining a considerable distance, but in time, I think it may be a possibility.

Be willing to walk away. I think that’s the biggest thing. Be willing to just walk away. People can tell when you are willing to continue to put up with the toxicity, even if you don’t realize that you are! But you have to understand what that REALLY means. Learn to accept that walking away can be a more loving act than staying. Walking away stops enabling the disordered behavior pattern. And be clear that if you walk away, it is because you really love them, and you always will, but that you cannot stand by and watch them harm themselves and others, and you cannot be part of harming them with the toxic relationship. That’s probably the hardest realization anyone can come to about a relationship. You’re not walking away because you are putting your desires first. You are willing to walk away because it is genuinely best for everyone involved.

This is not, obviously, complete or authoritative, but I felt it was worth sharing. I wish someone had said these things to me years ago. I’d love to explore this topic further, so please leave me a comment or three if you have something to add (or subtract). I am no expert by any means!


 

photo credit: Free Grunge Textures – www.freestock.ca via photopin cc

Biographical Updates

KAtie 9 6 12Hello, new friends! 

I appreciate the awesome feedback I have gotten from some ladies on facebook. It’s really encouraging. I am working on updating my profile and thinking of what sort of blog “articles” I want to write. I am very inspired by some of the amazing moms out there in the Orthodox Blogosphere. I avidly follow some of the humorous and satirical blogs. 

So I figured, since I am going to update my profile tonight (maybe, if I stay awake long enough) that I would tell you a little bit more about me. My biography a few posts back is just the story of my discovery of the Church, but it’s far from the story of me. And it does cut off almost three years ago! 

Let me start with an update of where I am since I wrote that bio. 

I LOVE the OCA parish I was in when that bio was written. I made deep and lasting friendships there. There are women in that parish whom I consider mentors and second-mothers. It is absolutely certain that my life would be in a much different place if I had not formed those relationships. I thank God every day for the love of, especially, the women I met at St. John The Wonderworker Orthodox Church. I do hope, ladies, that if you read this, you know who you are! 

I ended up moving in with my parents for a while to try to get back on my feet. I think that this is easier said than done, and for a woman like me, it is impossible to get back onto my feet when I am living at home in my childhood bedroom. I don’t know why that is. That’s something I am exploring. But I do much better when I am on my own. My family WORKS much better when my son and I are in our own home, and we finally are, for the first time since he was an infant! 

Living with my parents, I was very near to Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, but more than an hour from St. John’s, so Jack and I started attending the Greek parish regularly. We’ve moved yet another hour north, but Holy Transfiguration is STILL the closest parish, so that is where we attend, as regularly as possible. Jack adores Father Panayiotis, and I have made some friends at church. Two weeks ago, I met the first other single mom in my generation I have ever met in person! I was amazed. We exchanged numbers. I really must call her soon. 

The community there is wonderful. Jack is involved in Greek dancing, and he will be starting Greek school in two weeks! I worked at the Greek Festival painting faces, and we had a wonderful time. I’m starting to get to know some of the families there pretty well, and I think we’re home. 

Speaking of home, we moved into our own home this past February. It is delightfully old and tiny, but we love it. It has a delightful yard, and I am hoping to be able to start working on a winter box garden soon. Jack, as you know, is schooling at home, though the school he’s in is technically a public charter school. He’s THRIVING. He loves what he’s learning, and keeps asking for more even when I think our school day ought to end.

He’s reading on his own now. We had a day last week that started out with him whining that he didn’t know HOW to read and concluded with him whining that he didn’t want to stop reading. In one week, he has read through three-quarters of the years’ material! He’s unstoppable! 

I’m doing some odd jobs online and in town, and I am working on getting the start-up to do some home business ventures. The first I am doing is a soy candle business. After that, I am looking into the usual suspects: Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, etc. I am still knitting and crocheting and teaching both. My domain expired, but I was in the process of changing the name of the business anyhow. I will update you when I get the new website up for that. I have designed a beret with a cross pattern in the crown that I am hoping might sell as a head covering for some of the younger girls. 

I’ve just started using the FlyLady system again in an attempt to keep up with the housework in the midst of all of this. I’ve given her system a go in the past, but I never stuck it out. Right now, I am working on my morning and evening routines and just doing the daily missions. It’s going okay. Slow and steady wins the race, I suppose. It’s funny, though, because my friends and neighbors comment that my house is always fresh and clean, but I always feel like it could be BETTER. I wonder if that isn’t just the way of women though, always telling ourselves we should be doing more. 

I believe I may write about that in the morning, if I can put my thoughts about it together. 

For tonight, thanks for reading, thanks for the encouragement, and thank you so very much for taking the time to care.

Kindergarten

Day 8 2Hi there. It’s me again. It’s been a few years, but I promised some people that I would start detailing my life as an Orthodox Single Mother. It’s gotten more complicated. I am now an Orthodox Single HOMESCHOOLING Mother. My five-year-old is now in his third week of Kindergarten through Georgia Cyber Academy. We like to say we’re “sort of” homeschooling. He’s in school at home, but the school is administered by the Department of Education, and they provide all the texts, assessments, lesson plans, interactive materials, supervising teacher, classmates, and even a computer and printer! So far it’s great. It’s been a little overwhelming trying to maneuver all of this, but it’s going well. That’s about all I have for tonight. I gave into my insomnia and decided to deep-clean my house. So I am going to get back to that then maybe catch a nap. But welcome again to this blog, and hopefully this time it will truly get rolling.

Biography

baptism_cropped (1)

On April 20, 2006, a young woman goes into the doctor’s office for a post-operative check-up. She needs one more test to make sure that a life-changing reconstruction of her dysfunctional uterus was successful. The doctor assures her that she is healing well, and sets up a sonohysterogram at the hospital a couple of blocks away. Before they can sedate her and start the invasive test, she must first wait for the results of some preliminary blood work. The lab tells her that, among other things, they are testing for infection and pregnancy. Without much thought about that, she waits impatiently for the results so she can undergo the procedure and move on. Then the lab technician finally comes into the waiting room, calls the woman back into the lab, and gives her the news: “Congratulations, Ms. Stephens. You are pregnant.”

That was the moment that changed my life completely. On April 19th I was a twenty-five year old girl still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, major uterine surgery, and a very damaging and emotionally-abusive relationship. On April 20th, I became Mom. I didn’t know where to turn or what to do. There was, at the time no one for me to talk to. I was, I realized, utterly alone, terrified, overwhelmed, and completely lost.

That evening, I went to work where I was alone in my office overnight. I typically spent most of my time on the computer, chatting and emailing with friends to get through a mind-numbing night shift. That night, I did not feel up to chatting. I just felt numb. It happened, however, that I checked my email at the most opportune moment. A very dear Russian friend had sent me an email. I will never forget the text of that email. “My beloved Katya,” it read, “I feel compelled to write to you today, though I am not sure why. I just feel that you need some sort of reassurance, and I thought this icon of the Mother of God could help you.” She had attached an image of what I later found out is the Wonder-Working Icon of the Mother of God of the Sign, commonly known as the Kursk Root Icon. An overwhelming feeling came over me in that moment. It is, to this day, a feeling I cannot find words to express. What I did know, and I knew it with an overpowering clarity, is that I needed to be in the church whence this icon came.

April 23, 2006 was my first Paschal service at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Biloxi, MS. In fact, it was the first time I had been into ANY Orthodox church anywhere. I had been considering Orthodoxy off and on for seven or eight years, but I had never worked up the nerve to actually go to church. Yet here I was, pregnant, alone, and terrified, walking into Holy Trinity at 11:30 PM on Holy Saturday. I was overcome by the feeling of holiness in that place. I was awed by the icons, the candles, the chants, and the Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom: Let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Perhaps most important on that night, I was amazed by how warm and welcoming the parishioners were. I felt that night like I believed I should feel walking into my own home. It was that, I believe, which drew me back the next day.

I was there on Sunday afternoon for the vesper service and the picnic after. Not only was I there, I was asked to read the Gospel in French. I still joke with the man who asked me that this had to be some sort of hazing ritual for new people. “Hello. Welcome to Holy Trinity. Christ is Risen! (Truly, He is Risen!) Would you be willing to read the Gospel in a language you haven’t spoken in ten years?” I did it happily, albeit with atrocious pronunciation, because I knew in the deepest parts of my soul that I had found the home I would never leave.

That afternoon, I met the man who I decided would be the first person I would tell about the pregnancy. His name was Father Jim, and he was the parish priest. Father Jim congratulated me, and when I told him that I was unmarried and that I knew the father would prefer that I have an abortion, he gave me a big bear hug and congratulated me again. He assured me that I had already chosen life for my child and that this fact, together with the miracle occurring inside me, was to be congratulated.

That day, Pascha 2006, was the day that I knew I would never be the same. In my terror, I opened my heart, and I was shown love and compassion where I knew that others would pass judgment. It was that day when I realized the things about my life which have shaped every decision, every emotion, and every action of my life even to this day: I was a mother. I was worthy of love and compassion. I was home, and soon I would be Orthodox. In the coming months, this church would become a home to me, and its parishioners would become my family and my closest friends. I have never felt the need or desire to look back on that day with anything but joy, and I will never be the same. My terror was replaced with hope, my pain with great joy, and my loneliness with love.

It was in the arms of my newfound family and friends that I made it through the next months. This small parish became, in a very profound way, my life support. My thirst for the Orthodox Church became only stronger, and I found that I spent my weeks longing for Sunday Liturgy and the weekly catechetical classes. The women at this church became like sisters and mothers to me, supporting me fully through some of the most agonizing experiences of my life. With their support and Father Jim’s, I managed to start building a life for my son and myself, and it was always with a sense of wonder I still feel today: Why would God bless me so much, when I have done nothing in my life to deserve it? The Lord used every obstacle in my life to show me great and tender mercy.

I became both disabled and unemployed at the end of my first trimester of pregnancy. I lost my car when its engine seized. Our weekly catechetical classes were all but impossible to schedule because of work schedules, my lack of transportation, and pressing parish needs that strained our chronically ill priest. Yet, all of these obstacles became unimaginable blessings for me. I was offered the job of personal assistant to Father Jim. With the help of some parishioners, I was able to find a vehicle that was better suited both to my mobility problems and to the gear I needed for an infant. Even the pain of my shattered pelvis seemed manageable. With my new job as parish secretary, I discovered with great joy that the once-weekly catechetical classes to which I so looked forward became daily discussions and “hands-on” experience. Our “catechetical talks,” as Father Jim refers to them now, took place at the church, in my home, at local restaurants, and even in the hospital when my son was born. Father Jim gave me free reign of his personal library, and I read as many books as I could over the next two years. Four years later, I look back on this time as the most enjoyable time of my life.

Such a joyous time was this for me, that I was caught almost off-guard when Father Jim began discussing the schedule of Holy Week and included my chrismation in the schedule. Had it been that long? Had I learned what I was supposed to learn? Was this real? This was what I had longed for since I first attended liturgy a year prior. Now, here I was, my beloved son in my arms, a home of my own, a job that I truly loved, with friends and family by my side and tears in my eyes: Orthodox. Maria. My amazing godmother had named me for the Mother of God, telling me that I was tasked with raising a great man who would follow in the footsteps of Christ. A month later, with even more tears of even greater joy, my son was baptized.

It is now three years later, and our lives have changed once again. In the last three years, my son and I have experienced great pain and great healing. In 2008, I left the security of Holy Trinity to move to Mobile, AL where a new job as an apartment community manager was waiting for me, and where my fiancé was currently living and working. During the move, my son was sent for a two-week visit with his father. At the end of those two weeks, I drove to Atlanta to pick him up from his father’s house and found to my absolute horror that the house was empty, listed for sale, and that his father and grandparents were nowhere to be found. It took an act of God, and I mean that literally, for the local sheriff’s department to even file a report, and it took, I know, more strength than I possess myself to get through the coming months.

While I was in Atlanta trying to find my two-year-old son, I lost my job and the apartment that went with it. My then-fiancé abandoned me in favor of “hanging out with the guys.” My attorney was unable to obtain an emergency hearing so that my son could come home with me. My parents were so “overspent” emotionally and financially that they would not even allow me to bring up the subject, much less discuss my fragile and broken emotional state. I felt I had lost everything, and I now know that it was only by the grace of God that I even managed to get out of bed. Even in retrospect, it is still unimaginable to me that I was able to file the court paperwork, find a new job, move into a new house, purchase furniture, decorate my son’s new bedroom, and continue moving forward having no idea when I might see or even speak to my son again. In my desperation and isolation, it was in the Church I found counsel and in Christ I found hope. When my son finally came home with me, four months later, he came home to great celebration from the parish at Holy Trinity and the priests at Holy Trinity in Biloxi, MS; Holy Transfiguration in Marietta, GA; and Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Mobile, AL – all of whom had cried with me, prayed for me, and helped me rebuild my life and my home.

Over the course of the next several months Father Jim retired, I left the fiancé who abandoned me so utterly in my need, and my son and I relocated to Atlanta to be closer both to my parents and his father. I struggled for months with depression, illness, poverty, and “functional homelessness,” moving from one friend’s couch to the next until I finally found an apartment that I could afford. It has proven to be worth it though, as I have now started, again with the help of my local parish, to forge ahead and make a life for my little family. My son is happily attending preschool, taught by my mother, and we spend our days playing, learning, and praying together as mother and child. We even have a dog – a black lab in “foster” care in our home.

Recently, I have started attending St. John the Wonderworker (OCA) in Grant Park, Atlanta, GA. Here I have experienced the same openness and love that I experienced at Holy Trinity among the small group of women within the parish. Their loving outreach to my son and myself has shown me again something which I started from the day of that first Agape Vespers four years ago: The love of Christ, the message of the Gospel, is universal. It becomes fairly apparent to me that the compassion of the faithful is, when exercised as I have seen in the Orthodox Church, close to universal as well. It should be, in any event, a love shown to all people, no matter the scenario.

It is this love and compassion which has helped to carry me through life, showing me that, even as a single mother with few resources, I can always know the mercy of God and the love of His people. To some people, I know it seems hard to relate to me. I am, however, merely human. Perhaps I am more in touch with my very real mortality and my very great and grievous errors than other women my age. I know my lawlessness, and my sin is always before me (Psalm 50:5, SAAS). I have told many people that we all have our baggage; mine just chases me around and calls me Mommy. My son is also my greatest blessing, and a profound miracle in my life. His mere existence brought me to the Church, and our lives will continue to be shaped by our faith forever. I am still physically disabled from the pregnancy, and I likely always will be. Yet God has used these constant reminders of my sin and my mortality to show me again and again his endless and unfathomable mercy – mercy which I know I did nothing to earn.