When, as a child of six, my mother was suddenly and unexpectedly taken from our lives as the result of an automobile accident, I distinctly remember wondering why everyone was crying. For I knew from a child’s perspective and without a shadow of any doubt that she was in heaven and would be very, very happy there. She had been our compass and anchor in God. Little did I know it would be years before such faith would again fill my heart.
Looking back on those intervening years, I can clearly see the hand of God working throughout my life. Growing up I would sometimes sleep out under the stars on warm summer nights and be so completely filled with such a sense of wonder that the feeling would stay with me. I spent countless hours hiking the forests near where we lived, both as a kid and after leaving home, and grew to love the deep peace and beauty of nature. I loved books and reading, and the quiet sanctity of libraries. It was from these experiences that my love of solitude grew to be what it is today.
Set adrift by the circumstances of life, I always searched for deeper meanings and truth. As marriage, family, and income began taking precedence, the deeper stirrings were sidelined but still always present, though I often felt as a stranger among my own people. Often what I was given to understand and experience seemed an oddity among those I knew. I learned not to speak of certain matters, but to simply hold them close to my heart and entrust them to God.
I spent years reading everything I could get my hands on that might impart a sense of truth and authenticity to what I was seeing in the world. The more I searched for spiritual truth in the world, the more I found layer upon layer of deception, yet there was always a deep spiritual resonance coursing through my heart. I now see everything up to this point as simply the grist of education for the future salvation of my soul. Then, by the grace of God, I came across the book ‘Saint Paisios of Mount Athos’, by Hieromonk Isaac, and everything shifted. It was then I knew that I had finally found the missing puzzle piece I’d been searching for my entire life.
And then God dumped another puzzle into my lap, and my journey into the Orthodox Church began. I first attended services on June 25, 2017, and nothing is as it was before.
Since then? I stumble and fall a thousand times a day, and by the grace of God, I get back up; rinse and repeat. I strive daily to prayerfully navigate the incredibly deep and profound waters of Orthodox Christianity. I continue to read the works of our spiritually gifted elders and saints and am grateful for every opportunity to do so. The Divine Liturgy never ceases to be a deeply moving and challenging experience: to be not distracted during services and prayerfully hold in my heart a deep sense of love for all the people of all the world as I approach and partake of Holy Communion is a beautifully sublime gift. I try to never be remiss in the giving of my attention and gratitude for this.
As one literally turns their heart inside-out before God every day, life is transformed. The path is steep and the precipice ever near. One must be vigilant, when prayer stalls the enemy attacks. I am reminded of the intense process of forging Damascus steel blades: the heating, folding, and pounding of the steel over and over again to gain the effect desired. Our Lord is a Master Craftsman, and I trust Him implicitly with every fiber of my being. I am His, as raw material in His hands; He is ever-present in every detail of every moment in all of our lives. Life in the trenches is a proving ground to hone the skills of perception into the depth of our own folly. Every day that I wake up in this world, I am in church and I am in school, and by this do I know, there is work to be done.