Dear Simeon: Enjoy your new wheels! [a guest post for What Do You Do, Dear?]

This is a guest post for my friend Mary Evelyn’s amazing blog, What Do You Do, Dear?

Her son, one of my favorite humans, just got his first wheelchair. I wanted to write Sim a letter about what being in a wheelchair is like, so he and his mom can read it together later on when he starts to get older and ask questions.

Enjoy! And read the rest of her blog instantly.

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Hi, Simeon!

I’m Beth. I’m friends with your Mom and Dad. I go to Church with your Uncle Joel and Aunt Sarah. I made you a video where I sang Happy Birthday to you when you turned one. I bet you could tell that I’m very, very silly. Most people figure it out right away.

Your Mom wrote a blog post about you getting your first wheelchair the other day. I watched that video she made, and it looks like you already know just what to do. Awesome! 

It is fun to use your chair to learn ways to do things your friends do that work for you. You want to zoom around the playground? You can. You want to twirl around in a circle for the heck of it? You can. If there’s something you want to do, there’s a way to figure out how you can do it. 

As a bigger kid who uses a wheelchair, too, I can tell you: having a wheelchair can be great. It helps you get around more easily by yourself. You can keep up better with your friends who are walking, running, or playing with you; especially if they are pushing your chair during playtime. You will meet a lot of great friends to have fun with. I have no doubt. 

But there are going to be some people you meet that won’t understand wheelchairs or what it is like to use one. They won’t understand that you have your own way of doing things that works for you. They might say that there is something wrong with you, that you’re sick, or that you can’t do something they can do. They might tease you. They might laugh at you. They might look at you funny. They might feel sorry for you. They might call you names. They will make choices that hurt your feelings. 

When I meet people who act like this, I am angry. I’m sad. If they just got to know me a little, they wouldn’t choose to say and do things like that! It’s okay to be upset when people hurt your feelings. Just do your best to remember the good friends and helpers all around you who love you very much. 

You may meet some other friends with wheelchairs, some who use crutches or a walker, some who have service dogs to help them with seeing or hearing or reaching things. Some of your friends might not have wheelchairs or walkers or crutches or service dogs, but there are things they will need help with, too.

We can all help each other, we can all be friends with each other. We can all learn from each other. There are two things we should always remember to say, “Thanks for helping me!” and “What can I do to help you?” Helping each other makes us all better friends in the long run. 

Being in a wheelchair does make us different from a lot of our friends. Feeling like you’re different can be scary. But it is nothing to be scared of or sad about. God makes each one of us special. There is only one me, there is only one you. All of our friends are special, too. We are all different from one another. And that’s just it. Because no two of us are alike, everyone is fabulous, everyone is wonderful; everyone is fantastic. 

So, keep your chin up, Sim. Keep on rolling. Keep on being fabulous, fantastic you, no matter what. 

Zoom zoom. 

With Lots of Love, 
Your friend, 
Beth

Behold Your Mother: Getting to Know the Virgin Mary

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During my conversion to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, I had myriad experiences that sat in stark contrast to the nondenominational, Protestant faith I had carried since childhood. One of the most challenging things to grasp was the apparent prominence of the Virgin Mary in the Church. Other than what I could glean from some familiar Bible verses, I hadn’t known Mary at all. I had only even seen her during Christmas and Easter plays, where she stood in the backdrop, saying little or nothing. I had a fragmented idea of who she might have been, but no clear picture of who she was.

Orthodox Christians [and many from liturgical traditions] just plain love Mary. And we aren’t shy about it. In fact, you can’t miss her. Every time I go to Church, there she is, larger than life: in a giant icon right above the altar, with Jesus in her womb and her arms outstretched in welcome. The choir sings to her every Sunday. And the priest asks her for her help and prayers, calling out to her as if she is right there with him in the sanctuary, standing next to Jesus. It jarred me at first. Was that kind of thing in the Bible? Did the early Church really think of human beings like that? And why are we talking to her in the present tense? It all seemed quite weird. I was griping about the whole struggle with Father Stephen one day when he diffused the tension with his typical gentleness, “She is a person,” he said, with a smile, “Not a theological concept.”

Okay, I’d thought. Mary was a person. I can’t argue that. But it’s not like she’s with us now, right? Wrong. The Bible itself talks about being surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). The faithful men and women who have gone before us are, in a mystery, hemming us in with their prayers, which help us “throw off everything that hinders us, and the sin that so easily entangles us”(v. 2-3).  And who better to help me bring my requests before the throne of the Incarnate God than His mother, who carried Him in her womb, held Him in her arms, and kissed His face when He cried?

theotokos-sweet-kissing

Though I wasn’t used to or comfortable with relating to Mary at first, Christianity often brings us to many crossroads where we have to decide to step out of our comfort zone and love because that is the example set for us:

When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:25-27)

Why had I not seen this before? The Early Christians did love and honor Mary as their mother, because Jesus loved her and cared for her as His Mother, even to His last breath.

Seen in this light, loving Mary, honoring her, and asking her for help makes perfect sense. We have all loved and honored our mothers, or those like mothers to us, constantly leaning on them for support.

Beyond that, our mothers teach us, and Mary is no exception. As I’ve heard several priests put it: she is not the great exception; she is the great example. Her acceptance of the will of God [“I am the Lord’s servant, let it be done unto me according to your word”, Luke 1:38] should inspire us. A single act of faith and humility allowed for God to work the great miracle of the Incarnation in the womb of a young girl from Galilee. Because Mary offered her humanity for Christ to take on, our flesh can now be sanctified and saved.

As His Mother, Mary has a tender, deep relationship to God that we can learn from and emulate. Caring for and loving Jesus, mourning His death, and celebrating His life and resurrection; Mary’s simple, deep love for her Son is woven throughout the Gospels.  We get a glimpse of this intimacy in a beautiful excerpt from Luke: And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart” (2:18-19).

Just as she treasures the chance to be close to Jesus, it is evident for anyone who looks to her that Mary loves all of us as her children through Christ. Countless times throughout Church history, she has intervened for the faithful with the aid of her intercession, comfort and consolation, right up to here and now.

At Christmas, the image of Mary cradling and kissing Jesus is especially powerful. She reminds me of the humility of Jesus, as I realize He was willing to be cared for by His Creation. She reminds me of the power of prayer, as her intercessions bring me peace. And in his calling me to love His mother, the Lord welcomes me as His family, allowing me to abide in Him and with Him.

Wishing you all good news, great joy and His Peace this Christmas.

With His love.

Thanks be to Blog.

So sue me, I am a miserably inconsistent blogger.

And like anyone with an over-developed guilt complex, I take full responsibility for that.

I blame myself for not blogging. I blame myself and my full, hectic, exciting, small, simple, joyous, richly blessed life for keeping me away from all of you for so long.

But I don’t fret too much about you all being out of the loop. Because so many of you are nothing but involved in my life, nothing but aware of my goings on. Nothing but available and alert and sharing everything with me. Many of you have been there to take part in a host of my most infamous misadventures.

And each and every and all of you, I say thanks.

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St John Chrsysostom was famous for many things, not the least of which were his dying words: “Glory Be to God for All Things!” He thanked God for everything. And over the past year, I have had everything: the good, the bad, the frustrating, the joyous, the heartbreaking, the uncertain, the confusing, the hilarious. And I am surrounded by people who have taught me to be thankful for it all.

  • To my Mom and Stepdad: thank you for supporting me in all things, for telling me the truth in all things, and for not accepting excuses for anythings. You have both helped me to grow and learn a great deal, and I thank you for that. And for letting me come over and watch cable sometimes.
  • To my Friends: thank you for loving me in all things, listening to me in all things, and driving me to all places, with humility, grace, and acceptance. You all are the kind of friends I strive and hope to be for you. You are all brilliant examples. Thank you for your company and your kindness, and for enduring my silliness with few complaints.
  • To my Workmates: thank you for keeping me sane. Seriously. 
  • To my Priest(s)/Church family: thank you for being icons of Christ and His Mother and Friends to me. I thank Them all for all of you. By His Grace, we are His Family.
  • To John: thank you for being a pleasant surprise. Thank you for building something with me  that bridges time zones, countries, and oceans. Thank you for your time, your kindness, your affection, your humor, and your uncanny read-aloud skills. You have brought me along on your adventures, and I look forward to seeing where they take us next. Thank you for taking me Off the Market. You’re incomparable.

To the rest of you: thank you for reading, for believing in my work, and for being. You are yourselves because each of you has something no one else does. Find it, and share it with others. 

Wishing you all a blessed, happy Thanksgiving holiday, with love.

Go easy on the Tryptophan.

 

year one

For my Valentine’s Day post, I’d like to begin by telling you about my sweethearts.

i want to hold your hand.

Aida and Sophia, before coming home from the hospital, 2007

Those are my nieces Aida Elizabeth and Sophia Jane, shortly after greeting the world. In some ways, they haven’t changed much: they are still beautiful; still sweet; they still love each other instinctively. In some ways, though, the girls have changed quite a bit.

my valentines

Sophie and Aida, a few weeks ago, now age 3

They have gone from making little gurgly noises to chatting up a storm. They are no longer content to lay in a crib and sleep; they like to run and hop, swing and twirl. Each of the girls are starting to make her own choices; each of them has her own likes and dislikes: each one is taking hold of her own personality more and more by the day. And they are both growing fast, shooting skyward like little spring flowers, in what seems like no time at all.

Orthodox Iconography: Jesus Blessing the Children

Along with my mom and stepdad, tomorrow marks the one-year-anniversary of my becoming an Orthodox Christian. I have been giving a lot of thought over the past few days to this post, and discovered that my nieces offer the perfect allegory.

When it comes to my “experience” treading the path of Orthodoxy, I am only a year old. Let’s put that in human terms. How many theologically articulate infants do you know?

In most ways, I still know next-to-nothing about this way of expressing my faith. I cannot begin to explain to you the complexities of our philosophy, the layers of meanings behind each and every tradition and practice, the lessons that are meant to be taught us by the colors in the icons.  To this day, I have no idea how to correctly sing a single tone in the hymnody.

More than a few times over the past year, I have looked an inquisitive friend in the face and politely implied (s)he “will just have to come with me to church sometime” and that (s)he “may want to ask a priest” instead of me, when it comes to questions about the Faith.

But there are two sides to every coin. Unless it’s a trick coin. And the one in this metaphor isn’t.

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Russian “Tenderness” icon [the style where Jesus’ face touches Mary’s, my favorite

While I feel like I have a long way to go, I am profoundly grateful for how far myself and my family has come. Not unlike my nieces, who seem to look more like little girls and less like little babies every time I see them, I am blessed to have seen my faith and my perspective grow and develop into something entirely different than it was  a year ago [by Grace alone]!

 

It is not an easy task to completely redefine your faith. But it has been a labor of love, and I have so much to be thankful for in hindsight.

I am grateful for the sense of community in the Church, both earthly and heavenly. I am grateful that beauty is not only encouraged in our worship, but embraced, and somehow reveled in. I am thankful to learn prayers and hymns that have been celebrated across the centuries. I am grateful for how accessible and how mysterious being a Christian can be, in the same moment.

the Archangel Michael: I love this because he looks like he means business.

Because of how different the perspective can be from one expression of faith to the next,  the past year in some ways feels like a lifetime. When you are thrust into the unknown, you never know where you might end up, and just how far you may go.

The changes brought on by this year have felt intimidating, frightening, exhilarating, humbling, confusing, joyous. . .I can’t keep track. Just in thinking about what to write in this post, and processing the moments in the past few days of my life, I have run the emotional gamut.

But then I remember my nieces and their example. And I remember I do have a long way to go, but I have grown and will continue to do so.

In the meantime, all I can do is approach G*d with an honest and open heart, like the children before me who ran to Him for his blessing.

who needs anemones?

Hilton Head, SC: home of golfers, fraternity members, grandparents, and several metric tons of Spanish moss. This week, my family is invading. We arrived Sunday afternoon:  two (at one point 3) married couples, one single, vocal espresso addict, and two identical twin girls; we are a force to be reckoned with. And I mean that in the coolest and most flattering way possible. For serious, my family is very cool and very adorable. Ask anyone, particularly anyone related to me, and they will agree.

It is gorgeous and lush here: green everywhere. There are huge, old trees. My favorite part about the trees is that they have long, thick, squiggly branches. There are lots of huge houses and hotels, with perfectly manicured grasses and flowerbeds lining every road. And of course, there’s the beach. Although I am much more a mountain lover, I appreciate the awesome scale of the ocean and the calming effect of watching the waves. I think anyone who has been to a beach can appreciate the mesmerizing rhythm of water on sand.

We have already been to the beach a couple of times, and will certainly have a few more brief visits before we head out Friday morning. There has been a lot of seafood munched on, and we have very much enjoyed the comfortable beds and easy hot tub access afforded by our accomodations.

Of course, the most important part is all the quality family time. I think we have to remove ourselves from our routine sometimes in order to take away the things (albeit good and necessary things) that can so often distract us from the people we love. Granted, I have still relished a little bit of alone time every day like usual, but it has been a great blessing to spend special time with everyone on the trip in a unique way.

Not sure what the rest of the week holds other than an exploration of St. Pat’s activities around the island, and taking full advantage of the sea and the scenery. But rest assured, there are already Facebook photos, and I am writing a lot of things down for posterity.

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Apart from the joy I have felt being with my family and exploring new places, I have also had other, more strange feelings the past few days. In an environment where all the boys have short hair, and where you have to scour the streets for a coffeehouse, I find myself out of my element. I am not fancy. I don’t know anything about boats or sailing them. And I do not like golf. I  feel like I’m wearing a neon hat that flashes “TOURIST” to passersby.

At first I resented these feelings. I didn’t get it. How could I feel anything out of sorts when on vacation at a beach? But then I considered things a little more and realized I’m not at all ungrateful for being in a new place. I’m with my family, and I’m getting the chance to experience new things and open my mind a little more. No, it isn’t ingratitude I feel for being away from home. It is more a realization of how thankful I am for the home I have. And how great it is to look around an unfamiliar place and see the faces that remind me of home.

So, I do wish you were here. And yes, I am keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll see at least one t-shirt with a bad pun on the front- or a tour schedule on the back. But in the meantime, I am enjoying the new frontier. And when I see the ocean next, I’ll wave at it for you. . . !

weekend update

I started writing this post after a valiant struggle alongside my mother against one of society’s most boisterous demons: bureaucracy .

Turns out, health care is complicated. I have a disability and therefore receive a limited monthly income. So I have literally piles of mail regarding healthcare from everybody: the doctors, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, TennCare, and my dad’s insurance company. Let’s just hope I don’t get sick anytime soon. But if I do, and the doctor asks me what’s wrong, I will ask him for some form of card-like identification, along with the correct 13-digit number, and refer him to the 17 page mailing I sent to his home address- after asking for his mother’s neighbor’s maiden name for verification.

So, B-Rock, need some help with deciding how to tackle health care reform? Make it simpler. There now. Everyone can just calm down. Problem solved.

On to the important stuff.

ICFUS

  • I will still be interviewing Nashville band 20 Minutes to Park. We had to reschedule due to work and transportation issues, respectively. In the meantime, visit their site and listen to their tunes. That way you will be ready to fact-check me when the interview is reader-ready.
  • Also coming to ICFUS, my first art blog! Complete with a mini-interview. So get your temperas ready, baby! And put a call in to the Guggenheim while you’re at it.

The Year of the Uke (?)

  • Be not alarmed, it is still the Year. The Uke is living here happily and has been making friends with the softest, comfiest things in my room.
  • My rockin’ mom has helped me find some neat beginner materials, including some beginner Beatles songs- a precursor to the Beatles book I bought along with the uke. [A girl simply must be prepared.]
  • The Uke needs a proper name. I am thinking a male name. Other than that I got nothin’ and welcome your feedback. I will put a call out to my Facebook friends as well, and will report back with my decision. These things take time, you know. Not the kind of thing you want to just rush into.

and the BIG news:

  • Many of you have been asking after the children’s book manuscript. I am ecstatic to report that my connection with a major publishing company in Nashville may be fruitful- it is very likely tbat, if I can get it all dolled up, it will be reviewed  by the Children’s Editor of the company sometime this week. This is such a blessing and I am very hopeful and excited about it. Don’t get me wrong, it is intimidating and scary as anything! But I really believe that children of any age will be able to identify with the main character and the things he overcomes, so I am doing my best to remain optimistic for the book.

I will  be keeping everyone posted on these matters, particularly as related to the manuscript, as things develop. Thanks for being a part of my cheering section! I hear you loud and clear!