Category Archives: Eastern Orthodox Christianity

#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie 10


by Lillian Csernica on May 10, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Generosity and perfection are your everlasting goals.

All God’s Children

Gloria had a rough time living up to her name. During some Christmas when she was just a little girl, somebody had told her about “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” Gloria liked the sound of “Glory to God in the highest” in Latin and in plain English. She figured out “the highest” meant Heaven. It was the other thing she figured out that ended up causing all the trouble.

Gloria’s mother Jenny started out looking a trifle too wild for the folks at St. Michael’s. She had tattoos, a few piercings, and a braid dyed pink and blue and purple. She turned up in the soup kitchen on the same weekend we were there serving dinner. Three of our church ladies had done the cooking. I was the parish council Treasurer in those days. I played a fair amount of football in college, so a big solid linebacker came in handy loading and unloading the church van as well as making sure our church ladies didn’t have any trouble with some of the rougher folks we served.

Jenny started to turn up at St. Michael’s on Sundays. At first she just needed the box of donated food from the church pantry. Pretty soon she was coming to Mass. She wore long sleeves and left most of her jewelry at home, and covered up her hair with a nice floral scarf. In the beginning Jenny was just being polite, showing respect and coming to Mass as a way of saying thank you for the help we gave her. The one time I saw Gloria’s daddy out in the parking lot, it was obvious he wasn’t much of a church-going man. Reminded me of the more unpleasant type of tough guy who spent most of his time pickled in alcohol.

Jenny gave birth to Gloria the day after Christmas. By then Jenny had been coming to St. Michael’s for over a year, helping clean the church and the hall, working in the garden, and pitching in wherever help was needed. She was grateful for all the help the ladies gave her, making sure she saw the doctor and took her vitamins and knew what to expect. Jenny showed her gratitude the best way she knew how, with good old-fashioned elbow grease. Whoever she had been, she let that phase of her life go. She’d more than proven herself to be a good woman with proper manners and a kind heart.

Jenny asked Fr. Daniel if he’d baptize Gloria, and he was happy to oblige. He offered Jenny the same opportunity, and she accepted. That was one of the happiest days at St. Michael’s I was ever privileged to see. Jenny never talked much about herself or where she’d come from. That didn’t matter so much. She’d joined the family of our parish.

Poor Gloria. When her mama was a wild child who worked hard to do right by her baby, that meant Gloria had a lot to live up to, especially being a girl. Everything seemed to be just fine until the day Marigold moved into the apartment next door to Jenny and Gloria. Confirmation classes had started, so Gloria was twelve, that dangerous age between child and teenager, between playing with dolls and wanting to hang out with the big kids. Marigold was a sweet enough woman, fresh and pretty with her white blonde hair and ’60s style clothes. She wore enough bracelets and necklaces to sink a battleship. We always knew when Marigold was coming because she jingled louder than the bells on Santa Claus’ sleigh.

Marigold’s front yard was full of garden gnomes and copper dragonflies and wind chimes and bird feeders and those colorful flowers with big petals that spun in a stiff breeze. Gloria loved it, and she loved Marigold’s black cat Sable. Jenny told me later that she should have been more careful about letting Gloria run over to Marigold’s place so much. Jenny knew what all the candles and crystals and little fairy figurines meant.

Marigold called herself a witch.

I’ll admit that caused some of us at St. Michael’s quite a bit of worry. Fr. Daniel just smiled and reminded us to look to the health and well-being of our own souls. So we watched and we waited.

Gloria took an interest in all the pets in the neighborhood. Cats, dogs, birds, hamsters, guinea pigs. There was one boa constrictor, but Jenny was relieved to see Gloria had no desire to play with it. This all seemed like a healthy, innocent hobby, even when Gloria wanted to start having little birthday parties for the pets. Jenny noticed Gloria was spending a lot more time at the library. When she wasn’t there, she was over at Marigold’s place.

Gloria had a problem. The animals couldn’t talk. How could she find out what to give them for birthday presents? Marigold let her borrow a book on astrology. That’s what started it. Gloria looked up all the birth dates she’d been able to learn, and then made up a few for the animals whose owners had no idea. She ended up with a notebook full of page after page devoted to each pet and what the astrology book said about its sign.

Giving Sable a birthday party with a Leo theme seemed harmless enough. Catnip toys and kitty treats and a special salmon cake. Gloria had saved up her pocket money.

This led to reading more books about stranger subjects. Jenny put her foot down and sent Gloria to have a talk with Fr. Daniel. I’d have given a lot to listen in on that conversation. I was in the church hall when the two of them came out of Fr. Daniel’s office. He thanked Gloria for giving him so much to think about. Gloria said she’d take “those” books back to the library.

Advent had come round again. That Sunday Fr. Daniel gave a sermon we’d all remember.

“In the Bible Christ tells the Apostles, ‘Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me; for such is the kingdom of heaven.’ I have many books in my library. Many of the writings of the Holy Fathers. Recently I learned an important lesson, and it came to me not through ancient teachings but from the goodness of a child.

“Our dear Gloria explained to me that she had finally understood the true meaning of her name. It comes from ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo,” which is ‘Glory to God in the highest.’ When she first learned to read, Gloria saw all the tags on the Christmas presents. They said To and From. Some also read From and To. Gloria thought about the Latin phrase and in her innocence believed the angel must have left out a word. Gloria wanted to do as the angel said and give the Baby Jesus a birthday present. She believed the angel meant to say, “From Gloria, To God in the highest.”

A murmur of fond amusement swept through the nave.

“Gloria knows that God created all creatures great and small. Her recent practice of giving birthday parties to the pets in her neighborhood is her way of giving God the pleasure of seeing her show love to His creatures by celebrating the days they entered Creation.”

Fr. Daniel paused and looked down at his notes. He cleared his throat, sniffed, and blinked a few times.

“I want to thank Gloria for sharing this with me. In this season of celebrating the birth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, let us all keep in mind that we are all God’s creatures, two-legged and four-legged. Let us celebrate the image and likeness of God everywhere we find it, and give thanks for finding it in so many, many places.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

With one voice, we all answered, “Amen!”

END

Author’s Note: This story is dedicated to Archpriest Basil Rhodes and all the folks at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Saratoga, CA. They were kind enough to teach me many lessons about how much God loves us.

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X is for Crosses (Art Nouveau – #AtoZChallenge)


by Lillian Csernica on April 28, 2017

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X is one of the more difficult letters in the A to Z Challenge. Fortunately, the popularity of art nouveau extended into religious imagery as well. This resulted in a dazzling variety of pendants and rosaries.

Vibrant Art Nouveau Champlevé Enamel Antique Cross Pendant

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Vintage Spanish Art Nouveau Cross

This large Art Nouveau cross pendant is made in 22 K gold composed of one square-cut amethyst surrounded by four baguette-cut raspberry-pink amethysts. Each amethyst is encrusted in the center with a platinum-on-gold collet-set antique single-cut diamond. The colorful amethysts are set in a floral motive, enhanced with 16 antique single-cut diamonds set in a collet setting made in platinum on gold. Probably Belgium, circa 1900.

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Large Antique French Rosary Crucifix/Cross Art Nouveau / Mother of Pearl Beads / Art Nouveau Connector/ Hand Carved MOP Crucifix.

Early 1900s 18k yellow gold crucifix featuring blue and orange glass and plique-a-jour enamel. Signed by P.L. Dasset.

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Art Nouveau Montana Sapphire And Carved Gold Cross.

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Antique Art Nouveau 18k Diamonds Cross Pendant

 

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Taking Inventory on Success


by Lillian Csernica on December 28, 2016

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Knee Update: As long as I stay off of it, my pain level is pretty low. If I’m up and around for more than half an hour, the twinges start. Driving is tough.

I go see my primary care physician on the 4th. “Hello, New Year! Do I need to see an orthopedic specialist?” Somewhere in the world they believe that what you do on the third or fourth day of the New Year indicates how the year in general will go. In pain? No thanks. Doctor appointments? Not a happy thought. Stoned on pain meds? Been there, done that. Tends to slow down my writing.

Speaking of writing, I would like to take a moment to review this year in terms of my career successes.

From Digital Fiction Publishing Corporation come these three titles:

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Killing It Softly is packed full of horror stories by female authors including the amazing Nancy Holder! In this volume you will find my vampire story, “Saving Grace.” Historical fiction, this story features a Russian Orthodox noblewoman who is hiding out as a governess in the castle of a 14th Century French nobleman. A party of pilgrims arrives seeking shelter. Among them is a German scholar who has an unhealthy interest in the schism between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

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Uncommon Senses makes available “The Family Spirit,” my Christmas ghost story which originally appeared in Weird Tales. This was the first deliberately humorous short story I’d written. Reading it aloud at conventions is always a lot of fun.

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This is the first short story I ever sold. Fallen Idol appeared in After Hours and was later reprinted in DAW’s The Year’s Best Horror Stories XX. Many thanks to Michael Willis and the folks at DFP for bringing the story into the Digital Age!

 

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From Transmundane Press comes this collection of fairy tales in the fine tradition of Tanith Lee’s Tales from the Sisters Grimmer. My story opens three years after the fairy gives the good sister the gift of speaking in flowers and jewels, while her wicked stepsister earned toads and snakes as punishment for her bad manners. “Happily ever after” is in the eye of the beholder!

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Sky Warrior Press just released Alterna-TEAs, a steampunk anthology full of danger and excitement. Tea is the pivotal motif to every one of the stories included here. My contribution, “Tea and Trickery,” launches the espionage career of translator Lady Caroline Worthington when she’s recruited by the head of British Intelligence. There’s a nefarious conspiracy afoot intent upon sabotaging Great Britain’s efforts to bring steam engine technology to Japan.

Here’s hoping 2017 sees the launch of The Flower Maiden Saga!

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How You Can Achieve World Peace


by Lillian Csernica on August 7, 2016

Lately I seem to be crossing paths with more Muslim people. Maybe there are more moving into my area. Maybe I’m just starting to notice Muslim folks more often. Women wearing the hijab are not all that common in my neck of the woods.

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In the coffeehouse where my writing group meets, I saw an interesting sight. An older man and woman who appeared to be Caucasian. The man wore the white skullcap and the woman wore the hijab. The woman’s headscarf was lovely and I commented on it. That got us into a conversation about a shop in Berkeley where I can find similar scarves. (Being Russian Orthodox, I cover my head when I’m in church.) We also discussed the latest trends toward longer skirts, which made both of us happy.

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The supermarket where I do my grocery shopping has a few new cashiers at the registers. One of them happens to be another woman who appears to be Caucasian, speaks with an American accent, and wears the hijab. She is a cheerful, talkative, charming person and I like her a lot. Our most recent conversation was about rock music. As I moved on out of the line, I said to her, “Salaam alaikum.” She gave me the sweetest smile and returned the greeting. We’re both People of the Book, so it’s all good.

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In a recent post I mentioned my family’s trip to the San Francisco Zoo. In one of the zoo’s restaurants, I met a Muslim family, mother, father, and two little boys. In the course of exchanging greetings, I said, “You folks are Muslim, yes?” The mother took a step back toward her children. The father’s expression turned wary. Little wonder. These are dangerous times.

I realized I’d made them anxious, so I smiled and wished them a Happy Eid Mubarak. The mother came forward with open arms to give me a big hug. The father thanked me, using a serious tone than conveyed gratitude for more than just my effort to be polite. When he said, “It means a lot,” I had to wonder what kind of hostility this family had faced in the past.  A kind greeting from a stranger recognizing one of the Muslim holy days brought that much relief and happiness. Such a little act, but for that family, it had great meaning.

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This is how we build world peace. We talk to each other. We get to know each other. We discover what we have in common. We respect each other.

Later today I’ll be buying groceries for the week. If I see the Muslim lady cashier, I’m going to ask her if we can have tea together sometime.

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Orthodox Easter


by Lillian Csernica on May 1, 2016

Christ is Risen!  Indeed He is Risen!

Khristos voskres! Voistinnu voskres!

Christos Anesti! Alethos Anesti!

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The Icon of the Resurrection

 

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The white pyramid is pascha, a traditional dessert that makes cheesecake look like nothing!

 

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Kulich, an egg bread, baked in coffee cans to get that cylindrical shape.

 

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Pysanky eggs, mainly for Easter but also given at Christmastime.

Glory to God!

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Y is for Yearning


by Lillian Csernica on April 29, 2016

 

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There you have it.  During all the trips I’ve taken, in the midst of all the traveling I’ve done, there’s been a part of me that was waiting, watching, and hoping.  I’ve been on the lookout for that signal, that flare of recognition that would tell me I had finally found the trail that would lead me to my true home.

U2 said it best.

And so I keep traveling.

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U is for Undiscovered


by Lillian Csernica on April 25, 2016

 

Today we will examine some of the places on my Travel Bucket List.  I hope to visit them before I die.  This is yet another way I keep trying to motivate myself to exercise and lose weight.  I present these destinations in the order they occurred to me as I was daydreaming.

New Zealand

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Parliament of New Zealand in Wellington city

 

Reykjavik, Iceland

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Venice, Italy

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The Grand Canal at night

Ireland

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Denmark

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Egeskov Castle

Glasgow, Scotland

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Glasgow city hall

Jamaica

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Martinique

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Fort de France, Martinique

Morocco

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Santiago de Compostella, Spain

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Church interior, Santiago de Compostella, Galicia, Spain

Greece

The site of the monastery where my patron saint was abbess in the 4th Century.

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St. Irene Chrysovalantou Greek Orthodox Church

 

 

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I is for Island


by Lillian Csernica on April 11, 2016

Islands offer some unique opportunities to travelers.  Arriving on the island can be as simple as a ferry ride or as complex as multiple international flights.  Some islands are popular tourist destinations, and others are best-kept local secrets.  When I began working on this post, I was startled to realize just how many islands I’ve visited!

 

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Alameda Island — Located in the San Francisco Bay, “the Alameda” is home to the U.S.S. Hornet.  When John was in grade school, I went with him on a field trip to see this national historical monument.  For me this was quite a sentimental journey.  My father served aboard the U.S.S. Shangri-la.  To be able to show John this huge aircraft carrier similar to where his grandfather had served meant so much to me.

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Santa Catalina Island— I’ve been to the island a total of three times.  The most memorable trip had to be in my junior year of high school.  Mr. Gilbert, my Marine Biology teacher, took a group of us students to one of the quieter coves away from the busy harbor closest to Avalon, the main city.  We camped out on wooden platforms with no tents, just sleeping bags.  We must have done experiments or some type of lab work.  Unfortunately , what I remember most about that trip was falling off the boat into the water and losing my contact lenses.  I had to spend a day and a half being led around by somebody, which didn’t endear me to my classmates.  Worse, I dreaded going home and telling Mom I needed a new pair of lenses.  Back then they cost two hundred dollars!

 

 

Manhattan — Before the kids came along, my husband and I spent Christmas vacation with his mother in New Jersey.  She gave us tickets to see “Les Miserables” on Broadway.  Oh wow.  Nothing in live theater has blown my mind like the moment when Javert jumps off the bridge.  The way the stage crew made that happen, between the lighting and the turntable in the stage and flying the bridge upward….  I really believed I saw Javert’s body spinning in the current of the river.  After the performance was over, I couldn’t stop crying for a solid hour.  I was so moved, and so overwhelmed by the superb quality of the performers.

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Maui — Once upon a time I went to Maui with my mother.  This was the first time I’d been to Hawaii, so I was quite excited.  At one point I gave serious thought to Marine Biology as a career.  Given that, I was really looking forward to the ride around the coral reefs offered by Atlantis Submarines.  An obstacle arose in the form of a tropical storm.  Ye gods and little fish!  The rain came down so hard I felt like an extra in Key Largo. Mom and I had only so many days to spend on Maui.  We were worried we’d have to leave before weather conditions made the submarine ride possible.  The big concern was whether or not the ocean currents would be strong enough to sweep the small, battery-powered submarine out over the island’s shelf and into the deeper waters.

We did get to take the ride, which involved a boat ride out to the spot offshore where we boarded the submarine.  The ride was everything I’d hoped for.  The tour guide pointed out various species of fish.  Much to my satisfaction, I spotted a rockfish despite its excellent camouflage.

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Vashon Island — When Michael was just a baby, Chris and I went to Vashon Island on a pilgrimage to the All-Merciful Saviour Russian Orthodox Monastery.  The abbot is Priestmonk Tryphon, shown here with Hammi, his Norwegian Forest Cat.  The gold badge Fr. Tryphon is wearing on his belt represents his rank as the Chaplain for the Vashon Island Police and Fire Departments.  The pilgrimage included several presentations.  I gave a speech on the life of St. Xenia of St. Petersburg, one of the few female Fools for Christ.  St. Xenia is one of my favorite saints.  She’s known in particular for helping people overcome alcoholism.  Given how much damage alcoholism did to my father’s body, I’m sure that’s a big part of what took him from us before he could see his grandsons.  Holy St. Xenia, pray to God for us!

Japan, on the main island of Honshu:

Narita Airport, Tokyo

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I regret to say that the only time I’ve spent in Tokyo has been inside Narita Airport, entering the country before I caught a train or a flight to my final destination.

Kyoto

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Ah, Kyoto.   The adventure of a lifetime!

Yokohama

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Yokohama hosted the first World Science Fiction Convention in Asia, Nippon 2007.  I was there!

Kansai International Airport (Osaka)

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Osaka is a marvelous city.  Once again, I was there just long enough to land and make my connection to my next flight.  I must go back, if only for the okinomiyaki!

 

 

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G is for Gifts


by Lillian Csernica on April 8, 2016

Today I have some stories to tell that come from the United States of America.  My homeland is a big country.  You can do a lot of traveling without needing your passport!  Along the way I’ve had the pleasure of giving and receiving some wonderful gifts.

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San Francisco, California — I was at the San Francisco International Airport when I met a Buddhist monk with a heavy French accent.  We got to talking.  Like most holy men in public places, the monk was probably accustomed to people gravitating to him.  He seemed to understand a whole lot more about me than what little personal information came up in the conversation.  His gift to me took the form of sincere compassion and some encouraging words.  As a token of my gratitude I gave him a pewter sunflower with “Believe” engraved on it.  This is why I love to travel.  You never know who you might meet, or what might happen when you do.

Maui, Hawaii — The Hawaiian Lei Greeting has been a part of Polynesian culture for several centuries.  Many tour packages allow you to choose just how luxuriant you’d like your lei greeting to be.  Before the boys came along, I took a trip to Maui with my mother.  It was quite an adventure, including a luau and a submarine ride.  Magpie that I am, I got all excited about the leis made not from flowers but seashells.  Ever since I was little I’ve had a great fondness for seashells.  Mom has been to Hawaii more than once, so she had quite a few shell leis.  She has given them all to me, along with the kukui nut bracelet and earrings belonging to my great-grandmother.

Las Vegas, Nevada — Many years ago my husband and I stayed at the Excalibur.  My father and stepmother lived in Ohio at that time.  My stepsister lived in Vegas, so we decided to meet in the middle for Christmas at her house.  (I have several stories from that trip!)   In the Excalibur there was the usual casino floor with card tables and slot machines.  Downstairs, I found a whole floor for kids full of carnival games such as Skee Ball, the Ring Toss, the Dime Toss.  There were also a few games where you used what amounted to a small catapult to shoot a frog onto a lily pad or a witch doll into a cauldron.  I know how to play poker, blackjack, and even whist, but I’m not much for gambling.  On the other hand, I love to win prizes.  I must have won close to a dozen, most of them some type of stuffed toy.  I did not have room in my luggage for all of them.  Besides, it was really more about winning them than actually keeping all those toys.  So what did I do with them?  Remember, this was Christmastime.  I wandered around the hotel, giving the toys away to little kids (with their parents’ permission).

 

Seattle, Washington –I had gone up to Vashon Island with a friend to visit the All Merciful Saviour Russian Orthodox Monastery.  I’ve been blessed to know Abbot Tryphon and Hierodeacon Paul for more than 20 years.  That visit deserves its own post.  Right now I want to mention yet another meeting in yet another airport.  In the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, I was waiting for my flight to be called.  My friend and I got into conversation with two ladies who admired my friend’s earrings, which I had made.  As it turns out, one of the ladies also made her own jewelry, including the pair of earrings she was wearing.  I don’t know what prompted her to do it, but my fellow jeweler took off her earrings and gave them to me right then and there!  People are so kind.  We forget that, with all the conflict and grief in the world.  I will always treasure those earrings as a reminder of that trip and a reminder of the difference an generous impulse can make.

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My Personal Chariot of Fire


by Lillian Csernica on January 20, 2016

“Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17). All around them, but beyond the capabilities of the five human physical senses, was all the protection necessary. Elisha would be no prisoner that day. His would be captors would be.”

Today I picked up my car.  Today I drove it home from the dealership.  Today I stopped at the grocery store, I put gas in the car, and I drove home.

I was not afraid.  I did not have an anxiety attack.  In fact, I was happy and excited.

I have been a prisoner of my own fears about driving for a long time now.  Almost thirty years.  It’s called learned helplessness, and it’s born of a vicious emotional cycle that includes hopelessness and depression.

Another condition I battle on a daily basis is anticipatory anxiety.  This robs the future of hope and positive thinking.  I told myself I wasn’t afraid of my driving.  I was afraid of everybody else on the road who drove like maniacs, speeding and changing lanes without signalling and coming right up on my rear bumper like they wanted to shove my car aside.  That was true enough.  I think the real truth was, I could no longer face the responsibility of being the driver.

When I was in the car accident that did in fact kill me, my driving had very little to do with what happened.  My employer had assured me he’d replaced the two right tires on the company car, which were worn down to the point of being dangerous.  He lied to me.  I trusted him, so when we loaded the car that night for the drive from Long Beach to San Francisco, I believed him and I did not check the tires myself.

“Put not your faith in princes and sons of men, in whom there is no salvation.  When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.”  (Ps. 146:3-4)

Five years ago I took two sets of driving lessons to brush up on my driving skills.  My teacher said I’m a good driver.  I have good reaction time and I’m good at judging braking distance.  I have driven on Hwy 17 all the way down to Capitola and back in the car with my teacher.

And yet, I still couldn’t internalize that knowledge to the extent that I would agree to pick out a car and drive it.  My husband said he’d get me a car, but not until he was sure I would in fact use it, and use it all the time.

Why now?  Why did I suddenly stand up last Saturday and say, “Fine.  Let’s do it today.”?  All I can say is the time was right, and I was ready.  We found a car that was everything I wanted, at a price we could afford.  It was raining, but I didn’t let that hold me back.  I got into the car and I test drove it so my husband could listen to the engine.  I was alert, I was focused, and I kept moving forward through the process of evaluating and the buying the car.

My car has become my chariot of fire.  Just as Divine Protection was present but unseen for the Prophet Elisha, so I believe God is watching out for me.  I may not always have faith in myself, but I do have faith in God.  Just look at what we went through this past summer with Michael’s hospital stay.  When Michael needed a priest, Fr. Ninos got there before the ICU team took Michael to be prepped for surgery.  I still don’t know how Fr. Ninos got there so quickly, but he did, and I give thanks every day that my boy is still alive and healthy.

When the depression has been really bad, I have begged God to help me get better.  I have prayed for strength and for courage and for the determination to defeat all the symptoms that have crippled me emotionally, kept me from writing, and prevented me from being a functional member of my family.

“The Lord is my  light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?” (Ps. 12:1)

It’s time to move on.  No more thinking I’m helpless.  No more being afraid.

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Filed under Depression, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Family, frustration, Goals, hospital, perspective, Self-image, therapy, worry, Writing