Family Visits

This week my family drove down from California to see Jesse and I for Spring Break. We stayed at the Voss Villa (as I am going to call it from now on) for two nights, enabling us to enjoy the Riverwalk, Alamo and sightseeing around San Antonio. From there we drove up to Austin and checked out the University and Capitol Building.

That night we pulled into Dallas at around 11pm, where all 7 of us fit into our tiny apt. It was rather enjoyable, actually, once the sleeping arrangements got…well, arranged. In Dallas we did a lot of sightseeing, visited the Arboretum, enjoyed Easter lunch at La Madeleine’s, and, everyone’s favorite, played Apples to Apples. It was great, instead of going out to eat that night we chose to make tofu spaghetti (thanks to 3 of us being vegan!) and play this awesome game.

I was first introduced to it when we went to an impromptu game night that Fr. John and about 15 other parishioners organized. Normally, Jesse hates boardgames, and so we were skeptical, but the group was able to play it for a good 2 hrs. without stopping or getting bored. So, naturally, I wanted to put the game to another test and see if it could provide a few more hours of enjoyment for my family. We went and bought it, and Voila! Hours and hours of fun! No one wanted to stop, but unfortunately playing a board game until 1am isn’t as much fun when my dad accidentally falls asleep and serenades us with snoring…

Here are a few pictures, along with a link to the others.

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I miss them so much!!

Moments

One of the best practical aspects of being a teacher is getting all of the breaks that my students do. I get this entire week off and paid for. It’s wonderful- finally, I get to get caught up on all the thoughts I wish I could be having, instead of having to decide how many piano books to buy on any given day (grand total that I have been reimbursed for this year at Mr. E’s Music Store= $740!) or how on EARTH I’m going to get my students to listen or do any work. No, this week has been, so far, about getting to do the things I wish I could spend more time on.

So, to start the week out right, Jenny and I went out for breakfast on Monday morning. She is a teacher as well, as she has her MA in Communication Disorders and does speech therapy with lower-income children in North Dallas. We met at her apt. and then hung out at Corner Bakery for some Lenten cranberry oatmeal and coffee:)

It was here that we had one of the best theological discussion I’ve had in a while. Just as a background note, Jenny is not yet Orthodox. Her entire family including her two sisters, brothers, parents, and extended family all became Orthodox around 5 years ago. She, however, was not yet ready and has been attending St. Seraphim on an off again. She only recently became serious about joining the church and committed herself to being a catechumen a few months ago.

This makes for an odd and interesting mix of conversation between us. Jenny knows a lot more about the ways and practices of Orthodoxy, while still knowing what it is like to be an outsider, not having grown up in the Orthodox Church her whole life. However, I love that we are not able to merely relate, but also that we are able to enlighten and deepen each other’s observations about the practical side to the spiritual life of the church.

Now, this is a powerful and emotional subject for me, because I have always found that theological discussions rely heavily on the type of knowledge read in books. Continue reading

Sunday of Orthodoxy

In honor of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, our church, St. Seraphim’s OCA Cathedral held a hierarchal liturgy during which our Archbishop Dmitri was joined by both Metropolitan Isaiah of the Greek diocese along with Bishop Basil of the Antiochan Diocese. Anyone who knows anything about Orthodoxy knows that this is a tremendous and precious example of unity and goodwill.

Jesse and I had been waiting for this Sunday for a long time, ever since it was announced when Ben was visiting. In preparation, Jesse and I met with Father John and then went to Vespers. It was also my night to go to confession (yes Courtney, I am a bad person no longer;), and since I haven’t gone to Father John yet I was a little nervous. But it turned out to be wonderful- one of the most uplifting confessions and experiences of my life. It’s true that confession makes your feet feel light as a feather for a good 24 hrs.

Anyways, I feel that it prepared me well for Divine Liturgy this Sunday morning. Jesse got me there (notice, I never say this the other way around when talking about getting somewhere, EVER) at around 8:45, and, since we did the liturgy of St. Basil, this meant that we were standing STRAIGHT for 3 hrs. Yeah. St. Seraphim doesn’t even sit down for the homily!

But it was totally worth it. Even though we are now accustomed to them, I still love hierarchal liturgies (different tunes and practices are done). I almost always tear up around the middle of the service when the deacons and priests and Archbishop Dmitri are proceeding into the altar, singing together responsively with the choir. Today was even more moving, as he was walking with Bishop Basil and Metropolitan Isaiah. Not only were they making history, but it was fellowship at its finest. It’s almost too profound for me to even grasp well enough to explain.

Since it’s hard to explain unless you are there, I took a video of it. Of course you can’t see them, seeing as all 30+ of them are around the altar and the choir is behind a screen on the left and right, but it might help you get the idea.

This next one is all of them being announced by Father John. As we sing to them, you can actually hear this adorable little girl who stands in the front row every week, praying and singing her heart out. It’s a shame she sings horribly off key:) I’ve watched many times as her parents try very hard to keep straight faces in order not to dampen her zealous child-like spirit.

I also took a fun little video of St. Seraphim’s interior. It’s not great, but you might get the idea.

Last but not least, we were also able to take a picture with Bishop Basil. It turns out that Jesse’s uncle, a priest in Wichita, is very close friends with Bishop Basil. In fact, Bishop Basil already knew who we were!!

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Pictures from Unruh/Voss Visit

Yay! Here’s a link to the pictures that Courtney took of all of us while they were out here visiting.

Forgive

I cannot walk. Yesterday was the Forgiveness Vespers service, and BOY was there a lot of forgiving. For those that don’t know, Forgiveness Vespers is where everyone, starting with the priests, goes around asking everyone to forgive them and forgiving everyone in turn. Before it started we even called a few of our family and friends (well, the ones we could get a hold of) to ask for their forgiveness over the phone. It’s a way to start off the cleansing of Lent with a humble attitude, knowing that to be forgiven is and should be the first and foremost of priorities.

But the service was just for parishioners. It was especially moving to see 80 year old Archbiship Dimitri ask forgiveness from even the smallest of children. What an amazing display of humbleness! To hear such a great man who literally spends his LIFE working for the church apologize to us all for the little time that he spends on himself instead of giving all 100% away to others was unforgettable. Makes my manicures look pretty selfish!

Anyways, the service takes a while, especially at St. Seraphim. Last year, at St. Barnabas there were at least a 100 people, and we bowed and apologized to each one. At St. Seraphim, there were around 200, and we didn’t just bow- we prostrated. Yes, we full on got down to touch our foreheads to the ground and prostrated before each person. And then we had to give the kiss of peace to each and every one. Anyone who knows my issues with boundaries and personal space knows that kissing people three times in a row on the cheek is NOT my cup of tea.

But both Jesse and I made it through. After around an hour of this, we were finished. Granted, we were covered in the sweat and kisses of 200+ people, but we made it. Afterwards, we went out to eat with Heather, Josh, Jenny, Christopher, Photius, Carissa and their children at a fun place called Cuba Libre in the Center of Dallas. It was a great “Mardi Gras” moment for all.

It wasn’t until this morning that we realized we can no longer walk without immense pain. It’s like our thighs and backs have ceased to work.

One thing’s for sure. I’ll never feel awkward about Lenten prostrations ever again. Practicing over 200 times in a row sure gets any self-consciousness out of one’s system!

Home Early

Have I said before that I LOVE Texas?

Today I got to go home at 2pm. All the schools and businesses were getting shut down, mainly because snow and sleet were falling and temperatures were dropping.

It was great! Actually, the getting home part is the part that wasn’t so great. I was not prepared for this whatsoever, and had to scrape ice and snow off my windshield with an a day-old Sonic wrapper while being pelted with sleet. Driving home was also a trip, seeing as everyone on the freeway was only going 30 mi./hr. and there were already 6 inch deep tire ruts developing in the sludge.

The good part came when Jesse’s classes at UD were also canceled and we got to spend the afternoon and evening together, watching Buffy, making cookies and ordering a vegetarian pizza.

Despite the fact that there was record snowfall today in Dallas, that wasn’t even the weirdest thing I saw. As I was driving home, I actually saw an full-sized jet airplane wing being carted by a huge freighter truck down the middle of the freeway. It was at least 15 cars long. Now THAT’S something you don’t see every day!

Heaven

You know how sometimes you get asked a question, and you thought you knew the answer? And then someone asks you that question, someone small, inquisitive, trusting because they look up to you….and your brain goes numb, like someone pulled the plug!

I got a small taste today of what it will be like to have kids someday. Today, one of my best pianists, a 5 year old girl named Rishika, looked up at me at the end of our lesson and asked me, “Miss Kelly, where’s heaven?”

It took me a moment to process what she had just asked me. Usually, end of the lesson questions go something like this: “Can I get TWO stickers?” or “Will you carry my books?” (this may sound like a question, but it isn’t).

But instead, I was faced with a question that bordered on the random ones I used to lay awake at night torturing myself with. “Where’s Heaven?” Is this a location question? I almost said, “I don’t know, maybe your parents have Google Maps or a GPS?”

But nothing so witty. My brain was unplugged, remember?

And then started our little conversation.

“Well, Rishika, Heaven is up there.” <points up to ceiling>. My goodness, how cliche AM I?

“You mean, it’s above the sky?”

“Yes, it’s above the sky.”

“So if I go up in a plane I’ll find it?”

“No Rishika, it’s invisible. You can’t see heaven unless you’re dead. Until you are, it’s invisible.”

This paused her. I thought perhaps I had said enough and was off the hook.

But it was only a temporary determent.

“But Miss Kelly, if I’m dead, my eyes will be closed. How will I see heaven if my eyes are closed?”

Uhoh. Good question. How to answer, how to answer?

And then, it came to me.

“Rishika, do you dream?”

“Yes.”

“Are your eyes closed in your dreams?”

“No.”

“Well, Rishika, the REAL You is in those dreams. When you die, your Real You will have eyes like the ones in your dreams and they will be able to see invisible things.”

“And I’ll be able to see heaven?”

“Yes, but only after you’re dead.”

And then, I decided to lighten the mood. After all, this was piano lessons!! Little kids should have parents telling them these things before they need to ask. Then again, perhaps parents don’t have enough time to answer them all.

Either way, I still wanted to lighten the mood.

“But Rishika, you don’t need to be worrying about these things right now!”

Surprisingly, she agreed with me.

“Yeah, I’m just a little girl. I’m not gonna die for a LONG time.”

And then, it was Riskika’s turn to try and lighten the mood.

“YOU’RE gonna die BEFORE ME!!!!”

Oh well. Maybe I’m glad that I’m waiting a few more years to have kids. I’ll save the tough questions and reminder of mortality for later, thank you.

“Redemption” at Flexing Poplars

My first period speech class has the dubious honor of being good enough for me to push. It is simultaneously the class that I have the greatest hope for, and the class that most often ruins my day. After two months of leading discussion, persuading, lecturing, and chastising I saw signs that it was time to entrust them with the class, at least a little bit. I had been talking about being thoughtful people, about preparing them to lead, about giving them responsibility; and now it was time to push them out of the nest and see what would happen.

The scary thing about all this – and I warned them – is that the class will probably first experience failure. In such a class as mine, success and failure are obtuse terms (certainly an “A” doesn’t mean success), but failure is what generally happens; just as a kid learning to ride a bike for the first time will experience some “failure”. Though I have warned them several times about the perils of such responsibility, they didn’t seem to take it seriously till today when Sophie exclaimed that she was terrified that the other students would ruin the class for her.

Tuesday was the first day I started giving them back their class. During the previous weeks I had led discussion on a couple of good and thoughtful songs, and now Josh had the same assignment. He brought in “Hey Jude” – a fantastic song – but was appalled when I asked him to lead discussion on it. “I thought you just wanted me to bring something in!” So I started the discussion and then tried to hand it over. It was not a success. But neither was it an incredible failure. A very heart driven discussion came up about who we should trust and how to keep thinking in life: it was the sort of discussion that refreshes a teacher more than a good night’s sleep.

However, today that was the first real test. Out of the 1 hour and 40 min class, I gave them the first half hour. I didn’t give direction, I didn’t tell them to start or stop (other than to tell them to stop damaging the classroom). I just sat there while they did what they wanted. At the end of half an hour I asked them why they spent their time that way, and why they thought I wasn’t being more directive. Then I had them have a “digestive” talk about their next speech (a eulogy for someone they know). Again the class started to disintegrate. After about 10 minutes of conversational wandering, I started to explaining to them why it was important that they have actual responsibility for this class. It was then that Sophie got mad, and got to business.

She didn’t know where it was going to go, but it would go somewhere. She didn’t have a good idea what it was about, but she was determined for it to be about something. Initially the conversation went to environmentalism. Surprisingly enough, the conversation became more and more thoughtful, till the question of “how do we fix something that’s broken when we’re just mad that someone else broke it?” became “what is redemption?”

“You mean like theSwitchfoot song?”, asked Josh.

“Should we listen to it?”, asked Dan.

Though many people at Bending Oaks have had some Christian background, there is scarcely a more explosive topic than Christianity. It’s like throwing a conversational hand-grenade into a room of, well, juvenile delinquents. Eventually someone’s going to pull then pin and then there will be conversational shrapnel all over the place for the foreseeable future. I told the kids that most Switchfoot songs are very Christian, and they picked one of the most blatant ones. The song makes no sense outside of a distinctively Christian understanding of health, healing, and life. Still, they wanted to take a look at it.

And so, glory to God, we did. I printed out the lyrics, and we discussed them closely. I explained the references in the chorus, “I’ve got my hands/ in redemption’s side/ whose scars are bigger than/ these doubts of mine/ I’ll fit all of these monstrosities inside/ and come alive”. We discussed the figure of Jesus, the role of repentance, and the act of coming alive by placing our doubts and sins inside the scars of the Christ.

And as soon as Sophie asked, “Is redemption possible without Jesus?”, the bell rang.

Check this out!

You have to hear this adorable little 6 year old girl singing for Britain’s Got Talent….this brought tears to my eyes…WAY better than Katherine McPhee if you ask me!

Snow!!!!

So, I think I’m in love. With Texas.

Tonight, as I came out of my last piano lesson, the casual and scattered flurries of snow that had been happening all evening had evolved into a full on snowstorm. It was absolutely GORGEOUS. I was out in the rural areas of Southlake, right near Fort Worth where the majority of my lessons are. This is a really pretty area, as there are lots and lots of trees, hills, and a huge recreational lake. Most of the homes are sitting on at least a few acres surrounded by farms.

Normally it’s very green, but tonight…tonight it was covered with a white blanket. Snow was clinging to all of the tree branches, barns, bushes and fences. It seriously looked like something out of a Thomas Kinkade painting! The best part was that it was just barely 30 degrees, not even very cold!

This meant that the snow was only sticking to grass, roofs and trees, NOT even the road! Perfect– pretty snow without any of the danger! Besides the lessened visibility due to the snowflakes pelting my windshield, it was about as bad as driving in the rain. There wasn’t even any ice!

So, it’s official- I love snow. As long as it doesn’t interfere with my ability to drive:) Until then, I am in love with Texas!!!

Here is a picture of me and my 8 year old student, Blake. I asked his dad to take a picture of us in their pretty front yard.

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