Thursday, June 30, 2011

Turning Towards

I have many moments of awareness of how much my heart has changed in these few weeks. Sometimes I feel shy or a sense of blushing about it. Or it is just a feeling that says "Wow, how did this happen?" 

I can't compare it to anything easily. The only real life experience I have that comes close is falling in love. I remember that before I met Karl, life was all right and generally pleasant. After I met him, nothing was whole without him. I could not imagine life before. I recall falling asleep with the phone against my ear, long having run out of things to say. 

I am wary of using love as an example because I think someone might counter with something like love does not always last. What I am feeling does not seem fleeting to me. Also, our love has lasted and will always last. 

In a conversation with a trusted Orthodox friend, the concept of turning from the Church was brought to my mind. In all of the ways my heart has changed this may be the greatest: I cannot imagine denying the Church or God. It seems as absurd as abandoning my children, even more absurd. Through gruesome descriptions of persecution, I cannot imagine it. I am not saying I know I could endure this pain or that. (Chances are I could not, for example during one of my labors I begged Karl to hit me over the head with something so I would not have to endure the pain.)There just is not a part of my heart that can ponder leaving God. My heart is turned toward God and it is inconceivable that anything could change it. 

What happened to me? I am not asking because I am not pleased, but because it is amazing. When and how did it happen? How will this grow? I am so happy for my children, too, because this is a gift for them even more than for me. 

When Father Stephan and I were speaking the other day about kairos and kronos, he told me that intention is everything in God's time. I asked, when does intention change, when you said the prayer over us on Pentecost? And he said no, that it was only an outward sign. Our intention changed within us, and we became of the Church. 

I know this must be true because everything has changed. 

Another Book

The Inner Kingdom: Volume 1 of the Collected Works

Father Stephan has mentioned this one more than once. I look forward to reading it.

Reading Rotation

The unfortunate result of reading so much is not remembering which book I read certain things in. But I am happy that  I am able to read so much. Sitting in waiting rooms with Karl has this one advantage.

Bread & Water, Wine & Oil: An Orthodox Christian Experience of God Faith: Understanding Orthodox Christianity (Faith Catechism) The Faith We Hold The Orthodox Way The Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today's World Children in the Church Today: An Orthodox Perspective Philokalia: The Bible of Orthodox Spirituality

Do you know what else is worth mentioning? I am re-reading half of these books. Some new idea or concept opens up to me and the whole book has to be re-read with the new lens. I am thankful for the advice I was given regarding waiting in lines and books.

The the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

Yesterday at Church we were part of an impromptu conversation about Karl's possible Chrismation before his surgery. I had gathered earlier from Father that he was not of the mind that Karl should be received, wanting to be hopeful about Karl's operation and not fearful. Karl and I both resonated with this thinking at the time.  Yesterday, though, we were met with Father Stephan offering Karl early reception into the Church. We spoke about it with him for a long time, arriving at a choice only after a lot of thought. 

Karl resisted the idea of being Chrismated first because he did not want to leave his family behind, so to speak.  We also had questions regarding the Church's view of Karl's marriage to me if he is received and we are not. These things were all solved. Karl will still very much be a part of our Baptisms later, and all of the marriage treacle seems unimportant (although you may find me inquiring about these nuances in the future).  Father and Karl had arrived at the choice not to move ahead with it at one point. I felt strongly that Karl should be received. 

It is not my decision, so it does not matter what I feel, but I was not alone in my feelings. In the end we did choose the move ahead with Karl's Chrismation. I pray to God that my part in it is without blame. I do not want to be someone who causes strain in any situation. My honesty was asked for and I feel I gave it. 

I am so appreciative of the time we were given to speak with Father. I trust him implicitly. There is so much I want to know and understand. I hope he does not think badly of me for asking so much of him. I know Father does not know my heart, none of our new friends at Church do, but I hope that we will are deserving of the friendship they have freely extended to us.

I should not fear, but I am consumed by fear. I am afraid for Karl. I am afraid for myself. I am afraid for our children. I do not know how to escape it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

We witnessed a Baptism

Today I watched my first Baptism. She was a little baby. It was so beautiful, and how interesting that this should happen when so much is on my mind surrounding Baptism.

I look forward to the day I am Baptized, and the 3 of my children too who are not already.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


The Royal Path?

What is this, and should I really worry about reading Bishop Kallistos Ware's books as a catechumen?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Saint John of San Francisco Orthodox Academy

We loved it. We really, really loved it.

Classical education, beautiful Cathedral above, kind principal Father Irenei.

I had a good lengthy interview with the staff. Kassi came with me. Everything I learned about the school was satisfactory. If money were no object, we would be there this fall. It is everything I have ever imagined for my children, with the added and hefty enhancement of being Orthodox. At St. John's, everything is about living an Orthodox life. They children start and end their days with prayer. Sometimes upstairs in here:

Holy Virgin Cathedral, Joy of All Who Sorrow

Kassi and I spent some time in the Church before our interview. We visited all the icons we could in the time allotted, but this is an expansive place. Guess who was there? Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk, Karl's new patron. This was before the meeting and I suddenly felt anything was possible.

We went on a tour of the school. It is small and comfortable, full of the smell of incense and icons in prominent places. They even have a stage with lighting for drama. The Kindergarten room, which they call the 'duck pond', is very pleasant. I could see Anatoly thriving there. I met a man who would be Tristan's teacher. He was young and bright eyed, present. I know Tristan would get on with him.

We spoke about my kids in particular. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a positive opinion of them from the staff member who knows them from our parish. St. John's is a classical education establishment. If tuition were not in question, even if we applied we would not be guaranteed enrollment until our children showed competence to handle the level of learning. And then yet. the staff would visit our home to be sure we had a connected, Orthodox life. They want to be sure we can support the students- our children- with their studies. The level of involvement is high. I love their view of children and of family.

I wished the entire time that it was not so good. We just cannot afford it. Right now not at all, with Karl's situation. But even after Karl recovers and is back at work, the combined tuition (without any reduction) is around $18,000 a year. This is pretty low for a private school, and if I could I would pay them more still, but that has no bearing on our personal situation.

I daydream that I could work there somehow and use partial scholarship. But I have Romneya, who is not school aged, and so unless I found a preschool I could afford I would not be able to work. Well, to be fair I could work Fridays when Karl has days off, and the weekends too I suppose. I know I would commit to a year of this, plus scholarship, and reassess every year as we became more capable. You just have to see it, and meet Father Irenei, to believe it.

If they would let me, I would clean the school full time to pay for the kids' tuition. (or any other task, however small of difficult) But I recognize that this is unlikely. They need tuition to pay for the function of the school. It is a beautiful school.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Baptism Question

I have a new question. In my reading I have learned that at times in the Church, many held off to be Baptised until old age, in a hope to wash clean the sins of their life after they had committed them. They were thus sometimes lifelong catechumens. Catechism lasted a long time, at any rate, longer than the year we will have.

But I have also read a great deal about Baptism itself and wonder if the kids and I would not be better off to be Baptised without delay. For example:

"Thus our salvation begins when we receive the forgiveness for our sins in Holy Baptism, and indeed many times again later in Confession, the sacrament of repentance or washing with tears." (from The Faith We Hold)

"Baptism confers being and in short, existence according to Christ…" (St. Nicholas Cabasilas, from this article)

"Thus, escape from the corruption caused by passion is possible only in communion with God. This communion is established in Holy Baptism. There man is born anew of water and the Spirit, and God begins to work in him." (also from  The Faith We Hold)

"And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16)

There is a particular quote I cannot find because I can't remember which book it was in. (This is very frustrating but I have been searching for a hour and I am not spending any more time looking today.) The quote discussed how Baptism is a comfort to our hearts and can both illuminate and protect us, that having the Holy Spirit with us is most necessary for spiritual growth in young and old.

I know I am growing in Orthodoxy, I know I am learning. I am amazed every day (and there are very hard times, too). My question is: is it reasonable to wait so long for this illumination?

A Little Adventure

Today the two older kids are coming with me to San Francisco where we will meet with Father Irenei, who is the principal of an Orthodox school there.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

New Books

Edited to add: read these both cover to cover today. Concise, easy reads. Beautiful books that make you want to meet the author. I had some remarks and questions along the way that I will put into a review post.

This time from Deacon George. Two small books:

The Faith We Hold


Feast of Faith: An Invitation to the Love Feast of the Kingdom of God
Today I discovered (and I should not be surprised, I guess) that there are people who probably don't understand how I can be so certain about the Orthodox Church. Who knows why? Maybe they, like myself before, have never felt the kind of certainty I feel now. Maybe they have experience with people who thought they were solid but then were not later. Today is really the first day I realized this, and maybe now I can understand reactions from friends better than I did.

Friday, June 17, 2011


"Sometimes children are ill because of the sins of the parents, in order that sorrow would destroy their thoughtless life, force them to think and change, to purify themselves from passions and vices." - from the above source.

Is this an Orthodox view of illness and God? 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Preparing for Surgery

While we prepare practically for Karl's (open heart) surgery, we are also preparing for his Chrismation into the Church. This may happen sometime here before the surgery.

I would like to buy an icon for Karl, to make a place in his recovery room for prayer. Karl is nearly certain of his saint name, Tikhon of Zadonsk. I am not sure if me buying this for him is 'appropriate' or not. Where do you buy icons? Should I also have other icons? We only own a couple of travel icons of Theotokos and Jesus. The Tikhon icon that Karl likes is this one:

We need to make a home iconotasis in general, but things are difficult now and I can only afford just a few things for Karl's recovery. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gifted Books

A new Orthodox friend gifted us 3 books today. 2 are for the kids and one for us. I already love them.

Pictures of God: A Child's Guide to Understanding Icons St. Seraphim's Beatitudes: Blessings for Our Path to Heaven - Based on the Life of the Wonderworker of Sarov The Year of Grace of the Lord: A Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Prayer of the Catechumens

Myself and our youngest, the rest of the family beyond, becoming catechumens today. More pictures to come. Beautiful life! 

Pentecost, and the beauty of the Church today, will forever be our beginning.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Karl News

Karl will probably be coming home this Saturday! Having him home be such a relief.

He will be at home with us for 4 weeks if all goes well. We'll be administering the IV antibiotics during that time. Doctors will keep a close watch on his heart health. Then he will return to the hospital for open heart surgery which will replace the heart valves (mitral and aortic) that were damaged by the sepsis. The surgery is very serious and will last about 5 hours. He will be on a heart/ lung bypass machine and general anesthesia. Afterwards, he will be in the hospital again for a week, then home for 3 months of recovery.

Right now we are struggling with a decision about which kind of valves. We are so early in the decision making process that we are not even sure we have a choice between the two. But if we do, it would be an important one. It seems like every day has an important development like this.

We are so appreciative of all who have helped us so far. It has allowed me to visit Karl, the kids to visit, us to eat and life to go on for the last week. The kids love the company of this 'village' atmosphere and so do I. We are excited for Karl's homecoming but frankly we may need more help for the first week with him back than when he was in the hospital.

Our friend Patricia Scott continues to organize the care calendar. She is adjusting it occasionally so that it best fits our needs. Now that we know Karl is coming home, we probably won't need rides after Saturday for instant. Karl and I will be going to numerous doctor visits, however, so childcare is perhaps more important on some days. Your meals have been delightful and nothing has gone to waste. Please feel free to call Patricia or myself about the calendar if you have questions, or go to the page and just sign up.

The best way to connect more closely with Karl's progress is through Facebook.
Tabitha O'Melay | Create your badge

As always, keep us in your prayers. Love, Tabitha.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


I wish I had pictures of today, although I would not have been taking them even if I could. I was deeply involved in something so important.

Today Karl officially became a catechumen. Father Stephan visited us in Karl's hospital room and read the prayer over him. The kids and I will stick to Pentecost (this Sunday!), our planned day for the prayer. Karl is a special case now, and his process will probably be very short. Before the surgery Karl faces he will, God willing, be Chrismated and receive Communion.

I feel like writing about our day. Father Stephan arrived all smiles, waving as he came in. He is a person, someone I don't know, but he embodies something that I can't describe. The level of endearment I have for him is not realistic. Still it remains.

As he approached us, Karl and I both received the physical blessing of a priest for the first time. The act was transformative, and everything that happened after was as if in another place. Karl was prayed over, I helped say Psalms. He was anointed with special oil from the lamp of a Saint. The prayers for healing were so beautiful. They must be very old prayers, yet they touched on every aspect of my current prayers for Karl.

We also spoke as people for awhile. I shared a lot of my fear, and our story from this traumatic week. Father Stephan seemed present and thoughtful, sharing his fantastic smile with us from time to time. I felt so peaceful with him there. I think I can speak for Karl and say he did, too.

Life is beautiful, meaningful, and worth all the suffering it entails at times.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Some news today... Karl's echo showed damage to two valves (mitral and aortic) caused by this sepsis. They both have to be replaced, which unfortunately means open heart surgery, not the much-hoped-for minimally invasive surgery. Pray for us!

Karl will probably be coming home for in-home IV care at the end of this week, for a total of 6 weeks on IV antibiotics (they want to eradicate the infection). After that he will go back in to the hospital for the surgery. The surgery will be followed with 4-5 days hospitalization and 3 months of recovery at home.

Turn Not Thy Face

Monday, June 6, 2011

Today's Visit

Our Family: Romneya, Kassiopeia, Tristan & Anatoly. Karl and Tabitha, too, of course!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Church Today

Today at St. Nicholas was as complex as a day can be. I knew I wanted to be there, even if it meant taking all 4 children on my own knowing they were on their worst behavior. Once I arrived and walked into the church, I wished I had not come.

Everything about the place is relevant to Karl and our plight as a family. I felt instantly lost in the vastness of the world, a world in which people just die sometimes. A world where two people who are soul mates and have 4 beautiful children can be separated in an instant. I felt no sense of comfort- rather the opposite. And I know its the truth. Who am I to expect miracles or special treatment?

What is happening right now has changed our lives forever. We just don't know how profound this change is yet. I pray that we will just have to learn to live differently, together.

A man at church, Nikola,  encouraged me to 'pray confidently to Theotokos." I admit I don't understand. How can I pray confidently, knowing with my mind the hard fact that many people have prayed before me and still they have lost their husband, father, everything? I can pray, but not confidently. The sad, knowing icon eyes look beyond me. I am unable to meet the gaze, because I know this is true.

So I stood in the church, minding my children as I could, and cried. The whole time, I could not help it. I watched and heard and felt while tears streamed down. I did my best to stay present. And you know, it was good.

Then lunch came around. Everyone had seen me crying, some had heard from Father Stephan. Everyone wanted to know and I told them, bursting into tears anew with each telling. You know, it is very embarrassing to cry like this in front of near strangers. Mixed feelings, absolutely. But in the end I felt so clear and refreshed. I am so grateful for my day.

Several people come to mind when I think of the bright moments of today: a man named Mark, who removed his hat and prayed in another language when I told him about Karl. the beautiful family of Alina, Luben and Irene, who came close to me and reassured me more than once during the liturgy and after. my dear friends the Garzas who are just perfect and somehow watched me act like a child and still love me, and Mr. French who told me "People love you when you're down and out. I do."

For those who wish to help

Our friends the Scotts have set up an online calendar where people who wish to help can offer meals, childcare (so I can visit Karl), or housework. You can see the calendar and choose a day that is unfilled by another. To receive the calendar link please email Patricia Scott at patriciascottlaw at gmail dot com

Please pray for Karl.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

My beloved Karl O'Melay is hospitalized with a septic blood infection. It has been discovered that the staph is infecting his heart and he will need heart surgery. The surgery can't be done until the staph is eliminated. Tests are being done now which will determine when Karl comes home and whether Karl will have surgery before he comes home.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Holy the Firm

Holy the FirmThis is one of my favorite books of all time. I first read it when I was 16, in an English Genre class at Berkeley High. I loathed the teacher for reasons I cannot recall, and gave her endless trouble in my way. In the end she won the battle, I know, because I stole this book and slept with it under my pillow for years. It was one of those "perfect storm" books. I was somehow exposed to it at precisely the right moment and it entwined with my soul forever.

I can't really say this is a review, because I have no idea how to critique the words contained in Holy the Firm. I don't even like the review I just read by someone else. Talking about it is no good. You need to read it. It's short. Below is a page selection.

The Great Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord

The icon of the Ascension at church yesterday.

Despite what is happening for us right now with Karl's health, I am so happy the kids and I went to church yesterday. I have never felt like this before. Last night when I was talking with a dear friend about Karl and how worried we are, I attempted to describe this to her. It is difficult to explain.

When I was a young girl, I remember praying and genuinely believing. I had a difficult childhood. So I remember praying with all my being, with tears that did not end. I remember praying not for good things but for strength to survive. This strength was obviously granted to me or I would not be here.

I found this handwritten excerpt from Psalm 69 in an old diary of mine today. I must have been 12 or 13.

I was just a kid, though, and when I began to open my eyes to the rest of the world everything unraveled for me. This was a result of many things, including the particular brand of belief I was raised within. Ever since I have not been able to pray, or talk, or even think about God without this loud voice overshadowing all. It says things like "You don't really believe this garbage." and "This is so pathetic of you." or sometimes I perceive it as merely a silent eye roll at my behavior. It makes me sad to type, but it has been my truth for a long time. Of course I don't actually hear voices. I think you know what I mean.

But this has all changed for me. It began with a strong desire to overcome the doubt, to really divine the truth. This desire was what led us to the Roman Catholic Mass, what urged us to go through RCIA and make a commitment. But since Palm Sunday, our first day in the Orthodox Church, the desire for change no longer encompasses what is happening. The voice is gone. It is not there.

My dear friend on the phone summed it up in a single sentence. She said "You have been given the gift of faith."

That's it. For the first time in my adult life, I am praying without that voice clouding my mind. I can speak about God to my children without the shameful feeling of doubt. I am able to feel with my heart the truth of our being here on earth. It is so wonderful, and yet I can't imagine that what I have typed here really relays what I mean.

Still, all this has left its mark on me. While the doubt is gone and I feel free, there are old habits and mind tricks left behind. I worry deeply about making mistakes at church or when I speak about God to the kids. I over think every aspect of this conversion. It feels sometimes like I am waiting for the doubt to come back. I want to be clear, the overwhelming sense of this is freedom and amazement. But I recognize that I have work to do to preserve this gift.

Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.

(Psalm 69)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Please Pray for Us

My husband is in the hospital with complications related to possible carbon monoxide poisoning at work. This means heart problems. He will be there for at least 2 nights. We have had a very long day. Please pray for us.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Learning songs

I wonder how we will learn the songs of the Liturgy, or anything else for that matter. Will there be classes? Father Stephan didn't mention classes.

There are already songs that stick in my mind, and tunes, although I don't know the words because they are not in English.

Tristan and I agree that we are especially fond of the part of the Liturgy where we sing:

O Son of God who arose from the dead, save us who sing to Thee: Alleluia!

Tristan seems to know the songs better than I do, but he has spent more time in the church. Speaking of spending more time in the church, we are going tomorrow to the Ascension service and feast. It will be my first time going with all 4 kids and no husband, so I may spend my time in the hall, but I am happy to do so. I say that now.

I have not read much this week except for internet articles. I have been trying to have a simple morning prayer.
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