Lights on the Mountain – a review

by Cheryl Anne Tuggle
Paraclete Press, ISBN 978-1-64060-166-6 226 pgs.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.

For as Darya put it: how else does the tall, tall man with the sober jaw and the eyes planted so deep find the girl who can see the promise of harvest in them? Unless she believes, as Gracie did, that farmers may also be saints and mountain dwelling fools, holy. (pg 5)

It’s a quiet book about an ordinary life, with extraordinary people and places in it. A book that celebrates the growing of faith, the slow birth and development of belief, from a vision of a miracle. Was it truly, as Jesse first thinks, Glory and the Shekinah Light, of “God himself, paying some lucky devil a visit”? Or was it, as Jesse’s father said, just “… a sun pillar. Ice crystals way up in the atmosphere, reflecting the light of the rising sun”?

Jesse doesn’t have an easy life – the youngest son of a dairy farmer in the hills of western Pennsylvania at the beginning of the 1950s, he loses first his brother to the Korean war, and then his parents to a fatal car crash. He willingly shoulders the work of his beloved dairy farm but he plods through his life, empty and a hollowed out husk, until he meets, first, Gracie, the woman who becomes his wife, and then Tsura, the wild forest child raised by Eli, an Amish apostate, who informally adopts the child when Tsura’s mother arrives on his doorstep in a labour that takes her life.

It’s a book which follows Jesse and shows a growth toward faith, of how God puts people and events and moments in our lives to draw us closer to Him, to invite us to change to accept Him, not in a Road to Damascus, blinding light and noise kind of way, but in the normal, quiet everyday course of events: the passing of days and nights, the turning of the seasons, of full and dark moons, in sorrow, in joy, in laughter, puzzlement, and mystery. Small things that may or may not be miracles draw Jesse closer to God while leaving the mystery of whether they are of God or “just” natural phenomena for the reader to decide. Cheryl Anne Tuggle shows us exactly what CS Lewis meant when he wrote, in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader that a huge ball of flaming gas “is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”

She catches the feel and moods of the Pennsylvania mountains through all the seasons, and make it as much a character as Jesse and Tsura. As a gentle background accompaniment to those moods and sensations, she also captures the feel of the decades over which the story takes place – the post WWII, Korean war 1950s, when rural places were catching up to the 20th century in a slow, thoughtful way. A time that small farmholdings could still support their families and earn money from surplus production, though the signs of change were in the air, through the bewildering and painful 60s and 70s, when agribusiness and modernization finally reached even the most isolated of the settlements in the mountains and the revolutions and unrest of the decades left everyone bruised and reeling.

It’s a book about how to hope, no matter how dark and sorrowful things can seem. From his wife’s inability to carry a child to term, Jesse learns the lesson by watching her. “With each disappointment she somehow emerged with hope intact. Her flexibility amazed him, though it was true that he marveled at it from a distance, much as a man with no legs admires a circus acrobat.” His life, even with the joyous interlude of the marriage is one of sorrow and sadness, but Gracie teaches him to hope for the appearance of joy, of light, of radiance, for the appearance of those people who bring those things, and to soak them in when God sends them.

But mostly, it’s about how all of life, and all of us are, in our fallen and broken state, still holy, still God’s creation, made in and for love, wonder and hope. The book invites the reader, in as quiet and unassuming a way as God invites Jesse, to look for God’s gentle touch inviting us into a deeper relationship with Him.


Macrina the Younger.

July 19 is the feast day of St. Macrina the Younger, sister of two of the three Cappadocian Fathers. She’s my namesaint.

Born in 327 AD, Macrina’s birth foreshadowed her life. As her brother Gregory related in his biography of his sister, “When the time came for the child to be born, at the end of her labour, Emmelia fell asleep, and dreamt she held in her hands the child still in her womb. A being of superhuman form and appearance stood before her, and addressed the child as Thecla, who is so famous among the virgins. He named the child this three times, then called on Emmelia to witness this after which he eased her labour pains and disappeared. She woke and found her dream had been realized. But in my opinion, it seems that the being spoke that name not to indicate to the mother the right choice of name, but to foretell the life of the child and to indicate that she would live the same kind of life as her namesake.” The family called the child Macrina after her paternal grandmother, who lived with the family.

Her parents were devout Christians and the family had a reputation for their piety, their generosity and their hospitality. Additionally, Basil the Elder was a lawyer and a teacher of rhetoric, and was famous throughout Pontus, for his talent and dedication to his profession. Macrina came from a prestigious family. Her ancestors on her mother’s side had held important government posts, and her grandfathers on both sides of the family had been martyred. Her father’s mother, St. Macrina the Elder, was a confessor of the faith – someone who had suffered grievously for their beliefs, and she lived with the family, helping to raise Macrina and her siblings.

Emmelia and Macrina were close from the moment she was born. Emmelia taught Macrina, using the classical Greek curriculum specifically adapted and altered to use Scripture, particularly the Psalter and the Wisdom of Solomon. According to her younger brother, Macrina was reciting the Psalter by heart at a young age.

Over the next number of years, Macrina was joined by a lot of brothers and sisters. Basil (the Great) was born about 327, followed by Nacrautius, then either a stillborn or miscarried child, or perhaps a sister, Theosebia, and then her brother Gregory (of Nyssa) who came along in 335. There were several other children, and the youngest, Peter, was born around 340 AD. All told, there were nine living children in the family, and Macrina, as the responsible oldest sister, helped look after them all.

When she was twelve, she was betrothed to a young man, possibly a distant relation, but before the two could be married, the young man died of a fever. She declared, after his death, that she wouldn’t consider another marriage, and instead, preferred to dedicate her life to God, as a virgin-widow. Contrary to some hagiographers, though, her decision to become a monastic wasn’t because she loved the young man so much she could never consider another in his place – it was because, like most of her forbearers, especially her mother and grandmother, she loved God more than anyone else, and wanted nothing more than to dedicate her life to Him. Eventually, her parents acquiesced, and shortly after that, Macrina’s father died, just before or upon the birth of the family’s youngest son, Peter.

From the time of her father’s death until her mother’s death sometime around 370, Macrina and her mother became even closer. Macrina stepped in and became her mother’s body servant, administrative assistant, constant companion and effectively raised her youngest brother, Peter. Emmelia, for her part, supervised, for a number of years, her daughter’s spiritual development and whatever education remained for the young woman.

Over the years, Macrina’s influence on her mother and the household grew. Gradually, the group of people living on the family estate at Annesi, about a day’s travel from Neocaesarea, grew more like an egalitarian community, living together and sharing food and work and worship, and less like the home of a wealthy Roman family, whose members were waited on hand and foot by servants and slaves. Emmelia and Macrina shared the work of the estate with the servants, and eventually Emmelia freed the slaves and lived with them in total equality. By the time Basil returned from Athens, where he’d been struck by the writings of a friend and wanted to rethink his purposes and his future, the household was very close to a monastery. Macrina’s influence on her brother, combined with Eustathius’s book, convinced him to also live as a monastic. Over the years, the community’s reputation grew and gradually, people, unrelated to the family, arrived at the gates and asked to join the community.

In 369, a famine struck the area, and the community gained a reputation for its generosity. Not only did they feed everyone who came to them, Macrina and her brother Peter, now a young man also dedicated to the monastic life, scoured the roads and lanes for children abandoned by their starving parents. They brought the children back to the monastery and adopted them into the community.

Macrina died in July of 379. She was approximately fifty-four years old, which isn’t old now, and wasn’t then, either. She isn’t known for her wonderworking, although she was a wonderworker, or, like her brothers, for her brilliant defence of the Orthodox belief against heresy or for the depth and brilliance of her theological thinking. She left no letters or books, there are no quotes of hers that show up in other people’s writings that would give us any indication of her intelligence and her beliefs. But for her brother, Gregory’s, biography of her life, we would never have heard of her. Yet she was an immense influence on her family, and her dedication to God has inspired and encouraged her spiritual children for over 1700 years.

For more information about St. Macrina the Younger, these books have more detailed information:

Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series II, Volumes 2 (Sozomon), 5 (Gregory of Nyssa), 7 (Gregory Nazianzus), 8 (Basil)
The Cappadocians by Anthony Meredith SVS Press, 1995
The Asketikon of St. BAsil the Great, Anna M. Silvas, Oxford Early Christian Studies, 2005,
Gregory of Nyssa, The Letters, translated and written by Anna Silvas Brill, 2007
Wandering, Begging Monks, DF Craner, University of California Press, 2002
Virgins of God, Susanna Elm, Clarendon Paperbacks, 1994
Macrina the Younger, Philosopher of God, by Anna Silvas, Brepols 2008
Fathers of the Church, St. Gregory Ascetical Works translated by Virginia Wood Callahan, CUA Press, 1967
The Life of St. Macrina by Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, translated by Kevin Corrigan, Peregrina Publishing Company 1996



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I will be presenting at the second annual Ancient Faith Writing and Podcasting conference (as you can see in the list of attendees in the graphic above. More information as it develops, but if you’re interested in writing or podcasting about the Orthodox faith, or if you’re interested in meeting other Orthodox writers and podcasters (and bloggers), please consider registering (link above).


Tension and heart

By Jill Diamond, Pictures by Lesley Vamos.
Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers

Today, Jan. 27, is Multicultural Children’s Book Day in the US, and as part of the effort to encourage diverse kids books, I’ve agreed to review a multicultural kids book. The event – reviewing the books – is an organized effort, and more information can be found here: Multicultural Children’s Book Day . There are a bunch of publishers and authors who sponsor this, and I’ve put that information down at the bottom of the review, so please do check it out. I managed to totally luck out on this, and got an absolutely delightful book by Jill Diamond with some lovely illustrations by Lesley Vamos. The best thing about Lou Lou & Pea, for me, is that it’s not pushing any kind of multicultural agenda. It’s just telling a story about two young girls one of whom happens to be Hispanic, and both of whom live in a Hispanic neighbourhood. It’s the first book in a series, and I really hope that the book does well, because these two girls are terrific characters.

Lou Lou, whose full name is Louise Bombay and Pea, (her real name is Peacock Pearl) are best friends who live in the El Corazón neighbourhood of an unnamed American city. Their normal lives – gardening and attending the local public school for Lou Lou; fashion, good manners and taking courses in art and fashion design at a private school for Pea, are disrupted during their formal Friday afternoon tea party when Pea’s mother asks the girls to deliver a quinceañera dress (15th birthday party) that belongs to Pea’s prima (cousin) to the cleaners, as it’s been stained.

On bringing the dress to Sparkle and Clean, the local drycleaner, laundry and fashion boutique, Lou Lou and Pea discover that this was no accident. The stain is a combination of grape juice and purple dye. Worse is the fact that Lou Lou’s favourite plant is killed that same weekend. Lou Lou had planned to enter Pinky, her autumn queen camellia into the local horticulture show, where she was sure the plant would win first prize. The earth around the dead bush smells of bleach – a sure killer of camellias.

As they move through their neighbourhood in the following days, the girls notice additions to the local wall murals – a white bunny with amber eyes in one, a magenta camellia flower which is a perfect match for Pinky’s in another and the ruined quinceañera dress in a third.

As the girls go on with their lives, attending school, planning a memorial for Pinky, and getting ready for Hallowe’en and the Día de los Muerotos (Day of the Dead) celebrations, the crimes and the mural additions continue: Lou Lou’s nemesis, Danielle Desserts, loses her beloved gold necklace, the Candle Lady, Elmira’s, shop is broken into and her savings for the Candle Lady’s Caribbean Cruise are stolen. As well, the sprinkler system in Sugar Skull Sarah’s studio is tampered with, destroying most of the hard work she’s done for the Day of the Dead celebrations.

The question, of course, is who is responsible for both the crimes and the additions to the murals? Suspicion centres on Jeremy, Lou Lou’s new next door neighbour, who is altogether too friendly and who seems, through circumstantial evidence, to be the culprit. Although, it might be Rosa, Lou Lou’s shy, shadowy neighbour. Or Kyle, the Science Fiction geek and hall monitor. Or could it be someone else? The story climaxes at the Día de los Muerotos parade just after Hallowe’en, when the friends not only wow the crowds with their memorial altar to the departed camellia, Pinky but finally wrap up the case.

The fact that Pea is Hispanic, and so is most of the neighbourhood is woven seamlessly into the story. Most of the shop names are clearly Hispanic, and a lot of the dialogue and terms are Spanish, but the reader isn’t left grasping for meaning. It’s either clear in context, or the translations make internal story sense, since Lou Lou is not fluent in Spanish, although she’s learning, so she either gets it wrong, and is corrected, or the speaker translates quite naturally for her. As they’re going to the Candle Shop,

“Lou Lou read aloud the shop’s paper sign that she’d seen countless times: ‘SE VENDE LUZ Y SUERTE.’
‘We certainly need light and luck today to help Magdalena,’ Pea said.”

In sum, the fact that it’s a multi-ethnic book isn’t underlined – it’s just a story in which one major character is Hispanic and the girls live in a Spanish speaking part of the city. No big deal. Neither are the girls stereotyped, as either girly-girls or modern, “strong” girls who are deep into traditionally masculine attributes and interests. Both Lou Lou and Pea are well rounded, three dimensional characters – Lou Lou loves to garden, isn’t too concerned with fashion or her appearance and tends to be casual and relaxed. She’s not as thoughtful as she might be, but she cares about her friends and is quick to adapt her behaviour to make other people feel comfortable, including being as formal as possible at the Friday teaparties and as polite as she can be when necessary. Pea is very concerned with cleanliness and appearance, other people’s comfort and she adores fashion, but she’s also analytical, observant and decisive. The girls are girls, a mix of traditionally feminine attributes and modern, more traditionally “masculine” characteristics.

Jill Diamond has created a world that I think we’d all like to live in, and the name she’s given the neighbourhood reflects the atmosphere of the book. El Corazón means “the heart” and this community has heart. Yes, there is danger; the crimes aren’t just harmless pranks. Cash is stolen, merchandise is ruined and property is destroyed, and there is tension through the book, but it’s clear that this is an anomaly in the community.

And it is a community with corazón. People know their neighbours, care about them and look after each other. It’s not overt, or particularly underlined, it’s just there. This, along with the names and personalities of the characters is a major strength of the book. The people who live in El Corazón are quirky and full of individuality and they pop out of the page without overshadowing Lou Lou or Pea. The street names (Lucky Alley) and the store and organization names (Sparkle and Clean, Cupcake Cabana, Hello Horticulture! Society) also contribute to a lovely, gentle, fantastical “ago” feeling even though there are modern touches, like cellphones and blue spiked hair. The illustrations are done in a style that reminds one of illustrations from books from the 1940s and 50s, and the entire package welcomes and enfolds a reader in that gentle and welcoming world.

Definitely a book I’d recommend for kids who like mysteries, enjoy whimsy and are between 10 and 13.

Here’s the scoop about MCBD and the sponsors:

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include Scholastic, Barefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. Roman, Audrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTV, Capstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle Swift, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee& Low Books, The Pack-n-Go Girls, Live Oak Media, Author Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

 Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett Abouraya, Veronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Maria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid Imani, Gwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’Malley, Stacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda Paul, Annette Pimentel, Greg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

MCBD Links to remember:

MCBD site:

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers:

Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators:

Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents:

Be careful what you pray for.

We’re always told to be careful what we pray for, because we will get it. I’m here to tell you that is so amazingly true that it’s terrifying.

For the last little while, I’d been running across comments and sayings from the Fathers about how we need to understand how God is not this cozy little person who is our best buddy, who is cuddly and comfortable and human sized. He’s big and he’s dangerous and we should fear him as much as we love him. And I get it, in my head: the being who can create the entire universe, who is bigger than infinity, to whom a hurricane is a slight breeze – who creates the hurricanes and the earthquakes is not a God you want to mess with. As Lewis put it: he’s not a tame lion.

But I didn’t feel it in my heart. God, for me had always been the shelter from the storm, not the storm itself. He cradled me through terrible times, reminded me of His love in the bad times, and healed me in the most amazing ways during the good times. He is patient with me, always gently leading me back to the way I should be going, pointing out where I need to focus my energies and my repentance. And I know for sure I didn’t actually, in so many words, ask to be shown the God who is bigger than the universe, but I do remember wondering how I could feel that awe and that wonder.

My writing life, for the last several years, has been a mess. Nothing I’ve written for over six years has been accepted for publication, and anything new I’ve started (other than an Akathist I’ve been struggling with for five or six years) has been blocked. For nonfiction, I can’t find the sources or a coherent voice, for fiction I just can’t put the words down, for poetry, if I haven’t got someone pushing me, it doesn’t get done. I’ve lost my focus, my sense of where I’m going with my writing, what I’m supposed to be doing with it, and even what I’m supposed to be writing. And who cared about what I wrote (other than me) anyway? My words were so trite, so banal and so shallow, was there any point to keeping on? Whatever I had to say, others had said it better, deeper, funnier and far more eloquently than I had, or could.

So when I heard about an Orthodox writer’s conference, I thought – yeah, I’ll go. Maybe I can jump start something. Or at least meet all these people I’ve known on line for years and years. But that was a lie I told myself. What I was really doing was saying goodbye. I think I’d pretty much decided to quit writing even before Mel emailed me about the conference, but I wasn’t ready to admit it to myself, so I packed the Akathist on the grounds that, hey, it was a writing conference. I could write when I wasn’t networking.

I caught a red-eye from Vancouver to Chicago, at least that’s what my ticket said, but it wasn’t long after I arrived at O’Hare that I realized I wasn’t in Ohio anymore. Or Wisconson or Kansas. Somewhere along the way, I entered the Orthodox twilight zone. First thing was meeting someone at the bus station who was also attending the conference. She had the knowledge to point me in directions that would allow me to go back to a stalled book on my name saint and her brothers, and was more than willing to share. Thank you Summer!

The first words I heard on arriving at the retreat centre in Kansasville Wisconsin were words I desperately needed to hear. And they were said by someone whose writing I have admired and learned from for a number of years. Molly Maddex Sabourin looked at me, said, “Are you Bev. Cooke?” And when I nodded, she told me how much my writing had meant to her. I heard that message a number of times through the two days we were meeting.

The retreat centre is on 137 acres of farmland. It’s got a tiny forest on one side of the property. The wooded area has trails dotted with shrines to various saints. There’s a handy map so you can plan your walk. I’m a sucker for maps, so I picked one up. I took along the Akathist I was working on. It’s to the Theotokos and it follows her life, including, of course, most of the major events of Jesus’s life as well.

Like I said, I love maps. I’m good at reading them, and I’m a good navigator. Until our GPS replaced me (for which I still haven’t forgiven it), I got us wherever we were going, efficiently and mostly trouble-free. I certainly never put us into farmer’s fields, which the GPS does on a fairly regular basis, at least according to the maps in its memory.

Yet, this time, even before I entered the trails, I got lost. I could see the beginning and ends of the trail marked on the map, but could I find them in reality? Good luck! When I finally stumbled on what I thought was the trail (but wasn’t), I was even more confused. I’m still not sure how I got lost in a soybean field in full view of the main retreat lodge, but I managed it.

I finally run across the trail, and find myself at a small square building dedicated to St. Nectarios. Aha! Here I am! So the next shrine should be St. Haralumbos. I walk toward it and run straight into the Dormition of the Theotokos, which, according to the map is on the entire other side of the forest from where I think I am. Well, okay. I’ll write a kontakion here, since the Akathist is to the Theotokos and it seems fitting. Then, at every female saint I encounter I’ll write another section. Now where am I and where am I going? Oh, Saint’s Pantelemon and Parksevi are next. Except they aren’t. It’s St Nectarios again, but it isn’t a small building, it’s a covered icon, just like the other shrines I’ve seen. Which means I’m suddenly back on the side of the woods I thought I had originally been, except that I hadn’t, I’m over there. And now I’m over here, and I didn’t see the field along the path I was supposed to be walking along, so maybe I’m over there, instead? But wait. Where’s the little lake, that’s supposed to be here? and I have no idea where I really am, except I have some suspicion that it still isn’t Wisconsin.

I give up. I will wander, ending up wherever I end up. Eventually, I’ll come out. It might or might not be on the retreat property. It might or might not be in Wisconsin. And if it is, this is rural Wisconsin, not the wild interior of British Columbia. There are, as far as I know, no bears in farmland Wisconsin. What’s the worst that can happen?

God likes metaphors, I conclude as I realize that I am as lost in these woods as I am in the forest of my writing. So I hand it all over to Him: this walk in these woods, and my ramblings in the thickets of my work. I walk and write and walk some more. I visit Saint Catherine and St. Barbara. Write under the eye of both women. The words flow as they haven’t for over six years. I walk some more and scare up a doe, which is pure joy and my heart leaps with her. I visit St. George and he and I pray for my godson, and I decide it’s time to head back to the lodge, and check the map, where I notice the shrine to St. Emelia. I can’t miss her – she is the mother of my name saint and when I enter her shrine, I feel welcomed and honoured. She’s been waiting for me, and enfolds me in a spiritual embrace. I pray to her and write a bit with her.

But now I have to head back. I’m hot and tired. The sweat is rolling into my eyes and it stings and it rolls down my arms and onto my fingers and makes the pen slippery. I’m full up with this experience and want to put the Akathist away for a while and think about what has happened here.

Next along the path, I run across a shrine to Sts. Constantine and Helen. She is a woman – but he’s not. Should I write? Or not? I look at my outline. This kontakia is about the entry to Jerusalem, when Christ was greeted as a king. Do I have a choice? I write. The next shrine is the twelve apostles. The ikos is the Last Supper. I pray, I write and I’m not sure if the drops hitting the page are sweat or tears. I am being led, and if the metaphor holds, then in my writing life, I am being led as well. I need to trust.

Enough, God, I’ve had all I can take. I want to go back to reality and talk with my friends. I follow the path, check the map, turn down the arm of the trail that leads back to the lodge. Without, as far as I can see on the map, any more shrines. I don’t want any more. I’m shaking and raw and I’m perilously close to tears.

A few more steps and I see, off the path, a painting: white lamb on a set of shoulders. No. I can’t deal with you this way. I can’t take so direct an encounter. But I have no choice, do I? I handed the control over to you, so I have to stop here. The icon is the Good Shepherd.

But it’s not the Good Shepherd I meet. It’s a storm of love – a hurricane, a tsunami of love, that envelopes me and holds me fast. I sense behind this storm even more love, more powerful than what I am already experiencing. This is a love that can create universes, and I’m only sensing the very tip and tiniest portion of how big and powerful it is, and I start to cry. There’s so much love here that if I let myself cry as I need to, I will cry myself out of myself. I’ll be stripped to my essence – opened up right to the innermost core of who I am and laid bare for all the universe to see. And I can’t. It doesn’t matter that God knows this part of me already. I can’t let myself cry like that, I’m not ready to be laid that bare. I back away after a few moments and head back to the lodge and to a reality I can deal with.

But I know that even as I run from the power and the immensity of the love that is God, I’m still running to him – he’s the good shepherd and I’m his ewe and he will be waiting, back to a size that he knows I can deal with. But my view of him is forever changed – it’s tinged with awe at the majesty he allowed me to see and sense. I know that one day, I will be able to face that love, and allow him to open me to the very core of myself, and I know too that it will be in tiny steps that won’t destroy me, and I’ll revel in every step of it. And I will not, I cannot stop writing.

Happy MonDay

Mother’s day is over for another year, but I’ve been reflecting on it as I’ve read all the kudos and gratitude and, yes, grousing about it on the internet. I don’t “celebrate” it and we didn’t teach our kids to pay much attention to it either. There’s a bunch of reasons for that:

In addition to the living children I have and whom I cherish and take an enormous amount of pride and joy in, there are three: James, Tabitha and Juvenal who didn’t make it long enough to be born. I remember them every day of my life, and think about them a lot.

My mother is dead, and when she was alive, she abused both my brother and myself and left us with deep and lasting wounds. And even though, over the course of my life, I’ve realized that she did the best she could with the world’s smallest “good mother” toolkit, and deeply regretted the pain she caused us, I don’t have a really strong inclination to either mention her or celebrate her mothering of my brother and me on this day.

Yet, while I don’t think of Mother’s Day as a really great day, neither do I feel resentful that other people are celebrating their relationships with their mothers, or missing the ones who have died, or mourning the children they’ve lost. I don’t feel left out or as if I’m somehow cheated and marginalized because everybody’s going ga-ga over their mothers or remembering their lost little ones. In fact, I’m happy to see that so many people can appreciate the work that goes into being a mom, that they recognize, even if only one day of the year, that it’s hard work, and it takes dedication, commitment and a lot more energy than anybody ever expected. I empathize with the mums who’ve also lost babies and children, and understand that it’s a bittersweet day for them, too.

What bothers me about it is when those like me, who had a less than stellar mother, or who’ve lost children, or, unlike me, never had ’em in the first place, jump up and down complaining that it’s wrong and somehow wicked for everybody else to have a good time and share the good parts of having been mothered, while it leaves them feeling sad and left out in the cold. Or who insist, like Anne Lamott, that it somehow marginalizes women who’ve chosen not to have children or that it “makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children feel the deepest kind of grief and failure” while somehow perpetuating “the dangerous idea that all parents are superior to non-parents.”

I, the child of a dead, abusive mother, I, who most of the time feels like a failure as a mother, take issue with this. Having children isn’t the highest calling, it’s doesn’t make a parent superior to a non-parent and I’m not sure how a non-sentient day can pepetrate anything. Furthermore, I can attest, personally, that there is NOTHING on the outside of my skull that can make me feel more like a failure than the thoughts already squirreling around on the inside of my skull. I suspect the same is true for most people who feel like failures. It’s the voices INSIDE our heads we have to shut up, not the ones having a good time on the outside.

That’s what bothers me most about this: the implication that because somebody somewhere is having a horrible time on a celebratory day, because of the day, we should ban the day. That because some of us don’t happen to have good associations with motherhood, nobody should celebrate it, because, goodness knows, we don’t want anybody to feel excluded or bad or anything as awful as grief. I have news for you: grief is a part of life, and while the pain and the empty space inside never completely go away, you can come to terms with it, you can deal with it and find joy and happiness in other parts of your life. Yes, certain days, certain colours, certain places, certain songs will always trigger the tears, but honestly, I’d rather have that than feel nothing at all. It’s a part of being alive and it means that inside me, that person still lives.

So, my suggestion is that if you don’t want to or you don’t enjoy celebrating Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Parent’s Day, Valentine’s Day or any other Day, go find other people who feel the same way you do, and do something with them that will let you be happy. Let those who do want to find joy in the day, do so without raining on their parade.

HAPPY MON-DAY! And to all the mothers out there: I hope you had a stellar day.