18 Orthodox, Going on 19 Orthodox
I planned on writing this piece about something completely different, but at the last minute, some things have come to my mind. My birthday is in three days, on October 27th, the feast day of blessed Saint Paraskeva. Last year, I was waiting for my birthday with excitement and joy. It was, after all, my 18th birthday, and I was finally becoming an adult. I was ready to change my life into what I wanted, but instead, life changed me into what I needed.
Almost 365 days ago, I remember staying up and waiting for the first happy birthday messages to pop up on Facebook. There is just something about my birthday that has always made me feel special. Not only do I share it with my little sister, but my day is even more blessed by St.Paraskeva. Going to church on her feast day has given me some of the happiest memories of my life. Last year was no different. I remember going to liturgy and knowing that this year was going to be like no other. I felt a sort of hope and eagerness for the new year of my life to start. It was finally the year of my life in which I would get to decide everything. It was the year of freedom, college, and independence, but in the end, was it really so?
My 18th year started off with stress about my college applications. I had applied to seventeen different schools, and all the essays and papers made my life hectic. School work added to this problem. People came in and out of my life, and nothing seemed to be going the way I wanted it to. I wanted everything to be perfect and to be by my will, and it was the furthest thing from that. A friend of mine came back into my life even though I wasn’t sure if I wanted that friendship back in my life. Another friend of mine, a very good friend of mine, faded out of my life. The time to pick a college came around, adding even more stress to my already fragile self. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t even me. I felt lost and confused. A part of me felt gone. I would go weeks without feeling anything, without feeling true joy. Many times I was not even able to pray. It was almost like my life had swallowed me up into a big abyss.
Fortunately, my wakeup call came. One day, I was coming back from school. I was very exhausted, and I was driving. A thousand thoughts ran through my head, and I underestimated the speed of the car that was coming towards me while I was turning left. The car did not slow down, I continued going, and the two cars collided. For a very brief moment, I wasn’t even sure if I was alive. I thought it was all a dream. The first thing I reached for was the icon on my dashboard, and then the tears came. I came out of the car to check on the other driver and thanks be to God, we were both ok. I went back into the car and called my dad. He and my uncle came straight from work. While I waited for them, I continued crying and the next phone call I made was to my spiritual mother, the abbess of the monastery I visit. She told me, “My child, do not cry. This is all a big temptation. This is the devil pushing for the worst. God will take care of you just as He did now. Do not worry. Everything will be fine.” I spent the rest of the day in tears, clutching my favorite icon to my chest. For the first time in months, I prayed, truly, truly prayed.
God had saved me that day. He showed me He loved me no matter how many mistakes I kept making. Because of that day, I examined my life. I let the people who weren’t needed in my life leave, and I let the ones who I needed come back. I stopped stressing about useless things. I stopped running my life by my will. I let God lead me to where He wanted me to go. I learned that I couldn’t run life. God was and is the only one who can. He gives me what I need and not what I want, and He will always take care of my needs.
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6)
Life didn’t get easier from that day, but God made me stronger. I continued school, finished with straight As, picked a college, graduated high school, and I was happy. I stepped back and realized what and who I had. I had a loving family, friends, and I had my faith. I had God, His mother, and St.Paraskeva. I had my spiritual parents, my abbess and my bishop, who guided me through all the hardships. I woke up every morning remembering that God was there with me, and as long as He was, whatever temptation came, He would help me fight through it. As one of my favorite books says, “You must make your own faith the authority you turn to for permission or for the power to resist” (Letters to Saint Lydia, 115).
That quote is the biggest lesson I will take with me as I go from being an 18-year-old Orthodox girl to a 19-year-old Orthodox girl. My faith is the core of me, and whatever comes my way, I will remember to look to my faith for the answer. Faith is the authority we should all go to for permission or for resistance. Only faith can help us make the day to day decisions. Only faith can help us go through life, and most of all, only faith can show us what we truly need. God is always there for us. “He wanted you before you drew your first breath! He made you. He knows how you feel even before you tell Him, and He understands your feelings better than you do yourself. He knows how unexpected and baffling this experience has been for you [or how life in general can be]. Do not worry about God. He is right beside you, and He will still be there” (Letters to Saint Lydia, 20).