Lenten Reflections: Celebrating Lent and Pascha Together . . . Apart

Today is Orthodox Easter, which we call Pascha. Christ is risen! Today’s guest bloggers are my Orthodox friends David and Roseanna Commini, who have spent this Lent/Pascha apart as David is overseas.

David: My name is David, I am married to a wonderful woman and father to a very beautiful girl. I am currently deployed to Kuwait (my second deployment) serving in the National Guard. Oh, I am also an Orthodox Christian. My wife and daughter were brought in to the Church a few months ago, but I have been Orthodox for almost two years. This is my family’s first Great Lent together… apart. (You can read David’s blog here.)

Roseanna: My name is Roseanna. I am an Army wife, a Navy Veteran (yes, our house is divided), mother to a beautiful little girl, a full time Psychology student, and I work two jobs. This is my first Lent as an Orthodox Christian. Our family has spent the last six weeks trying our best to celebrate lent together…apart. The answers to frequently asked questions are as follows; I don’t sleep, I don’t know when he is coming home, yes it is hard, and finally yes you could do all this to if you had to. I think that covers the necessities.

1) How in the world do we have Lent together – apart? 

 D: Well… It’s complicated. While I am technically in a different country there is a person who stole half of my genes currently terrorizing her mother so I guess half of me is home? But in all seriousness as a family we are one unit; what I do affects everybody in my family and vice versa. The same can be said about the Church – we are all part of the same family. So even though I am separated physically from my family, I am still with them spiritually… And through a thing called the internet.

The internet has been great in that I was able to celebrate the Nativity with my wife and daughter via Skype video calling. The most special thing I love to hear about is my daughter actually wanting to do prayers with her mother, and my wife in turn telling me how praying is helping her.

But the internet only goes so far. If I am struggling it is not like I can just call my wife on her lunch break or talk to her about it before we hit the sack – no, I am pretty much left on my own deserted in a dessert (oh, the irony). So I do what any person should do; I pray, a lot. Now, I am not trying to sound overly pious (because, well, I’m not), but I am telling the truth. Prayer helps. In fact I believe that is one of the key things to Lent; relying more on God instead of our own selfish desires.

R: Over the near decade of our relationship which includes six years of marriage, we have managed to get a grasp on how to maintain a long distance relationship. Letters, care packages, emails, texts, chats, web cams, and more are things we are so very thankful for. Even since his last deployment three years ago our ability to stay connected has greatly improved. The days of scratchy Skype calls about some crazy church that was “Orthodox” but not Jewish (that is how I first found out about my husband’s spiritual journey- no joke) are gone, and they are now replaced with on the go web cam ability through any number of apps on our devices. That being said, technology can’t replace the emotion that keeps a relationship going. Gizmos and gadgets also don’t make for an easy breezy family Lenten experience while half a world away from each other.

Our solution included constant use of our Google apps, cameras, and web cams. If one of us absolutely had to be sleeping then whatever was happening ended up on film to be emailed or Facebooked moments after. The days’ and nights’ accounts are rattled off like minutes sometimes while we pray that no sandstorms or three year olds terminate the fragile call. I’ve taken up prayers with my daughter – no matter how much I just want to toss her in bed and run at the end of the day. She later, via web cam, will instruct daddy on how to squish his face in the floor and talk to God.  We do special things like talk about the church services and Bible stories. We try to do it together and if we can’t then we try to include one another in some way for every activity we do.

2) Where do we find support during this spiritual journey since we are physically separated during our moments of trials? 

D: As far as support from me to my wife goes… is there an app for that? I really do what I can, but I feel more like a listening ear that anything else, but sometimes I guess that is enough. I know that if things get truly exasperating for my love that her friends will be there for her, even if I have to message them on Facebook to convince her to use a certain friend’s husband who is good with computers to remove a virus instead of calling me (right now the equivalent of calling Dell customer service and getting “Steve” from “Ohio”). “Have you tired turning it off and on again?”

R: Sometimes I find myself a bit jealous that my husband is surrounded by people all day. This is somewhat amazing since I’m not a people person. During these weeks though I’ve taken on a lot of things for the first time all the while spending most of my time taking care of a sick child, a cat, and six kittens. None of them offer much support. Neither does a screen or a phone. Prayers sometimes are nerve racking while I try to save my over excited child from singeing all the hair on her head. During these times though I have friends who have stories much worse than mine and they remind me that this too shall pass. A few people offer a hug or an hour of babysitting while I finish a paper. My husband offers humor to make me smile. Through these people I find support even when I’m starting to wonder if Lent is actually getting longer.

3) How has the distance made Lent harder for us, and how has it benefited our experience? 

D: Of course, being the family man that I am, I hate being away from the two loveliest ladies I know. I think it makes Lent doubly hard when you have to deal with separation anxiety on a daily basis, mixed with a little military life. But it teaches my wife and me important life lessons – such as to rely more on God (I think I’m seeing a pattern here…), and that starving yourself is a great way to lose weight (with exercise program; consult your doctor before starting any diets). It has also taught us that distance is no excuse for not being there (unless I forgot to pay for a new internet card this month…).

R: For my daughter and I Lent is not about what food we eat since she is always on a “fasting diet” due to her medical conditions. Even though it is my first official Lent I have been tossed into the deeper more meaningful side of it. Being away from my husband means that I have to relay how I feel or how my child feels instead of experiencing life together. These last few weeks have been extra hard on us due to my daughter’s health and other obstacles. There has been a lot of relaying which is never really able to catch the essence of any given moment. It takes a lot of patience and meaningful attempts to understand for us to grow together and in God. It reminds me that love is about doing and not just feeling.

When people ask about how hard it is to be an Army wife and how they just don’t know how I do it. Frankly, there are benefits to being apart. I always remind them that you can’t miss someone if they won’t go away. Yes, this is cruel humor but it is true. We know the other can handle just about anything and that means we have great respect for each other. We both rely on God to get us through and so we both grow spiritually through our tough times. I know that my husband can handle explaining bedtime Bible stories from a world away. He knows I can manage leading prayer with minimal fire damage. If we were never apart we wouldn’t step into each other’s roles and thus never know that we both knew how our family worked as a whole.

4) What is the biggest “little” moment that our family has had that has encouraged us these last few weeks? 

D: These last few weeks have been gut wrenching for me, and I am sure my family. In case some of you may not know, the Army is changing some standards. One of those standards is that if a soldier fails three Army Physical Fitness Tests (APFT) in a row then they can be demoted, and if a soldier has been the same rank for a number of years they can be kicked out. Why does this matter? Well, I have been the same rank for almost six years… due to my poor physical fitness scores. Yeah, double whammy. However, through the help of some of my buddies getting me to the gym, and lots of prayer, I passed my APFT with no options of failure. During Lent (read “a time of great sorrow and hunger”). Little victory? Yes. Why? Because without the military I would lose most of my bread and butter (well, soy butter for Lent). Not to mention all the healthcare benefits my daughter would lose if I were kicked out (she needs them, like she has so many complications that Bill Gates would be in debt without insurance).

Did my wife help me with my physical fitness? Yes, because she sat thousands of miles away and encouraged me through Google technology (thank you, Al Gore, for inventing the internet). I love how confident she is in me; just as I am confident in her schooling where she is in some prestigious honor society ( yeah, deployed husband, special needs child, 4.0 GPA, in an honor society, veteran of the Navy,starving… NBD). She really has worked hard to get there. How did I help? By hanging up the phone and letting her do her homework (baby steps).

R: For me the biggest little moment was a full circle kind of moment. On Orthodox Sunday my daughter picked out her icon and put it in the bag for church. The next thing I know is she is scaling the step ladder and wall to get to daddy’s icon. She said she would bring it to church because her daddy couldn’t be there. Yes, I cried, but it didn’t stop there. When she walked around the church, I watched from the side (because I’m so uncool and can’t walk with her anymore). She walked with her godfather which was such a sweet sight. I knew that just like she was content to take daddy’s icon since he couldn’t be there she was content to walk with the man her dad chose to help raise her up in the Church. Yes, I cried more.

5) Wild Card. Personal topic that speaks to the heart of Lent & “our” Lent this year. 

D: That is what Lent is all about to me – sacrificing of ourselves and still overcoming adversity, especially by relying on God (sounds familiar). I have learned during this Lent how to put away my ego and better myself because my family needs me to, instead of just trying to get by in life. I have learned that even though I am half a world away from my family they still support me and love me and are eagerly waiting for me to return (which at this point will be some time after the end of the world…). I have also learned to rely on God, just give Him everything and He will do amazing things in your life. The last thing I have learned is that Burger King and Taco Bell are Satan incarnate during Lent – especially when the chow hall food is probably less than edible and you have to pass by both of those accursed places to a from work.

R:  During Lent this year, just as I mentioned before, I have really spent some time figuring “life” out, especially my spiritual life. I really felt like maybe the time of sacrifice before the great celebration meant my life needed to be the same. I have always taken that to mean I need to do more, give more, be more but I’ve never done it for the right reasons. This year when I want my family together the most we are apart. I worry about every aspect our lives and try to compensate and counter attack it. Surprisingly, it is to no avail other than the fact that all that I worry about never happens. So what then did I need to sacrifice? Well, due to things out of my control I had to sit down and figure it out. I actually had to stop, sit, be still and quiet. Never have I put those things on a to-do list because, well, I just don’t do them. Oh, maybe that was the point. In the end I put in a resignation at one of my jobs, took a two week break from school, and tried to do the “be still” stuff. I let stopped worrying and let God handle it. I know He always does anyway, but this time I wasn’t on the verge of an early heart attack. Less is more. My child will not be little long. My husband will not be gone forever. School will get done. Life goes on. Prayer and joy happen now. Lent has been my time to be thankful for those I love and make sure I take the time to let them know that.

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