This is a guest post from Mora Sorial, my beautiful wife of 13 years, and amazing mother of my 3 children (Happy Mother’s Day)! You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I had to undergo a surgical procedure the other day at a local hospital. The day before, the hospital called me for pre-admission and asked me a series of questions from health history to areas of interest. When I arrived to the hospital, they continued to ask me more questions and review my procedure. Everything seemed thorough and I felt generally confident and safe about my doctor’s ability to complete the surgery. The nurse introduced herself and offered a very friendly welcome. When she saw my husband, Fr. Michael, in the room with me, dressed in a long black robe with a large silver cross hanging around his neck, and a black beard on his face, she seemed a bit puzzled, but didn’t ask anything. It seemed she had never seen an Orthodox Christian priest before.
While completing my paperwork, she asked where we were from, only to confirm that we are living in the town where she would be moving in the next 2 weeks. We spoke highly of the community in which we live and offered some tips about resources worth exploring in the area. My husband mentioned that we would be closing on a piece of land soon that would be used for our church in that same town. She asked what church we belong to, and he said the Orthodox church. She had no idea what that was and wondered if we were Christian. She said, “I’m a Catholic. So, what do you believe? Are you Protestant?” “No, we’re Orthodox Christian. We belong to the church that was established in the first century,” my husband gently replied. “Oh, that sounds interesting,” she replied. I wasn’t very surprised by her line of questioning, as it was actually all too familiar. Once she realized we believe in the Lord Jesus as well, she asked Fr. Michael to pray for the weather the following Monday since she had been planning a major golf outing for her church. That seemed to be where her passion stemmed from.
Then the anesthesiologist came in and introduced himself with a heavy Russian accent. He looked at my husband and said, “Greek, Coptic, which one?” My husband replied, “Coptic Orthodox Christian.” What a profound difference in how my husband was perceived by these two professionals in the hospital. The doctor has a Russian Orthodox friend so was familiar with the garb. Ironically, I ended up complimenting him on his quirky socks and funky orange Converse sneakers. I asked him if he has kids and he said he has three. “I understand how socks can be an important point of expression when the rest of your uniform is limiting – my husband likes to have fun with his socks from time to time as well.” We all chuckled.
Once it was time to go to the operating room for this relatively straight-forward 30-minute procedure, I felt completely prepared and eager to get it over with. However, once they rolled me into the room, they strapped these compression bands around my legs (for circulation they said), then secured my arms down as if I was lying on a cross. I was not prepared for that. The idea of having my arms restricted was a bit unnerving. But it’s what came next that threw me into a panic.
In all the questions and clearance that I had gone through to get to this point, no one had ever asked me, “Are you claustrophobic?” I wasn’t always, but after commuting to NYC for over 17 years and inadvertently getting stuck on overly crowded subways in Queens, Manhattan, and Long Island – in addition to being sometimes shoved into a subway cart by the motion of a large wave of people all pushing in one direction – I did have difficulty breathing at times. Since I’m only about 5 feet tall, it was often difficult for me to gasp for air on those crowded subways when others were towering over me and I couldn’t reach the pole in the middle – much less the overhead arms.
So, here I was. Arms strapped down and then it came. The nurse put a mask over my face that covered my nose and mouth. I gasped. I thought to myself, “Oh my goodness. I need that off my face right now. I hope I can signal with my hand and they can see me.” So, with my right hand, I signaled and mumbled, “Please take this off.” So they did. I explained, “I just need a moment to prepare myself for this. I am slightly claustrophobic.”
They kept telling me, “Deep breaths. Take deep breaths.” I closed my eyes and immediately went into what is the most comfortable and familiar breathing routine I know – The Jesus Prayer. “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God. Have mercy on me, a sinner.” With each breath in I said, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God.” With every breath out, I uttered, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” I began to block out the other voices and call out to my God, my Creator, my Savior.
In that moment, I experienced a mind over body experience. If you’ve ever felt claustrophobic or have had a panic attack, you know how difficult they can be and how easy it is to feel trapped. Yet, with faith and conviction in the Name of the Lord and His Mighty ability to draw me into His Loving and Secure embrace, I allowed myself to rest in Him.
As I came out of the anesthesia, I thanked God with all my heart that He has given Himself to me. I thanked Him that He has given me the power and privilege to call Him, “Lord, Savior, and Father (Abba).” I was sad to think, “What if someone was in the same position (whether it be a hospital operating bed or another life trial) and did not have a relationship with our Creator to call upon His Holy Name, to seek refuge, and comfort.” That to me was a scary and sad thought. To feel hopeless or lonely in the face of trouble or affliction. What a beautiful gift the Lord offers to all His children.
On this Mother’s Day, I invite all of us who are mothers to give our children (biological, adopted, and spiritual) the gift of the Jesus Prayer. Teach them when they are scared at night to say, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God. Have mercy on me, a sinner.” Teach them when they feel bullied or left out at school to say, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God. Have mercy on me, a sinner.” Teach them, when life seems unfair and unpredictable to say, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God. Have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Truly it is a gift they can treasure and draw strength from in times of doubt, weakness, or distress. This Mother’s Day we celebrate each one who offers of herself for the sake of others. And, I thank our beloved Mother St. Mary for her beautiful example of strength and humility. She is the icon (with all of us) of the Church, the Bride of Christ. We will continue to stand firm and raise generations of God-loving children as we draw our strength from His Most Holy Name.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18:2)
The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart greatly rejoices, And with my song I will praise Him. (Psalm 28:7)