Rotten Apples and a Flu Virus

Two are better than one
Because they have a good reward for their labor
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For there is not a second one to help him up!
If two lie down together, both stay warm,
But how can one stay warm alone?
If one is added strength, two will stand before him,
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
Last weekend, Jen and I had a date night while friends of ours had the girls over the dinner. Rather than our usual Indian food and driving around, I randomly suggested two things: (1) trying an Ethiopian restaurant down the road in Coralville; and (2) in order to kick off the fall, going apple picking at one of the well-known orchards. Neither of us had been apple picking in quite a while, and so we headed that way.
When we got to the orchard, it was packed. (Game days equal busy days.) Additionally, the orchard was probably the largest I had ever seen, with a long downhill-then-uphill trek up to the rows of apple trees.
We started looking at the trees, hopeful for something to work out. One tree’s apples are mostly rotting, full of holes, or fermenting on the ground. So we try other trees. Same thing.
This goes on for rows and rows of apples that are supposed to be ripe at the present moment. The two of us are looking at each other with a bewildered look, wondering how such a massive orchard could have such few good apples. Both of us started to think that this could possibly be the worst apple orchard we’d ever been to. Yet, inside, we had this desire to come back with apples that we picked ourselves, and we kept looking.
But something happened to turn things around, and it was when we saw trees full of solid-looking red and green apples on a row called Regent, which were apples that were slated to be ready in a couple of weeks. Jen and I looked at each other and came to the same realization: we don’t need the apples to be ripe now. They can age at home. We can wait. It will be worth it.
Gradually, we start to find apple after apple. Our baskets gradually fill with our finds, eventually totaling 17 pounds worth. It took a lot of branch bending, diving into foliage, and difficult searching to find those apples. As the time creeped closer to closing time at the orchard, we started the walk back together, joyful with our find. We were tired enough that we didn’t make it to Coralville, instead opting for amazing Mexican food closely at a restaurant themed after Frida Kahlo.
A day later, the opposite of a good date night happened.
Jen started having flu symptoms, and I fell victim to them the day after.
Both of us went from amazing date night to being so sick that we had to call in friends to pick up/drop off from school, and were out of commission for two whole days. The two of us tag teamed to do what we could, sleeping as we could and praying we wouldn’t have to be rehydrated in the hospital. Eventually, our symptoms vanished, and we went back to our usual schedule. But it was probably the worst flu I’d ever had in my life.
In those opposite experiences, Jen and I were together.
In the frustrations of barely being able to stand up, we somehow got things lined up for the kids to go to school.
In between rows and rows of what seemed to be endlessly rotting apples, we dove deep.
And even in our acute viral grossness, we were at least together, as a couple, living the struggle as the duo we were meant to be.
Since that happened, I’ve had a stronger sense of peace, knowing that I am surrounded with a strong safety net of people to help us, and that my wife and best friend- even if she’s struggling equally- is alongside me.
That clarity made the flu weirdly worth it.

 

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A Constant Journey: A Review of Led By His Love

“Often people who don’t have to struggle for something take it for granted.” Those words, spoken by Fr. Gordon Thomas Walker of blessed memory, are core to the stories, experiences and testimonials found in Led by His Love: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey to the Orthodox Faith. Published after Fr. Gordon’s repose in 2015, this book is a memoir that tells many stories: Fr. Gordon’s upbringing in rural, Baptist-dominated Alabama; his journey into evangelical preaching and campus mission work; his discovery of Orthodoxy that would guide he and others towards forming the Evangelical Orthodox Church; the transition from the EOC to full welcoming into the Orthodox Church; and a long period of service as the priest of St. Ignatius Orthodox Church in Franklin, Tennessee.
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Complemented by testimonies from parishioners, fellow clergy and his late wife, Mary Sue, Led By His Love is not just a personal story, but also serves as a space to tell the story of those who were a part of Fr. Gordon’s world. While it is not the first account of the transition from the Evangelical Orthodox Church into the Antiochian Archdiocese, it has a unique role in examining how one’s former upbringing can play an important role in Orthodox life. Fr. Gordon speaks of his Baptist upbringing as an organic part of his childhood, rather than as something to denigrate or shun, and the stories of preaching as a Baptist minister are connected to his life and work as an Orthodox priest. It is not only a story of personal faith and work, but also a narrative of the joys and struggles of preaching. From the book, the reader is able to understand that the journey to Orthodoxy does not conclude upon one’s entering the Church.
The account of Fr. Gordon’s journey is honest, with struggles equally matching successes, yet never fully overtaking the blessings that are revealed to the reader. The transiency of his work as a Baptist minister is perpetual, and the chapter in which he and other members of the EOC find themselves disappointed while on their journey to Istanbul reminds the reader that the road to Orthodoxy, no matter how close one may be to being a part of it, is often rocky and filled with struggle. Many people who were touched by the lives of Fr. Gordon share their stories towards the end of the book, demonstrating the positive impact that he made upon their lives through his ministry work, both in parishes and in Grace Ministries, which he founded to serve youth. It is very clear throughout the book that, in spite of his many great deeds, such work was only possible through his wide-ranging and benevolent supporters, many of whom receive detailed descriptions about their own journeys to Orthodoxy. Many of these supporters have been instrumental in bringing many non-Orthodox into the Church, and their impact on Fr. Gordon’s work does not go by unnoticed.
All in all, Led By His Love is an accessible, personal and deeply moving read, one that can be enjoyed as a positive, faithful account of a life in Christ, yet one that also serves to show to both Orthodox and non-Orthodox that the journey is constantly taking place.