Deck the Halls

The Nativity Fast has begun.  A forty day journey to the birth of Christ.  A time of self-denial, increased prayer, and increased service to others.  Pretty much the exact opposite of our culture’s Christmas!

Commercialized Christmas never sat well with me as a Protestant.  When I became Orthodox, I was comforted by this time.  The Church provides us with a cushion of protection from the never ending Christmas music…every…single…place…you…go, the long lines filled with grumpy shoppers, and the overindulgent decadence of celebrations.  It’s so hard to avoid drowning in the ocean of materialism this time of year, but the Church is there with an unwavering anchor of peace and focus.  The world is in darkness…but the Light is coming!

Hilary and I worked to change our family icon corners to the rich red of the Nativity season.  Life got away from us, and truth be told…we entirely missed the “gold” season.  We still had our Dormition blue up…three months too long.  Our poor icon corners looked neglected, and with the rush of work and home right now, truth be told…they’ve been neglected in use as well as looks.  Too much time has been spent snatching prayers here and there and not keeping the commitment to my prayer rule.  The icons and I both needed some polishing up.

Hilary helped wipe down all the icons, as I polished the lamps and censer.  The shine of the lampada in the main icon corner made me think about…giant inflatable penguins.  The one I saw for sale the other day was dressed as a cowboy.  Because every lawn needs a giant, inflatable penguin with a gun and a ten gallon hat.  They also sold a matching giant, inflatable cactus.  Because every lawn…in Ohio…needs that, too.  As I worked, I thought about the differences.  Christmas really does mean not much more than a time for penguins to many people.  What was I going to teach my family that it meant to me?  We polished and brightened our place of prayer.  We prepared our kitchen for simple, fasting meals.  We put a star on our Advent Calendar.  We remembered that it’s our hearts that need a good cleaning.  A fresh coat of color.  A new shade of peace.

I adore flowers for the icons.  It’s a necessity for me.  Alas, fresh flowers are not always budget-worthy, so I decided to make an artificial arrangement for the Fast.  I made a felt rosebud bouquet, inspired by this.  This was a new and fun project for me.  Hilary loved tracing circles on felt.  It was the disappearing ink marking pen that got her so into it!

I cut the felt circles into spirals, wound them into rosebuds and glued them to a smooth, foam ball.

It was time consuming…a lot more time consuming than I anticipated, but it was easy.  I painted the inside of a glass bowl with gold paint for the vase, and topped it off with a bow.  Now, we’ll have an entire season of roses…for about $3.00.

It was a dreary, rainy day.  The sun seemed unable to get even one ray into the house.  But it was warm and inviting here today.  The icon corner called to me all afternoon and evening as I passed by.  It called to me of the season.  It called to me of prayer.  It called to me of good tidings of great joy.  It called to me of peace.  It is a beautiful thing.

In the beginning was the Word

Today is the feast of St. John the Theologian.  We were blessed to celebrate with the brethren of a local monastery who have St. John as their patron.

I am in love with this monastery.  The chapel there is my favorite Orthodox church anywhere.  It’s not big, showy, or magnificent.  It’s simple, homey, and a bit disorderly.  It reminds me of my own decorating style.  Everything kinda sorta matches.  Everything sorta maybe goes together.  There’s not really enough room.  There’s a tad too much stuff in every corner.  Ah!  It looks exactly like my house!  I feel totally at home there.  I can’t name or fully explain the reason I love it so much.  But I can always pray there.  Without distraction.  Without earthly cares.  Without knowing if I’m in heaven or on earth.  It’s perfect.

Fr. Alexander preached today about pilgrimage.  Going to the monastery to pray and receive support from our fellow pilgrims.  Going through the pilgrimage of life with direction and focus.  For this around us is not the destination.  It isn’t really where we’re going, you know.

God bless my husband who let me go to the Vigil alone on Saturday night.  Five and a half kid-free hours of praying.  At about hour number three, my heart and the rest of my body collectively asked, “What on earth are you doing to us?”  Through God’s grace, the moment passed, and as I gazed on the face of Christ, I thought about prayer.  Sometimes I think that I need these kid-free moments to pray…but it isn’t true.  It is indeed a nice treat on occasion, but as any mother knows, even when you’re away from them, the little boogers are all you ever think about.  They are my life.  They are my prayer.

St. John is a Saint who is like this cozy chapel.  He isn’t flashy.  He was there at the beginning, the middle, and the end, though.  One of the first called.  Present at the Transfiguration, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.  Author of five books of the Bible.  Caretaker of the Theotokos.  The one who proclaimed that the Word had come.  I strained this weekend to hear the words.  To see the Word.  And I glimpsed the peace.  I saw the beauty.

Sometimes I wish my life was a monastery.  Such neatly divided times of prayer and work.  Get up.  Pray.  Work.  Pray.  Work some more.  Pray.  Pray some more.  Go to bed.  Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?  Of course, monastic life is not idyllic, and it doesn’t matter if it is anyway.  It isn’t my life.  There’s a different plan for me.  Different in time and space and place.  But shouldn’t my life have the same basic structure?  Get up.  Pray.  Work to teach the kids.  Pray.  Work to clean the house.  Pray.  Work to clean the house again, since it immediately got messed up.  Pray.  Pray some more.  Go to bed.  Do it all again tomorrow with joy in the struggle.

Sometimes, unfortunately, my life is more along different lines.  Get up.  Pray.  Work.  Get distracted.  Forget to pray.  Get overwhelmed.  Hurry through prayer.  Choose to ignore more prayer.  End the day in a scattered, empty heap.  Go to bed.  Do it all again tomorrow.

If this chapel looks like my life in the externals, I pray that it will be my life internally.  A mish-mash of everything brought together with a single focus.  A hundred burning flames.  A single, driving fire.  A great work.  A great prayer.  A song.  A melody of words.  A life of one, light-giving Word.

The Joy of the Feast

My mind has been entrenched in Christmas.  The irony of that is not lost on me at all.  If you ever talk to me in the latter half of any given year, you’ll soon learn that I have a strong distaste for how our culture handles Christmas.  The commercialism, the emptiness…no, the absolute barrenness of the “celebration” is maddening and saddening.  Americans ache for a feast day, and they just don’t know it.

The Church gives a calendar of feasts and fasts to fulfill our God-given needs for rhythm, but in a land where the Church is little known and much rejected, the wisdom of centuries is replaced with meager substitutes like three day holiday weekends and white sales.  Celebrating is fun, and if you can use it as a reason to shop or stuff a stomach, that’s even better!  This small taste of feast is recognized as pleasant and wets the appetite, so what do Americans do?  Make it even bigger and start it even earlier of course!  We put out decorations for any holiday months in advance (and leave them up months after).  We cram our homes with even more stuff for the sake of stuff and wonder at the void it leaves after the celebration is over.  Since the reason for the feast never really touched or transformed our lives, but was instead just a mere decoration, we feel empty and hungry for more.  That definitely doesn’t feel good, so it’s on to the next holiday.  The next reason to consume.  The next chance to attempt to fill the yawning hole.

The Church’s plan for feasting eliminates this void.  First of all, there’s always something worth celebrating!  Not in name only, but as part of life.  We Orthodox recognize the history of God and His Saints as our own history.  There are reasons to glory and celebrate God in each day and each moment.  Feasts are a reminder and reality of that Truth.

This month has been a classic example of the Orthodox approach to feasting.  We started with the Nativity of the Theotokos on September 8th.  A joyous day.  A day to celebrate the Mother of God, for through her birth the Incarnation was made possible.  Mary is here!  Rejoice, for He is coming!

The Nativity of the Theotokos was easily one of the busiest days I’ve had in a long time.  We started out by going to church, and then it got crazy.  Run here, run there.  Run, run, run.  Not at all how I like to spend a feast day.  When dinner time rolled around, the last thing on earth I wanted to do was prepare the special meal I had planned.  Peanut butter and jelly and applesauce never looked so appealing.  We definitely could have rejoiced over the Theotokos’ birth without a nice meal and dessert, but in that moment, making that meal was extremely important to me.  I didn’t want that day to be just a shadow of every other day.  I didn’t want to allow the busyness and craziness of this world to win.  I wanted my family to simply celebrate and be in the moment of feasting.  That created more work and a final push for me, but it was worth it.  It was an offering to my family and God to end a crazy day around the table with joy and love for the Mother of God filling the air.

Just shy of a week later, on September 14th, we had a very different kind of celebration.  The Elevation of the Cross is one of only two feast days in the year that are a strict fast.  It is still a celebration, but it is not a party.  It also is a birthday of sorts, a change from death to life.  It is more sober, but it is still a day dripping with joy.  Again, we went to church in the morning, and I did every thing in my power to make the day peaceful.  I always like to get outside in nature on a feast day, so we did that.  We came home and were quiet, which in our family means no electronics allowed.  We turned off the computer and T.V.  We didn’t cook a thing.  Rather, we gathered around the table as a family and ate simple, fasting foods.  We played Scrabble.  Joy and love still filled the air.  Life was a feast.  One the world just does not understand.

So, after enjoying these feasts, I move on…to Christmas.  I’m preparing resources for the shop.  Next Friday, I’ll begin putting up craft kits for ornaments and other goodies.  I’ll be adding things throughout October.  It’s been odd and a bit funny to go shopping for Christmas in September.  I was even severely annoyed at my favorite craft store for not putting out all their supplies early enough.  I had to laugh at myself over that one.

Planning ahead has made me even more appreciative of the cycle, though.  It has made the time joyous.  A feast is not only a day.  The Church’s feasts are so fulfilling, because we prepare for them.  We fast, we contemplate, we WAIT.  There is no void or barrenness.  There is not letdown.  It is the joy of the feast that fills life.  It is the joy that bubbles up and over every day.  It is the joy of God in all things, in all places.  In this moment, and the next, and the next, and the next…

The Bridegroom

My brother was married over the weekend.  It was an exhausting journey south to the Kentucky of my youth, but well worth the trip.

This is my brother’s second marriage.  At his first wedding, I was a self-absorbed middle schooler.  I think I have about three total memories of that wedding, all of which center around me.  Watching this time, through grown-up eyes, had a very different flavor…a mix of nostalgia and surrealism.

Hilary was flower girl extraordinaire.  When I first discussed with her what it meant to be a flower girl, I told her to basically do the exact opposite of everything she’d ever seen on those “funniest wedding clips ever” type shows.  I attempted to help her practice and be prepared.  She refused and reassured me that she had the whole thing under control.

She was right.  Both of the other flower girls bailed out during the ceremony, but she held her ground, nearly immovable on the stage, watching the events around her.  Everyone praised her stoic poise, completely shocked that a five year old could stand still for so long.  As you can tell, this was not an Orthodox wedding!   Standing for a mere twenty-five minute ceremony was no big deal to Hilary at all.

My seat in the crowd gave me a clear and direct view of the bride’s face.  I was captivated.  About halfway through the ceremony, I leaned back and whispered to my sister that it was just so amazing to watch someone look at my brother with such devotion.  I mean, this is the guy who teased and tickled and tortured me senseless for my entire childhood.  Hardly my version of an object of desire.  But the look in my sister-in-law’s eyes was electric.  The love within her lit up her face, the room, and the entire city block.  This was the day she had been waiting for.  This was the moment.  Her bridegroom had come, and she was in awe.

As I contemplated her face, I heard the haunting melody from Holy Week…

Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight.

And blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching.

What devotion.  What love.  What anticipation.  The bride waiting for her bridegroom.

Christ is the Bridegroom.  The Church is His Bride.  I am the Church.  Does it show on my face?  Does my love light up my life like this bride’s?  Is my gaze unshakable, affixed only on the face of the Bridegroom?  Is my heart joyous, overflowing with peace and hope?  Is this day…is every day…the day I’ve been waiting for?  The moment where nothing else matters but a bride and a groom?

Watching young people get married has its own meaning.  There’s so much possibility in the air.  Watching those closer to middle age wed is a different event.  Sometimes there’s so much baggage, but still…the possibilities, they’re everywhere.

Your Bridal Chamber I see adorned, O my Savior.

But I have no wedding garment that I may enter.

I dug out my one semi-fancy dress for the occasion, but my contemplations made me feel woefully under dressed.  I have no wedding garment.  I have nothing by myself.  Wake up lazy soul!  Rouse yourself and do not be shut out of the Kingdom!  Look with new eyes.  Shine with new light.  Behold…the Bridegroom comes!

O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul

and save me!

Congratulations to my dear brother and his lovely new wife.  May God grant you many, many years!

Dog Days

The heat is so relentless.  It doesn’t seem to want to give up.  Yesterday was another scorcher in a summer of record-breaking scorchers, and the natural thing was to think about water…and dogs.

A local pool had a dog swim to raise money for a shelter.  A chance to let Fido cool off and socialize.  The idea instantly caught my interest.  The thought of a pool full of dogs just sounded like an afternoon of smiles.

We got our dog in February, so we’re still getting to know her.  The few times she’s been around water, she seemed very interested.  In fact, I had to ban Lonna from walking her by the creek near our house, because Pinta would run right in, relishing the splash and making a muddy mess of herself.

Was it the heat?  Was it the brilliant blue sky?  I don’t know what exactly got everyone else so interested in the dog swim, but we arrived at the pool to find something like 500 dogs.  Literally!  500 dogs and at least 1000 people!!!  Crazy, crazy, crazy environment.

Apparently, putting your paws in the creek is slightly different than diving into the abyss.  Pinta wanted nothing to do with the water.  I’m sure the madhouse atmosphere didn’t help.  We had braved the heat and the long line, though, and there was no way we were leaving without seeing some dog paddling.  So, like any good parent, we taught our dog to swim by throwing her in the deep end.

She hated it.  No doubt about it.  Every time we put her in the water, she immediately swam to wherever I was standing by the side of the pool, dodging toys and Labradors as quickly as possible.

Oh, well.  It was fun to see all the dogs.  And Pinta loved running around on dry land saying hello to anything on four legs.  Maybe next year…

Yesterday was the feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist.  How powerful the verses at Vespers!

Herod, in demonic love and fiery passion, you condemned him who reproved your adultery.  For the sake of an oath to a dancing girl, you delivered his Holy Head to that Jezebel!  Woe to You!  How did you dare such murder?  Why was the wanton dancer not consumed by fire?  But let us bless the Baptist, as is his due, for he is the greatest born of women!

One of only two feasts in the church year that is a strict fast day, in the midst of the sunny mayhem, I wanted the kids to pause and meditate on this great Saint who paved the way for Christ.

In some traditions, the feast is remembered by not eating anything round, on a round plate, or with a knife.  After our afternoon at the pool, my brain was a little mushy.  Coming up with a special, fasting meal that we couldn’t eat on a plate was a bit beyond me.  So, I lowered my nutritional standards and served a spread based around things we could all eat out of shared, rectangular dishes in the center of the table.  The kids were overjoyed to see chips and salsa as the center of the meal!  I added a few veggies and fruit to the mix.  Apparently my brain was really, really mushy, for it was only after I hacked into the big, round cantaloupe with a large, sharp knife, did I wake up out of my fog.  Well…at least it wasn’t round when it made it to the table!

On a hot, scorching day, it was meet and right to contemplate the heat of the passions.  Those consuming desires that lead us to make irrational, unneeded, and costly choices.  How heart-wrenching to think of the dear Baptist’s bloody end, but what joy to think of him being the first to bring the good news to Hades: it’s only a little bit longer…He is coming!

Rhapsody in Blue

The liturgical color for Dormition is blue.  Can I talk about how much I just love the blue?

Our parish is always draped in a ton of fabric.  Fabric on the iconstasis.  Fabric under the icons.  Fabric everywhere.  It gives a depth and richness to the prayer space.  Whenever the liturgical season changes, it’s obvious through the abundance of the visual cues.  The priest’s vestments and the fabric everywhere right now are a soothing, powder blue.

I often turn to the Theotokos for her example of gentleness and tranquility.  Just to look at her face in icons brings a sense of peace.  A deep breath in and a cleansing exhalation of worry and trouble.  Blue is the perfect color for this time honoring her.

I’ve been busy crafting other things, so I didn’t have time to make a cloth for our icon corner table.  It’s not homemade, but I did find a tablecloth in the perfect, peaceful blue.

I’ve been experimenting with embroidery.  I developed a pattern for a Greek-style cross…in blue of course!

And on the flip side it has the colors in reverse:

I think I’m going to hang this in either the car or a window.  A nice remembrance of peace.

Joyfully, we’re able to go to church everyday during the Dormition Fast, since our parish is having Paraclesis services daily.  What a blessing it is to go to church every day!  It would be nice if we had that option all year.  You have to hand it to the Catholics…their example of daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration is admirable.  Our Orthodox married priests couldn’t serve Liturgy everyday, so I would never expect that, but the option of Matins or Vespers or to just be able to leave the church open for the faithful to come and pray…that would indeed be nice.  A good reminder to appreciate the services that are available and an admonition to not blame lack of services for lack of prayer.  Reader’s services can be done at home any day!

The heat of summer is unrelenting lately, but today it is cloudy and a bit rainy.  The dim light and smell of the plants soaking up the rain further sets the mood for peace.  Everywhere today is a rhapsody in blue…a poem of peaceful, prayerful simplicity.  All I have to do is slow down and let the Theotokos lead the way.

“I beseech you, O Virgin, to dispel far from me

all of the distress of despair and turbulence in my soul;

for you, O Bride of God,

have given birth to the Lord Christ,

Who is the Prince of Peace, O you only All blameless One.”

Ode 3, The Service of the Small Paraclesis

Lazy days of summer

It’s that time of year again.  It’s the end of July.  A good chunk of summer is behind us, but there are almost four more weeks left until school starts.  The kids are officially bored out of their minds.  Yep.  We’re right on schedule!

How much they longed for summer vacation.  In April, the mere thought brought out words of near poetry from Lonna as she dreamed of the “perfect” summer.  Nothing to do, nowhere to go, no responsibilities.

Vacation has taken its toll, though.  “There’s nothing to do!” is a  statement uttered by at least one child per day in a whiny squeal that sounds more like: “There’s nothing to deeeeeeewwwwwww!”

I am reminded of balance and chaos and God.  The Lord who worked also rested, but even in His rest He was at work.  Too much work is exhausting.  Too much rest is dangerous.

As I continue to wait for my procedure date, I, too, am faced with the effects of too much rest.  Around me, my own summer dreams are scattered and unrealized.  I had so many organizing, craft, and homeschool projects planned.  Activities for every day, from long walks to days at the lake.  Rather than the lake breeze, I cling to the air conditioning.  My only walks are from one end of the house to the other.

I am keenly aware of the silence.  I contemplate the importance of balance.  Work and play…and all of it done with prayer.  I welcome the activities I have the opportunity to do and seek to do them in prayer and inner stillness.

There is a need for both work and rest.  But always…always there must be the work of prayer.  It is a sweet labor of the heart that never ceases.  Never do I want to take a break from it.  Never do I need a vacation.  This is a time of opportunity.  A time to learn to seek God at all times and in all places.  A time to rest while working.  What I did on my summer vacation…

Praying for my children

To answer further questions about praying for our children, I share a bit about some of the things I do.  I find that the approach I take to praying for their needs changes frequently, depending on which of them is going through a tough “stage” and just how tough that stage happens to be on me, if you know what I mean!

My children are still learning to pray.  Well, so am I!  As a gift of love, I strive to pray for them with the words they do not yet have.

To give a sense of order to things, I set aside a certain day a week to pray for each child.  I only have three children, so this works well for me.  On Monday, I pray for Lonna.  On Wednesday, I pray for Jared.  On Friday, I pray for Hilary.  (On Tuesday, I pray for my husband.)  Not to say that I don’t pray for all of them on other days as well.  I don’t ignore Jared’s needs just because it’s not a Wednesday!  Setting a day apart for each of them gives me time to focus, though, and keeps me obedient.

Sometimes I pray for my children by just calling out to God for them with whatever words are on my heart.  Sometimes I don’t need words.  But, I have also found the following ways useful:

1)  I use a variation of the Jesus Prayer. As part of my prayer rule, I pray the Psalms three different times a day.  After I am finished with the appointed Psalms, I take my 50 bead wooden prayer rope and pray for whoever’s day it is.  So, I say:

“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on your handmaiden, Lonna.”  or

“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on the child of God, Hilary.” etc.

Throughout the rest of the day, as I pray the Jesus Prayer for myself, I will sometimes switch to praying it for them, especially if they have a specific need.  Also, I find this useful for when my relationship is strained with that particular child.  Praying for them continually helps me to put aside my emotions about the matter and to see the best way for me to handle any given situation.  By praying for them, I’m praying for myself and needed wisdom.

2)  I appeal to their patron saints. On the child’s day, I will also say specific prayers asking each child’s saint to pray for them.  This might be at formal prayer times or another version of Jesus Prayer-like prayer of the heart.

“Most Holy St. Peter, pray to God for Jared!”

All of my children have icons of their patron saints over their beds.  Sometimes, I will go into their rooms and pray at those icons.  Sometimes, I will bring their saint’s icon out to the main icon corner, so I can light a candle in front of it and see it throughout the day.

3)  I pray the Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children every Thursday.  Such a lovely prayer that speaks the desires of my mother’s heart.  Prayers for them to grow in love for God, to not be distracted by the false influences around them, and to “be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven”.

The Mother of God is such an example for me.  I seek her often to teach me the ways of gentle and intentional motherhood.  How easy it is to get distracted by the day to day struggles of just keeping everyone fed, satisfied, and in one piece!  To mother intentionally, though, is to mother with one goal alone…to show my children Christ.  I do that when I fix meals with love and attention.  I do that when I clean the same reappearing mess for the thousandth time with a smile.  I do that when I correct them with grace and gentleness.  Even in the seemingly mundane, I can show them Christ…if I choose to do so.  I can fill their every moment with Christ, if I allow Him to fill all of my own moments.

4) And that is the way I pray most for my children…by praying for myself. I have to attack my own passions head on, my own pride, vanity, sloth, and greed if I’m ever going to be able to serve my family with the love of Christ.  Authentic mothering is a daily challenge and the prayer on my lips continually.  When I’m overwhelmed and those precious cherubs have turned into snarly, abrasive teenagers or whining, shrieking preschoolers, I turn it all over to Christ.  I pray that He will love them with the pure love I so often fail to give.  That He will surround them with the peace that eludes my darkened soul.  Many people are parents, but just because it’s common, doesn’t make it easy.  On God we must depend.  We must look to the examples of holy mothers and fathers before us.  We must remember the Father and the Son.

I must pray for my children.  When they cannot.  When I love them but don’t really like them!  In all places and at all times, I must pray for my children.  No matter how many things I want to teach them and show them and give them, it all starts in this one place…that they have a mother who prays for them.

Teaching teenagers the Faith

In response to a question, I want to talk about the challenges of teaching teenagers about the Faith.

Since my oldest is only fourteen, I obviously don’t have experience raising a child all the way to adulthood.  I would never dare to give definitive advice about the art of parenting at this stage.  I will just share how we do things in our house.  It may or may not be useful to you.

When I converted to Orthodoxy three years ago, my husband did not join me…he came later.  He initially had no desire to become Orthodox and was confused by my love for what seemed so strange to him.  So, we agreed that then two year old Hilary would be baptized Orthodox when I converted.  However, we left the decision up to Lonna and Jared about whether they would convert, too.  They could be Orthodox or stay Protestant.  Jared instantly fell in love with the Church and there was no wavering for him.  Lonna was torn, though, and it took awhile before she made Orthodoxy her own.

That moment of giving my children the power and the choice to choose Orthodoxy has set the tone for the rest of the teen years.  In our family, we approach teaching our teens about the Faith with several key points:

1)  I acknowledge that my teens are on their own individual journey of faith.

Just as I allowed my older children to choose Orthodoxy, I respect the fact that following God is a daily choice.  I cannot make my teens live a Christian life.  I cannot love God for them.  All I can do is love God myself and love my children with the love of Christ.

2)  I pray for my teens.

I pray for their futures.  I pray for their daily challenges, whether they’re big or small.  I pray for the wisdom to raise them with love and grace.  I pray without ceasing.

3)  I take my teens to church.

There are few, if any, acceptable reasons for missing church at our house.  True, sometimes there are valid reasons for staying home.  However, whether they’re “good” excuses or “bad” excuses, they’re still excuses, and I teach my children to acknowledge that.  Praying in community is a top priority in our lives, and missing it is not taken lightly.

Sometimes going to church means missing events with friends, swim meets, sleep, and other things vitally important to a teenage mind.  Sometimes, there are complaints.  And sometimes, we compromise.

During Holy Week, for example, our parish has two to three services a day.  This year, I highlighted for Lonna on the service calendar all the services I required her to attend.  I then allowed her to choose to stay home at the other times.  I made my expectations clear and thus avoided most of the battles.  She went to the services I required and stayed home for most of the others.  She did choose to go to some “extra” services, though, and it was especially meaningful to her, since she had chosen to do it herself.

4)  I model an Orthodox Christian life.

I let my children see me pray. I talk about God.  I ask them what they think about God.  I listen, and listen, and listen.  No question about faith is off limits.  We observe the fasts and feasts.  We make pilgrimages to monasteries.  We work and volunteer at our church and in our community.  We give.  We love.  We forgive.  We live a Christian life, not a life with Christ on the side. 

5)  I pray with my teens.

Honesty time…I do not have daily family prayer with my teens.  It is something I deeply wish was possible, but at this time in our lives, it is not something that we have been able to do.

We used to have morning prayer together before we started our homeschool day, but then Lonna went to public school last year.  Lonna now leaves before Jared even gets out of bed.  We just aren’t together in the mornings.  After trying a couple different options, I hit upon something that works for us.

Hilary and I have morning and evening prayers.  She chants some of the prayers in her sing-song way and enjoys being the only kid around.

Lonna and Jared say their morning prayers on their own.  How do I know that???  I made a sandbox for candles in our icon corner.  When they say their prayers, they are required to each light a tea light candle in the sand.  No candle means no prayers, and we deal with that.  Occasionally they “forget”, but usually, I find two lit candles when I check the sandbox.  Maybe it was just a quick Our Father, but they thought about God at the beginning of their day.  That is what matters!  As I see the candles throughout the morning, it also serves as a welcome reminder to pray for my children.

During the four major fasts (Lent, Apostles’ Fast, Dormition, and Nativity Fast) we have family evening prayer and Scripture study.  The rest of the year, they pray by themselves in the evening before the icons in their rooms.

Parenting teens is a complicated, confusing, joyous endeavor.  It is one that humbles me each day and reminds me of my utter dependence on God.  Teaching my opinionated teens about the Faith isn’t always easy, but it pushes me in ways that are a great opportunity.  It reminds me to be authentic in my own life.  Telling them to be good Christians while neglecting my own prayer, filling my head with internet/television garbage, or being nasty to my husband just doesn’t work.  If I want my children to see the value in Christianity, I have to live it myself.

My deepest prayer is that when my children grow up and go out on their own, they will look back and be able to say that God was real in their home.  Not a nice story or a muddled tradition or a Sunday obligation.  A real God.  A real Faith.  A real love.

    In the shelter of Thy wings

    All my kids are gone.  Jared is at camp.  Lonna is on vacation with one of her friends (what a blessing of a friend who takes you on vacation with her!).  Hilary is at my parents’ house.  Hilary leaving was a last minute decision.  I knew that with both Lonna and Jared gone, Hilary would be lonely and needy of extra attention and interaction.  My energy levels are so unpredictable right now… I didn’t think it would be a pleasant time for her.    So, my father was kind enough to make the ten hour round trip from Kentucky to fetch her for her first vacation away from home alone.

    She was a bit torn the night before she left.  As I laid with her on her bed for a little extra snuggle time, she talked about how much she would miss me…me and the dog.  🙂  You could tell she was excited, yet apprehensive.  Then, morning came and my father arrived.  Immediately, Hilary grabbed the bag with her clothes in it and threw it over her shoulder.  “Bye, Mommy!  I’m ready to go!”

    I miss the little booger, but it was a good choice.  I’ve been able to rest without mother’s guilt that I’m not “doing enough” for everyone.  My husband has been satisfied with simple meals, and all is well.  I’ve even been doing some further simplifying of our home.  I had to pick something that I could do sitting down, so I’m tackling all my office papers.  What a hideous job it is…no wonder I put it off!  Drowning in a sea of paper is not conducive to prayer, however, so I look forward to taming this beast and eliminating an area of stress in my daily routine.

    I’ve never been one to enjoy being separated from my children.  Not to say that I don’t ever wish to be alone.  But I just want everyone to go into the other room for awhile, ya know?  I don’t want them to actually leave!  Lonna comes back today, Hilary will be here tomorrow, and Jared will return on Saturday.  I’m ready.

    Throughout this time of physical challenge, I’ve been comforted by praying the Psalms.  I’m turning to the example of our monastic heritage and have been reading through the entire Psalter each week.  The Psalter is divided into twenty sections, called kathismata.  If you read three kathismata each day, but only two on Sunday, you pray the entire Psalter in one week.

    What a refreshment it is to pray the Psalms!  Not just to read them, but to pray the words with heart and soul.  I pray one kathisma in the morning, afternoon, and evening, and it has been a great help.

    Yesterday, I was struck by that very word…help.  Over and over again as I read the psalms from the 8th kathisma, I came across phrases like these:

    “for thou, O God, art my helper”, “Thou art become my helper”, “for He is my God, my savior and my helper”, etc.

    and as often as help was mentioned, so was hope:

    “in God I have set my hope”, “hope in Him”, “my hope is in God”, etc.

    Help and hope.  Not hope only that God will eliminate all pain and suffering.  That He will make all things cheery and perfect.  Not shallow hope.  Rather, it is hope through help.  God is my helper.  The One who allows me to work alongside Him.  Who urges and supports and upholds.  I have hope that He will heal my infirmities, but I do not fear anything that comes my way, for God is my helper.