Button Tree Craft

 

Usually when I see a craft inspiration online, my mind takes off onto how I want to change it, tweak it, and make it my own.  But when I saw this button project from Simply Designing, I didn’t want to make something like that, I wanted to make THAT.

I just love buttons.  You can put them on anything, and my button collection has been aching to be used.  Even though I’m not totally embracing the thought of spring yet (I figure that way I won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t actually show up anytime soon), it’s time to start spring crafting.  I need some color around here, and if we can’t have it outside, we’ll have it inside.

A couple years ago, I bought a painting at a thrift store.  I don’t even remember the original picture, because I didn’t buy it for what was there.  I bought it for the frame.  It had a wonderful, textured basket weave frame with lots of potential.  So, for a couple of bucks, I had a great frame and a canvas that I just painted over.  I bought it with another project in mind, but I never ended up using it for that.  For this project, I painted the canvas white and the frame teal.

I had my son paint a tree, because I am crafty, but I am NOT artistic.  I really, really wish I could draw and paint, but we’re all better off if I leave that up to the experts.

Then, Hilary and I set to work with the buttons.  It was fun experimenting with the colors and combinations.  Hilary is queen of patterns, so I had a very willing helper.  Not surprisingly, she no longer had any interest in helping when it was time to go back and glue each button down.  I was pretty sure my hand was going to fall off after I lifted each one, squeezed a dot of glue underneath, and replaced it.  Worth the effort, though!

This was a great kick start to our spring crafting.  I have found the best way to feed my crafting habit is to change the decor in a few areas of my home with the seasons.  That way, there’s always a new reason to make something, but we don’t end up drowning in stuff.  We only have things out temporarily, and then we clear them out to make room for the new round.  Goodbye winter!  It’s time for color!

Things my teenagers have taught me about parenting as an Orthodox Christian

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My oldest daughter is a senior in high school.  All school year, I’ve been waxing philosophical about transitions.  As our family hurtles toward the end of an era, which even though I’ve been anxiously anticipating somehow seems to have taken me by surprise, I can’t help but do a little inventory check.  What can I say about my job so far as a parent?  What does it mean to be an Orthodox Christian parent specifically?  

 

1)  Teenagers are big babies.

When you have a newborn, you don’t blame that tiny bundle of bodily fluids for all the havoc they have wreaked on your life.  You don’t assign intent to their actions or blame them for anything.  You know they can’t help it, and you’re o.k. with that.  That baby’s world is all about him all the time.  You’re the warm, soft thing that makes those strange feelings of hunger, discomfort and fear go away.  You don’t get a thank you, nor do you expect one.  You’re the parent.  They need you.  End of discussion.

Seventeen years later, things have changed.  For years now, they’ve lived around your schedule, shared your opinions, and your feet are firmly planted on a pedestal.  Then the hormones devour your sweet little one and your world crumbles.  Your life revolves around their schedule: where they need to be and where they want to go.  They have opinions, and they say them…all the time…and loudly.   It was awfully comfy back there in preschool land when that child couldn’t get enough of you.  When all they wanted was to play your games and listen to your stories and just BE with you.  This teen land is quite inhospitable.  Your games are not welcome.  Your mere presence is frequently not welcome.  And your opinion…you apparently don’t even have one. 

It all seems so unfamiliar there, but it really isn’t.  You remember this.  They’re babies.  It’s all about them.  It has to be for a time.  It’s part of them becoming adults.  So, remember when you didn’t assign intent to their actions?  When you didn’t take it personally?  It’s like that again.  You’re the warm, soft thing that can make those feelings of hunger, discomfort and fear go away.  You really can.  You can still be the source of good in their lives.  In a lot of ways, they’re just big babies right now.  You’re the parent.  They need you.  End of discussion.

Being an Orthodox parent is embracing the role of humble servant.

 

2)  It’s not about ME, it’s about THEM.  It’s not about THEM, it’s about ME.  It’s not about ME, it’s about God.

So, I acknowledge that this time is about serving my children.  Growing up and transitioning to adulthood is unspeakably difficult.  Especially in our modern culture.  They are out there on the front lines, daily fighting for their lives.  They are the warriors.  I am the servant.  

But they can’t be control!  They can’t say those things to me, and treat me like that in my own house, and they can’t…they can’t…  Details, details.  It so easy to get lost in the details.  The small picture is that they’re totally out of line today and behaving like children.  The big picture is that it’s not about me, it’s about them.  They are on their own path to salvation.  I am part of their salvation.  They are part of mine.  We are all working out our salvation in community.  And we do it with fear.  And it makes us tremble down to our toes.  I can’t save them.  They can’t save me.  We can just be thankful for the opportunity to help each other.  We’re in this together.  

Yes, they’re acting like children, because they ARE children.  We are not raising children.  We are raising adults.  We want the end product to be healthy adults who live lives for God.  They’re not there yet.  They’re kids.  Some days half kid, half adult.  Some days all kid.  And those few, blessed days when they say or do something so grown-up, it takes our breath away.  Ah, those days are gifts from God to keep us going!  It’s a process.  They won’t get there without going through the tough times.  We can’t take a child at 12 and plop them into life at 25 and expect them to know what on earth to do.  They have to crawl through the trenches of the teen years, getting muddy and dodging bullets.  They pick the route.  We follow along behind and hand them ammunition when they need it.

Because they’re kids, they say the wrong things.  And it stings.  And they find that one button, the one they can push and get a response each and every time, and they push it all day and all night.  They certainly do.  But it’s not about them, it’s about me.  No one can make me do anything.  No one, including my children.  My children tempt me like nobody’s business.  They tempt me to fire back in anger when they push my buttons.  They tempt me, like the lazy and slothful lump I am, to take the day off and go back on what I said or not follow through with that thing I promised.  They tempt me to make it all about me.  To be selfish, just like I accuse them of being.  But it isn’t about me, it’s about God.

My daughter is also my sister in Christ.  I am not above her, and she is not below me.  We are equals in God.  When l fail to see the image of Christ in my snarling, grouchy teenager, I miss an opportunity.  My daughter is an icon of Christ.  When I talk to her, I’m talking to Christ.  Yet I say and do the nastiest things.  I treat her in ways I would never dare to treat a friend, a boss, or even a stranger.  I’m comfortable with my children, so I let the real me show, and it’s an ugly display.  How different things are when I lay aside the fact that I’m the one who’s right, and I just say to my children, “Please forgive me.”  How different things are when I just say nothing and pray instead.  

Being an Orthodox parent is sacramental.  I meet God in the process.

 

3)  Time is a created thing.

God created time.  It is not linear.  The past, the present, and the future all overlap and get into a big jumble sometimes.  This is how we can truly live and partake of the death and resurrection of Christ.  How we can already proclaim His return.  God is forever.  Puberty is finite.

My children will live with me for about 18 years.  Probably more, but let’s just talk about that first 18 years when they are children.  Life expectancies now are well into the 80’s.  I could get into big ratios and percentages, but I won’t.  It’s obvious that they are only with us for a small amount of time.  An incredibly teeny, tiny, small portion of their lives.  We don’t have to cram a lifetime of interaction with them into 18 years.  Those young years, they matter.  They matter huge.  But they’re gone.  You can’t parent them as 8 year olds ever again.  You can only parent them for who they are now, and if you forget that, you’ll ruin your chance at parenting them when they’re 30.  They won’t listen to you.  They might not even speak to you.  I’d rather loosen my influence now, so I can still be an influence that they value and seek out later. 

Last year, my family went through a dark and difficult time.  The short version is that my teenage son had a major depressive episode and a literal and complete breakdown.  The day after we admitted him to a mental hospital, I gathered the rest of the family in the icon corner at home.  It felt so small with only four of us there instead of five.  We stood close to make up the difference.  We prayed the Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children, and the tears and the brokenness flowed like rivers in the torrent of spring.  I turned to them and spoke a challenge.  We were facing one of the toughest times in our lives, but we had to see it for what it really was…a gift.  I told my family that I didn’t know what we were supposed to learn from this.  It wasn’t clear yet.  I didn’t know, but I was determined that we were not going to miss it.  God gave us an opportunity to learn a huge lesson as a family.  Not in laughter and ease, but in sorrow and suffering.  We were going to live through that mess one way or the other.  We could choose to let it break us, or we could choose to let it make us Christians.  True Christians who fight and get bloody.  True Christians who solely depend on God.  My constant prayer at that time went something like this: “Thank you God for this time.  Thank you for loving us enough to let us hurt, so we can learn in our suffering.  Thank you for this opportunity.  Don’t let us miss it!”  Watching my son fight the demons and knowing that I couldn’t save him from the fight is the most real and certain pain I have ever felt.  That pain did indeed give me clarity.  My son doesn’t belong to me.  He belongs to God.  Glory to God for that!  God is so much bigger and better than I am.  I would hate for my son to have to settle for just what I can give him, when God can give him life.  I can’t be my children’s God, and I need to stop trying to be.   

Being an Orthodox parent is rejoicing that my children do not belong to me but to God.

 

The amazing God Who created the universe also created my family.  The five of us are perfect for each other.  Not because we get along all the time or agree or even love each other the same.  We’re perfect for each other, because God put us together, and He does not make mistakes.  This is it.  This is my family.  It’s raw and it’s real and it’s far from perfect, but God is with us.  People and places and things can try to stand against us, but it doesn’t matter.  God is with us.  The anger and the hurt and the seemingly endless teenage battles may try to break us, but it doesn’t matter.  God is with us.  It may seem heavy and unbearable, but this time of trouble is truly light and momentary, for God is with us.  Glory to God, He is with us!  

Extraordinary

 

It’s another busy Lenten week.  Extra services; extra opportunities to visit monasteries and attend retreats; extra church responsibilities; extras and more extras.  As I look at my calendar and the state of my heart, I’m thinking today about the extras, and what the extras say about the ordinary.  Extra can mean special, exciting, and thrilling.  Like a surprise celebration or a double serving of dessert.  It can also mean a burden, a wearying, or a challenge.  Like extra loads of laundry or yet another unexpected errand in an already full day.

Ordinary seldom seems to be as double-sided in common usage, though.  Described not for what it “is” but for it “is not”.  Ordinary is not special, exciting, or thrilling.  It almost always appears as a burden, a wearying, and a challenge.  Ordinary is the moments between the punctuation of extras.  The path…not the destination.

But what a shame that is.  To cling to the extras, when half the time we just see them as more work anyway.  And all the while there is ordinary: the pillar, the comfort, and the stability.  Underappreciated.  Unrecognized.

Hilary and I were blessed to venerate the miraculous Kursk-Root Icon this week.  I didn’t know we would have the opportunity to do so until just hours before.  Making room in my ordinary to-do list for this extra thing wasn’t easy.  As I stood in the church in the candlelight, as the sun set on an ordinary day that turned out to be extraordinary, I thought about my own icons at home.  I was humbled in the presence of an icon that has touched lives for over 700 years.  It has brought out the best and the worst of men.  It has shown God to the masses.  But my faith teaches me that each and every icon is an image of Christ.  From the flower bedecked wonderworking images that bring us to our knees to the paper images tucked in the pages of my prayerbook, they are all the same God.  The love, the faith, the reverence showed by the people to the Kursk-Root Icon was a beauty that touched me deeply in my soul.  I am so very grateful for the blessing to have been part of that.  But back home, as I arranged the paper copies of the icon we were given in our icon corner, I looked at the icons already on the walls in a different light.  How haphazardly I venerate them some days.  How swiftly I walk by and do not even notice them some days.  How quickly I forget their presence as I live my ordinary life.  All icons are an image of Christ, and whenever I venerate them with purity of heart, they are all miraculous.  Each and every one.  I am blessed in my ordinary day to venerate any icon.  I shouldn’t need an extra day and an extra opportunity to feel the wonder. 

I bake the prosphora for my parish’s midweek services. That usually means that I only bake a couple times a month. With the extra Lenten services, now prosphora baking is a weekly need. Each Saturday, I get up, start the coffee pot and start the dough. The bread that will become the body of Christ is to be prepared with peace and prayer. A quiet activity. A holy work. So, I clear my schedule and mind each Saturday, the busiest day of the week, to do this thing properly.  Because I do it so often, I sometimes am tempted to do it in haste, as just another kitchen duty.  I must stop and remind myself firmly that this is not another thing to be done.  It is a gift.  A blessing to have the opportunity to give to God, and a blessing to receive the gift back from Him of prayer and peace.  How often the rest of the work I do in the same kitchen is far from a holy work filled with prayer. Children and husbands have a relentless, demanding need to eat, and at the low moments, it does feel oppressive. The constant cook, clean up, cook, clean up.  How frequently I serve them meals not made with peace and prayer, but with bitterness and drudgery. How different it would be if I cleared the busy cloudiness in my heart to cook and bake for my family the same way I do for the church.  With prayer.  A holy work. An ordinary Saturday dinner prepared in an extraordinary state of peace.

 

 

Sometimes it seems like Lent is all about the extras, but this year, I want it to be about the ordinary.  I pray that God will change my view of the daily duties, interactions, and experiences.  Extras aren’t bad.  Frequently they are a gift from God.  The extra special times that make us feel joy are a welcome gift.  The extra special times that bring sorrow and struggle are not always so welcome, but they are just as much of a gift.  The extras are beautiful, but they wouldn’t shine as bright without their contrast to the ordinary.  A simple day.  A holy work.  The wonder.  The miracle.  Extraordinary.

Life

As I’ve shared before, for Hilary’s nature study, we’re walking the same trail once a month this year…recording the changes; looking for the nuances of the seasons.  Well, I think we’ll be going twice in May, because April just did not happen.  I put the walk off too long, and with the end of the month falling during Holy Week…  So, we had a lovely Bright Week visit to our trail to check on things.  Last time, the geese were attentively building their nests, so we had high hopes for what we would find.  We weren’t disappointed.

 

Babies, babies everywhere.  Admittedly, not as many as in years past.  Lots of adults with no babies, but we were glad to see what we did.

I don’t have to reach far to make connections between Pascha and all the new life we saw.  This late Pascha has fit in quite well with the arrival of spring here in the north.  Winter has been a challenging season.  Birth, resurrection, and the smell of green clinging to the world around me are such welcome visitors.

The adult geese were doing a lovely cooperative parenting job, minding each other’s babies in one collective group.  This poor little guy caught my eye as he got separated from the others and ran at near lightning speed to rejoin the safety of the flock.  But why the urgency?  What did he have to be so afraid of?

Now, she said she wouldn’t actually try to pick one up.  She said it multiple times quite emphatically.  The geese and I weren’t so confident of her intentions.

Great Lent is the time to get us back on track.  A kick in the rear.  A motivation.  I welcome that time, but I admit, it seems to be that the real motivation sometimes doesn’t come until Pascha.  Holy Week runs like a freight train of service after service, immersing me in the awareness that all my efforts weren’t even close to all I have to give.  The work isn’t over.  It’s just time to fight these spiritual battles in a different season, reminded of and comforted by the glorious weapons of the Cross and the empty tomb.

New life is here.  Time pushes on and the daily struggle goes on.  Daily struggle, but also daily celebration.  As I looked around me at the new babies and my own babies all grown up, I thanked God for life.  As hard and as dirty and as ugly as it can be, it’s a beautiful thing.  Even when tragedy and death and destruction abound, there is life everywhere…perhaps hidden, perhaps hard to recognize, but still there.  Lord, thank you for birth, rebirth and resurrection.  I’ve walked with You to the Cross.  I’ve sat by Your tomb.  I’ve rejoiced at Your Resurrection.  Let me be resurrected today.  Let me be new.  I’ve been in the tomb.  But You have given me life!

Christ is Risen!  Indeed, He is Risen!

Holy Week Lapbook

Update:  This lapbook is currently not avaible.  God willing, The Crafty Contemplative will begin selling electronic resources soon. Check back here on the blog, or visit the shop, for news. 

The Crafty Contemplative

The Holy Week Lapbook

If you’re not familiar with lapbooks, they are a visual information organizer for kids.  Using a standard file folder or any type of paper, your children can create a portable, easily displayable project based on information they’ve learned.

With the Holy Week Lapbook, you’ll travel day by day through the week leading to Pascha.  For each day, there is a Scripture reading and child-level commentary explaining the significance of the day.  Read and learn about the day with your child, then make a piece of the lapbook.  At the end, you’ll have a “lift the flaps” style book.  The front of each component gives a clue to each day, and the inside tells which day is which.  You’ll have your own Holy Week memory game to stimulate conversation with your child and help him or her make connections between what is happening at church services and the story of the death and Resurrection of Christ.

Don’t have the time or desire for big craft projects?  Lapbooks are the perfect thing.  Make them as fancy or simple as you want.  All you need is paper and a printer.  The extras aren’t necessary.

Note: If you purchased the Holy Week Learning Box from me through Orthodox Christian Craft Supply, know that the Study Guide for the Lapbook is the same as the Learning Box.  The difference is the added templates for lapbooking.

I have other lapbooks in the works.  Feast Days, Lives of the Saints, etc.  Much more coming soon!

Holy Week Lapbook

22 page Study Guide

Hope Springs

For part of Hilary’s nature study this year, we’re walking the same trail once a month for twelve months.  Each month, she draws or photographs the conditions of the trail.  Then, she completes this log sheet:

This is a trail that we love and usually visit often, but it’s so enlightening to systematically track the changes.  I picked this particular trail, because it has a bit of everything.  It’s wooded, has a lake, and it has a lot of wildlife.  The wildlife this time of year is predominately of the black-headed, brown-feathered, honking variety.  This area is a Canadian goose nesting ground.

Now, Canadian geese are quite the polarizing topic around here.  Bring up geese, and it’s like mentioning politics.  Everyone has an opinion…a very strong opinion.  They either are pretty much oblivious to geese or really, really don’t like geese.  Mostly due to their noise and mess.  I am a goose lover.  I admit it.  I adore hearing them honk as they fly overhead and flinging my head back to admire the V-formation.  I smile to watch them feed in the open spaces.  And I am head over heels in love with their babies.  Very soon, this trail will be covered with family after family of fuzzy little goslings learning to swim, eat, and fly.  The cuteness, oh the cuteness!

Yesterday, we got March’s walk in just under the wire.  We headed out on a welcome mild day to see what’s going on at the trail and in the goose romance department.  Pairs of geese everywhere.  Pairs eating.  Pairs yelling at eat other to stay away from their mates.  Pairs yelling at each other for no apparent reason.  And pairs diligently working to build nests.

We started this same study two years ago, but we didn’t make it past April.  That March, we watched as the geese paired up, nested up, and laid their eggs.  Then, disaster came.  Our area had extensive flooding that lasted for weeks.  Geese build their nests on the ground, in this case, little islands in the middle of the lake.  The entire area ended up covered in water.  When the water receded, we went to check on the trail.  Massive, fallen trees littered the path, their roots no longer able to find support in the saturated land.  Everything looked so different, and everything sounded so different.  Something very distinct was missing.  No geese.  The nests had flooded as well, and not one single gosling hatched that spring.  We kept going back to check, but there were none.  A few geese stuck around for awhile, but it wasn’t long before the area was empty.  One duck pair did manage to have two babies, and we watched them swim around the lake they now had to themselves.  But no geese.  After that, our monthly study just kind of fell away.  We still visited the trail, but we lost our taste for formal study.

Hilary was extremely sad.  Two years later, every time we go down this trail, she still points out one certain spot.  A goose had built it’s nest very close to the trail, and we had enjoyed catching glimpses of the eggs and watching the parents sit on the nest.  After the flood, we saw the remnants of that nest with no parents…and broken, abandoned eggs.  Hilary still says that she thinks the babies turned out just fine.  They probably just hatched early and got away from the flood in the nick of time.  Hope springs, I guess.

Yesterday, as we rounded the corner to that same spot, a lump caught in my throat.  In the exact same, infamous spot, a goose was carefully, diligently, and determinedly…building a nest.

Now, I don’t know for sure that this is the same goose.  It might not be.  But, I’m assuming it is.  I’m also assuming that this is the female, because I admit I can’t tell the male and female apart in geese.

I stood there and watched her.  Counseled her that this same spot, so unnervingly close to the water’s edge, probably isn’t the best place for a nest.  Rejoiced with her that another year, and another chance, has come.

I thank God for the encounter with this goose.  Yes, it’s an animal.  An animal driven by instinct.  Not  like me making my decisions and facing adversity with human reasoning.  But just because I’m more intelligent than this goose, it doesn’t necessarily make me all that much smarter.  This goose lives it’s life exactly how God created it to live.  Success or failure.  Joy or sorrow.  It just picks back up where it left off.  Hope springs, I guess.

The Psalmist says in Psalm 70 (71): “But I will hope continually, and I will praise You yet more and more.”  The setbacks, the challenges, and the regular ol’ day-in-day-out drudgery of life.  We don’t praise God and hope in spite of them.  They are in fact the things that should make us praise and hope in Him even more.

Lord, forgive me for the times that I fall into despair over the challenges in my life.  Forgive me for losing hope.  Renew in me this day the hope that springs from You.  I praise You in my success.  I praise You in my failure.  I praise You in my sorrow.  I praise You, for You are my joy.  Teach me to live in the peace of complete trust in You.  Teach me to live in the safety of total hope in You.  Teach me to praise You yet more and more.

Triumphant…The First Sunday of Lent

I had an idea for a wall hanging/quilt representing the Sundays of Lent.  Well, I’ve had many, many ideas related to that original idea.  I don’t think I’ve considered this many approaches to the same project in a long time.  After much ruminating and eliminating, I’ve settled on the version I want.  Maybe another version will come to life next year.  I’m still not sure of how all the weeks will come together into the actual wall hanging, but the first week’s element is done.

The first Sunday of Lent is the Sunday of Orthodoxy, also known as the Triumph of Orthodoxy.  On this day, in 843 A.D., icons were restored as right and holy parts of our Faith.  For a time previously, icons had been outlawed, and the resulting conflict resulted in the persecution and death of many Christians.  For the wall hanging element representing this Sunday, I chose to make an icon.

First, I had my dear husband cut a 5 1/2″ diameter circle out of 6mm thick craft foam.  I laid purple fabric right side down and placed the circle on top. 

I traced around the foam with a pencil, removed the foam, and cut around the shape of the circle, leaving about 2″ excess.  If you haven’t noticed, I am not a particularly neat crafter.  No perfectly straight edges around here!  Handmade doesn’t mean perfect.  It should mean doing my best, but I and the things I create are not perfect.  We’re both a little rough around the edges.

Then, I cut slits in the fabric about every 1/2″ all the way around the fabric.  I applied a thin, even coat of glue to the front of the foam and glued it to the center of the fabric.  I applied more glue to the outer rim of the foam and tightly folded the edges of the fabric down.  The slits help the fabric go around the curves.

Eventually, this will sit on top of other fabric, so I didn’t worry about covering up the ragged back.

Next, I crocheted some trim to border the circle.

I strung “E” beads in purple and silver on size 3 crochet thread.  The trick is that you have to string all the beads before you begin crocheting.  Having too many isn’t a problem.  You can get the excess off at the end.  Too few is bad, though!  I strung the colors in alternating groups of three, because…well, I’m Orthodox.  Is there a number other than three?  Perfect activity while waiting for my son at the doctor’s office!

I chained the length I wanted and then began to single crochet.  When I wanted a group of beads at the next stitch, I pushed three of them down, tight against the last stitch.

Then, I single crocheted in the next stitch, which pushed the beads to the other side and encased them within the stitches.  And so on, and so on down the line, until all the beads had been crocheted in.

Then, for the second row, which is a shell row, I did sc in the next two stitches, then 5 dc in the next stitch, repeating to the end of the row.  I glued the completed trim to the circle.  Next, I glued a paper icon to the center of the fabric circle.

Last, I added a border row of gold and pearl beads around the icon.

Every year, we attend the Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers in our city.  Since we are blessed to have so many Orthodox parishes of varying ethnic backgrounds, it truly is a joining of the Church in unity.  And every year, I tear up and blubber like a baby as we proclaim:

This is the Faith of the Apostles!

This is the Faith of the Fathers!

This is the Faith of the Orthodox!

This is the Faith that established the universe!

I stand with my non-ethnic, convert family surrounded by Greek, Russian, Serbian, and many more.  I look at the dozens of priests lining the front of the church, flanked by dozens of children, all holding icons.  Together, with one voice, we proclaim our common Faith.  When we venerate icons, we do not worship the wood and paint.  Rather, we pass our love on to God.  If it’s an image of Jesus, His Mother, or any of the Saints, they’re all really images of Christ.  God, in His essence cannot be seen or shown in pictures.  But God deigned to become man as Jesus Christ.  To put on our flesh.  To bring that flesh to Him and restore us to what He created us to be.  Living icons of Him.

I look at all the faces around me, and for once, my sight is not clouded by the sin that usually makes me only see the faults in others.  Before me are images of salvation…the image of Christ in those around me.  And amazingly, inexplicably…the image of Christ in me.  God allows me to be with Him.  To worship Him in the Orthodox manner.  To consume the flaming fire of Himself through communion.  To be His icon.  I look at all the faces around me, those living on earth, and those living in Heaven, and I see Christ looking back at me in every one.  To know that Christ lives in me as well…I am overwhelmed.  I am so very, very grateful today for my faith, my Church, and the God Whose image is forever engraved on my heart.

Behold! The Handmaiden of the Lord!

Annunciation Study Guide cover

The Annunciation Feast Day Study Guide is now available through the Shop link or by clicking here:

$3.50        Add to Cart

 

This Study Guide will walk your family through the story of the Feast, while you pause to create a collection of hands-on symbols to represent what you’ve learned. Ideas and instructions are given for creating both a learning box of 3-D symbols and a simple booklet. Don’t have the time, resources, or desire for creating the 3-D symbols? No problem. The booklet is just as valuable and instructive, and all you need is three pieces of paper to make it. Choose whichever option is best for your family…and don’t you dare feel guilty if you don’t want to do the crafts!

We were so blessed to journey to the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, PA yesterday for the Festal Vesperal Liturgy. The snow couldn’t keep us down! 🙂 Fr. Thomas Hopko gave an absolutely wonderful homily. I won’t even attempt to talk about this Feast today, preferring to stay with his words in my heart.

I’m so glad to say that you can hear this homily, too! The sisters of the Monastery have just started streaming some of their services live! They’re looking to get better equipment, especially if there’s an interest in sharing in their prayer. I’m sure lack of interest won’t be a problem!   The video of yesterday’s service can be found here.  Fr. Tom’s homily starts at about 46 minutes in.

The joy of the Feast!

Time’s a Wastin’

Normally around the first day of spring, we have a party.  We hide eggs, have a bit of a treat, and enjoy being outside.  It’s not always warm, but it’s usually fairly mild.  However, when it’s 23 degrees and it looks like this outside, hunting eggs isn’t a top priority.

Besides, it’s the first week of Lent, and unnecessary celebrations just aren’t necessary.  So, we’re saving our spring party for another day.  Who has time for anything else in the schedule anyway?  Church services every day this week.  Adjusting to the new rhythm.  There’s enough going on.  Which is what I was thinking about as I walked in the snow.

Hilary had a homeschool class at one of our metroparks.  I dropped her off at the nature center, piled on my layers, and like the good cardiac patient that I am…should be…pray I’ll be…headed off down the surrounding trails for a little exercise.  This metropark has a decided focus on the “metro”.  Surrounded by industry, the sounds of banging metal, buzzing high-voltage power lines, and rumbling trains filled the air.  As I got further along, though, the sounds dropped away, and the soft, falling snow sang it’s own melody.

Adding all those extra Lenten services to the calendar can be daunting.  So much time.  I seem to always be on the quest to find just the right schedule to juggle all the different things that crowd to fill my day.  The latest and greatest schedule usually looks just beautiful on paper.  Neat little blocks of time building neat little days.  And then life descends on the schedule, and the paper is soon crossed out and marked up and a big jumbled mess.  There just never seems to be enough time for all that needs to be done.

The arrival of the Lenten rhythm is the perfect opportunity to reinforce my own rhythm.  Because this myth that there’s not enough time, especially enough time to pray, is just that…a myth.  Sure, there might not be time in a neat little box on my schedule with back to back to back activities and responsibilities, but isn’t that the problem?  Not that there isn’t enough time, but that I think I have all these other responsibilities?  Yes, I must work at worldly responsibilities if I want to live and care for those entrusted to me, but that isn’t the goal of my life.  Look at my planner and schedule, and it sure seems like it is.  Appointments and outings and classes and things, things, things, written all over the place with pen, pencil and crayon in hurried, desperate scribbles.

I never used to write down church services or my prayer rule times, because I told myself that there’s no need.  It’s assumed and implied that those will get done.  If prayer truly is such a pillar of my day that I don’t even feel the need to write down a reminder, then why does it always seem to be the first thing to get pushed back and crossed off?  O my wretched soul, why do you continue to be so stubborn, so lazy, and so distant?  You know what you need, but you just won’t be brave enough to go get it.  Life is full of responsibilities, but my one true responsibility, my passion, my life’s work, my very breath, is communion with the living God.  How dare I justify not seeking God by using the sorry excuse of time?  God made time, why do I think my time is anything other than His?

The schedule I’m using now looks very different than the past.  No clock times.  No neat thirty minute increments.  Just the rhythm and schedule that people far greater than me developed.

Each day gets a page.  Each page is divided into blocks of time arranged around the praying of the Hours.  Instead of looking at a list of clock times and trying to make sure my prayer times fit in, I now look at a day of prayer and add the rest of life to it.  Same things get written down.  Same errands and appointments and reminders, it’s just that they are not the markers and the pillars in my day.  Prayer is.

In the space after Third Hour, it’s the time for schooling.  I jot down a reminder to put dinner in the slow cooker and an appointment for an outside class.  Probably need to fit phone calls and emails in.  Not enough room before Sixth Hour?  Well, those will just have to get moved to the next block.  Three kids all need to be at three different places before Ninth Hour.  Gotta make sure that laundry is done before Compline.  The day stops being about the time and becomes about the prayer.  The Hours are the moments of punctuation.  The pause.  The regrouping.  The focus.  Everything else is just the in between.

This week, Vespers time means Canon or Presanctified.  I’m purposely not writing anything after that.  And that’s how my days are scheduled…with purpose.  Not to live and try to pray, but to live life as prayer.  The blocks might get ridiculously full some days, but those are the times that it’s even more vital to stop and pray, not to pray less.  Oh, I wish they were all peaceful moments at the icon corner with incense, but sometimes it’s clutching my prayer rope in the car or pretending to go to the bathroom for a few, stolen minutes.  I can’t just blow past that stopping point, that pillar of prayer in my day.  I can run and stretch and pull myself all over the schedule instead of praying, but what could possibly be worth doing without prayer?

As I walked back to the nature center to pick up Hilary, I came to a footbridge over the canal.  I paused to snap some pictures of the retreating ice cover, and a bob and a flutter of a different shade of white caught my eye.


Four female deer stood to the side of the bridge, wanting to cross the path but wanting first and foremost to know my intentions.  I instantly froze my movement and watched.  Willing the wind to stop blowing my scent in their direction, I soon accepted that there was no fooling these young ladies.  They knew I was there.  They had places to go and things to do, but that didn’t matter at the moment.  They had time to wait me out.

After awhile, I slowly crept across the bridge and moved to pass them on the trail.  One doe was wary, yes, but not intimidated.  We held eye contact for the longest time, me thanking her and God for her beauty, and she inching toward me as the others munched away at the brush.

Lent takes a lot of extra time.  Extra services; extra efforts in cooking; extra prayer; extra activities.  But if I go to every service and read every book and do everything just the right way…if it doesn’t change me…then I’m just wasting my time.

Time is a forward push, a marathon.  It never stops, each day wasting away at a frantic pace.  If I want to live a life of prayer, then I have to forget about time.  There will never be enough time, but there doesn’t have to be.  This moment.  Right here.  Washing the dishes at Vespers, wiping noses at Sixth Hour, or getting lost in the soft, brown pools of a deer’s eyes at Ninth Hour, this is what time is all about.  The time to pray.

O my soul

 

It was Vespers.  The familiar rhythm of nightly prayer, yet in a moment, it became very different.  Slowly, the reader began to chant, “Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this night without sin…”.  Slowly, ever so slowly, to give time for the action taking place.  Pairs of girls lifted the icons from the stands lining the front of the church, removed the gold cloths underneath, and replaced them with new cloths in a deep, rich shade of purple.  A shuffling and swishing from behind the altar hinted of the rapid change of a passel of awkward altar boys from gold robes to purple ones.  The deacon and the priest changed their vestments from gold to purple.  Even the lampadas on the iconstasis lost their golden glass and instead began to shine on the faces of the icons in a twinkling reflection of purple.  The choir began to sing, but this time, it was to the mournful Lenten melody.  Purple in music.  It was just another Vespers a few minutes ago, but then the mood visibly shifted.  We’ve experienced a great transition from one time to the next.  From one rhythm to another.  We’ve entered the rhythm of Lent.

The Church is so gentle in her instruction.  Orthodoxy might appear to be just about a lot of external “stuff”, but that stuff is the stuff of Heaven.  The change in the colors, the melodies, the prayers, the prostrations, and all of the many differences in the services to come aren’t about altering the worship experience to keep things fresh or interesting.  They aren’t to make life fancier or more difficult.  They’re about a reminder that it’s time for change…the change in me.  Is today really different than yesterday, because today starts Great Lent?  Was my sin acceptable yesterday?  Were my excuses to neglect prayer, or be grouchy with my husband, or be inconsiderate of the limitations of my children o.k. yesterday?  Apparently I thought they were, for I did all those things.

I shouldn’t need Lent to be able to repent.  Every day, every breath is a part of the greatest fast there is; a lifetime of reaching for the God who is my God.  I should repent everyday, but…I don’t.  So, the Church gives me this precious gift of Lent, wrapped in sleek, purple paper.  A whack upside the head and a knocking to my knees.  It’s time to repent!  It’s been time, but you haven’t been listening, so let’s try this a different way!

I begin Great Lent with a confession to God that I did treat yesterday differently.  I did make excuses that I was too busy, or too tired, or too overworked, or too weak.  I did think that maybe later I’d have time or make time.  I did choose to pull away, but God never budged.  I’m the one who moved, and it’s time for me to be the one to move back.  To live today like every day should be.  The day of repentance.  The day of resurrection starts now.

* * * * *

During the first week of Lent, we sing the service of the The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete.  A group of prayers of repentance, this canon is a wake-up call to the soul.  Over and over during the canon, we prostrate ourselves on the ground, body and soul before God.  Over and over, we sing the refrain, “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.”  This morning, Hilary and I made a reminder of this service for our Lenten corner.

I started with a piece of thick craft foam 6″ by 9″.  I laid it on top of a piece of fabric cut a bit larger on each side.  Then, I wrapped it up like a present, hot gluing the edges and cutting off the excess as I went, so it would lay flat.  I cut a piece of felt slightly smaller than the base and glued it to the back, covering up all the ragged fabric edges.

Next, I printed the text I wanted on our handwriting white board and had my seven year old, Hilary , copy the words onto purple paper.  I glued the paper to the front of the fabric covered base and glued down ribbon along the edges.

Hilary and I then played around making felt flowers.  You can see some good tutorials here and here.  I used pinking sheers on some of the flowers for extra texture.

I enjoy making crafts with kids.  I especially like when the craft can mix grown-up and kid appeal.  This craft is one of those.  It has lots of Hilary touches.  She directed the color choices and embellishments.  She helped glue, arrange, and write.  But, it’s got me in it, too.  And of course, it has purple.

Here’s our project in our Lenten corner.  The project notes for the Doors of Repentance table runner can be found here.

Later this week…Annunciation Learning Box Study Guide and Sundays of Lent quilt.