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.

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The Doors of Repentance

We have so many metaphors in our lives involving doors.  Who can’t name a lifetime of lessons learned by doors that open and doors that close?  Dreams and opportunities lie behind the first door, the one with the shiny new coat of paint in a color that pops.  The smooth-turning handle that glides under a gentle touch of the hand.  The door that seems to just open by itself.

Disappointment and rejection lie behind the second door.  The one with the ghastly chipped paint and the hinges that groan as it slams in your face.  A ring full of keys and not one opens the tight, rusty lock.

Most doors in life seem to be revolving, though.  Not 1920’s style, cool brass, swish-swishing revolving doors.  Rather, the modern revolving door, often seen at hospitals or other highly trafficked establishments.  The ones that are supposed to “help” you by constantly revolving by themselves.  Approaching this door is a smartly choreographed performance.  A moment of hesitation to catch the rhythm.  A two-step to jump in as an opening passes.  And that moment of claustrophobic panic as the door halts; trapped in a glass cage because you didn’t walk at just the right speed in front of just the right sensor.  The door that opens and closes and opens and closes.  Effortless gliding and jilting slamming in the face all in one.  The joys of modern convenience.

Open to me the doors of repentance, O Life-giver…

As the Church prepares to enter Great Lent, we begin to hear a song about a metaphor.  A metaphor of repentance.  The words of this song have been haunting me every day.  Not haunt in a mournful, disruptive way, but a swish-swish of rhythm with a bright pop of color.  What do the doors of repentance look like?  Fine grade hardware and solid strength…or simple, aged details with a well-worn patina?  I don’t know what the door looks like, and if I ever hope to get through it, I never will.  The doors of repentance aren’t decorative or utilitarian or convenient.  The door of repentance is a passageway in my heart that can only be crossed on my knees.  Eyes and head down.  Crawling through the muck of my own sins.  I don’t see the door for the sake of it’s beauty, though I know it is a lovely thing to look at.  I don’t need to see the door for the sake of my own knowledge, for I believe in the One Who opens it.

Lead me on the paths of salvation, O Mother of God,

For I have profaned my soul with shameful sins

And have wasted my life in laziness.

But, by your intercessions,

Deliver me from all impurity…

Christ tells us that He is the door.  Lord, I’m approaching the door of repentance.  All I see is the dust around my feet and the cracks in the floor.  I can’t even lift my eyes to see where I’m going.  But I’ll crawl; I’ll pull; I’ll drag myself through that door.  My sins separate us.  They press me further and further back in the crowd.  You are the door.  The open door.  It is repentance that leads me through to you.  Open to me the doors of repentance, Father.  Show me where I’m proud.  Show me where I’m lazy.   Show me where I’m anything You are not.

Have mercy on me, O God,

Have mercy on me, O God,

Have mercy on me, O God,

According to Your great mercy.

There is a little spot of our dining room, near the icon corner, that has become a display area for Hilary’s festal crafts.  It seems to be a natural place for things to remain throughout a season, as a visual reminder of the focus of the time.

I began preparing this area for Lent today by decking it with doors.

I’m on a bit of a texture kick lately, so this project has as many textures as possible included.  The fabric is all discontinued home decor samples from the fabric store.  Lots of different patterns and texture at super cheap.  I sewed the main pieces of the fabric base together, but the rest is just done with glue.  Ribbon trim along with a crocheted trim that I made to match.  The fabric doors are embellished with buttons and beads.  The center door holds an old key, reminding me that prayer is the key to unlocking the repentance within me.

I have a long list of projects that will be added to this area in my home.  This is just the beginning.  Some I’ll make.  Some the kids will make.  I’ll be sharing about all of them.

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I wrote in this blog.  A whole year.  I don’t like it when people, especially me, make excuses, so I won’t.  It just hasn’t been the time for blogging, but I think it is again.  Shall we start over?

I know that so many of my dear customers and friends are missing Orthodox Chrisitan Craft Supply.  I miss being a part of your families and parishes as well.  Shall we start over there, too?

I don’t think I can return to selling craft kits at this time, but I’d still like to share ideas with you for instructing our children in the Orthodox Faith and making an Orthodox home.  I’ll be sharing lots of ideas here on the blog.  Projects for Lent include a Sundays of Lent quilt, a unit study of the Presanctified Liturgy, and many more.

Also, I’m revising the written materials I sold through Orthodox Christian Craft Supply to be sold as e-books.  To start, I’m selling my Lenten Study Guide.

This study guide was originally sold with a kit to make a Lenten Calendar.  It contains 50 daily readings, tracing the life of Christ in the Gospels.  Each week has a theme, including “Christ the Teacher”, “Christ the Storyteller”, and “Christ the Good Shepherd”.

The study guide includes ideas for making your own Lenten Calendar to count down the days from Clean Monday to Pascha.  You can make a magnetic calendar of paper doors as pictured above.  Don’t want to get that fancy?  No problem.  The Lenten Study Guide includes a printable calendar coloring sheet.  All you need is a kid and a crayon.

Each day of the Fast, read the Scripture with your family and go through another door on the journey to Pascha.  The visual calendar provides a tangible reminder for little ones (and adults, too!) of where we’ve been and where we’re going.  You can use this study guide and calendar year after year.

Great Lent starts Monday!  You can download your Lenten Calendar e-book for $3.95.

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Can you help me spread the word?  I’d love to hear what kind of educational resources people would like to see and requests for projects.  Let me know what you need!

God be with us as we prepare for the beginning of Lent.  May we all have a blessed Fast!

 

Lenten Spring

It’s the beginning of spring this week.  Or is it summer…I’m not sure.  Record breaking highs continue to throw my internal clock off.  I seem to still be waiting for the winter that never came.

Lent is positively rocketing by this year.  So much chaos in our life.  How much I welcome this week!  We are midway through the Fast now, and the Church, in her wisdom, takes this week to refocus us and prepare us anew for the remainder of the journey ahead.

The third Sunday of Lent is the Veneration of the Cross.  Just when the newness of the Lenten labors has officially worn off, we fall to our knees as the Cross is carried from the altar to the center of the church.  Prostrate, we sing: “Before Your Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master, and Your Holy Resurrection, we glorify.”  Where is this Lenten journey going again?  Oh yes, this is a journey to the Cross.  One whose destination is not a tomb.

The Cross at church is always decorated with flowers.  Another bright pop of spring in the middle of what is usually still a dreary, and often snow covered, world outside.  We prostrate before our own Cross at home each night this week during evening prayers, so Hilary made a fitting place to honor the Cross we venerate.

The base of this craft is a paper plate turned upside down.  Not the thin plates, but the thicker ones that are almost like cardboard.  I conveniently had blue plates.  I cut out rectangles of tissue paper measuring approximately 1 1/2″ x 2 1/2″, rounding the ends.  Hilary layered four of the sheets, criss-crossing them.  Then, we picked up the sheets in the center of the bundle and “smooshed” them together from the bottom, letting the tops fall open as petals.  For the middle, Little Miss Pattern Girl chose to meticulously make a beaded series of concentric circles.  I happened to have this lovely cross from Russia that is the exact right size for the plate.

How fitting it is this year for the week of the Veneration of the Cross to fall at the same time as the first day of spring.  The arrival of the cross bolsters us spiritually, and the arrival of the new season elevates us physically and emotionally.  Life and newness are everywhere.

Per our tradition, we celebrated the first day of spring with an egg hunt and other festivities.  Spring coloring pages.  Asparagus for dinner.  A walk outside.  This is the day when we get the bunny-and-chick-laden Easter decoration frenzy out of our systems.  Spring is spring.  Pascha is Pascha.  Nothing wrong with cute bunnies, but they are not the meaning of the Feast of Feasts, so we choose to separate the two events.

When Hilary got home from ballet, she discovered that the backyard was filled with eggs.  (Mental note: do not instruct teenagers to hide eggs when you’re not around.  One will have an exceptionally bad attitude and “hide” her half out in the open, not even leaving the deck, and the other one will get so into it, we can’t find them all…except for the ones he mysteriously placed in mud puddles.)  We usually have another egg hunt on Pascha with candy-filled eggs, but since gorging on candy is not the best Lenten activity, I fill the eggs this time with pennies.  I don’t bother to count to make sure it’s the right amount, but the point is that at the end of the hunt, Hilary can trade in her pennies for more manageable money to take to the gas station down the street and buy a frozen drink, which is the prize above all prizes to her.

Halfway to Pascha.  Time to tighten up any observance that has grown slack.  Time to take a deep breath and ride on the push of a second wind.  Time to kneel down in body and fall down in repentance of heart.  Welcome, welcome Lenten spring!

A Child’s Lesson on St. Gregory Palamas

Praying in a dark church is about the only time I believe that lack of electricity can be a good thing.  As I stood in the chapel of the monastery on Saturday night, a chapel with no electric lights, the word “vigil” moved from being just the name of a service to the desire of my soul.  A few candles flickered, the icons were just shapes and shadows, and the monotone of the monks’ chanting spread a warmth that started in my chest and flowed out to the tingling of my fingertips.  In the darkness, it was easy to let the tears flow, those tears that are a gift.  The tears that come when prayer stops being a rote exercise and begins at the beginning; at the Light that never knows darkness.

Our family had planned to make this pilgrimage together, but it was not to be.  So, I made the trip alone.  Alone with my thoughts in the car…what a rarity!  Alone in the church with no eyes in the back of my head making sure my children are as they should be…what a change of focus!  Alone in the darkness, even though I wasn’t alone.  Open and vulnerable before God, yet at the same time supported by the prayers of the pilgrims and monks around me.  This is what prayer looks like.  This is what prayer feels like.  Not my head, but my heart.

I made this pilgrimage to remember the man for whom this monastery is dedicated.  On the second Sunday of Lent, we remember St. Gregory Palamas.  St. Gregory Palamas was a monk and bishop in the 14th century.  He never went looking for attention, but attention found him when he used his insight and eloquence to defend prayer.  The true prayer of the heart.  The first Sunday of Lent is called the Triumph of Orthodoxy, because it remembers the restoration of icons to the churches and the confirmation of the truth of Orthodox belief.  St. Gregory established a triumph of his own, denouncing the claim that God cannot be met through contemplative prayer.  Reaffirming that the still, small voice of God is heard when we make our minds get out of our own way and let our hearts pray like they are already burning to do.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Lord Jesus Christ, yes, I want You as Lord and Master of my life, Son of God, the true Son of the Father, the one who became man, so that we may become God, have mercy on me, come save me Lord, quickly, quickly for I perish, a sinner, the chief of sinners…the very first.

As I drove home in the darkness (note to self: perhaps going to vigil at a monastery a fair distance from home on the night the time changes and we lose an hour is probably not the best idea…even though it was totally worth it),  I thought about what I could do with Hilary to explain the remembrance of this Sunday.  How to explain the deepest depths to a child, when I have yet to begin to even fathom them?  But maybe it’s not that hard.  If there are any people who understand simplicity of heart, it’s children.  They don’t have the baggage and the walls and the collective junk that adults pile up around their hearts.  At times, we go out of our way to sever the connection between mind and heart.  That pesky heart.  Too raw, too vulnerable.  Must shove it deep, deep down and rely on rationality.  The mind, it’s so much safer, because it thrives in an illusion that we are in control.

Kids lay it all out there with their hearts.  Heart and mind…one big joyful jumble.  So, I taught Hilary about the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas with this illustration.  First, I summarized St. Gregory’s life.  Then, we talked about the story of Elijah and the still, small voice.  And what does it mean to hear God in the stillness?  The lesson went a little something like this:

O.K.  We know we hear God in the stillness.  Are we usually still and quiet?  No.  Life is loud.  People talking.  Places to go, go, go.  Fruit Ninja on the Kindle.  Yet another episode of Wild Kratts on t.v.  Noisy, noisy.  Now, your brother is going to say a number.  Follow me and do what I do.  Tell me when you hear the number.  (We marched around the room clapping and talking and singing loudly, “La, la, la, la.  Noise.  Noise.  Noise.)  So, what was the number bubby said?  What, you didn’t hear it?  Yeah, it’s hard to hear God when we’re so busy and filling our heads with words and pictures and sounds.  Let’s try again.  Let’s act like we’re in church.  We stand very still in church, right?  We should be able to hear God then.  (We stood still, but I again sang loudly, “La, la, la, la.  Noise.  Noise.  Noise.)  What, we still didn’t hear the number?  But we were still, so what went wrong?  Just standing still or standing in church doesn’t mean we’re really listening to God and being still in our hearts.  We can have our heads full of thoughts about where we’re going after the service, what’s good to eat at coffee hour, and all kinds of other noise.  Let’s try one more time.  Let’s sit down and not move any part of our body.  Take a couple breaths in and out.  Now, let’s not talk.  This time, let’s say, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  (Say the Jesus Prayer out loud a couple times, and then stop, directing the child to keep saying the prayer silently).

The difference between the silence and the noise of the previous two times was profound.  It was quieter than quiet.  It was still.  “Thirty-four”, my son’s voice seemed to boom, even though he was just speaking in the normal voice he had used the other two times.  We heard him!  Hilary’s face broke into a beaming smile.  Mind and heart.  Loud and still.  On her level, it made sense.  God, help her not to lose the sound of the stillness, and help me to find it again.

To finish up our lesson, we made a giant version of a prayer rope.  I cut circles out of black paper and had Hilary write the words of the Jesus Prayer on contrasting blue rectangles, one word for each bead.  Thus, the giant size.  I knew that there was only so small that my six year old could write, so I sized the craft accordingly.  This is a 12″ x 12″ piece of paper with 1 1/2″ diameter circles.  I used my paper cutting machine, but that’s not necessary.  Child-cut circles and cross would be lovely.  Excessive use of rhinestones and glue is also not necessary or even recommended.  That’s just Hilary.  I think she’s biologically incapable of leaving anything unadorned.

The Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas is a day to remember what we often forget.  The stillness.  The heart.  It’s all there.  It’s just up to us to remember where we left it, buried it, and forgot it.

Pray for me, Father Gregory.  Teach me to pray in the stillness of my heart.  Sometimes it doesn’t seem like there even is any stillness to find.  Pray for me as I pray.  In the quiet, in the dark, in the smallest of voices, I cry out to God, and He hears me.  He hears my prayer.

 

Praise God in His Sanctuary

There’s nothing spectacular about this picture of Jared and the dog. It isn’t even recent. Two years old, in fact. I just happened to be looking for something else in the picture files and ran across it. When Lonna got a new camera for Christmas, she didn’t know that the date was incorrectly set to 2010. So, all the pictures she took were randomly placed by the camera software in the folders already established with pictures we actually did take in 2010. She still hasn’t changed it, so finding a picture is kind of like a mix between a journey down memory lane and the most annoying scavenger hunt ever.

Poor, pitiful Jared. This picture stuck out to me, because he just looks so peaceful, and his baby soft complexion (without a trace of a facial hair, he’s sorry to say) shines. Not at all like the Jared of 2012. He is well into his third week of fighting scarlet fever. I admit, I had no idea what scarlet fever was until three weeks ago. I thought it was one of those old-time illnesses that was crushed by the mighty blow of the discovery of penicillin. Nope, it’s alive and well. Scarlet fever is that old nemesis strep. Strep gone wild all over your skin. It started out as a blotch here and a blotch there. A bit of a fever. A yuckiness. A stomach ache. Soon, he was knocked on his butt with sickness and became one giant rash. Just what every teenage boy wants…something that makes everyone stare at your face. Now, he wishes for those days. The rash is long gone.  He’s in the peeling stage. Parts of him peeled like a sunburn. Other parts, like the palms of his hands, have skin coming off in what can only be described as chunks. And then yesterday, as a further insult, he came down with pink eye. Did I say how pitiful the poor guy is?

He has missed eleven days of school. Eleven…unbelievable.  He has missed social events and family events and pretty much everything else you can think of. But the worst for him has been missing all those church services that heralded the beginning of Lent. No Forgiveness Vespers change of robes from gold to purple. No Presanctified in the candlelight. No Akathist rejoicing. No Sunday of Orthodoxy proclamation of triumph. Jared loves church, because he loves to serve God in the altar. He’s always there. Always. Even if we’re not. Missing is a huge deal for him.

So, to have these services taken away has been a humbling lesson for him and me both. A friend mentioned that not being in church has become Jared’s fast during this season. So true. It’s making us both think about prayer and worship. Jared loves to be at church, and so do I, but do we love God as much as we love church?  We ache to miss a service, but do we ache to miss God in the daily moments?

I told Jared that this is a great opportunity. It is a gift to see that he doesn’t need an appointed time and place to worship. Worshiping God in illness is the stuff of a multitude of prostrations. He doesn’t need certain sights and smells and sounds to lead his heart to prayer. Finding God in the stillness is an awesome pleasure.

Lent is a time of so much more, even when more comes dressed in less. As I watch my child struggle back to health, I thank God for the lessons I’m learning through his journey. How every soul needs to praise in suffering to truly taste the sweetness of rejoicing. How having what you thought was important taken away shows you where the value truly lies. Not in the doing or the going, but in the being and the resting in the presence of God. The God Who is truly everywhere and fills all things. With that in mind and heart, all the world is a holy place and all of life is an altar.  How sweet it will be for Jared to worship God again in His sanctuary.  All the sweeter for realizing and appreciating the sanctuary of his own heart.

Free Prayer of St. Ephraim Unit Study

Update: This item is currently not available. 

During Lent, the bulk of Hilary’s homeschool curriculum will be a unit study I’m developing on the Prayer of St. Ephraim.  I want to share what we’re doing as a free resource with anyone else who might find it useful.

Unfortunately, I’ll have to post it in parts as we live it and I develop it.  Stick with me!  🙂

Could I ask a favor?  Please share this with anyone you think might be interested.  Help me get the word out through social media and good old fashioned word of mouth.  This will be a truly rough version, but if there’s an interest, I’m all for developing written resources as an expansion of Orthodox Christian Craft Supply.  Let me know what you’d like to see!

Thanks!
 

 

 

The View From the Passenger Seat

When does 35 mph feel like 100 mph?  When it’s your teenager driving.

Lonna has been learning to drive for a few months now.  It’s getting better for me in the passenger seat (the incidents of gripping the armrest and breathing in sharp intakes of air have faded drastically), yet it’s still odd.  I’m THE driver, ya know?  I am the one who drives us everywhere.  Even when my husband is in the car, it’s often me who drives.  Sitting in the passenger seat with my hands lying in my lap searching aimlessly for something to do is foreign and something I don’t much like.  I like to be the driver.  I guess I like the control.

As Lent approaches, I am thinking a lot about control.  About the things and people and influences that drive my life, and they are a lot scarier than fifteen year olds with learner’s permits.

What drives me? I confess that far too often, the driver is indeed me.  My wants.  My desires.  My emotions.  My passions.  My sins.  And God?  Where is He in all this?  In the driver’s seat?  The passenger seat?  Even in the vehicle?

Great Lent is a time to gain control of our bodies.  Our minds.  Our prayers.  A time to control what we put into ourselves in an effort to open ourselves to what God wants out of us.  Eat less.  Give more.  Less and more.  More and less.  Decreasing so He can increase.

So, we approach this multifaceted time of give and take.  I must remember that I am not in control of the world or the events of my life.  To learn this, I actually focus on control.  Not the illusion of control, but the awesome quest of controlling myself.  Saying no to me is saying yes to God.

Great Lent.  A driving journey to the Cross.  The Resurrection.  Lord, help me on the journey.  Show me the way I should go.  The view from the passenger seat is lovely, when it is the driving force of Your mercy beside me.

For My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation

Today is the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord, also known as the Presentation of Christ, in the Temple.  On this day, forty days after His birth, Christ was brought to the Temple by His parents, fulfilling the Law for all firstborn males.

Yesterday, we spent much time preparing for the Feast.  And in our preparations, I could only smile at the mixed up medley of smoothness and chaos.

Hilary and I began the day by driving to a little artisan bakery to pick out just the right five loaves for the Litya at Vespers.  Then, we bought a vibrant bouquet of tulips to set before the icon of the Theotokos.  We traveled to multiple stores to buy supplies to make candles to be blessed on the Feast.  We labored to make those candles.  We went to church and prayed at Vespers.  We immersed ourselves in the Feast for virtually the entire day.  Then, as we prepared our candles to bring to Liturgy in the morning, we talked about the names of the Great Feasts.  Hilary struggled to place the significance of each one, so I helped her remember and categorize them.  When we got to the Meeting of the Lord, I said:

“This one is easy, right?  This one we know a lot about.  What happened on this Feast?”

“Uh…uh…well, somebody met the Lord, and then…uh…uh…somedbody ascended???

I had to laugh.  All that preparation, and Hilary seemingly still had no clue what we were doing.  But you know, I don’t really think that’s true.  Teaching our kids about the Faith is all about layers.  It doesn’t happen in one day or one year.  It’s a lifetime of layer upon layer of grace.  What we’re laying now as a family is the foundation.  Every prayer, every feast, every merciful moment will build on that foundation.  It doesn’t have to be perfect right now.  This isn’t the end, it’s the beginning.

On the Meeting of the Lord, candles are traditionally blessed.  In the prayers at the blessing, we are reminded that it is Christ who enlightens our darkness.  The burning fire of His glory consumes us with His pure brightness.  Like candles, we glow and flicker for the love of God.

This year, we made some homemade candles to have blessed.  I wanted them to be simple and of Hilary’s design.  We decided to make twelve small candles, one for each of the Great Feasts.

First, we melted paraffin and filled miniature terracotta pots with the wax.

Hilary wrote the names of the Feasts on strips of paper, and we glued them to the tops of the pots.  She chose red beads to glue to the pots for the Feasts of Christ, and blue beads for the Feasts of the Theotokos.  We painted a wooden tray to hold the candles and finish off the project.

The second project started off as a hit, because we bought little cartons of chocolate milk to use as molds.  This time, we added a crayon to the wax as it melted for color.  As we filled up the carton mold, we alternated layers of wax with layers of crushed ice.  When it cooled, it was supposed to look like this.  Yeah, that didn’t work out so well.

The idea is to end up with a candle peppered with textured holes and interesting crevices.  Our candles had about three holes apiece, so it basically just looked like we either dropped the candle or just don’t know how to pour.

But that is what Feast Day crafts are all about.  I love doing crafts with my children.  I enjoy researching and imagining and buying supplies to create lovely, functional, classy pieces of art.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with encouraging kids to strive for beauty.  Sometimes, the beauty comes not from the success, but rather the failure, the attempt, or the totally unexpected randomness of working with children.  So, one of our projects was a flop.  So, my daughter chose grey as the oh-so-fetching color for the flowers on the candle tray.  So, she whined that she was bored and wanted to quit and then got flaming mad that I finished one of the things without her.  So, she can’t, at age six, spout out the names and origins of every feast and every saint in the Church calendar.  So what?

Celebrating feasts is not always smooth.  It doesn’t always go as planned.  But embracing the mishaps and turning them over to God as part of the celebration is one of the greatest blessings of all.

Today, we sang of the elder Simeon, who was overcome by the emotion of holding the burning coal of God’s fire in his arms.  Who lived and waited and watched for the Savior, and in that moment, found Him.  Who embraced who?  Who met who that day?  A babe forty days old on his Mother’s side and eternal on His Father’s side, was presented to the world for us and our salvation.  Truly, truly Lord, you have brought us from darkness to Light.

What a lovely celebration we had today.  A special Feast.  We shared the experience of creating something to be blessed.  Throughout the year, we’ll return to these candles as we burn one on each of the twelve Great Feasts.  We’ll remember the day and the laughs and the love that filled our hearts as we celebrated.  We’ll give glory to God for meeting us in these moments, and we’ll present ourselves to Him as offerings.  Though we may be lopsided or off-color or mismatched, we offer it all to God.

Praying with and for my family.  Lighting a candle in the darkness.  Embracing the gift of love.  A joyous, joyous Feast.

It is not the well who need a Physician

I can’t decide which is worse: a sick baby or a sick teenager.  Of course, I haven’t had a baby in awhile, so my memories of those days are painted with cuddly nostalgia of the good times and gory war stories of the bad times.

If memory serves, one of the worst things about sick babies is their inability to communicate.  How many times did I wish Jared, my one-respiratory-disaster-after-another baby, could have just given me one tiny clue.  Are you making those whistling noises because your nose is stopped up or your throat is closing up?  Which one?  Tell me!  Tell me!

And Lonna, who when she was three years old, I had to drive from doctor to hospital to doctor to hospital for almost a week, before I finally walked into the ER one last time and said that I didn’t know what was wrong with my child, but I wasn’t leaving until they figured it out.  Turned out to be a good plan—she had an appendectomy the next morning.

How wonderful are the middle years, like six year old Hilary, who gives me the play-by-play of every bit of mucous and every hint of a discomfort.  Who climbs up in my lap, even if she has to push me down into a chair to do it, telling me she needs a snuggle.  Who swears that if we just get the pillows and blankets arranged in exactly the right position, everything will be o.k.  And it is.

All three of my children and my husband are sick right now.  My house sounds like we’ve adopted a family of barking seals, and the kitchen counter is littered with a pharmacy of medicines, waiting to be mixed in an alchemy of combinations for each person’s unique complaint.

Lonna is the worst.  Poor Lonna.  The first time I took her to the doctor was December 11th.  She had already been sick for ten days at that point, so pretty soon, she’ll have been sick for two solid months.  Three doctor visits, two urgent care trips, and four rounds of antibiotics have left us with a sore throat, turned into a sinus infection, turned into bronchitis with a hint of pneumonia.

And my fifteen year old child who never pauses to interject her opinion into any given situation and never ceases to talk, talk, talk in an often overwhelming, but always glorious, background music is now so silent.  So impossible to communicate with.  A sick child.  A helpless baby all over again.

“How do you feel today?”

“Grrr.”

“Is it better or worse?  Anything different?”

“Grrr.”

“Can I get you something?  Do you want some food?  A drink?”

“Grrr.”

“Can you describe what you mean when you say you can’t breathe?  (Mentally measuring the difference between stopped up noses and stopped up lungs.)

“Grrr.  Grrr.  Leave me alone.  I just want to go to sleep.”

My baby, my baby.  I feel so helpless.  So, I do the only thing I can do.  I pray.  I sit in the room the girls share in the night, juggling a flashlight and a prayerbook at the same time.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, how great is the multitude of those whom Thou hast healed.  The blind have obtained their sight, the deaf have received their hearing, the dumb have begun to speak, the lame have walked.  Who has run to Thy help and not received healing?  We pray unto Thee:  O Lord, heal this child who is suffering.

Canon to the Lord for a Sick Child

How helpless the feeling of not being in control.  How beautiful the reminder that I’m not now, nor will I ever be, in control.  No matter how old they are.  No matter how sick they are.  No matter how lonely or sad or confused or lost they feel, I am not in control of the lives of my children.

The world is a confusing place.  There is much suffering.  From a bad cold to a catastrophic loss.  From the pains we can’t see in others to the sickness of soul we refuse to see in ourselves.  The world is pain, because it is the world.  There is no taming or understanding it.  But there is faith.  Faith in a God who doesn’t promise us we won’t suffer, but Who keeps the promise never to leave us alone in our suffering.

All things in life can be a vital piece of the working out of our salvation.  Snotty noses, tragic deaths and disasters, and seemingly insignificant daily events.  All things are good in the God Who is with us.

Lord, thank you for teaching me through this time of illness in my family.  Thank you for humbling me and showing me what I lack.  Have mercy on my suffering children.  Have mercy on me.  Heal bodies.  Heal souls.  We are sick indeed.  Heal us from every infirmity.  Glory to God for all things!