Christianity · faith · family

Love Suffers Long

Love will destroy anything that is not like itself. This is the fear we have of God. God is Love. Love is death. End game.

Ego, or self, seems to have a similar energy. The power and will to destroy anything and everything but itself.

Love suffers long, especially with self.

It is my hope that when I remain open to Love, even in the slightest, I endure. I walk the Way. Because the struggle is the Way.

I ask myself, “Who would I be without my political story, my victim story, my marriage story, my religious story?”

I try to drop the thoughts, the mind so identified. In this vacuum I realize I am a far cry from a saint. I am not open to Love’s death blow. I love my stories, even if they cause me or others pain. I am not yet willing to die, to bear my cross.

But I will remain with Christ, not because I am good, but because I am aware of Love’s reality.

He abides with me. He loves me, and Love will conquer all.

Love is ultimate reality.

Can I be at peace without demanding something from you?

Think like me.
Act like me.
Love me.
Believe like me.
Be me.

The mass hysteria we are experiencing in the world today is a hive mind deluded.
Perhaps we are confused about death. I need to be clear about death. I cannot demand anything from you. It is impossible for you to sort this mess out for me. When this happens, I stop requiring from you what only I can give myself.

Peace is a gift I give myself. When I am clear. When I am open. I alone can give myself peace when I believe that ALL THINGS work together for good. In this reality, enemies are gifts of peace.
It is impossible to forgive enemies when I am not clear about death.
Love suffers long. It keeps doing what it does. It conquers all. Over and over and over again- until I die.

Christianity · family · kids · motherhood · parenting · Uncategorized

The Works of God Displayed

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Guilt is a real part of being a mother.  The background noise of our hearts- my weaknesses are hurting my kids, if not physically, then most definitely spiritually and emotionally. What they will be at 18, 24, 35, and beyond has everything to do with what happened to them at 5, yesterday, that time when I lost it.  And that’s on me- their past is my making. I am their mother for goodness sake, and this casts me as the protagonist.  I am the cause and effect of their little lives, and this is terrifying.


Because I am a hot mess- that’s why.  I am a serious risk.  How can I be responsible for the way things turn out?  I am NOT good- not near enough.

This good enough nightmare wakes me up at night, haunts me at the kitchen sink, sneaks up on me at holidays, invades my space when I am snuggling a toddler, steals my memories, blurs our family photos, drowns out the giggles and stories, and feels me with fear on lazy Sunday afternoons.

Good enough- what did I do- what did I not do- what do I need to do?

Like the disciples, I need to know why, why are my children not perfectly happy, and well… perfect?  The malignant voice in my head replies, you did it to them, it’s your fault.  

This is my experience.

But not my mother, which used to make me angry, until I began to try and understand how and why my mother does not cast herself as the protagonist of my childhood. At first I judged this to be a lack of enlightenment, we millennium moms know better.  I am older now, five kids deep- 21 to 8, married for 25 years, and I would say that most days I feel like I have bitten off more than I can chew.  And who do I call in need of rescue- my mother- the one who knows how to write herself out of the script. 

Like Mary.

Moms in times past seem to have a laid back vibe that is impossible to pull of these days.  Because maybe they were not laid back. Maybe our moms weren’t these aloof, free spirit, self-centered gurus that are portrayed in throwback sitcoms.  Maybe our moms were silent doers. Always engaged without being the center of attention. My mom was not the center of my existence because she did not cast herself in that role. She let me play that part.  This is the reason I believe my mom does not experience mom-guilt.

My story is not her story.

What I do becomes what I did, and if that becomes what will be, then for me this is hopeless and terrifying.  Because I am only good enough as I reflect on what I should have done. In real time I am no saint.  In the now, I am not good enough to prevent the the horrific future I imagine will happen if I am not good enough- yet, I know I am not good enough. Yet, I try.  I fail.  I try again. And I fail and flounder in fear and guilt; whining, emotional, always scrounging for sage advice and remedies. And this is psychological terror.

But what if I have it all wrong?  What if all this roaming about in the caves of my motherhood consciousness is not necessary? Not the path? Not the way?

What if we as mothers, as scary and radical as it might be, just write ourselves out of the script?  Can this even be done without becoming inattentive and in-affectionate? A bad mom? 

Yes. And the thought of being okay with how things are, makes giving this a try worth the risk.   I think we can be free of the psychological torment of modern motherhood.  And we should… because behind the curtain of perfection, what we experience is a lack of meaning and despair.  Being a mother is not fulfilling or desirable when we live in constant fear- the fear of not being perfect and the implications we imagine our weaknesses will have on our children.

One of the most peculiar realities of growing older as a mother is that time has a way of eroding my sense of knowing.  Things fall apart, without notice, maybe over time, but eventually things just get messy in parenting.  When all my kids were little it was easier to do all the things, control all the things, be all the things, say all the things.  Now, it seems I find myself out of steam before the track ends. And who is there to make up the difference, take up the slack?

My kids! They are the real protagonists. Not me.  

I am prideful. It was pride that tormented me all those years.

But not Mary, not my Mom. Not mothers who work diligently behind the scenes; cooking, cleaning, praying, instructing, loving, pondering, and being perfect by not being obsessed with being perfect.  

My Mom says something beautiful to me ever so often, especially in times when I am struggling with the guilty mom virus, “I was not a perfect mother, but I loved you perfectly.” What a treasure she is to me. 

The works of God are displayed in the broken- even not perfect kids and not perfect mothers.  


The Hebrew Midwives- and what they show us about the end.

Apocalyptic Visions: Medieval Painter Hieronymus Bosch
 Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights

 And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live. But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive. And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses. And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive.

Exodus 1: 15-22 KING JAMES VERSION (KJV)

Genocide. Extermination. The End. The Apocalypse.

That is what the Hebrew midwives were facing. It was theirs to do. And what would they do when faced with such darkness and threat of violence? What would they do in the end- because that was the threat. As insignificant as they were, they did what was essential to save baby boys from genocide, the extermination of their people, the end of their race, the apocalypse now. The midwives did not choose to be born in such a time, but they were. And it was theirs to face. And they did.

The midwives possessed a piety that was born of the fear of God. Not man. Not monster.
Who did the midwives fear? The King? The mothers birthing sons? The enforcers? No. They feared God. This fear led them to disobey the King’s command and show great compassion to the mothers and sons of Israel.

The fear of God in Shiphrah and Puah produced courage, love, and wisdom.

This wisdom was a womanly wisdom, and it manifested as a deception. A lie. A device. A brilliant story about how amazing the Hebrew women were at the birthing stool- delivering their babies before the midwives could get there.

Would this device save the Hebrew children? Long enough. Just enough. We see at the end of this story, when the midwives out-maneuver the King, he commissions ALL HIS PEOPLE to cast the boy babies into the river. His clandestine plan to murder the babies failed, so he had to come out with his evil plans. The midwives did not participate in the darkness- they forced it into the light.

And God rewarded them with children and families of their own. Healthy and thriving families- houses.

Because God’s plan for saving the world through His Son Jesus Christ would not be thwarted. Not then, not now, not ever. His plan for the Incarnation required participation. A long line of the Righteous Ancestors of God.

I am drawn to this story over and over. I see it as a roadmap for the end. Whatever that end may be. I pray for and walk towards the piety that is born of the fear of God.

books · Christianity · faith · philosophy · reality


I am honored to share a guest post written my brother, Jarrett. It is meaningful for me in this time, and I hope it will speak to you. May we find refuge in the Shadow of His wings. Mandy

Between the idea

And the reality

Between the motion 

And the act

Falls the Shadow

T.S. Eliot 

The world is a different place from the last time I put a late night thought down.  That’s how the world goes though isn’t it?  Shadows, so many are cast around us…eastern cultures see Shadow much different than we westerners do.  To the traditional Japanese, Shadow is very important. 

 “Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.” — Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows

Eliot explored the eastern culture and philosophy extensively, he knew very well what Shadow means to the east.

Interpreting T.S. Eliot is beyond my pay grade, but somehow it seems that every critical analysis I have come across casts this “Shadow” of Eliot’s in the negative.  The oppressive force that exists between us and “reality” or “action”.  Calling to mind Plato’s shadow in the cave.  How do we crawl out of this cave enlightened and perceive these Shadows and their makers?  Aristotle questioned this and birthed the scientific method…where has that lead us?!?

The realities we perceive, the actions we take never really seem to change all that much on the whole.  In our attempts to analyze and understand we sanitize everything yet we have no answers.

“But the progressive Westerner is determined always to better his lot. From candle to oil lamp, oil lamp to gaslight, gaslight to electric light—his quest for a brighter light never ceases, he spares no pains to eradicate even the minutest shadow.”—Junichiro Tanizaki, In praise of shadows

Never satisfied we of the west push ourselves willingly over the cliff into “a clean, well lit” (Hemingway) madness.  Not realizing as Ursula K le Guin did that “to light a candle is to cast a shadow.”  

Not so long after completing his famous  poem “The Hollow Men” Eliot converts to Christianity, yet I still don’t believe that Eliot’s Shadow represents a malevolent force.  We have forgotten that the Shadow also exists in our western, Christian culture as well, Eliot also knew this.  There are many scriptures in the Old and New Testament describing Shadow in relation to God and creation.  

One of my favorites reads:

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”— Psalms 36:7

We can find refuge in God’s Shadow.  Christ is the light of the world, but he wraps us in his wings as he casts out the darkness before us.  Shadow is not complete darkness.  Shadow is the buffer zone between the reality of our complete unworthiness (“light”) and the abyss /separation (“dark”) we have with each other and our creator.

Where are we left today, what are we to do in what seems  this spiritual “Wasteland”?  My only answer can be that we must become refugees in the Shadow of God’s wings.


How to Live the Life You Desire

Follow your bliss.

This seems to be the primary psychological path to a happy life that is set forth by the sages of our day. When I was younger, I rejected this idea as being the opposite of God’s will. I believed that what I wanted was always in direct opposition to God’s will. Happiness was not the goal. Only obedience. It never occurred to me that the first step in doing God’s will is discerning the difference between my own will and God’s. Discernment is the crown of wisdom. How could a layman like myself hope to arrive at a level of knowing God’s voice and His will? After much reflection and questioning my own thoughts and beliefs, it would seem that God’s “voice” is not much different from my own consciousness. It is “me.”

The jury is still out on whether the division between God’s voice and my own is possible in the deepest parts. Can I make this distinction on my own? Is it possible to separate my own will from God’s? On a moral level, discerning God’s will is pretty dialectic. The Bible is full of “do this” and “don’t do that.” One can arrive at God’s will by reading His commands and by hearing those commands preached and taught. In this way, man’s conscience is purified and reprogrammed in a sense. This process is fine and good and well worth pursuing. However, I want to know God’s will in the inner parts. Does my own conscience bear witness to the truths that lead to doing God’s will? Are these truths self evident?

For a mom of five, living in the world, and working in this current system of trade, politics, and economy, the path to discernment is messy. I do not have a clear-cut rule to help me along the way. My days are full of diversion, interruptions, and switchbacks. I will set out in one direction only to find myself in the same place. This leads me to a kind of spiritual apathy and despondency. Spiritual despondency is like a treadmill, a whole lot of work but going nowhere.

Turns out this going nowhere builds muscle and slims, but unless one gets off the conveyer belt the fitness one gains walking miles in one place is never actualized. This is what a lot of spiritual pursuits feel like to me. Working hard, but not doing God’s will, or at least feeling like I am.

This is not the life I desire to live.

So how do I live the life I desire? A life of doing God’s will? I have found that following my bliss may be a better way to discern. When the soul is enlightened by the Law of the Lord, it properly orients itself to happiness. I believe it is impossible to discern what truly makes us happy without the law and commandments of God, the great tutors. However, this law is written on every man’s heart. We are without excuse. It is ultimate self knowledge.

If you know what makes you happy, truly happy- you can know God’s will. You can know yourself.

To watch the movement of the soul is a discipline that must be practiced by those who wish to live the life we desire. A happy life. A life of doing God’s will. For example, when the soul experiences a movement toward strife or anger, it is imperative to examine the current course or thoughts and beliefs. What am I thinking and believing that is causing this movement away from happiness? To repent from a false belief that is causing suffering is to do God’s will.

This is the tragic reality of the unrepentant sinner. To believe that sin will make one happy is the greatest suffering. I’ve never known an unrepentant sinner who was leading a happy life. This is a great training tool for children who are young on the path as well. A mother can ask, “Did that make you happy when you lied? What happened to your heart when you told the lie? Be still and look. What would make you happy now that you have done this?” It never fails, my children know the path back to happiness, and it is always the path of obeying God’s commands. God is ultimate reality. Ultimate bliss.

We were created so that by grace we may be happy with God in heaven. Heaven can be actualized on earth. It is in doing God’s will. Following God’s commands is ultimate happiness. Suffering is the caricature of sin. Suffering exists because we have not yet done God’s perfect will . We are not yet humble. I still experience suffering. However, I know by reading the lives of the saints, and by Christ’s example as well, that I can suffer without suffering. To be that happy… To be perfect…

If the soul is suffering because of unforgiveness, forgive. The joy that comes when we forgive an enemy is the indication that we have done God’s will. This examination of conscience is applicable to all sin. Look where you are unhappy. There is sin there. With this belief, it is easy to understand that to suffer is not the sin, it is our response to our hardship that creates the unhappiness. This is my understanding of, count it all joy.

Sin does not make us happy. If this were true, God would have played a cruel joke. He would have placed us in a reality that ensured our misery, death, and ultimate separation from Him. In contrast, the path to God and living the life we desire is pathed in happiness. This happiness kindles a relationship, likened to a warmness of heart in knowing God in the inner parts. This for me is communion. Friendship.

Follow your bliss. Not like the pagans, but as a child of God- created to be happy with Him in heaven.

This is how to live the life we desire. Heaven on earth. A happy life here and in the world to come.


Would The Real Orthodox Mother Please Stand Up?

It is 5 am.
A breathing machine. Early morning headlights. The neighborhood rooster. All sorts of mundane thunders. Not a one has disturbed my slumber.

Yet, the silent shuffle of a scared seven year old wakes me like a cold glass of water thrown in my face. It’s amazing really. How is it that I just know she is there, without a word, without a sound?  The door to our bedroom has been open to children for 17 years, and in all those years my husband and I have comforted each of our five wild and crazy-eyed kids through unthinkable childhood nightmares. Kids can dream up some twisted stuff.

It is a wolf this time.

I part the covers and she crawls under with me.  I feel her.  Her body fits perfect next to mine, a sure sign that very soon it won’t.

A few words about how to deal with imaginary fears, this wolf nonsense has to stop.  I squeeze her and kiss her. Meanwhile daddy, who has been silently assessing the situation and is returning from a trip to the bathroom, begins to remove whatever is piled on one end of the futon at the foot of our bed.  I hear the items hit the floor with blunt thuds, sounds like laundry.  I thought I put all the laundry up from there this afternoon. Slade assures me it’s not much of anything, mostly pillows.  A comfy spot is made, and I lift the covers, a signal that Elinor needs to make her way down there.  She knows the routine.  We all know the routine.

Elinor joins her brother, 3 year old Sam, he’s at the opposite end. He started out the night in that spot, unwilling to sleep in his big boy bottom bunk alone.  I worry that their feet will touch and war will commence. It’s happened before.

I try to settle back into my pillow.  My lower back is stiff, and my feet are hot.  I roll a few times, but it is no use.  I am awake, no going back.  I hear my husband, already relaxed.  I envy his sleep skills, singularity is such a luxury.

I am still thinking about the wolf.  Elinor said the wolf was trying to eat her.  What does that mean?  I resolve that the kids are watching too many cartoons.  I wrestle with how existential cartoons are these days. It is so cruel to lay such heavy societal burdens on our babies.  That’s it, we are taking a break. No more cartoons for awhile.  No more wolves, no more unnecessary burdens.

My house shoes and a new robe are on by this time.  I close the door on my sleeping brood and head to the kitchen, consoling myself with the quiet opportunity to sip coffee, pray, and write. I am already planning an afternoon nap.

Standing at the kitchen sink, filling my old-fashioned coffee pot, I look across the road and see that my neighbor’s kitchen sink light is shining, one square light in an ocean of black.  I wonder if it is LeAnn, my friend and mother to seven children.  Is she up too?  It could be anyone in her house, a kitchen sink light at 5 am could be anything.  The possibility that it is LeAnn comforts me. I say a prayer for her.

Prayer.  The thought comes that a single prayer prayed with attention is better than lengthy prayers said in distraction.  When I push the button on the coffee maker I make my way to the icons.  A single prayer with attention.

Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be Thy Name…

When I finish I return to my coffee and pour a cup.
And now here I sit at my desk, attempting to write about my role as an Orthodox mother. As I read over what I have written so far it occurs to me that not much more needs to be said.  The story of my morning is the story of my life as an Orthodox mother.  The melody changes, but the drone note remains…my heart bound by God and my family.

It’s hard to tell whom I love more, my family or God.  The two loves are so connected it is impossible to distinguish where one begins and one ends.  I do not think this is a wrong path for an Orthodox mother.  How can the humble love of either compete with the other…together they work as one.
How love works on us.

Perhaps some will assert that those who speak about the role of an Orthodox mother should be more specific.  I myself love to snoop on the details of the daily lives of Orthodox mothers.  Hello Instagram! However, I feel that while I glean much instruction from others, the real heart of Orthodox motherhood is unseen, wrapped in a mystery that makes it beautiful and strange and infinitely diverse.  There is nothing more fearsome for me than to look upon the humility and love of an ordinary Orthodox mother.  I try to mimic, and in some ways mimicking has been my lifeline as a convert.  In other ways it has set me up for major failures.

When we converted seven years ago I sort of had a crisis in my mothering- major plot twist.  The first wave of conversion brings with it a romance that is akin to falling in love, the second wave is like homesteading; establishing new routines, new traditions, new disciplines, new recipes, new everything.  I am currently in a third wave of conversion; I call it remaining. At some point, I have to stop converting and be Orthodox, be a Christian.  I have to accept that there is no such thing as an Orthodox mother, at least not in a singular or static form.

It is not Orthodox mother- it is Orthodox mothers. There is not one definition, only a million experiences.

We are different, you and I.  Different stages.  Different circumstances.  Different husbands.  Different children.  Different everything. And yet, we share so much.  We share in our love of God and family.  We share in our need to repent and dig deep and lean heavy on the strength of our Father.

Like modern cartoons, I believe that much of the modern spiritual writings, commentary, and opinions stir up existential angst…like a wolf come to eat us. Perhaps if I gave one piece of advice, one humble instruction, it would be this- pray. Stand before God with an open heart and pray. In prayer, God provides. If books and blogs have failed you, even if your priest cannot help you- God can. As mothers we can pray. Pray always.

My heart’s desire is to encourage you, to connect with you in the struggle.  If you are weary be refreshed in knowing that the Orthodox way is the way of love.  Let that love wash over you and break your heart and fill you up.

The sun is up now, and I promised my chicks pancakes.  The house is churning with arguments, math lessons, and PBS.  I have a to-do list that’s long and my back is still tight.  You understand. Somewhere in all of this there is life, the life of an Orthodox family.

Advent · Christmas · faith · Nativity · Orthodoxy · saints · winter

The Advent of Hope Comes in Darkness

blue and purple cosmic sky

In dark times we pray desperate prayers.  To be desperate is to be right on the knife’s edge of death and a miracle.  In our darkest moments it is a wonder how much faith we can muster- in our hopelessness there is so much hope.

Advent is a dark time- a winter of discontent, a black hole, a dark night.  Wise men know what to do when a star appears in a desperate sky.

If we are truth tellers we know that advent is for the hopeless, the desperate, the poor, the blind, the laborer. The sinner. Christ comes in the cave of our hearts, right in the midst of the wild beasts.  Our only hope- to welcome him as best we can- as we are- in fear. The light will penetrate the dark.  The black.  And it will hurt.

This is an advent of the soul waiting in hopeless hope.

He is the Tradition.  A light shining in the darkness.  A constant. Permanent. A star that appears as an absolute sign.  Christ is our Tradition- our Star- our Hope.

Christmas is miraculous.  And miracles come to the hurting, the dying, the desperate, the broken, the poor, the hopeless.

The advent of hope comes in darkness.

I have passed my life ever in night, for the night of sin has
been to me thick fog and darkness; but make me, O Savior,
a son of the day.
-The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete



faith · Lent · Orthodoxy · saints

Repent and Believe

…the Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the gospel.  Mark 1:25

It is difficult to discern the difference between being sorry for sin and being sorry for the consequences of sin.  Most of the time propriety keeps my sins nicely concealed, wrapped up in manners and decency and etiquette.  However, once in a while I am caught with my hand in the cookie jar. A slip of gossip, a quick yet horrid rant of anger, a spewing of pent up malice.  However small and dainty the slips might be, they reveal more than I like to admit.  Even an attempted recovery of placid mannerisms and sweet words cannot hide my heart- the truth.  Those who witness these momentary lapses of discretion are surely surprised.  Or are they?  I wonder if what we conceal is really hidden at all.  It is certainly not hidden from God, our Mother, and the saints.

I am known, whether I admit that or not.

To be known is a fearful thing if one is convinced.  We hide to protect, we conceal to survive, we lie to persevere. Pride makes the case that there is nothing so risky as coming out, coming forth, coming to ourselves.  The only safe path is isolation, because there in that small space we at least have the consolation of self love.  Poor and friendless as this place can be, it is no hell like being known for who we are- and not being loved.

The stronghold of a mind fortified with self love is like Jericho, the safest place on earth, the most strategic warriors are no match for its strength and might.  It is hard to give up such security, however this is just what repentance requires. Repentance is not a reinforcement of will to make the walls stronger.  It is a shout, a mighty shout of faith, and the walls come tumbling down.

What kind of faith can make walls fall, stones roll away, even the stones of our minds?  It is the faith to believe that Jesus told us the truth.  We must believe, and take Him at His word.  God is love, and He is a God of promises, not threats.  We must come up out of our graves, from behind our fortified walls, and let mercy heal us.  Love and humility are so kindred that perhaps they are the same.  For in one we find the other.  To be humble is to love, to love is to be humble.  And humility is not thinking we are less, it is believing simply in the gospel of good news- to receive it as a child- God is Love, and his mercy endures forever. It is a very humble thing to be loved.

When the walls fall, repentance replaces my obsessive fear.  It is no longer the consequences of sin that threaten my self love and make me afraid.  Repentance is being heart broken for sin itself- the deed, the wound.  Sin is alien.  It hurts- it should.  We must grieve when we fail to love. As we grieve, we change our minds- literally.  We change our minds about our enemies mostly.  This change of mind brings about chastity- when the inside matches the outside.  I no longer have a reason to hide behind manners, decency, and propriety- all of which make disguising sin a social sport.  Repentance brings change from the inside out, a chaste and genuine person shines through.  No hidden malice, despondency, vain talking. No guile.  No lie.

For what reason must we repent and believe?  Is some threat looming?  Some terror?

Yes, a great terror looms in the hearts of all men.  It is the threat of love.  It is the threat of peace.  It is the threat of glory.  If we would simply repent and believe, we would see our lives transformed by love.  The kingdom of God is at hand.

O Lord, vouchsafe unto us the gift of the Holy Spirit,
that we may perceive Thy glory,
and live on earth in peace and love.
And let there be neither malice, nor wars nor enemies,
but may love alone reign,
and there will be no need of armies, or prisons,
and life will be easy for everyone on earth.
St. Silouan the Athonite


faith · family · homemaking · Lent · motherhood · Orthodoxy

A Woman’s Hidden Heart

Once a very devout woman came to me and asked: “What shall I do father? I am illiterate and do not know the prayers. Will I be saved without praying?” I asked her: “You do not pray?” “Yes, I pray.” “So how do you pray?” “This is how I pray when sweeping the house. I ask God: ‘My Lord cleanse the dirt from my soul as I clean the dirt from the house and may I be pleasing to You as I am pleased with a clean home. And when I wash clothes I also pray: ‘O Lord wash away the evil of my soul, that I may be as clean as this shirt. And so I pray like this with everything I do.” “Live like this all your life. This is unceasing prayer. That is, in all circumstances, when you do something, you see the presence of God.”

– St. Paisios of Mt Athos

After twenty-one years of marriage and raising five children ranging from late teen to toddler I am amazed at the abiding simplicity that has guided my steps.  This is not what I expected to uncover when I went digging through the mommy closet. I expected to find some kind of dramatic story complete with conflict, rising action, and culminating in a profound revelation.  What I found is not that exciting.  It is not glamorous, and definitely not new.

The traditional Christian teaching on the family is something that my husband and I embraced from the beginning of our marriage. Our roles as father and mother have always been very important to us, and all decisions are made with this imperative in mind.  If something were to happen and I needed to work outside the home I would embrace that situation fully. However, as long as there is a way…I will be a keeper at home.  I am not perfect, but I do want to honor and love God by fully embracing my role as a wife and mother.  This is difficult to do. Our culture does not value the same things we are called to value as Christians.

Sometimes I despair that I am not doing a very good job as a mother.  I have discovered that this happens when I get too busy, too distracted, and therefore too tired.  The role of the mother is to nurture the family, body and soul.  This takes a tremendous amount of energy, and when I spend too much of my energy on other things, things that are not as important as my role as a mother, the family suffers.  Lent is a great time to look at these areas.  I have plenty to examine as I write this reflection. Together, let’s reflect on the beauty and simplicity of the Christian mission of motherhood.

In reading the Holy Scriptures, wise priests and monastics, and the saints, I have yet to find a complicated instruction for mothers. For example, in Titus 2 the Apostle Paul lays out the ordering of the Church according to the true faith.  In his instruction Paul admonishes all members to abide by sound Christian doctrine in whatever role they are fulfilling.  In the line-up is a simple and direct instruction for young women.  Starting at verse 4,  Paul commands the older women to “admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.”

What I can add to this very simple list of instructions is perhaps a bit of reflection.

  • Love their husbands
    What an honor and privilege it is to do life with my husband.  He is strong where I am weak, thank goodness.  He is a Christian.  He loves me and the children unconditionally, and he is loyal and good.  He works hard and tethers himself to a life of servitude for us.  He pumps the gas, changes the light bulbs, repairs the cars and house, mows the grass, handles the finances, and does all the things Mama can’t do, or would rather not do. For all of this, and because he is who he is, flawed and ordinary and beautiful, I love him.  How I show this love is not always on point.  I am selfish, needy, emotional, and did I mention selfish?  There are days when he is the last item on my list.  By the time I get to him, there is not much left. Somehow I do not think this is loving.  This Lent I have thought about how I can narrow my circle and put him in the center. Every wife knows how to love their husband well.  The key is arranging a life that makes this the top priority.
  • Love their children
    Above everything, to love our children is to lead them to God.  Parents first take their children to Church to be baptized.  We first love them by giving them to God.  What comes after flows from this primary act of love.  I asked a few wise and trusted friends of mine what they thought was the role of the mother in the family.  One friend explained by telling me a personal story.  She has two daughters in college and two still at home.  One daughter was struggling at college, and Mama decided to cook up a big mess of homemade favorites and send it to her daughter to help her through the rough patch.  She spent two days planning, shopping, cooking, and packaging the food.  As my friend was telling this story her eyes were full of love and empathy, her whole heart went into the food along with her tears and prayers.  This is what mothers do-they love and love some more.  This Lenten season I asked the Lord to rekindle in me a servant’s heart for my children.  Sometimes we have to forgive our children for being scoundrels and soften places in our hearts that may have grown cold toward them.  I am plenty perfunctory, but I want to be gentle, happy, kind, patient, and most of all attentive.  I have been praying the Akathist to the Mother of God- our mother helps us be loving, gentle, and devoted mothers.
  • Be discreet
    Intentionally unobtrusiveNot attracting attention. Sober. Sound. Safe. Temperate. You get the idea.  This one is so hard, yet when practiced it brings such peace.  I love the word, intentionally.  I would agree that if a mother is to be discreet it must be by her choice.  Shyness does not count…underneath shyness can linger brazen and harsh attitudes.  When I think of being discreet, I imagine making my circle smaller-as I mentioned above. Fewer friends, fewer conversations, and fewer opinions.  Read what is precious to the Lord, “Your adornment must not be merely external — braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” 1 Peter 3:3-4  To be discreet is to adorn ourselves with beauty.  Again, our mother Mary is the perfect example-let us follow in her footsteps.
  • Be chaste
    The Greek adjective is hagnos.  It means to excite reverence.  I can think of many things that our culture tells women they should arouse in others…reverence is not one of them.  Honestly, it is difficult to even know how to go about doing this.  Think about it.  Deeply.  For some of us, many things would need to change if we are to live chaste lives and excite reverence.  Another meaning of hagnos is pure from carnality.  The carnal sins concern our sexuality.  Let us reserve our sexuality for our husbands alone-keeping ourselves for him in a clean and modest way.  Why do we need or want attention from others?
  • Homemakers
    Another translation reads keepers at home.  To make a home we need to be at home.  If I am out and about too much, my home suffers.  Again, keeping at home, even for women who work outside the home, is an intentional choice.  All mothers are homemakers whether they work outside the home or not.  And all women can be at home more-we all can.  The world tempts us to leave, and we succumb, only to watch our lives morph into something we may not intend or want.  A mother’s focus on making a house a home is a beautiful discipline-and the results are heavenly.  A home that is cared for by a loving and dedicated mother oozes with comfort, creativity, nourishment, and vitality.  A home can be like a monastery-providing for the physical and spiritual needs of the family without much need for outside influence.  And the Lord provides for a mother who sets her heart on having a nourishing home.  I saw this on the mission field among the poorest of the poor-Christian women have lovely homes no matter their financial status.  It is a beautiful secret that Christian women all over the world share-the home.
  • Be good
    A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones. Proverbs 17:22.  When I looked up the word good in the Greek Lexicon, I literally laughed out loud; it defines good as pleasant, agreeable, joyful, happy. I am convicted and inspired to know that a joyful disposition is like a medicine to my family.  Forget the pharmacy…give them a smile!  I realize that there is need for real medicines, but what if a joyful atmosphere in the home really does affect health?  I believe it does-body and soul.  Godly joy is surely a result of deep humility.  When we give thanks in all circumstances joy results-the kind of joy the world cannot offer.  My husband and children LOVE for me to be happy and joyful.  When I am pleasant they are more pleasant, and this makes family life happy.          
  • Obedient to their husbands
    Let’s not be controversial…the Scriptures do not and cannot advocate abuse.  The kind of obedience this Scripture refers to has nothing to do with control, or suppression.  It has everything to do with respect and honor.  The Scripture that comes to mind is “like Sara who obeyed Abraham and called him Lord.” 1 Peter 3:6.  I tell my girls all the time, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”  I feel this way about the admonition to obey our husbands.  We can choose not to obey to prove a point, but we throw out the blessings of obedience.  Spiritual growth is impossible without obedience.  A mother, with all she has to do, cannot always seek out spiritual guidance from priests and monastics. However, she can obey her husband, and in this way she can progress.  As with all obedience it takes humility and practice.  A second blessing of obedience is order.  When the mother submits to the father she sets a great example for her children.  The mother models obedience and the children learn obedience.  A mother need not fear obedience to her husband, but rather expect great blessings!  I struggle to obey in this way, and I pray to my patron saint Righteous Anna, the mother of Mary, for help- the patron of homemakers.

Paul ends his admonition in Titus 2:11-13 by stressing the importance and reason for fulfilling our God designed roles, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  What hope we have as we fulfill our God designed roles as mothers.  When we are obedient to sound doctrine we preserve the true faith in blessed hope, passing it from one generation to the next, until the second coming of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.  The role of the mother in the family is essential and irreplaceable.  A woman loving and serving God and her family is a beautiful blessing to behold.  And the fruit it produces remains for generations.

The list below is an entry in my journal-a list of disciplines I work on day by day, year by year. I am young, and I am learning, like a crawling baby.  Perhaps the list will help you, as it does me, to cultivate a desire to become a better Christian mother.

Pray morning and evening prayers
Fast according to the calendar
Pray before meals and before major tasks
Make the sign of the Cross over food, before sleep, and in times of need
Use Holy water and lampada oil during times of suffering, sickness, and distress
Cultivate quiet
Speak gently most of the time
Celebrate name days
Make Prosphora (Communion bread)
Attend Sunday and Feast day liturgies
Read the Scriptures to the children
Make food for coffee hour
Visit Godparents and Grandparents
Wear our blessed crosses
Confess regularly
Place icons in bedrooms
Pray for the departed
Cook nutritious meals at home and eat at the table together
Forgive each other and those that offend us
Celebrate the Feasts with joyful traditions
Share with the poor in little ways that we can
Read the Psalms
Establish routines
Practice hospitality with family, friends, and neighbors
Include and care for animals in our family
Plant and care for a small garden

We, as mothers, are called to love God and our families above all, and sometimes this means adjusting our speed to accommodate those with whom we are walking.  I struggle with how to be pious without hurting. I do not want to scandalize my family, especially my children. In this too, I pray to Mary and ask for her prayers and guidance.  She is the perfect mixture of warm affection and piety-she will teach us.

If you struggle as I do, perhaps you can make a note card of the scripture below and place it where you will see it often. God does not despise even the smallest effort.
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. Isaiah 42:3 

Good Strength for the remaining time of Great Lent…let us struggle together and arrive at Pascha with our hearts renewed in love for God and our families.

Love to you, Mandy (Anna)

cooking · faith · family · food · homemaking · Lent · motherhood

Thursday’s Health Report- Consumerism

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Much of what the defenders of the status quo believe to be following a healthy lifestyle is punitive in nature, brilliantly constructed for markets that are driven by profits. This is especially true in the health food market. As a result, we restrict, inflict, prod, poke, examine, analyze, correct, eat this and not that, and chain ourselves to labels.  We pay emotional damages for how uneducated we are, how undisciplined we are, how sick we are, how weak we are…and we believe we deserve it.

The punitive approach to health weighs most heavily on moms (women in general really) who struggle with being enough.  It is very hard to be all things at all times, to do all the right things for our family’s health and happiness.  Women, and especially moms, are brainwashed in a sense.  It’s a false- image of womanhood that includes EVERYTHING- everything we are conditioned to believe is healthy.

As I have struggled with unhealthy habits and the extreme pendulum swings I think will correct unhealthy habits I have discovered a few things.  The first being that I must mistrust the image of womanhood that is constructed by the advertising monopoly if I am to understand the true nature health.  I am convinced that our health has been monetized and re-engineered. We have abandoned age old traditions in favor of supposed advancements and innovation, resulting in a health crisis created by consumerism gone mad.

Sit with that idea for a moment.  Just acknowledging this relieves stress.  It brings back a sense of power.  It detaches us from the frenzy, and our eyes are opened to a lie.

Monetized health does not have to be the norm for me and my family.  I can choose to take a different approach to health, and this approach does not cost a lot of money, it does not require a degree in molecular biology, it does not demand too much energy, and it is NOT punitive. In fact, it’s not really an approach at all.  It is not ideological, exclusive, or secret.

Nothing concerning true health is new-quite the contrary.  It is as old as it gets.  What I want to share, and hopefully work through as I journal, is the journey of living a truly healthy life, the life I was created to live.  Health is about being.  No gimmicks, no tricks, no new revelations, no cutting edge expert advise.

My first Thursday’s Health Report begins in a funny spot, however I think it hits the bullseye. If we as women want to begin to live, and live fully, we might consider getting off the conveyor belt of monetized health. We can choose to unsubscribe to the polls, the statistics, the clicks, the next miracle, the headlines, and the health drama. We can become UN-consumers.  This detox is hard, because we are conditioned to follow the advise of experts.  For reasons that are evident, yet hard to understand, women have willingly forfeited our God-given genius concerning food and health.  We think health is too complicated, too scientific, too much for us to take on ourselves.  This is true in cases of illness, when we truly need the expertise of trained physicians and healers. However, this is not true when it comes to everyday living and living well.

A Country Christmas

I truly believe women have a built in sense about food.  It is a knowing- knowing what to cook, how to cook it, and how to serve it.  The clues we need to Hansel and Gretel our way back to health are present in our food traditions, cultures, and families.  It does not take too many paces for a woman to retrace her steps and find the old country ways. My own Texas farm heritage has wonderfully healthy food traditions; garden fresh vegetables, hearty beef, and lingering conversations at the supper table are three of my favorites.

Women have traditionally been the keepers of food traditions and the preservers of culture. There is something to discover in this- it is a blueprint of health that has preserved generations, and it is a beautiful part of womanhood. This unseen gift gets high-jacked by experts who through science and technology undermine the spiritual nature of the kitchen.  This loss of power, tradition, and confidence is where I want to begin my musings on Thursday’s Health Report.

Try this little exercise:

Go to your kitchen and stand in the middle of the room. Feel the space you take up, feel your weight, feel your body, connect with it.  Stay put for about three minutes.  Stay still until you feel something, anything. 

What did you feel?  Keep trying this exercise until your heart and kitchen connect.  Until you can pray with thankfulness for the opportunity to feed and nurture yourself and others. Often times when I do this, I feel a great sensation of warmth right in the center of my chest near my heart.  It is here that I pray to God.  It is our Creator that is the true source of health. True and deep prayer is also the protocol for a consumerism detox, and a rejuvenation of our food gift.   We have to give up our false- image and turn to the true Image. In this we experience joy, relief, healing, gentleness, mercy, and love- the very opposite of the punitive and rigorous nature of monetized health.

Thursday’s Health Report 3 Weekly Challenges

  1. Archive all the gimmicks and expert advise.
    This will be hard for me, however I know it is necessary.  Often times, I am distracted from being healthy by reading and studying about being healthy.  I want to fill up this extra time and head space with prayer, my duties, long walks, and cooking yummy healthy food!
  2. Don’t buy anything that has a health promise stamped on it. 
    This does not include prescribed medicines and supplements.  Otherwise, I am going to eat real food.  Nothing that has been over-processed, over-rated, or over-advertised.  This means I will do most of my shopping around the outside edges of the grocery store.
  3. Pray and wholeheartedly give thanks for the food that I eat.
    This might seem simplistic, but I wonder how often I do not connect with the Eucharistic nature of mealtime and food. I want to slow down and cultivate a heart of gratitude when it comes to food.  Food is so precious, and wonderful, and life giving. Glory be to God.

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    Will you join me, join the conversation, join me in a few real life challenges, join me in prayer?  This Lent I am hoping to regain health in my home, body, and soul.  I want to return and repent.  I want to regain power- the power that comes from a life that is centered in the right place.  Check back next Thursday for another report about where I am at in this journey. Thank you for reading.  Mandy