faith · family · homemaking · kids · Lent · motherhood · Orthodoxy · parenting

Guest Post @ Illumination Learning

A Woman’s Hidden Heart 

If you have not already signed up to receive Illumination Learning‘s posts via email…do so!  Full of practical and spiritual advice for the Orthodox mother, father, and educator. Love Jennifer’s kindness and wisdom!  Click the link above to read a post I wrote as a Lenten reflection for mothers for Illumination Learning. Thank you.

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baby · faith · family · homemaking · kids · motherhood · parenting · saints · Uncategorized

What I want my daughters to know about the 2016 US Election

(I wrote this three days before the election.)

A certain Hillary Clinton campaign add depicts small children innocently watching the television as Donald Trump makes fun of the disabled, offering up one calloused and derogatory remark after another to the massive crowds at his rallies. The television add ends with this epitaph, “Our children are watching.”

Epitaph, you say?  Yes, in an horrifyingly ironic way Hillary’s tag line is like an inscription on the tombstone of the unborn.  Our children are watching-in memory of the children who are not watching the television, the children who are not our choice.

Dear daughters, labor to discern the times and ponder what is good and true and beautiful.

We live in a world where it is not okay to make fun of the disabled and yet it is perfectly okay to abort a disabled child.  Understand the times. Ponder how evil is always rooted in some convoluted lie-some twisting and confusion of the truth.

Mother Angelica said, “I do not vote for candidates, I vote for life.”  And this is where I stand.  All other issues flow from this one issue…life.

Hold your ground as a woman.  Do not be deceived by women who tell convoluted lies.  For woman is created to be a child-bearer, physically and/or spiritually.  And bearing children is hard and you will suffer.  As long as I am alive I will help you bear this burden.  As a woman I will try my best to support you.

And do not hate men.  Come alongside them and bear their weaknesses.  Do not be deceived by women who tell convoluted lies.  For woman is created to be a help meet, physically and/or spiritually. This is hard and you will suffer.  As long as I am alive I will help you bear this burden.  As a woman I will try my best to support you.

Hillary Clinton does not represent me as a woman, nor does any other woman who shares her ideology.  She represents all I am trying to repent of, sin that is rooted in a strong-willed desire to rule.

Stay veiled- stay hidden- stay quiet in spirit- stay repentant.
Look to the Theotokos, pray, and remember the icon of motherhood.
Do not be deceived by convoluted lies.
Remember the woman who ran for President of the United States of America in 2016- remember her in your prayers.
If she wins-keep praying.

To the woman he said, I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in sorrow you shall bring forth children; and your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you. Genesis 3:16

faith · friendship · homeschooling · kids · motherhood · parenting

Sidetracked by Loneliness

Homeschooling can be a lonely business.  At times we home school mothers experience isolation so acutely that we feel derailed, lost, sidetracked.  This is a weird phenomenon given the fact that we are with our children all day each and every day- well, most days.

Many factors contribute to loneliness, and each mother has a different set of circumstances and a different list of needs.  What we do share is the need for true connection and friendship.  If we perceive that this need is not being met, our days can take on a sort of depressive gloom that trips us up -the heart occupied with a nagging sadness is heavy, and this contributes to an overall sense of loneliness.

I cannot say that I have found the answer to this problem.  Maybe its not a problem that must be solved, but a reality that must be understood. It’s strange how we can have wonderful friends, and still feel lonely- disconnected.  We may have a Church family, a great mother, a spiritual father, an attentive and sweet husband- and yet, there is this disconnect.  This makes me wonder about the monastic nature of homeschooling- how spending my days away from the madding crowd is a much bigger spiritual struggle than I give credit.  Whether I understand why or how, the fact remains that I deal with loneliness.

We are very afraid of loneliness…we are especially afraid when our children experience loneliness.  It’s hard-the hardest thing I do as a homeschool mother of five, and some days I give into the schemes, the plans, the frenzy of a mind panicked.

I will it not to be so.

I am not very good at manufacturing happiness.  I’ve tried-boy, have I tried.  I’ve tried so hard that there was no space left on the calendar, no wiggle room, no chance for loneliness to sidetrack our happiness.  In the end this happiness was about as one dimensional as the wall calendar it was written on. It took mom and children to the brink…and we dangled there for awhile until finally- I came undone.

Because facing fear is about coming undone…it’s about unclinching the fist and opening up to the possibility that even if everything I fear comes upon me I am still held, I am still loved, I remain, we remain.

Deep and abiding fulfillment takes courage.

The courage to live it.

And homeschooling will stretch this courage very thin. I imagine that many of life’s circumstances stretch our courage thin.  We all fear being alone.

We praise thee, the Mediatress for the salvation of our race, O Virgin Theotokos; for in the flesh taken from thee, thy Son and our God hath deigned to endure the Passion through the Cross, and hath redeemed us from corruption, since He is the Friend of man.
~ Hymns of the Resurrection

jesus

Mediatress teach us your self giving love.  Make us worthy to receive your gifts and to know your abiding friendship. O Friend of man, make us worthy of your friendship and worthy of the friendship you give us in those precious souls here and now.  Help us endure the loneliness that comes from our own sin, and help us to know your mercy.  For Thou art good and lovest mankind.

faith · family · homeschooling · kids · motherhood · parenting · teenagers

What Teens Really Need

Yesterday, I was told a story about two very great kids we know, a young man and woman, who were caught in the library making out. I chuckled at the story…who knows if it is even true.  Both, age 16, come form great homes and are homeschooled.  Again I just chuckle…not because I am laughing at the indiscretion or making fun in the least, it’s just funny how we homeschool moms think that homeschooling will somehow insulate our teens from the normal processes of growing up.  I was kind of laughing at myself, knowing that in some sense the way I have chosen to parent could leave me vulnerable to such gossip.  It could happen to any of us.

And what if it does?!
Will the world come to an end?
Will all our efforts have been for nothing?

These fears reflect a very deep rooted heart condition, a condition that is hard to admit and face.  To face these fears is not simple, it requires true inquiry and reflection, and a willingness to be undone.

It’s crazy that we even wrestle with these fears…the very fact that I am alive and well and striving to live a life before God is proof that indiscretions do not ruin teenagers…I had plenty, and I survived. I was a good girl, but I made out with my husband before I married him.  My teenage girls know this, we have talked about love and sexuality and attraction and marriage…I have shared my heart with them and also my experiences, letting modesty and discretion be my guide. I do not glorify sin…but I do not see sin in everything.

Teens need real.
Teens need mercy.
Teens need relationship.
Teens need lots of conversation.
Teens need fun.
Teens need trust.
Teens need firm convictions.
Teens need unconditional love.
Teens need prayer.

Parenting with fear seems to be the norm these days, and I am guilty at times.  This culture has turned structures upside down, and it is scary…very scary.  Sometimes I watch my teens and I think; this is all they know, this culture is all they know.  Reality is that we are a part of this culture, and we will either cower in fear or face it head on, and the struggle will not leave us unscathed whichever path we choose.  There will be indiscretions…every generation has had indiscretions.

Parenting teens brings me to my knees.  In prayer I know that I must resist the urge to bolt from my heart and rule with an iron fist of fear.  In His hands, and living in His presence will see us through, for Love conquers all.  Love is the opposite of fear.

Perfect love casts out fear.  1 John 4:18    
faith · family · homemaking · homeschooling · kids · learning · marriage · motherhood · parenting · teenagers

How to Not Be Empty

Beware of the barrenness of a busy life. -Socrates

I really don’t know when I got it in my head that I desperately needed to outsource in our homeschool to be successful.  After Samuel was born I think I was determined not to let another baby hold my older children back from their goals (my goals is more like it). It was a great plan, so I thought… just let someone else teach them, hold them accountable.

What followed was a year of schooling outside the home, in co-ops and online.  How I reasoned that packing this gang of five up in a car and traveling an hour one way was an easier way to educate my upper level students is kinda foggy…but I do vaguely remember my husband warning me, counseling me, shaking his head at me.

At first we were cooking with gas…getting lots of educational stuff done, making friends, going to fun activities, and in general just enjoying the new day to day.  We were busy, and in the beginning that felt as if we were thriving.  However, after a little while I noticed that our lives were becoming less and less centered at home. My cooking became weird, our prayers too sparse, everyone was going in different directions, the littles were being cared for but not cared for, I was growing more and more discontent, and in general just feeling disconnected with myself and my family, especially my husband.

And then a few weeks ago I hit a wall, circumstances collided and my choices became clear…all that is left now is to correct course.  My mom commented, “Mandy, thank goodness you have things you can cut without hurting anyone…the activity and busyness of your life can be easily remedied.”  Her comments are those of a woman who knows what it is like to have responsibilities that cannot be remedied.

The ability to correct busyness is a blessing, almost like a gift, and I am very grateful for the freedom to choose the life I desire and need.

I see now that my outsourcing was about fear and pride…it was me believing that our home life was not enough…that I was not enough.  Ironically, it is the outsourcing that is causing a true emptiness, an exhaustion and distraction that makes me unavailable. It also refocuses our life on things that are not bad in themselves, but result in a deep and true distraction nonetheless.

So, here is my remedy for emptiness…how to not be empty…Go Home!

Women leave home for many reasons, and I only judge myself, we all have stories.   Sometimes home seems the most empty place on earth and outsourcing presents itself as a remedy, and for some this may be true.  However, for me my home is a fountain of grace, a constant outlet of energy, and a nourishing refuge.  Home is my remedy for emptiness, my journey has taught me this.

boys · family · kids · learning · motherhood · parenting

Honoring the Process

When I was a young teenage girl my mom and dad traveled to Indonesia on a missionary trip.  Of all the stories they came back with I remember one in particular.  The home where my parents stayed belonged to a middle class Indonesian family and they had three small children.  My mother was very intrigued by the way the mother of the home handled her children.  The maternal grandmother also lived in the home, and she was as much a part of the children’s daily care as the mother.

What impressed my mother the most was how well behaved the little boys were…how pleasant.  As she watched the ladies care for the children she was shocked to see that the word “no” was hardly ever used.  In fact, most of the day was spent following the children around and gently redirecting, letting the children explore, climb, and play at will.  The mother or grandmother stood by quietly, always watching and ready to catch, hold, and otherwise facilitate the child’s self direction while securing their safety.

One afternoon my mother witnessed the oldest boy eating his lunch while riding his bike in the street with his friends.  The mother was standing on the other side of the front yard fence with a bowl of rice and vegetables, and every few minutes the boy would ride up to the fence and get a bite from her then return to riding.  He ate the entire bowl while playing with his friends.

As a mother I just love that image.

Motherhood is a wondrously complicated and highly individual art. It is shaped by unfathomable impressions, memories, experiences, and nuances.  It is absolutely impossible to know what a mother is supposed to do or why she does what she does.  These things are shaped by something unseen, something that resides in the heart of the mother and is incomprehensible to others.  I told the story above to share just how this heart is developed.  Like a magnet that attracts all the metal in the junk drawer, a woman has been collecting her mother conscious all her life.  The boy on the bike eating his lunch in freedom was given to me second hand, and yet it has been a powerful metaphor for child raising in my own experience.  This is miraculous when one ponders the nature of how we humans go about caring for our young.

I think that most of the skills, knowledge, and abilities we have as mothers are gained through the organic process of living.  And if we stay connected to the vast storehouse that is the present moment we have everything we need to be a good mother.  I have heard women say, “I was never taught how to be a good mother.”  And I agree if what is meant by this statement is more truthfully, I never had an example of a good mother in my life.  However, I do not think this makes it impossible to be a good mother…what wisdom and heart can be found in the pain of a troubled childhood.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28

The greatest tool I have ever used as a mom is awareness…just practicing awareness.  In each moment, if I am truly present I am always enough.  I am never perfect, but I am enough.  Within my heart I have everything I need to love and cherish and mother my children…it’s all there, everything I have collected and experienced has brought me to this moment, and I can trust my own heart.  Honoring this process and recognizing it is dynamic is the tricky part.  This gaining and collecting process is ongoing and very much alive.  It is natural to change and grow as a mother as I live longer…motherhood is not static.

Another aspect to this process is that as a community of mothers it would be wonderful if we honored the process in each other.  When a mom says she needs support she is not asking for advice or the latest parenting self-help book per se.  What she needs is for someone to get to know her well enough that she can share her heart with that person.  And it is in the sharing of the heart that women come to themselves, that they learn through communal sharing…women are very communal.  When we honor each other we intrinsically honor ourselves, and this type of friendship is authentic and life giving.

I suspect that the reason I have been struggling with my parenting lately is because I have not been honoring the process…I tend to demand a type of static perfection.  And this is lazy parenting. Awareness demands that I stay present, plugged in, and connected with my kids.  As far as I know Moses has not come down off the mountain with the 10 laws of motherhood, oh wouldn’t that be easy…or maybe not.

Maybe being a good mother is kind of like standing at the fence and feeding the child while he rides his bike…being that stable source of nourishment while the child rides like the wind.  Maybe it’s just being willing to roll with it and trust that what’s in my bowl is enough.  Maybe it is acknowledging where and how my bowl is filled.

 And maybe what makes a great friend and support is that I honor that process in you.              

                

family · kids · motherhood · parenting · teenagers

Brace Yourself

Before…
 After.

Today Adalay got her braces off.  How exciting.  We went for cheese burgers afterwards and shopping for girly stuff…makeup, soaps, and hair products.  I love my time with Addy.  It is wonderful to parent teens….enjoying the journey today.  
fun · homeschooling · http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post · kids · learning · parenting

Homeschool Convention

I am going to the Texas Homeschool Convention with my sweet sister-in -law.  I have not gone to one in a couple of years, but this convention has a lineup of seminars that interest me…they are practical and informative.  I am especially interested in the seminars on high school transcripts/portfolios/scholarship applications.  I am also looking forward to introducing my SIL to the wonderful world of homeschool books and curriculum.  She and my brother are planning to homeschool their children.  Emmelia, their daughter, is my godchild. They are expecting baby number two, and I am super excited! 

faith · family · Orthodoxy · parenting · pregnancy

Sanctity of Life Sunday 2015

Archpastoral Message of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon

To the Venerable Hierarchs, Reverend Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America:

Dearly beloved,

Today (January 18), has been designated by the Orthodox Church in America as “Sanctity of Life Sunday,” a day on which we re-affirm our faithfulness to the eternal value of human life and re-commit ourselves to the defense of the lives of the unborn, the infirm, the terminally ill and the condemned.

Our proclamation of life is offered in the context of a world in dismay at the terrorist attacks that recently shook Paris, the latest in a series of seemingly endless tragedies throughout the world that unnecessarily claim many innocent lives.  Following this latest tragedy, Christians, Muslims, Jews and non-believers have engaged in discussion and debate about a range of issues, from human dignity to the responsibilities of political cartoonists, from freedom of expression to humanity’s capacity for tolerance.  Unfortunately, much of this debate is framed in an atmosphere of ideological violence, whether this be a “war on infidels” or “war on terrorism.”  In such divisive engagements, there are rarely any victors but only more victims.

As Orthodox Christians, who hold dear the revealed truth that the life of “all mankind” is
sacred, we might reflect, along with St. Nikolai of Zhicha, on the paschal victory of Christ over death and corruption:

“Christ’s victory is the only victory in which all humanity can rejoice, from the first-created to the last. Every other victory on earth has divided, and still divides, men from one another. When an earthly king gains the victory over an another earthly king, one of them rejoices and the other laments. When a man is victorious over his neighbor, there is singing under one roof and weeping under the other. There is no joyful victory on earth that is not poisoned by malice: the ordinary, earthly victor rejoices both in his laughter and in the tears of his conquered enemy. He does not even notice how evil cuts through joy.”

Our world is so full of these joyless and dark victories that we might despair of being able to put forward the hope and light of the Gospel message. We would do well to heed the words of St. Nikolai and keep our hearts and minds focused on our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, in Whom alone can solace, hope and joy be found in any meaningful and lasting way.

Indeed, Christ did not say: “I offer one of many complimentary paths”;  He said: I am the Way. Christ did no say: “I hold to the correct philosophical principles;” He said: I am the Truth. Christ did not say: “I subscribe to the only viable political agenda;” He said: I am the Life.

It is only possible to attain to this Way, this Truth and this Life through Christ and through the light that He bestows to those who strive to allow even a small beam of that light to enter their hearts and illumine their path. As St. Nikolai writes: “Christ’s victory alone is like a sun that sheds bright rays on all that are beneath it. Christ’s victory alone fills all the souls of men with invincible joy. It alone is without malice or evil.”

Let us therefore make every effort to offer this “victory of light and life” to those who are surrounded by darkness and death. Let us be bold in our adding our Orthodox voices in support of the value of every human person, born or unborn; let us offer consolation to the mothers who have undergone abortions and offer our prayers to them and to all who have been affected by this tragedy; let us affirm our Orthodox understanding of the human person as created in the image and likeness of God and yet in need of healing in Christ.

Let us, together with St. Nikolai, proclaim the great victory of Christ:

“A mysterious victory, you will say? It is; but it is at the same time revealed to the whole human race, the living and the dead.

“A generous victory, you will say? It is, and more than generous. Is not a mother more than generous when she, not once or twice, saves her children from snakes but, in order to save them for all time, goes bravely into the snakes’ very nest and burns them out?

“A healing victory, you will say? It is, healing and saving forever and ever. This gentle victory saves men from every evil and makes them sinless and immortal. Immortality without sinlessness would mean only the extending of evil’s reign, and of that of malice and wickedness, but immortality with sinlessness gives birth to unconfined joy, and makes men the brethren of God’s resplendent angels.”

With love in the Lord,
 
+TIKHON
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada

cooking · faith · family · homeschooling · http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post · learning · motherhood · Orthodoxy · parenting

Feeling Better

Over the Christmas holiday I have been as sick as I can remember.  Samuel , sadly, has been just as bad and even worse.  We had a virus run through the house, but it hit Samuel and I the hardest.  After one trip to the doctor, two trips to the urgent care, three different antibiotics for secondary infections, and every home remedy we could throw at this bug we are finally feeling a bit like our normal selves.   I am still fighting an ear infection, but it seems to be healing slowly. 

Somewhere around day five of this quarantine I began to relax, and then it hit me.  Maybe my lack of rest in general is why my body is not recovering like the others.  Sam and I have not slept well in months and months…and I think it just finally caught up with us. When I gave in and just let things be what they were going to be I began to see the tight knot that is wound up inside of me.  I am just plain tired, but the adrenaline I am addicted to that makes it possible for me to function is hard to resist.

And when Mamas get this run down we must resist adrenaline.
We must stop pushing through and rest.

Resting has been very good, and I have been eating nourishing food, sleeping late, and going very slow.  This has given me much time to think about my health.  I have also had plenty of time to sit and contemplate ways to better care for myself and my family.

When I look ahead at 2015 I can see some major projects, possibly a move, a heavy work load, and schedule.  And all these things are good.  However, I can also see that my inward state needs some nurturing if I am going to enjoy health and happiness this year.  I need better strategies to help me not feel so overwhelmed.

Here are a few things I am going to try…

Leaving Facebook

One giant step toward health for me is the choice to leave social media, Facebook in particular.  I once left Facebook for seven years, and I did much better with my inner life.  It has taken me a while to understand why I have this love/hate relationship with it.  It is not that Facebook is evil or wrong or anything like that.  I love the interaction and the keeping up with friends and family.  For me it is neurological. Something about the format makes me nervous…the scrolling and how my eyes jump from one thing to the next.  The amount of information is too much for me.  And once I start on this feast of information I get bogged down in it, and I spend way too much time on this site.  I know, I know, I could be more mature and set limits and all that…but I don’t.  I think the site’s design (the actual layout, advertisements, colors, lines, etc.) is very addictive for me.

Redefining my morning routine  

For a year I have been very angry that I cannot have the solitude that I think I need in the mornings. During this illness I came to terms with this and had a sort of funeral for my mornings in my mind…I must let that go and get into the groove of my baby.  That means I will have a new morning routine.  Instead of books and coffee and even lengthy prayers I am going to enjoy Sam.  A friend who had six kids  (I only had three at the time) told me that someday my mornings would be different…she was right.  She told me that she prayed a morning offering prayer before her feet ever hit the ground, and that was the foundation for her day.  She too was a lover of contemplation and books and coffee.  However, her life demanded that she take advantage of her mornings in a different way.  I am going to follow my friend and quiet my soul in this area.  I holler calf-rope, and it feels so good.

Revisiting my menu planning

My grocery budget is insane.  I know that food is expensive, but I could do better in this area.  My menus need to be simplified.  I have a five week menu cycle that I made when I had three kids, none of which ate like adults.  With two teenagers in the house and a tween that eats as much as her sisters, it is time to remake my menus to be more frugal.  What I spend on groceries stresses me, and it should…it’s too much!  I know my lack of planning and organization is the major problem.  Some ideas I have are to make double batches of soups, beans, casseroles, etc. and freeze them.  Also, I need to take advantage of sales and stock up on things we use more often.  Another strategy I have is to grocery shop early Saturday morning when the stores are quiet.  This one change would greatly reduce my stress in this area, and allow me to focus.

Refocusing our homeschool 



I have been in serous homeschool burn out mode this year.  It just feels so tedious and overwhelming.  And the truth is, it is!  Homeschooling this many kids, all at different ages and stages is a hard work.  But, it is my work…it is what I am called to do.  Through the prayers of the Panagia and Righteous Anna I am strengthened…  I do not labor alone or in vain.  I am reorganizing the school room, refreshing books, and working toward a more peaceful atmosphere.

Vespers on Wednesday nights

I would love to have this time of prayer on a weekly basis, but the long drive to the Hermitage or our Parish might makes this unrealistic.  For now I want to attempt once a month.

I told Slade today that the illness during Christmas was a blessing.  It forced me to stop…stop everything and really listen, really see.  I am thankful that we are all on the mend and that the new year has come.  What goals or resolutions do you have for the New Year?  I hope you are feeling the peace of Christ this season and the joy of His abiding love.  He is always with us.

Happy New Year friends!