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

family · http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post · kids · parenting · pregnancy

The Reveal to Grandpa

Wow…this is precious!
faith · homeschooling · learning · motherhood · parenting · pregnancy · saints

Liturgical Life: August & September

August & September

August and September were full months indeed!  Baby Samuel was born on the 13th of August, and afterwards I observed my forty days of rest and healing.  Father Gregory came to the hospital to give a blessing after birth, and it was nice to have him there.  We had a small brunch at our house for Samuel’s eighth day naming, and Father Gregory came to our house for the first time.  We really enjoyed having him here and praying at our altar.  My churching took place at St. Arsenius hermitage.  As the end of the Church year approached I felt somewhat disconnected, until the Feast of the Dormition.  We did not do anything special as far as services.  The Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos was two days after Samuel was born.  It was a wonderful way to end my pregnancy.  Samuel’s name day was on the 20th of August, and we celebrated with a kiss and a blessing.  I was just not well enough to do anything more.

The beginning of the Church year, September 1, did not feel like a beginning to me.  I was still recovering, and the quiet of this house felt good and healing.  My brother Joshua’s name day falls on the same day.  We called him and said special prayers for him that night.  My husband is his Godfather.  I spent part of the day observing and praying before the Nativity of the Theotokos icon on September 8.  It meant more to me this year than in year’s past.  On September 14 we sang our Elevation of the Holy Cross song and studied the icon.  Sophia’s name day was on the 17th and we took her out to eat Asian food, her favorite.  We talked about St. Sophia, a favorite in our family.

What we are reading:
The story of Saint Sophia.

Special Prayers:
Prayers for the beginning of the Church year and the school year.

Special services:
Blessing after birth.
Eighth day naming.
40 day churching.

Special Projects:
We gave the plant shed a makeover.  We turned it into a little schoolroom for Addy and Caroline.  We bought an air-conditioner and new laptops for the online classes.
Beginning school year – September 9  

faith · family · http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post · parenting · pregnancy

The Crying Baby Test

The Crying Baby Test
A good reminder for me as I go back to Church.  It was difficult to manage my seven and three year old at times.  I wonder what Church will be like adding Samuel to the mix?  My friend posted this article on Facebook and I thought it would be nice to share here.

Below are photos of my Churching. I told my husband afterwards, “Well honey, we did it.  We got another baby born into this world.”  Churching has helped me find closure to a difficult journey, and I am thankful.  What a blessing to be Orthodox!

 

cleaning · cooking · faith · family · friendship · homeschooling · http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post · organizing · parenting · pregnancy

I’m Back…

Well this has been a very difficult recovery for me.  After an allergic reaction to a pain medication, a trip to the ER for what turned out to be post pregnancy hypertension, and a more painful recovery than ever I finally feel like posting something today.  Before today I could not even set at the computer, and I did not feel like doing anything.  Thankfully I have been able to hold my precious new baby boy, and nurse, and snuggle practically non stop.  That part is wonderful.

I hope to return to my homeschooling series this coming week.  I am also looking forward to getting our homeschool plans finalized and a few things organized.  I have high hopes for some cooking and general homemaking.  After being practically immobile for 21/2 months, surgery, and recovery complications my body is slow and a little weak, however I do not mind taking it easy.  It feels so good to be up and moving and really present.  My mom pointed out that instead of surviving my day I could now take things in and let things go out again…I could be at peace after a hard work.

Things can never go back to the way they were before Samuel was born.  My work, my schedule, my time, my priorities…they are all changing and adjusting and coming into a new normal.  I love it!  And I love making a place for Samuel.

As fall approaches and summer fades I can barely write this post without crying.  For all those who prayed for Good Strength…thank you.  A season has come and gone…it was hard, but I love the fall.  My struggle is now my joy…it is joy for my whole family.

faith · family · http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post · parenting · pregnancy

Introducing…Samuel Andrew { 10 lbs and 22 1/2 inches }


Birthday: 8-13-2013


 Happy at the Hospital!

 Already out playing with baby brother!

 Dad and Father Gregory at the eighth day naming.

 Father Gregory and my children.

We are  happy to have Samuel home and healthy.  We are so in love with him..  A boy has brought a different kind of joy, and our hearts are so full.  Glory to God for all things!
faith · family · marriage · parenting · pregnancy

I can’t sleep…

Birth is a bloody ordeal….

Tonight as I lay wake unable to sleep…my mind is filled with images that I attach to certain memories of how I have given birth…not the natural way…but no less bloody…no less a gift.

Tomorrow my skin and tissue will be pierced and I will bleed and water will flow…and Samuel will be taken from me and take a breath of this air…and I will not get to hold him for very long…and the lights will go out…and the doctor will sew me up…and he will staple me with metal clamps…and bandage me…and the nurses will wash me…and I will wake and feel the wound…it’s not the natural way…but it is still a labor…and it hurts.

My mom was not left with a scar after I was born…but she bled.  Her blood poured from the place that makes her helpmeet…the place a young girl becomes a bride…that place that receives life…that just receives.  On the day I was born that place gave…it gave birth.

What does it mean for me and Samuel…to birth in such an unnatural way…from my belly…the child never passing through the door that closes all on its own after the gift is given…the belly cannot give birth…men have bellies…what do I call what I and Samuel will do tomorrow…we will do our best…which is not the best…we will do what we can…and we will finish…and we will meet each other on different terms…we will be patient with one another because being deprived of labor makes us a little like strangers…a little shy…the sterile quite of anesthetized pain has robbed us both of the trauma that cleanses…that bonds.

And when we both come to our senses…we will behold one another with sober eyes…and it will all be natural…and we will love…and he will take in the one thing that I can give…the breast…and I will feel for the first time the natural sensation of pain…and it will feel good…it will feel right.

And when the doctor comes to inspect the wound I will hurt…but not my heart…not anymore…not after five…not after five wounds…five scars…five amazing blessings…not after…not ever.

organizing · pregnancy

C-Section and Mama’s Hospital Bag

Packing my hospital bag for a scheduled C-Section has been fun this week.  Some of these items are essential for a natural birth also, but after four c-sections I can recommend that some of these products be in your bag.

  • My cousin recently gave me this little tote from Thirty-One, and I thought it would work great for the hospital.  I packed all my toiletries in the handy little bag for quick access and for great organization.  With a c-section I will stay in the hospital for at least three days and two nights.  That means that when the nurses finally unwire me completely I will be allowed to shower.  Oh how I look forward to that first shower to wash away all the sticky surgical stuff.  It’s wonderful!  So, after a trip to Wal-Mart to pick up small toiletries: body wash, shampoo/conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste/ tooth brush, mouthwash, and lotion I organized everything in this little tote.  I am excited about how compact it is and hoping it will make things a little easier in the bathroom. 



  • Also packed in the tote are pre-shower essentials: lip balm, belly butter, facial wipes, and flushable sanitary wipes.  The lip balm is wonderful when I come out of recovery and my lips are so dry.  I also like to wash my face after surgery and freshen up a bit before the family joins me. (I also brush my hair.)  A few hours later I put belly butter on my wrinkled, sore, and parched belly.  It feels so good to have the baby delivered, and it feels wonderful to moisten the skin that has been stretched to its limits.  I get HUGE when I am pregnant.  The sanitary wipes are for day two when I am not yet able to shower, but I would like to feel clean and comfortable.

       



  • After my shower I usually change out of the hospital gown into a comfy pair of modest pajamas.  I bought these online at Wal-Mart, and I have washed and wore them already.  They are the most comfortable pj’s I have ever worn, and they do not look or feel cheap.  I may buy another set in a different color.  Did I mention they are also nursing pajamas?  They are my favorite buy so far.  I will pack two extra pajama sets, one for day three and one for accidents.



  • Another Wal-Mart online score I found was a pair of very comfortable nursing bras.  I like to wear soft bras before my milk comes down.  It keeps me supported and the dropping is less painful.  I even wear a bra at night, and so the bra has to be comfortable.  I love this bra.  It is soft, but supportive, just what I was looking for.  And the price was great!





  •  I also pack about four pairs of granny panties.  These wonderfully big and comfortable panties are a must after surgery.  They DO NOT touch in all the right places.  I bought a size larger than I would have if I were my normal size.  The hospital supplies mesh panties that I love, and I usually save my cotton panties for the day I go home.  I pack extras just in case, or if I have an accident.            

    Some other goodies to take along:

    • A small make up bag with only the essentials: a pressed powder, tinted lip gloss, blush, mascara, and eyelash curler.  Yes, call me vain, but I do think I look refreshed and relaxed when I put on my basic face.
    • A brush and elastic bands for my hair. ( I put these into the tote.)
    • A robe.  I am not sure that I will need this.  It is very hot, and the hospital supplies an extra gown to put on backwards for the walks in the hall after surgery.
    • A small traveling icon set.
    •  Electronics: camera, video camera, and phones.  I have fully charged all these devices, but I am taking along charging cords just in case.
    • A very loose and comfy going home outfit.  I was so inspired by the blue polka dot dress that Princess Kate wore when presenting her son to the world.  So, I decided to wear a pretty maternity sundress that I have as my going home outfit.  I packed a little pair of espadrille shoes to go with it.  
    • A nursing cover.
    • My own feminine products for going home.  I will use what the hospital provides until I get ready for the trip home.  I bought the overnight product because they looked large and comfy.
    • Socks with grips on the bottom.  My first steps in the days after surgery are very unsteady, and I feel secure with grips.
    • A strong support maternity belt.  I have a condition called diastasis recti, and this garment has helped me function.  This is by far the best maternity support belt I have ever used.  I am taking it to see if it will help postpartum.

        

      I am getting so excited for the surgery day.  I used to get down about having a c-section, but I am older now.  I just pray for safety for me and baby, and I am thankful for the modern technology that allows me to have babies.  What have you packed in your hospital bag?  Or do you have a suggestion that I must know about?  Happy Packing- I know I am having fun!

          

cleaning · faith · family · parenting · pregnancy

Liturgical Life: May & June

Well, I have not posted in quite some time.  I have been spending ALL my energy growing a baby.  I have a litany of illnesses, pains, and problems I could share, but why bother?  All is well with baby, and that is the most important thing.  My struggles, when discussed, sound like complaints and bitterness.  I am sure those two ingredients are in the cake mix, but there is also joy, and great expectations, and pleasure.  It’s all there mixed up together, and the timer is about to buzz, and out will come the yummy deliciousness of a baby.  Don’t babies just make you want to eat them up?  The hot time in the oven is worth a cake any day.

So, this Liturgical Life post is going to be a little unorthodox, in the sense that I am going to post about the liturgy of just living.  I have no great books, or prayers, or services, or projects to report.  No, we have nothing to share in the traditional sense, but I do have a story.  The liturgical story I can honestly tell is one that is hard to put into words.  When something is hard to say, it usually means it was hard to understand.  Our liturgical life from May through June has been hard to understand.  But, life is not always easy to understand, especially if I am trying to put everything in a check the box kind of list.  So, here goes, I hope I say this right:

What we are reading:
A wonderful book lies on the side table in the living room.  We are on chapter something, I cannot remember.  What we have read is enough for me to have a certain heartbreak every time I look at its cover.  The girls asked about it for a while after we stopped reading it, but now they have stopped.  It’s stories are haunting, in the sense that they are wonderful; a truly humble priest who loves God very much struggles for himself and those around him in a Communist labor camp in Communist Russia.  Why did I stop reading it?  Because I imagine I cannot.  Because I am tired.  The very thing that might cure my weariness is the hardest thing to do.  This realization is humbling, and I know who I really am…no spiritual giant, no hero, no suffering servant.  I am a sinner.  I have deep seated faults and weaknesses.  Lord Jesus have mercy on me and help me.    
 Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father

I have read the books of Hebrews, Galatians, and Ephesians, in that order.  I have been meditating on righteousness, and what it means to be a friend of God.  I have cried out to the Lord for years to help me with guilt, the kind of guilt that is unhealthy and a result of perfectionism, pride, and self-righteousness.  In this very unproductive season of my life, a time when I am forced to stop production and just rest, I am experiencing the righteousness of Christ Jesus.  I wrote a little expository piece entitled A Persistence in Innocence that I may share in the future.  But, for now I am contemplating the finishing work of Jesus and the revelation that He is.  He is the full revelation of God and Man.  He alone is perfect, and I am His.  I have not included my children in these readings, but on a heart level I believe they are experiencing Christ through the work of grace going on in my heart.         

Special Services:
 PASCHA May 5
Ascension June 13
Pentecost June 23

We have not attended any special services outside of Sunday Liturgy (we have missed some Sunday Liturgies due to my hip pain) and the above listed.  This Saturday we did go to the Hermitage for Liturgy, but my comment afterwards to my husband was this, “Is it wrong that the only reason I went to the service today is because I love Father Gregory so much, and I miss him?”  I have not been able to talk with Father Gregory, our spiritual father, very much in the last few months.  He has called several times to check on me and the family, but I have not seen him.  In a very real sense I believe that there are times in our life when people are Christ to us.  Sometimes we have a hard time with the unseen, and men and women of God help us to hold onto the faith.  I see Christ in Father Gregory, I feel safe resting in his piety and love, and I long to be with him when I feel weak.  A monk is a special gift to the church, and Father Gregory is a blessing to our family.

Special Projects:

This section is a tribute to my husband, and especially my daughters.  To be in the service of another, to bear their burdens, and to bind their wounds is the very essence of Christ.  My daughters have had to bare a large burden sense I have been unable to work, cook, or plan activities.  They have cooked, watched little ones, kept the laundry going, and cleaned while I have been down.  Their little ways make me feel very vulnerable, and I have learned a lot watching them as they obey and serve.  It has been hard at times, and attitudes and tempers flare as we are all stretched and pushed.  However, the love they have shown and what they have had to do is the true work of salvation.  Although I struggle with guilt and anger about them having to care for me, I also know that if I shelter them from this time of service I will rob them of a true grace.  This is not to say that I will always depend on them at this level, and I definitely do not want to take advantage of them or hurt them.  I look forward to things getting back to some semblance of normal.  But, this is a special time, and a very special project.  It has definitely been ugly at times, the house looks like kids have been running it, as my oldest daughter would say.  But, we are a family and we are pulling together, and that is very special.     

         

faith · family · parenting · pregnancy

Do We Have Another?

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Physical Economic Psychological Social Work Load
Severe morning sickness Extra eating out expense Guilt from neglect of kiddos Family will be very stressed by the news Older children will take on a lot
Weight gain and stress on bladder due to very large babies. Maternity clothes Frustration at not being able to accomplish all that I need to. Older children experience social neglect and being bored Daily chores and responsibilities become very hard to get done
Lack of sleep and severe back pain Buying new things for baby and doctor visits Fear about approaching c-section. Family very stressed at watching me at the end of pregnancy Not able to garden or work outside much.
Possible diabetic and swelling episodes…5 c-sections and scar tissue Paying for hospital and doctor Unable to be intimate and feeling very fearful and disconnected Decisions are made solely around the preg. outings, play dates, trips, etc.

I found this journal entry that I made over a year ago, and it only reflects my pregnancy experiences.  Missing from this chart are the countless additions that could be added as a child grows.  But, I guess on this day I was just thinking of pregnancy and all that comes with it.  When I look at this chart I am really blown away by the things that I worry about and struggle with when I am pregnant.  Father Sergius, in a wonderful homily, commented that whatever vocation or situation a person finds themselves in, it can be a great opportunity for holiness.  I have to admit that each of the struggles listed above have not always been met with holiness.  In fact, quite the opposite.  Like when I am severely sick and throwing up twelve times a day.  Things get ugly.  Suffering in the body has always been a very difficult struggle for me.  The chart is a record of the areas where my trust in God is challenged and stretched, but I think it is also a record of just how very human I am.    

I have always wanted more babies, but getting them here is hard on me and my family.  I have been accused of being idealistic and not truly evaluating my situation.  Those who love me test me.  I think this spreadsheet was an examination of my conscience and me trying to get real about the facts of my pregnancies.  It is not hard for me to see the positives of having a baby, but apparently I overlook some of the facts.  I would not necessarily call these concerns negatives, just struggles.

In the end, the positives outweighed the struggles.  However, for us, the concerns are important, and the process of discernment is taken seriously.  Were any of the reasons enough to keep from becoming pregnant a sixth time?  Obviously not.

Only God truly knows the motives of our hearts, and it takes courage to be honest with ourselves and with others.  To be humble and obedient no matter what we face as a married couple has been and will continue to be a hard work.  Saying, “We are done,” is a frightful statement, and one that has been impossible in the past.  As we discern and make important family decisions I pray for mercy and wisdom.  I also pray for courage and a willingness to be honest.  If the decision to stop is made, it will be out of our weakness, and it will not be something that we shout from the rooftops.  Children are such a blessing, and to not be open to another is a sad thing for us.  It is difficult to be honest about where we truly are in this decision.  It is difficult to balance obedience with common sense.  It is difficult to admit that things are not always black and white.  It is difficult to let others judge while following our conscience.  These are our true struggles.


Everybody wants to know, and it is almost the first question they ask me when I tell them the good news of our first son, “Is this your last one?”  It’s sad really, like we only had this many to have a boy.   Is it ever right to limit the number of children we have?  Searching for the answer to that question over the years has uncovered so many unanswered questions and revealed so many weaknesses.  It has also made me confront my unbelief and challenged my hypocrisy.  How then shall we live…with this knowledge….with this faith…now how do we live.  To walk out the faith is a fearful thing.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling… 
Philippians 2:12