faith · family · · saints

Cancer is a Scary Word

Cancer is a scary word…a word that evokes dread.  It is a heavy word.  It’s like in the Lord of the Rings when those who spoke of the Dark Lord used his various names with caution and trepidation.  I hate even saying the word. It is a disease of uncontrolled division of abnormal cells. Sounds like our world…a world that rejects communion, love of enemy, and oneness. 

A world that sees health as primarily physical... 

It is scientifically official.  You are what you eat…and breath…and touch.

I recently watched a short documentary about a Babushka that has lived her entire life in the Siberian wilderness.  Her father took the family into seclusion when she was just a baby to escape communist persecution. She is now in her seventies, the last member her family still living.  The wise woman described communism as the great science…the soul crushing science. 

 The modern answer to disease is soul crushing.

Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. 

These are my thoughts as I pray for my Mema, recently diagnosed with a malignant Melanoma.  It is black and ulcerated and ugly. So many questions swirl around as we talk as a family about treatment plans and prognosis.  It’s like shooting a shotgun…hoping the spread pattern hits the target.  There are a thousand ways to treat cancer…like pellets in a shotgun.
My heart is with my mother…she is aiming the gun.

We say it is our environment, the water, the air, the soil.  We live in an environment that creates disease.  We are connected to it in a very real way, and no matter how much we try to separate from the toxins we cannot be assured completely…because we are a part of this world.  In a culture that denies the unseen, I find it difficult to identify with the scientific environmentalists.  Our world may be killing us, but it is our sin that makes the world toxic.
I am wondering about the soul and cancer and our world and how we are none exempt.  I am praying for the men and woman who are trained physicians, that care for the sick and suffering.  I am humbled.

I pray with Saint Panteleimon, a trained physician who healed in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

O Champion and Martyr of God,
imitating the Merciful and bearing from Him the grace of healing,
cure our spiritual ills by your prayers,
and set free from the temptation of the eternal enemy,those who ceaselessly cry out, “Save us, O Lord.”

Below is a homily that I read this morning at Orthodox Way of Life.  Very comforting for those facing a life threatening disease.


Homily by St.Nicholas Velimirovic

“Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer. Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). 

By His suffering our Lord eased our suffering. He endured the greatest of pain and emerged as the Victor. That is why He can encourage us in our lesser sufferings. He suffered and endured in righteousness while we suffer and endure in expiating our own sins. This is why He can doubly remind us to endure to the end as He, the Sinless One, endured. Not one of us has helped nor alleviated His pains and endurance, yet He stands along side each one of us when we suffer and alleviates our pains and misfortunes. That is why He has the right to tell each one who suffers for His Name’s sake: “Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer,” says Christ, for I alone have endured all suffering and am familiar with them. I was not frightened at not a single suffering. I received them upon Myself and, in the end, overcame them all. I did not overcome them by dismissing them or fleeing from them but receiving them all upon Myself voluntarily and enduring them all to the end. And so you also should accept voluntary suffering, for I see and know how much and for how long you can endure. 

If your suffering should continue to death itself and if it is the cause of your death, nevertheless, do not be afraid; “I will give you the crown of life.” I will crown you with immortal life in which I reign eternally with the Father and the Life-Giving Spirit. God did not send you to earth to live comfortably, rather to prepare for eternal life. It would be a great tragedy if your Creator were unable to give you a better, longer, and brighter life than that which is on earth which reeks of decay and death and is shorter than the life of a raven. 

O my brethren, let us listen to the words of the Lord and all of our sufferings will be alleviated. If the blows of the world seem as hard as stones, they will become as the foam of the sea when we obey the Lord. 

O Victorious Lord, teach us more about Your long-suffering; and when we become exhausted, extend Your hand and sustain us.

faith · family · learning · motherhood · Orthodoxy · parenting · saints

I Forgot

Tonight, after the Christmas tree went up and the children went down I slipped into my PJ’s and was looking forward to some quiet and a piece of cherry cheesecake.  I walked down the hall, headed for the kitchen and feeling the relief that comes after a long day when I noticed a silhouette… somebody was out of bed.  I sighed.  It was Caroline, and she gently whispered to me, “Mama, we forgot my name’s day.”  My eyes were not able to make out the details of her face.  I hate looking at disappointment on my children’s faces.  I was glad it was dark.

These days I feel as if I am barely scraping by, doing just enough to keep things from sinking…not much more.  I have not been in the festive mood, and when I admitted this to my husband this evening he agreed and said that he had noticed.  After a long week away from home after Thanksgiving, I feel as if I cannot catch up.  In truth, I have done very little.  I just feel tired.  But, more than that I feel as if I cannot find my way.  I am out of sync with myself.

I used to get up every morning and have a quiet time in prayer and scripture reading.  I have not done that in months.  The reason… I cannot seem to get anything on a schedule.  The time that I used to reserve in the early morning is now taken by a nursing baby.  And this is good, but I cannot help feeling like I am capable of more.  Can’t I nurse and pray?  I know the advice, just pray while you nurse…offer to God what you can…this is a wonderful season.  All of that is true, very true.  However, rhythm is something I crave.  Prayer is rhythm, the Church calendar is rhythm, it is a spiritual cadence, and when I am out of sync with the Church, I feel empty.

I tried to fast, and within the first week of the Nativity fast I saw a real decrease in my milk production.  This stresses me.  Not because I feel like a failure, but because I feel the loss when I cannot/will not fully participate.  After participating in the Church, what the world has to offer during the Christmas season feels empty. I discussed this with the girls not long ago.  When Tradition was abandoned, a very shallow way of feasting replaced the life giving revelation of the Church.  I enjoy the cultural aspects of Christmas, but not in the absence of the Church.

So many things are contributing to this feeling of disconnectedness with the Church.  And I know what will restore me…a gentle return to the sacraments as life, not duty.

More than a self willed return to what I think is normal, I am sensing that in this time of finding my way I need to be gentle.  I sense that I have things to learn about motherhood and what my job really is.

A part of me is glad that we did not celebrate Caroline’s name’s day by going out to eat or treating it like a birthday party in disguise.  Remembering this way has made things very clear.  Forgetfulness creates emptiness.  When busyness and worldliness lead to forgetfulness, or worse, disregard…we grapple for things to fill the spiritual void.  Sentimentalism is something I turn to when I feel spiritually empty.  But, sentimentality has a dark side…behind the exterior of cherished memories and strong attachments, comes a fear of death characterized by anger and depression.  Sentimentality will never replace a heartfelt relationship with Christ.      

 One thing my mom advised me when I opened up to her about feeling disconnected is that the Church offers guidelines, but ultimately the the Church calendar must be followed in the heart.  The feasts and fasts are opportunities, not duties.  She also wisely showed me that I am not a spiritual giant, and that means that I am not going to experience every feast day or Liturgy or fasting season with the warmness of heart that I desire.  Sometimes things pass without me feeling anything, and that is ok.  She encouraged me to pray our family prayers diligently, and she challenged me to read the scriptures faithfully with her this next year.  

I got off the phone and thanked God for a Godly mother.  In her uncanny way my mom always challenges me to live a smaller life, especially spiritually.  She helps me come down out of the clouds and be a dutiful wife and mother. No pretense.  I love her for that.

Caroline celebrates her name day on December 9, she is Hannah… what a beautiful story of grace.  Hannah was one of two wives of Elkanah, and she was barren.  Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, had bore him many children.  Peninnah reproached Hannah, for bareness was shameful in those days.  In her sorrow Hannah cried out to the Lord, and He gave her a son, Samuel.  Samuel was the fruit of prayer and sorrow.  Hannah kept praying, even in failure and sorrow, she kept offering her heart.  She did this for many, many years before she was blessed with fruitfulness.
Happy late name’s day Caroline, my sweet Hannah.  I am sorry I forgot.  I am sorry we forgot.  Thank you for waking up to remind me.  Thank you for remembering.

Saint Hannah pray for us.  Pray for Caroline.

May we struggle to pray as Hannah did, she prayed as though she was drunk.  In fact she was very sober, sober and attentive.  And God heard her prayer and gave her a son.

And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”    



faith · homeschooling · learning · Orthodoxy · saints

Saint Katherine of Alexandria

Today as I was reading with my 7 year old (8 in a few days) and doing some copywork I began to panic.  Is she behind?  It has only been this year that she has showed any interest in reading or writing.  Sometimes I think I have been too lax with her.  And then I watch her, and I listen to her, and I redirect my fear, and I trust.
She has a wisdom beyond her years, and she has a very tender heart toward God.  She is quiet and peaceful, and she has an aura about her that makes me want to be around her.  Although she is quiet she  can have a great conversation, and she asks tons of questions about the world.  

And those things count.

Today as we celebrate the Feast of Saint Katherine I am reminded that true education always enlightens the soul.  Saint Katherine loved learning, especially science and philosophy.  Yet she had a mind that was renewed by Christ, and it was this enlightening that made her orations so powerful.  She was wise, and the people who listened to her heard something this world cannot offer.  They were drawn to her knowledge, yes, but it was a knowledge full of truth, teeming with life.    

The one dimensional aspects of education are easy to teach, but wisdom comes from God.  I want to raise brilliant children, children who are enlightened with divine brilliance.  I pray that we can stifle the nonsensical chatter of this world as we live in it.  Lord help me to remember this as I educate my children.

Happy Feast Day, Mom!  We love you, and Many Years.

You led a spiritual life, and thus 
you captivated the godless tribunal, 
and you stood victorious, O Catherine, 
with dignity, decked in divine 
brilliance as if with flowers. And 
having put on the power of God, you 
ridiculed the tyrantʹs decree, and you 
stifled the nonsensical chatter of the 
orators, O holy Martyr who suffered 
  Service of Matins November 25
faith · fall · learning · Orthodoxy · saints

A faith like Saint Martin

There is great suffering in this world, and it is hard to take sometimes.  I woke up this morning, Samuel snuggled up close, nursing, contented, safe.  I made myself a cup of tea, prayed, made lists and to-do’s.  Warm Cream of Wheat filled bowls and everyone is well, clean, plump, happy.  I said thank you over and over.

In my heart I feel a swell of hurt sometimes.   It’s only a thought away, my mind wonders onto the suffering of others and instantly I feel a weight…the true weight of this world.  Death and suffering are all around us, we do not have to look very far…our neighbor, our kinfolk, our brethren.

 My great aunt from Virginia is visiting this week.  She was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer.  When I see her on Saturday we will share a meal, warm conversation, and say our goodbyes.  Until we meet again…

I saw the link last night…Typhoon Haiyan, and I was scared to click.  It is hard to look upon another’s suffering and not DO something, to feel helpless.  I pray, I pray with a heavy heart.  My heart hurts for the Philippines.

I saw a man in the grocery store who could barely walk, his size and weight almost too much for him to bear.  I wondered who loved him, who touched him, who cared for him.  His basket was full of healthy items; vegetables, fruit, a package of chicken breasts.  He is trying…he sees his own weakness…he wants to change.  I began to tear up, and I fervently prayed that he would find success in overcoming his passion.  Lord please help him.

Today is Veteran’s day…need I say more?

I remember when I became aware of the fact that suffering is a universal experience, that everyone suffers.  It was the day that I got a call from my mom, “Mandy, pray.  Papa has been in an accident.”  Our world changed in that moment.  My grandfather, the patriarch of the family, fell into a grain auger.  His children were all there, some desperately trying to free him, some watching in horror, others praying for a miracle.  One son cried, “Dad what happened, how did this happen?”   My grandfather’s last words were, “It just happened, son.”  Another son had been the one who flipped the switch, not knowing that his father was on top of a mountain of wheat inside the barn.  When the auger began to turn it pulled my grandfather into its rotation.

“It just happened.”

I have thought about that over and over.  Is that statement true?  Is suffering a happening that just is?  My grandfather did not struggle or resist.  He did not feel separate or exempt.  His last words were humble.  Death and suffering touch us all.  “It” happens to all of us.

But sometimes the suffering I see seems unbearable.  And in those times I cry to the Lord, who knows our suffering.  He suffered too.  That is a mystery and a consolation.

Today as we celebrate Martinmas, I hope the crafts and gifts and fun do not dull the raw and vulnerable message of Saint Martin.  A man lay at a gate, freezing to death, and Martin shared his cloak.  The reality of that story is horrifying.  Most of the stories of the saints are.  But, it is the response to suffering that make saint days worth remembering.  Saints meet suffering with faith.  They look suffering straight in the eyes and believe.  Faith takes action in compassion, forgiveness, martyrdom, and courage.  It takes courage to face a world of suffering and unbelief.

May I not look away in fear, may I not shrink back in cowardice, may I touch the unlovely and befriend the unfriendly.  Let it never be said that a Christian is squeamish or afraid.  The Gospel demands that I walk by faith.  Death and suffering do not negate the Resurrection.  Who better to care for the dying, sick, and suffering than the people of The Way.  We are a Resurrection people.  In Him we live, and move, and have our being.  We live in a sober expectation of Christ’s return.

I want to shake off despondency and recommit myself to a life of prayer and sacrifice.  I want to be courageous and faithful.  I want to journey toward the Nativity with a gift in my heart…a gift of faith.  True faith.  A living faith.  A faith that redeems suffering.  A faith like Saint Martin the Merciful.

books · faith · family · homeschooling · learning · Orthodoxy · saints

Archangel Michael Week!

I thought it might be nice to share our week with you in advance.
  • Above is a little song we are learning…My Father’s Angels.
  • We are also going to make flower arrangements on Thursday in small Mason jars with the Asters, or Michaelmas Daises growing in my garden and place them in the icon corner.
  • I am shopping today for fresh Blackberries for cobbler for Friday night. Legend has it that on the day that Archangel Michael defeated Lucifer in heaven and kicked him out, Satan fell into a Bramble bush and cursed it.
  • We are telling the story of the War in Heaven.
  • We are reading Saint George and the Dragon all week.
  • We are also working on memorizing Psalm 23 and reading Sometimes I Get Scared.
  • Having lots of conversations about fear and courage.  What is good fear?  What is bad fear?  When do we need to be courageous?  What happens when we are not courageous?
  • Praying the Akathist Hymn to St. Michael the Archangel on Friday.
  • Watching How to Train Your Dragon for a movie night on Friday. 
  • Just for Mom.
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 · parenting · saints

Happy Name Day My Sweet Sophia

It is an amazing story of love, devotion, and ultimate sacrifice.  A mother and her three daughters…an allegorical challenge to live virtue.  I asked Sophia today if she realized how blessed she was to have Saint Sophia as her saint.  She said yes, but that her story was sad.  In a way, I guess…but even sadder still is a mother who does not try to follow in Saint Sophia’s footsteps.  Lord have mercy.
For a wonderful retelling of this story visit this link:
I love you Sophia, my love in the middle.  Happy Name Day!

The Church celebrates and rejoices in the feast of the three daughters: Faith, Hope, and Love and their Mother Sophia, named for her wisdom: for in them she gave birth to the three godly virtues. Now they eternally behold their bridegroom, God the Word. Let us rejoice spiritually in their memory and cry: O our three Heavenly Protectors, establish, confirm and strengthen us in Faith, Hope and Love. Troparion – Tone 4