Saturday, December 7, 2013

"Mixed" but not Confused


I don't know what book this is from, but I thought it a lovely piece of artwork that shows our lovely diversity :)

I just started hearing/learning more about parents who have adopted multi-ethnic/cultural children.  I am struck by the bigotry I'm seeing and the bondage there seems to be, things that will affect a mama's ability to bond completely with her precious adopted child.  And for that reason I will be addressing this issue here since I consider it to be important for the asceticism of mothers who have opened their hearts and homes to the little ones God has blessed them with through adoption.

I'm half black and half white but I do not make grey.  That was one thing I had to figure out as a little girl when I found that my white and black crayons did not make the color I am.  I wasn't really half black and half white, I was half brown and half manila :)  When the Twix candy bar came out it fully explained my family.  My dad was the chocolate, my mom the white cookie crunch and I was the caramel:)  When I was 5 years old we had a cross burned into our lawn.  We didn't live in the south.  We lived in the Bay Area in California, Cupertino, the birth place of Apple Computers.  What I learned that day was there were people full of hate in our world.  The focus wasn't the color of their skin, but the hatred in the hearts of people who would do such a thing.  My life experience showed me that racial hatred came in all shapes, sizes and colors.   My mom did a good job teaching me about others and myself. I know my brother, has had a somewhat different experience as a darker skinned mixed ethnicity man.

There seems to be a lot of guilt being place on these "mixed" families, families willing to accept little ones in the name of Christ.  Guilt doesn't promote the connection a mother should be able to make with her child, it produces an "us and them" mentality which shouldn't be present within a family. Accepting guilt as a parent because you are white, makes your non-white child a "victim" which does not promote joy or freedom and does not strengthen a family, it breaks it down. When we adopt we are not simply "hosting" a child from their country of origin or from their family of origin. We are to embrace them the same way God embraces us as adopted sons and daughters.  It is wonderful to explore the cultures of the children we adopt and to share our own cultural traditions with them.  When we have children, birth or adopted, we lay down our lives to become mothers. We embrace our children as our children, just as Christ embraces us, we don't separate them by color or cultural background. I don't think my mom spent too much time trying to help me "embrace" my blackness or my whiteness but to look to Christ, embrace HIM and appreciate the me He created. She taught me about me and also that it is not all about me.

If you are a mama with precious children who do not look like you, God bless you for mama-ing without bondage to a system that suggests parents and children should look alike.  Thank you for seeing your child as an icon of God.  Thank you for laying down your life, society's expectations and opinions, and sometimes even losing friends and family, for the sake of your children.

I am half black and half white but I am not grey.  I am the mixed, but not confused, mother of 8 children (black, white and brown).  I go forward as a mama with confidence, not because of  the color of my skin or the color of my children but because of the confidence I have found in Christ. 

May the peace of Christ be with you today!!!


Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Blessings of a Mediocre Family

 
                                           What we wish we were like all the time                                           REAL LIFE!

I admit it, I'm not a perfect wife, mother or friend.  I get discouraged by this fact, but I consider it the Lord's built in mechanism to keep me humble.  We read about these amazing mothers who encouraged their struggling child in a direction of interest and that child bloomed into an amazing concert pianist or architect or chef ...at age 9.  We see the mother in the store who, when faced with a child throwing a monumental tantrum, peacefully addresses her distressed little bundle, calming her toddler, and all those around her, with her soothing words.  I am not that mom. 

Of course I try and calm my children, but I also throw threats at them like snow balls hoping one will hit the target so the madness can be over.  I reflect AFTER a meltdown (mine or the child's) on what I should have done differently.  I have been known to respond in a less than grown up way when my child complains about how I made him mad.  When one of my son's says, "I'm just not going to talk to you anymore", I don't think I'm supposed to say, "thank goodness!", but sometimes I do.  Does being a mediocre family mean we're failing?  I don't think so.

This Thanksgiving one of my sons got angry, which isn't an unusual occurrence.  He threw a little tantrum because I was having everyone do one extra chore that day so the house would be clean and welcoming for our one extra guest.  I offered to pay him because his job was a little bigger.  I went downstairs to check on his progress and there he was, in bed, with a book, willfully ignoring what had been asked of him.  Instead of looking for a "teachable moment" I thanked him for volunteering to do the extra chore for free!  I reminded him the focus of the day was thankfulness and that even though there was one extra job there were plenty of positives to enjoy that day.  His response..."what do I have to be thankful for?"

Yep, I lost it a little.  I've been thinking a lot about the many "first world" complaints we have in our country.  We complain about the water not getting hot quickly enough or the internet being soooo slllooowww.  We get frustrated when the microwave doesn't work and we have to (gasp) use the stove to reheat a meal.  And right there in front of me was my sweet young first world problem king!  He wanted to know what he had to be thankful for? Fine. 

1. You have two arms and two legs and they work, without pain!  You can run and jump and hold things and feed yourself.

2.  Your eyes work and you don't have a disease.

3. You have a house and food and transportation and clothes.

I went on like this for a bit but nothing seemed to be getting through to him and he actually TURNED HIS BACK ON ME!  Uh...no.  I believe that in every mama there is a black mama (stereotypical or not...) who waits for these moments.  I think even the most reserved women, regardless of their ethnicity, feel a neck move and "oh no he di'int" coming on.  At that moment I must admit I got in his face.  I decided to ask him some questions.

Q: Has anyone ever put a cigarette out on your body in your life?
A: No.

Q: Has anyone ever whipped you?
A: No.

Q: Have you ever been made to sleep naked out in the cold not allowed to eat for several days?
A: No.

"Then I think you have A LOT to be thankful for.  We're not perfect, but you have a family who loves you even though you make it clear often that you resent US because life didn't turn out differently for you.  But we LOVE YOU ANYWAY (which I don't think is as convincing with a raised voice...).  WE ARE THANKFUL FOR YOU ANYWAY!  You have a biological family who loves you!  You have a home where you are wanted not just tolerated.  If you are going to be in a mood keep it here we don't want it at the Thanksgiving meal and I will be sad if you are not there.  It is your choice.  Now, you finish your chores and you decide what you want to do. Oh, and don't ever turn your back on me it's disrespectful."

I turned and went upstairs.  See.  Not superwoman.  Not a halo in sight.  But guess what?  My son turned his attitude around and did come upstairs and really did enjoy the festivities.  He helped pour the sparkling cider and was full of compliments over the food and how nicely his brother decorated the table.  I acted as if nothing had happened (even though deep down inside I wanted to revisit the whole mess so he could tell me how right I'd been...Lord have mercy on me a sinner!)  My son came to me a bit later, put his arms around me for a big mama bear hug and apologized and even listed several things he was thankful for, which for him was a big peace offering.

I'm not saying we shouldn't aspire to be those inspiring parents, but sometimes just holding it all together...being "mediocre"...can accomplish great things because of the One who holds us all together. Take courage and keep walking forward :)

May the peace of Christ be with you dear mamas!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

I HATE YOU!

Don't those words just give you the warm fuzzies?  I have heard those words from each of my three oldest boys at one time or another.  Today my 9 year old said to my husband, "I hope you die!".  Yep, it's days like this it's a joy to be a parent.  Of course I'm being a little sarcastic.  The funny thing is both my husband and I just kind of shrugged our shoulders as I continued to clean up the human poop I had just found on the TV room carpet, and he went back to making sure the Littles weren't breaking anything.  Our girls NEVER said the words "I hate you".   They never said they wished we were dead.  Now, they may have thought it, but they never said it. 

So why didn't we freak out or give this child 30 to life in his bedroom? You see, a few years ago every toy bin in the playroom would have been overturned.  Every picture on the wall torn down.  The doors to the entertainment center might have been torn off, or at least an attempt would have been made.  We would have had to do a therapeutic hold which would require me to physically restrain him for 30-45 minutes or more during which time he would be hurling insults and threats and searching for a way to escape so he could cause more damage.  Eventually he would calm down.  Eventually he would want to be held or rocked.  He didn't like when his body went berserk.  In a way, when he escalated, he was along for the ride not knowing what the outcome would be. 

 But today he just said words.  Nothing got destroyed, nor has it for some months!  Progress is being made!  It's still a steep hill with many valleys and seemingly insurmountable peaks, but we're still walking.  We haven't stalled out on the side of the trail in despair.  It isn't because I always respond correctly or with calm every time.  No, it can only be because the Lord provides strength for each step.  

"Do not be cast down over the struggle- the Lord loves a brave warrior. The Lord loves the soul that is valiant" -St. Siloan the Athonite

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

It is Well

I implore you to live piously in order that you might preserve your Orthodox faith, in order that no one and nothing, no circumstances and no kind of sorrow can turn you away from it.  For this you absolutely must pray, seeking God’s help to keep your faith pure. -St. Nikon

There I was on my knees crying in the bathroom while cleaning the toilet.  My heart was humbled and rejoicing.  I was listening to my mp3 player and the Protestant hymn It is Well With My Soul started to play.  I never can get through that hymn without crying and thanking God for His great mercy and love. 

Faith is sometimes a great challenge when we are faced with sorrow or difficulty in this life.  In my own life there have been real intense, even terrifying moments.  Other times the smallest issue can seem like the biggest burden, the tallest mountain to climb.  When I hear of the trials others face I feel ashamed by my weakness.  I know my "sliver" is nothing compared to the bleeding infected wound I might see a friend having to work through, trying desperately to figure out how to stop the bleeding while I baby my microscopic spiritual skin irritation.  I wonder how I can be expected to have the faith to carry on.  But God bids us to follow Him, wherever He leads, whatever the cost. 

The man who penned It is Well With My Soul was named Horatio Spafford.  The words are so encouraging but the inspiration for the words came from great tragedy.  He had been a successful lawyer and real estate investor but lost much in the Chicago fire of 1871.  He decided to take his family to Europe on holiday but business prevented him from going with his wife and four daughters.  Instead he sent them ahead and planned to meet them in England.  En Route their ship was struck by another sea vessel and quickly sank.  All four daughters were drowned.  His wife Anna sent a telegram which simply read "Saved alone."  He went to meet his wife abroad and, as his own ship passed close to the location of the accident, he wrote the words to the hymn.


When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
 
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul
 
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

-Refrain-

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

-Refrain

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Whatever trials, temptations, struggles or tragedies come to us, we, as Christians, can have that "blessed assurance" and great hope! Because of Christ and Him Crucified, we can say in all honesty, "it is well with my soul."  His love for us is so great and so all encompassing we can trust in His love to sustain us and for Him to use even the most unbearable circumstances for the good of those who love Him.  Not that He desires bad things or "makes" bad things happen, but He can turn them into something beneficial and glorious for those who love Him.  This faith I have in Christ and the hope in the resurrection and the world to come are what allow me, even in the darkest moments, to praise the Lord. 

May the Lord bless you with His peace and may we cling to the hope, which is Christ Himself.


My favorite recording of this hymn is by 2nd Chapter of Acts http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWtf4kO3DLs

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Holy Motherhood

"In this beautiful world
there is nothing more cherished,
no duty more honorable,
no responsibility more sacred,
no task more difficult,
than that of motherhood"
~Anonymous
 
Icon of the young Theotokos  (Mary) with her mother St. Anna
 
 
Motherhood is truly a blessed profession and something to be cherished.   The wonder if motherhood is that it can change and shift based on the personality of the mother and the particular children she is mothering and the season of life we happen to be in.  It adapts to every culture.  It is a title which, once attained, can not be taken away. 
 
 
In our home we have had many children.  Attached to each one of our children has been a mother.  Some of these mothers have been able to retain the title and profession through hard work and by humbly seeking help.  Others have lost the right to participate in the action of mothering, but they will always be mothers.  There will always be a place in their heart for their precious child.  Even the ones who have willingly surrendered their children can never forget the little person who grew in their womb. 
 
Mothers who have never known the wonder of carrying and bearing their own child, those who become mothers through adoption have an equal share in the heart change that takes place when one becomes a mother.  Even though you know you share the title with another, and there is understanding that this child did not come from your own flesh, no one can take away who you become once you let that child into your heart. 
 
Women who have lost babies to miscarriage and never give birth or adopt...they tend to tuck the title of Mother a little deeper in their hearts.  No one recognizes them on Mother's Day.  It is likely only their closest friends know of their sorrow, but even the most loving friend forgets that motherhood was attained.  These women are mothers no matter how quickly that baby flew to the arms of Jesus. 
 
In some countries motherhood is openly honored.  When I lived in Puerto Rico for a short time I experienced an appreciation for women I hadn't encountered before.  You may laugh, but every woman was "desired" and appreciated (not always a good thing, but if you ever have a self esteem issue, go to a Hispanic country!).  Mother's Day in Puerto Rico was a day when every mother was celebrated, not just by their own families, but by everyone!  It was a beautiful thing. 
 
What do mothers do?  They cry, worry, get frustrated, sneak chocolate.  They sit by the sick bed of their children without complaint.  They let their little ones spit out gum or partially chewed food they suddenly found disgusting, into the palm of their hands! They change diapers, clean up vomit, get peed on.  They train and plea and make mistakes.  They encourage and cheer.  They yell and laugh and share memories.  They work hard hard hard!!!  They kiss boo boos.  They hold and rock and snuggle. They stay up late waiting for their newly licensed children to come home.  They comfort when things don't work out well in relationships or with expectations.  They hope.  They pray.  They make many many (MANY!) mistakes but they love no matter what. 
 
Dear Mothers, embrace motherhood.  Understand that it is worth doing.  It is worth falling down and getting back up. May the Lord of hope have mercy on all us mothers!
 
 
 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Starting Line


I have had a number of people ask about my journey to Eastern Orthodox Christianity.  They wonder if I’ve always been Orthodox and if not why in the world I would leave behind what I’d grown up with and accept icons and incense and honor a simple girl named Mary who just happened to say yes to God.

I have gone to church my whole life.  Of course I knew that didn’t make me a Christian, but it does mean I had a deliberate introduction to Jesus from the time I was tiny.  I was the little girl who went forward for almost every altar call because I was so moved by the pastor and the music and I wanted to make sure I was saved.  Throughout my childhood and into my marriage I attended charismatic churches, Assembly of God, Presbyterian and finally, Non-Denominational.   I learned a lot from my experiences in each church. 

In 1993 my husband and I took the membership classes at a Mega Church and began ministering there in the children’s ministry, women’s ministry and youth group.  We enjoyed the idea of being able to go to church on Saturday night and sleep in Sunday.  The pastor was a dynamic speaker and really had a heart for God.  We took the Ministry 101 classes where we took personality tests to help the staff to determine where our gifts would be most useful in the Body of Christ.  We took the Christian finance classes and Evangelism 101 and many other classes. 

In 1994 my Aunt, Uncle and Mom all became Orthodox.  I had no idea what that really meant.  It sort of looked Catholic with a pictures instead of statues.  We went to her Chrismation and met some really nice people.  This funny little church met in a high school gym until they could get their own building.  All I saw were icons and ornately dressed pastors with collars.  There was incense and they sang songs I’d never heard before without any instruments.  The sermon only lasted a few minutes.  There weren’t any hymns or contemporary songs.  It was just plain weird.  But, as time went on, we decided to participate a little, only to honor my mother…and because they had amazing BBQ meals after the major feasts of the Nativity and Pascha (Orthodox Easter).  We attended the Saint Nicholas Day celebrations and were touched that they remembered our children with goody bags.  But they were still wrong.  They had icons which, of course, were graven images!  They used incense and I didn’t see any Bibles other than the one the priest used.  I was sure there wasn’t any underlining of verses or scripture memory going on there.  They had no idea what the Prayer of Jabez book was and how it was supposed to change the life of each Christian who read it. 

We went on like this for 10 years.  My mother gave us an icon of Mary and Jesus.  I thanked her but gave it to goodwill within a week or two.  She took our eldest daughter to the Pascha service and our daughter came back drawing pictures of Orthodox crosses and icons of her own.  She wanted to know why we didn’t like the icons.  We talked about idol worship and asking Jesus into our hearts.  She has already done that when she was seven, but she had a longing to be at the Orthodox Church and I had a feeling she was supposed to be there for some reason.

Orthodox Easter (Pascha) 2004 I decided to attend the actual Easter service instead of the short Agape Vespers service the day after followed by the BBQ.  By this time our family had changed churches, desiring a smaller church community over the 6,000 member one.  Little by little I started noticing things at our little Protestant church. 

1. Most of the songs we were singing were about me.  Each verse was full of "I" and "me".  They were about how I felt about God or what He could do for me.  They weren’t worship.  Some were praise but some were very self-focused. 

2. Music played a big part in the altar call.  The pianist played the soft “you’re a sinner” music and my heart strings were tugged each time.  I always prayed the prayer, which, according to my upbringing and understanding, wasn’t necessary because I was already saved.

3. The organization of the service was all about me.  It was important to have a good band and sing contemporary Christian music with a few modernized hymns thrown in.  The sermons had catchy titles with the three or five important points to each message.  Media was used to keep our attention. 

4. Our children had a multi-media experience during their Sunday school time but didn’t remember much of what they were supposed to have learned.  The Jr. High and High School classes had video game consoles, their own band, lots of mixers and 5 minutes of Jesus and were encouraged with the idea that "Jesus is cool, just like the world". 

5.  When we started having our children stay with us during the service we were looked at like we were crazy and encouraged to put our children out of the service.  It wasn’t because they were noisy, they were great and the elderly people loved having them there.  It was the opinion of the majority of the church members that church was for grown-ups not to be experienced with the whole "body" together.  Like the children had a mini Holy Spirit. 

6. I struggled with the “seeker sensitive” perspective of the church.  I understand being welcoming and bringing people to church, but it seemed that all the effort was put into those who weren’t “saved”. Once you were saved and made it through the introductory programs you were on your own.  It seemed that over time the believers would hit a ceiling which would require wandering around on the plateau we had reached or packing up and moving to another church where we could perhaps find another spiritual morsel to keep us fed.

7. The idea that if we did ____________ we will have “arrived".  There was The Prayer of Jabez, The Purpose Driven Life, 40 Day of Prayer.  If we read through these books and applied them to our lives we would have “arrived” as Christians and need no more spiritual food.  Now it wasn’t exactly said that way, but it was implied. 

We didn’t know what to do.  We wondered if we should start attending a family friendly “home church” or start one in our home and just do what we believed the Early Church did. So, I packed up two of my three girls and headed over the hill at 10pm to attend the Pascha service at my mom’s church.  I remember my girls falling asleep, along with most of the other little children, and me just standing there crying.  I cried because the choir was singing scripture.  I cried because the words were all about God and not about me or how I felt.  I cried because the music was what it had been for thousands of years and wasn’t being sung for my enjoyment or to make me feel a certain way, but to glorify the Lord.  I cried because the priest faced the altar most of the time and it wasn’t about him being a great orator or being  “relevant”.    I was amazed.  How could this place with all these nice people who were so wrong be so holy?! 

I went home and talked with my husband.  We decided we’d do some research to prove Orthodoxy wrong and then we’d move on and figure out what we were really supposed to do.  After all, if nothing else we figured we’d get a good church history education.  To our utter astonishment we found we couldn’t prove it wrong.  If we based our conclusions on what the historical documentation supported and not what a particular denomination taught we couldn’t deny what the Early Church was.  We were also confused and frustrated to discover most Protestant churches gloss over or ignore 1100 years of Church history. Our own pastor said he had only spent a day or two on that part of history in seminary!   Somehow we jump from the death of John to the Bible being shoved together and skip right over to the Reformation.  But we don’t discuss what was taught by the Apostles and what the Church looked like as they traveled and spread the Good News.  We ignore the fact that they didn’t have the Bible when they went out into every nation baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  They were Jews and the first Christians.  They went out and taught the new believers what to do and how to worship by example.  They wrote letters that were later compiled into what we have received as Holy Scripture.

We came to the conclusion that either Orthodoxy was THE Church or we were in big trouble.  We had to challenge and question everything we’d been taught and find out what the origins were for each teaching.  We were undone.  We had no choice but to become Orthodox or choose not to with the understanding we were walking away from the faith of the Apostles.  I read a lot, listened to my husband who’d read even more, threw a few books and finally came to accept the Orthodox Church as the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.  

October 31, 2004 my husband and I, along with our three daughters became Orthodox.  So many puzzle pieces finally fit together as we discovered this early faith.  It was truly glorious and has been such a blessing ever since.  Yes we have had to change our thinking quite a bit, but isn’t that what is supposed to happen with the renewing of our minds?
 
Here are some of the things I love the most about being Orthodox:
 
  • The idea of Salvation being three fold.  We are saved, we are being saved and we will be saved.  I was raised in a once saved always saved church community.  The idea that we had the free will to choose Christ but somehow that free will disappeared once we'd been saved. Instead we believe in the idea that Paul taught, working out ones Salvation with fear and trembling and running the race in such a way that at the end we will not be disqualified.  Salvation doesn't just disappear, but just like we can choose to accept it we can choose to reject it.  We can choose to jump out of the lifeboat and tread water and it doesn't mean we were never in the boat.

  • I love that we go through the life of Christ each year.

  • I love that we enjoy and use the Tradition of the Church to help us with understanding the scriptures and how we should live our lives.  We believe they go hand in hand, like a map and a compass.  Relying on scripture alone is like what has happened with the Constitution of the United states.  Our understanding of the Constitution has changed since the time it was written.  If we were to interpret the Constitution based on how the founding fathers meant for it to be understood and interpreted and implemented, we'd be doing things a lot differently.  When we interpret based on our own personal, modern, understanding we can come up with all sorts of things that were never intended.

  • I love the Theotokos, Mary, the mother of Jesus.  I love that for the first time in my Christian life she is recognized and honor like she said she would be in the Bible.  I'm not sure how she went from being a holy servant of the Lord to just some young girl who happened to say yes with the idea being if she hadn't said yes some other young girl world have...no big deal.  B ut that wasn't the case at all!  She was hand picked.  She was from the line of David.  She was set apart.  She said yes and by doing so is the mother of all Christians.

  • When we first started going to the Orthodox Church we wondered why we did the same thing every week.  For one, it helps us to understand our faith more clearly through repetition, but it is also like C.S. Lewis in The Last Battle when the children find themselves back in Narnia, but it is the perfect Narnia.  Aslan tells them to go farther up and further in and they will learn more and more about the new Narnia.  There is always something new to learn and ways to grow and an aspect of the faith we come to understand in a new way.

  • I like that the service is for believers to be taught and prepared to go out and tell others about Christ.  Our church experience as Protestants did try and equip us to go out and tell others about Christ, but it didn't really feed the believers, it was all about getting unbelievers to believe and then, after a few years, you were kind of on your own.  It was about getting people in but not about making sure the flock was always fed.

  • I was struck by the fact that God never told us to change how we were to worship Him.  We have the Old Testament where God was very specific and was not dependent on how I felt about it.   Christ came as the final blood sacrifice, but, historically, the apostles worshipped the way they always had, as Jews, but instead of a sacrifice they would partake of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.
So this is some of the "why" behind becoming Orthodox.  I am not judging anyone or challenging anyone's beliefs.  I can't say I know who will be saved and who will not in the end.  I am a very simple mama in the service of the King of Kings.  I fall all the time and wonder if/how/why my God could ever use me.  And I am thankful for the journey.

May the peace of Christ rest in your hearts today!

    Sunday, September 22, 2013

    Moving Out!


    That was the threat I made to my mom when I was 17 and she tried to get me to cook.  I told her I would move in with Grandma, surely she wouldn’t think of making me do such a terrible thing. 
     

     
    Yep, this is me at 17 (Thank you Lisa Gonzales for the picture!)



    When I was in high school, nearly all of my friends ended up living at our house for one reason or another.   The first showed up toward the end of 10th grade barefoot after her mother kicked her out.  She walked several miles to get to our house and stayed until she graduated.  My home wasn’t always “functional” but it was always available to those in need.  My mom had been a single mama for nearly ten years by the time I graduated.  She worked hard making enough to barely make ends meet for our little three person family, and still she opened up her home to quite a few crazy, messed up, emotionally fatigued girls.  She didn’t get paid by the county or any of the parents.  She was amazing at making the money and food and love stretch just as far as it needed to.

    During that time, my mama tried to teach the girls some basic skills.  She gave each the opportunity to go to the store and do the shopping to learn how to become smart shoppers for when they were on their own. She encouraged them to learn how to cook and discouraged them from making cat calls at cute boys as we drove down the street.  Notice how I said "them"?  I didn’t think I needed to learn these things.  I was sharing my home and my mom.  I was great with relationships and peer counseling type situations.  I would write or make up scenarios for us to play at or write music.  I did not need to learn to cook!

    Fast forward to July 1992.  I had met my husband to be just 6 months after graduating from high school and we were engaged that following July.  We both stayed on at the summer camp where we had worked.  I was assigned to the girls cabin, The Hitchin’ Post, and he to the boys cabin, Knot 4 Sail.  After we were engaged I got this strange desire to cook for him.  His first meal, which could have been his last had the meat been contaminated, was chicken and canned corn.  It looked appealing enough, but the meat wasn’t fully cooked.  Do you know, that wonderful man ate what I cooked for him?  The Lord blessed his humility by keeping him alive that night so this undeserving wife to be could marry her handsome knight. 
     
     

    You would think I’d have been a natural cook, with the mother I have.  She is classy in dress and manner and a gourmet when it comes to cooking.  Not me.  I have my own style which no one really has a name for and my cooking, though it has evolved, is more Victorian farmhouse mama cuisine than 5 star dining.  It took me five years to make a successful loaf of bread.  The hot loaves smelled wonderful and were great when eaten right out of the oven, but as they cooled they were more suited to be used as doorstops than food.  But I wanted to cook for my husband and make a good home for him.  He would have been fine with macaroni and cheese out of the box, but I wanted to learn how to do it myself.  So I did. 

    Over the years I have tried my hand at a number of cooking projects.  I learned how to make a great loaf of bread.  I tried my hand at toffee and chocolates and found success.  Just this past year I was able to participate in my first farmers market making bread.  More than any of the sales, the pleased look on my husband’s face when he saw our booth sell out week after week was what gave me the strength and determination to get up at 3 a.m. every Saturday morning to bake. 
     
     
     

    So, sorry Mama for threatening to move out.  Yes there are things I understand now that I am a mother that I didn’t understand as a child.  Thank you for loving me anyway.  And thank you for giving me something much more important than any cooking lessons would have imparted.  Thank you for giving me Jesus! 

    Thursday, August 29, 2013

    Just Take it Already!

    Responsibility that is...

    There is a dangerous epidemic we are experiencing in our house with some of our children.  It manifests itself in a variety of ways.  This illness is called Irresponsibilititis-plasia Syndrome. 

    Clinical File1: Unnamed male was told to go to bed.  Patients history included being told to take care of last minute bed time routine before said bedtime actually occurred including putting away toys, getting water bottle situated and physically getting into the laying down position on the appropriate sleeping apparatus. Instead the male seemed unable to follow through with the simple request.  He reported temporary blackouts and an overwhelming inclination to  play on the hanging rope ladder and practice strange dance moves in his underwear. He acknowledges he heard the request clearly but somehow the fault lies with the mother. 

    Clinical File 2: Unnamed male 2 was instructed to clean the bathroom he already claimed to have cleaned.  He insisted the dirt and grime he had been putting off cleaning for several days now was somehow the product of him taking a shower today.  His first defense was that he forgot even though his mother stood in the bathroom with him and showed him exactly what needed to be cleaned.  His second defense was claiming he was stupid and crumpling into a puddle of tears. 

    I'm not sure about anyone else, but in our home I am having great difficulty getting my children to take responsibility for their words and actions. We have it laid out pretty clearly what the expectations are and how to earn privileges.  These are not new ideas, though we haven't always had them in writing. 

    We are generations away from the Rules of Civility, as penned by a young George Washington http://www.history.org/almanack/life/manners/rules2.cfm .   Those Little House on the Prairie years with children as young as 12 being considered responsible enough to watch the homestead for a day or two are long gone.  Not that I want to leave my young ones home by themselves for a day or two, but  it would be wonderful if I could give a direction or have an expectation and know it would be carried out.

    We no longer live in a society where honesty is the best policy.  We don't live in communities, for the most part, we all live as individuals living our own lives as best we can...or as best we think we can.  We live in a time when authority should always be questioned and it is always someone else's fault.  We see kids movies glorifying the main characters who constantly go against their authorities and are mostly "proved right" in the end. 

    But in everything we do we are to keep struggling on toward the goal.  This is true for the salvation of our souls and as we parent our children.  We have to keep swimming upstream even though the current gets swifter and the multitude of fish blissfully swimming in the opposite direction increases.

    Clinical File 1 - Diagnosis and Treatment: Unnamed male 1 only stayed mad for a short time.  The mother of the patient checked on him an hour later when he admitted he had been being childish.  Instead of engaging in a long conversation, which the patient was hoping for as it would mean he would be staying up later, she opted to smile, tell him she loved him and that they'd talk in the morning. Acute symptoms were treated allowing the emotional inflammation to decrease.  Chronic condition will be addressed on an ongoing basis.  Tea may be a beneficial aid to calming.

    Clinical File 2 - Diagnosis and Treatment: Mother of unnamed male 2 explained to him that calling himself "stupid" was still avoiding responsibility.  She reminded him of his straight A grades from the previous year, fantastic current grades, his creative inventions, not to mention how kind and cuddly he usually is.  She prayed with him.  Time was also beneficial in this patients emotional flair up.  After he calmed down said mother administered a great big hug which he reciprocated.  Both patient and mother agreed to sit down tomorrow and come up with an action plan for future success.

    Do not lose heart, dear mother, the disease is not terminal.  And the Lord our God specializes in tough cases.  Thank God!!!

    Sunday, August 11, 2013

    These Boots Were Made for Walking?

    Week one went very well.  I was determined.  I was motivated.  But now it's week two...

    Last week I got out of bed Monday morning, put on my exercise clothes and jumped on my trampoline for thirty minutes.  It was "only" thirty minutes, but it was thirty minutes longer than I had spent of focused exercise in...well...too long!  It felt really good.  Tuesday I jumped for 45 minutes and went walking with my mom for about 45 minutes or so.  YAY!  Wednesday I walked two miles with my daughter.  Thursday I walked two miles with the dog.  Friday I ran around like a crazy person getting ready for farmers market, but I ate responsibly that day and on all the previous days that week. 

    I'm dreading tomorrow.  I'm already coming up with all sorts of reasons why I should have to exercise.  I have a lot to get done.  I have writing projects and recording projects and children to get to appointments and baby visits.

    My last post listed how our home works.  Included in that list was TEMPERANCE: self-control, restraint, moderation.  Some people may have to practice self control when they exercise too much.  You know those people, who always want to go to the gym or for a run or for a walk.  Okay, I've only known like one person like that... Looking at temperance made me realize that sometimes I "glut" on inactivity.  With 9 children in my house there is a lot to do, but there are many "sitting" things to do.  If I want my children to understand temperance I have to be an example.  Not too much food.  Not too much sitting.  Not too much sleeping (oh how I wish I had to fight this problem!).  Not too much of anything.   We are looking for balance.  My scale has been tipped in the wrong direction (figuratively and literally), now it's time to get it going in the right directions.  Yes, I need to lose weight but more importantly I need to set an example.  So...(deep breath)...I'm going to list my goals.  Once I hit publish there's no going back.  Okay, technically I could go back and delete the whole thing, but I'm not going to. 

    Goals:
    1. exercise at least 4x weekly
    2. eat sensibly. This is part of practicing self control.
    3. lose 40 lbs before I turn 41.  I don't know if this is a reasonable goal, but I'm going to try!  I have until December.
    4. lead by example.
    5. there is no end. 

    There have been too many times where I have had a goal and once it's reached I go right back to the old habits.  I don't want to encourage that behavior in my children so I must battle that behavior in me.  I may not always succeed, but hopefully the effort will have meaning for all of us.

    So, dear mamas, what are your goals?  (They don't have to be weight related.)  What are you hoping to accomplish in your home? 

    PS. I don't actually have walking boots, but I did order walking shoes :)

    Wednesday, August 7, 2013

    Home Works

    "Do not do anything that brings grief to your family." -Mother Melania



    While I do have two starting school tomorrow, this post is not about school. This post is about how I'm trying to get our HOME to WORK (see what I did there?).  I didn't want to call it house rules because it's more than that. In my quest to be calm and avoid needless arguments, loopholes and stall tactics, I wanted more than just a set of rules, I wanted to have, IN WRITING, the things that really make our home work well. I didn't want to be nitpicky but I did want to be clear about what the expectations are and what is acceptable as a participant in this family. The great thing I'm finding is this list is helping me stay accountable to the purpose of our home too! 

    1. Love God and Each Other: Jesus says, "The first of all the commandments is: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment.  And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Mark 12:29-31.  If you love God first and others next then you will be doing the things below.
    2. Responsibility: "Take the blame for the things you are responsible for." - Mother Melania      Avoid arguing or making excuses.  This is how you build trust and earn privileges.
    3. Temperance (moderation/self-control/restraint): Here you are learning to stay in the middle between too much and not enough. For example: When given the opportunity to have a treat or enjoy yourself, don't go overboard.  Buy enough of a treat for you to enjoy right then, not so much that if you ate it all at once it would make you sick.  And remember to enjoy it!
    4. Chastity: Purity of the mind of body.  This means: be mindful of what you watch, read, listen to and say. (Why do include chastity in our "home work"?  Because there are so many avenues by which garbage can enter the brain and we want to avoid exposing our kids to harmful things.  We don't want to hide our heads in the sand or make some alternate reality for them, but we want them to understand the world around them in a loving and godly context.)
    5. Liberality: Generosity.  Give freely to others when it is within your power to do so without any expectation of getting something in return.  This includes giving to the homeless, friends, neighbors and even brothers and sisters.
    6. Happiness:  Now this doesn't mean that we like everything, but it does mean that we can choose to be happy because the Lord loves us, He has provided a family, food and a home for us even if nothing else seems good.
    7. Diligence: Doing any task (work/chore/job/responsibility) until it is completed to the very best of your ability.
    8. Humility: Thinking of what is good for others before thinking o f yourself.  For example: If someone needs help...help them.  If there is only a little food left and someone else also wants seconds, let the other person have it.  If someone asks you to do something don't think yourself "too good" for little or "unimportant" jobs.  If someone does something unkind, be quick to forgive keeping in mind the Jesus prayer, "Lord have mercy on ME a sinner."
    9. Mildness:  Kindness, gentleness and calm in word and action.
    10. Obedience: A respectful willingness to do what you are told without asking "why".  If, after you have done what you have been asked to do, still want to know "why"  you will be told, unless there is some special reason not to.  If the answer to the "why" is something you should already know, we know we have super smart kids and we will let you figure it out yourself.
    These are the expectations at home or out with others until you are master of your own home or under the leadership of someone else.

    Now this is what I came up with.  What do you do with your family?  I'd love to hear about it!!!

    Many blessings to all and to all a good morning :)



    Friday, August 2, 2013

    Do not grow weary

     And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
    Galatians 6:9



     
    When my family went to California a few weeks ago we had the amazing opportunity to do something I don't think we've truly done before...be tourists!  We visited familiar places but did it like tourists would.  We parked and looked and didn't feel like we owned the place.  And we enjoyed ourselves!  I think it's the first "real" vacation we've taken in 20 years!! The other thing that happened was, because we were so relaxed, we were able to just observe.  And this is the part I want to write about today.

    We first stayed with friends we had known through homeschooling in Santa Cruz.  When we lived there we were part of a mom's group that would meet twice a month at Marie Calendar's and talk about homeschooling or intentionally NOT talk about homeschooling.  We simply enjoyed each others company, acknowledged the struggles and ate really good salad, or potato wedges or dessert.  It was a great time, in Cool, California (name of a real town!) and they were so hospitable!!!  Little did they know I was observing.  This mama has 7 children and she always speaks so gently to her children.  She has a boy who has impulse control issues similar to my guy yet she addressed him with such calm.  She always had a gentle word and a smile.   I sat in wonder trying to figure out how she did it. I often find myself going into the black mama "oh no you di-int"  place when a child is rude or rebellious.  She reminded me of Marmie with her calm and welcoming attitude.  I didn't have a notebook to take notes with, but the computer in my brain was filing it all away for processing in the future.

    The second home we stayed in was in Boulder Creek California right in the redwoods!  She also does foster care and, in addition to the two bio and one adopted already, she is adding four more to her home.  It was so fun getting to sit and talk and just "be".  Again I found myself watching her interactions with her children.  Again I was with someone who had a son similar to mine who had a very similar background to mine. What I noticed in this mama was how "present" she was in her home and with her children.  While I am always near my children I am not always with my children.  This mama, and her grown and nearly grown daughter, also had the knack of being present in a situation.  More filing and processing.

    Our next stop took us to Lompoc, California, near Santa Barbara, to our friends with 10 children and one on the way!   Unfortunately we were only able to spend one night with this dear family.  With 12 people in a three bedroom house there has to be some order.  What we noticed, and my 17 year old daughter said out loud, was that the children didn't ask "why" when the parents told them to do something.  Get this...they just went and did the task!  Now, these kids weren't little lemmings without any character or spunk.  The filing and processing continued.

    My husband and I had a chance to process all the information on our 18+ hour drive home.  As foster parents we are required to complete 20 hours worth of training each year.  This training includes 6 hours of face to face training through classes and the rest can be classes, videos or books.  These books have a lot of information but are often written by people who have lots of clinical experience but very little parenting experience. Normally when I read a book or learn about a "new method" I want to apply it all at once and find myself burning out in just a few weeks.It was wonderful to "live" the experience in these homes and with these families who faced many of the same challenges we face and see where they were successful and what we could apply to our parenting. 

    Here's what we took away and how it has impacted our home and perspective.

    1. BE the calm: We have some children who are like little land mines with issues buried under the surface that can be triggered at any moment without warning.  They may not be able to control themselves or their immediate reaction but by being the calm for them we avoid an explosive chain reaction that can lead to shrapnel flying in every direction and emotionally impaling non combatants.  Being the calm (similar to the boneless chicken I wrote about before) allows me to respond instead of just reacting and the outcome is much calmer and the "behavior uglies" tend to fizzle out much more quickly.

    2. BE present: Stopping what I'm doing so that I can simply BE has made a big difference in the attitudes of my people.  This doesn't mean I don't get anything done, but if negative behavior is beginning to bubble and foam stopping what I'm doing, even for 15 minutes, makes a difference in helping to reset the situation for a more positive outcome. 

    3. NO "why": Okay, this doesn't mean my children can never know the reason for things but it does mean I expect obedience first and then when the task/job/request is completed they can know the "why" behind it if they're still interested.  I love teaching my children and helping them to understand the world around them and how it works, but 9 out of 10 times they didn't care about the "why" in the first place they were just stalling.

    So be encouraged, dear mama's.  Observe, sift and use what might work for your family. Be the positive influence in your home.  Do not grow weary in the good you are doing in your home.  There will be a glorious harvest someday.

    Wednesday, June 19, 2013

    Bringing Daddy Home

     During the summer I attended a meeting for a newly forming Christian school of midwifery.  It met at the home of a pastor who spoke before we got into the nitty gritty of the school plans and proposals. While I didn't agree with everything this pastor was talking about, and his Church history was a little inaccurate, I heard something that has changed the life of our home.  He talked about the benefits of running a family business.  This pastor has a radio program and does seminars.  His whole family participates in the events, setting and running their table/booth at conventions, producing audio seminars and packaging and shipping their family "merchandise" all over the country.  My first thought was, "yeah, that's nice for you, but I don't think we have anything our family could do."
     
    Last summer, just before we went to visit my godmother for the last time, my husband sat in our house waiting for a phone call.  Work situations had changed and he was supposed to start wiring apartments and businesses for cable.  Each week the boss would tell him, "I should have something for you next week."  But "next week" didn't come.  He stayed behind while I journeyed with 6 children across several states and back, but still no work came. 
     
    When I returned from California, we had no idea what to do.  I said, "I wish there were some home business we could do." He'd thought of that too, but couldn't think of anything.  I'd had an idea in the back of my mind for a number of years about doing a radio theater program for Orthodox children focusing on the Nativity of Christ, Pascha and lives of the saints. I presented this idea to him and he got excited.  In our family I am usually the optimist and he is the pessimist...or "realist", so for him to get excited was...well...exciting!  My husband is a musician and had been an audio/visual tech. at the Christian camp where we had worked in California.  He knew about running sound boards, recording, duplicating and packaging cd's.  He had resources for finding the right equipment to do sound recording.  This was right up his ally.  But the thought of taking such a huge leap of faith seemed impossible.  Just after we began to entertain these thoughts he received a call for a job with his boss' brother and so this idea was swept under the rug. It was a tough decision because this job meant my husband would have to work Sundays.  The relationships he'd been building at church would have to be put on hold, yet again, but he needed to provide for our family. 
     
    After a few months with the new company it was clear this company cared very little for its employees, and very poor work ethic, which caused a lot of frustration and piles of stress. What we didn't know was God had a plan just around the corner.  My hubby plugged away.  We prayed. 
     
    I went to the midwifery meeting and on my way home I lifted up that little rug the radio theater idea had been swept under and was met with several other ideas as well.  When I got home I presented some of these ideas to my husband and....HE WAS EXCITED!    We talked and prayed and thought and sought (counsel) and prayed some more.  The Lord opened a some doors, and even a few windows, and provided a way for my husband to come home to us.   
     
    Since he's been home every on of our children has come to me (not sure why me and not Daddy...) and told me how much happier Daddy seems and how glad they all are that he's home.  And he IS happier!  He is working on our micro-farm.  He has built fences...lots of fences...built a goat pen, made a miniature coop for the chicks and fixed the chicken coop out at the barn.  He has dug and chopped and helped plant.  He has invited his children to help pull nails, build and be part of the birth of our family business.  He has set up and torn down our bread stand at the farmers market each week and made sure I get to bed at a decent time the night before.  He has purpose and, for the first time in his working life, enjoys his work.  
     
    (had to include a picture of our goaties
     
    We have no idea where this adventure will lead or if he'll have to find work outside of the family business we're endeavoring to create, but we are enjoying the time we have right now and we are so thankful Daddy gets to be home!   (I sure do love my amazing man!!!)
     
     
     
     




    

    Sunday, May 26, 2013

    Pass the Baton

    My godmama Terry Beck went to be with her Lord back in the Fall.  Many tears have been shed off and on over the last several months. Her picture is on our wall near the space we have reserved for prayer in our home.  She is on our list of loved ones we prayer for saying "remember in O Lord in  Your kingdom..."

    When we became Orthodox she took on the great task of accepting the position of godmother for our little family (only 5 of us at that time).  She prayed for us faithfully over the years.  She prayed for my marriage, challenging life decisions, the emotional roller coaster rides with our children.  Her last words to me were, "I'll pray for you in heaven." 

    As a fellow foster parent she understood completely the challenges that come with fostering and adopting children with difficult backgrounds.  She understood that even when I vented or cried over an incident I loved the work that we were doing with our bio, adopted and foster children and wouldn't change it for the world.  She laughed with me and cried with me through all of the craziness. 

    When my two older boys started communications with their wonderful bio mom my youngest son felt really sad.  He was happy his brothers were able to get to know their mom, but he cried over the realization that he will not have that privilege.  Terry decided to fill in the gap and made sure to send him little "extras" from time to time.  She always asked about each of her godchildren and I know she prayed.

    After Terry found out she was terminal an amazing thing happened that only God could orchestrate.  He found someone for her to pass the baton to for our youngest son. A wonderful woman at church, out of the blue, sent a gift to my son "just because I thought you might need some dinosaur stickers today." She isn't afraid of him or annoyed by him.  She is able to laugh with me and cry with me and, most importantly, pray to our Lord concerning him. 

    A blessing was given today for another woman to "stand in" as godmother for my eldest daughter.  She was willing to take the baton...to continue the race begun by Terry...pray for my daughter and encourage her in the faith.  
     
    "Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;" Philippians 1:6

    It is so wonderful to be able to see how the Lord arranges things so that His work can continue in us.  We keep running the race and when we can't He provides someone to pass the baton to so that His work will be accomplished.  What a mighty God we serve. 

    Thursday, May 23, 2013

    My Life as a Boneless Chicken

    I read a very touching blog last week, when I was in the throws of CHAOS...ANARCHY...MENTAL BREAKDOWN!  I was so angry last week because of how crazy the behavior and verbal abuse I received at the hands/voice, of my eight year old son.  This woman was very candid with her life experience with a child who was my son times 100.  You can see her story here: http://www.scarymommy.com/threads/ .  There are times, scary times, in the lives of many mama's, when the challenges become nearly unbearable and that "line" we're not supposed to cross moves closer and closer.  

    Sunday started the 5th or 6th day in a row of behavior issues and verbal bombs raining down on me.  Again I felt such anger welling up inside of me that I had to put myself on yet another time out.  I went to my husband and told him we had to do something different because whatever we were doing was not effective and I was afraid I was going to cross that line...the line that was now only inches away.  This particular child is like a superhero (or super villain, depending on the day) who gets his power from attaching himself to an electrical source, only in the case of my "superhero" he gets his power from attaching himself to whatever emotional charges he can manage to set off in those around him.  I cried a little and my husband held me. 

    I headed off to my room for a little "laundry therapy"...folding in a quiet room really can be calming (with or without rubber walls)...and after calming further I was able to pray.  I affirmed that the Lord knows the children He has given us and that He knows I can parent these children in His strength.  Then I said something in my despair so utterly ridiculous I laughed out loud, "so apparently, Lord, You know something I don't."  HA! The Lord knows EVERYTHING I don't!    Perhaps that was where my real problem was hiding. From that moment on my perspective changed.  The emotional power surge was over and I was calm. 

    The emotional release I experienced during my laundry therapy showed me the importance of boneless chicken.  When children are small and life isn't going their way and their parent tries to pick them up they have a way of going boneless.  They relax their bodies making the act of picking them up very difficult!  What would happen if I went emotionally boneless when my child started escalating?  What if I, like a Jedi, put a shield of prayer and calm around myself so I would not give in to the craziness of my son's moods?  Right then I decided I'd be a boneless chicken when verbally assaulted.  The most important thing is to touch the heart of my son, work through his intense emotions and behavior while maintaining peace in my heart and home. 

    My life as a boneless chicken means my expectations have had to change.  The external things I hope to accomplish varies daily (cleaning, schooling) so I can discharge my emotional energy before my son has a chance to "power up".  He is met with a calmer mama and seems confused with his power source no longer available. 

    So how has the week gone?  As he learns to cross over to a new, more positive, energy source we aren't getting a whole lot of school done, but he is spending a lot of wonderful time with daddy outside, building, running, climbing...sometimes wrapped in the parachute type ground cover from the tent on the roof of the clubhouse sunning himself.  The boundaries are still securely in place, it's just that I'm not being thrust against them coming out battered and bruised. 

    O Father God, help me, your servant, to be faithful in the tasks You place before me.  Help me to be just as diligent in praising my children when their efforts are fruitful, as I am in training and disciplining them.  Show me daily how to run my race in the joyful service of others.  Order my time and priorities that every moment of my day and purpose of my heart glorifies You.  In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.