Thursday, February 26, 2009

Did you know?

Did you know that Garlands of Grace does custom lengths? I'm so excited! We all got a little piece of the tax return pie to spend on whatever we wanted. Lonna bought clothes. Jared bought Legos. And I, of course, bought headcoverings!

In my ongoing quest to find the perfect covering style, one I can just put on and not think about, I took advantage of the offer at Garlands of Grace to request a custom length. Their Suzanne style is just too short for me. So, I measured the length I decided was just right. I came up with 20". This is definitely THE length. Doesn't fall over and get caught on my shoulder, yet it gives me the drape that I like.

Their workmanship as always is excellent. Same for customer service. Add these to my snoods from their collection, and I think I'm almost there. The place where my headcovering doesn't occupy the time it does in my schedule and thoughts. There are still those mornings where I feel like I'm defeating the purpose. Spending far too much time fighting with the covering. I want to put on my covering each morning with a meek and quiet spirit. Not caught up in worldly cares of how it just doesn't fit right or look right.

The perfect covering won't fix all those concerns, though. My heart must continue to change and purposefully turn my back on the grips of vanity. These coverings do help, though. I am grateful for them.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Typical Day at Our House

I used to record an average day in our life once a month on my old blog. I always like to read what other people do with their day, and it keeps me on schedule, since I know I have to write about it!

7:40 a.m. I stayed up too late watching the Oscars. Doesn't make much sense, considering I don't support most of what Hollywood stands for, but there it is. It was nice to see women in dresses at least! :) I'm late from the start. My schedule says I should get up a little after 7:00 a.m. That way, I can check my e-mail, pray and basically do things by myself before the kids wake up at 8:00 a.m.

I've never been much of a schedule person. My creativity encourages me to live in the moment. Got an idea? Follow it. Got another one? Let's switch paths and chase that rabbit trail. Important things get done along the way, but rarely in a logical order. Every day is completely different. A jagged criss-cross through life rather than a winding spiral around a grounded center. Works well some of the time. My life has been too chaotic to make room for all the randomness lately. The cracks are starting to show. I'm seeing more and more that sticking to the schedule is obedience, and that word means a lot to me.

So, with prayer I made the schedule. Asking God to be the priority in my day. Ordering my life in the way most productive for the salvation of all of our souls. Rushing from here to there; missing prayer times; living in general swings from laziness to high-energy scatteredness. None of that is conducive to prayer, meditation and simplicity. Virtues are cultured in a garden. They must be tended and given consistant attention. My garden has become the place I pass through on my way to the next thing. Not enough time in a life filled with spontaneity to stop and watch anything bloom. That is not the example I want to set for the kids.

Being obedient to the schedule is just as important as being obedient to my rule of prayer, the fast, the headcovering, or the other spiritual tools I've chosen to utilize. Following a schedule does not make me a slave to time. Rather it frees me from being a slave to my own desires and whims. The schedule sets a boundary around my day. Reminding me to pray. Making sure my priorities are centered. Teaching my kids that life is not something we do by the seat of our pants. A Godly life is deliberate and purposeful. A Godly life has a schedule. Ask the monastics. They seem to have figured this all out a long time ago.

8:00 a.m. Kids wake up--- also reluctantly. Everyone gets dressed and eats breakfast. Hilary, the three year old, is overjoyed to see that my husband took a personal day today. His long hours at work seem to affect her the most. She crawls into our bed with him. Lonna, Jared and I meet back together for Morning Prayers.

9:00 a.m. Grammar. We use Rod & Staff. I love this curriculum. It's rigorous and has given my kids a deep grasp of the English language. I love that they diagram sentences and approach Grammar old school style. It makes them better writers and readers. It's a Mennonite curriculum, so they do tend to roll their eyes at the repeated sentence examples referring to Brother John and his farm tools or the like. I appreciate the Scripture use, though. We review the previous lesson and introduce the next one. They have just a few minutes to work on the assignment. The rest will be completed in the afternoon.

Before you begin to think that our homeschool morning is an idyllic love fest around the kitchen table, please know that it absolutely is NOT. My children don't run to me each morning begging for lessons. They aren't always excited about what I'm excited about or doing extra homework on the side. That's O.K. They're human just like me.

I do not see homeschooling as our family educational choice. It's our family life choice. We've made the choice to learn together, about loving God, working out our salvation, and growing up, along with the secondary topics of English, Math and Science. There's no point in filling my kids' heads full of facts if they have no way to apply them. So, we've learned how history tells us about God and the journey of mankind rather than a list of dates. We've learned how science tells us about the awesomeness of creation and the omnipotence of God rather than a set of vocabulary words. We've learned how math tells us about the intricacies and capabilities of the human mind through time and space, rather than a set of flashcards. We've learned how literature and language tell us about the value of communicating with other people and the freedom of imagination rather than summarizing a theme. We've learned that we are not islands, shuffling along behind a hundred different people our own age day after day. We've learned that we are part of a community of all sizes, shapes and ages.

My job is not to raise children. My job is to raise adults. I want to give them the skills they need to work and live with others as Christian human beings. I raise them not for a mere lifetime here on Earth, but an eternity with God. In our school there is academics, but there is so much more. They're not always in the mood to do school, and that's helpful. It teaches them perseverance. The lessons in responsibility and diligence aren't written in the teacher's manual, but they're just as valuable as the rest.

9:30 a.m. We switch to Science. We're using Apologia's Exploring Creation with General Science. We read the lesson out loud together and do the experiment for the day. A couple days a week, we do additional work for science. We study the biographies of different scientists throughout the year, so we may read a book, watch a movie about his/her life and write about them. We go on nature walks every few weeks when the weather allows. We also read other science-related books. Today, it was just the basic text.

10:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m. The older ones move into independent work. One does Math using Teaching Textbooks, which is a computer-based math program. This is by far the best math curriculum I've ever found and probably the best homeschool curriculum for any subject period. I answer the occasional question, but other than that, the kids teach themselves through the program. Teaching Textbooks put the fun back in math for us. While one child does math, the other reads. The material changes from day to day. History and literature. Maybe something for Science or Art. At 10:30 a.m., they switch. Meanwhile, I do "school" with little Hilary. We read books, play games, and color. She loves doing workbooks like the big kids, so she eats up any I get for her. Basically, I'm giving her my undivided attention for an hour.

11:00 a.m. French. We are using a curriculum from Bob Jones University Press. We've learned Latin the last couple years, but they never bonded with any of the curricula I tried. I was disappointed, because Latin was my first love. We'll come back to it in later years. For now, we've moved on to French. I also took French in high school, and I definitely need it with this curriculum! This is not a choice for parents who don't know the language. There is major teacher involvement here. It's turning out to be way more work than I anticipated, but it's getting us to the place we want to be.

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Lunch. Lonna and Jared make their own lunch. I call it Life Skills class. :) I'm trying to teach them not just how to cook, but how to make good food choices. We all have issues in that area in this family. They like a long lunch, so we relax. Lonna reads one of the historical fiction novels she loves. Jared plays, reads comic books, or draws. Hilary plays. I usually read or do school research on the computer.

12:30 p.m.-2:00 p.m. The rest of the school day. Sometimes we do art, music, typing or another subject. We always wrap up loose ends. Today, they finish Grammar and the French homework I assigned. They read a book about Elizabethan England and the poetry of our poet of the month, Ogden Nash. Jared reads the book Mary, Bloody Mary to supplement History. Lonna reads Julie of the Wolves for Literature. They finish up their study guide questions for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

I design my own curriculum. Does that mean I personally write every lesson? Does that mean I'm a genius who knows everything there is to know about every subject? No, that means I'm a manager of my children's education. I look around and collect the necessary resources to help them reach their goals. I use textbooks for some subjects and teaching guides for others. Some lessons I do compile all on my own from library books, conversation and Elmer's glue. There is no school out of a box at our house. We choose the best possible option each year for each subject.

I consider homeschooling a profound responsibility. Noboby is making me do this. I made the choice to teach my children. Therefore, I take it very seriously. It is my job. If I worked outside the home, I would not show up late, not pay attention, do a crappy job and then expect to still get paid. Same goes for homeschooling. I have to earn it. I can't put my own personal interests in front of my time commitment to schooling. The stakes are high. It's my children's lives I'm talking about. Homeschooling isn't for wimps.

Hilary plays for a little bit longer, and then we read a book. Naptime begins. I read Scripture and doze off on the couch saying the Jesus Prayer. My day is so much better when I pray the Hours. Even if I'm just marking the hour with a quick remembrance and "Lord have mercy!".

Life is distracting. That is why me must pray continually. I'm easily distracted, so I especially need a rule of prayer. Back to that schedule again! My precious husband has been cleaning out the garage and doing laundry. How kind and thoughtful he is to use his day off to make my life easier! He switches to some well-deserved time with the Playstation.

When school time is over, Lonna and Jared can stop and take a break if they like. If there's homework, it can be done later in the evening. Or they can just keep working until it's done. The older they get, the more I try to give them choices and encourage them to take ownership of their education. My job is not to teach them a mindless list of facts to be spewed back out on a test and forgotten the next day. My job is to teach them how to learn and to love learning. To seek out answers and see how those answers always, always lead us back to God. Learning is life, and it does not fit in neat time compartments.

3:00 p.m. My nap lasts about 20 minutes. No time for more. It's shopping day, so I run down to the bakery outlet to reload our freezer with bread. When I return, I gather my coupons and make my list for the trip to the grocery store. Lonna and Jared do their chores, and I sneek back to my room for the 9th hour prayers.

4:00 p.m. We pile in my husband's car to go to swim team practice. My car is in the shop. Sigh... Even though my husband took a day off work to relax, we're having our own personal recession around here, so he's been working a second job for awhile. He stocks shelves at a local grocery/discount store most evenings. We drop Lonna and Jared off at swimming and head to his store. They have good prices on most things, and we get an extra 10% off employee discount. I pick out what I need, but I don't want to do all my shopping there. Hilary and I tell Daddy goodbye and head across the street to the store with the double coupons. Hilary plays in their play area while I shop.

6:00 p.m. Shopping is over just in time to pick Lonna and Jared up from practice. We come back home, and I make dinner (vegetable lo mein). Everyone is starving. Should have made something in the crock pot so it would have been ready.

7:30 p.m. We go to the library. Lonna and Jared look for their books first while I watch Hilary play with the toys. Then, they watch her while I search for school books.

8:45 p.m. Back home and pooped. I hit a point each day where I just don't have anymore energy. Hilary watches a video she picked out at the library, and I zone out on the couch in front of the other T.V.

10:15 p.m. Time to pick my husband up from work. Theoretically, everyone is supposed to get ready for bed while I'm gone. I give into Hilary's pleas and let her wait up for Daddy.

10:45 p.m. We're back and Jared is still in the shower. I don't know if he was playing with his Star Wars figures or searching for chest hair, but he was a long time. Sure enough, all the hot water is gone. I flop down on the bed and watch the news while I wait for the water heater. My eyes are barely open. Kirk irons his clothes for the next day. Finally, I take a shower.

11:30 p.m. I kiss my icons and pray for forgiveness. God grants me a peaceful sleep.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Thaw

It was only a week ago that we went to sleep believing the weatherman, who said we'd get 1"-3" of snow. We ended up getting 13". This was in addition to the 40" in January, the second snowiest on record. Everywhere I looked, things were distorted. The layers of snow made park benches seem crafted for gnomes or fairies, only a few inches between the seat and the ever rising ground level. Mailboxes peaked mysteriously out of massive piles of ice, hardened by the repeated splash from the snowplow. The branches of the trees grew plump and full, dressed in furry, white coats.

After lunch, we ditched school and headed to the park, the one with the good sledding hill. Can't pass up a chance to play. We still learned important lessons that day, like don't ever let your older siblings make you sit in the front of the sled. It never ends well.

The sun glared so brightly my eyes smarted, and the sky glowed a crisp, contrasting blue. The silence and stillness filled my ears. No voices. No rush from the river across the field, since it was crippled by a top sheet of dense ice. My mind overflowed with the vastness of the lack of sound.

Today, we returned to the park. Instead of sleds, the kids had bikes. Instead of mittens, we wore lightweight jackets. The stillness was replaced by the now raging scream of water. Our voices were whipped and thrown around in a confusion of sound, as the monster overpowered all else in sight, sound, and presence.

How quickly the snow relented. As we walked down the gently sloping path to the lookout point, every crevice was filled with water. No obstacle could hold it back as it sought out lower ground. Faster and faster, under the leaves, around the stones, and down the steps the water raced to join the river on its uncharted course.

The water reminded me of two things. In one way, the world is the water. The relentless torrent that tears down the spiritual protection I've so cautiously constructed. The influences I've let creep in have melted my resources and literally made them disappear. I've been distracted, and while I wasn't looking, the thaw has come.

In that case, the water scares me. The power of it. The murkiness that I can't see through. The current that I forgot to fight against. The whirlpools and hidden traps devised to pull me under. I thought I could do it with just enough prayer and just enough fasting. Just enough---not enough.

Ultimately though, the thaw reminds me of the Creator, who fashioned the flow of the weather. The living water. I think of the smell. I almost forgot what this smells like. The grass I haven't seen for over a month. The dampness of the rain. The life under the freeze. Still there...just sleeping.

While I was huddled up in my cave of hibernation, grumbling about this and whining about that, life was going on without me. The river never freezes solid. It still flows under the ice. Sluggish and out of focus, I wandered, blind to the edges of the path which were hidden under all the snow. Instead of praying more, I prayed less. Instead of looking to God, I looked within myself. Another thing that never ends well.

The thaw is a blessing. A chance to see my life again. Correct my path. Straighten my steps. In this case, the water is a cleansing. The melting of the external extras that are no longer needed. I watch them as they rush away on the current. Out of sight before I have a chance to miss them.

The cold returns tomorrow, and this brief illusion of spring will be but a distant memory in a few short days.

How do I stop myself from freezing again? How do I resist the urge to look the other way, crawl in my cave, and go back to sleep?

I pray that God will keep my nostrils full of the smell of wet grass, my ears bursting with the sound of rushing water, and my eyes dancing with the warm light of the thaw.

Jeremiah 2:13 says, "My people have committed two evils: They forsook Me, the fountain of living water, and hewed for themselves broken cisterns, unable to hold water."

Lord, have mercy on me for seeking my own way and building this sad, worthless excuse of a container. Fill me with the living water and help me to hold it. In the rivers that flow through prayer. In the pathways that run straight and true through fasting. In the thaw that returns life to all who have fallen asleep.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Jane Austen and the Pharisee

When I started covering, I instantly noticed how the covering reminded me to watch my tongue. It's difficult to stand around in full modest garb and cuss like a sailor, or yell at the kids, or gossip. I would feel the weight of the covering even more distinctly, and I would remember that if I'm going to dress the part, I have to act gentle and humble, too.

I'm getting too used to the covering. It's second nature now. I would never think of going out in public without one. It's just who I am. I don't even notice it's there half the time. And that is the problem...

As I was listening to the sermon yesterday for the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, I thought about my pride. I am too much like the Pharisee who is so very grateful that he is better than everyone else. I looked around the room, and I was reminded of all my snap judgments. I had jumped to a conclusion about almost every person there. I had neatly categorized them into the sorting compartments in my head. Certain people go in certain places, and some of those places are not pleasant to be. I judge too quickly and talk too freely. I do not cover my neighbor's sins but expose them, while my sin's stay deeply hidden.

I have a gnawing hunger to know the details of anyone's story. Probably two-thirds of that is my Southern roots, where knowing everyone's business is an accepted and celebrated pastime. When I moved north, I was surprised at the tight lips. In Kentucky, I could spend five minutes in a room full of women and come out with all the details regarding their husbands, birth stories, and opinions about people not present. Not so up here. People still talk, but they just take a bit longer to get the gossip wheel turning.

If there's a story to be told, I want to know it. Curiosity killed this cat---more than once. Still I listen for the juicy stories. Still I re-categorize the people in my life based on what I hear. Still I put myself ever higher than the rest, safe and comfortable in my "thank God that I am not like them" haven.

Last night, I watched the BBC version of Sense and Sensibility. Will they take away my English degree or my female identification card if I admit that I have not always been a Jane Austen fan? I ultimately respect and enjoy her work, but sometimes I get so annoyed at her characters. Austen's books are set in a time and a place where people held their tongues, and it caused huge messes of misunderstandings. Even though I knew the outcome, I just wanted to yell at Elinor to hurry up and tell him you love him already!!! Quit trying to be a lady and just say what you mean. Save everyone mountains of trouble.

But does it? Does talking make things easier or more difficult? I think I've been too bold and mouthy to avoid misunderstanding lately, and it just leads to deeper trouble. I think I've been too quick to talk and slow to listen. Too quick to judge and slow to acknowledge my own sins. Too much like the Pharisee and not at all like the Publican. The Pharisee thanked God that he was not like other men, but all the Publican could do was beat his chest and cry, "God be merciful to me, a sinner."

How do other people see me? What impression am I giving? Is my chin lifted to the sky in self-righteousness, or is my head bowed in repentance? Is my mouth running like a raging river, or is it closed to listen? Is my tongue wagging its opinion about everyone and everything or is it saying, "God be merciful to me, a sinner"?

Covering my head isn't enough. I have to cover my tongue. If I can just get it to stay still long enough to put on the covering!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Zacchaeus Sunday

There's something about Zacchaeus. I remember him from Sunday School. "Zacchaeus was a wee little man. A wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree to see what he could see...". I never thought much of Zacchaeus aside from the song. Cute story for kids. In the past year, I've thought a lot about Zacchaeus, though. I see him everywhere.

My children and I were Chrismated on Zacchaeus Sunday 2008. The date my priest picked as most convenient. The last Sunday of ordinary time before the liturgical calendar launches into the mystical journey of Great Lent. Zacchaeus didn't mean much to me that day. I remember making a mental note to study his story again. Take another look at the man whose day of remembrance now held a special meaning for me as well.

Weeks later, I attended my first Holy Unction service on Holy Wednesday. An Unction service is the Orthodox version of an old-time healing service. The sick in body, mind, and soul come with the hope of being relieved from their suffering in all its forms. While physical healing is the desired result, it is not a necessary outcome of the Sacrament. Sometimes God does not heal the body, but the ill can be given the strength and wisdom to bear the burden of sickness. A precious gift of its own.

Seven Epistle and seven Gospel readings make up the Unction service. Each time the priest reads the Gospel, he places the book on the head of a sick person. In this way, faith is deepened for all present and the sick especially feel the comfort of God's Word.

My priest read the first Gospel over a lady in our parish who is fighting a long and tiring battle with cancer. I was touched by the intimacy of the service. One more tie that binds me to the community of my parish family and Orthodox Christians around the world. Then, Father motioned to me. He placed the Gospel book on my head and began to read--- the story of Zacchaeus. The weight of the book bowed my head even lower as I stared at my hands in my lap. I was filled with memories of the days when I first became chronically ill with my cardiac disease. At the time, I was a spiritual wanderer, searching for the Truth in an ocean of Protestant denominations. I remember many Pentecostal healing services. I went "expecting" as directed, but I always left wanting. I longed for someone to tell me that the suffering had value. That God could still use me, even though I was broken. That God still loved me, even when he chose not to heal me. I didn't find it during those years, but I felt it at that Unction service. I felt comforted. I didn't expect God to heal me that day, but I left with something unexpected. Peace. Peace that there is beauty in suffering. And Zacchaeus was there...

Two more times over the summer this event repeated itself. I went on pilgrimage to two different monasteries and attended Holy Unction services. Each time, the familiar story was read over me without my requesting it. I was just the one that happened to be picked by the priests. It was always Zacchaeus. Each time I felt the peace. Each time I wondered more and more about this little man who kept showing up in ways that couldn't be coincidence.

I haven't thought about Zacchaeus for awhile. Until the Reader's schedule came out. I started reading at our Wednesday morning Divine Liturgy back in August. Our group for that service is small and I'm the youngest one by about, oh...30 years. No members of the choir are able to come. No readers. It was making for some odd services. A one man show for the priest, since he had to do all the parts.

So, I started reading the Epistle. Then added on the Hours before the service and the prayers after Communion at the end of the service. Mid-week Feast days and other occasional services followed. When I was a little girl, I dreamed of singing in church. Like the sopranos who would belt out the big numbers during the offering. But my voice is not a soloist's voice. No special numbers for me. So, finding the treasure of reading at this point in my life is a special gift. Learning to chant has enhanced my private prayers and opened up a new level of depth to the services.

I had never thought about reading on Sunday. I wasn't part of the choir/reader clique. The dynamics of our parish have changed recently, though, and Father made the announcement that he would be adding new readers to the rotation for Sunday morning. He e-mailed the new schedule out, and I scanned for my name. There I was...on Zacchaeus Sunday. As I read the Hours this morning, I thought again about that wee little man. What is the deal? What am I supposed to be learning from him? Is it God just giving me a reminder that He's out there? Kind of our little private joke. A nod and a wink. Or is it more?

I listened to the Gospel with a close ear, searching for a clue to the significance. Nothing. No lightening bolt mountaintop experience. Just the same story. Same sycamore tree.

Father started the sermon. Zacchaeus was a tax collector in the way that gave tax collectors a bad name. He cheated. He took advantage. He was a small man in more than just his stature. Yet, he climbed up in a tree in the middle of a crowd. With all the people he controlled watching. His job was to hold people under his thumb. Since he was short, he probably tried extra hard to make sure he looked as intimidating as possible. His appearance was extremely important. But on that day, he looked absolutely ridiculous. I'm sure they laughed at him. Hanging from a sycamore tree looking at this crazy Jesus guy walking down the road. Some might even have got quite a view up his robes. An embarrassing situation. Not at all his usual image. But he did it. To see Jesus.

Sometimes you have to be willing to look ridiculous to follow Christ. When Father said those words, I finally, finally got it. That's why that wee little man keeps following me around.

Even though I didn't know it last year at my Chrismation, the first time Zacchaeus appeared, God was going to lead me down a new path. He was going to ask me to dress modest and put on a the the swim meets where the other two hundred women in the room have on pants. He was going to ask me to cover my head...when no one else in my parish does...when my relatives think I'm crazy...when in the world's eyes, I look ridiculous.

I was talking to a friend the other day about a bit of the loneliness I feel in covering. I don't expect anyone else I know to do it, but gee whiz, it sure would be nice to have just one person who understands! A spiritual buddy of sorts who knows what it feels like to look a little ridiculous and choose to get up the next day and do it all over again. Someone who makes the same choice to buck the system of the world's standards and climb up a tree, hanging out on a limb, just to get a little, teeny glimpse of Jesus. No matter how it looks.

I don't have someone like that in my parish. But I have Zacchaeus. We keep bumping into each other. With a wink and a nod of understanding. He knows what it's like to look ridiculous for Christ, and he knows how much it's worth it. Because Jesus called him down from the tree. To make him a new man. To change him forever through one, ridiculous moment.

I'll climb that tree. I'll hang out on that limb. Just to see Christ. Just to follow Him. I'm starting to get a knack for looking ridiculous...