Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day Tribute...

The following are letters my sister and I wrote to my mom in a book we put together as a gift to celebrate the last birthday she spent on earth. We didn't realize that it would be the last birthday we would spend with her, but so glad we were able to express our sentiments while she was still here with us.

FROM SHERRY:
Dear Moo,

There are too many memories I have of you to write them all down. From the places you would take us when we were little (the museums, parks, libraries…) to the things we did together when we were older (bike rides to Athens, tennis, long walks and talks), and everything in between. Each of those memories holds a special place in my heart, but there is so much of you that I carry with me every day as a person, and as a mother. I wish you were able to see now how we carry inside of us all that you worked hard to instill in us. As a mother now, I know just how hard it is, wanting to instill in my children the things that I even fall short of and am still striving for. As mothers, we worry and wonder if the mistakes we make will affect our kids in the long run, and also if they will take for themselves the values we try so hard to instill in them. Well Moo, you have really pulled it off…not by anything you preached to us or taught us with words, but by your genuine and unwavering quest to seek and serve God and love Him and His people. I will never forget seeing you sit in the formal living room reading your Bible and praying. I will forever appreciate that your priorities for us were to love God first, and love others. You were never concerned with the goals that the rest of the world had for their kids, and yet you supported us and stayed up with us many nights studying for tests or helping with projects, which helped both of us to succeed academically. It always struck me how you never cared to fit in with the crowd or get your own social needs met, but instead you always looked to see how you could meet the needs of others, especially the elderly, the lonely, the sick, the kids who had special needs…the ones that everyone else overlooked. You loved the poor and were the happiest when you were with them, or giving to them. You had us spend our Saturdays at Capuchin Soup Kitchen, and spend summer days at the shelter for single mothers and their kids. I still have distinct memories of those places. All of this, plus countless visits to the sick/lonely/needy with you and Baba left an impact on us so great that it has become a huge part of who we are and what we do. You were always so wise, such a good listener and counselor. Sometimes I think you are in the place you are so that God could give you the desire of your heart, to be a blessing to others, to live as a nun ;), and to serve those who are the hardest to serve. Even in your sickness, you are continuing to bless so many. Your sickness changed us, and saved us in ways we could have never planned ourselves.

What an incredible woman you are- and I get to call you Mom…

There are so many days I wish I could call you and ask for your advice about things with the kids. Days where I stay awake worrying if I’m doing anything right, worrying about them, and wishing I could talk to you about it…and then I realize that deep inside of me, your voice, your spirit, your answers are there. Recently, I found an incredibly touching poem you had written in your journal, and I believe that the last 2 lines capture the way you lived your life.

It read:

“Shall the Great Judge learn when my task is through, that my spirit has gained some riches too?

Or shall at last it be mine to find, that all I’ve worked for, I’ve left behind…”

My dear mom, truly all of the riches you worked for are spiritual riches, an inheritance you passed down to us that moth and rust cannot destroy. Every time I worry about something, and wonder what you would say, I remember that you always had such a heavenly perspective. Grades, career, worldly accomplishments, and everyday struggles start to fade in the light of what really matters. Your life, your spirit, and now your sickness are a testimony to that and for that I will be forever grateful. I love you.


FROM CHRISTINA:
Mama who evolved into Moo is the most selfless person I know and I didn't truly appreciate it and understand it fully until I became an "adult."

My childhood was filled with daily home cooked meals, special snacks, notes in my lunches that eventually turned into weekly letters in my college mail box.

Endless rides to school, basketball practice, Girl Scout meetings, friends' houses and never a complaint - always out of love.

I realize how much she put on hold for the whole family.

She has a contagious laugh that was sometimes uncontrollable and lead to tears.

She instilled in me a desire and an obligation to help others - her Christian faith permeated every aspect of her life.

She was beautiful in her simplicity.

Even though she's still with me, I miss her and I hope she knows how much I appreciated her!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Miracles STILL Happen

For the last seven years, I've been suffering from a condition called anosmia- the complete loss of smell. This loss of smell consequently left me without the ability to taste as well. The most common cause of this condition is, as in my case, nasal congestion from allergies or sinus issue. Most people take their sense of taste and smell for granted, but if you've ever been without these senses even for a few days, you know the misery it can cause. In fact, in the little research that has been done on this subject, it was found that over the years, people with anosmia are likely to develop depression since many of the "pleasure centers" in the brain are activated when we taste and smell things that are desirable. Of course there is also the safety issues related to this condition. Once I had left the stove on, and had no idea that a fire was about to start until the fire alarm went off. And of course there were also the embarrassing moments when my kids were still in diapers and everyone but me knew that they needed a diaper change...

I had gotten used to not being able to taste or smell, but it was definitely starting to slowly chip away at my quality of life. I missed the years of smelling the "baby smell" of my kids, I missed smelling the beginning of Spring and Fall, I missed smelling the sunscreen that would remind me of summer, and of course I missed the taste of all my favorite food. I stopped buying perfumes, scented candles, and the like. I tried all that I could to help my condition- sinus surgery, taking steroids (which I couldn't do long term), sinus rinses, etc. I even made appointments with the best ENTs in the area. After seven years, I reluctantly gave up hope that I would ever find a solution. I accepted it as one of the crosses I would carry in life, and tried to make the best of it. I still had 3 of my senses, and so much more that I was thankful for. I started trying to enjoy just the textures of food instead of taste, i.e. a crunchy ice cream cone with cold ice cream, a toasted crunchy bagel with cream cheese, etc.


Around four months ago, I was in Michigan for what I thought was just a bi-annual visit to see my mom. She was diagnosed with early onset dementia and was now at the stage where it was nearly impossible for her to travel anywhere. Within an hour of my arrival in Detroit, my sister and I were informed that my mom was "active". Not knowing what this meant, we were confused, because she didn't look active to us since she had been bed-ridden for quite some time. To our disbelief, we learned that "active" meant that she had begun the process of actively dying. The doctor told us that her death was imminent- it was only a matter of hours or days. For the next eleven days, my sister and I sat at my mother's bedside, watching as her body and life faded away. During those eleven days, the veil between heaven and earth were very thin. Amidst all the mourning and sadness, a window to heaven was opened that I had never experienced before. The unknown of what happens after this life was right in front of us for a brief moment in time. God became more real than ever, and heaven a real place. Sitting at the death bed of one of His saints, who happened to be my own mother, allowed me a glimpse into the reality of heaven that I had never experienced before.


I cannot explain what I felt and experienced, but I can tell you what happened and how on earth this relates to my lack of taste and smell! You can imagine the amount of crying that was going on for those eleven days. The crying, coupled with little sleep and good old Michigan pollen cause my allergies to be OUT OF CONTROL. I could barely breathe and I was just miserable. One day when I was sitting on my mom's bed, I held her hand and looked into her eyes and said, "When you go before the throne of God, can you please ask Him to show me how I can get treated for this? I don't know what to do anymore." I believe that over the years as my mom's body and mind were deteriorating from the awful disease of dementia, her spirit was only getting stronger. I knew at that moment that she heard my prayer request. On October 28th, my mom's spirit departed from her body, and at that exact moment, I saw my mom for who she now was- her young self, free from disease, and soaring in her spirit as she was now free. I don't know if you would call it a vision, but I did see her in this new state, and in the middle of my sobbing, I whispered to my husband, "I have my mom back", as this horrible disease had stolen her from us much too early.

One week after I had come back home to Virginia after the funeral, my friend who is a doctor called me from work. She was excited to share some news with me. She wanted to let me know that a patient of hers, who wasn't able to taste or smell for fifteen years was finally healed. Her patient had gone to a doctor in the area who had done acupunctre for a few months, and gone on a clean eating diet. I was so excited about this new and hopeful information, but it was not until I hung up the phone with my friend that I remembered...

This was exactly what I asked my mom for! To go before the throne of God and ask Him to direct me in getting treatment for my condition!

I couldn't wait to get started. When I arrived to the doctor to start acupuntre treatment, I was a bit surprised by the non-traditional office. I was never into alternative medicine, but at this point, I had nothing to lose. As I laid down on the treatment bed, I thought to myself that the doctor must surely be into some new age religion. Before I could even finish my thoughts, the door to my room was shut by the doctor, and a large cross was now visible at the back of the door. This is the place I'm supposed to be I thought to myself and smiled.

For around 3 months, I drove almost daily to this office that was almost 30 minutes away from home. I walked in faith. Just like the blind man that Jesus healed by putting clay in his eyes and asking him to wash in the pool of Siloam, I listened to the somewhat odd commands of doing acupunctre and changing my diet that God was telling me that would lead to my healing as well. I began to feel much better, my breathing was significantly improved and my asthma was almost gone. I no longer needed medication for my allergies. Everything was great, except that I still couldn't smell and taste. I was drained from driving and the expense of it was adding up. Even though I was extremely thankful for how much better I felt, decided to take a couple weeks off from the acupuntre.

Just last week, I woke up and brushed my teeth as usual, but this time something was different. I could taste my toothpaste I quickly ran downstairs and started opening up the peanut butter, the coffee beans, and anything I could get my hands on. I could smell everything! I opened a banana and ate it- and I could taste it. Since that day, my taste and smell have come back off and on, but most days I have these senses back. I honestly never thought I would ever see this day. I firmly believe that God has allowed me to experience the fruit of my mother's intercessions so that I could share that the victorious Church- made up of those who have gone before us- is truly alive and working and interceding for us, the struggling Church here on earth. The unseen spiritual world is just as alive and real as the physical world we see around us. I believe that God healed me after taking a two week break from acupuntre so that I wouldn't wrongly attribute my healing to just the acupuntre, though I know that this treatment that God led me to was extremely affective. Just like He didn't want the blind man to attribute his healing to the clay that was used, or the pool water- God wanted me to know that He alone is the author of my healing. Our God is alive and His mercy and compassion became a reality to me through this experience. To Him be all the glory.

And to my sweet mother...how great it is to know that you will never stop taking care of me.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Mansions in Heaven

We are in the process of buying a new house. It's a very exciting time for our family since we've spent the past 7 years or so living the "tent life"- moving freely from place to place as God would lead us. We've just been renting as we go, so I haven't found it worth the time or money to invest in much home decor, furniture, paint, etc. Though on the outside the homes we have lived in haven't been that big, or fancy, or elaborately decorated, the heart of our home has been alive, vibrant and joyful. Without focusing on the outside, we were able to spend time cultivating what really matters- quality time as a family, enjoying each other, opening our home to those that need it, and spending time in prayer to invoke the Spirit of God into our home and our lives.
With the advent of buying this new house comes a lot of planning and decision making about different ways we can improve and beautify things. I have literally spent hours on Pinterest trying to choose just the right paint color, determine the most efficient way to lay out our furniture, and so on. If I can create this "perfect house", the world tells me, I will be happy, at peace, and able to enjoy life to the fullest. There are actually hundreds of blogs talking about paint colors that relieve stress and help you relax! Needless to say, I've put a lot of pressure on myself and spent endless hours investing in this new home...a home that is by no means my permanet residence, nor is it my key to happiness.
All of this effort has taken my eyes off my true purpose, and even the reason we are buying the house in the first place. Ephesians 2:10 tells us, "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them". Anything that nudges us away from this purpose of ours will leave us feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled. We are simply not wired to be satisfied with temporary and earthly things. One of my favorite parts of the Orthodox Liturgy pleads, "and we too who are sojourners in this place, keep us in your faith, and grant us your peace unto the end". Soujourners- strangers- visitors.
My efforts to beautify this home should not be simply to create a comfortable place for my family and I to live. I have to continually keep in mind that as just a visitor on this earth, I should spend more time investing in the things that will last eternally. Creating a haven that will prompt my family to pray and be filled in order to be equipped for the good works that God has prepared for us. Creating a space that will be open for God's service and carving out time to pray in order for our home to be filled with His presence and His Spirit. All of these things that cannot be done when my mind and efforts are focused on the things of this temporary world. I learned a powerful lesson from great friends of ours. Even though they were able to afford an enormous house that was lavishly decorated, our friends intentionally chose to buy a beautiful home that was just the perfect size- not too big and not too small. This purchase surprised some family and friends of theirs who couldn't understand why they didn't buy a huge, elaborate house if they had the money to afford it. After discussing the issue with them one day over dinner, the husband sent us an email later that night with a picture similar to the one below:
You see, he told us that one day they actually will have a huge house- a mansion to be exact. One day, they will have a house that is so lavishly decorated that one would not be able to describe it in words. But this home will not be here on earth. How powerful that message was for us and how great was their example. Yes, the world will tell us to buy bigger, and more, and to spend a lot of money and effort on our temporary homes, though all of it is in vain as Solomon said, "vanity of vanities, all is vanity". Christ makes a great promise to us and says, "In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2). I pray that God would give us the grace to invest- not in this earthly house of ours- but in our true Home that He is preparing for us.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The "Heart Work" in Parenting

There are more times than I'd like to admit where I've whispered something like this to my boys during liturgy, "if you keep quiet and sit still, I'll buy you some (fill in the blank with a candy/treat)". Of course, there's nothing entirely wrong with doing that considering they are young and the liturgy for them seems like an eternity. The problem comes when this kind of bargaining starts to become a way of life in our home, and oftentimes it does without us, as parents, even thinking of its implications. We make all kinds of sticker charts and reward systems for the boys adhering to certain rules and avoiding certain behaviors. Again, I don't think that's always a bad thing, especially when we are trying to instill habits like doing homework, chores, potty training, etc. However, it does become a problem when the outside behavior looks good (because our kids are motivated by some external reward) but the heart remains the same. Weren't the pharisees just like that? Their behavior was actually perfect but Christ rebukes them saying, "You brood of vipers! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart" (Matt. 12:34) Yikes! Without even realizing it, we can be turning our children into Pharisees. I'll admit, sometimes it is easier to just fix the behavior from the outside, especially when we are in front of people, in places where we need them to behave, or even when we are just so exhausted that we'll do whatever it takes to make them behave (There have definitely been some nights where I promised my kids they'll get a treat in the morning if they would just go to bed and not keep coming out of their rooms ;)). So how do we practically get to work on our children's hearts?
One thing our children (and ourselves) need to understand is that no matter how hard any of us try, we cannot change on our own. It is only the mighty power of Jesus Christ inside of our hearts that can make real and lasting change. That's why its important that we, as parents, pray in front of our children very honestly and openly. When I lose my patience with my kids, I first apologize and then either on the spot or during bedtime prayers, pray out loud to God and ask Him to uproot the impatience from my heart, and replace it with His love and His heart. It may sound silly, but after a while (even at a young age), the kids start to understand that we all need God, even mommy and daddy. Wasn't that God's biggest issue with the Pharisees? They didn't feel the need for God, because they felt that they could just fix themselves without His help.
As Orthodox Christians, we are constantly displaying our need for God. Why else would we drag ourselves and our children to liturgy every Sunday? Because we know the power we receive from the Eucharist. We know the cleansing we receive from repentance and confession. We understand our spiritual struggle here on earth which is why we call on the saints, who are part of the victorious church, to pray for us and help us. We do prostrations (meytanias)while saying "Lord have mercy", which is our way of telling God, we really need your help! These are all things we need to verbalize to our children. After a rough morning with the boys when everyone was not being kind to each other (myself included), we got into the car and I said, "Boys, we are on our way to Church to be close to God and take communion because we all need Him to change our hearts and give us power to be just as kind as He is." Of course they may not understand what this really means, but their spirit does, and over time as we keep verbalizing this, they will also see their need for Him, and the healing and true peace that He brings.
Another thing that has helped work on heart issues is helping the kids find the root cause of their behavior. For example, when fighting over toys, or when siblings constantly bicker, a lot of times the root cause is selfishness or thinking of one's own needs over the other's (pride). Even at a young age, its good to probe with your children to get them to see the root cause of their behavior. Once they find it with your help, you can both pray for it and put it before God and say something like, "Lord, it is hard for me not to be selfish, can you please help me to change?" Getting into this habit not only gets to the heart of the matter, but always points our children back to the grace and saving power of the Cross, which should be our goal as Christian parents. I hope this encourages all of us to work on our children's hearts and not just the outside behavior.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Family Altar- First Round!

I've been increasingly aware of the evils of the world lately, and how Satan truly is like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He looks for any door that is kept even a tiny bit open to enter and destroy. He tries to creep into our minds, tries to lure our children, and tries to destroy the family. It is quite anxiety provoking even just to think about, and I must admit that there are days when the thoughts and the worries can almost be paralyzing. In those moments, I am reminded that Christ promises, "Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you." What an amazing promise! But how can we get this authority? We are blessed with a richness in our Church that gives us various means of receiving the grace of the Holy Spirit that can fill our hearts and our homes with this protection against evil and also bring us to the presence of God. The "Family Altar" is a designated area in the home where we as a family can come into the presence of God together. We made ours pretty simple for now (picture above) with an icon and a candle, since our boys are still little. We set up the ipad with the prayers from the Coptic book of hours (the Agbeya) and for today we just said the Our Father and the Thanksgiving Prayer that our six year old was able to read for us. We also tried to do some meytanias (prostrations) while saying "Lord Have Mercy". I say "tried" because our 1 1/2 year old was with us and thought we were all trying to play a game with him, but after a while he was really trying to get up and down like his older brothers :) Overall, it was a good first attempt. The boys of course were laughing at times, trying to play around and pretty distracted overall, but I know that just being in the presence of God together as a family is powerful. When we pray in His presence, we put ourselves in the posture to receive His Grace, His peace, His joy, His protection, His love. Regardless of what is happening around us (even when 3 monkeys are jumping all around us), He is there and ready to give to us. I pray that these moments would plant seeds in the hearts of my children, and build walls around their hearts and minds to protect them from the evil that is fighting all around them.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Decluttering

This will be the second time that I try to intentionally "declutter" during Lent. It seems as though I let things get a little out of hand when I am not making a conscious effort to simplify and stay focused. I'm not just talking about my kitchen counter that now takes the brunt of having to manage three little boys, but I am also talking about my mind and my spirit; both of which have also taken the brunt of my busy lifestyle and my admitted addiction to social networking and constant need to look up something on my iphone (aka "the antichrist"). Apparently, I'm not alone. I've talked to countless people who say the way they "unwind" at night is by browsing facebook or flipping through their smart phone. It seems all of us are being pulled in by something...or someone...who wants us to keep our minds and hearts busy and full with something, anything...other than Him. Sometimes I look around my home and see all of the excess stuff that we don't even have room for. I can spend hours just putting this "stuff" away, organizing it, and picking it up off the floor. It can literally consume me to the point where I don't have enough time and energy to do the things that are important, like spending time with my husband and kids, and making sure they don't go the bed hungry ;) And even when I do spend time with them, my thoughts are often consumed with what I have to do, so I don't get to fully enjoy my time with them. Isn't it the same for my spirit?? There is so much "stuff" in my mind and heart that it becomes difficult to focus on what the Lord is saying to me when I spend time in prayer. Sometimes although He is right beside me, He seems distant because all of the clutter in my mind is making its way down to my spirit so that I can't fully engage Him. So what am I going to do about it?? Yes, disconnect! (Ironically, this is actually a real app on smart phones). I am disconnecting from social networking completely and excess email/texting and increasing my Bible reading and time spent in the agbeya and personal prayer. I truly believe that God is the one giving me the motivation to do this in order to really draw me in to Him. Through His power and grace, I don't doubt that some great change will happen through this process...stay tuned!

Monday, August 20, 2012

One Day...

Being a full time mother of 3 little boys can be a daunting task some days. There is little time to rest, think, and even eat... As tempting as it is to look forward to my boys growing up just a little, and being more independent, I am very cautious not to. I don't know what it is that makes me extremely aware that life is short and that these moments are so fleeting. Maybe it is because my dad passed away about 30 years before he should have, and my mom was taken from us by dementia also about 30 years too early...Maybe its because my two older sons will both be in school full time next week...I'm not sure what it is, but the following are the thoughts that keep me going when I seem to be drowning in the fatigue and responsibilities of the day: - When the boys jump in bed with us much too early for our liking, I remind myself that one day we will be the ones dragging them out of bed, and we will be longing for the days of early morning cuddles with them.
- When they constantly ask us to play with them, whether it be riding bikes outside, playing Candyland for the 100th time, or building yet another castle or spaceship out of blocks, I remind myself that one day I will wish they'd want to play with us instead of their friends, and will be longing for the days when we were their world, their fun.
-When they ask for "one more bedtime story", I remind myself that soon they will be reading on their own, and I will long for the days where we all sat in bed together, having them on our laps while we read story after story.
-When they seem to be "in my way" in the kitchen while I am trying to cook, asking me if they can help, I will remind myself that there will be a day where all they'll want is to know when dinner will be ready. I will long for the days where we prepared together.
-When I want the house to be quiet just for once, I will remind myself that one day the house will seem a little bit too quiet. I will long for the days when we could hear the pitter patter of their feet as they ran all over the place, I will miss the laughing, and even the fighting over all the silly things.
-When I am constantly cleaning up instead of spending time with my kids, I will remind myself that there will be a day where I don't have 5 people's laundry to wash, little fingerprints to clean, and crumbs to sweep up. I will long for the days where my house was a mess, but full of life.
-When I feel as if my ears are going to fall off with all the "Mommy, guess what??" or "Mommy, look at this!!" that I hear all day long, I remind myself that one day it will be like pulling teeth to get my boys to keep talking to me and telling me about every detail of their day. I will even long for those days when they talked my head off.
Even as I wake up to feed and hold my newborn, I am reminded how quickly they grow and how this precious season of closeness with my baby will soon be over.
The Bible tells us, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." Moms and dads, let us diligently serve our children during this brief season. As challenging as it may be some days, let us remind ourselves that it is just a season that will soon become a memory as we move on to our next God given assignment.