Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dining with the Duchess

I gaze in awe at the fine china tea cup, trimmed with thin gold, engraved with the initials of her and her beloved; the delicate rim tips slowly, carefully to each ladies' lips, cool liquid pouring down throats, flowing with holy heat.  Her fragrant scent spreads throughout the room, the perfume of royalty now exchanged for the sweet scent of holiness.  Her image, embossed in silver, hangs from my neck, swinging forward as I bow neck to kiss her hand.  She is clothed in royal robes.  Not those handed down from her grandmother, the ornate finery of Queen Victoria; nor are they the court clothes of a member of the Russian Imperial Court.  These are robes of pearl gray cotton, beautiful in their simplicity.  These are the robes of martyrdom.  We sing with her, we pray with her, we serve with her, and we listen.  We listen to what she has to teach us.  Charitable works, patience and love.  Those are her words to each of us.  Which is the most difficult?  To love as Christ loved?  To bear without reproach the little annoyances of the day?  To give of ourselves in helping others?  Can they even be separated?  For without love, there is no patience.  Without love there are no charitable actions.  Without patience and charitable works, there is no love.   She stands before us, a witness to all three.  A woman who had everything, bore the deepest of sorrows, and gave all that she had in mercy and love for Christ and those around her.  In her story, and in her words, there is much to contemplate.  Above all, her actions: she embodied Mary and Martha.  She was a pioneer, creating an Orthodox monastic community like no other, one that united the one thing needful with the service of Martha, caring for each person she came in contact with as an icon of Christ.  She stood firm against those who would protect her, those who would keep her safe within her white walls, those who would deliver her from the terrible red darkness that was washing over her beloved adopted homeland.  As Lent approaches, her example reminds me that I cannot consume myself with the services and prayers of the church, without partnering them with the willingness to serve each time the opportunity is presented, and the love and patience I so rarely find myself capable of having for those around me.

  O Holy Martyr Elizabeth, pray for us.

Concealing the rank of a princess with humility, O divinely-wise Elizabeth, 
thou didst honour Christ with the two-fold service of Martha and Mary.
Having purified thyself with charitable works, patience and love, 
thou wast brought to God as an offering of righteousness. 
As we venerate thy virtuous way of life and thy sufferings,
we earnestly ask thee, as our true teacher: 
O holy martyr and Grand Duchess Elizabeth, 
entreat Christ our God to save our souls.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Are you living in Zerrissenheit?

I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.... This is an end toward which we should strive - to be the still axis within the revolving wheel of relationships, obligations, and activities.  Solitude alone is not the answer to this; it is only a step toward it, a mechanical aid.... The problem is more how to still the soul in the midst of activities.  In fact, the problem is how to feed the soul.
For it is the spirit of woman that is going dry, not the mechanics that are wanting... With our garnered free time, we are more apt to drain our creative springs than to refill them.  With our pitchers, we attempt sometimes to water a field, not a garden.
Not knowing how to feed the spirit, we try to muffle its demands and distractions.  Instead of stilling the center, the axis of the wheel, we add more centrifugal activities to our lives- which tend to throw us off balance. 
[The] answer is not in the frequent pursuit of centrifugal activities which only lead in the end to fragmentation.  Woman's life today is tending more and more toward the state [described] so well in the German word "Zerrissenheit-torn-to-pieces-hood."  She cannot live perpetually in "Zerrissenheit."  She will be shattered into a thousand pieces.  On the contrary, she must consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh  Gift from the Sea

Monday, February 21, 2011

Joy on Monday Mornings

49. weekend spent with a Saint
50. quiet moonlit night full of clear constellations, time to think on things
51. paper valentine roses in my favorite color
52. prayers of a child, so much more heartfelt than my own
53. bath by candlelight
54. knowing that I am one of His sheep, and He knows my name
55. the sound of my heeled boots clicking down a hall, next to a woman in a wheelchair who will never wear heels again
56. the knowledge that being Martha is equally as important as being Mary

Saturday, February 19, 2011

And so it begins

The marathon of Lent has once again arrived.  One week ago today, the book was laid at the feet of Christ, a signal to all that training now starts in earnest.  We enter the season of preparation, the Triodion has begun!  I am excited, eager with anticipation.  Yes, it is a long hard run, and often does not turn out the way we expect, but it is a journey each year for which my heart and soul seek out.  Last year, I am sure I complained about the the short time between the Nativity and Lent, how quickly we passed from feasting to fasting.  I wanted a longer break, to stretch the time between.  This year, the time has been longer, much longer, and I strain toward the beginning.  While the season between is full of glorious feasts, Theophany, the Presentation of Christ, and the many saints we commemorate, it is also a time when I always feel the need for new focus.  It is the time when I easily begin to feel overwhelmed, and lacking a structure to my life.  In a few short weeks, we will gradually move from our long season of feasting into the long season of fasting.  Deep purple will cloak the altar and priests, and the incense will grow heavy.  We will being the journey, and we will once again watch the signposts along the way, marking each mile.  Over and over again we will lay ourselves at the feet of Christ.  We will attempt to follow the exercises prescribed by the church, in hopes of building our endurance, and we will run the race.  What are those exercises?  How do we shape and mold ourselves that we may more reflect the perfect image, the image of Christ in us?  The Church outlines three tangible things we are called to, the "three-legged stool" of Orthodox living: prayer, fasting and almsPrayer is obvious, and hard to avoid in the Lenten service schedule.  Fasting, is always a struggle, but at least I have a plan and a direction to follow, it is something I can get a grasp on.   Then there is almsgiving. Here so often is where my strength fails.  How to give alms?  Each year we receive a little box at the start of Lent.  A place to drop our change, a place to collect the money we save as we restrict the call of the belly.  While it important for each of us to stretch the dollars, to give of our material wealth, it does not express the  fullness of almsgiving
Almsgiving is "love for others expressed in practical form, by works of compassion and forgiveness.... the criterion in the coming judgement will not be the strictness of our fasting but the amount of help that we have given to those in need .....  The mere giving of money can often be a substitute and an evasion, a way of protecting ourselves from closer personal involvement with those in distress.  'When thou seest the naked, cover him; and hide not thyself from thine own flesh" (Bp. KALLISTOS Ware, introductory notes to the Lenten Triodion)
How, how do we make sure we don't protect ourselves, hide our hearts and eyes, shelter our children from the hurt around us?  How do we clothe the naked, feed the poor, care for the sick?  Over the years I have seen some beautiful examples of those who have fulfilled this call.  This year, I look for ways our home can indeed give alms.  Most of us cannot pick up and travel to some distant land to care for the neediest.  So how do we serve within our daily lives?  As I have slowly worked my way through our home, attempting to declutter the mess, remove the unnecessary, embrace less and bless others with our excess, many times I have found myself staring into the fabric closet.  The curse of a seamstress, the call of fabric. 
How hard it is to just NOT BUY.  How hard it is to walk away from the newest print.  Bins full to overflowing, piles of laundered pillowcases sit in my fabric closet.  Brightly colored stripes, dainty hand crocheted borders, soft sweet florals, all waiting for some future project; and as I try to decide the balance between what to keep and what to remove, a blessing is sent my way.  This link arrives in my inbox. A home for those beautiful orphaned pillowcases.  Each one is unique, each has its own beauty, and each can bless.  Now I have a plan.

Our goal is one dress a week beginning Meatfare Sunday. The little princess is going to learn to sew, and together we will indeed clothe the poor, and remind ourselves each day of the blessing of a full closet, 3 cooked meals every day, shoes on our feet, wooden floors beneath us and a sturdy metal roof over our heads.  We will lay our time and efforts at the feet of Christ and say thank you.  It is a small gift.  It is a poor offering, but it is a start.
Want to share your ideas for almsgiving? Please leave me a note letting me know what ideas you have.   I would love to hear other ways you may be planning to give of your time and abilities to help others this Lent.  And if you choose to join us in sewing dresses, please leave a link so we can see!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Family Mission: Impossible?

How does the family culture survive today's anti-family atmosphere?
Okay, maybe it sounds cheesy, I mean really, a mission statement?  I was doubtful, not being the touchy-feely type as my Dad would say :)  After some doubts, I can tell you that creating my own personal mission statement (at my husband's prodding) has been a real blessing in my life.  When I feel overwhelmed, when I begin to doubt myself and my direction, the mission statement becomes a reminder of the important, the needful.  My goal was to read it each morning - and while I certainly don't accomplish that, I do refer to it often, and it encourages and reminds me of the path.  After creating a personal statement, my husband initiated the beginnings of creating a family mission statement.  Why?  How often do we lament the lack of time?  I love Fr. Justin Mathews song "Eight a Dime"  from Confessing Between the Lines (great CD, highly recommend it, especially if you are a fan of indie music! And while I am at it, a plug for FOCUS North America, if you are looking for a genuine way to help, please consider donating, I know Fr. Justin and Mtr. Jodi personally, and they are sincere and genuine icons of Christ, looking to feed the hungry and clothe the naked). 
"Well, time ain't nothing like freezer jam, it don't keep, even canned
So let me give you two cents, you can't two step through life.
Or you'll be three short a nickel, and eight a dime, eight a dime,
and with that, there ain't nothin' that you can buy, certainly not more time."

We all have the same amount of time.  It is how we choose to spend it, and we can't buy more of it once it is spent.  How do we decide how to spend it?  Are we living purposefully?  Are we choosing the things that are important, not urgent?  For us, the family mission statement will serve as our guide, helping us to weed out the things that don't fall in line with what we believe.  How do we live in the world, while not being of the world?  The difference between a dream and a goal is a PLAN (Dave Ramsey).  If your dream is to have a family that works together toward a common goal, you need a plan!

How do you go about creating a family mission statement?  Well, I highly recommend Seven Habits for Highly Effective Families as a guide, as well as Margin for giving some help in learning how to prioritize the important and minimize the urgent.  Last year we sat down together and brainstormed ideas for what we wanted our family to be.  Even the youngest children are able to offer adjectives to describe the family.  We received ideas that ranged from "no yelling" and "fun" to "n*rf wars together".  We wrote every one's ideas down on a whiteboard, and talked about what each of them meant.  After the brainstorming session, I gathered all of the ideas and began to formulate a final product.  I looked at numerous suggested formats from Seven Habits, as well as Ann's wonderful "seven rungs of the ladder".  As I began to group the family's ideas into common areas, I decided to take the first letter of each of our names, and create a title phrase beginning with that letter, then expand upon it using all of the ideas we generated.  I was able to incorporate every one's suggestions, and created a rough draft.  We then sat down with the kids and went over it, looking for their suggestions within the statement, and asking them for their agreement.  We encouraged the older ones to memorize the 6 main principles, and the current "final" version is posted in a prominent place within our home.  While it will certainly evolve over the years, it serves as a reference.  When an activity presents itself, it is evaluated based on the principles of our mission.  When a conflict between children arises, we discuss whether the behavior fits within our agreed upon principles.  It is the plan, clearly laid out, to help us achieve our goals.

Jesus is Lord
We will remember that God is first in our lives and family.  We will pray together as a family, both at church and in our home.  We will always remember that we serve Him.

Atmosphere of Peace
We want to live in a home that is fun and happy, but also clean and orderly.  We want an environment that is welcoming to others, relaxed and full of laughter.

Joyful in all things
We offer daily thanks for the many blessings God has given us.  We celebrate every moment and promise to slow down and live in that moment fully.  We will have a joyful attitude in work as well as in play, showing our thanks to God by caring for the things He has given us.

Come Together
We take the time to be together, both at work and play.  We select activities that are conducive to our family goals, and avoid those which consume too much of our time.  We are purposeful in planning time to work, play, learn and travel together.

Love one another
We treat each other with love, remembering we are each icons of Christ.  We are respectful, honest and kind.  We remember that Christ is in us, and our actions should always reflect that.  We serve others as Christ served, both in our family and our community.

Encourage one another
We speak positively about each other, encouraging and helping to build each member of our family to be their best.  We defend and protect each other.

Does your family have a mission statement? How has it helped you to create a family culture?

NOTE: I wrote this over the weekend and auto scheduled it to post today, having no idea Ann's Walk with Him Wednesday challenge would pose the question of how to slow down and use time as a holy thing!  So, I am linking to her post, and am smiling at the happy circumstance :)

Monday, February 14, 2011

One Thousand Gifts

40. vivid green moss growing amidst the dull brown of dead grass and leaves
41. the sound of rain pounding down on the metal roof
42. visit from family out of town, slowing down to spend the day with him
43. after 6 weeks on strike - hens laying again, fresh eggs before Lent!
44. the rooster's crow
45. color on a gray day
46. a son anxious to serve at the altar every chance he gets

47. beautiful music from little ones
48. a valentine who still makes my heart skip a beat after 17 years

Friday, February 11, 2011

First Grade

I never got around to posting our plans for First Grade this year, and as I was turning in grades thought I would give you a picture of what the Queen's year looks like.  We keep it pretty simple!

Christian Studies:
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd - she is the oldest child in our group, just barely making the cut :) but I love having her in class and working with her

Classical Studies:
Aesop's Fables - we read, narrate, and love this coloring book for the days she doesn't feel like creating her own illustrations, and we love to listen to them on audio as well

English Studies:
Wooden Letter Spelling
Bob books
McGuffey's Readers
The Primer

We spent the first part of the year still playing around with puppets and acorns, and last week we moved on to Singapore for added practice.

Child's History of the World as a read aloud.  Not spending a lot of time here, our co-op covers a few basic topics on the Middle Ages.

Zoology 1: Flying Creatures - this is covered through our co-op, so I don't do much at home other than provide books at her level that coordinate with the topics
Burgess Bird Book - a family favorite!

Art & Music:
piano lessons
Charlotte Mason style studies of composers and artists

Physical Education:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fashion Moment

Thank you Anna  for introducing me to Alabama Chanin, and while I cannot afford the clothing (don't you just love how comfortable they look though - I want that white tunic top, and the swing jacket is just amazing!), I picked up a copy of the book.  No time yet for a hand stitched skirt, though I am looking forward to that project.  Instead, I went with the no-sew idea of repurposing a T-shirt.  Results: the above pictured top - a $7 cotton jersey knit tee, cut up the middle!  Decorative pin that has been tucked away in the jewelry drawer for 15 years (an old piece of my mother's) used to close the opening, and there you have it - a perfect top to go with the $6 consignment store "dress" I wear as a skirt!

What is your favorite fashion for a steal?