Love: 10 Uses You May Not Know

Love you! Love you, too!

These words are heard everywhere. Between friends at the shopping mall or school parking lot as they take leave of one another, spoken into cell phones (loud enough for all to hear) or typed in the comment section of a million facebook posts. When this “Love you!” trend first started, I was disgusted and vowed not to partake of the casual, insincere tossing about of the word “love”. It seemed to trivialize the meaning.

However, I have lately changed my mind. Maybe the addition of the word “love” to our everyday vocabulary isn’t a bad thing.  Maybe we need all the love tossed about in this world we can get. Because love is a thing. A real thing. It’s powerful and mighty and is one of the last defenses we have against despair. Why not pass it around to as many people as we can?

It was many years ago when my husband and I were in the midst of parenting our young children. Back then, it seemed that as a society, we tried to shelter children from too much adult information or ideas which would confuse them during the tender stages of becoming people. I held to thisbutterfly_flower_02_hd_pictures belief and still think that parents should be the filter through which young children learn important life lessons. That being said, communication is tricky, even with one’s own children. During this fledgling stage of our family, we were friends with several couples who were in the same boat. We always shared the happy news of expected babies and celebrated recent births with our children. Things got a little complicated when an unmarried friend got pregnant, the kids were curious how this worked since she wasn’t married like the other parents in our lives. It was too early for “the birds and the bees” or any other weighty  discussions, so I told them that she and her boyfriend loved each other…therefore, a baby. My youngest son apparently latched onto this theory, because he applied it later when trying to understand another new situation. We had a friend who miscarried when she was 6 months along in her pregnancy. My son knew she had been pregnant and when we told him the grievous news, he immediately questioned, “why would the baby die?”. As my mind worked to choose the right words, I saw the look of sad realization dawn in his eyes. He thought he had the answer. “The mommy and daddy stopped loving each other?”

 

 In his mind, it was love between the parents that created that new baby and without the love, the baby couldn’t live.

 

It was actually sound logic. After all, I told him that babies were brought into the world as a result of the parents’ love. So it would only follow that without the love…the baby couldn’t survive. I assured him that the parents did indeed still love one another and that there were reasons couples sometimes lost beloved children, but I’ve thought about his theory often throughout the years. How many other things have trouble surviving without love? Families? Relationships? Peace? Compassion? It is evident all around us. Love is so powerful, that the lack of it is making a mess of our world. What makes love so powerful? Simply put:

Love is God. And God is All Powerful

Anything is possible with Love. So I say, let’s hear more voices proclaiming love! Love everywhere, love in all things. Let’s rack our brains to come up with new uses for love…

as a lifeboat,

as a shield,

as a cocoon,

as a butterfly net,

as a remedy,

as a beacon,

as an answer.

Let’s hold one another up with love and send it shooting through throngs of strangers!

Let’s remind our children that they were created by love and that love from God will never, ever stop.

God is Love.

Love is real.

Beautiful Discord

by Michele Latham

children_kids_music I recently read about a certain culture which is known to produce an abundance of talented musicians. The children were observed playing instruments at a very young age. This is not to say that the parents enroll their three-year-olds in Suzuki violin lessons, but rather when the adults gather to play music together (which is frequently), the children are welcomed.

They are encouraged to hold and experiment with various instruments, joining in while the adults play. The experimentation may cause a little discord in the songs, but the adults didn’t seem to notice.

By the time the children are of an age to receive musical instruction, they are familiar with the instrument; the way it feels and the sound it makes. People are amazed at the seemingly large a number of natural musicians born in this region, when in truth, the environment and early exposure to music plays as important a role as heredity.

As a visitor to an Orthodox church many years ago, I was surprised and a little distracted by the number of small children and even babies in the service. They were walking around or sitting on the floor, some being held by their parents. The service was long and some children were escorted out of the nave a time or two, presumably for bathroom breaks or snacks.

For the most part, the children behaved as if they were in a place that was comfortable to them, as if they were home.

The adults didn’t seem to notice the undercurrent of movement and noise coming from the children, they were focused on the prayers and scriptures being read. When a restless baby had to be soothed, no one turned to stare. And when a toddler lunged toward a vase of flowers, no one gasped. The nearest adult just bent and swooped up the child to avoid a mess.

All of this was new to me as a Protestant. Upon further study, I noticed that the children were not just marking time like they do while waiting for mom to check out in the grocery store.

They were aware of what was happening. Maybe they didn’t listen carefully or understand the all wocenser 2rds being said, but when the jangling sound of the censor alerted them to the activity near the altar, they would turn their attention to the priest. They respectfully kissed the icons and were lifted up by their parents to light candles. When the congregation began to sing “Lord, have mercy”, some small voices joined in. And when it was time to receive communion, all ages expectantly lined up to approach the chalice.

 

IMG_3576 (1)

I then understood that these children were in the process of absorbing the Christian faith just like the children in my example above were absorbing music. They were surrounded by worship and were being encouraged to participate with their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Having this knowledge, it was still hard to break old habits when it came to bringing my own kids to church with me. I had been raised in a church where the worship service was for adults only.

Once my family had become Orthodox, I had to fight the urge to remove my children from the room when they made noise.  One of my sons, before he could talk, would chant in nonsense syllables along with his dad, the reader. Rather than clamp my hand over his mouth, I reminded myself he was learning to pray and instead I gently whispered in his ear, asking him to use a quieter voice.

Today, our little parish has several families with young children and some Sundays it seems the adults are outnumbered! I would never describe the sounds I hear during services as discord. Rather, it is the beautiful sound of our children learning to love God.

Beware of Swimming in the Ocean

by Michele Latham

st patrice

I made gifts for my children for Nativity this year.  Altoid tins, paper icons, paint, embellishments and lots of glue. Voilà! A miniature shrine for each patron saint. Did I mention that my five kids are practically grown? Ages range from 19 to 25? No matter, the idea would have been the same if they were toddlers or adults. It’s always been my job to pray for them and encourage them to pray.

If you’re a parent in the middle of raising youngsters right now, it may be hard to imagine them grown up. But it happens. So fast! I remember thinking I had plenty of time to prepare my children (and myself) for the day they left home. My husband and I talked with them about finances, auto maintenance, and other practical matters to top off the years of parental guidance we had already administered.  And now I think about those sons and daughters daily and pray for God’s mercy and guidance as they live their grown up lives.

Sometimes, I picture the kids going about their daily activities and my imagination kicks in.  Random, disturbing thoughts occur to me. Did I warn them of the dangers? Did I tell the children to be cautious about certain things? Things like using credit cards too much, slamming the brakes on wet pavement, trusting the wrong person… swimming in the ocean?

And then I wonder if I reminded them to watch for beauty when they’re out on their own.  Did I advise them to embrace the good things they’ll find? Things like independence, health, new friendships and… swimming in the ocean?

These thoughts pass quickly though, and I don’t worry too much. I pray for my grown children and give my opinion if they ask. But mostly, I trust God. I may not have covered all the dos and don’ts of adult life with my kids, but I’m sure they know to love God and love others.

 

My confidence doesn’t come from the great job I did teaching them. Nor did I set a perfect example. But, our family did attend  Divine Liturgy throughout those formative years, the children received Holy Communion and listened to the words of our loving pastor.

 

Mary Shrine

It gives me joy to see the icon corners in their new homes and apartments and to know that they are praying. But all of this is not to say that the road for them will be smooth or that they won’t forget what they know from time to time. That is why I made the shrines. I want them to remember that they have help available when they pray these words to their saints:

“Pray unto God for me, O Holy (N.), well-pleasing to God: for I turn unto you, who are the speedy helper and intercessor for my soul.”

 

Birth Experience

by Michele Latham

my_lil_nieces_hand_564124

It seems like yesterday, but really it was 20 years ago.  I was sitting in my kitchen chatting with the midwife. My due date had come and gone a few days previously and we were tired of talking about when this baby would show up. The midwife brought up an interesting topic. I think it was her effort to distract me for a while. She had delivered over 700 babies and had some great stories. What she explained to me then was the idea that a child can actually remember his or her own birth experience for a time.  I laughed, but she insisted that an especially articulate youngster should be able to tell you about being born! Wanting to test her theory, I called my two year old son over. “Luke”, I said, “do you remember when you were born?”

 

Without pause, he shouted out, “Yes! Father Michael dunked me in the water!” He scampered off and I was left nodding my head. Of course! He was a year old when we were baptized into the Orthodox Church and he knew that was his birth experience.

 

 

I remember feeling a bit flustered the day of our baptism. My husband and I, along with several patient godparents, juggled squirming children, towels, baptismal robes, and candles.  The words of the prayers seemed a bit blurred by the practical tasks of getting the kids baptized. I was nervous. I was worried that something would go wrong. But underlying all of that earthly care was the understanding that what was happening to us was real. It was much more than a symbolic act or mere profession of faith. It was a sacred event, attended by saints and angels and we were being initiated into Christ’s Church. We were becoming new. It was the beginning of a life in Christ complete with happiness, sorrow, struggles, joys, forgiveness and God’s mercy.

 

baby baptism

 

I love attending baptismal services now because it reminds me of all these things.  The church family gathers expectantly around the font. If a baby cries, my friends and I glance at each other and smile, remembering our own children. And if an adult candidate gasps a bit in reaction to the water temperature, we nod in sympathy. The newly illumined may not comprehend every word of the service, but that doesn’t mean the miracle of baptism isn’t taking place. And for the rest of us, our joy comes in being able to witness and participate in this holy sacrament. We listen carefully to the words of the priest and are comforted to know these are the same prayers have been prayed for each of us.

 

 

Of Taper-Bearers and Altar Boys

by Michele Latham

Altar boyI’m one of the lucky converts. When I first walked through the door of an Orthodox Church, I knew it was right. When I started reading books on Orthodox
doctrine, I knew it was right. I didn’t need detailed explanation or convincing. Venerating Mary? Of course.  Infant Baptism?  You bet!   Confession? Finally!  The true Body and Blood of Christ? Yes, please!

Through the Grace of God, I was ready to embrace orthodoxy. The apologetics would come later. And so they have. I continue learning about the teachings of the church and I’m not surprised when something I read causes me to nod in agreement. “Yes, I knew that was right. Now I know why!” This was the case recently when I learned that the meaning of the word “liturgy” is actually “the work of the people”. I’ve known since the beginning that attending a Divine Liturgy was more than just wholesome entertainment and an inspiring sermon. I’ve known that Christ’s resurrection is celebrated by heaven and earth each time a Divine Liturgy is held. And I know that it’s hard to be a spectator at such a service. Even visitors are swept into the real-ness of the worship.

This is because we, as Orthodox Christians, come to church to participate. We actively worship God through singing the responses, the psalms, the creed and the Lord’s Prayer. We make the sign of the cross, we bow, we venerate. We confess our sins, forgive one another, pray and light candles for our loved ones. And the work isn’t designated for a select few. Everyone is called upon to engage in the worship, even the children. Allowing them to serve as taper-bearers and altar boys teaches that they are indeed full-fledged Christians who are needed by the church to serve and participate.

So, yes, I guess it is work. It’s our job to partake with our brothers and sisters and all the saints in worshipping God. Then the reward comes when we receive the body and blood of Christ. We are clean and armed to go back into the world.

As we greet one another after the service, it’s as if we’ve survived summer camp together, or completed an intense group project. We have been toiling together and it has been good. We are bound by the work and worship. And it is good.

The Importance of Being Quiet

Shhhh

By Michele Latham

Do you remember All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten? I read this book in the late eighties when it was first published and thoroughly enjoyed it! Robert Fulghum took the simple rules we learned as kids and applied them to life as adults. Things like “Play Fair” and “Clean up your own mess” became moral, political and environmental precepts when viewed through a grown-up lens.

I can see the wisdom in Fulghum’s premise. The book is humorous, but rings so true. Adults tend to complicate things. Some of the simple lessons I taught my kids when they were growing up are still relevant today and worthy of applying to my own life.

 

One such rule that I worked hard to instill in the children was “take time to be quiet.” When compiling their daily to-do lists, I always included quiet time. There was more behind this idea than just wanting a little mid-afternoon break for myself, although that was a happy side effect!  I wanted them to be cut off from the craziness of the world. Just for a bit.  And by craziness I mean noise. We had limited technology back then, but there was a computer in the house, CD players, toys and lots of voices! (Do all kids talk really loudly and all at the same time?)

 

Quiet time involved going outside when weather permitted. Each child found a private spot in which to be alone in the quiet. Sometimes they took journals or sketch pads and climbed into the branches of a tree or sat in a shady spot next to the shed.  I wanted them to have a chance to hear their own thoughts and form their own ideas and to pray. As you know, it can be really hard to pray in a high-tech world.

 

After 30 minutes, the timer sounded and I called them in. They always returned looking happy and energized. I never asked what they thought about or what they wrote in their journals. I knew it was time well-spent.

 

So now the challenge is to include “quiet time” on my own to-do list. I usually start with some writing, which is good. Then my unplugged brain can move on to other things such as appreciating a walk outside or composing a quick note to someone I haven’t been in touch with for a while. Sometimes, more practical thoughts appear in the form of cleaning lists or ideas for things I’d like to do or make. It’s all refreshing because it’s coming from my own brain, not an electronic screen.

 

Then, it never fails, my mind and heart turn toward the prayer corner, which is where I should have started. My thoughts have slowed and uncluttered which seems to clear the path to prayer. This is a quiet place where time is well spent.

 

Correction: a quiet place where time is best spent.

 

 

Choose the Good

by Michele Latham

When my kids were young and we were in the midst of the read-aloud years, I was pretty choosy about what books I brought home. I missed so many of the classics as a child (hello, English teachers?) that I felt as though I discovered child_and_books_208363a new and amazing world with my kids. We devoured books. We had a read-aloud time built into our home school day. And of course there was story time before bed. Some mornings we opted to start the day with reading…okay, we read all the time! And now that they are grown, we share a cultural reference that binds us together. We laugh at the same type of Dickensian humor.  And spend hours discussing the merits of the latest Lord of the Rings movie or Sherlock Holmes adaptation.

Our reading choices weren’t only limited to classics. But I really wanted to check out an author or book before I brought it home. I am a firm believer that what we put into our minds, stays there. Children and adults alike. The arguments “it’s just a story, it’s not real” or “it’s not a great subject, but it’s entertaining” just don’t fly with me. It’s really hard to un-see something and everything we put into our minds also touches our hearts.

So when current authors published fantasy books that seemed appealing or a certain series of kids’ books were flying off the shelves, I took a hard look. What I found was that I couldn’t base my choices on what might be potentially harmful, but I could base them on what was potentially good. Rather than asking what was wrong with a book (as many critics like to do) I started asking what was right. What was good. 

I knew that the classics we loved had stood the test of time. We were challenged by the vocabulary, thrilled by the plots, shocked by the villains and inspired by the noble and good characters. Books that fit this description are still being written, they are just a little harder to find. And as Christians, we have to be discerning.

The conclusion I came to (as you probably guessed) is that choosing the good is an idea that should apply to all aspects of our lives, not just our reading habits. I knew I couldn’t shelter my children from all the bad things in the world, but I could choose the good whenever possible. Books, movies, activities, friends…

Remember Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Choose the Good.

 

 

 

For Those in a Coma

cafe paradisio

At first glance it’s not always easy to see how those in our Christian family resemble us. The likeness is there, though, and looking again, we can usually find it. When Steven Berger arrived at Unexpected Joy, I didn’t need a second look. Just minutes into our first lively conversation, I recognized this converted Jewish hippie from Long Island as a brother. Steven is what I like to call a “paradise peddler”, a lay missionary with a penchant for the mystical. He works as head chef at Cafe Paradisio, the Redding, California restaurant he owns with his wife, Barbara.  But Steven’s real job is selling heaven to everyone he meets.

My guess is Cafe Paradisio wasn’t named on a whim. The teaching that we can become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) and be restored to the paradisaical state is a favorite theme of Steven’s.  The truth of this doctrine of “theosis”, so central to the Orthodox Christian faith, is exemplified in the miracles that naturally occur around fully sanctified, or “deified”, people—those holy humans we call saints.

The beauty of theosis, though, is that it isn’t limited to saints. Or, to put it a better way, we are all called to be saints (Romans 1:7). Anyone who has set forth on the path to salvation is already being transformed, renewed, restored.

When Peter dropped his fishing nets and followed Christ, he began in that moment the process of theosis. He started to be deified, began to become like God. It was this process taking place that allowed the future great apostle to walk on water as Christ did,  though he was not yet a saint. We know from the scriptures that it didn’t take Peter long to become afraid, succumb to gravity, and fall back to earth. But for that brief suspended moment, walking on the waves, Peter was allowed, by the One “through whom all things are made”, a glimpse into his full human potential.

peter and christ

Recently, Steven shared a story with Orthodox in the Ozarks that he believes illustrates theosis at work, though in an unlikely place and through an unlikely person: a  priest whose great-grandparents were slaves, serving Divine Liturgy at Unexpected Joy Orthodox Christian Church in his tiny hometown of Ash Grove, Missouri.

Here’s the story in Steven Berger’s own words:
“I owned a pizza place in Greenfield Missouri called Aloha Pizza. One Saturday evening, a couple came in for pizza who lived there in town. They started telling me this terrible story about how they had been in a car accident the night before and how their daughter was in a coma and would I please pray for her… So, ‘of course! I say, of course I’ll pray for her. In fact, I’ll tell my Pastor about it tomorrow at Church and the whole congregation will pray for her!’
So, like the dummy I am, by next morning, I forget all about it and don’t say anything to anybody about it. Then comes the part in the service where Fr. Moses comes out with the Holy gifts to pray for the living and the dead. He prays for the usual people and any other special needs he knows of and then turns to go back into the Altar. Suddenly, he stops, comes back out and prays: ‘And for all those in a coma’ and goes back into the Altar.
Then I remember! I rush into the Altar myself and ask Fr. Moses, ‘Why did you say that about those in a coma?’ ‘I don’t know’ he says. Then I tell him about the couple who talked to me last night and how I was supposed to tell him about it and all. ‘I guess that must be why!’ he says.”

I think what Steven’s story illustrates best is that while theosis is an exalted final state, it begins in a very humble way: with obedience. Most of us will not become miracle working saints, but we might, by obedience, be given gifts we hadn’t thought were ours to receive.

Christ says, “come,” and Peter obeys, stepping into the sea as if onto dry land. A priest is prompted to pray for “those in a coma” and so he does, only to learn later that there was a reason for his prayer he himself had not known. And with such strong evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in others, we get the chance to believe that He is also at work in us.

Just another moment in paradise.

 

Be a Stegosaurus

by Michele Latham

To-Do-List_PrintableI discovered pretty early on that kids love to-do lists. Just like adults, they feel that sense of accomplishment when they mark a task as being completed. I began using a chalk board to make daily lists for my children when they were young. Items included school work, chores, and some fun activities. When a friend came by the house one day, he looked at the board. He questioned something on my son’s list.  No. 4 read “Be a Stegosaurus”. He was so amused by my choice of words. Why hadn’t I written “Pretend to be a Stegosaurus” or “Act like a Stegosaurus”? I laughed about it at the time as my son roared at us from the other room.

But how does one Be a Stegosaurus? I thought about it for a while. It would involve taking on the characteristics and habits of a stegosaurus. There would be some studying involved. Time spent practicing, emulating, and then being.

I think there’s a pretty good lesson here. If I want my children (or myself for that matter) to become persons of honorable character or to strive to attain  Christian virtues, I can use this model. It may seem false to act courageous or honest, or generous if one hasn’t practiced those traits before.  But it’s the first step to becoming those things. In fact, the Greek form of the word virtue is more properly called ηθική αρετή, or “habitual excellence.” This implies we must forever practice. We must study, emulate the saints and hope to become more like Christ.

So, as my children grew older, I no longer made to-do lists for them. But, I always prayed that they would continue to practice the axioms we had talk about for years.

As they left the house each day for school, work and sporting events, I wanted to give them some encouraging words. I always stood on the porch waving. “Have a good day!” or  “God bless you!”  But inside, I was pumping my fist in the air shouting, “Be a Stegosaurus!”

 

A Simple Lesson

light_lamp_196504by Michele Latham

Teachings of the  Orthodox church can be complex. This is exactly the thing that drew my husband to research the church so many years ago. He knew there was more to the spiritual life than what we were finding in the typical modern American churches.  He was right. And we hit the jackpot with Orthodoxy! There is always more to learn: to strive to understand. This is an important part of living an Orthodox life.  I pray and read and attend church, but I still struggle to grasp some of the loftier ideas. Then once in a while, God shows me something so simple that I smack my head. Of course it would be wonderful to understand the many layers of Christ’s teachings, but perhaps the basics are enough for me to handle right now. And what better way to get something through my thick skull than to use parenting as the example. After all, that’s what I do. That’s what I am… a parent. I can identify.

My latest lesson came about during the empty-nest stage of my life. If you have older kids, you know the stage I mean. The hands-on part of parenting is tapering off and I’m watching our five children begin to live their lives as young adults.  Two are in college and the other three are working, living in different towns . This year, everyone was home for Thanksgiving, Christmas and several other weekend breaks. We’ve always had great family time. We love the holiday rituals which have been in place since the kids were young. We enjoy talking, eating, and laughing together.  But, for the last year or so I have been anxiously watching my offspring. Specifically, I’m watching their relationships with each other.

I’m wondering about those days and months between the festivities. I can’t help but notice the siblings are moving in very different directions. Will they stay in touch? Will they go out of their way to be interested in each others’ lives? Will they call on one another for help? Will they offer help without being called? I hope…I pray they do all these things. When I see  signs that they are, it makes me feel so much love for them. It makes me feel happy and proud and so blessed. My husband and I have loved and cherished them, now they are following our example with each other.

Listening to a sermon one Sunday morning, it dawned on me! As God’s children, this is exactly what we must do. Love one another. Look out for our brothers and sisters. God has loved us and taught us how to love. He has protected us and blessed us and now it’s our turn to reflect those things by loving one another. As strongly as I want my children to care for each other, how much more does our Father in heaven want His children to do the same? We can practice being good sons and daughters by staying in touch, being interested in one another and helping out when needed even when our lives take us in different directions. Now, that  I can understand.  Simple.

 

 

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