by 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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by Michele Latham
We called it Thursday Class. And although it was meant for the children, I cherished every minute.
My family was fortunate to live just a few miles from a women’s monastery here in the Ozarks. A handful of Orthodox nuns (and their many helpers) had carved out a beautiful skete in the middle of the woods. They graciously offered to host the children on Thursdays for a short class and prayers. Many times we stayed after class and the children helped to tend the chickens, guineas, and goats that lived on the place. The monastery grounds were so enticing for the children. There were trails through the woods and building projects in progress everywhere. The kids clamored to be of help and the nuns were so patient, supervising their work. One day as my six-year-old was struggling to pull a wagon full of rocks from a garden spot, I was horrified when he looked over his shoulder at Mother Thecla and called out, “Hey, can you push?” I was unfamiliar with monastery etiquette and was walking on egg shells, hoping the children and I behaved properly. I shouldn’t have worried, though, because I saw the smile on her face as she bent to help with the wagon. It was such a blessed time and I loved the sweet way in which the sisters taught us all about God and the Church.
One Thursday, as we were driving through our small town on route to the monastery, my son searched the empty yards of the houses we passed. “Where are all the kids?” he shouted. Being the youngest of five children, he often felt the need to shout. When he didn’t get a quick reply, he shouted the question again and then supplied his own answer, “Where are all the kids? Oh, I know! They’re at their nun’s!” I smiled at the thought that his 4-year old mind assumed all children had their own nuns to visit.
In reality, a lot of Americans don’t know anything about the pious monastics spending their days in prayer. And there are many Orthodox Christians who don’t live near a monastery or don’t have the means to make a pilgrimage. They never get the chance to have a conversation or sing a Troparion with these saintly folks. We were truly blessed. And we are blessed still, because although that monastery moved to Kansas City years ago, another one is now located 30 miles away in the other direction.
As for the children, they are all practically grown and are scattered around the country, working, going to school, starting their adult lives. I’m so thankful for those beautiful days spent at the monastery. I still pray for “our” nuns although I’ve lost contact with many of them .We are bound by the holy spirit and I feel comforted to know that they are still praying for the children of that long-ago Thursday Class.
by Michele Latham
Watching videos of my kids as young toddlers transports me back in time instantly. My heart stores memories which are awakened by the sound of tiny voices saying “mommy”. There was so much work, and worry and love packed into those years! As new parents, my husband and I agreed upon a parenting style and philosophy. Of course, various situations arose which caused us to re-think our plan and act upon instinct. But we were doing our best. Our main objective was to plant the best seeds in the children and pray that they took firm root. Choosing which seeds to plant was easy. We just looked to the teaching of the Orthodox Church. Prayer, love for God and our neighbors, respect for authority, truth and beauty. Well, as hard as we tried to tend the planting of those seeds, sometimes everyday hustle and bustle got in the way. Looking back, I worry that we didn’t do enough. We were so busy keeping everybody fed and cleaned and home schooled that I wonder if we took enough time to prepare them for leading grown-up Christian lives.
I am in the midst of all this worrying when it hits me…
I am so glad I was able to read the lives of the Saints to the children, and take them to church. I loved praying with them in our icon corner and celebrating the feast days with special food and activities. But really, who is the gardener here? I’m trying to take way too much credit (and blame) for what happens in the souls of these children. God is the ultimate gardener, I am just the assistant. I will continue to watch over and pray for my children. Perhaps I’ll even get the chance to knock out a weed that wants to intrude on the work of the Holy Spirit, but how arrogant I am to think my guidance will “make or break” them as Christians?
In Wounded by Love, Elder Porphyrios instructs, Say, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, give Your light to my children. I entrust them to You. You gave them to me, but I am weak and unable to guide them, so, please, illuminate them.’