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.”

 

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My Conversion Story

Sarah Wright over at theorthodoxmama.com runs an amazing blog! She writes  about faith, family and frugal  living. How wonderful it is to find fellow travelers on the spiritual path who encourage and uplift us!  She was gracious enough to include a post I wrote about my conversion story!

Vladimirskaya

http://www.theorthodoxmama.com/how-orthodoxy-found-me/

 

Birth Experience

by Michele Latham

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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.

 

 

The Lingering Scent of Kindness

chicken farm sign (2)

by Cheryl Anne Tuggle

When I was small my mother had what she called an “egg route”. With baskets of fresh hen eggs—washed and stacked into cardboard flats or single-dozen cartons—filling the back  of our station wagon, she drove over roads that twisted like pretzels from our farm in the small borough of Prospect, Pennsylvania to the larger nearby town of New Castle to deliver her wares. Many of Mom’s customers were homemakers, wives of men who left in the dark each day to work in the steel or coal industry. These were strong, capable women in middle-age who did not seem to know they weren’t supposed to love their jobs. With their wide, apron-wrapped waists and wider smiles they seemed to me as inseparable a part of their kitchens as did their flour-dusted tables and busy steaming stoves.

I always liked riding along with Mom on a delivery day, but never more than at Christmas or Easter time, when these women would be slow roasting meats and baking sweetbreads stuffed with dried fruits and scented with anise and icing dozens of cookies.

“You must come in. Come in,” they’d command, in heavily accented English, when we knocked at their back doors. And Mom always obeyed, to my great delight. Not only did those egg buyers’ houses smell like I imagined heaven would, but I knew from experience that for the next fifteen minutes to a half hour, while she visited over a cup of strong coffee, my brother and I would gorge ourselves on sweets. (We were the youngest in a family of five at the  time—all boys, except for me.  A platter of anything never lasted long on our table.)

lingering scent of kindness

The extra minutes we spent visiting with  Mom’s customers could be seen as wasted, especially since they extended our delivery day considerably.

But they were not wasted.

Throughout my life I’ve kept the memory of those women and the gift of their warmth, recalling the effect their neighborliness had not only on my brother and me but on my mother. Young as we were, we could tell that Mom enjoyed our visits in those homes as much as we did. Although she wasn’t the type to complain, I think her customers knew she had troubles. In their kind kitchens the pain and fatigue that came with her rheumatoid arthritis seemed to lift for a time. Refreshed by their friendship, her brow would smooth, her spirits would lighten, and she’d break into song or entertain us with a story from her childhood as we drove up and down the hilly streets of New Castle, finishing the day’s deliveries.

There have been other moments like those over the years, instances in which other human beings, other children of God, showed a bit of generosity or did me or my loved ones a kindness. And it strikes me that a few of those gestures—an encouraging grin, a sympathetic glance on a difficult day—could be considered so ordinary, so commonplace, so slight, as to be downright insignificant.

They have in truth all been earthquakes, changing the landscape of my life.

It’s an amazing thing, and awfully humbling, to consider how huge a small offering—just a plate of cookies and a bid to sit a while—can be.

 

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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How am I to do Laundry?

by Michele Latham

How am I to do Laundry after I’ve Seen a Weeping Icon?

This was my question after Hawaii’s Myrrh-Streaming Iveron Icon visited our church.The experience was beyond anything I could put intflower_and_clothespin_199412o words. The beauty of the icon, the sweetness of the service, the humble sincerity of all the clergy and people who came to venerate the miraculous icon.  And the fragrance! The scent of heaven! Time seemed suspended that morning. I don’t think any of us wanted to leave the church after the service concluded. I know that none wanted the icon to leave! We wanted to stay in that moment when the Holy spirit and the Mother of God were so real. We wanted to be together with our  brothers and sisters talking about what we had experienced. As we drove home, we messaged each other. What a blessed day!  My car is permeated with the scent of roses!

I told many of my non-Orthodox friends about that day. I let them smell my myrrh drenched cotton swab and gave them paper copies of the icon. And I was so happy.  But I was left with that question: how do I go to work, go shopping, engage in everyday life when something so miraculous has touched me?
I got my answer from a variety of sources. My patient husband, a dear friend and my priest, Fr. Moses. Sometimes it takes several doses of information for me to absorb the meaning.

This is what I now understand: the visit from the Iveron Icon was miraculous, but I shouldn’t think of it as a singular event. The veil between heaven and earth is thinner than we sometimes realize. An equally tangible manifestation of heaven takes place during the Eucharist every Sunday. When we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ, there is no greater miracle. I am working to recognize and be more grateful that I am allowed to participate in this awesome event on a regular basis.

I will never forget the amazing day we were visited by the Iveron Icon. But now I  know  I must remember that marvels surround us. From an unexplained healing, to Holy Communion, to the grateful look in a brother’s face when you offer a helping hand…God is everywhere present.   Let’s strive to love one another as we go about our daily tasks, watching all the time for the blessed heavenly signs.

How Comes This in Hill Billy?

photo(1)A  Russian priest visiting the Ozarks, stands next to a cow pasture and stares at a quaint, Orthodox country church. This is when, with incredulity in his voice (which a Russian man speaking English masters so well),  he asks, “How comes this in Hill Billy?”  To answer his question, I have to back up a bit.

The story of our little church starts when young Karl Berry ran and played in these fields as a child. His family roots are here in the Ozarks and although circumstances took him away for many years, he returned. In 1998, the now Fr. Moses Berry, inherited the family farm from his uncle Lawrence. Included were a house, 40 acres and a small cemetery on the property. This cemetery was the thing that drew Fr. Moses back. It needed tending.

So, the Berry family moved from the bustle of St. Louis city life to tiny Ash Grove. At first, Fr Moses didn’t know how or where he would next serve the church. He set about the task of settling the family and caring for the farm and the cemetery. With boxes yet to be unpacked, the Berry’s started getting visitors. Friends, priests, monastics and even acquaintances that knew of Fr. Moses’ new home came to see him. They prayed together in the icon corner which had been fashioned amidst the unpacking. And the visitors kept coming…and bringing their friends!  It was soon evident that this was the place for an Orthodox Church. Through the Grace of God, Theotokos Unexpected Joy Church has grown from a  group worshiping in a tiny metal building to our present church which holds up to 100 people on Pascha.

So, in answer to the priest’s question “How comes this in Hill Billy?”, I would say, by way of the Holy Spirit, of course.

Monastery Days

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 m20150924_104745any 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.

The Farm

by Mary Michal Rogers

fence_split_rail_farm

My journey from Protestantism to a sort of nameless faith to Orthodox Christianity began really without my knowledge.

 My parents’ disillusionment with the church they’d always known started and culminated before I was old enough to know much about what was going on.  What I do remember is the search and the fight to keep faith alive even when we didn’t know what to call ourselves.  That fight led us to the truth – the True Light.

It also led us to an inherited, non-working dairy farm in a town called Spokane, Missouri.  It isn’t what you’d call a particularly progressive part of the state; Branson sits 30 miles to the south and the Bible Belt influence thrives.  The farm and my ancestors were well-known in the community, but we ourselves were still outsiders.  My sisters and brother and I all had been homeschooled for most of our lives, we knew nothing about farming, and we had no plans to attend any of the local churches.  Instead, we drove an hour each way most Sundays to Ash Grove, where Father Moses Berry served Liturgy in a gardening shed in the middle of an historic cemetery.

We didn’t exactly blend.

And then in the fall of 1996, we removed all doubt from the minds of the locals.  My parents hosted an Orthodox gathering on the farm (which sat, quite literally, right on a main thoroughfare); Father Alexii (then Father Paisius), Father Moses, Mother Pachomia, Mother Bridget, even Father Herman and a host of other monks, nuns, priests and Orthodox faithful journeyed to our 80 acres and camped out for a weekend.  We held services in the hayloft of the old barn, prayed and sang and talked around big bonfires, and were only vaguely aware of the Baptists and Lutherans and Pentecostals slowing down when they saw men and women in black robes and caps sitting around a fire in our front yard.  From the perspective of our ancient faith, nothing could have been more normal.

There’s some humor in this account, but the truth of it is that the holiness of that one weekend never went out of that farm.  Until the day we left it, it was as if you could hear the Akathist and Typicon still being sung in that hayloft.  Just like I see Christ when I look into the eyes of the monastics, the Fathers, the Elders, the holy icons…I knew in my soul that I’d been part of something otherwordly (even where just a few are gathered in My name…). My own rocky, meandering path towards the True Faith began.

Planting Seeds

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.’

Amen.