The journals of Lois Lyda. Finding beauty in the imperfections of motherhood, life, faith.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

the real santa

I had an opportunity to be a missionary for Santa recently. well, the real Santa, St. Nicholas, that is. it happened that on december 8, a christmas party was scheduled for the children's school, where we had to share a family christmas tradition. since we just celebrated st. nicholas day on december 6th, it seemed perfect for the children to share about our unique (to the west) tradition. it really is amazing how few know about good ole st. nic. so i thought i'd do some enlightening here, too! of course it goes without saying that this is a little late coming. nothing in my life happens on time at the moment, please forgive!

A brief history:
Nicholas was born in Turkey in the 3rd century to wealthy parents who died in an epidemic when he was still young. Nicholas used his whole inheritance to help the poor, taking Jesus words seriously to "go sell all you have." He became a bishop of the Church (pre-denominational), and was one of the bishops disputing the Arian heresy at the first Council of Nicea in 325 (where Nicean Creed was developed). He was imprisoned and persecuted for his faith, and died on December 6.

How we celebrate:
To practice the spirit of St. Nicholas' giving in secret, on the evening of December 5th, the children helped me assemble stockings filled with oranges, candy canes, and gold coins, with a handmade card attached wishing Happy St. Nicholas Day in cheesy verse coined by mom. When daddy came home, we all bundled up and went to our neighbor's doors, attached the gift to the door handles, then "rang 'n run" away. (The only time we ever allow them to do that!!)

When we got home, we told stories over dinner about St. Nicholas.

We told the story of the three daughters, whose father was poor, so poor, he could not afford a dowry. And without a dowry, the daughters could not marry, and were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Bishop Nicholas heard of their struggles, and late one night tossed some bags of gold from his inheritance through the window, landing in their stockings (or shoes) that were hung by the fire to dry. When they awoke in the morning, they discovered the gifts of gold, tucked in their stockings, and given in secret.
(now you know where the tradition of the stocking, the candy cane (bishops staff), and the oranges/gold coins comes from!).

So, before bed, we put our shoes at the door, and filled them with carrots for St. Nicholas' white horse. When we woke up in the morning we found small treats inside. This year, ben got a much longed for pumice stone, and the kids got a small toy and gold coins (thank you Dollar Tree!). Our plan was to go to Liturgy at church, but we didn't make it out the door on time, though a valiant attempt was made! But this would have made our day complete.

New this year, was our attempt to make St. Nicholas Day our primary gift-giving day. We began our gradual transition last year; perhaps by next it will truly be so. By moving our primary gift-giving to this day, we keep Christ as the focus of Christmas, and break up the "long wait" of advent (what we refer to as "the nativity fast") with some excitement. This year, our "big" gift, the backyard playhouse Ben built, was presented to them. The day was rounded off with some dear friends of ours coming over for a celebratory dinner. We played a game with the kids called "pass the money bag". It is played under the same premise as "Pass the Parcel" except when the music stops, instead of getting to pull a gold coin out of the stocking for yourself, you have to give it away to someone else who doesn't have one. In this way, we practiced the spririt of St. Nicholas giving!

Every year, St. Nicholas and his Nameday traditions become more and more dear to my heart. It saddens me that a man who was an example of compassion and generosity - giving in secret, alert to the real needs of others and expecting nothing in return - a man who lived a model Christian life, has been taken out of churches and into consumer "temples"; has been reduced from substance to superficiality, to a mere marketing tool. I am engaged in reclaiming the whole story of this incredible Christian Bishop of the Church. Santa's not bad, but St. Nicholas is so much better!

* aside: Typically during the Nativity season we stay far away from malls, or any of the "holiday hubbub", but if we do stumble across a mall-deity (ie: Santa), i very simply say "that's st. nicholas". i don't bother explaining why or how his Bishop robes got traded out by the Americans for elvish gear, or what he is doing posing in store fronts of the wealthy instead of ministering to the poor in secret. we love the real St. Nicholas, and are not at all intimidated by the watered down sub-par version. infact, we have just as much fun without him!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

the night shift

I've said it a million times in the past 12 weeks; it's a busy time for us.
Life is a kite in the breeze of autumn, whooshing wildly by, taking unexpected dips and turns,and I'm tethered to it, dragged along by it, hair flailing, barely holding on.

I've felt the need for an anchor deep inside to stop the motion sickness. All the more, I've been drawn to the stabilizing force of prayer. Or perhaps it has been drawing me.

I wake up to nurse the baby, only to find myself awake hours afterward. I used to fight it. Flailing around in bed, huffing and puffing myself into exasperation. If there had been any hope of sleep, it was now lost under the covers somewhere.

It has taken a stuborn soul like me many a sleepless beating to awaken my prayer life.
To not mourn something lost, but give thanks for something gained.
To not fight like a fool, cursing the night, but to smile at the darkness and I get up.

I tiptoe to our alter, and I light a candle. My fingers open a secret treasury. It is work at first; my soul is heavy laden. But then a miracle happens: minutes effortlessly turn to hours. And hundreds of would-be counted sheep have been replaced by a hundred Jesus Prayers.

Lord Jesus Christ, Have mercy on me a sinner.

Stars disolve into day, the house is stirring.
For once, I'm not thinking how empty I am on sleep, but how full I am on prayer.
"How was your night?" asks my husband.

outsourcing the home

As you may recall from our Christmas letter 2009, Ben and I have a plan for a book. With lots of action-packed life going on non-stop around us, it's been on the back burner this year. Nonetheless, at this point we have general plans to cover three areas of life: birth, education, and death. Being that it is our first official year of home educating our children, the education section is the one that has the most potential if you will. So as we see it, time elapsed is not time lost, but rather more time to realise exactly what it means to take a front seat in a child's education.
Last night, for the first time in a long time, we revisited our ideas, and pray God will give us an opportunity to join forces soon. Until then, we are just gathering sources, and taking care not to outsource ourselves (it is very easy to do - ie: the T.V. babysitter!).
One book that will definately make the list is a book I took up again recently, "Making God real in the Orthodox Christian Home" by Anthony Coniaris. While there are obviously some faith-specific components, the overarching concern can and should be shared by all Christian families. An exerpt from the introduction follows.

"Where do our children receive their values? How do they learn to evaluate and judge for themselves the things they meet and hear? Many will ask, "Well, what's the Church for? Isn't this the Church's responsibility? How much time do children spend in Sunday School and church? If they come regularly, 36 hours a year! That adds up to about a day and a half a year! In whose hands are they supposed to be the remainder of the time? The parents! And those parents who drop their children off for church school and Church should not be surprised when the children follow in their footsteps and become what their parents are - drop outs.
Who is raising the children?
We hear much today about the subject of women priests. Why don't we ordain women as priests? Why should we? God has already ordained them into the sacred priesthood of motherhood. Who can ever be a more effective priest to her children than a dedicated Christian mother? We talk about the inequality of the sexes. It is not a matter of difference in equality of nature. It is a matter of difference in function. No one can ever take a mother's place in the home. No one is endowed by God as she is for the raising of children. We need to emphasise this point. For we are trying to do everything we can today to take mothers out of homes, to destroy their sacred priesthood, to leave the home front unattended. This, in itself, is producing so many problems that it could very well lead to the downfall of our nation.
[ . . .] The Church can do nothing without the home. The most influential school in the world is not Oxford, or Harvard, or the Sorbonne or Yale or Cambridge. It is the home.
The question is not, "Is there a school under your roof?" The real question is, "How good is the school under your roof?"
[...] "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord: and you shall love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." (Deut. 6:3-7)

Friday, September 23, 2011

up from the grave

it should be no surprise to a capitalistic nation such as ours that corporate america has taken over every square inch of human life; even the grave has become an industry. death has become a lucrative opportunity for business. grief has been outsourced from a pastor to a sales rep. little thought is given to the reality of life after death. but sooner or later, when we meet her face to face, one way or another we are confronted by this problem.

photos are circulating of beloved Archbishop Dmitri+ after his repose, during those
intimate moments of spiritual and practical preparation of washing and dressing and prayer. its probably strange to most; only beautiful to the one who has loved both body and soul. what a depth of spiritual vision there is for the one who is able to experience this. at that moment, the theology that "it's only a body" just doesn't hold water.

i cared for my father at the time of his falling asleep. those hands that held me as a baby, i clasped in mine, though cold now, soft as ever. His lips that spoke words of widsom into my life i now blessed and kissed; body and soul, i loved him. Metropolitan Hierotheos says, "Through Christ's resurrection[Christ, who assumed a mortal body like ours], the whole man, even the body, aquires the possibility of resurrection." Therefore, we care for the whole man, God's finest creation, unto the grave.

The 21st would have been Dad's 65th birthday. i drove to Restland to visit both Dmitri+ and my father's graveside. on this glorious autumn day, the cemetery was empty. Emmanuel and Eden sat under a towering Oak, quietly cleaning off some of the ledgers covered with mud, exposing their bronze anew. They drew hearts in the dirt "for granddad," as a fitting marker for someone who's costly ledger has still not been placed.

the Church made a huge mistake when she oursourced death to big business. demonstrated by the sales reps who speak in terms of real estate and not in terms of souls, businesses don't care for the dead; they manage them. it's one thing for a corporation to enhance their marketing campaign by calling a cemetery "garden of prayer", and another thing for it to actually be one.

so here we are, small in the scope of this sprawling garden; so many to pray for.

the mystery of death is in the life it brings. for it hides eternity in our hearts.
we load back into the minivan as a small voice utters "mommy, i want to be in heaven with granddad." granddad's death has given us a rich inheritance: longing for the Kingdom.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

the model-E

From the time I declared three weeks ago "I'm never leaving the house again," I've been puting in lots of stay-at-home miles. Considering my exhaustion at the close of every day, it really is surprising that it has only been human energy we've been burning around here. We've got our own version of the model T assembly line at the changing table; mom changes E4 while E1 takes the goods to the depository; mom changes E3, while E2 takes the goods to the depository. (I've really got to stop with the flax in the breakfast cereal. It's just so good for keeping things running smoothly.) Hair and teeth are not brushed, but clothes and shoes are on, so we are good to go for a neighborhood playdate in the park, I've got E3 in the stroller, E4 in the sling, and E1 and 2 at my sides helping to "push" the stroller. So far so good. I get to the park and haphazardly lather on sunscreen (spf block 50 for my very arian children - hitler would be proud). I reluctantly let E3 loose, and she's toddling off toward the parking lot in the blink of an eye while E3 is yelling "help help!" as she's dangling 5 feet off the ground from the top of the fireman's pole I never saw her climb. Thankfully, I don't have to choose who to save since E4 drop catches his sister. All in all, Im thinking it was a four-star trip to the park, until I realize I forgot to put sunscreen on the baby, and I overhear a mother-of-one say "I can't stand those moms with a bunch of kids who aren't paying attention to their own kids." Hmmmm. . . . time to depart back to the safety of our home. But then again, it hasn't actually proved to be that safe! I find E3 on the top of the table at least once an hour. This particular day she manages to break in to the "junk" drawer and is chewing on a AA battery and a candle as if it were a hotdog and a pixie stick. Somehow in the midst of all this "zoom", E1 has sounded out his first sentence, E3 has completed her first 36 piece puzzle unassisted, E3 has learned to put away her own laundry and E4 has found her smile.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

baby blues

According to my husband, it's the fourth time this has happened. Right around three to five months,when the congratulatory gifts and new baby meal offers have ended,the baby blues begin. It's subtle, so subtle. Tiny disappointments. Feelings of insufficiency that pile one on top of the other to an insurmountable heap that only a fresh batch of tears can relieve.

Today, teaching my almost 6-year old to read his first sentence is overshaddowed by the one who's 2 1/2 year old is already readying BOB books on her own. What was such a mighty accomplishment yesterday, today suddenly seems so small. Then on Facebook there's the mother who can do it all, and do it all so well. Not only is she feeding her family, she's harvesting a herb garden and canning 10 pounds of organic peaches; not only is she homeschooling half a dozen children, she's writing her own curriculum while pregnant with #7.

And here am I not even able to pass basic home-making 101. Barely a day after I redeemed my husband's baby gift to me - a house cleaning - a relative came over, took one look in my kids' room and said with great consternation, "Oh my, What happened?" I had no answer, except to say either "Atomic bomb" or "Life." But with all the perfection around me, "atomic bomb" seemed like the safer answer. Afterall, Life doesn't look so messy, so disheveled, so chaotic in other homes. How I long to be that mother with the placid demeanor oozing with talent and abounding in energy. Giving her children the best of all she is. Instead my children have me. A very ordinary mother with a very dirty kitchen floor.

I'm thinking all these thoughts, wondering why some are gifted with so much while others with not very much at all, and I'm feeling not so much "poor me" but "poor them" for having only me, and not a better version of myself. And yet all the same, I am required to use what little I have for good, for them, for Him. And then I read a wonderful quote from Elder Ephraim, reminding me of the goal of the Christian life which (thankfully for me) has nothing very much to do with talent at all, but humility, "true and genuine humble-mindedness," as he calls it.
"Satan tries to make those who struggle forget their goal. . . In this way, the labor remains without a reward - a struggle without hope, work without pay."
In a tangle of sorrowful thoughts, I do not despair, for He whispers to me Without me you can do nothing, and Unless the Lord builds the house its builders labor in vain. Suddenly I am thankful. Oh so thankful for being a very ordinary mother with a very dirty kitchen floor. If it were any other way, I just might forget that I needed any help at all.

Monday, September 5, 2011

movie night

We've taken to the custom of having Sunday night as family movie night. If there's a good one worth watching that is. (Or if we parents need an excuse to cuddle on the couch without being wrestled or attacked by a little person.) Outside the neighborhood Walgreens, the convenient RedBox stands chock full of crap. For the sheer void of movie goodness, we haven't had a movie night in a while. Occasionally, though, a good one squeezes in.

We ended up with with two movies last night(a rare occurance but what happens when we've been movie deprived for so long, and the husband goes alone and can't decide): Rio and Legend of the Guardians.

Initially it was an obvious choice for me to choose Rio; rated G and colorful from my superficial "screening". As it turns out it was colorful, colorful language that is. All the rated-G curses like "looser," "shut-up," "idiot" and "what the . . " And while 101 Dalmations Cruella DeVil takes the G-cursing cake, this has the good guys digging in to bad language soufle.
The premise was all about hooking up. For the depraved among us, the best lesson we could draw from it is "at least get to know someone before you hook up". In every other respect, it is pretty much void of value. "Spread your wings" is as far as the message goes, oh, and party, party, party. Yo, G, diggy-dig.

Moving on to movie night #2: Legend of the Guardians. I was hesitant to let my kids see it, since it is rated PG for some scary parts. So Benjamin previewed it, and gave it the green light (which means it was worth another dollar to keep another day). So tonight we watched it, and despite night Owls being the characters, it out-shone Rio by a mile. And this is why: It is about family (and by family i mean a mom and a dad who have children together - not a ragtag bunch of friends). Few kids movies of the modern era ever feature the parents being right. Usually the typical child hero exhausts an incredible amount of energy to prove his parents wrong. It's about setting yourself a part, standing out - going outside of your parents parameters - in order to "find yourself". In contrast, Soren attests again and again, "Da's stories were true." He "finds himself" through his submission to his parents teachings, the traditions they pass down to him. And another great lesson from the film . . ."it's about doing the right thing again and again and again." How does a child learn to make tough choices? He makes himself a willing student and submits himself to a teacher. And that teacher reinforces the values of the community which are "to strengthen the weak, mend the broken, and vanquish evil." The message isn't washed out on the rio, even for owls, it's as clear as day.
And the final reason I love the movie so much; the kids have chores. . . but don't get me started on that one!

The bottom line is it's hard to shovel through the filth to find quality movies (especially at RedBox). So we are starting a little list of quality movies we think worthwhile to own - one day when we save up, that is. (I'm thinking "modern era" films from the "new millenium" on). So far we've got:

Charlotte's Web (the newest one)
Narnia films
Tangled (?)
Nanny McPhee films
Legend of the Guardians . . .

Suggestions welcome!