“Yes Oh Lord and King grant me to see my own sins”

To see ones own sins is both a blessing and a curse. It is really hard to know the truth about ones self. To be fully shown how by my own sins drag me down and affects me. It can also be a blessing since once we see our own sins we have the ability to repent and try to live a better way of life. I never like going to confession but once I go and receive absolution I feel like a brand new person that is able to continue the good fight. There is a reason why confession in the Orthodox Church is a sacrament. It is a mystery that I do not even want to know an answer to just like the Mother of God and the Incarnation, there are some things that I really do not want an explanation for. To see my own sins is what we ask God to grant us during Lent so that we can repent but the process of it and actually experiencing it is a different story.

Someone once told me that as a parent you will truly see yourself and know who you really are. I am beginning to see what they were talking about. I look at my impatience as a new mother and really try to correct it everyday but I get more impatient with myself because things never go the way I want them to. So the battleground that is in my heart has become a fight between pride, because I want things when I want them, and patience which the Lord teaches me every day with my son. The Lord by His great mercy allows us to see our sins one at a time it seems like. Like an iceberg if we were to see the whole bottom part of the iceberg it would be scary to even travel near it. Same with our sins, if we were to see all of our sins at once we would just fall into despair and never look back. “Oh look at all my sins and my inability to do anything holy” I complain to my spiritual father. “Yes and look at Gods mercy as He works out your salvation.”

Grant me to see my own sins. Probably the hardest thing we can ever ask God. It is this part of the St. Ephraim prayer that I struggle with most of all because truth is I do not want to think of myself as a horrible person. Part of it is because in this society we are told to feel good about ourselves the majority of the time and if we don’t then fill in the blank for a quick fix remedy that is prescribed by your TV, food, games, shoes, lattes, etc. I do not want to see my sins because that means I am doing something wrong, how can that be? Is there such a thing as perfection?

Recently my quest for perfection has made me realize many things about myself. It made me realize that my quest for perfection is based on society’s standards and not the Churches teachings. It is when I try to be perfect that I fall into other temptations such as judging and end up being the Pharisee. It is hard for a new mom such as myself to not look at other moms and wonder how they are raising their children and judge them. Yes, to see my own sins is a blessing and a curse. It is in seeing my own sins that I realize more and more that there is no such thing as perfection for me right now. I may never be a perfect mom or a perfect wife. As long as I continue to strive towards Christ and follow His commandments that is when I can somehow someway begin to transform my life into a better one. A perfection that is in Christ alone not some idea of perfection. It is a hard and narrow road but well worth it in the end.

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Feast of Annunciation

Troparion — Tone 4

Today is the beginning of our salvation,

The revelation of the eternal mystery!

The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin

As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.

Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:

Rejoice, O Full of Grace, The Lord is with You!

Today is the Feast of Annunciation! Today is when an event fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham, completes the Law of Moses and fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of the the Messiah. If only more people understood what it means that God became man for us, this feast would be as important as Pascha! Blessed feast everyone enjoy the fish we are allowed to feast on today during this great and Holy Lent.

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“Before Thy cross we bow down in worship oh Master…

And Thy holy resurrection we glorify.”

Most Christians wear crosses around their neck as a necklace to show that they are followers of Christ. This Sunday of the Cross in Orthodox Christianity symbols for us that first off we have somehow through great suffering not only made it half way through Lent but that we also have a cross to bear if we want to follow Christ. I wear a cross around my neck to remind myself of the cross that I must bare as a Christian. My little bundle of joy got a cross when he got baptized as well since he also will bear his own cross in life. The good thing about the cross is that not only does it mean that we have to bear a cross in life but also the resurrection of Christ as well. This got me thinking about the cross and the resurrection and about the everyday woes in my own life that have happened and how by the cross they were conquered.

During our recent trip to the pediatrician’s office we got the news that most new time parents dread. “Well it looks like your son has eczema AND is teething.” What happens now we wonder? This is a whole new experience that we do not know how to handle just when we thought that things were somehow beginning to fall into place. Hmmm teething, that explains the restlessness and sleepless nights then. Talk about feeling like a bad parent when you get frustrated with your child about waking you up more often at night and being mad and then realizing that they are in a lot of pain and are itchy, what a bad combination. It made me think about the cross that he has to start bearing in life even while he is so young and how he has to start having to deal with things that are unpleasant for him. As he becomes more and more restless and we try to deal with his painful and itchy problem I start to realize that his little cross affects us as I am sure his decisions he will make in life will forever impact us in some way as parents. For the first time ever I start thinking… Are we all connected?

My spiritual father once told me that community is very important in our lives. Community that understands what we are going through that are striving for the same things in life. He also talked to me a lot about how my own sins effect others just like my accomplishments effect them as well. We are taught by Christ Himself to pray for each other to love one another to the point of even loving our enemies. How can we not be connected right? We begin each Lent by asking forgiveness of one another. We suffer through Lent together side by side and try to encourage one another in this spiritual life.

So as this Sunday of the Cross marks the middle of Lent and we brace ourselves at our home here for more waking up during the night to deal with an itch monster I start to realize more and more that my sins do effect my family, my friends, my church community. I have to bear my own cross and deal with my own set backs in life just like every person, even my little 4 month old has set backs he has to start dealing with now.  All I can do now is hope in that cross and love it and know that by it death is concurred and it is the Resurrection we glorify.

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St Patrick Enlightener of Ireland

Kontakion — Tone 4

From slavery you escaped to freedom in Christ’s service: 

He sent you to deliver Ireland from the devil’s bondage.

You planted the Word of the Gospel in pagan hearts.

In your journeys and hardships you rivaled the Apostle Paul!

Having received the reward for your labors in heaven,

Never cease to pray for the flock you have gathered on earth,

Holy bishop Patrick!

Holy St. Patrick pray to God for us!

But give rather the spirit of…

…chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant.

Humility is a hard one to learn, especially when it is combined with patience. I have never been a patient person but when I have to be patient and humble it is like a train crash for me. Yes I always seem to want things my own way and on my own time. Whenever life throws me a curveball and I seem to loose all my cool, afterward it is always great to see that the curveball was for my benefit. Having a baby in the house has definitely tested my patience and he always finds way to humble me in some way like deciding me let out a big dramatic poop in the middle of Matins right at the part while it is quiet. During our recent trip to the monastery in the middle of Vespers service my husband and I were eating up the compliments on how he was such a good and quiet baby and does not squirm or scream that much in service but our little bundle of joy had other plans and decided to again poop very loudly during the service while everyone looks over at us and thinks it is us. The joys of parenting are endless it seems like full of humility and patience. I often find myself very isolated as a new mother from the rest of the world and find it hard to communicate about anything other than babies right now. I lack humility to accept Gods will in how my child does not sleep and lack patience to deal with his sleep issues. All things should just magically fall into their place right? Why don’t children come with an instruction manual?

Before I was a mother I worked a regular 8-5 job with good benefits but hated every minute of it because I felt so useless in my environment. That environment however was really predictable with a set schedule and a set lunch time and a set time to take breaks. I always complained about that environment but now I find myself wishing there would be some sort of expected situations as a mom. But life has other plans and it is like we keep learning humility lessons over and over again until we start just letting go and depending on Christ. I find it hard to pray sometimes because I want something concrete. I want to see a solution, I want someone to just tell me how to do things so I can follow it and have a desirable outcome. That is where my struggle with prayer comes most of the time.

Prayer is an invisible thing mainly based on faith. My clouding doubtful mind always questions if prayers are heard or even answered. Sleep training for example is something that I should be praying to the Mother of God for since she raised Christ, but I don’t. I head over to Barnes and Noble and look at the parenting section to try to get tips on how to get a baby to sleep and stay asleep. Going into parenting I knew that there are plenty of things that I would have to teach my child as he grows up. Teaching him to go to sleep is not one of the things I though I would have to do. I am getting to a point where Christ is breaking me down enough for me to get so frustrated that no expert advice is working that eventually I would have no choice but to have faith and pray. “But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant.” Tough combination of spiritual lessons to learn, but it seems like we have to keep pushing on so we can rejoice and truly say, Christ is Risen when it is all over.

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Take away from me the spirit of…

…sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power and idle talk.

Guilty as charged. The St. Ephraim prayer that we say during Lent is a very powerful prayer for me. All these things I realize that I do at some point and pay no attention to correcting them at all but just go on with my day, thinking that I am somehow entitled to having a right to be slothful for example or have the right to know gossip or just to talk about stupid things that do not matter. Lent is a time for transformation and transfiguration for Orthodox Christians and let me tell you, it is like when you make the decision to fight the spiritual fight all the demons come out and attack you from all sides. It is easy for me to sit in the nursery room at church and listen to the latest church gossip while I nurse my son. It is easy for me to judge mothers that have kids on how they are raising them. Of course I have prideful thoughts about how my kid won’t end up like that. It is not so easy for me to change my way of thinking and I have to fight against thoughts of judgment like most people. It seems like I can add on to the beginning of this prayer with my own sins like “take away from me the spirit of… judgment, pride, anger etc.” All this taking away during this fast I start thinking… are we addicted?

As my brother in law comes over and spends some well deserved quality time with my son we start talking about what we are giving up for Lent and he states to me that he will be giving up his energy drinks in the morning which is really hard for him. I think about what type of things we pile on day to day and how during this time we try to live a simpler life. It is this simple life that seems to bring a lot of peace to my household. I notice that when I do find some peace within myself my household tends to run more smoothly. Am I addicted to this chaos that I do not even know how to get out? Parenting has made me see a different side of life. I have moments of joy which is true joy it seems like. I dread the day that I have to click on that Monster add and look for a job again. It is almost like what the scriptures say about the women and mothers all make sense now. How come my life was never this peaceful before? Was I so addicted to the working and the pleasures it brings with money this whole time that I was missing the point of life?

Now we are living more of a simple life but it is more meaningful it seems like. So I am letting myself get attached. I am letting myself get attached to my son and watch him as he falls asleep and try to treasure every moment that I have with him because I will miss him so much when I do have to work. I am letting myself nurse him to sleep and stay with him as he sleeps in my arms. Yes all this reading about how he is going to be used to a certain way of getting to sleep and blah blah blah from these “experts” is going out the window. I am working on giving up this chaos that has build up in my heart so much that I find it hard to concentrate without thinking about the future. As I struggle with things like not having that ice cream, cheeseburger or watching that TV program to pass time, my mind start shifting towards other things and I realize that I will have my first son only once. All this talk about how I will regret it may be true but oh well, how else are we ever going to learn if we do not take our own chances and make our own decisions? Take away from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power and idle talk. And may I find peace again in the middle of this chaos.

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I will miss…

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As we begin Great Lent I would like to say goodbye to the following items…

Chocolate. Oh we have our great times and you have helped me celebrate moments of joy in my life and you have been with me through moments of sadness. I will miss you but separation makes the heart grow is what they say.

Meat. Yes cheeseburgers will be missed and great steak from Whole Foods will be thought about during these 50 days, but think about all the money that will be saved by not buying steak. All the veggie burgers from Costco will not replace you.

TV. Even though we do not spend that much time together I will still miss the PBS programs and European news. All my worldly updates will have to now come to me from people. We will meet again TV.

Dairy. We have a bumpy relationship it seems like because my son gets agitated once I start eating dairy. But dairy, oh dairy the ice cream you help make delicious will be missed.

Although I will miss these items I know that somewhere down the line during Lent true peace will be met by true suffering. Let me now remind myself that fasting without prayer is useless. That it is not about just giving up physical items but spiritual faults as well. Prayer, fasting and alms giving, a good recipe for Lent.

Oh Lord and Master of my life…

“The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there” ~St. Macarius

Recently it seems like our household is getting less and less sleep. With our boy about to be  4 months old we are always striving to find a good balance in our lives but it always seems to be challenged by new developmental milestones such as rolling over and teething. Just when we have a rhythm down all of a sudden something happens that makes us start from the scratch. Our son does not know how to soothe himself back to sleep yet and I find myself spending countless hours on Google trying to find out about baby sleep cycles and how to get your baby to sleep and to help them stay asleep. I always seem to find one solution that it gets back to. The cry it out method. I for one am not for this method but I see why parents choose this option as it seems like an easy solution to the sleep depravation that effects everyone. It seems to me that sleeping is something that parents knew there would be a lack of but not realizing how parenting also rolls over to nighttime parenting until they are faced with this dilemma.

A wise friend once told me that you just have to start functioning on less sleep. Yes, that is what is happening now. At times like these I forget that my attempts at parenthood are wasted unless I bring myself to the point of prayer first. It makes me wonder, who am I serving?

I forget during these sleepless nights that the Lord is the Master of my life, just like the beginning of St. Ephraims prayer states. I bring myself to the point of depending too much on the world for answers and not come to Christ first with prayer and humble heart and ask Him for guidance to raise my son right. As Lent starts and we deprive ourselves of great goodies such as cheeseburgers from In and Out, our struggle remains in the heart. It is almost like it comes at a perfect time for me as always and I realize that I have to focus more on prayer and purifying my heart rather than Google and other peoples opinions. As Orthodox Christians our whole worship is centered around the altar. Even our wedding services are around the altar stating that we need to center our lives around Christ first. When I stand during Liturgy I always forget that. I forget to center my life around Christ first so that everything else will follow. Instead I find myself wondering about things like drool getting on my sons shirt and having that be my top priority. (Insert big sigh here) Deep breath in… Deep breath out. Oh Lord and Master of my life… Forgive me a sinner.

Yours truly,

KV

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