Many people are celebrating the feast of St. Nicholas today and what a joy! As the years pass and my children get older and older I really appreciate childlike things more and more. Seeing the joy in their faces as they await the feast, wondering what will be in their shoes, preparing gifts for their friends, are all things that I find my self experiencing all over again.
Many people know the story of St. Nicholas. He was from a wealthy family with his uncle as his biggest influence that taught him that serving his neighbor is most important. There are many stories of St. Nicholas and the story of the golden coins seems to be the most popular among Orthodox friends at least.
Celebrating the feast of St. Nicholas is always my favorite because it takes away from the frenzy of the holiday month with so much focus on gifts and what things we want or what our kids want and what our relatives want. The story of the saint is such a great example of what our focus and attitudes should be during this time of focus in the world on materialistic things. So early on in the December month and the holiday race to Christmas, it sets me in the realistic mind of Christmas. I try to capture that joy in my kids and see it through their eyes.
So today as we unwrapped our shoes and found our own golden coins, I saw the light and believe in my kids and tried to remain thankful throughout the day. What a season to be thankful and count our blessings! For the family and the love for the peace and the joy.
I recently was brushing teeth with my boys and every mother knows it’s one part of the bedtime routine that can get really mundane. After going through the rhythm of “ok now wash your face, ok let’s put the brush down… ok put the brush down… ok PUT the brush DOWN” I looked at my oldest son in the mirror. He gave me a big smile as I looked at him in the mirror and then he turned to me to look at me face to face. In that moment I realized that how I saw him in the mirror is so different from how he sees himself. I see him so much different than he sees himself and so much more beautiful than he knows he is at this moment.
It made me wonder about other people as well. How we honestly look at them through a mirror. We only see a little part of themselves. Sometimes we see the flaws in the mirror and judge or gossip about those flaws. The whole other side, the face to face side, is really hard to get to know. Sometimes we never get to see that side of people. Knowing that the other side exists in other people can in itself be eye opening.
My hope is to have that realization with me when I am inclined to judge or gossip about others. I hope I can carry that with me when people hurt me. That is what some believe to be… seeing the goodness in everyone, forgiveness and love.
What does it mean to have joy? Is it the same as happiness? Some people have put it in the same category. As long as we are happy then we are joyful right?
What is supposed to make us happy? People? Places? Things? I am sure you have your own list of happiness bandaids that you can fill in the blanks with that you go to in order to make yourself feel better in a time of crisis. I started thinking recently about what it would take for another person to say that I was a joyful person. That requires me to really dig deep inside myself and change a lot of my actions towards my family and people I encounter daily. I do not think that joy is the same as happiness and that is where a lot of people tend to get mixed up. Looking at the people that I look up to for living a joyful life I really had to think about it and found one person. That person inspires me to be hopeful in the future and being present in the moment.
What does living a joyful life look like to you? What are qualities in people that you know that you think resemble joy? Is joy the same as happiness?
A Sunday thought.
Alright everyone, Lent has been kind of crazy. All the focus on internal work and spiritual readings has left me exhausted. Every Lent there is always something to push you, either with kids or health, there is always some struggle for Lent that comes your way.
New York has not been kind to us Californians with the weather this Lent either. First there was a snow storm that left a brand new huge patch of snow and now there are non stop showers. Cabin fever is real. The community here seems to be non stop sick so we have been avoiding all people, making it harder to just hang out with the kids all day.
Spring weather always seems to show up at the right time around Pascha/Easter. Last year Pascha was in May, way different than the Western calendar but the weather seemed to still go with the Lenten season. It was in the 30’s until end of April last year. This year seems to be the same. As Holy Week will be soon upon us it is already in the 50’s creating hope for glorious Pascha sunshine.
As I sit and contemplate the spring and try to gear my thoughts towards the end of Lent, I leave you with this thought from St. Nikolai Velimirovic:
Contemplate the Lord Jesus in death:
- How all of nature trembled when He gave up the spirit, as though to protest against this criminal act of the race of men;
- How the earth quaked, the sun was darkened, the rocks were split, the veil of the Temple was rent, and the graves were opened.
Today is Cheesfare Sunday for Orthodox Christians everywhere. That means Lent is officially here. We all have a special service to start the event titled Forgiveness Vespers. We all line up and face our community and ask each other for forgiveness. I personally love this service as it’s the perfect start to the Lent and the main focus of the season. Now is the time for reflection, quiet, peace, prayer and service to ones neighbors.
Every year as Lent rolls around I get sad about all the meat and cheese we will miss but joyful also because it cannot come at a more perfect time. I stand there and face the people I go to church with first. The priests that work so hard. I ask them their forgiveness and they as me for mine in return. My friends and neighbors follow. I know that I need to ask them their forgiveness because at some point during the year I did have bad thoughts or even said mean words against them. Lastly, I stand before my husband, I look into his eyes and ask him to forgive me for anything that I might have offended him for. He asks the same of me. We bow to each other and forgive one another.
It is such a humbling experience to go through every year. I walk my overly tired kids back to the house and I try to keep my peace as long as possible. My sons loose it and I loose it on them. Bam. My peace is gone. I blame myself. All the wrong thoughts come into my head. My husband walks in and calms the storm.
As I sing my goodnight song to my oldest son I know what I have to do.
“Buddy, I’m sorry I was angry just now. I will try to do better next time. Will you forgive me?” I say to my son.
Blessed Lent everyone.
When my youngest son was born he was a month early. On the day we were packing up our boxes to move from California to NYC I was 34 weeks and started having major back pain. After he came via emergency c-section I somehow knew he would be my little heart ache.
Ever since then we have been back to the ER and urgent care with him more than anyone else in the family. This week in preparation for Lent I was trying out different recipes and what do you know turns out this little man has a severe allergy to cashews.
As his body and face began to rapidly swell up I knew I had to act fast. The nurse in me had to think quick because I know first hand what happens in these situation if people don’t act quickly. Off into the car I put him race as fast as I can to our local urgent care, they don’t even check me in and just rush me and my son to the back so he can get his Epinephrine shot and steroids. He is shaking at this point. I know he will be ok but it is still hard to see my own son like this.
A few moments later the storm has passed. He just wants to be held by his mama and I am so thankful so this moment. There we were again yet another stay for 6 hours in the hospital for monitoring to make sure he dosent react again. I had a lot of time to think about life during that time and could not stop thinking about timing. If only my husband wasn’t home and I didn’t have help what would I do? If I couldn’t get him there fast enough what would have happened. If he had an allergic reaction again during the night what would I do?
I started being so thankful for small moments again. Those kisses I am able to give him again in the morning, thankful for my husband being there for me and being my backbone. Thankful for my community getting that Epi pen for us when it was going to be too expensive for us. Thankful.
It is the small things folks. What are you most thankful for today?
Sometimes it is hard for us to see if we do any good to people by our small actions. A smile, a kind word, a thank you, a calm response. They all matter. I was recently reminded of this while drinking tea.
A monk on Mt Athos at the Russian monastery they visited reached up and grabbed a branch from a tree and said to my husband, “give this to your wife so she can put it in her tea and feel as if she has been here.” I did not think much of this until recently while I was battling my own thoughts on if what I do actually matters to others. Parenting is not a glorified job, let’s just face it most of the time kids do not use kindness as a way of getting what they want. So here I am taking out my branch and tearing off the leaf to put into my tea when I start to wonder if that monk ever dealt with these thoughts.
Everyone struggles in some way, weather with thoughts about worthlessness or pride, in the end we are called to do good. That is what that monk did. He does not know what this small branch means to me. He does not know if I will ever use it or toss it. He just did a good deed from his heart.
That act of kindness really did turn my whole battle into perspective. I will never meet this young monk since women are not allowed on the Holy Mountain, but as I drink my tea I do feel a little more appreciated that someone that doesn’t know me at all wanted to give me this small gift.
Well this week has been hectic with my husband coming back from Mt. Athos and the semester starting again it has been a busy bee hive. After living life as a single mother for 3 weeks, my respect for single mothers or military wives has increased tremendously. How do they do it? Go power mamas!
What did I learn while he was gone is still in the processing part of my brain. I do not know if I learned anything. I did try to take my good friend Matushkas advice and recognize this time as my own, which I did. I prayed more, had more coffee, more cookies and more friend time. In a way it’s hard to get used to the same routine again once he’s home. At this point the time alone was a real blessing. A chance to reconnect with my oldest son in a way I haven’t done in a while. A chance to do some soul searching to see what direction I would like to take my life into. A chance to be thankful most of all.
So back to homeschooling and play dates . With Lent fast approaching the semester will be over in no time.