Mother’s Day Gifts for an Orthodox Mom

Mother’s Day Gifts for an Orthodox Mom

Last night, I eagerly crawled into bed with a cup of tea and started reading Annalisa Boyd‘s new book The Ascetic Lives of Mothers: A Prayer Book for Orthodox Moms and then an English translation by Thomas Carroll of Saint Nectarios’ work Mothers and the Upbringing of Children.  It’s in those moments late in the evening, when my house is hushed in peaceful silence, that I can reflect on my day and take a moment to rejuvenate with a book in hand. I sought out Annalisa after reading her book Special Agents of Christ almost two years ago.  She is the first and only author I’ve ever researched because I felt such a connection to her writing.  As I was reading the book, I couldn’t help but feel as though she had written the book for my sons.  She was phrasing the text in such a way that it was addressing some struggles my boys have dealt with after having been in foster care. There was a good reason I was drawn to seek her out – she wrote it for her foster/adopted sons!   I can’t even begin to explain how excited I was when I read the first email response from her after I sent her an email.  To give you a hint, my daughter calls Annalisa my sister whenever we talk about her.  I am so incredibly blessed to have this amazing mama in my life and I hope to one day be able to sit down and share a cup of tea with her.  I have mothered seven beautiful children.  She has mothered more than...
From the Trenches: Raising Orthodox Christians

From the Trenches: Raising Orthodox Christians

It’s in those moments where the only strength we seem to be able to muster for family prayers that night is to tell our kids to get ready for bed, tuck them in, and then trace the sign of the cross on their forehead.  It’s in those moments where they hear us tell their coaches they won’t be able to make the game Sunday morning because we’ll be at church.  It’s in those moments where you bring them along to drop off food to someone who could use a meal, for whatever reason. All of these moments teach our children.  They teach our children that even when mom (or dad) is completely and totally exhausted, we still found what little strength we had left to include God in bedtime. These moments teach our children that sports do not come before God and we are willing to not just say God is the priority in our lives but actually live it.  It’s in these moments where our children learn to give instead of just receive. Our children learn as much from our moments of strength as they learn from our moments of weakness. Do we truly strive to place God as the priority in our lives or do we only do it when we have enough energy or spare time?  Our children are learning from everything we say and do.  Everything. I read an excellent blog post today from Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick.  From my own personal experiences, I have to say I agree with him completely.  We, as the parents, are the primary example of what it means to be...
A Practical Guide to Prayer with Children

A Practical Guide to Prayer with Children

(Sorry about the hiccup when this was initially published.  Something went wrong when I clicked publish and it deleted the majority of this post.  I had to go back in, re-do it, and publish it a second time.) *This was originally presented via a live webinar in 2011.  I have slightly modified it in order to share it in a blog post format below.  Keep in mind that this is a lengthy post because it was a 45 minute live presentation.  If you would like to see any of the slides larger, click on the picture twice to enlarge it.  (Not a double click, but rather click on it once and then a second time when it shows the picture by itself.)   I’m going to wrap up the conference this weekend with a presentation on “A Practical Guide to Prayer with Children”.  What do I mean by a practical guide to prayer with children?  Well…we are all busy.  Plain and simple.  From the moment we wake up in the morning getting our kids ready for school and ourselves ready for work and then later helping our kids with their homework, getting them to their extra curricular activities, fitting in dinner somewhere in all of the early evening commotion, before we finally even think about doing some chores around the house or relaxing for a minute.  Where can I realistically fit prayer in with my kids during all of this? Well, first off – quite frankly – prayer needs to become the priority.  Most of you would agree with this since you’ve chosen to listen to this talk.  But...
Gifts for Christmas

Gifts for Christmas

Many of us often look for a meaningful gift to give to our family, friends, teachers, and that special someone.  This year, consider giving them handcrafted soap from the Holy Cross Monastery in West Virginia.  Now through December 25th, they will donate 10% from the sales of their Mint Merry soap to the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry.  Not only can you give a lovely gift but you can support two Orthodox groups as well.   We received a bottle of this handcrafted soap as a gift and I placed it in our bathroom.  It sparked an unexpected conversation about monks as well as prison ministry with my boys after they were reading the label as they washed their hands.  It always amazes me how and where teachable moments about our faith pop up around our home.   The Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry’s Mission is: To bring the love of Christ to those who are in prison by providing encouragement, material support, transition and reintegration services, Christian education, spiritual guidance and the sacramental life of the church. We carry out our mission by providing resources and services to people in prison and their families, lead training and involvement opportunities to churches, and reintegration services to people coming out of prison. The services the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry provides are: In Prison-Ministry Provide Orthodox publications, Bibles, prayer cards, icons and catechism courses to those in prison Linking prisoners to Orthodox priests Provide spiritual guidance and publications to families of prisoners Church Outreach and Training Educate and train churches and priests on prison ministry Provide ongoing guidance to priests on prison ministry...
Participating in the Nativity Fast as a Family

Participating in the Nativity Fast as a Family

As we enter the Nativity Fast, here are some ways we can participate together as a family as we are called to fast, pray, and give alms: Talk about why we fast Do the New Testament Challenge together: We had a busy weekend so we started this last night.  I like how it’s set up for catch up days.  So even if you have a hectic day, you don’t feel like you have to give up just because you get a bit behind. Gather each evening to learn about the Tree of Jesse icon Burn frankincense in your censer during family prayer time Decide how your family wants to give alms from the money you saved by buying fasting foods: to your parish, an Orthodox charity, support a seminarian, a meal for a family in your community, or any other number of ways you can help someone else this Nativity season Learn about the symbolism on the Nativity of Christ icon Attend services together especially on Christmas Please share with us how you will be preparing for the Nativity of Christ...
Companion to “Special Agents of Christ”

Companion to “Special Agents of Christ”

This was part of my presentation at the last IL webinar.  For the foreseeable future, Illumination Learning will not be hosting anymore webinars.  As time permits, I will be archiving as many resources as possible from these past webinars on the website. The following unit is intended for use in church school classrooms as well as in the home.  The unit breaks down each of the chapters in the book, “Special Agents of Christ” by Annalisa Boyd, with additional activities and lessons.  This unit was created for my oldest son where I used the book as special one on one time with him in the evenings after I had tucked my two younger sons in bed. Click on the link below, browse through the pages, and use it with your students or children.  Let us know if you tweaked or added to the unit and we’ll share it with everyone else as well! Click here for: Special Agents of Christ...
Interactive Bulletin Boards for Our Church Schools & Homes

Interactive Bulletin Boards for Our Church Schools & Homes

Here are two examples of ways you can use the walls of your classroom, church hallway, or home to engage your children (and adults) when teaching about our faith: Start with a large piece of bulletin board paper (available at teacher stores) and have it cut to the desired length.  I asked them to cut this one to 6 feet.  Then attach the desired border around the edges.  (Also available at the teacher store)   For the first bulletin board – “Visiting an Orthodox Church During Vacation“, I also attached a road with cars leading to an Orthodox church. I purchased the road and cars from a teacher store and then copied a church out of the following coloring book. Next, I printed off photos of different churches we have visited while we were traveling and on vacation.  I labeled each of the photos telling where the church was located on a passport I purchased from the teacher store as well. This bulletin board would ideally be placed in the parish hall where everyone would see it during fellowship hour.  This bulletin board could be a means to encourage families to seek out an Orthodox parish while they are on vacation (especially during the summer months) and then invite them to post their photo along with where it was located on the parish bulletin board.  This is a great activity not only for the kids and families but for ALL of the adults at the parish – young and old! The second bulletin board is learning about Saints Around the World or Our Patron Saints. I started off with...
Why are 40 Day Blessings Important?

Why are 40 Day Blessings Important?

This past Sunday was the first time my youngest son, Gabriel, and myself have been back to church since his birth.  We made arrangements with our priest to have our 40 Day Blessing before Orthros so we could attend the entire Liturgy with our family. It is an Orthodox canonical tradition for the mother and baby to come to the church 40 days after the birth where a short service is offered for them.  The priest will meet the mother and child in the narthex where he will say prayers for both of them. Then the priest, in imitation of the Prophet Simeon, will walk with the baby in his arms into the church and up to the sanctuary.  He will say additional prayers and make the sign of the cross with the baby.  This is inspired by the encounter Simeon had with infant Jesus and the potential greatness in the sight of God of each child proclaiming and living their faith as they continue to grow. Then shortly thereafter, he returns the infant to his mother. So why do we have 40 Day Blessings?  It is a Tradition which emulates the Old Testament custom of parents bringing their baby to the Temple for the first time on the 40th day.  During those first 40 days, it is a time of rest and bonding for the mother and child.  It takes approximately six weeks for a woman’s body to heal after giving birth to a baby and for the menstrual flow to cease.  If you think about this in the context of history and the inventions that have come along since...
Orthodox Mommy Bloggers

Orthodox Mommy Bloggers

The Orthodox blogosphere has exploded in the past few years. We can find a plethora of talented Orthodox writers sharing their faith via posts on their blogs and resources they share with us.  There are many different categories of Orthodox writers available to all of us for browsing and gaining insight but this time around I’d like to share some blog addresses of some phenomenal mommy bloggers with all of you. Mommy bloggers open virtual doors to their homes through their blogs and warmly welcome us to join them to sit and visit with them.  With so much distance often between all of us, it’s a joy and a blessing to be able to freely travel from one friend’s home to the next.  Just as we would offer coffee, tea, and food to all the guests who come into our homes to see us, oftentimes these mommy bloggers will offer resources to all of us as a thank you for stopping by to visit.  These resources were developed for their own needs and family and they so lovingly shared them with all of us as well.  I think it’s important to remember that these blogs are an extension of the writer’s home and heart.  They share their thoughts, struggles, triumphs, inspiration, and the projects going on in their lives with us and nothing less than respect, love, and gratitude should be shared with them in return. When they share a resource with us – it’s a gift from them.  We need to be careful not to expect an ongoing gift from this person just because they’ve been so generous...
My Daughter’s Trip to Project Mexico

My Daughter’s Trip to Project Mexico

For two years now my daughter, Nikolia, has begged to go on a mission trip.  After saving up for over a year and through some generous gifts by several family members, she was able to go to Mexico this summer to participate in Project Mexico along with my sister.  I can’t deny that there was a part of me that was thrilled for this opportunity for her but also nervous for my child going out of the country without me or dad for the first time.  She’s back safe now and has a renewed appreciation for all the blessings in her life.  I couldn’t be happier for both. My daughter’s souvenir from Mexico for me was her SD cards of photos and video along with permission to put them on my blog.  My daughter knows me well – to say I was thrilled and touched was an understatement. Nikolia went to Mexico with a large group of Orthodox individuals.  In most cases, a group of people from the same parish will travel to Mexico to work together to build a small house for a needy family in one week.  In her case, she went as an individual along with my sister given that they did not go to Project Mexico with others from their parishes.  The house they helped to build is rustic especially to American standards.  The house does not have electricity, no indoor plumbing, no kitchen, and no bathroom.  It was a simple two room home given to an extremely grateful family. The house in progress – Nikolia is in the orange shirt The house after it was finished...