Five Minute Friday: Purpose

A few days ago, I sent in the paperwork to receive a “Religious Exemption” from Public Schooling for my daughter Renee. After a lot of thought, research, and prayer this seemed like the best option for our family. The decision to homeschool has been an emotional journey. Somedays I feel overwhelmed about the tasks that lie ahead, but most days I am extremely excited.

You might be wondering, like the majority of my extended family, what my purpose for homeschooling is. After all, wouldn’t it be easier to send my kids away during the day, and catch up on chores or enjoy a little “me time”? Wouldn’t my children benefit from the socialization?

Those are all tempting ideas to consider, but I am sticking to my convictions…

My purpose in homeschooling is immersing my children in the Orthodox Christian culture. The flexibility of homeschooling gives us the freedom to attend more weekly Church services and allows me to integrate the faith into every aspect of their lives.

I want to encourage strong family relationships, create lifelong learners, and make memories.

To sum it all up…

Our Homeschool Mission Statement:

The Judd Family homeschool seeks to build strong family bonds and develop godly character by immersing our children into the Orthodox culture, fostering a love for lifelong learning, and making lasting memories throughout it all. Our ultimate goal is spiritual maturity and academic success.

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The Spiritual Rose of Platina

I have a special bond with Blessed Fr. Seraphim Rose. While visiting the Hermitage of the Holy Cross with my heterodox Father, during the summer of 2016, Fr. Seraphim Rose made himself known to us. Of all the books in the guest house, my Dad picked up a huge biography on the Saints life. Together we got lost in the pages of that book. We jumped around in the various chapters and found ourselves moved to tears by the Saint’s perseverance and determination to live a godly life. The sections about Fr. Seraphim’s death were particularly powerful.

When our pilgrimage was over I continued to develop a relationship with the Saint. The way he reached out to my Father was unmistakable. I made it a habit of asking Fr. Seraphim to pray for my Dad. I trusted that Fr. Seraphim would not let my Father slip through the cracks. If one day my Dad converts, I will know exactly who to thank.

A short time after my pilgrimage to the Hermitage, my husband and I decided to actively start trying to conceive. Typically, we have absolutely no problem getting pregnant right away. With my first daughter we got pregnant the very first month of trying. Then my second daughter surprised us with a positive pregnancy test only 6 months after Renee was born. I thought this time would be no different, but I was wrong.

Months passed, but my womb remained empty. My husband and I were utterly exhausted in every way. I was haunted by the thought that I might not ever get to grow life in my belly again. That’s when I turned to Blessed Fr. Seraphim. With tears streaming down my cheeks I begged him to pray for me. I rested my forehead on his icon and promised that if we conceived, I would name the child after him.

Shortly after that conversation, I got a positive pregnancy test. Fr. Seraphim had once again touched my life. His prayers worked! Some might say his prayers worked a little too well. During my 11th week ultrasound I found out that I was carrying twins!

Next week we will find out the sex of our two little blessings. I’m keeping my promise to Fr. Seraphim. Depending on the results, one of the babies will either be named Gideon Rose or Ada Rose.

I can’t wait to see what God has in store for these children. One thing is certain though, with Fr. Seraphim watching over them and praying for them, they are destined to turn out okay.

Blessed is God who is glorious in His Saints!

This Phase of Love

Proverbs 5:18b-19 “Rejoice together with the wife of your youth. Let your loving deer and graceful colt keep company with you, and let her alone go before you and be with you at all times; for in living with her love, you will be great.”

We walked into Target hand in hand, having just finished a hearty meal of filet and shrimp at our local Japanese steakhouse. The warmth of the store slowly brought my ice cold face back to life. I dislodged a single basket from the string of carts and rested my pregnant belly against it.

“What all do we need?” asked my husband.

“Hmmm… Toilet paper, trash bags, and a few odds and ends for lunch tomorrow.”

Together we slowly made our way through the store and mentally checked off our shopping list. We laughed at the large group of men buying last minute Valentine’s Day cards, and indulged ourselves on a discount chocolate heart.

This is what Valentine’s Day looks like in this phase of life.

We have been married for six beautiful years. In that time, we have explored Brazil, Mexico, the Bahamas, and various different states. We graduated college, pursued careers, and purchased a home. With God’s help, we created 4 new souls. We now know each other both inside and out.

The life we live is nothing like I imagined it would be when we first started dating. We still live in the exact same town that we swore we hated as teenagers. We no longer stay up late playing video games or making out on the couch. Instead, we collapse into bed next to each other each night and watch a few shows on Netflix before giving into exhaustion.

These days, love looks like Spencer washing the dishes when my pregnant nose is too sensitive. Love does chores around the house even when she’s exhausted. Love offers to run to the store to get that missing ingredient that his wife needs for dinner. Love does the taxes even when she hates math.

Our marriage has settled into comfortable stability. We visit grandparents on Wednesday, have date night on Thursday, and do family breakfast on Saturday. I brush the kid’s teeth at night while my husband finds pacifiers, blankets, and fills sippies.
I relish the patchy beard on my lover’s face, and I love snuggling with his soft body. I don’t need butterflies of excitement, sneaky kisses, and a bed of roses. I just need my best friend by my side, sharing this wonderfully, mundane life with me.

Five Minute Friday: Weak

 

Our bedtime routine begins with family devotions and prayer. After snuggling on the couch and listening to Daddy read from the Bible, we all crowd into the icon corner and offer up a few prayers to the Lord. Nora, my youngest daughter, loves to pray to her guardian angel. Her sweet voice squeaks out the following words:

O Angel you are truly mine, given to me by God Divine, to always be at my side and teach me what is right. I am little you are tall. I am weak, you make me strong. Never go away from me. From all danger keep me free. Amen”

Every night I do my best to sincerely say these prayers with my children. Sometimes, that is a struggle. It is easy to be thankful for the guardian angel that God has blessed me with. It isn’t as easy to apply the next part of the prayer though.

“I am little you are tall. I am weak, you make me strong.”

Perhaps this part of the prayer is difficult because I don’t like to think of myself as being being insignificant and powerless. After all, I have given birth to two children. I have conquered high school and college. I have endured kidney stones and surgeries. I have told loved ones goodbye and defeated addiction. Surely, I am not weak.

But then I am reminded of that recent temptation I gave into when no one else was looking. I could have distracted myself, but I chose not to. I am not as strong as I would like to imagine… Regardless of how much I lie to myself, I am still desperately dependent on God.

 
Psalm 21:20 “But You, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.”

 

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Preparing for Pascha

My favorite time of year, without a doubt, is the Paschal season! I enjoy the Lenten disciplines and the solemnity of Holy Week that leads up to it. And then Pascha comes in the middle of the night… There is nothing more joyous than hearing the Church bells ring and congregation sing “Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs bestowing life!” To me, this Feast of Feasts is more magical than any Christmas I ever had as a child.

As an Orthodox Mom I want to help my children experience the same excitement about Pascha that I feel. Here is a list of activities that we will be doing this year in order to get the children more involved. Perhaps this list will help you come up with ideas of your own!

1. Spiritual Growth

  • Since we are Western Rite Orthodox, we will attend Ash Wednesday Liturgy to kick off Lent.
  • We are going to recite the Prayer of St. Ephraim every night before bed. My goal is to have it completely memorized by Pascha.  
  • We will to attend the Stations of the Cross at least once during Lent.
  • We will sing Lenten hymns together as a family after dinner.
  1. Almsgiving
  • We are going to keep an offering box in our family icon corner. All spare change and money saved will go into the box and be given to charity.
  • The girls and I will be baking pretzels (a traditional Lenten food) for Daddy to take to work. We are going to place them in individual bags with the following message: “A pretzel to remind us of arms crossed in prayer, is a Lenten treat for us to share.”
  • The children will each fill up a grocery bag full of toys to donate to charity. This helps them learn how to give to the poor and helps jump start spring cleaning.
  1. Fasting
  • Every Wednesday and Friday we are going to eat three vegetarian meals. The girls are still too young to fast for the entire Lenten period, but they can certainly go without meat a few days each week.
  • We will read the Bible Story about when Jesus fasted in the desert.
  1. Family Bonding
  • We are going to countdown the days of Lent with a special calendar.
  • We will watch a few Easter movies together.
  • We will set apart Sunday evenings for family game nights.
  • We will paint red eggs.

10 Orthodox Mom Fails

My family and I joined the Orthodox Church during our parish’s Pascha vigil in 2015. I will never forget that blessed night. My husband and I watched with pride as each of our daughters were baptized. Tears streamed down my cheeks as our parish chanted “SEALED” while Fr. Alban chrismated us. Then with a mixture of excitement and a healthy dose of fear we partook of the Eucharist. For the first time in my spiritual life, I truly felt at home.

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Incorporating Orthodox customs and traditions into our family has been a lot of fun, but also challenging. Neither my husband nor I were raised Orthodox, so this is all new to us. We do our best to immerse our children in the Orthodox culture, but sometimes we fall a bit short. Here is a list of a few of my Orthodox Mom fails:

  • For us the 12 days of Christmas typically last about 4 days before we burn out. Every year I make elaborate plans to stretch out the festivities, but we have yet to follow through with them.
  • My youngest daughter insists on being a nun when she grows up, the only problem is that she wants to be a Mommy nun. She hasn’t realized that nuns do not have biological children.
  • My oldest daughter is very analytical. Lately, after bedtime prayers she will ask us why she can’t see God, her guardian angel, or the Saints. Apparently I haven’t done a very good job in explaining the spiritual realm.
  • I haven’t even begun trying to teach my kids how to name the books of the Bible. The Orthodox Bible contains 77 book whereas the Protestant Bible has only 66. That catchy song I grew up with as a Baptist child just doesn’t work anymore.
  • My youngest daughter once found it appropriate to loudly fart during Communion. To add insult to injury she then announced it to the entire congregation. I wanted to crawl underneath the non-existent pews and die.
  • After spending all night at the Nativity vigil trying to prevent my children from catching their hair on fire, I ended up burning a large section of my youngest daughter’s hair. She reeked for days.
  • My oldest daughter once spilled the entire bowl of Holy Water all over the floor. I scrambled trying to wipe it up with my shirt before anyone noticed.
  • While visiting a monastery I went forward to venerate the icon in the middle of the room. I didn’t realize there was glass in front of it and I ended up face planting loudly into it. I hope the monks just shrugged it off as me being extremely pious.
  • Let’s just say that elastic banded skirts and prostrations don’t mix well together and leave it at that…
  • My children rarely make it to Liturgy with shoes on. We are always in such a rush to get out the door that something has to give… Typically it is the shoes.

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Since our conversion, I have done my best to raise pious Orthodox children. I fantasize about elaborate Pascha celebrations and nightly family prayers complete with incense and candlelight. I dream about homeschooling them with the perfect Orthodox curriculum. I’ve toyed with the idea of naming a baby Seraphim. Reality doesn’t look anything like this.

My family has had a lot of Orthodox growing pains, but I don’t sweat the small stuff. Every time I watch my children light a candle at church my heart melts a little. I smile as they proudly waddle up to partake of the Eucharist. My soul sings as I watch them venerate the icons in our prayer corner. At the end of the day, I know that the faith is sinking deeply into their souls. May the Lord help us as we continue our journey.

The Third (and Fourth) Child

Tucked deeply within my womb, God is knitting together two miracles. Undetected by human ears, two small hearts are beating. New souls are developing, and God has blessed me with the honor of being a part of this.

In the eyes of of society, having four children is borderline insanity. After all, isn’t money tight enough? Isn’t the world already overpopulated? Isn’t having four children a bit selfish? If you ask the internet their opinion on four children, you will probably be incredibly discouraged about what you find. So many bloggers talk about the burden of having a third, let alone a fourth.

I refuse to let myself fall into that kind of thinking. These days I am reflecting on Psalm 128:3-4, “Your wife shall be like a vine, prospering on the sides of your house; Your children like newly planted olive trees around your table. Behold, so shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.” After cycle after cycle of praying and pleading for the Lord to bless us with another child, He has more than answered our prayers.

Oh how my arms ache to feel the weight of another precious newborn. My breasts long to satisfy another empty belly. My heart pounds in anticipation of the inevitable stretch that will take place as two more souls join our family. I don’t care what the world thinks, this twin pregnancy is a blessing.

Please pray for my little ones as they grow. This week our little apple seeds are developing their hearts. Pray that God would give our children hearts to love and serve. Pray that as their brains continue to develop that the Lord would bless them with wisdom beyond their years.

Also, intercede for me. Pray that I would learn how to crucify my ego a little more each day. God knows that I still have a lot of room for improvement.