Lessons from a Child

“The soul is healed by being with children.” – English Proverb

First Lesson: On Giving the Best

“Nothing that you have not given away will ever truly be yours.” – C.S. Lewis

There is a lot we can learn from a child. If we allow ourselves to listen. To learn.

Because this is the Season of Giving, we decided to take our children, the children of the missionaries and other expatriate families living in Zambia, to visit the slums. The poorest of the poor.

The children were excited. At their homes, they gathered food, toys, clothing, books, Bibles and anything they wanted to give away. I asked my 5-year old son to choose the toys he wanted to give away to a little child that has no toys. I “naturally” thought he would choose the toys he doesn’t play with anymore. Isn’t that what we always do? Give away what we don’t want anymore or don’t need. I found him doing the opposite. He was putting his favorite toys inside the bag. When I made sure he understood that he was not going to see these toys again, he told me in a serious way, “Mommy, it’s okay, they also don’t have a Mickey Mouse.” He gave away his very best toys. His favorite cars. His favorite things. To give a child that has nothing.

What a lesson he gave me that day. On giving my very best. On offering my best. Not what is left over of my abundance. Not what I don’t want anymore.

Not only did my son want to give toys, but he said every child must also have a Bible. They must know the stories of the Bible. I sighed. He was right. What good do we give if we do not give the Word of God. He tried to give his sister’s Bible away, but I definitely stopped him on this one :). (He ended up choosing from his own!).

I pray that in this season of giving, we can teach our children to give. To love. To offer their best. That we do the same. What am I willing to offer my Christ this year? In the coming New Year? God offered His Only Son. His Best. Himself.

“I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35

Second Lesson: On Stepping out of our Comfort Zones

“Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12

After our visitations with the children, we had a debriefing. The children came back full of joy. They talked about how much they loved the visitations. Seeing the poor children smile when they gave them gifts. Sharing the Word of God. Singing songs with them. It was beautiful. Fulfilling. Heavenly.

In an excited state, I asked who would love to go again. Out of 25 kids, only 2 raised their hands! I was shocked. I thought they loved giving. Sharing the Word of God. Bringing toys for the orphaned children. I asked them why they wouldn’t go again. They were honest. They said the slums were too smelly. Too many flies. Walked too much. Got thirsty. Hungry. Uncomfortable. Rather play games. Have fun. Bored.

We shared the message of when Christ said “. . . inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). They slowly began to understand. They are serving Christ Himself when they give to these forgotten ones. It is no coincidence that our Church is literally in between the rich shopping mall and the poor slums. God has placed us here to serve. To give. A chance to see Him.

As much as we hate to admit it, the children are right. We like to be comfortable. Stepping out of our comfort zones is hard. It is not relaxing. It is not entertaining or fun. We are going to do visitations again. We are going to keep doing it. This is good training for them. For me. I’m happy we took our children. I pray they learned and I pray it changes the way they live forever. We can’t live just by being entertained and comfortable, even for our children.

It is OK to be uncomfortable. It is OK to do something hard. And that is how we grow. Even as a missionary in Africa, I find myself going into “comfort mode.” I hide from the hard services. The challenging. The heart breaking. I was reminded by the children that I must intentionally go out of my comfort zone. To allow God to work. To rely on Him. Not myself. It is a training that we should practice as well as teach our young ones. It is never too early to start this training.

Thank you Jesus for the lessons learned from these pure and innocent children.

During this Nativity, I pray for you and your family that you are filled with the blessings and joy of the season. Through the intercessions of the generous saint of the season, St. Nicholas, may we always guide our children to give and serve Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And may we also live by example.

Let’s Chat: Recently, what lessons have you learned from our small ones?

My Outdoor Sanctuary

Sunday church family

It is another Sunday morning. I cringe. I wake up and put my head back under my blanket. I don’t know what mood the kids will be in when they wake up. Will I stay calm this time? This Sunday, they wake up screaming and shouting. Again. I groan. I shake my head. I sigh. I can no longer hide under the blankets. It starts off with various demands. Complaints.

I’m hungry. Sorry, we are fasting for communion.

I don’t want to wear this. Then choose something else.

Help me get ready. You are a big boy now.

I don’t want to go to Church today. We are all going.

I’m tired. I understand.

But, Mommy!

Even my 1.5 year old has started deciding that she doesn’t want to wear a specific pair of shoes. Or throws the clothes I choose for her away. And when she wakes up she throws a tantrum if she doesn’t get what she wants. Right NOW!

I’m a single mother on Sunday morning. We struggle. We fight. We are NOT walking to the House of the Lord in all Joy!

“I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” Psalm 122:1

And then when we arrive to Church, I enjoy the service . . . from outside the doors of the Church. My toddler wants to scream for everything as soon as we enter the church doors. Therefore, we remain outside so as not to disturb others. In my Outdoor Sanctuary, as I like to call it.

Why do we go through this struggle? Wouldn’t it be easier if we all just did what we do on Saturday? Relax in our pajamas, have breakfast, do our Quiet Time. All from the comforts of our home. I know I could do a lot of things differently on Sundays. Wake up earlier instead of stay in bed enjoying the peaceful moments before THEY wake up. We could choose our clothes from the night before. Discuss expectations beforehand.

But, still why? Couldn’t we just relax? Couldn’t I just go alone and call the nanny to come? I don’t want the kids to feel pressure. Hate the church because they were “forced” to go. But then why do I “force” them to school but then leave it optional for church? Maybe I can wait until they get older so they can sit still? But, at a young age, I know they are learning the hymns and their Spirit is getting filled whether we see it or not.

One early morning weekday Liturgy, I went alone. Needless to say, it was so peaceful. Joyous. I prayed. I praised. I relaxed. I didn’t have to take anyone to the bathroom. I didn’t have to stop a tantrum. I didn’t have any interruptions. It was….heavenly.

However, something was missing. What could it be? My kids! My kids? Why? Because, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have a chance to establish a foundation in my children. To love the Church. To love the Body of Christ. To love God.

One day they will be out of my care. My husband and I met an American Missionary couple living in Zambia. Their last born child recently traveled to the States to attend college. The father told us the night before she traveled he thought to himself, “If only I had one more day with her.” One more day.

When my kids grow up and move away. And it will happen before I know it. Will I say the same thing? If only I had one more day. If only I had one more chance to teach them. To pray with them. To explain the Liturgy. To learn the hymns. To be part of a Body of Christ. To serve others in Liturgy. To teach them how to receive the blessed Sacrament of Communion. One more day.

As I pray in my Outdoor Sanctuary, I will remember the words of a saintly nun that lived here in Zambia. She told me when I carry my pure child, just remember that the child is not a distraction, but that I am carrying Christ. Carrying Christ. Just like St. Mary.

“Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants, You have ordained strength” Psalm 8:2

I recommend that you do have a Liturgy to yourself if you can manage. Once a week. Once a month. Whatever it takes. Time for yourself in communion with God.

Maybe you have a similar experience on Sundays? It is hard not to make excuses on Sunday morning. I know some days you want to throw in the towel, like me. But, I want to encourage you today that no matter how hard the struggle is. No matter how frustrated you are. No matter how dry. It is worth it. It IS worth it!

Your child will thank you for it. Will say thank you for enduring. Thank you for not giving up. Thank you for praying in the Outdoor Sanctuary. Because you love God and love me.

Let’s chat: How do you cope on Sundays with young children? How do you balance your personal time for Liturgy vs. family Liturgy Sundays?

My Broken Church Family

Broken Church Window

In April, I read a blog that discussed how alarming the rate of young people that are leaving the Orthodox Church.

There were a lot of great points in the article. However, one point really stood out to me the most. It was the following:

three main factors that contribute to a young person retaining their religious                       tradition into adulthood

1. The young person’s parents practiced the faith in the home and in                                daily life, not just in public or churchly settings.

2. The young person had at least one significant adult mentor or friend,                              other than parents, who practiced the faith seriously.

3. The young person had at least one significant spiritual experience                                  before the age of 17.

Later, they pointed out the most important of all three relationships are, “what the young person observes in the actions and daily life of his or her parents is the most decisive element by far.”

Now, the question that burdens my soul is how can we get this outcome in our churches, specifically in our mission churches? I know that as parents we are responsible for raising our children and to spiritually prepare them to face the world. So, I know what we must do as parents. And my husband and I are doing our best to live a holy life and live by example.

But, my husband and I are also responsible for our “church children.” Here in Africa, our children are surrounded by broken families, drunk mothers and fathers, abusive or absent fathers, adultery and so much more! I once asked a group of young teenager girls which of them had a father that gets drunk. And every single girl raised her hand. Every single one. Then they began to open up about the challenges they faced at home. Sad stories that I can never forget. Abandonment. Their mothers and themselves being kicked out of their homes by their dads and forced to sleep outside. Verbal abuse. Mothers telling daughters that she wished her daughter had never been born. Insecurities. Too ugly. Too dark. Too dumb. This was just an average group of young, beautiful teenagers. And they are so beautiful. Our average families.

How can we save our young people and keep them in our Churches when they have terrible examples of parents? (Don’t get me wrong, we also have wonderful, godly examples of parents).

Recently, God has put it on our hearts to focus on building our families. The family is the smallest unit of the church. When the family is strong, the children are balanced and healthy. The church is then strong. Therefore, we have started the Family Altar Ministries. We have Valentine’s Day events for couples, parenting workshops, family days, date nights, and Father’s Day events, to name a few. We are helping parents heal and at the same time teaching our parents how to raise a future of Orthodox children. We start with the Priests, Leaders, Deacons, Servants and then the rest of the church family.

We are still faced with a lot of broken, nonresponsive parents. For those children, we are trying to build a Mentorship Program. Many experts say that one of the most successful programs is Mentorships like Big Brothers Big Sisters. In our Mentorship program, a Servant takes under his or her wing one or more of these young ones. They establish a relationship, a spiritual rule, and follow up with them. I know the most ideal is having Godly examples at home. But, I have to have HOPE that God can still transform them and they can choose to love God at a young age.

“But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” Romans 8:25

A dear friend of mine and another Orthodox Priest’s wife gave me her wisdom once when I visited her. She said that “Modern Martyrdom” is when we intentionally and willingly sacrifice our lives for others. I have been trying to do my part of this little ocean that God has placed me in. It is not always easy. It takes times. It takes sacrifice. It takes Martyrdom.

Wherever we are, there is brokenness. Hurt. Abandonment. Fears.

I pray with ALL of my heart that YOU too can mentor and love a broken person. Or help build church families. Godly marriages. “Holy mommies and daddies,” in the words of my son.

The Church needs you.

Let’s Chat: I would love to get more ideas from you for our ministries! In what ways are you helping build families or mentoring someone?