The Time has Come!

I can’t believe how quickly the time has flown! We are already at Holy Week!

It was just yesterday, I feel that it was Christmas!

So, if you are like me, you are preparing things last minute at home and church. Shopping list for Feast food (yum!). Easter gifts. Church celebrations. Dinner invitations and menu planning.

The one thing that was quickly overlooked was my personal spiritual time. And my children’s too! So, I hope to focus on a plan for myself this week. I pray you do the same. I am not sure what my focus will be but I will definitely spend some extra quiet moments to connect with my Savior. Lately, I am focused on reading Proverbs and Psalms (loving Proverbs chapter 10 on controlling my lips as a sign of wisdom & Psalm 18 for Christ’s encouragement, strength, and mercy!).

And also I will focus on making the most of Holy Week for my children. I feel that I have slipped a little bit in this area of focusing on spiritual time with my kids. We have gotten a little bit lazy and busy in our Bible reading and our weekly Orthodox Homeschool. So, I don’t want to let this Holy Week pass by without sharing the true meaning of the Resurrection and benefitting from this holy time.

I have updated my Orthodox Homeschool page to include some more Holy Week resources. Please check it out here and scroll down to the Holy Week subtitle. If you have any new ideas, please share! We will do the Holy Week passport this year (per Josiah’s request). But to make it a bit more challenging, I added questions in between the days and I have added some meditations at the end. Maybe even stamping the pages at the end of each day can be fun too. We will print it for all the children of the church as well.

I pray you have a blessed and fruitful Holy Week. May the power of the cross be with you to overcome death and sin so that you may enjoy the glorious Resurrection and new life in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” -Isaiah 53:5

Let’s Chat: What are your plans for Holy Week for you and your children?

Just As I Am

Comparison is the Thief of Joy. – Theodore Roosevelt

I was recently listening to a sermon by my good friend, Fr. Anthony Messeh, about visiting the land of Er. What is the land of Er? Living a life of comparison – she is pretti-ER, bett-ER Mom than me, thinn-ER, cool-ER, and the list goes on and on. On and on.

We are taught from a young age what does not look good and what looks good. What is considered acceptable or not. This goes from looks, to education, to status, to where we live. I remember when I first met my husband, I always made my hair stick straight, wore contacts instead of glasses, and stayed out of the sun to stay “lighter.” From my culture, I always “knew” curly hair, darker skin, and glasses were the things that made me look ugly. The funny thing is that he loved me just as I was. With my curly hair. With my skin color. And with my glasses (I had an eye problem and had to stop wearing contacts). My husband loved me just as I am. Just as I am.

And that is how Christ looks at us. Just as we are. There is a beautiful worship song that we sing here in Zambia. The words are “Just take me as I am.” And Christ does just that. Takes us and loves us just as we are. Just as I am.

Last year, I got caught in a comparison trap with my son. He was achieving his potential. He was well rounded, active in sports, music, spiritually and so much more. But, he wasn’t getting the top awards. What?! How could he not be better than the guy next to him? I swallowed down disappointment and shame. I came from a family where we racked up on the awards from Honor Roll to Highest Academic awards. And where I received my security and confidence from knowing I was doing better than the guy or girl next to me.

I was wrong. My security comes from HIM. And only Him. My confidence from Jesus Christ. And He accepts me Just as I am. Just as I am. With my weaknesses and shortcomings. He accepts my son the same way.

Recently, I lost over 30 lbs by changing my lifestyle – good healthy habits, eating right, and exercise. I am proud of my achievement. But, when I get to the gym or look on social media and I see a Mom even better than me. Thinner and more muscular. Despite my accomplishments, the comparison trap continues.

At Christmastime, as I kept up with what my friends back in the States were doing, I began to feel a sense of sadness. Are we missing out? On family, friends, beautiful homes, and pretty Christmas lights around the town. Am I not giving my husband and children good Christmas memories that they will cherish forever? Am I not measuring up as a Mom? Is that Mom better than me? But, then it dawned on me as my 7-year-old son was dressed up as Santa passing out chocolates to little Sunday School kids and my little 3-year-old daughter was helping my husband and I pass out a Christmas-day meal to our Church family, that we were creating our OWN Christmas traditions. Yes, they are different than some of my friends and family but they are OURS. There is no comparison between the two.

After I graduated Georgia Tech University in Atlanta, I moved to Washington, D.C. to attend law school. Before going to Atlanta, I grew up in a real small town. I’m talking small! There was one traffic light in town and the two tallest things in town were the First Baptist Church steeple and the sign for McDonald’s, which had just come to town when I was in high school. As soon as I graduated high school, I left and didn’t want to look back. I was too “big city” for my small town. Then, when I moved up to D.C., I was too “northern” for my “southern” roots. I rejected everything of who I was. Even as an Egyptian-American, there came a time where I hated my Egyptian roots. I hated the language, its closed-mindedness, the culture, everything. I was too “American” for my “Egyptian” roots.

When I would visit the South, I was living a life of comparison. My new church was better than my old one. My new social group was more modern than my old one. Everything was slower in the South. I walked the fastest in the Atlanta airport just to make sure everyone knew I no longer associated with the South.

Why did I reject my past? Because I lived in a Comparison Trap. Thing are better somewhere else. I wasn’t secure in who I am. And who God made me to be.

Now, I have begun to embrace my roots! God took me from Southern USA to Southern Africa to remind me of my roots. I have begun to live simpler. To not run away from who I am but understand how God used my past to shape me for today. He embraces me for who I am. Just as I am. When my confidence is built in Him, I value who I am today.

I also have learned to focus on the positive, instead of criticizing. Funny enough, I have spent more time with people from the Egyptian culture here in Zambia and I have seen the good things in the culture that I rejected – it’s hospitality, generosity, and ability to hold on to their Christian beliefs despite persecution.

There is no perfect place to live. No perfect culture. No perfect children. No perfect academic performance. No perfect appearance. No perfect Christmas traditions. No perfect anything. Only God is perfect. And He takes me just as I am. Despite my imperfections.

I have just finished reading Ecclesiastes and King Solomon writes, “Rejoice O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth” (Ch. 11:9).

I am going to remember my youth. Rejoice in it. Embrace it. Embrace the values and simple life I grew up in. And to Be Content!

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. Philippians 4:11-12

Let’s Chat: Do you get caught in the Comparison Trap? What encourages you to be freed from the trap?

Seasons Come, Seasons Go: Starbucks Remains Forever!

Every year we travel to the States. It is a LONG journey from Southern Africa across the continents and across the seas and ocean. We usually have a layover in Europe before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Once we land in Europe, I personally love to see familiar things in the airport. This translates to shopping, eating junk food and of course, ordering a Starbucks coffee! Being deprived of Starbucks all year long, it is something I really look forward to! In the past, whenever I traveled in the States or abroad, I always bought my Starbucks coffee in the airport. It was one of my traveling habits. I used to love to sip my cappuccino or treat myself to a sinfully delicious flavored coffee. I would take it on the flight with me and just relax and read and enjoy the journey.

As to what I am naturally accustomed to, one year, as we had a transit in London Heathrow airport, I decided to keep this same Starbucks tradition. But this time, things were different. I had a toddler child, a stroller, a diaper bag and an overstressed and tired brain. Having just landed from a ten-hour overnight flight (did I mention that I didn’t sleep!) and about to go on another flight across the Atlantic, I needed a pick-me-up coffee. I looked forward to sipping that coffee. To relax and unwind. I deserved it after coming so far and needing a treat to keep going!

But then tragedy struck. Before I even boarded the flight, I THREW AWAY MY COFFEE! I am not one of those moms that have it all together. You will likely see me a mess – a total MESS – with lots of bags, wearing sweats, and in panic mode. So, needless to say, I could not manage another thing. Something had to go. Time was ticking. The boarding call had been made. There was no time to finish the coffee.

After a few small sips, a choice had to be made. It was diapers or coffee. I chucked that beautiful white cup into the trash bin. I still remember throwing that cup away. May that Coffee Cup Rest in Peace.

In life, we go through different seasons. There is the season of single-hood when you can dream, be ambitious, and carry a cup of coffee onto a plane when traveling. There is marriage, which is full of its glorious ups and downs. Then there is the season of having young children. Where I am now. I always try to remember that this is a wonderful season, where my kids still “need” me and when I can teach and influence so much! However, there are times when it is frustrating. Where I feel I am missing out. Where ministry and attending spiritually fulfilling meetings are cut short or nonexistent. Where going out with friends is constantly interrupted by bathroom breaks, skinned up knees, demands, and whining. Where things are, what can I say, different…..

Earlier this year, I was complaining to my husband and asked him what I should learn from this season that I am in. I was frustrated and upset because I was missing out on yet another retreat. To be fulfilled and to serve others. I was captive to my thoughts and negativity. Trapped in self-pity.

That very night after I was complaining, during our New Year’s Eve service, servants were distributing Bible verses. The verse I received was: “To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

This became my theme verse for the year. That night God answered me in a very personal and real way. There is a purpose in every season we face. To teach and guide me. Our loving God never leaves us abandoned. He leads us out of our captivity and frees our mind and heart.

One day I will sit in the plane with a Starbucks coffee and a book to read. One day I will enjoy “freedom” from having young children. But, one thing I will do differently TODAY, is to enjoy this One Day, this Season I am in.

Let’s Chat: What season are you in currently and what encourages you through it?

Journey to Perfection

One morning I needed some time to refresh my spirit. I noticed everything, especially when it came to my children, was setting me off. I was fed up. I had had enough and was ready to throw in the towel on this parenting thing! During my spiritual time, God began to slowly reveal some imperfections inside of me. Things I had not really paid attention to. I began to ask if I was being a perfectionist when it comes to my children. Are my expectations too high?

Then, I began to realize that maybe I was. When my son is doing his homework, if he makes a mistake, he messes up his homework and gets really frustrated. He has no room for errors or mistakes. Lately, also his behavior has been a little less than desirable – fighting about everything and disobeying. Needless to say, I have been frustrated. I didn’t think I was asking for much – just to listen! Then, I examined my reaction when he misbehaves, and I am flying off the handle. No room for error. I was placing a burden on him that was unfair to bear.

Christ asks us to be perfect. But our wise, Heavenly Father knows and accepts our weaknesses as He perfect us. Patiently. Lovingly. (Philokalia: The Bible of Orthodox Spirituality, p 82)

We want perfect marriages. Perfect children. Perfect churches. Perfect leaders. When we don’t find it, we go back to our search. We give up. Throw in the towel. We are all imperfect people trying to navigate this thing called life.

Christ is the only perfect One. He calls us to be perfect but it is an ongoing journey. Filled with daily repentance and growth.

We live in a tough, tough world. Coming off the NBA Finals, we see just how tough this world is. Steph Curry, the NBA MVP, was almost perfect going into the Finals game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. When he didn’t deliver a perfect performance, he was bashed and criticized. Lebron James cried like a baby when he won the Finals in an exciting Game 7. For too long he tried to live in a world that demanded him to be perfect. When the buzzer sounded, the pressure of perfect expectations and perfect demands was released and he cried. We idolize teams that never lose. Those with perfect records. I remember in the movie, “Remember the Titans,” Denzel Washington plays a coach who demands from his high school football team, “We will be perfect in every aspect of the game.” He left no room for error. And they went on to have a perfect season. We cheer. We are inspired.

We then demand perfection in our own lives. Our husbands and wives. Our children. Other moms. We do the same for our churches. Our priests. No room for error. We are on a quest to find the perfect service. If there is a challenge or struggle, we often run.

When we fail, or our children, or anyone around us, then we are frustrated. Flustered. Angry.

Personally, when my children, fail, I get so angry. A wise priest once told me that I get angry because my expectations are higher for them, because they are mine. I know people are watching my children. Watching me. And when you are the wife of a priest, there is more pressure unfortunately. Pressure to be perfect. Expectations of perfection. Sometimes in my own mind. Anger is more explosive when all fails. Because I am not perfect. Neither are my PKs (or “Priest Kids”). And I am beginning to come to terms with the fact that it is OK.

I must accept their weaknesses and challenge them patiently and lovingly to perfection. The same as what Christ does for me.

There is a famous saying that says, “Please be patient with me, God isn’t finished with me yet.” They make it mostly into shirts for kids. But it applies to adults as well.

My church is not perfect. My children are not perfect. I am far from perfect. But we strive on – with daily repentance and holiness. I once asked God how many times can I, a Priest wife, stop making mistakes and saying sorry to others. I received an answer – As long as I breathe. It is our lifelong journey to perfection. To be the saints He has called us to be.

“. . . to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” 1 Corinthians 1:2

Let’s Chat: Do you struggle with perfection? How do you overcome the desire to be perfect or your expectations of others?

She Came with the Spices

Last year, I was introduced for the first time to a song that is absolutely beautiful! During the Holy 50 Days of the Resurrection, I played it repeatedly over and over and over again. And again some more! I sang it all day. I sang it to the kids before they slept. Needless to say, I loved it. The words really came alive to me.

This year, sadly I forgot about that song until my husband was listening to Resurrection hymns and came across it. I remembered how much I loved it.

In my blog post last week, I described my feelings of living and serving without any hope. Full of discouragement. Discontentment.

This song perfectly describes how we often lose hope. For a number of reasons. As women and even mothers, we lose hope. We carry guilt. We set high expectations that we try to meet without the Grace of Christ. We strive and preserve. Only to get disappointed when we fail.

Just like that early Sunday morning walk. When women full of heartache and pain made their way to the tomb. Expecting death. Failure.

The first part of the song describes those exact feelings of hopelessness and discouragement and guilt.

She came void of all hope; She came expecting death; Forgetting the Life-giver Who is the living breath.

Yet, when they left the tomb, it was hope. Life. Maybe they even danced!

That is why by the end of the song a different way of life is described. One of Hope. Joy. Resurrection. Perseverance.

I come now with joy; I come expecting life; Knowing that through Thee I can endure all strife.

It is time to have hope. Time to rejoice. Not to give up.

Christ our King has defeated sin. Defeated death. For Victory. For us to live.

“O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” . . . But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:55, 57

I won’t write much else because I would like the song to speak for itself. There are many wonderful versions of this song but here is one version sung by one of my friends who is beautiful both inside and out!

 

Let’s Chat: What things are really touching you during this Resurrection Time?

Trust Me. . . I’m a Lawyer

Did you know that I was a lawyer? After my three years of law school, debts, studying, writing, researching, and coffee drinking, I achieved a lot. If you went to law school or had friends that did, you would know that I was successful by “making journal,” becoming a Publications Editor on that journal, joining clinic and so much more. I landed an amazing summer internship and then was hired as an Associate in the same prestigious Washington, D.C. law firm practicing Intellectual Property Law. I received a ten-thousand-dollar increase to my salary in the first week.

By all the world’s standards, life was good.

I lived in our Nation’s Capital. I went to the best events. Ate at the top restaurants. Met some high-powered, world changers.

Until God decided to change my world.

That is when my husband and I heard our call to leave our lives and become missionaries in Africa.

“Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” Genesis 12:1

Our families were shocked and said to us, we left Africa to give you a better life and now you are returning to Africa!

They gave us a better life. For us to have that choice.

That was ten years ago.

I can’t believe we have been in Africa for ten years. And still God has so much work to do through us.

But what changed? Somewhere in that ten years, and I don’t know when exactly, but I lost hope.

We came at first to Africa on fire. Passionate to serve the community. Full of love. Hope.

Then, discouragement hits. Slow change around us. War room prayers set aside.

Judgment creeps in. Hypocrisy. Pride. Distractions. Disappointments.

Then, the roller coaster ride. Some days excited to serve the Lord. More days less excited.

Then, this Holy Week comes along in our church calendar. I wasn’t expecting much. With two little kids, it is hard.

But what changed this year? I regained my hope.

It wasn’t like I never missed any of the Holy Week services. Actually, it was the opposite. For the first three days of Holy Week, my son was really sick so I missed every morning and evening until Thursday! And when I was there, my three-year-old needed me to keep helping her put the arms of Mr. Potato Head in the right place (I thought iPad apps were supposed to keep them busy so that I could focus!). I also kept trying to make sure my spiritual children were meditating and reading during the long hymns or what we like to call “meditation and prayer time.”

But, God gives a special grace. It is what I like to call a special “Mommy Grace” reserved for Moms for the quality and not the quantity of time spent with Him. He blesses it. He fills it. He bursts my heart open. He warms me with His loving arms wrapped around me.

During the procession in our Resurrection Feast Liturgy, that is when I realized that Christ had done a work in me. Do you know how I responded? I danced. If you have been to Africa before, you would know that our services include a lot of traditional songs with dancing and praising Jesus. So, I danced with my church family.

Then, as I danced, it struck me. I don’t remember the last time I had danced.

Before that, and even during Holy Week, I had been praying for Christ to reinvigorate my heart for the people and His work He called us to do.

It wasn’t emotional. It was God deep in my heart answering my prayer. To enjoy the Resurrection. To know His Power is there. That our God is a great God. Able to rise up from the dead. And that Power lies within me.

“I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” Revelation 3:1

For far too long, I was alive on the outside. I am not alive from the outside only. But from the inside.

Thank you Jesus.

Pray for our mission here in Zambia. Pray for me.

I leave you with a beautiful meditation that a dear friend of mine shared on Facebook (there are spiritual treasures on Facebook!).

Devout and God-loving people, enjoy this kind and bright festival. Wise people, come and share joy with your Lord. You who have laboured in fasting, receive your deserved reward. You who have laboured from the first hour, come to the festival now!

You who came at the third hour, rejoice!
You who lingered until the sixth hour, celebrate!
You who came at the ninth hour, do not be sad!
You who managed to come only at the eleventh hour, do not be dismayed by your lateness. No one will be deprived of heavenly joy!

For our Lord is generous.
He welcomes those who come last in the same way as those who come first.
He is grateful to the first and rejoices in the last.
He consoles those who came at the last hour,
as if they had laboured from the first hour.
He gives to everyone:
those who laboured and those who wanted to labour. He receives the service and kisses the intention.
He values the deed and praises the desire.

All of you enter into the joy of the Lord:
First and last, receive the reward!
Wealthy and poor, rejoice with one another!
Diligent and lazy, celebrate the festival!
Those who have fasted and those who have not, be glad together. The feast is abundant, eat your fill!
All of you enjoy the wealthy banquet of the faith and mercy of God

Let no-one go away hungry or offended. Let no-one be sad about their poverty,
for the kingdom is now here for everyone. Let no-one weep over their sins, for forgiveness for all has burst with light from the grave. Let no-one be afraid of death,
for the death of Jesus has freed us all.

Embraced by death, He subdued death.
Having descended into hell, He took hell captive.
Isaiah prophesied: “Hell was troubled, having met You in the underworld!”
Hell was in mourning, for it was abolished!
Hell was distressed, for it was condemned!
Hell was impoverished, for it was deposed!
Hell was destroyed, for it was bound!
It took on a body, and touched God.
It took on the earth, and met heaven.
It took what it saw, and fell to where it did not expect!

Death! Where is your sting?
Hell! Where is your victory?
Christ is risen, and you are brought down.
Christ is risen, and the demons have fallen.
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen, and life triumphs.
Christ is risen, and there are no dead in the grave. Christ has risen from the dead, become the firstborn of those who sleep and set into motion the resurrection of all.
To Him be glory now and forever.
Amen!

–St. John Chrysostom

 

Let’s Chat: Tell me about your Holy Week experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dreaded Crying Room . . . Not Anymore!

When my daughter was sick for months, I could sit in an entire Liturgy or Bible Study without her making a peep. I didn’t get distracted once! Imagine a 2.5 year old sitting and not making a sound? She was so weak, I could actually focus.

Funny how things are because I used to complain when she was healthy because I was not able to focus and pray because she was so active. Then, when she was sick, it put it all in perspective – I wanted to be distracted!

Being distracted meant I had a healthy little girl.

During our annual leave, we have the joy of traveling to various Orthodox churches around the world. We learn many things from our brothers and sisters that help us in our mission here in Africa.

As many moms know, one common thing many of our churches have is a crying room. A crying room is designed for noisy and active children to stay there so that others in the main sanctuary of the church can pray quietly and without distractions. Well . . . distractions from my child and your child.

I have experienced many crying rooms throughout my travels and with two kids.

Here are just a few of my experiences.

One crying room was a “gluten nightmare”! For a mother of a celiac child, I would never want to enter that crying room again! There were crumbs from crackers and cookies ALL over the toys, carpets and benches. I took my little one straight to the showers after walking in that crying room.

In another crying room, there were dirty diapers and toys all over the place.

In every crying room, there were women discussing recipes, children, and other women.

Once during our travel, I finally discovered a crying room that works. Wait, did you hear me?! A crying room that actually works!

You are probably just as shocked as I was. Let me tell you a little bit about my experience. I was in the crying room. And in the beginning it was the usual – two kids running around and making noise, one of them mine. Two moms inside the crying room, each feeling sorry for themselves and trying to pay attention, one of them me. Then, a husband and wife came inside the crying room with their beautiful one-year-old son. Both of the parents were following along in the Liturgy. Both of them were joyfully singing the congregation responses – something I have never heard before in a crying room. Singing, that is.

Then, another family walked in – a husband, wife, and two boys. They were sitting nicely in the crying room. The father would even hush the boys if they got too loud! Hushing children while in the crying room?! The father was teaching his children how to behave in church. Not making an excuse because they were in the crying room.

Then, in walks a lady with a child. She begins to chat with another lady. Something amazing happened. The chatting ladies, who usually dominate the crying room, were drowned out by the husband and wife who were singing so beautifully and loudly. One lady ends up walking out. Gossip and chatting stops. Prayer continues.

The beautiful thing about this family is that no one was an “official” servant of the crying room. They did not sing and pray out of “holy righteousness” or judgment. They did it out of pure love. Love of Christ. Love of their Church. Love of their Child.

I pray this blog encourages you, tired, dear mother who longs to lift up her heart in a liturgical prayer to the Living Christ.

You can make a difference in your church crying room. In your church.

And, honestly, it isn’t about changing our crying rooms, really. It is about our children regardless of their age, next to us, worshipping God.

So – go with another Mom or your husband and sing. Sing loud!

But do it out of Love.

May Christ grant us parents His Grace.

“All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.” Isaiah 54:13

Let’s Chat: Share a crying room experience that was victorious!