Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Lessons from Rogue One: It *IS* a Problem If You Don't Look Up!

At one point early in the film, before Jyn Erso commits to joining the fight, she is asked how she can stand to see the Imperial Flag waving overheard and not act. She shrugs her shoulders,

"It's Not A Problem If You Don't Look Up."

As soon as she said that, I thought, that's me. That's me not wanting to do spiritual battle. That's me, knowing that the devil is working to hurt us but wanting to pretend like nothing is wrong. The Apostle Peter knows better; in fact, he warns in his letter to the churches in Asia Minor ( chapter 5):

"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world."

Resist him.

But's it's so hard and takes so much work.

Hypocritically, when my 5 year-old whines, I get incredibly annoyed and tell him to stop, but it is easy for me to whine in the privacy of my own thoughts. Mastering some small bit of self-control by not saying aloud everything that comes to mind does not mean one doesn't have an internal heart full of worms. I whine. Or pretend like nothing is going on.

What are some reasons that we would rather be like Jyn at the beginning of the movie, would rather not look up and acknowledge the battle?

Here are some ideas:

1. We are tired. Waking up, getting the kids up, starting a load of laundry, refereeing an argument - and then it is time for breakfast! Or maybe we don't have so many little physical tasks but we battle emotions all day long and are worn out. We don't want to put in any more effort.

2. We are scared to engage. A real enemy that could actually do damage to us? No thank you.

3. We are lazy. Oh Lord, take from me a spirit of sloth.

4. We are delusional. We are asleep in the part of the soul that sees such truths. We say to ourselves, there is not really a battle.

5. We are mad. This could be Jyn Erso's reason. She lost her parents. She lost her mentor. She hates the whole scene and would rather avoid getting involved, because being involved means letting down internal defenses (or raising up old memories).

Perhaps you can think of a few other ideas?

Here's the worst of it: if we pretend that the battle is not there that does NOT make it go away. The battle rages. The enemy fires missiles. The lion pounces, ready to tear us to shreds. And ironically we leave ourselves open to the attack.

Could you imagine if a Star Destroyer refused to put on the energy shield defense even though X-wings, MC-80 Star Cruisers, Y-wing fighters, and a Light Freighter were aimed and ready to attack? (Did you see how I did that? I had to ask my son for the actual names. I love Star Wars in a more big-picture, thematic way, but my son loves each type of ship, gun, and robot. Thanks, bud!)

Back on earth, we have our defense shield down because we are pretending there is no attack; consequently we get hurt.

We get hurt if we engage and we get hurt if we don't engage, so why not engage and capture the opportunity be transformed in the process?

Transformed in the process

The Apostle Paul writes to the Romans (12):

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind..."

Jyn Erson pretty much did that. Although she was not doing it to worship God, she did step out of her regular galactic daily existence, let her mind be renewed, and offered her body as literal sacrifice in order to try to stop the evil Empire.

We don't have an evil empire. By contrast, we have a Love that burns so bright it could fill us to be on FIRE, but we often are not on fire. Distracted, we don't look Up. And maybe the devil allows us to feel safe or unattacked, because as long as we are avoiding the Love Fire then we're doing ourselves more harm than he could.

Me, I often don't think I'm deluded. (I guess that's the point.) Delusion is easier than reality, effort-wise, but not consequence-wise. When we are ready to awake from distraction and try to really see God, our path will not be easy. It will involve fear and trembling.

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling!

If you have considered theosis but struggled to wrap your mind around it, I have found Hinds Feet on High Places helpful (not perfect, as no allegory is, but helpful) to walk through this ongoing process:

There are no obstacles which our Savior’s love cannot overcome. The High Places of victory and union with Christ can be reached by learning to accept, day by day, the actual conditions and tests permitted by God, by laying down of our own will and accepting His. The lessons of accepting and triumphing over evil, of becoming acquainted with grief, and pain, and of finding them transformed into something incomparably precious; these are the lessons of the allegory in this book.

The Christ-figure in this story explains to the fearful protagonist that although he could just carry her up the mountain, she'd still be lame when they got to the top and she wouldn't be able to freely go with him in those high places. She can only get the feet of a deer by traversing on her feet up the mountain. Christ will use that process to refine her and strengthen her. She has to be willing to go.

In another good book, A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain, an experienced monk on Mt Athos warns the younger seeker that he must be willing to fight for his faith. He's not talking about fighting the heathen for the sake of Christianity. He is talking about engaging the battle within his own heart.

"Man is subject to the demons' persistent hostility."

"Prayer requires struggle to our very last breath."

I groaned when I read that. Really? Can't I just reach a point where I'm good and don't have to fight?
Well, Shamassy, actually you can reach a point, but the path to that point is straight through the battle. Straight up the mountain.

We must actively oppose the enemy, the Elder continues.

"Blasphemous thoughts must be opposed with contempt."

"The body participates in the work of prayer."

One way the body participates in the work of prayer is through Holy Communion. In "A Prayer of St. John of Damascus" before Holy Communion, we seek our Lord and Master Jesus Christ that our partaking of His life-giving mysteries would be
... a protection and a help to overthrow the adversaries...

In "A Prayer of St. John Chrysostom" we pray

O Master, who alone art holy, that thou wouldest sanctify my soul and body, my mind and heart and reins, and renew me entirely. Implant my members the fear of thee, be thou my helper and guide, directing my life in the paths of peace..."

Somehow, in a paradox, walking through the battle, carrying our cross, leads to peace in Christ. We must keep our eyes on this end goal and believe that the peace is coming.

When we are faced with a daunting battle and forget that the peace comes through it, Despondency looks our way with raised eyebrows, thinking it might find a victim. It would be easy to look mostly at ourselves and not out, at what we need to do to love-in-action others. Have you ever wanted to lay in bed all day instead of facing your people? Or have you been tempted to despair at facing such a difficult road ahead? The holy Elder from Mt. Athos has encouragement for you, because our hope is not without cause in this battle: Jesus wins!

"The love of God for man prevails in this war."

He did not say our buff spiritual muscles or our mighty prayers win this war. We just have to show up, with open heart-eyes willing to see, accept the circumstances God allows in our lives, and engage. Call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has already beaten the enemy. The love of God will win the war.

When Jyn Erso decided to join the battle, she did not know whether or not she would ultimately be successful.

But we do.

Glory to God!

From the Archives:
Lessons from Rogue One: Part One
Lessons from Rogue One: Part Two

Monday, March 27, 2017

Lent in Pictures

Why lemons? Because, Hummus.

Lunches for the kiddos: steamed-from-frozen broccoli, mini carrots, hummus, and left over rice "stir-fried" with some canola oil and Montreal Chicken Seasoning. So thankful to my Ukrainian friend, Sasha, for introducing that spice to me. She puts it on rice, potatoes, and noodles for her kids.

How many pounds? Yes, 4 pounds of Peanut Butter. I know that almond butter would be more healthy, but our budget is more of a peanut butter budget right now. It is comforting to know that there is at least one thing in the pantry that does not need cooking and can give my kids some protein. Besides, "go get a peanut butter spoon" (literally, a spoon dipped in peanut butter), how else do I use it?

  • Spread before topping with cinnamon sugar for cinnamon toast.
  • Mix it into oatmeal.
  • Put on celery or apple slices.
  • Grilled PBJ (like grilled cheese)
  • Our very favorite use: chickpea blondies for breakfast or coffee hour. Katie has some great fast-friendly breakfast and dessert ideas on that website!

Would you like to share what images you see around the house that are unique to our Lenten Spring?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Book Review: The Suitcase by Jane G. Meyer

I am always on the lookout for beautiful picture books that will present meaningful ideas from a new perspective for my students. Last week my husband, our teenage son, and I watched this Ted Talk about how a slight change in perspective can reveal ... the gateways to empathy and understanding.  Totally cool video, I highly recommend it, especially if your student is getting bored with math - but I digress. Let's talk about children and empathy and understanding. Let's talk about travelling to the Kingdom of God!
I teach pre-K- 2nd grade Sunday School and 3rd-5th grade Writing/History/Faith.  After I read this book, which I was grateful to receive free in return for a fair and honest review, I thought to myself, “that is the book I wanted last October, when we were doing our HUGS
-based lessons. The goal was to teach the children Christ’s words, "Do it to the least of these my brethren and you do it to Me" (Matthew 25:40).

This book is a good living book for that Gospel passage. The young boy in the story takes Christ literally and is ready to put His commands into practice – after packing his suitcase with all of the bits of Biblical commands and images he has learned over the years.  Although the text of the book does not overtly state it, the young boy has some common characteristics of a child with autism. I was delighted with this young character and - revealing my ignorance - I wouldn't have realized the autism connection without being told so. In any case, the reader can gain understanding and empathy with both children with autism and the Gospel passages this young man is so willing to accept without question.

The surprising part of the book, for me, was that his parents get on board right then, at that very moment. As I read the ending, I was irritated, thinking, “right, that mom can’t just turn the stove off, leave all those dirty supper dishes, and go out the door!” So I was thankful for author Jane G. Meyer’s page of suggestions at the end of the book. After a gentle reminder that parents should take care not to put off their child’s heart-felt desire to serve others, (entertaining angels is one thing the young lad had in mind when he packed his suitcase!), she offers a list of ways to make that practical in daily life. In the end, even though I think this will be a nice book to read to my students, I think it holds an even more important reminder for the parents.

From the Archives:

Book Review: The Life of St. Brigid by Jane G. Meyer - really, one of my all-time favorites by this author!

Book Review and Lesson Ideas: The Woman and the Wheat by Jane G. Meyer


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Vegan Nut-Free Nacho Cheese Sauce

One day as we were discussing fasting meals that children like, a Presvytera friend told me about a Lenten cheese sauce. Let me tell you - if you have not yet discovered Angela Lidden's Oh She Glows website, you are in for a treasure chest of new fasting recipes!  By all means, if you like Broccoli Cheese Soup, try her version, because it is very tasty.

Thank you, Angela!

The soup on that website, however, is not the priority here. It's the cheese sauce that she makes to pour into the soup that we are after!

We have some nut allergies in our family, so we haven't been able to enjoy those yummy looking cashew nacho cheese sauces I've seen. Also, as Melissa Naasko points out in Fasting as a Family, over-using nuts can grow expensive (especially if one has a love for Mexican food!). That's why this nut-free cheese sauce was such a find for our family! We liked the original recipe so much that we wanted to tweak it so we could use it for one of our family's favorite meals - NACHOS! Just throw in some refried beans or black beans to round it out with protein.

Here's my version of Mrs. Lidden's original. You can rough chop the veggies because they are all landing in the food processor eventually. If you don't have all the spices, the recipe is very flexible, so go for it anyway!

Vegan Nut-Free Nacho Cheese Sauce


2 TBS oil
1/2 large onion
1/2 red or green bell pepper
8 baby carrots
* see note below if it makes you cringe to read 1/2 of a vegetable!

2 garlic cloves
2 small russet potatoes and 1 medium sweet potato - you want to end up with about 2&1/2 cups, peeled and chopped

1 tsp kosher salt (use a little less regular salt)
4 TBS nutritional yeast
4 TBS veggie water (saved from draining your veggies)
1 TBS fresh lemon juice
1 TBS apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4-1 tsp chili powder, depending on your preference
few dashes of hot sauce
squirt of ketchup
small can of diced green chiles


Chop the onions, peppers, and carrots and cook them in the 2 TBS of olive oil with a little salt over medium heat until they began to turn golden, about 5-10 minutes, stirring often.

Throw in the chopped garlic and potatoes, cover with water, and bring to a boil until veggies are tender, about 10 minutes. Check a potato with a fork to be sure.

Drain the veggies, reserving the liquid. Measure 1/4 cup for the sauce tonight and save the rest in the fridge for Taco Soup tomorrow.

Add the cooked veggies and every other ingredient to the food processor and process for 1 minute. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and process for at least 1 more minute.

I don't know if you've ever over whipped mashed potatoes and ended up with goo? I have. The reason is because overworking the potato starches causes them to change structure...

...into gooey Nacho Cheese Sauce! Even my sweet 9 yo daughter remarked dramatically, "Mama, I can't believe you put sweet potatoes and bell peppers in here - and hot sauce - I hate those things, and I like it! I can't stop eating it!" Usually those sort of exclamations come after we've been fasting for a few weeks already and just about anything new and interesting seems delicious. But this was week one of Great Lent and we got two thumbs up.

We served it spooned over tortilla chips with refried beans and "Bell Pepper Nachos" on the side. Just cut bell peppers into roughly triangular shapes, rub on a little oil and garlic salt, and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Then fill with toppings like black beans, avocado, and Nacho Cheese Sauce.

You could pour this over Refried Bean Burritos, or use it to top Wet Burritos, Enchiladas or Black bean tamales.

Or use Angela Lidden's original recipe as a dip for steamed broccoli spears or on top of baked potatoes.

From the archives:
If any kind of spicy dish sounds good, this Sweet and Spicy Chili is unique! If you need some new ways to serve beans, you might like this post, 1 Bag of Beans, 3 Meals, which includes a delicious Southern Soul Food Beans and Greens recipe. You can tell it's from 2009, though, because $.97 bag of beans??!!!!

I have one more idea I hope you'll consider: I am not so special, and therefore you too can take a recipe and tweak it for your own family's preferences and needs. Share it with me when you do, please, because after cooking for a family for a dozen years of fasting days, it is pleasing to find something new!

*1/2 a vegetable? I don't think so!

Chop that whole onion and bell pepper, and double the garlic and carrot too. Saute it all. Then, before moving on with the recipe, scoop out half the sautéed veggies and use them with the potato water tomorrow for Taco Soup. Just add 2 cans of beans (chili beans, black beans, pinto beans), a can of corn with the juice, a can of diced tomatoes and green chiles with their juice, a quart of veggie broth, a tsp each of cumin, chili poweder, garlic powder, and 1/4 tsp of oregano and a pinch of sugar. Simmer for 20 minutes, taste and adjust seasonings, turn the heat off and add a squeeze of lemon, lime, or vinegar and lunch is ready.

Wait - did I just say you could chop one whole vegetable? This is really crazy, but if you have time, chop 3 onions, 3 bell peppers, ect. and put in 12 cans of beans (or 16-20 cups of cooked dried beans), 6 quarts of veggie broth, 3 cans each of everything else and 2 TBS of each spice.  When it's all done, ladel into freezer bags that fit your family's needs and freeze for future use. You could pull out large bags in the morning and thaw them in the crockpot for later that night. Or you could pull our single serving containers for lunch boxes.

Or, you could just make the one original recipe and ignore all of this. :) Just had to put it out there!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Menu, Not a Checklist

The ladies were gathered in the church hall at long tables with pink cyclamen blooming as the centerpiece for each row. The microphone was ready. The children were back home tucked away with grandparents, fathers, friends. The evening was ours to focus on God.

Thanks be to God, I was blessed to attend a Ladies Lenten Retreat last weekend. The speaker was Khouria Krista West, an ecclesiastical tailor, purveyor of fine linens, and researcher and speaker in the field of Orthodox Christian Aesthetics. She shared with us about beauty, specifically restoring the image of Christ in us, and gave us handouts with ideas of how to implement this reality in daily life. One handout listed mentoring ideas, one handout listed books to read, one handout listed ways to add beauty to your surroundings.

As she gave us the handouts, she made it very clear that we should consider these sheets as a MENU - something to peruse and choose which ideas fit our own life. "This is NOT," Khouria Krista most adamantly proclaimed with a sassy slide of her neck and those knowing eyebrows looking down at us, "a To-Do List!"

Each of has unique gifts from God, unique circumstances, unique relationships, and unique phases of our lives that may or may not overlap with what is working well for another woman. So I hope you never feel pressure to try everything I offer in this online space. No indeed! But like Khouria Krista, I say, here are a variety of ideas, see if you desire to use any of them.

Does an idea make you inspired or excited? Try it out! Does an idea make you feel weighed down at the thought of cramming one more thing into your already full life? Or frustrated because you don't feel like you could make it work but maybe you should try? Well then, my friends, ignore it! May God who loves us dearly help us discern between the two and bless our efforts in Christ Jesus.

We are all beautiful in our Lord Jesus Christ in different ways.

As another way to recognizing the many different forms of beauty God has created and nurtured, I started a list of diverse and unique sisters in Christ. If any call to you, this resource and this one can help you learn more.

Very Young Woman - Martyr Aquilina of Byblos
Pregnant Woman - Matry Felicitas
Young Brave Mother - Martyr Julita (Ulita) of Tarsus
Elder Holy Woman - Mary of Egypt
Daughter of Abusive Parent/Nature-loving Woman/Clever Architect - Greatmartyr Barbara
Princess - Elizabeth the New-Martyr
Behind-the-Scenes Faithful Woman - New-Martyr Barbara
Refugee in a Strange Land - Ruth (you're going to have to look in the Old Testament book)
Misunderstood but Strong Woman - Mary/Marinus
Physically Blind but Spiritually Sightful Woman - St. Matrona

I bet we could put our heads together and think of many more. I'll be glad to add them to the list if you send me your ideas to orthodoxmother at gee mail dot com or reply in the comments below!

Each of us has a unique beauty from God. We do not have to be like all of the women listed above. We have to be the image of Christ manifested in the way God created for us!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Lent in Pictures: In Which the Young Men Are Reminded

I think I'll start posting an image or two each week to capture a memory of the sights we see only during this unique time of year, Great Lent.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Lent in Pictures: Lenten Calendar

After being inspired by Matushka Emma and Illumination Learning, I headed to the Dollar Tree to pick up a board and some stickers to make our own Lenten Calendar that could incorporate what I loved about both ideas.

From Matushka Emma, I liked the idea of the butterfly (because we too are being transformed into something beautiful!), the colors, and the dots for each day. Since I was using a butterfly clip instead of a magnet, I had to put the days around the border of the poster.

From Illumination Learning, I liked the calendar that showed what we would be doing each day of the week. Little man, 5, is especially concerned with this, "Will we kiss the priest's hand or the cross at the end of this service? Are we having communion? Are we eating afterwards?" So I put all of that onto a calendar for him and he feels very proud being able to look for himself and know ahead of time!

The children did the coloring and the gluing. Each Sunday has a small icon glued next to it to show the focus of each Sunday of Great Lent.
Here's Little Man moving the butterfly to the 3rd day of Great Lent.

I bet you could take my file and make an even better poster with your family, so here it is.

Click here to download Our Lenten Spring poster file.

All of the information about the Sundays of Great Lent came from the OCA website.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Lessons from Rogue One: Part 2, Dying for Others

We are still reflecting on the "being willing to die for others" theme, but expanding it to find a way for all of us to participate, every day. Our lives may not be as dramatic as a climb to the top of the communications tower to send the secret information before the entire thing explodes. Jen and Cassian did a great job of that, but many of us are not called into those physical circumstances.

Some of us are - I am thinking of our brothers and sisters under persecution that do have to make extreme physical sacrifices as they flee their homes or offer their very lives.

But that is not my cross, not right now anyway. Does this mean I cannot participate in the greatest love?

Dying for others does not have to mean physical death.  If we live in a family, we don't have to look very far to find opportunities to participate.

Life offers a hundred moments a day to die to oneself. Especially during Lent, may our eyes be opened to seeing and embracing this! Here are a few scenarios that may or may nor be from our home:

  • Praying the prayer of Saint Ephraim, with the twelve "God be gracious to me a sinner" bows between it, two family members disagree on how many bows have been done. Instead of arguing about it, one might humbly let it go and say nothing!

  • With a light rain pattering outside and darkness already fallen, teenage son could grumble when reminded about taking out the trash, or (as he did - thanks be to God!) he could say nothing and humbly do his chore.

  • When the children are all being naughty, each in their own special way that somehow seems to exponentially increase the propensity for naughtiness in the others, the mother can not yell, but instead close her eyes and say the Jesus prayer before proceeding.

Do you see the pattern? Every example involves being humble and restraining the tongue.

The Scripture could very well be demonstrated as, Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his TONGUE with his family!

These are only a few examples, and I'm sure you can think of many more.  Perhaps you will share in the comments below, so we can smile together. 

May God help us die to our own desires and making room for the life of our Lord Jesus Christ to manifest in us.