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Today I am excited to welcome Amber from Rejoice in the Home. I discovered her lovely blog about a month ago and am so happy that she agreed to write a guest post. I hope that you enjoy her thoughts on creating the “little church” within the home.

Going to church regularly greatly supports our faith. The Reverend Dr. Thomas Fitzgerald says:

“Orthodoxy believes that the Christian Faith and the Church are inseparable. It is impossible to know Christ, to share in the life of the Holy Trinity, or to be considered a Christian, apart from the Church. It is in the Church that the Christian Faith is proclaimed and maintained. It is through the Church that an individual is nurtured in the Faith.”

Since attending church is central to our faith as Orthodox Christians, it only makes sense that we bring the life of the Church into our home.

St. John Chrysostom spoke about how we are to make our homes “little churches.” How can we go about fulfilling this calling? We must examine the qualities found in our churches and do our best to translate them into our home life.

Here are 5 practical ways to make your home a “little church”.

1. Display Your Faith

If you were trying to find an Orthodox church in a new town you would follow your GPS. How would you know that you have arrived at the correct address if you’ve never been there before? You would likely see a bulb-shaped dome (cupola) with an Orthodox cross on top of the church, as well as its name on a sign.

Once you entered the building, you would see clergy censing icons and laypeople lighting candles. The walls would be covered with iconography, incense would fill the air, and church music would ring in your ears. A sense of calm would envelop you as you settled into your pew and the service began.

When we see these symbols of our faith we know we have entered a house of worship. Likewise, adorning our homes in a similar manner (make us and others aware we have entered a little church) creates a Christ-filled home. 

As we enter our home, our love for God should be evident. We should see icons, crosses, Bibles and spiritual books on display. Our prayer corner may include censors or candles. Our favorite Biblical quotes may be hung on our refrigerator or bedroom mirror. 

It can be easy to forget about God in our busy home life, so by placing reminders of Christ throughout our home, we become more likely to focus on Him.

2. Pray to God

If there is one thing that we do often in church that we need to do more at home it’s pray. I’ve heard priests say that in Orthodoxy we “pray before we pray.” In essence, the Divine Liturgy is one long prayer to God. We continue saying “again and again in peace let us pray to the Lord” followed by “Lord have mercy.” We insert petitions for specific people (clergy, president, country, all civil authorities, homebound parishioners, those celebrating birthdays, etc.).

We can begin our dialogue with God with any familiar prayers we know. Whether it’s the Lord’s prayer, O Heavenly King, or the Jesus prayer, we have multiple avenues to commune with God. When we want to connect with God we can use these prayers followed by our private devotions. 

By having set times for individual and family prayers, we bring the sense of order found in the church into our homes. Do you pray with your family before meals? At the beginning of the day or the end? No matter when you choose to pray (and you can certainly pray more than once) it’s good to keep it consistent. 

There is no more powerful way to raise your children in the faith than to instill the importance of regular prayer time. When you make prayer a regular habit, your home will feel like a “little church.”

3. Nurture Your Faith 

We go to church to deepen our faith in Christ, so it’s our jobs as Orthodox wives and mothers to nurture this faith at home. To avoid complacency in our faith we need to keep on learning and encourage our spouses and children to do the same.

There are so many ways to grow in our Christian faith. Reading the Bible strengthens our foundation and connects us to God in a truly profound way. Quality spiritual books can support us in living out the faith in practical ways. If you prefer auditory learning you can download podcasts from Ancient Faith Radio and listen to them in the car or while doing chores.

It’s important to remember that learning is not a solo effort, but something that you can do as a family. Carve out time to do a family Bible study or to listen to a spiritual lecture. It will spark great discussions and everyone will learn something from it. If you can’t do it together then at least share what you are learning with your spouse and children.

Your children should see you learning about the Faith, no matter their ages. As you strive to grow in the faith your children will take notice and want to emulate you. Don’t underestimate the value in nurturing the faith at home.

4. Develop a Sense of Community

Each year my church hosts an annual food festival. It’s such a fun time because I get a chance to see the entire church community come together. We put in long days and tons of work because we care about supporting our church and each other. 

I’ve felt this sense of community in both my church and within my husband’s family. Seeing how close my husband is to his siblings and parents is what I admire the most about his family. I can tell they were raised in a loving, Christian home – a “little church” community.

To imitate the church, our homes need to have a strong sense of community. Our church is a family of believers working together to help each other in this life and the age to come. Our home should be no different.

How can you develop a strong sense of community within your family?

  • Go to church together
  • Share a meal together and pray before it
  • Pray as a family
  • Discuss your days (not just what happened, but your thoughts and feelings, too)
  • Make time for each other
  • Share hobbies and interests
  • Read the Bible and other spiritual books and discuss them with each other
  • Volunteer together
  • Teach your family that your home is a safe place to be vulnerable
  • Resolve conflicts in a peaceful manner
  • Correct each other in loving ways without being judgmental
  • Help each other out with chores and errands
  • Live by the fruits of the Spirit, putting “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” into all you do. (Galatians 5:22)

We need to spend quality time with our husbands and children if we want to cultivate community within the home. Don’t be too busy to make time for each other. Find simple ways to connect.

5. Practice Hospitality

We partake in fellowship with other church members during coffee hour. After a long morning of prayers and fasting, it’s such a relief to have a meal provided, no matter how simple. It’s also a wonderful chance to make friendships with other believers. 

We can demonstrate our gratitude for the church’s hospitality by returning the favor. Why not invite others into your home to share a meal? What better way to share Christ’s love than to do something nice for others as a family? That is the mark of a Christian household – to be generous, opening up your home to all.

Inviting others into your home is the final step in making your house a “little church”. Your guests will see your faith evident in their surroundings, as well as when you sit down to pray. They may see spiritual books on your coffee table which could open up a discussion on faith. Lastly, they will notice your virtues, and understand your family to be a loving community of believers. When your family practices hospitality all five of these qualities are put into action. This is how you will know that your home has become a “little church”.

Sarah’s Note

One of the best resources on building a “little church” in your home is: Blueprints for the Little Church by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Be sure to check it out!

About Amber

Amber Metz is an Orthodox Christian, a wife, and a writer. She helps women prioritize their faith, family, and wellness at her blog, Rejoice in the Home. If you want to strengthen these areas of your life, be sure to check out the many free resources she provides on her blog.

The post 5 Ways to Make Your Home a Little Church appeared first on Orthodox Motherhood.

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What would your perfect day look like?

If you immediately start picturing a day at the spa away from laundry and children’s messes, or if you imagine an afternoon eating crepes in Paris, let me stop you for just a minute.

I love the ideas of spas and crepes as well as the next person, but….

What I really want to know is, what would a perfect ordinary day look like? An everyday, regular, ordinary day.

If you were able to plan it out, to craft it to your liking, what would such an ordinary day consist of? I’m particularly thinking about a well-crafted ordinary day that could be repeated the next day.

In other words, what would your ideal schedule look like?

Building Blocks of a Perfect Day

My husband and I had a conversation about this topic last weekend while we were out for dinner for our eleventh anniversary. Over tapas and wine, we discussed our summer plans.

Since I am a teacher and my husband is in seminary, we are in the enviable position of having quite a bit of control over our summer schedule. In fact, this summer we are going to be away from our home in Boston for nearly two months. We will be traveling for a couple of weeks and then settling in for an extended stay with my parents in Oklahoma and my in-laws in north Texas.

This means that we will, in a large measure, be able to craft our own schedule. So, we decided to define our “building blocks” for a perfect day. In other words, which few elements would ensure that the day was spent in a way that was in line with our ultimate goals and priorities?

Here are mine:

My Building Blocks for the Perfect Day
  1. One Hour Running/ Walking
  2. One Hour Writing (either on the blog or on my book)
  3. One Hour Reading for Pleasure
  4. Plenty of Time as a Family for Outings and Fun

Those building blocks give me a few things that I need. First, the top three are solitary activities. This feeds my introverted soul. Secondly, I pray and meditate while I am running and walking, so this helps me stay connected to God. Third, by prioritizing writing each day, I will (hopefully!) be able to finish my book over the summer. Finally, the time with family will help create memories and ensure that this summer brings many adventures.

From Building Blocks to Schedule

With those building blocks in hand, my husband and I sketched out a loose schedule. We wanted to think through how we could practically make my “perfect” day happen. (As a side note, we did the same thing for his perfect day, but I am going to respect his privacy and just talk about mine.)

We thought about the times of day that would work best for each activity, childcare if needed, and portions of the day in which I am most productive.

Here’s our tentative summer schedule:

A Loose Summer Schedule

7:00-8:00 Exercise

8:00-12:00 Family Time (breakfast, morning work, morning outing)

12:00-1:00 Lunch

1:00-2:00 Quiet Time (I will write while the kids rest and/ or nap)

2:00-5:00 Family Time (afternoon fun or outing)

5:00-7:00 Dinner

7:00-8:00 Evening Routine (prayers, reading of whole family book aloud–we’re currently reading “The Hobbit,” bedtime prep)

8:00-9:00 Bedtimes/ Grown Up Fun (games, movies, etc. with my parents or in-laws)

9:00-10:00 Grown-up Fun Time

10:00-11:00 My Reading Time

11:00 Bed

As you can see, it is a very loose and flexible schedule. However, it does help me know when I can do my “building blocks” for a perfect day. Having this flexible summer schedule has given me great peace of mind. Now I know that I will have a dedicated time for writing each day, and I will be able to have some introverted time to refresh and recharge.

What would your perfect day look like?

The post Crafting a “Perfect Day” appeared first on Orthodox Motherhood.

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Each season I like to make a “Fun List.”  I fill this list not only with family activities that will help us thoroughly enjoy the season but also with some activities for my husband and I to do together or for me to do by myself.

This Fun List helps me be more intentional about doing the things that create memories.  The thing is, while many fun things happen spontaneously, others take planning.  If I want to go to a certain museum or to a concert, for example, I have to check for tickets, for hours, possibly get childcare, etc.

So, having this Fun List helps me to think through big picture goals and the small details that need to happen to reach those goals.

Today I wanted to share our Summer Fun List with you and the progress that we have made so far.

Our Summer Fun List
Go to a Baseball Game

We have tickets to go see a minor league game with Ella’s godparents.  I love minor league games!  They often have fun themed days or specials.  For example, on the day that we are going, they are having fireworks afterward. So, our kids will get to play with their godsiblings and we can chat with our friends. Score!

Go Strawberry Picking

Our family loves to go fruit picking at local farms and orchards. There is a lovely one about an hour away in western Massachusetts. It has a really fun and quirky playground, a bakery with tasty homemade treats, and plenty of fruit to pick. If we have a big enough haul, I hope to make some strawberry freezer jam. So tasty!

Observe the Night Sky with a Telescope

Our oldest son, Andrew, has become fascinated by space and constellations lately. We want to encourage this interest with some hands-on practice this summer. Our local library actually has telescopes that you can check out. (I know! Crazy right! Libraries are seriously the best.) So, we are looking forward to some late night observations with him.

Ride on a Boat near Niagara Falls

We are taking a serious family road trip this summer from Boston to Denver, Colorado, and then down to Texas and Oklahoma to visit family. We want to take it slowly and enjoy the sights along the way. Our first stop will be Niagara Falls! We have decided to splurge and purchase tickets to ride the boat that takes you right up to the Falls. We seriously can’t wait to experience this with the kids!

Go Hiking in the Rocky Mountains

While we are in Colorado, we have reserved an Airbnb up in the mountains near Breckenridge for a few days. Dan and I love Colorado. He went to undergrad there, and we even honeymooned in Estes Park. So, we are looking forward to sharing this love with our children. I have been researching family-friendly hikes in the area and am hoping for good weather.

Grill with Friends

We have made a concerted effort to invite friends over frequently now that summer is upon us.  We will often make this a potluck by asking the guests to bring along a side or another meat, etc.  Simple, fun, and easy to clean up!

Visit the Wildlife Refuge and See Buffalo

My parents live just a few miles from the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, which has some of the largest herds of bison in the country.  The kids love to drive through the refuge looking for buffalo.  We also get out of the car at a few prairie dog towns along the way.  It’s a simple, fun way to spend time together.  Plus, it’s free!

Get Pedicures with Ella

My daughter is very much a “girly girl” who loves getting her nails painted and doing fun things with her hair.  So, she and I will have a fun date together getting pedicures.

Celebrate our 11th Anniversary

My husband and I were married eleven years ago. I don’t know when we got so old, but the years have definitely flown by! We are going out to eat at a nice tapas place near us which has (quite possibly) the best grilled scallops I have ever tasted.

Read Outdoors

I spend a lot of time reading during the summer.  I generally aim for 2-4 books per week!  Reading outdoors makes the activity even more pleasurable.  It is so relaxing!

What fun activities have you done this summer?  Or, what are you planning on doing?

The post Our 2019 Summer Fun List appeared first on Orthodox Motherhood.

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Is there anything better than summer reading?  Well, let me qualify that.  Yes.  There are many important things (salvation, receiving the Eucharist, having a baby, getting married…..) that are better.  But as far as simple pleasures go, it is hard to beat summer reading!

Perhaps it is the teacher in me, but I just can’t resist “assigning myself” some great literature to read over the summer!

Each year I try to have a good mixture of young adult literature (since I teach students to love reading), books recommended by people with great taste, the classics, and Orthodox readings.

Just a note:  I haven’t actually read any of these books yet, so I can’t claim to know whether they are any good or not yet.  These are simply titles that have caught my eye or have been on my “To Be Read” list for awhile!

My 2019 Summer Reading List Young Adult/ Children’s Literature
1. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

Young Princess Irene is attacked by the goblins while out in the woods one day.  She is saved by a young miner named Curdie, after which the two have many adventures together.  A classic of children’s literature that I somehow have managed not to read yet!  I must remedy that at once.

2. House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg

As a L.M. Montgomery superfan (the Emily series was my childhood obsession!), I cannot wait to read this new biography of the author. Written for young adults, the book gives details about Maud’s childhood and marriage. If you love Anne, Emily, or any of Montgomery’s heroines, this is a must-read!

Books Recommended by People with Great Taste
3. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

It seems that everyone has read this book but me! It has definitely been on my “To Be Read” list for longer than I care to admit. A good friend of mine who is passionate about helping girls find strong women role models recently reminded me about the book. So, I’ll be reading it this summer and (hopefully) talking with my daughter about it while I do so.

4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This is a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel. I tend to enjoy the genre as a whole (if it is not too violent or graphic), but this one came particularly recommended by Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy–one of my all-time favorite blogs and the absolute best place to get book recommendations. She describes it as a dystopian novel in which hope is carried on through a small group of Shakespearean actors. Sounds interesting to me!

The Classics
5. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

This is the only Jane Austen that I have not read. And, since I have loved every other book by her, I am looking forward to diving into this one!

6. Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Since we live near Concord, my kids and I have hiked around Walden Pond (where Thoreau conducted his famous experiment in simple living) several times. We have placed stones on a mound near his cabin site, as is tradition, and seen the replica of his small cabin. This connection has increased my desire to read this classic account of an experiment in intentional slow-living in nature.

Orthodox Reading

7. Bread & Water, Wine & Oil by Archimandrite Meletios Webber

I am looking forward to reflecting more upon the mysteries of our faith in the sacraments of the Church. This has also been on my TBR (to be read) list for some time.

8. Things of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain by Christopher Merrill

My husband was blessed to travel to Mount Athos a couple of years ago after he presented at a conference in Greece. Hearing his stories has peaked my interest in learning more about this holy place.

There you have it!  My 2019 Summer Reading List!

What is on your summer reading list?

(This post contains affiliate links.  If you click on a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.  Thank you for supporting this blog.)

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This year I am trying something new. No, it’s nothing as exotic as learning how to salsa dance or taking a cooking class (though I would love to do either of those!). Instead, I am changing the way I set goals.

As I explained in January, I am now setting quarterly goals for myself. (You can read more about how I did it here.) Each quarter of the year, I will set four goals for myself that align with my big picture priorities. I am hoping that this will give me a sense of relevance, immediacy, and focus.

But, it is not enough to set quarterly goals. I also need to set monthly goals to help me reach those quarterly goals. (I know, I know, I seem a bit too Type A at this point!) This helps me decide how to focus on my quarterly goals that month.

So, here are my:

Second Quarter Goals for 2019 Second Quarter Goal #1: Spiritual Goal–Plan a Weekly Activity in Nature to Promote Rest

May Mini-Goals: 1.Visit the Arboretum during lilac season.

2. Plant a garden

3. Go on a family hike

Second Quarter Goal #2: Personal Goal–Lose 10 pounds

May Mini-Goal: 1. Go on a long run once a week

2. No snacking after dinner

3. Track meals with the MyFitnessPal website

Second Quarter Goal #3: Relationship Goal–Have a weekly date night in our out of the house.

May Mini-Goals: 1. Have a game night with another couple

2. Enjoy conversation and drinks outdoors

3. Go on a walk together

Second Quarter Goal #4: Professional Goal–Write 1/3 of my book (Squeal!)

May Mini-Goals: 1. Write 7 pages

2. Send my co-author a list of the pages I will do

3. Research for my 7 pages

As you can see, many of these goals are quite simple, but they are the building blocks necessary to reach my Quarterly Goals. I am happy to say that I have already crossed several of them off!

Do you set goals for yourself? What is your system?

Pro Tip: I get a lot of the ideas on goal-setting that I use from Laura Vanderkam. She is an author and speaker who has a fabulous website and podcast. I also have appreciated her books 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think and Off the Clock. Be sure to check them out if you are interested in time management or goal-setting.

Affiliate Disclaimer: Some of the links in the post are affiliate links. If you click through and purchase a product, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting this blog.

The post My Second Quarter Goals for 2019 appeared first on Orthodox Motherhood.

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Each year I enter Lent with high expectations. This will be the year that we have family prayers every evening…..that we attend every single Presanctified Liturgy…..that we read spiritual books together…..that we do a family service project.

And, each year, I run out of steam. Life becomes overwhelming. Someone gets sick (often me!). Complications arise. And, I beat myself up for not meeting my expectations.

Can you relate?

So, this year I decided to take a moment to think about what is actually working well this Lent. What are we doing well? What practical items have helped?

I share these with you for a couple of reasons:

-Hopefully it will encourage you to get a real-life peek into someone else’s successes and failures.

-Perhaps someone might find a simple idea that would work for their family, too.

So, here are six things that are working for our family this Lent.

1. Ice Cream on Forgiveness Sunday

After Forgiveness Vespers on Forgiveness Sunday (Cheesefare), our family went out for ice cream at a cute little ice cream shop near our church. The kids had a blast getting to watch the worker make homemade waffle cones. (She even let the kids try a hot one for free!)

It was such a simple thing, but it helped to make the day special. It marked the ending of one period in the life of the Church and provided an opportunity to talk about what was coming next.

2. Clean Monday Family Outing

For the past two years, we have gone on an outing on Clean Monday. This has just happened to work out with our school calendar. (Last year Clean Monday fell on President’s Day, and this year it was the first day of our Spring Break.) I’m not sure if we will be able to keep it up if our calendars change, but it has been nice.

We began the morning by going to church. Then, we set out for a beautiful beach about an hour away. The kids built sand castles, wrote their names in the sand, and played tag with the waves. Because we live in Boston, it was obviously too cold to go swimming, but it also meant that we had the beach almost to ourselves.

We ended the day with tea in a coffee shop. So lovely! It was a simple way to mark the beginning of Lent.

3. Pascha Passports

My kids are still loving their Pascha Passports and look forward to adding a stamp for each service they attend. Somehow that simple act makes it easier for them to attend multiple services a week.

4. Lunchables on Presanctified Days

Here’s a super practical and super honest one. We have made it to each Presanctified Liturgy so far this year, and I will give a lot of the credit to Lunchables. Yup. Lunchables.

The kids and I get home from school around 4:30. We need to get in the car again before 5 so that we can drive up to our church for the liturgy. By the time that church is over and we drive back home, it is WAY past dinner time. And, as we know, hungry kids are crabby kids.

This year we decided to give the kids a special snack they could eat in the car on the way to church. I found Lunchables on sale for $1 each at the beginning of Lent. Since my kids never have Lunchables any other time, it is a huge treat! (We are ok with our kids eating cheese and the occasional meat during the Fast. If your kids are older or fast more strictly, then this might not work.)

The kids now look forward to the drive up and enjoy eating their “treat” while we listen to “Harry Potter” together on audiobook.

5. Prayer of St. Ephraim at Night

One of the easiest ways to teach kids the penitential nature of Lent is to introduce them to the Prayer of St. Ephraim. We end our evening prayers each night with this prayer. The kids call it “the bowing prayer” because of the prostrations.

The repetition and the whole body movement help them to learn the prayer quickly. Our five-year-old especially feels proud of himself for being able to participate.

6. Simple Meals from the Pantry

Finally, we have been eating SUPER simple meals this Lent. I stocked up on several boxes of GOYA beans and rice as well as some cornbread mixes. This makes for a quick and healthy meal (when you add a salad or fruit) that can come together in less than half an hour without much hands-on time.

I also made some big batches of soup, crockpot refried beans, and lentil tacos during the first week of Lent (when I was on Spring Break). I put these up in the freezer, and now I can easily grab a bag out to thaw while I’m at work. Dinner can come together really quickly in the evening.

What is working for your family this Lent?

The post What’s Working for Our Family This Lent appeared first on Orthodox Motherhood.

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This year I am trying something new. No, it’s nothing as exotic as learning how to salsa dance or taking a cooking class (though I would love to do either of those!). Instead, I am changing the way I set goals.

As I explained in January, I am now setting quarterly goals for myself. (You can read more about how I did it here.) Each quarter of the year, I will set four goals for myself that align with my big picture priorities. I am hoping that this will give me a sense of relevance, immediacy, and focus.

But, it is not enough to set quarterly goals. I also need to set monthly goals to help me reach those quarterly goals. (I know, I know, I seem a bit too Type A at this point!) This helps me decide how to focus on my quarterly goals that month.

So, here are my:

March 2019 Goals Quarterly Goal #1:  Spiritual Goal–Reserve one day per week for rest and spiritual refreshment.

March Goal #1: Block out days of rest on my calendar.

March Goal #2: Go on a walk by myself once this month.

March Goal #3: Attend a church service by myself once this month.

Quarterly Goal #2: Personal Goal–Start a movement routine and track my progress.

March Goal #1:Engage in movement (exercise) at least three times a week for 30 minutes each time.

March Goal #2: Find a Pilates video that I like online.

March #3: Run 2 miles at least once.

Quarterly Goal #3: Relationship Goal–Plan a weekly in-house or out of the house date with Dan.

March Goal #1: Go on an out-of-the-house date night to a restaurant.

March Goal #2: Find a new show that we like to watch together. (Since we have finished watching the episodes of The Good Place that are on Netflix…..)

March Goal #3: Have another couple over for dinner or games.

Quarterly Goal #4: Professional Goal–Get two months ahead on blog posts.

March Goal #1: Make an editorial calendar (list of blog posts) for Lent.

March Goal #2: Write and schedule all blog posts for Lent and Holy Week.

March Goal #3: Reach out to other writers asking them to write guest posts.

As you can see, many of these goals are quite simple, but they are the building blocks necessary to reach my Quarterly Goals. I am happy to say that I have already crossed several of them off!

Do you set goals for yourself? What is your system?

Pro Tip: I get a lot of the ideas on goal-setting that I use from Laura Vanderkam. She is an author and speaker who has a fabulous website and podcast. I also have appreciated her books 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think and Off the Clock. Be sure to check them out if you are interested in time management or goal-setting.

Affiliate Disclaimer: Some of the links in the post are affiliate links. If you click through and purchase a product, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting this blog.

The post March Goals 2019 appeared first on Orthodox Motherhood.

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Great Lent is almost here! I truly love this season–it is one of my favorite times of the year. I look forward to the change in rhythm that it brings: the frequent and beautiful services, the call to slow down and eliminate things that draw my focus away from God, the solemn anticipation of the most glorious day of the Feast of Feasts.

But, (can I be honest here?) sometimes Lent is really hard.

Planning meals takes extra effort since I can’t just open a box of mac and cheese whenever I don’t have the energy to cook a real supper.

-Services are frequent and beautiful, but that can be a difficult thing if you have young children. Wrangling three young children while trying to make prostrations isn’t really conducive to a peaceful, meditative spiritual experience.

-Temptations seem to rear their ugly heads with greater frequency and intensity. Sins that I thought I had put behind me find ways to seep back into my life. Frustration builds and my patience wears thin.

-And the guilt. Oh, the guilt. If “Mom guilt” is a thing, surely we can agree that it is even stronger during Lent? We see other mothers posting pictures of their children happily engaged in a Lent-related craft. We think of all the things that we “should” be doing to help our kids really grasp the beauty of this Lenten season. We miss a few services because of illness or exhaustion or just plain lack of desire to keep children calm and quiet during yet another hour of church. And cue the guilt.

If any of that resonated with you, I get it. 100%. Been there. Am there.

So, today I just wanted to share 3 resources that may help you out during Great Lent this year. They are all fully Orthodox, reasonably priced, and designed to help lessen stress and increase family engagement during Lent.

And, I have used all of these resources and can honestly recommend them.

Quick caveat: if any of these would add to your stress or guilt-load, don’t think twice about ignoring the recommendation. Do what works for you and for your family.

1. Pascha Passports

We used these Pascha Passports for the first time last year, and all three of my kids (then ages 3-9) loved them! Each child receives their own passport and sheet of stickers. They are able to place stickers on designated spots for each of the Lenten services they attend (it actually begins in the Triodion, but you can start later if needed). There are also stickers for “Day Trips” like going to Confession, saying the Jesus Prayer, and more.

I was actually astonished at how into the whole thing my kids were. They looked forward to attending the services, happily talked about the meaning of the various services with me, and were excited to put their stickers into their passports.

The passports (put out by Saint Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in Loveland, Colorado) are also insanely affordable. A passport costs $2.10 and a sticker sheet costs $1.00. There is also a shipping fee. I was able to get 3 passports, 3 sticker sheets, and shipping all for $15.

If going to services has been one of your stress points, the passports may prove helpful! I would recommend them for ages 3 through at least 10. You can order here.

2. My Beautiful Lent

I am not a super creative cook. Instead I tend to streamline meal-planning and simplify anything that I possibly can. (You can see that by Our Honest Lenten Meal Plan!)

Plus, I work outside the home as a full-time teacher. By the time we get home around 5 each night, I am completely sapped of energy. Start making a crazy complicated recipe involving ingredients I can’t pronounce? Not likely.

Because of this, I really like My Beautiful Lent–a website and Lenten meal-planning service run by Cynthia Damaskos. My Beautiful Lent gives three different options for their services, starting at $19.

I especially enjoyed the weekly video interviews that Cynthia does with various Orthodox priests, authors, and more to discuss Great Lent. This year’s guests include Kh. Frederika Matthewes-Green, Abbot Tryphon, Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, and Joshua Jackson among others.

If Lenten meal-planning causes anxiety, you can check out the website here.

3. Tending the Garden of the Heart Devotional Book

Finally, this last resource is also the most recent. As a convert from Protestantism, I often struggle with the idea of doing devotions as a family. Is it ok? How should I do it? Am I being “Orthodox enough”?

That is one reason I loved Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger’s book. There is a 3-4 page devotion for each day that can be done as a whole family. There is also a fantastic appendix with further ideas for crafts, activities, and more based on each week of Lent.

Tending the Garden of the Heart, published by Ancient Faith Publishing, is a meaningful tool to help your entire family engage in the spiritual discipline of Great Lent.

I found the devotions (about a Scripture passage, life of a saint, or theme of Lent) to be suitable for elementary-aged children to high-schoolers. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter range from basic comprehension questions designed for a younger audience to more in-depth analysis appropriate for teenagers.

Finally, I really appreciated the section titled “How to Use This Book” that gave readers permission to dip into the book when they had time but not feel guilty if they missed some days. Don’t try to play catch-up, the authors encourage, but just go to today’s reading and work from there. As a struggling perfectionist, I was thankful for this advice!

If you would like to help your family grow spiritually during Lent (without having to come up with ideas all on your own!), you can purchase the book here.


And, now, a bonus! I will be giving away a copy of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts to a lucky reader!

To be enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment on this post. Let me know either what your greatest struggles are during Lent or what you are looking forward to this Lent.

The giveaway will close on Tuesday, March 5. I will then use the random number generator to select the winner, whom I will contact via e-mail.

A Blessed Fast to you all.

The post 3 Helpful Resources to Engage Your Family During Great Lent appeared first on Orthodox Motherhood.

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When my husband and I got married, one wise older woman told me, “Every couple needs an outdoor game and an indoor game that they can play together.”  I remember nodding and thanking her for the advice, but I didn’t think much about it for a few years.

Now I see the wisdom in her words.  As marriage progresses, it can be easy to live on parallel tracks–to live together without interacting deeply.  Having hobbies or games to play together gives couples a built in space to talk, have fun, and grow closer.  Games also make for a fun frugal date night.  (Be sure to check out my  10 Best Frugal Date Night Ideas!)

If you are looking for an indoor or outdoor game, check out these fun ones:

Best Games for Couples to Play Outdoor Games

1. Tennis

This was the first outdoor game that my husband and I played together.  He had played in high school and wanted to teach me so that we could play together–either against each other or as pairs with another couple.  The cost of equipment is fairly minimal, the exercise is a bonus, and you can play tennis together well into your retirement years.  Love it!

2. Bocce Ball

My husband and I actually registered for a bocce ball set for our wedding.  That’s how much we love it!  The game is similar to horseshoes in its aim and rules, but played with balls instead.  It is simple enough to learn in five minutes but fun enough to play for hours.

3. Croquet

Go “old school” and learn to play croquet together.  Enjoy the nice weather and some friendly competition in this classic outdoor game.

Indoor Games

4. Settlers of Catan

Settlers is our indoor game of choice.  If you are a fan of strategy games like Risk, you will love Settlers of Catan.  Each player tries to settle land, gain resources, and be the first to win 10 points. The game typically takes between 45 and 60 minutes.  A nice mixture of strategy and luck, Settlers is one of our go-to in-house game nights.

5. Carcassonne

Another game of strategy, Carcassonne will challenge your mind as you try to build castles, roads, and more.  Carcassonne is a much quicker game than Settlers of Catan, allowing you to play multiple rounds in one evening.

6. Farkle

Besides being just plain fun to say, Farkle is a relaxing game that requires little mental concentration.  We used to carry it around with us to coffee shops and play it for a break from studying or working on projects.  One summer we even kept score for the entire summer–playing a sort of three months long version!  The winner (me, of course!) definitely had bragging rights for a l-o-n-g time.

7. Phase 10

Phase 10 is a card game with multiple rounds during which players try to complete the round’s challenge and accrue as few points as possible.  It’s just as fun with two players as with a big group.

8. Scrabble

Scrabble is one of my all time favorite games.  Being the word nerd that I am, I have been playing since I was little.  Fortunately, I married a man who shares my enthusiasm, so we can have many competitive matches!

9. Scattergories

Another word game, Scattergories challenges players to think of words in certain categories that all begin with the same letter–with often hilarious results.

10. Yahtzee

Finally, Yahtzee is another favorite in our house.  The classic dice game is quick, easy to learn, and fun to play.  It doesn’t require as much concentration as some of the other games on the list, making it easy to have good conversation while playing.

As trite as it may sound, games have been an important part of our marriage.  They provide a way for my husband and I to enjoy each other, relax together, challenge each other, and make shared memories.  If you don’t already, I encourage you to find an indoor and an outdoor game to play as a couple.  You may be surprised at just how much fun it is.

What games do you play as a couple?

(This post contains affiliate links.  If you click through and purchase a product, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.  Thank you for supporting The Orthodox Mama.)

The post 10 Best Games for Couples to Play appeared first on Orthodox Motherhood.

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There’s something about newlyweds that inspires all sorts of unsolicited advice.  These words of wisdom range from the helpful (“Talk to your husband instead of your mother if you are angry with him”) to the benign (“Don’t forget to have date nights”) to the downright quirky (“Only have arguments standing up.  That way you’ll get tired and want to resolve it so you can sit down”).

And yes, I received all of those valuable nuggets in my early days of marriage!

However, I also received a piece of advice that proved to be toxic for our marriage.  I’m guessing that you received this advice as well.

“Make sure to split the work 50-50.”

On the surface this appears to be excellent advice.  I mean, we are in the 21st century after all.  Many women work outside of the home, and yet they are also expected to shoulder most of the household work and the childcare.  So, it seems to make logical sense that we should try to even things out.

Many marriage experts even recommend that couples create a list of household chores and assign them to each partner–taking care to make everything come out even.  50-50.  You’re a team.  It’s only fair.

However, I found that trying to make everything “fair” made me a bitter wife.

Here’s why:

-I began keeping track, keeping score.  If I did the dishes, I put one imaginary tally mark in my column and expected my husband to make a correlating mark in his column.

-If I thought that I had done more household work or childcare than my husband, I began to grow resentful.  As an introvert with a passive-aggressive streak, I typically kept this resentment inside.

-But that resentment would come to the surface.  I would make sarcastic comments to my husband.  I would blow up about a fairly small incident.  I robbed myself of joy.

Reasons That Splitting the Household Chores Doesn’t Work 1. It Will Rarely Be 50-50

Life happens.  At various times in a marriage both partners will not be able to do 50%.  Perhaps one has a new job and works late hours.  Maybe one spouse gets sick.  Someone has to take care of a parent or a sick child.  One goes through depression or struggles with mental illness.

Right now my husband is a full-time student who also works part-time (around 20 hours a week).   His hours are long and mentally strenuous.  It is just  not feasible to split our work evenly.

2. Resentment is Real

When couples first get married, they often cannot imagine ever resenting the other.  True love conquers all.  All you need is love.  Etc., etc., etc.  But I found out that resentment is real.

By having the unrealistic expectation of a 50-50 workload, I was approaching marriage as a contract.  When I thought that my husband hadn’t fulfilled his part of that contract, I grew upset and allowed that anger to grow into bitterness and resentment.

What To Do Instead: 1. Communicate

Talk instead of fume.  It’s harder than it seems.  If you feel taken for granted or overwhelmed, discuss it.  Try to come up with a solution together–remembering that the solution may have to shift over time.

A couple of months ago my husband and I had a talk.  He rightly pointed out that my expectations were causing bitterness, which was putting a strain on our marriage.  We both knew we were committed to our marriage and wanted to love and support each other, so we needed to change something.

During the discussion, I realized that, for this time in our lives together, I would need to shoulder most of the household duties.  Because of my husband’s stressful work of dissertation writing, he would be working long and odd hours.  My schedule as a teacher was more predictable, and I had evenings free.

Once we had this conversation, my entire approach to housework changed.  I realized that I was serving my husband and children by doing laundry, washing dishes, and giving baths.

2. Assume the Best

When we feel as though we are doing an unfair portion of the household work, it is easy to assume the worst of our spouse.  “I do all of this work and he just sits there watching T.V.”  “He knows how to take out the trash, he was just being lazy.”  “She knows I hate it when she forgets to wipe out the bathroom sink.”

If we assume the best of our spouse, however, our attitude completely changes.  “After a long day, he needs an hour to unwind.” “He’s been so busy lately, he must have forgotten today is trash day.”  “I’m sure she didn’t deliberately forget to wipe the sink.”   By assuming the best and communicating with our spouse, we can nip bitterness in the bud.

3. Give 100%

As I said before, marriage is never 50-50.  My priest put it like this, “Marriage is about two people giving 100% of themselves to another person.”  100%.  Not 50%.

In the Orthodox Church we wear crowns in our weddings.  The reason is twofold:  first, it symbolizes that God has crowned us king and queen of our household, and second, it reminds us of the martyrs.  Marriage is a martyrdom.  It is a dying to self and living for another.

But the amazing thing is, that while I am dying to myself and living for my husband, he is doing the same thing for me.  It is the path of salvation for us both.    (If you are interested in reading more on the Orthodox Christian view of marriage, St. John Chrysostom– a fourth-century saint whose sermons still pack a powerful punch today–wrote extensively about this in On Marriage and Family Life.  If you are looking for a book on marriage to read together this year, I highly recommend it!)

And so, I reject the advice of the well-meaning friends who say, “You need to split everything 50-50.”  Because marriage isn’t about fairness–and it’s not even about me.  It’s about love.  It’s about mutual sacrifice.  It’s about salvation.

As St. John Chrysostom said, “Then we will be perfectly one both with Christ and each other, and our pleasure will know no bounds.”

(This post contains affiliate links.  Please see my disclosure policy for more information.)

The post The Worst Marriage Advice I Ever Received appeared first on Orthodox Motherhood.

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