In the past I have said I don't like New Year's Resolutions. In my opinion, making a resolution is a guarantee to fail, because it is puts undue pressure on oneself. Plus, if you want to improve yourself, just do it. No "resolution" is needed. I am not saying it will not be difficult. We can all improve, right? Here I go again, making resolutions against my own principles that I should not--Baring all my weaknesses here. But, I am going to take this not so much as a resolution, but rather things I could improve upon.
Here are my suggestions for myself, so I can be better in 2012:
1. Pray. Pray formally, in private, without failing, twice a day, and pray formally with the family twice a day. Along with prayer at meal times that will make seven times a day--a holy number. Every time my routine changes a little, it is difficult to keep prayer consistent.
2. Exercise three times a week--Join a gym with childcare! I think about getting exercise all the time, but unless I can get away from the kids, it's not going to happen. I also feel bad about leaving them with my husband when he gets off work, because he has already had a long day and me too. It would be better if I could go earlier in the day and have someone keep the kids.
3. Eat better - In line with the previous resolution, eat smaller, controlled portion sizes and only eat when I really feel hungry. Delicious holiday food is really hard to eat moderately. I always get to thinking I need to watch portions during this time. ;-)
4. T.V. Habits - Stop allowing the children to watch so much T.V. - Stop using the T.V. as a crutch. Usually the kids watch T.V. first thing in the morning before everyone is ready to do anything else. And they watch T.V. around lunch time while I put the baby down for a nap. The T.V. is the only thing that keeps them quiet and occupied while I lay her down and she falls asleep. Then I let them watch for an hour or so and I get time to make lunch for everyone and eat my own lunch in peace. But, I would like to see them go more days without T.V. at all, or only during quiet time. I would like to figure out what to do with the kids when I need them to be quiet.
5. Date my husband. I really miss one-on-one time with my best friend. I could spend every minute of every day with him and never be tired of him. :-) As it is, we spend a lot of time with each other, but hardly ever without the kids. Therefore, much of the time we are together we are pre-occupied and stressed. We need some stress free time together.
6. Quiet time with God--Write an Icon that is not a child's icon. This longing never goes away. I guess I need to spend less time on the computer, or something. Perhaps all those books I am reading will have to wait a little longer.
7. Patience without yelling, anger or spanking, even when I am tired, stressed and not feeling well. Alex is older and can be reasoned with, I have seen a lot of improvement in behavior by remaining calm and working through whatever behavior problem. I need to be conscientious about how I treat ALL the people in my life. I need to treat everyone with kindness, gentleness, respect and cheer. These are the traits I am trying to teach my children.
With a lot of these I need my husband's cooperation and support. I think I have an important conversation forthcoming with my other half.
Posted by Renee Clayton at 11:30 AM
It's finally done. A friend asked me to help her make Nativity figures so that she could sew a plush Nativity set that her kids could play with, without breaking. I drew the figures and she is having them printed on fabric and will sew them. I took my drawings and laminated them and the kids painted a cave. Then we placed the figures as though it were a Nativity set. I laminated the figures so we can reuse them from year to year.
Kristiana was my big helper. She worked the longest and hardest on it.
This time Annie helped paint. She finger painted. :-)
This is one of my favorite parts of the set - the two angels and the star.
Happy Christmas Season!
Posted by Renee Clayton at 11:13 PM
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
As much as l love the truly unique food which helps to commemorate Christmas Eve, Holy Supper celebrations, this year I really enjoyed the fellowship celebrating the meal with our whole church.
Folks brought their cheer and their finest cooking skills. We began by eating blessed garlic dipped in honey commemorating the bitter sweetness of life. This was followed by a wonderful meatless meal. Cedar plank salmon, pyrohies (potato stuffed pasta), kutya (honey and wheat porridge), kapusta (sauerkraut and peas), fruit, cabbage slaw, mushroom soup, stuffed cabbage and bread. I did not take pictures of any of the food. I was so excited about it, I was eager to make it disappear into my belly!
All of the children present were very adorable and squirmy. One person told us their children were with a babysitter. While we think it is important for the children to be present, the 30th time the toddler wants to be picked up, then put down, then runs up the aisle, you start to think a babysitter for evening Liturgies is a VERY good idea. ;-)
I made braided cheese bread for the priests for Christmas. I was particularly pleased by the results, because totally winged it. I did not have a recipe and I made tasty bread! This is a big accomplishment, because I am not a baker.
This is Sister Vitae. She was one of the kids who was in the youth group I lead.
We have not seen her since our wedding nearly 7 years ago. A lot has changed since then.
P.S. I think my camera is on it way out. It does not seem to be focusing well anymore. It's only three years old. :-(
Posted by Renee Clayton at 12:49 AM
I woke up in the night the other night and dating advice is all that was running through my head. Strange, I know. But, pregnancy hormones will do strange things to me in the middle of the night. Anyhow, I thought I would write them down and try to formalize them. Perhaps, someday my children will benefit.
This advice is for the purposes of finding a life long mate. And in my experience this advice leads to marriage success.
1. Pray about it—pray for God’s will to be done. Freshman year of college, I tried out a couple of awkward college relationships (too much expected early intimacy, too much guessing where one stands) and I thought, this really is not working out for me. I decided to give it up, get my head straight, focus on academics and just seek God first. I simply was not interested in this awkward dating game. Finally after a happy semester hiatus, I prayed. I prayed to God for Him to bring me to my husband, or to a religious vocation. I prayed to have no hand in this. I prayed that I only wanted to follow His will in this matter. I prayed telling God I was surrendering this all to Him. God was now in charge. Soon after I began emailing a few college friends over the summer break from school. One friend stood out. It was clear I was enamored, but I was still not pursuing this friend in any other manner than frank conversations about God and other transcendental ideas. We were simply enjoying a burgeoning friendship. One evening we were talking about something completely mundane, but I prayed to my Guardian Angel in the middle of our conversation that my friend would want to talk about his Orthodoxy, as I saw this as a conflict that would keep us apart. At that moment, he asked me what I thought of his Orthodoxy. I pardoned myself for a moment as I freaked out in another room and got myself a glass of water. There was no reason on earth, at that moment, he should have asked that question other than Divine intervention. From that point our relationship exploded into a lot more, as I like to think guided by the hand of our Maker. As I have explained before when we finally came around to more in our relationship my future husband was clear that he was interested in courtship with the intent to marry and not simply dating. Therefore, in your relationship seeking, both in friendship and love, be sure to pray for GOD’S WILL BE DONE.
2. Know what you believe. It is incredibly hard to solidify what you want in a mate if you yourself are not solid in what you believe. You should have a firm grasp on central beliefs essential to life. Such matters include mind, body and soul (e.g. faith, money, nutrition, exercise). This will help in discerning who would be a suitable mate.
When your beliefs are still changing and forming and you have committed yourself to a partner, that person may not see fit to change his/her beliefs as you seek what is true. Your relationship is likely to end. This is why the Catholic Church recommends that Catholics marry the same denomination or someone who is seeking communion with Catholic beliefs. Catholicism provides for a solid belief system covering a broad spectrum of life. If you are going to commit to becoming “one flesh,” you must believe in the same things to act as one flesh.
That is not to say that your future mate cannot help you discover and solidify what you believe. However, once in a relationship, when irrational, erotic, emotions take hold, and especially if it is a physical relationship, it’s hard to discern whether what you have come to believe through this person is true. It is much easier to use one’s knowledge and intellect to discern true beliefs outside of the emotional factors of romantic relationship.
3. Good character is key. It is obvious that you do not want a lasting relationship with someone who lies, cheats, steals. Even little dishonesties could lead to bigger ones. He/she should not be immoderate/intemperate either. If he/she cannot control his/her appetites this could play a big role in damaging your relationship later. A person who habitually overeats could become morbidly obese and die—similarly for a person who drinks too much; smokes. A person who gambles, or person who is addicted to material goods, leads to destitution.
I always say that a man who cannot fast, or you have never seen fast will not make a good mate, because he will not sacrifice for you or anyone…Likewise, your mate should protect your own virtue. You should not be asked to do things against your own moral character and beliefs.
Further, your partner should keep company of the same high moral character. Sometimes people have family members or childhood friends of poor character. It is often difficult for people to see the faults of such friends, because it is someone they have loved from childhood, and or cannot avoid the person. At which you should point out that the person is of poor character and you both should have limited contact with that person. At this, your partner should agree and protect the virtue of you both. Association with people of poor moral character will always result in damage to you.
4. Save it for marriage. Keep physical relations limited during courtship. This is the most difficult for those courting (dating) to keep. Everything about our culture, and our natural chemistry, tells us that we ought to have physical relations with those to whom they are attracted. So why not test out the fun physical stuff? Well, simply put, the first three dating advices are near impossible to discover and complete when intercourse is on the mind. Further, there is a lot of game play involved before getting into bed. This takes up a lot of time that could be better spent in procuring a solid friendship and partnership with your future mate. People who court without falling to a relationship’s physical nature marry quickly. This is NOT because they are trying to hurry up and make their relationship legitimate so the can have legitimate physical relations. They come to the conclusion of marriage quickly because they did not play a lot of games trying to get into bed with each other. Rather they spent a lot of time sharing beliefs and coming to understand the whole person. (People make mistakes. But, you can always try and try again.)
5. No secrets amongst partners. Total honesty about your beliefs and past life is important. Do not pretend that you share the same beliefs if you do not. Do not pretend you have achieved more than you have. If there is some ideal you hope to achieve, be honest and humble that you have not accomplished it, but hope to. Tell the truth about your past. Your past is what made you. Share also what you learned from your past and how you became a better. It will always come back on to you if dishonesty plays a role in your relationship.
6. Honor thy father and mother. In general, your future mate should have a loving relationship with parental like figures. Not everyone is privy to good parents. But, your future mate should be able to forgive his/her parents their faults and love them for the good things they did. And if there really was nothing to love about his/her parents, then he/she should have cut all ties and have a loving parental relationship with someone who was a nurturing parental figure. If there is no one like this in your future mate’s life, this is a sign he/she will not be able to have a successful, permanent, loving relationship with you. Some people are damaged and your love will not fix it. They have to heal from within.
That’s what I have for now. I am sure there are lots of well-written courtship books that could say this better than I. But, should my kids ever ask my advice (they likely never will), I can say, “Funny you should ask. I have just the thing for you.”
Posted by Renee Clayton at 11:51 PM
Here is a late post for the feast. All last week I was very ill with the flu and strep throat. I did manage to muscle through the week caring for the children. We even managed to write the icon of the Conception of Blessed Theotokos, but I did not get pictures of the kids working. Kristiana finished her icon of many colors , but Alex did not finish his. I have been working on a major Nativity project, so I did not work on this icon. But, I thought that such a feast could not pass without remembrance. I scanned the Icon I drew and decided to fill it in in paint. It's a far cry from iconography, but it is a remembrance.
Troparion (Tone 4)
Kontakion (Tone 4)
Posted by Renee Clayton at 9:49 PM
I am really so confused about why we lie to children about St. Nicholas and Santa Klaus alike. A few years back when people started to tell my kids about Santa Klaus, of course it was all lies--"Legends" I guess people call it. Then of course, friends and family asked us about what lies we would be telling our children--you know, so they could keep our lies consistent with the lies they were going to tell our children about Santa. I felt the need to keep the lies consistent as well, especially since this year my son has 101 questions about St. Nicholas/Santa, which is what I have turned the lie into. The more questions he asks the more lies I have to make up on the spot. Initially, it did not occur to me to tell the truth, because Santa was a fun part of childhood for me. It took me to eight or nine to stop believing. I felt like a grownup that year but, if you think about it, that's not very old. When the lies began for our kids, I initially thought that I did not want to be Scroogey and banish such fun from childhood. However, this year as Alex asks more questions the more I have bitter taste in my mouth about lying.
Why can we not tell the children the true story of St. Nicholas including the fact that he is dead and in heaven? I suppose because most of the stories of St. Nicholas that survive in perpetuity are that of mythological legend. It's really no better than all the stories we make up or is it? There are some very good lessons to be learned from those legends that I think are lost today. The legend of St. Nicholas giving dowries secretly in the stockings of three sisters teaches of giving to the less fortunate. There are legends of him protecting children and this teaches us to protect the helpless. All of the legends, involve acts of great faith, fasting, prayer, works of mercy and almsgiving. These things are good. Perhaps we ought to do better learning the proper legends rather than making up our personal pack of family lies about St. Nicholas.
I think a far better thing would be to tell the children that they are receiving gifts in secret, because that is the way St. Nicholas gave gifts, not because St. Nicholas is actually the one giving them. We want to give in this way for several reasons. If we give in secret we need not take glory for ourselves. All glory ought to be given to God who gave us all things. We must not forget this fact that all we have are not rights, but gifts from God. We also ought to give in secret so as not to embarrass the recipient as one may not feel worthy and not accept the gift. No one likes the feeling of receiving a hand out.
The pack of lies of has been told to my children for this year and will sustain through Christmas, because we have family obligations to fill (family traditions are important too). However in the future, I would like to tell the kids the truth about the gifts and tell them the legends as well along with the corresponding morals. It will be so much easier to not be making up lies and stories on the spot that do not express the meaning and importance of good works and gift giving during preparation for Christmas. I think that we can really make this fun too. For example, I think I will ask each grandparent to give a small secret gift for the kids stocking on St. Nicholas day next year. The children will receive the gifts with an understanding that those who love them gave them gifts. They can give a larger not so secret gift to the kids on Christmas day.
One interesting thing that came out of the Alex's questioning this year was, "Why does St. Nicholas like to give to children?" I told him it was because children have nothing. Everything they have must be given to them, because they do not go to work and earn the things they have. And even if kids did work, they would not be able to work enough to be able to support themselves. So we must give to children.
…Okay enough heaviness. How about pictures from the two St. Nicholas parties we went to:
Here is Alex telling St. Nicholas that he has only been "a little" good this year. St. Nicholas told him he needed to be "a lot" good.
Here is Kristiana and St. Nicholas trying to divine toddler speak…Then St. Nicholas gave the kids gifts, but not in secret. (I guess the real gift givers were secret).
At the second, St. Nicholas party the kids are playing "Pass the Money Bag." Music played and when it stopped the child holding the bag won the bag of chocolate coins. But, she also had to come to me to learn a secret about St. Nicholas. I told her that St. Nicholas would share the gold coins with others and I asked her to share them. The little girl excitedly passed out the gold coins to everyone. She was really sweet.
The kids put their shoes under the Christmas tree to receive a secret gift from St. Nicholas.
I made ornaments for the kids to decorate. The far left is the back side of the ornament. We also had coloring pages and a picture I drew that the kids could glue cotton balls on for a beard.
Alex drew the St. Nicholas below all by himself.
Finally, at our party I introduced the kids and mothers to the Ukrainian hymn "Children Who Love St. Nicholas" (http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/children-who-who-love/).
All the party ideas and coloring and materials are from www.stnicholascenter.org
Posted by Renee Clayton at 9:53 AM
1. Faith and Tradition! - I am still learning the traditions of our Byzantine faith. Some Byzantine family needs to write a book about all the traditions throughout the year complete with prayers and a cd of different tones for the prayers (please). There are prayers for everything and it seems some people know where to find them, but we do not. I would love to learn how to sing all the tones as well, because not only would I enjoy singing the troparians and so forth, but my kids would love it as well. As it stands, I sing only the trisagion prayers and I think the kids get tired of it day after day.
We started by learning the Great Fast and Pascha traditions. In the past four years we have been learning the St. Phillip's fast and Christmas Eve traditions. The Christmas Eve traditions are so wonderful and beautiful. One thing we have never done is use a St. Phillip's Fast candelabra with the prayers. But, hopefully for future Advent seasons we will do this…just thinking about Eastern traditions.
2. They call him, Yoda. In college, my husband was given the nickname, Yoda, among others, because he gave great sage advice to our peers. Lately, my husband is full of good parenting and family ideas. I do not know why he does not share them with me more often. Day-by-day, I feel like I scritch and scratch, and barely get by parenting our children. Honestly, I think I do pretty well, but it is a lot of hard work. Here are three stories of how my husband has helped solve family problems.
3. Yoda Part 2 - Recently, we both struggled a lot with our daughters' sleeping habits. 13 month old Annie was still sleeping in our bed and no one was happy about it. Kristiana was waking frequently and screaming at the top of her lungs. So there was a lot of waking up in the night by both parents. But, we problem solved together. I moved Kristiana into Alex's room thinking that a roommate would squelch her nighttime fears. They both liked the change, but she was still waking. Kristiana was also taking milk to bed with her and she was requesting more milk in the night as though she were a little baby. I told my husband she was cut off from milk. She simply needed to eat more at dinner time. He agreed, but he talked to her all day long about it reminding her that she was not allowed to request milk and she was not allowed to scream. They seem to have a special bond. All his talking to her really helped and now she is sleeping better--not always, but it's better.
4. Yoda Part 3 - With Annie, I bought a crib and moved her to the girls' room by herself. She still would not go down by herself, but Andrew put a blanket over the end of her bed so she could not see light shining in from the door jam. And she could not see us leaving after putting her in bed. Now we can lay her down and leave immediately and she sleeps all night. Yay! We will get some sleep before the next baby comes along. And though I have enjoyed snuggling all night with our little babies the next baby will not be allowed to sleep in our bed.
5. Yoda Part 4 - The BEST advice of the week came from my husband at the end of last week. He worries greatly about homeschooling Alex, because he is high intensity and non-compliant. He gives me grief when I ask him to do his school lessons, which only take an hour if he is good about doing it. We both feel Alex needs an outlet outside of the home, but public school is not our answer. Our reasons for wanting to homeschool are concrete. But, Andrew requested that I get more organized and start earlier in the day with Alex. He said I should sit down on Sunday nights and plan out the entire week. We should get up early get ourselves ready and then wake the kids. Then each morning, after breakfast, after the kids dress, we pray, say the pledge of allegiance to the flag and dive right into homeschool. This has worked brilliantly all week. Kristiana gets little lessons too and enjoys it. Annie can be a trouble maker though. I try to get Alex done by 10:00 a.m. so we can have morning outings. My problem now is what to do with the kids in the afternoon. The kids play a little and spend a little time outside. Alex always asks if he can play computer games, but he always wants to play too long and throws fits when he has to be done. I feel like he needs to keep well occupied in the afternoon too…We are very much considering sending him to preschool next semester just so he can have a better outlet and more activity.
6. Monkey - I have such trouble getting pictures of interesting things Annie does before she stops doing them. She has begun to climb everything. She drives me mad about it. She will climb on top of the kitchen table for almost any reason and she will get into everything. She started climbing to the top of our backyard play gym too. This week, she decided she is brave enough to fling her tiny body down the slid with no assistance. She goes flying down the wavy slide and bumps her head at the bottom, then comes crying to me for cuddles. Then she goes back for more punishment.
7. Clever - One day last week, Annie dragged an outdoor patio pillow to the top of the play house. When she got to the top she threw it up and climbed the rest of the way herself. She took the pillow and threw it down the slide. Then she slid down and landed on the pillow. It was awesome and hilarious. She did it two more times and I did not get the camera in time to film it! She is way too little for such activities. She is very mature mentally, but looks like a baby younger than a year.
Posted by Renee Clayton at 11:13 PM
I have been reading poetry to Alex at the end of our home school lessons. I have a poetry book that was my father's. It's called, "This Land: An Anthology of Australian Poetry for Young People." It is the best poetry book I have ever read. Alas, a few years back I tried to get a couple more copies of it for my brother and sister, but it is out of print and very hard to find. I emailed one shop in Australia that said online they had it in stock, but when they looked they could not find it. So, I have one tattered, falling apart copy that my sister and brother and I used to battle over. Right now it is in my possession, but I need to make copies and give it back to family.
Here is a Christmas poem I read to Alex this week, which you have likely never heard because it is printed in an out of print Australian anthology. But, the poem itself is fresh, beautiful, interesting and insightful. It was written thoughtfully by a Catholic poet. Perhaps, it may bring new thoughts and discussions within your family.
A Word from the Innkeeper
By Paul Grano
No luck, there's no room here.
There's not a corner of the yard
but has them sleeping packed
as close as pigeons in a market coop.
I'd not refuse you did I have a spot
where you could even seat yourself and wife.
Look for yourself--baggage and camels, and men,
women and kids, a rowdy, thieving mob,
sprawled everywhere. Now, are you satisfied?
In all my twenty years of keeping inns
I've never seen the like before.
Such avalanche of flesh, such herds of humans!
All day long for days
they've drifted in, mud to the knees,
with blistered feet, fagged and empty-bellied.
They've eaten the whole village out--
there's not a wineskin wet,
not a cheese remains. And bread!
My friend, the baker, fell exhausted in a tub of dough.
They found him, sleeping there, a monstrous loaf!
Myself, I haven't slept these three nights past.
I daren't--they'd pinch the very doors for wood.
Well, there it's is, nothing I can do.
The Government's to blame--
I ask you, who but fools would take
a census in the wintertime?
A bitter winter, too, it is--
and if I am a weather-man--they say I am--
my father was, he knew the signs--
and shifting ants for floods, and all the rest--
I'd say the sky is full of snow.
Make on, and find some shelter for your wife.
A pretty girl, she is. You'll be a father soon?
God grant you, sir, a lusty son.
Let's see, let's see--two hundred yards along
you'll strike a narrow track, a cattle-pad,
that branches to the right and leads
into the hills where there are caves.
At least you'll have a roof, and dung for fire--
the cattle shelter there--
but, even so, they're cleaner than the cattle I have here.
The wind has fallen. There's a flake of snow--
a frozen swallow, if you like poetic terms.
My father was a poet. But make faster.
Yes, light your latern now. The stars
are coming out. How sharp and cold they are,
like points of silvered spears! They say
a brand new star arrived the other day,
but stars to me are much alike as sheep.
Good night, good night, my friend. A sound roof,
and a dry bed, and a sunny morning!
Good night. See you do not miss the track--
Two hundred yards along, and to the right.
Posted by Renee Clayton at 3:17 PM
A lot of people get indignant about store Christmas displays going up right after Halloween. However, for a lot of reasons this makes sense. In the Eastern Catholic Church (and Orthodox), we begin our journey to Christ's Nativity celebration on November 15. This is 40 days before the Feast of Christmas. For 40 days we fast, pray, offer works of mercy and give alms all in the name of Christ, and preparing our souls to be present at the celebration of Christ's birth. Upon Christmas we begin merrymaking and we do not quit until 40 days later. The preparation and celebration periods are similar to that of Easter.
So, as an Eastern Christian, I say prepare your homes and your hearts. We cannot prepare if we are not reminded everywhere we go. This does not mean we should get all decked out for Christmas immediately. It means hang a wreath to remember the Eternal life God promises, but do not hang the merry lights which remind us Christ is with us. We will save the lights for the Christmas season. Set out the Nativity displays but do not place the baby for whom we are waiting to be born. Go ahead and take advantage of the pre-Christmas sales and give, give, give. But do not open one's own gifts until Christmas. St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, is our greatest example of one who displays the true spirit of Christmas. He spent his life fasting for the feasts and giving to others.
What I get indignant about is being invited to a bunch of Christmas parties before Christmas with lots of lavish feasts and ridiculous menial gift exchanges without a single nod to the poor, needy, sick, imprisoned. I hate to walk the neighborhood the week after the Christmas season has begun and see the Christmas trees pitched out beside the road; and all the Christmas lights come down. If one pitches out Christmas immediately after it is begun, we ARE left with that empty, consumerist feeling. On the other hand, if we celebrate Christmas like the East, we may enjoy the merrymaking and the life and light Christ gave this world for longer and with much love until we begin the next fast.
The Four Fasts: Preparing for Holiday Grace
St. Nicholas' Feast
Posted by Renee Clayton at 8:51 AM
And so it begins--the barrage of rude comments about my pregnancy. It's not my nature to quip back snippy little comments. I really do not feel like I need to be confrontational. But really, what are these people thinking when they open their mouths and feel free to speak about my procreations.
It started at my first prenatal appointment. The nurse was obviously new and she started asking questions and making rude little comments. She asked me if it were my first pregnancy. No, I have three children at home. "Oh, how old are they?" I tell her and she replied in a sad little voice, "Oh, did you mean to have them this close?"
"Uh, [it's really none of your business and completely inappropriate for you to say such things. What if I was having a hard time about it and broke down crying. Then what would you do? Do you have a counseling degree?] well, I would like a little more space in between, but this is fine too. We are excited." Then she had the nerve to ask me later if I was, "OK." I told her, yes, and it is not my first show. I am doing fine, better than fine. This has been the most comfortable pregnancy yet. Maybe, it would be a difficult situation for her, but all her intrusive questions and concern and overt disagreement with my "situation" really got on my nerves. The next time was not much better and I will be talking to her supervisor next time if she makes one more flip comment.
However, today I received the rudest comment I have received to date. I was at the grocery store, which is where I get the most comments because I run into the most people than anywhere else. Most often, people say "You have your hands full," or ask how old my kids are, because they are all so small and look close in age. I ran into a mom from the Karate studio where Alex took lessons. She smiled, nodded and said, "Hi." Then I stepped passed her and grabbed an onion. She spotted my growing belly and said, "Oh, are you expecting." I smiled and said,
"Yes." She smiled again and said,
"Oh, [concerned sigh, as if she were consoling me] it happens. So that's why you have been hiding out." (Actually, not hiding out. Quit. We cannot afford the bait and switch membership increase.)
Huh? What? Smile nod, move away quickly. "Alex, let's go. Move a little faster."
What "happens?" Marital Union? What did she mean? Did she mean "accidentally" having kids close together in age? "Accidentally" having more kids than two, or three? Why do you assume that this is something that just, uh, happened? As if the preceding act between a man and a woman just happened--miraculously. What am I supposed to say? "No, the conception of this child was not an 'accident.'" Really, it's none of her business how "it" happened. And it's really wrong of her to assume that it just happened and that we did not mean for it to happen. Just because she does not want anymore children does not mean I do not want any more and especially not close in age. Oh the fallacies in her little statement and in her sigh. We are really happy to have another child on the way.
I went home and told my husband and laughed. He laughed too and said I should have replied, "Yes, it does. A few times a week with my husband."
A friend of mine, who has six children, always has cute quips for such comments. I can hear her now, "Yep, it sure does happen. It works every time. We have intercourse during ovulation and the sperm and the egg meet…" At this point, someone starts blushing and she stops.
I do not mind, "You have your hands full." It's not really a comment on anything more than they observe that I am busy with small children, which I am. I do mind the tone some people say it with. Whatever happened to "Unless you can say something nice, do not say anything at all." Whatever happened to, "Congratulations." "We wish you many blessings." Why can our culture not just enjoy the beauty in the creation of new life? Choose life.
Posted by Renee Clayton at 12:04 AM
This week I went to a lecture at Baylor by myself. It was a question and answer session with the university's president, Ken Star (you remember Ken Star from the prosecution of Pres. Clinton), and former Secretary of State under Pres. Bush, Condoleeza Rice. For a few years now I have been enamored with Miss Rice's intellect. I bought a copy of her new autobiography, No Higher Honor, which she was promoting during this visit. It is a massive 784 pages. I don't know when I will find time to complete reading this book. But, I have begun it and it is very interesting. During the evening, Ken Star read excerpts from the book and Miss Rice expounded upon them. It was definitely an evening to remember. Here are a few poorly quoted excerpts from the evening.
1. Advent of a New War - On 9/11, as the president's National Security Advisor, one of Miss Rice's first few phone calls before rushing to the underground bunker was to call the Russian president and let him know that the U.S. was gearing up defense. President Putin's response was in support of the U.S. and this was the first time Miss Rice, a soviet expert, knew that officially the Cold War was over. This was surprising to me, because the Cold War had been declared over publicly ten years earlier. What did she know that the public does not know about the U.S. relationship with Russia? Or was it that the Cold War was so ingrained in her heart that she could not let it go until then?
2. The Hope of a Civil Society - Of course, she talked about the middle east and the sort of problems they dealt with. She described the leaders and international problems. Until now, I never really knew what counter-insurgency was until she defined it during her talk. She discussed that they were faced with a unique problem. They had to provide military, security, infrastructure, welfare relief and more all to create diplomacy and stability, all to help root out those who wish to do harm to the people within those regions and the U.S. alike. In other words, the had to be on the defense and the befriend the locals. The goal was not necessarily to bring democracy to these areas the U.S. occupied, but to bring about civil society, in which those with power and freedom did not exploit the meek. In the end, that may have manifested as democracy.
3. A Proud Moment - One day the presidential Cabinet was having a very serious discussion of whether to allocate $15 Billion to African Aids Relief. They debated how they could justify such an expense. Things that were discussed were such things as the fact that the relief would go where it was most needed and not necessarily where there were stable and responsible governments and therefore it may be misused. Also, the antivirals are not a cure for AIDS they only extend life and was the expense worth it if they were not curing disease. At that Miss Rice stepped in and said that her mother had been diagnosed with cancer when she was fifteen. The treatment she received extended her life another fifteen years. Those years were important. She was there to be a role model for her daughter and see her daughter grow into a woman and be launched into life as a professor at Stanford. Extending the lives of mothers in Africa will be important. They will be there for their children longer and may make good impacts on the lives of others. Following, the tone of the conversation changed. It was a turning point. Another cabinet member stepped and said, "If we are able to do this and do not, history will shame us for it." (Pro-life moment :-)
4. Defining Faith - A defining moment in faith was when she attended the funeral of Pope John Paul II. The three hour high Mass had completed, the bells began to peal, the pall bearers carried the casket to the doors of St. Peter's Basilica they turned and presented the glass casket to the crowd. At that moment the clouds parted and a ray of sunshine shone directly on Pope John Paul II as if God were ascending his soul to Heaven. It was an awe-inspiring moment. At that moment, she had never in her life been so sure of the resurrection and the life eternal. Later, Laura Bush asked if she had seen it too. She was sure the press would report the moment, but nothing was reported. A week later the Argentine president asked her if she had seen it as well. It was then she thought, perhaps it was a moment only for the believers.
5. What Makes Us Great - Finally, it came time for questions from the audience. They only allowed four questions, but this is where I felt she shined. A female college student asked what advice she had for a young college female to gain the ranks she has achieved. Her response was an old fashioned, All-American, pull yourself up by your boot straps response. She said, "I am afraid sometimes that America is losing what made us great. And that is it does not matter where you started or where you came from. It matters where you are going." America uniquely owns that. We build ourselves up from nothing into becoming millionaires and presidents. We get to define ourselves. She continued, what I am afraid of in the new America is entitlement, when you are given, or demand something you do not necessarily deserve, something you have not earned. Therefore, my recommendation is to not give into victimhood--when someone mistreats you because you are a woman or young. Do not limit yourself by how someone else defines you. If you grow up a black woman in the segregated south, it might mean you need to work twice as hard to get where you want to go. Find mentors to guide you. Be the best. Work as hard as you need to achieve your goal, your American dream.
Posted by Renee Clayton at 11:20 PM
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into Hell, Satan and all the other evil spirits, who wander throughout the world, seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
I did not believe that we would achieve this icon writing session today. I tried and tried to draw the outline, but it seemed everything, including a very fussy baby got in the way. I tried to remain patient through it. I tried to lay the fussy baby down for a nap, but after being so fussy all she wanted to do was play. She stayed awake for another hour and a half and I continued to work through the madness. Then I tried to lay down the baby again and it did not seem she was going to sleep. But then I thought, it seems that so much is getting in the way, evil is at hand. So I prayed to St. Michael that he defend us against this evil so that we might complete this icon and be holy people. And then the baby fell asleep very unexpectedly. I returned to the other kids and they were ready to paint. We talked about the Icon and painted. It went smoothly and quickly and we have beautiful results to show. If you ever entertained the thought that Archangel Michael might be a myth, stamp out such thoughts now. The way this day started, and seeing how this day ended, it was nothing short of a miracle. It was St. Michael's prayer and presence guiding us away from the "snares of the Devil."
This icon completes Alex's and my year of writing icons together. I feel truly triumphant. This is something we will have for the rest of our lives. We have learned so much from this Windows into Heaven. I hope to give this experience to all my children if we are able.
Kristiana got to have her own Icon. It was a bit simpler than Alex's. She was well pleased and did a good job.
Posted by Renee Clayton at 10:13 PM
I do not know what it is with my kids lately, but they have decided they rule the kitchen. They are constantly helping themselves to food. Much to my chagrin. They have always been very independent children. They are very happy to go and explore the world on their own. This has been good and bad. They like to meet new people and see new things--good. They talk to strangers, tell them personal things and may even agree to go with a stranger--bad...
This morning as I went to take a shower, I asked Kristiana to go to the play kitchen and make me a lunch. I just wanted to distract her while I hopped in the shower. When I had just begun to shower, I heard pots and pans banging in our kitchen. I thought, oh well, not exactly what I asked her to do, but I don't mind if she bangs a few pots and plays pretend. Then when I was nearly finished showering she came into the bathroom and said, "Mom, I can't open the garbage for my egg."
"What, now?" and then I saw a little hand come through the side of the shower curtain and it was filled with a cracked egg shell. Oh my! I was envisioning a kitchen floor covered in cracked eggs. I rushed to put on a robe and went to assess the damage. In the kitchen, Kristiana had pushed a chair up to the stove and had the carton of eggs on the counter. There were about seven eggs sitting inside a pot and one egg had been cracked over them. She also had a pink plate sitting to the side ready to place her masterpiece. I told her that we would save the un-cracked eggs for later and I washed them off. I told her that we could still cook her egg. She asked for a spoon to stir her egg. Thankfully, she could not reach the knobs for the burners. I turned on her burner and supervised her cooking of her egg. And then she ate it. It was a fun to watch her cook and show her independence. I think she is a natural in the kitchen. Although, I think barely three years old is a little young to begin her culinary career--not sure if this expression of independence was good or bad.
Posted by Renee Clayton at 9:56 PM
1. I am so happy my friends are getting to enjoy time with their newly placed foster daughter. They have been longing for this for a long time. And they still need lots of prayers that her residence in their arms becomes more permanent. May God's will be done.
2. Alex made himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on two consecutive evenings when he was presented a dinner he did not like. I was a little worried that a dangerous precedence had begun. My rule has been that if he tried dinner and felt he could not eat it, we would make him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after everyone was done eating. But, this night he wandered away from the table and exclaimed, "I am going to make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich." I thought, "I have to see this." I said, "Okay. If you make it, you can have one." He gathered the ingredients and made a super sloppy sandwich. It was cute and awesome. The next night he did the same thing. The two dinners were a bit on the grown-up side. He has not rejected dinner and made a sandwich since. The second night Kristiana wanted to be like Alex too and had to make her own sandwich. But, mommy commandeered the making of that sandwich part way through.
3. Annie loves Lady. Annie is such a dog girl. Every chance she gets, Annie has a petting session with Lady. She even talks to Lady as she pets. She smiles and says, "Yaydee! Yaydee!" It brings us so much joy watching this exchange. And Lady is very patient.
4. This week, Annie is sleeping on her own. Our solution to our cuddly bed-buddy was to put her in a full-size bed and cuddle her before she goes to sleep. Then she sleeps through the rest of the night. I am hoping this becomes a permanent solution. (Grandmom and Granddad, set up the bunk beds for Christmas. Annie needs her own bed.)
5. Have you noticed that we have not written any Icons lately? Ever since the last time when baby was painted instead of the Icon I have not allowed any painting. I am afraid my fragile state could not handle it. I have been going to the local kid store where they have free painting on Fridays, so that the kids can get out their creative painting talents in a controlled environment. I have been pleasantly surprised by the experience. The first time we went, Kristiana asked me to draw her a mermaid and she spent over an hour meticulously painting it. So each time I go I draw her a new picture. Alex has also been very creative and painted whatever comes to his imagination. He painted a rocket blasting off into outer space, monkeys playing in the jungle, a robot, a jungle and a rainbow (with the colors in proper order and no one helped him. :-)
6. We had fun dressing up this week. We have two adorable princesses and one cute skeleton. Alex thinks the human anatomy is fascinating, but he did not wear the mask because it was scary and it was not his intention to scare.
7. Well, I am running into some not so fun pregnancy symptoms. Firstly, I am now back into having pregnancy insomnia. I am utterly exhausted, yet wake up to pee in the night and then cannot shut off my brain. I should probably get up and read or write. Secondly, I had a day this week I could feel the pregnancy hormones raging. I was emotional, my belly hurt and I could not stop falling asleep. But all is well that ends well--a cute new human in our arms.
Posted by Renee Clayton at 10:07 AM
As I read a little deeper in "A Mother's Rule of Life" by Holly Peirlot, I find myself more and more deeply moved. I definitely see myself and my own journey in this book. The beginning the chapter on the first "P" of life, prayer, she describes a time in her life of utter despair when she went on "The Something Search." She was seeking to fill that hole in her heart. She was not sure what had caused it or what would fill it. It was about the time her father left her family that she also left her Catholic upbringing behind, because she could not see any point in it. After years of seeking for something to fill the void in her heart she finally uttered a desperate prayer for God to reveal Himself to her. In time, He did.
I went through a similar journey during my adolescent years. This is one of the reasons I have said in the past, I feel I have suffered in ways that could send a man to the brink and back. I do not think there is anything more painful than when you become aware of the great void within. Nothing aches like the searing pain of when you feel that hole inside and you have nothing to fill it. And you search and search in all sorts of places looking to fill it and it's like throwing pebbles into the Grand Canyon--it could never be filled this way. Like Holly, I also had a Catholic upbringing to fall back upon. But, if there was a God, He was not revealing Himself to me. (She later points out that some people never have a "moment" of conversion, because they have always lived close to the Lord.)
I remember being a faith filled child, but as time went on and I met the cruel realities of the world about me and it did not seem as though anything would help me away from all the evil. I had no more answers left and no one to turn to. I was in darkness a lot longer than most would guess. Not even my family was aware of this struggle. Then I went on a trip to France with my french class. The first place we were taken by the tour guide, fresh from the airplane, was to Sacre-Coeur Basilica. It is at a very high point in the city of Paris and one can view the whole city, which is why we were taken there, not because of the Basilica. I think I was one of the few students who went into the Basilica. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before--at least not in person. I was not quite sure what I was experiencing, but something stirred within me. I went to the gift shop and bought a Sacred Heart medal. I knew I had to remember this moment. I put it on and that moment began a new era in my life. I wore that medal for nine years until my son was born and the chain broke and I lost it. When that happened, I figured another new era had begun--Motherhood.
The View from Sacre-Coeur Basilica
The Exterior of Sacre-Coeur
The Apse of Sacre-Coeur
The moment in Sacred Heart Basilica was not "magic." I was not healed. I was not saved. But finally, I was awakened to God again. The journey back to the sacramental life and true conversion was a lot longer than that. It was three more years until I was officially back into the Church. It took Reconciliation, Eucharist, Graces of the Holy Spirit, scripture, Catechism and fellowship to bring me back from the brink of despair. I finally had God's love to fill me. It was the only thing that filled me during my whole life.
As I read this section of "A Mother's Rule of Life" all of this came flooding back to me and I remembered the pain of that void. I was thankful for the remembrance. It was good to remember what it was like without God in my life and know that I never want to feel that despair again. It was good to shed tears and know that God is present and was present that day in Sacre-Coeur Basilica. The author's point in sharing this experience is two fold. One must search one's self and one's journey, and seek his or her vocation to know the Rule appropriate for one's own life. The other point, is that it is important to put God first in life, schedule time with God first and actively seek Him first all the days of your life.
Posted by Renee Clayton at 9:15 AM
I did not think my way into the Byzantine Church as many do having left their previous churches seeking more. There could be no other explanation than I was like a loyal dog, on a leash, led by God. At the time I was a lost little college student. I had dumped my engineering major and was seeking out a new major. I landed on philosophy a short time later. One might think being a learned individual, I was searching more in faith, a thinking man's worship—deeper theology, greater reverence, greater tradition. Let’s be honest, who isn’t looking for deeper faith. But, at the time I felt quite sound in my faith and confident in the Roman Catholic Church. Seeking theology, reverence and tradition were decidedly not what brought me to the doorstep of a Byzantine church.
I had a boyfriend whom I had actually tried not to date. I had told him I had sworn off dating and I was just praying for God to guide me to my future husband or religious vocation. But, he said that was okay, because he did not want to date either. He wanted to court with the intention to marry. Whoa! I was not ready for that. But in truth, there were a lot of signs, not lost on either of us, that God was bringing us together. With courtship in mind, we fell hopelessly in love.
I was Catholic and he was Orthodox. We were very much in favor of our own particular denominations. Where he saw trouble, I saw reconcilability and vice versa. We came to an impasse, either we find commonality in faith and worship or split ways, and neither of us was budging. Finally, he told me there was a way, but he was not keen on leaving his church, which had nurtured him into true faith. We visited a Byzantine Catholic church--a church of ancient Eastern theology, under the umbrella of Rome. I was startled by the Liturgy. I was unlike any Liturgy I had ever experienced. It was long, chanted, everything was said three times; there was lots of incense and some language I had never heard before. However, during the Liturgy I naively identified all the parts of the Roman Liturgy within the Byzantine; and later told my boyfriend that it was acceptable in my eyes.
Everyone at the church was friendly and coached us along. The cantor told us how when she entered the Byzantine church the priest had told her that soon she would be chanting the hymns and prayers throughout her day. She was sweet, but I thought it would be a while before I got the hang of the chanting. In actuality, it was about four Sundays and my boyfriend and I were chanting in the car to each other.
In time I became more knowledgeable of the deep theology behind the most ancient Christian Liturgy (I am still a novice). But, immediately I enjoyed the deeper reverence and greater tradition. And best of all, I was able to worship with my best friend and soon to be husband. Within the doors of the Byzantine Church, we determined that we did see eye to eye in matters of faith. We were crowned in the marriage crowning in the Byzantine Church. We remain Byzantine today. We raise our children in the Byzantine tradition. It will be nine years this January that we first celebrated the Lamb’s Supper in the Byzantine Church.
We used to live just 25 minutes from that Byzantine church. I grew up in a small town. To me, that was a long way to go for church. Little did I know that later I would need to drive 1h45 to get to a Byzantine church. In my opinion, the drive is worth it. We have been trying to get to the Byzantine Liturgy more often this year. Especially since our children can receive the Eucharist there. Last Sunday, after being away for about six weeks we made the trek to the Byzantine church. As we rounded the corner and the church was in view, tears welled up in my eyes. It was a total rush of relief like when you come home after being away. As I gathered my emotions, I realized I am hopelessly in love--Byzantine style.
On the day of our betrothal in the Byzantine church.
Posted by Renee Clayton at 8:47 AM