You’ve Got to Set an Alarm!

You’ve Got to Set an Alarm!

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Second in a series on keeping our youth in the church.

Yesterday, on a rainy Sunday road trip day, I had the benefit of sitting beside my lovely 20 year old daughter as she took a driving shift. We were headed home from a family reunion in Florida and talking about the struggles of staying active in church during the college years.

“You’ve got to set an alarm,” she stated.

“In high school, you just woke me up for church. In college, I have to be motivated to set the alarm so that I will get up,” she said confidently, one hand at the wheel, left foot tucked up onto the seat. I gazed out at the rural scene moving past my wet window pondering her comments.

“You’ve got to set the alarm!”

These words are telling.

That’s a pretty simple idea; but it’s complicated. It’s complicated because maybe as a college student, you don’t want to set the alarm to get ready for church. Maybe you are the only college student going to a particular parish. Maybe there isn’t a priest at the local parish. Maybe you don’t have a car.

Regina had all of these problems her first year at Appalachian State. Somehow, she still kept setting her alarm and going. Thankfully, she found a ride most Sundays and was able to connect with the people at her small mountain parish as they plugged along looking for a permanent parish priest.

“Sometimes there would be just a handful of us singing Typika,” she said.

“But, I still wanted to be in church because it reminded me of home and I knew that going was good for me,” she confided as we raced along past a peach grove and some cows.

Somehow, I suspect that her desire to set the alarm was established long before she graduated from high school. Regina was about five when we converted to Orthodoxy. She has walked this faith with us for many years. One impactful experience she had as a young girl growing up in a household of boys was that she was the St. Lucia girl. Each year, on the 13th of December, I would set my alarm and wake her up just before daylight. Eagerly, she would arise, and put on a white night gown and come downstairs. There I would have Little Debbie cakes and a single candle burning on a brass candlestick. Groggily, she would take the candle and the cakes, and walk around to each room saying, “Jesus is the light of the world,” whereupon she would offer each boy, or Dad, a “St. Lucia” cake. It was her special thing. The Scandinavians have remembered and honored St. Lucia since 304 when she died a Christian martyr during the Diocletian persecutions.

Our priest also asked Regina to offer the festal cakes during the St. Lucia Vesperal service on the evening of the 12th. We have always loved this tradition and it has given her a special function in the service.

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I’m not going to say that being the St. Lucia girl is why Regina is setting her alarm on Sundays now that she’s in college. Yet, something stuck. She sees the importance of being in church and worshipping the Light of the World even when it’s not very convenient. So, I think one can make the connection that involving our young ladies in little traditions like this is worthwhile and may one day pay rich dividends. Over the years, these experiences layer in on a foundation of faith and tradition that keep our youth connected to what’s really important.

Like setting an alarm; it’s simple, yet very important.

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You’ve Got to Set an Alarm!

You’ve Got to Set an Alarm!

IMG_2610

Second in a series on keeping our youth in the church.

Yesterday, on a rainy Sunday road trip day, I had the benefit of sitting beside my lovely 20 year old daughter as she took a driving shift. We were headed home from a family reunion in Florida and talking about the struggles of staying active in church during the college years.
“You’ve got to set an alarm,” she stated.
“In high school, you just woke me up for church. In college, I have to be motivated to set the alarm so that I will get up,” she said confidently, one hand at the wheel, left foot tucked up onto the seat. I gazed out at the rural scene moving past my wet window pondering her comments.
“You’ve got to set the alarm!”
These words are telling.
That’s a pretty simple idea; but it’s complicated. It’s complicated because maybe as a college student, you don’t want to set the alarm to get ready for church. Maybe you are the only college student going to a particular parish. Maybe there isn’t a priest at the local parish. Maybe you don’t have a car.
Regina had all of these problems her first year at Appalachian State. Somehow, she still kept setting her alarm and going. Thankfully, she found a ride most Sundays and was able to connect with the people at her small mountain parish as they plugged along looking for a permanent parish priest.
“Sometimes there would be just a handful of us singing Typika,” she said.
“But, I still wanted to be in church because it reminded me of home and I knew that going was good for me,” she confided as we raced along past a peach grove and some cows.
Somehow, I suspect that her desire to set the alarm was established long before she graduated from high school. Regina was about five when we converted to Orthodoxy. She has walked this faith with us for many years. One impactful experience she had as a young girl growing up in a household of boys was that she was the St. Lucia girl. Each year, on the 13th of December, I would set my alarm and wake her up just before daylight. Eagerly, she would arise, and put on a white night gown and come downstairs. There I would have Little Debbie cakes and a single candle burning on a brass candlestick. Groggily, she would take the candle and the cakes, and walk around to each room saying, “Jesus is the light of the world,” whereupon she would offer each boy, or Dad, a “St. Lucia” cake. It was her special thing. The Scandinavians have remembered and honored St. Lucia since 304 when she died a Christian martyr during the Diocletian persecutions.
Our priest also asked Regina to offer the festal cakes during the St. Lucia Vesperal service on the evening of the 12th. We have always loved this tradition and it has given her a special function in the service.

IMG_0287

I’m not going to say that being the St. Lucia girl is why Regina is setting her alarm on Sundays now that she’s in college. Yet, something stuck. She sees the importance of being in church and worshipping the Light of the World even when it’s not very convenient. So, I think one can make the connection that involving our young ladies in little traditions like this is worthwhile and may one day pay rich dividends. Over the years, these experiences layer in on a foundation of faith and tradition that keep our youth connected to what’s really important.
Like setting an alarm; it’s simple, yet very important.

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IMG_0160

Keeping Our Young People in Church

Keeping Our Young People in Church

Keeping our teens in the church is no easy task.  Throw in what you know about contemporary culture and the Prince of this World and the task seems insurmountable.  Our culture and the evil one  seek to draw in and shred our young people, stealing their faith and their moral compass and then using them to perpetuate the cycle.  Popular culture is attractive and very few of us want to go or are able to go completely against the trend of current attitudes, entertainment and thought.

The Orthodox Christian Church is counter culture.  What do I mean by that?  In as much as the culture does not reflect the church, it is opposed to it.  Even if our kids are running in Christian circles, the Orthodox life is very dissimilar.  Consider these examples:  If you are an Orthodox Christian, you are in church on Sunday mornings…and counter to even other Christian churches, you are in church on Saturday evenings for Vespers.  You  don’t drink coffee and have pancakes on Sunday mornings before Liturgy because you are fasting before receiving the Eucharist.  You aren’t eating meat on Fridays because you are fasting as part of a Christian lifestyle.   You are in church most evenings during Holy Week!  You get married inside a church with a priest.  You make it a priority to get married before you live with your mate.  The list could go on and on!

The point is:  Being an Orthodox Christian can be challenging for anyone in our modern age.  For teens, it’s even harder.  If  the typical American Christian teenager is like a trout swimming upstream, then the American Orthodox teenager is like the rare golden trout found only in rivers above 10,000 feet!  No wonder a recent study indicates that teens and college aged adults are leaving the Orthodox Church and the Christian faith in vast numbers.  According to The Pew Research Center’s recent study on behaviors, values and opinions of the teens and twenty-somethings that make up the Millennial generation:  “nearly one-in-five adults under age 30 say they were raised in a religion but are now unaffiliated with any particular faith.”  (http://www.pewforum.org/2010/02/17/religion-among-the-millennials/)

These facts are daunting.  How am I to raise my kids so that they know Jesus?  How am I to prepare them for the cultural war?   How do we, collectively as a church, keep our young people engaged in matters of faith?

I have struggled with these and many more issues.  Raising five kids who will desire to follow in faith the Lord Jesus…that is the heart of my efforts.

I would like to tell you I have figured this out.  I would also like to tell you we have a formula that you can just follow and your kids will all stay in church for the rest of their lives.  But, I cannot.   What I can tell you is that we pray a lot.  We go to church a lot with our kids.  We talk a lot at the dinner table.

I hold onto this piece of scripture:  “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  Proverbs 22:6

In this series, I am going to spotlight places where I see teens and young people staying connected in the church.  Hopefully, these examples will encourage us in our longing to keep our youth in the cradle of faith.

tonsuring

 

The Wallet

The Wallet

 

“My escape is to just get in a boat and disappear on the water. ” Carl Hiaasen

Boys of all ages and shapes love the freedom and excitement of a boat ride on a full lake in May.  There is a freedom on the water.  Hair blowing, sunglasses on, the smell of gasoline…all is well at the beginning of summer.

Just a couple of months after my son turned 16, he and a school friend were out on the upper Lake Hartwell in our little blue skiff enjoying those first days of summer break.  Of course, these radiant waters, like the sirens to the Greek sailors of yore, were calling my teen boys to test the parameters of the new Yamaha engine we had just installed.  They had to make and crest waves.  They had to turn donuts.  And, they had to push the ability of the small craft to stay afloat amidst a variety of maneuvers mixed with speed and wind.   Ultimately, what happened next was quite predictable.  They flipped the boat and swamped all the contents.  Paddles and jackets and half consumed water bottles could be seen floating along with a plastic bag and briefly, a hat.  Although stunned, the big boys weren’t injured and were able to right the small boat and return home.

As the adrenaline wore off,  the teens began to work through all the things that were in the boat just minutes before it went asunder.  There were water bottles, food packages, fishing poles and tackle, sunglasses, wallets, and cell phones.

“Oh no!  My wallet was in my pocket!” was the gasp I heard.  “All the gift cards I got from my birthday were in the wallet.”

“Did you have cash in there?”  his dad inquired.

“Maybe $5 – $10 bucks,” was the assessment.

For months, stories were told of the perilous incident.  Various theories surfaced of how the boat flipped, where it happened, and why the boys were able to right the craft.   Everybody  was profoundly grateful that the boys were safe and that the whole business only amounted to  some lost items.  We were thankful God had spared them from their own bad judgments.

And…just as quickly as that fantastic summer-freedom feeling came, it went.  Like the release of water from Hartwell Dam on a sweltering August day, those carefree times were gone.  Summers, Christmases, proms and graduations whirled by in a fast current of ceaseless days.

Then, on a recent December afternoon, a package arrived at our non lake house.   The padded manila envelope was addressed to my oldest, now almost 22.  Home for the holiday, he found the package and opened it.

“Ya’ll come here and see this!” was the call.  The family gathered ’round our kitchen counter while he emptied the contents onto the flat surface.

What took place next was truly astonishing.  Carefully, and with great curiosity, my son opened a flat and dingy rectangular object.  We all stood there gazing, and upon closer inspection, realized what it was!!  A smile of recognition came to my boy’s lips.

“This is my wallet!”  he blasted.  “This is the wallet I lost when we flipped the skiff.”

Sure enough!  It was the wallet of a 16 year old boy, a perfect time capsule of a by-gone era.  The wallet, lost by a boy, was now opened by a man!  The case itself was constructed of grey duct tape.  The contents, although water battered,  were undisturbed:  gift cards, a driver’s license and a library card.  The remnants of a heavily water tattered $5 and $1 bill were displayed along with a few tarnished coins.  And, there was a note.  The note told of how the young finder had seen the wallet near the boat ramp on GA 123 in Toccoa, GA.  She collected the wallet and intended to return it to its owner, but, as often happens, time got the better deal and it ended up in the top drawer of a dresser.  The writer of the note, finding the wallet one morning and realizing it had not been returned, mailed it to my son along with a little sticky note affixed inside:  “Looks like you had a $1 and a $5 in the wallet — Thought I would replace that for you.  Cherish the memory!”

 

I was at a loss for words, which is unusual!  What a kind and generous thing to do, return a water-logged, trashed duct-taped wallet to a kid you will likely never meet!!

While my son was contemplating the gift cards, I was struck by the generosity of a person I will never be able to thank!  A person who took the time to be kind!  That can be a rare thing.  But, people are good!  Lake people are good and I will cherish the memory.

We Got the Grad!

We Got the Grad!

There’s a lot of hype associated with getting that perfect graduation picture.   You know, that intense feeling that you need a perfect memory of you with your first born child wearing  his college regalia right after the ceremony.   Throw in some traditions like, “your grandfather had his picture taken from this very spot” or “all graduates take their pictures by the this campus feature” and you have the perfect storm.

It was the morning after my son’s graduation.   All smiles, we approached the quintessential grad photo location on Florida State’s palm studded campus:  Westcott Fountain.   Dozens of happy parents and students were waiting for their “moment” to take a picture with their grad in front of the historic fountain.  Both my husband and I had our pictures taken here some 30 years before.   Of course we would wait forty five minutes in the heat for our perfect picture moment.  This was “what you did!”

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There was plenty of joking and playing around while we waited.  It was a glorious day; that North Florida heat was beating down on the bald and the young.

peake & chase

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regina & peake

getting a photo

I nervously tinkered with my aged camera, checking out my lenses in the sun, working my filters.

Finally, we were up.  I told the folks behind us, ” We may be a minute. There are quite a few of us.”  The group behind us looked at their watches, “No problem.  We’ll give you a couple of minutes.”

Yikes!  A couple of minutes to get four grandparents, five kids, an uncle and a best friend into a picture, all looking the right direction, all in focus, all smiling.  This is going to be fun.

grad in the sun

riley w grad

wait i dropped it

First, we got the graduate.  That was easy, a few lens changes and the lighting was fine.  Then more joined.  Finally, we got the whole bunch and had the best friend take the family group shot.  Whew!  What a relief!

We can use these for our Christmas picture…what a great looking family…so proud of our graduate…isn’t she a neat mom with her camera set up… you go girl…now we can get out of the heat…isn’t that lady together! These thoughts and more went through my mind.

By now, we had been moved off to the side for the next group’s time in the sun.

“Momma Naz,” I heard Chase say.  “I think I got some good pictures.”

“Thank you for taking ’em!” was my reply.

“I didn’t happen to hear a shutter click though.  You must have a really quiet camera,” he added.

“What?” my hyped-mamma, camera ears heard the words you never want to hear.

“There was no click? What do you mean you didn’t hear the shutter?”  I ran over, grabbed the camera and scrolled to the most recent shot.  There were no family pictures.  No pictures with grandparents.  No picture with my Uncle who had driven up from Port Richey.  No Christmas card shot!  My heart sunk.  Chase had taken the cell pictures first and, after the delay,  the camera had automatically shut off!

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Ugggg! What are we going to do now?   I had to think fast.

The older family members were melting.  Tempers were flaring.

“Well get ’em off the cell phone,” said the graduate.

The grandparents and the favorite uncle left.

Tears were starting to come.

“NO!!”  I suddenly felt like Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!  We would get that damn picture.

harder than we thought

enough

I took a side angle of our group in front of the camera hoping no one would get too upset with us.  I prepped Chase on how to turn on a camera.

Round two was shot, with mostly smiles but a few growls.  I ran to the camera.  Better to check just in case.    The horror!  Every frame was blurry!!

blurry

“Let’s get out of here!” was the agitated command from the rear.   The graduate gave an evil eye.

“NO!”  Clark Griswold snapped again.  We will do this!   I prepped Chase on how NOT to turn the camera to manual focus.  “Keep it on AutoFocus,” I barked.

Round three. Half grunts, twisted lips and mangled brows, but we got it in focus.  Strangely, I felt vindicated, like someone had done me some wrong and now we were even.  Maybe it was my sun-baked brain telling me that taking pictures is my only important role in the world.

The truth is, no one did me wrong and I’m not a great photographer.   I just got too hyped up about getting some stupid graduation photos.  And, of course, Murphy’s Law kicked in to remind me that my priorities were all wrong.

Of course, there are more important things!  We got the grad!  Whether I captured a decent picture or not, he’s still a grad. He finished it and I am so proud of him!

family with grad

peake mom &

Cheap Field Trips # 2

Cheap Field Trips # 2

What’s gargantuan, gorgeous and gratuitous?

The Georgia Governor’s Mansion!  That’s right!  The Governor’s Mansion is absolutely free to tour and hosts regular visits throughout the year.  If you live near your state capitol, odds are you have a governor’s mansion to tour.  If not, a local public building or historic home will do. Many places offer free or discounted tours for youth.

In our home state of Georgia, the Governor and his wife throw open their doors and welcome the public to their beautifully decorated home at Christmas.  Living fairly close, we decided to check out the mansion one recent December morning and were pleasantly surprised!

After driving along a fabulous street with enormous and exquisitely landscaped residences, we approached the mansion on the left.  An attractive iron and brick palisade ran along the perimeter of the property.  Just east of the expanse of lawn and trees, we came to a small drive with a gate station attended by GHP officers.  Upon passing a simple inspection of credentials, we parked right on the grounds, close to the home.  It certainly wasn’t your Disney World parking lot with trams and a long wait. Instead, lovely magnolias and large oaks greeted us as we stepped from our truck and ambled past a school bus and a couple dozen vehicles.  The small crowd seemed to be moving toward the front door, and there, after a short wait of about 10 minutes, we saw the Georgia First Lady herself.

My youngest was decked for the occasion.

He looked up at me and asked, “Mom, who is the lady greeting everyone at the door?”

I whispered back, “That’s the Georgia First Lady, Mrs. Sandra Deal.”

“Oh!” he retorted with a goofy, surprised kind of smile.

When it was our time to approach the threshold of the home, my guy looked up and simultaneously, but cautiously shook the hand of the esteemed greeter. As a surprise, the first lady looked down at him and said, “I live in this house. Perhaps one day you will live in this house too.  But you gotta study hard and you can’t be mean, ‘cuz nobody’s going to vote for someone who’s mean.”

That’s a curious thing to say, I thought. But, certainly not untrue.

My boy nodded, smiled and quipped back, “I’m really mean!”

Now, I thought he was going to say something like, “Yes, Ma’m!” However, my children master the art of sarcasm quite early, so I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I was slightly concerned how she might receive this.

Evidently, she must be familiar with 10 year old boys because in the next second, she started up with a gleeful and endearing sort of laugh that seemed to last a full 20 seconds!

We stepped inside.

Once inside, my son thought a minute and then asked,  “Can we go back and take a picture with Mrs. Deal?”

I guessed that last exchange of dialogue and laughter convinced my boy that the two now shared a sort of bond.

“It couldn’t hurt to ask,” I said, thumbing in my purse for my iPhone.  I love a good photo opportunity and a challenge.

“Would you mind a quick photo?” I asked with slight apprehension, trying to cover my embarrassment.

She grinned. “Why certainly,” was her response.

This is how we began our lovely tour of the mansion!

 

Mrs Deal

 

The Georgia Governor’s Mansion was built in 1967.  It is an impressive, three story Greek Revival home with 30 Doric columns surrounding the porches. Each of the columns is made from California Redwood.  Once inside, we were hosted by volunteers who gave us little tidbits about each of the rooms, furniture and decorations.  In front of one broad fireplace, we ran into two lovely volunteers wearing colonial era clothing.  In the vast dining room, we took in the Federal period furniture and state chinaware.  We soon discovered that each room was decorated according to a different region of the state.  One tree was embellished with popularly grown Georgia products, like cotton, pecans, peaches and peanuts. Another was decked in Coastal Georgia ornaments such as shells and starfish.

After working our way through the first floor, we went down a flight of stairs and into the basement where we were greeted with cookies, punch and a local student choir.  It was a very festive way to spend a December morning.  This is definitely one trip we’d like to repeat!  It was really quite memorable and, best of all, it was free!!!!

Cheap Field Trips # 1

Cheap Field Trips # 1

kiosk

In the spirit of  stop-and-smell-the-roses, we’ve been making an extra effort to take cheap field trips this year.  Cheap could be free, or just cheap!  The best thing…these are fun little outings that get us off our routine and don’t require any preparation or great expenditure of funds.

I will be sharing these experiences in a series called Cheap Field Trips.

Cheap Field Trip # 1:  Visit a local Recreation Area

We happen to live near the Chattahoochee Recreation Area on the “beautiful” Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, GA.  There is a place called Powers Island which is an access point for folks “putting in” their canoes or rafts to float the river. Mr. Powers was a blacksmith and gunsmith here on the edge of civilization in the 1830’s.  He ran a ferry right from this island.

From I-285, I’d seen this parking lot and trail head for decades and never stopped.

“We’re going there today,” I told my youngster, one recent Wednesday in February.

Silence came from the back seat.

“It’s supposed to be in the 60’s today. We are doing something outside,”  I snapped, hoping he would catch the fever.

We pulled into the empty parking lot. The grey lot blended with the barren trees.  A solitary, work truck could be seen in a space by the restrooms, occupied by a man eating a sandwich from a wrapper.  His windows were up. A medium roar could be heard from the interstate a few hundred yards away.

“Hmmm. This does look a bit sketchy,” I thought as we unloaded ourselves from our truck. I grabbed my wallet and shoved it into my camera bag.  Then, I looked westward.  Through the dormant trees, the sparkling, greenish waters of the Hooch drew us thither.

The Chattahoochee

 

For these cheapie trips to be memorable, you’ve got to take a slow pace.  Don’t go on a cheapie trip thinking you’re going to get some exercise.  If you get fresh air, that’s a plus!  These excursions are about slowing way, way down to see and observe.

A rust colored bridge formed the entry point of the trail and drew us toward the island.  There, on the banks of this mighty waterway, we saw our first point of interest.

bridge to Powers Island

 

“What is flotsam and jetsam?” asked my inquisitive boy after I called out the words.

“It’s floating stuff that has come to rest between these downed trees,” I gestured toward the logs forming the clog.

“Flotsam are things which float up…like things that have washed away from the shoreline and into the river.  Jetsam are things which have been flung off boats and float from the river to the shore,” I continued, pulling out my zoom lens.

beauty along the hooch

basketball heaven

“I can sure tell people like to play basketball and tennis in this town,” he deducted.

“What about football?  See that black one over there?” I pointed.  He tip toed lightly across the colorful trash and grabbed it. The treasure secured, he squeezed it, heard the leaky hole and then threw it back into the pile.

This multi hued wedge of trash kept us busy for a good fifteen minutes.  There were a bazillion water bottles, every sort of ball, numerous plastic toys, various sized cups, some milk jugs, and a few unidentifiable things.  A pungent, earthy smell hovered over the place.

plastics

Not far from the trash heap was a rock island that needed exploring.  I took a picture and then my guy said, “Mom, you come out here.”  I hesitated a minute and then this middle aged mamma hopped the swift current to make it safely to the rock, camera equipment and all.

on the rock

Sycamore balls

Then, we saw the trees.  They were mammoth!  Who would think there would be giant trees on an island like this?

“Must’ve been here when Mr. Powers was working the ferry,” I concluded.  We looked up and saw their tips touching the deep blue winter sky.

One had a crevice two feet taller than my child.  A quick flash of the cell phone light illuminated a couple of creepy, glowing eyes.

 

the granddaddy

bat eyes

As we walked the trail, each successive tree seemed to be larger and larger.  Finally, we reached the granddaddy of all the trees!  Easily it was five human wing spans across.  Against the blue sky and with sun shining brightly behind, the size and shape of this gargantuan took my breath away.

“What a great way to spend 60 minutes,” I said as we merged back onto the interstate.

“It was pretty good,” was the recap from the back seat.

This trip cost $3, which was paid at the kiosk by the trail head.   It was a great day.

the granddaddy