On the Lake Bed

On the Lake Bed

On the upper reaches of Lake Hartwell, just south of the mountains where the lake gives way to river and the city gives way to country we have a house.   In this remote section of the lake, even during seasons of high water, we seldom in a single day see more than a handful of boaters.  Duck hunters frequent these river banks as do white tailed deer and Canada geese.   Tales of Cherokee ghosts, brave pioneers and small gauge railroads are told about these surroundings by local historians and naturalists alike.   Except for the occasional flock of flying geese or an air-boat propelled carp hunter, it is quiet here.

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Yet, beneath these green waters lurk secrets and treasures and even creepy things.

These things, usually covered by the shadowy waters of the Tugaloo, rear their heads when the water recedes.  Tiny, living seeds lay dormant waiting for an opportunity to burst forth into life.  Huge, old stumps hide their past, clutching the river banks as if still waiting for a rescuer to retrieve them from the rising waters that flooded these shores more than 50 years ago.   Hidden household items from the 1980’s, dumped from some boat or washed away in some flood are now ensconced in mud and grass.  Their glinty edges catch the eye of a passerby demanding to be picked up and pondered.

Around Thanksgiving, we ventured out into this strange land that we call the lake bed. Mournful children, so saddened by the encroaching mud at Labor Day, were now mesmerized by this peculiar beauty that awaited them.

Launching ourselves from the dock, we tip toed across the soft mud toward the river.  A good 10 pair of shoes were heavily soiled in the process, but eventually all of the family plunged forth into the straw colored meadow.  A drone came out of its box and buzzed overhead.   I heard a child yell out, “It’s amazing!  It’s so soft.”  I peered  50 yards across the prairie and saw my 10 year old making a grass angel!

“What are these mom?” asked another as he picked a tightly packed bud from a tan colored bush.

“Not sure,” I mumbled as I noticed the fall leaves on the South Carolina side framing a backdrop to our activities .

A quick glance north and my black dog came into clear view, her shiny coat juxtaposed against the monotone grasses.

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We lingered here a bit and then walked on toward the water’s edge.  There we saw several, old craggy stumps, remnants of days when this was a fast flowing river winding through a fertile corn field.   Downstream we saw symmetrical ripples in the sandy bank,  formed when the water drained out bit by bit, like a bathtub needing a shot of Drano.

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Suddenly, I was startled away from my amusement with the ripples by a thud to my left.  This was the sound of my teenager whacking autumn toned bushes.  Each whack produced a cloud of tiny, poufy seeds dimly lit by the late autumn sun.  We took a few minutes to whack some more of these tender bushes and take photographs.  How did these shrubs grow so quickly?  Wasn’t there water here just two months ago?

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Next, we moved a hundred yards down river to a flat, sandy area on the shoreline.  It was the perfect slate for practicing cursive.  It’s much easier to form capital letters in the damp sand!

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After handwriting, I found myself sitting in the supple grass for a few more minutes, taking in the autumn colors and the stumps.  So many stumps!

“They’ve been down there this whole time,” I told my boys.  “We just swam over these giants a few months ago!”

“That is creepy, mom, ” a boy announced.

“We’ll have to remember where they are when the water comes up,”  I noted.

By this time, like the lake, the late afternoon sun was running out.  It was time to get home.

As we shambled back toward our dock, the most amazing hues of a pink and blue sunset caught my eye.  “Probably the affects of all the smoke,” I mused, remembering the fires just north of here up in Rabun.  The big sky, without trees or water, gave a vast, open feeling, like being out on a Montana ranch.  We North Georgians don’t typically get big openness,  I figured.

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At dark, we arrived back at the marooned dock;  that stark reminder that things are not as they should be.

“You certainly can’t have a lake without water!” my husband maintained later on the phone.

“Yes! But, you can have a lake bed!” this nature nut retorted.

Out on the lake bed, we’d been given a consolation, a little silver lining to an otherwise very disappointing situation.  Nature was there, all around;  and it was lovely.

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Confessions of a Previously Pro-Choice Woman

Confessions of a Previously Pro-Choice Woman

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There’s been a lot of talk lately about life, abortion and women’s rights.

I’ve been thinking about my own struggle with these issues.  Perhaps my story can give perspective to others who grapple with these things.

As an only child, I grew up in a home with two loving parents, both of whom wanted to limit their family size to one!  My mother, influenced by the thinking of the day, was concerned that there would not be enough global resources to support the world’s growing population by the year 1980.  My father, who had two children from a previous marriage, was reluctant to even have a third child.  This small, quiet environment of restricted society was my crucible.

As I grew older, and went to college, I was convinced that it was absolutely outrageous that women should be straddled with all of the burden of pregnancy, especially when men can walk away at any time.  The idea that our society didn’t hold men accountable at the same level as women for the caring and raising of children — that was egregious to me!  So, I became all about pro-choice.  A woman had a right to choose if she wanted to keep her child!  What if, God forbid, a woman was raped!  Or, what if, the young girl was pregnant and couldn’t support a child because she was still in school?  These questions plagued me.

At this point, I never considered the child. The child never played a role in any of these scenarios.

Somewhere along the way though, God changed my heart.  It didn’t happen all at once, like at a seminar or during a sermon.  It happened because He, in His infinite wisdom, changed the way I thought about children.

Maybe, the change began when my husband and I were unable to have a child as soon as we decided, “Let’s get pregnant!”  Two years, several fertility treatments and a lot of prayer brought our first child, a boy.  It was during that experience that I realized how precious life is, and how wonderful it is to welcome a new baby into the family!

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At first, I wanted to have “a couple of kids” like everyone else.  “Maybe we’ll have a boy and a girl, ” I told my husband.

But, when I found out I was pregnant with my third, I was irate with my hubby!

“How could you do this to me?”  “Everyone is going to think we are freaks!”  I yelled in a hormonal fit!  Three kids, this close together is not what I signed up for!

My loving, non-reactionary husband, was calm.

“You are going to be okay!  I don’t give a damn what people think! I am excited that we have another beautiful life coming into our lives.”

His words were reassuring.  But I had a ways to go.

After my third child, a friend gave me a magazine called Above Rubies.  This publication devoted to encouraging mothers was a concentration of articles and testimonies focused on the joy of having children and families!  I devoured this reading and the seed was planted that children, (note the plural)  are a gift, not a burden.

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Surprisingly, I now wanted a fourth child, and wasn’t mad when I discovered we were pregnant yet again.

Unfortunately, with this pregnancy, a new struggle occurred. In public, complete strangers would stare and make comments about my family as if I were “irresponsible” to have yet “another” child. “Are all of those yours?” they would ask.  “You know what causes that, don’t you?” They would question sarcastically as they saw my rounded belly! Sometimes, I think people just wanted to make conversation, but other times, you could tell that a person was truly agitated that we were making “too many” babies!

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My father showed up at the birth of my fourth. He was smiling and gave me a dime.  “Put this between your knees and squeeze!”  He chuckled. “It’s the natural form of birth control.” He thought he was being cute. Holding my newborn son in my arms I looked at him and thought, “Which one of your four siblings would you want to erase, Dad?” I kept silent.

Still I continued to receive pressure from both family and friends to “quit having kids already.”

My uncle said to me when I was pregnant with my fifth, “Isn’t that about enough?” This is quite an audacious query to put before an eight-month pregnant lady!  Why did he feel he had the right to make such a comment?  I really believe he thought I was out-of-line to have more than my share of children.

In 1957, journalist Mike Wallace interviewed Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood.  In this interview, Sanger revealed what became an agenda to change the way our society thinks about fertility:  “I think the greatest sin in the world is bringing children into this world.”  My uncle, like so many in our culture, had bought into this line of thinking.

“You guys can do whatever you want, but I think you’re crazy,” a close family member told me one day when I told her of my impending fifth birth. How is a young mother to deal with this kind of pressure?

Looking back, I realize that the struggles I’ve had with abortion, birth control, family life and women’s rights are all related!  There is a culture in our country, perhaps even the dominate culture, that doesn’t value children.  Many don’t see children as a gift from God.  Many don’t see them as precious.  Rather, many around us see children as a burden, an expense, a hassle.   As a nation, I believe we aren’t going to progress on this issue until we address this pervasive thinking.

Our ideas about abortion won’t be changed at the clinic or at the women’s march.  Our ideas about life and family will only be changed in the heart when God shows us that we are more complete, more joyful even, when we give of ourselves to others and to our children.

To wrap this up, I want to tell you about something that miraculously happened in my dad’s heart with the birth of my fifth!  When I told him that we would be having another baby he said, “I am glad.  You are a good mother.”  He came to the hospital and held his new grandson.  “You did good!” he said softly.  What a change in this man!

God is the healer of hearts, the changer of minds and the giver of children!!  Glory be to Him!

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Who is Saint Angelina?

Who is Saint Angelina?

My relationship with her began in 2005 when my priest Father Jacob Myers asked, “Who is your patron saint?”  I looked at him intently, “What is that?”

“That is the saint whose name you take on as a Christian when you are Chrismated into the Orthodox Church.

“Oh!” I responded, feeling as if I were somehow incomplete.

Sitting at his disheveled desk, he shuffled with some papers and leaned slightly back in his chair. “You should have Saint Angelina as your Saint,” Father flung the name at me with a wry smile. “She is a wonderful mother of boys.  You will be good for each other!”

“…good for each other?”  What did Father mean by that comment?  I am a mother of boys. I pondered the idea for a while and then a small boy probably came over and rubbed his nose on my skirt and that was the end of the discussion!  From that moment on, St. Angelina of Serbia was my saint-name.

For the next 10 years, each time I approached the Holy Eucharist, Father would address me as, “Servant of God, Angelina.”  This title agreed with me, but I was much too busy to go beyond merely accepting what Father Jacob told me about Angelina.  With five children at home, a husband, a part-time job and a new faith to learn, I had my hands full.

St. Angelina of Serbia

 

Then, one day last year, I got to thinking about Angelina and how we would be good for each other.  Before I could really get to know my saint, I had to tackle my hurdle about saints and their roles in our lives.  Why know these people, I thought?  Why have a saint-name?  It took about 10 years of being an Orthodox Christian before I could honestly answer these questions.

As a lay person from a non-Orthodox background, this is how I have come to understand the idea of saints and their roles in our lives.  The saints of the church are men and women who have proclaimed and followed Jesus Christ.  Some followed Him all of their lives; some followed only at the end, but all made a decision to follow.  Many lived their earthly lives before the common era.  All of these godly people struggled and persevered in the face of persecution, rejection, horrible circumstances or spiritual trials. Now,they are at the feel of Jesus praying.

Having a saint-name is a holy privilege.  As children adopted into the family of God, our saint-name is our spiritual family name and reminds us that we are part of God’s earthly and heavenly family.  Having a patron saint directly connects us with a spiritual family member who has already gone through this life with its struggles and trials.

Knowing your saint is like knowing an elderly relative who has already lived through your season of life.  She has been there and is already at the feet of Christ praying for you.  And, just as you might ask your great aunt to pray for you with a job situation or a new marriage, you can ask your saint to pray for you and she will.

Once I began to understand and be cool with this mystical idea that saints know us, care about us and pray for us, then it was easy to take the next step.  And that step was getting to know Angelina and her life.

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St. Angelina of Serbia, who lived nearly 600 years ago, was a godly mother and wife. She was married to St. Stephen Brankovich and together they had two boys. She was made a widow by the Ottoman Turks, who gouged out her husband’s eyes.  Together, with her boys, she relocated her husband’s relics to his beloved homeland of Serbia. In spite of this and the persecution she received at the hands of the Ottomans, she continued to raise her sons to an adulthood of faithfulness. Angelina was devoted to prayer and acts of mercy all of her life.  Today, St. Angelina is the most revered saint in Serbia along with St. Militza!  What a legacy.

As a model of prayer, a woman of charity and a mother of love and kindness, St. Angelina has already been good for me!  This 15th century woman of God reminds me daily that living a life of prayer and humility in a self-oriented culture that devalues faith and family is the most important thing.  In her icon, we see her holding a small cathedral, which symbolizes that she is  a pillar of the church.

After writing  and pondering, I looked around and realized we didn’t have an icon of St. Angelina at church.  So, in December, I got together with my godson and we made a couple of wooden icons, one of the Dormition of the Theotokos and one of St. Angelina.

Seeing Angelina frequently reminds me of that important thing that Fr. Jacob told me, “that we would be good for each other.”  If I am to meet my end of the bargain, I’ve got to get walking in her footsteps.

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Angelina of Serbia

I Want My Wife to be a Successful Person

I Want My Wife to be a Successful Person

It was one of those magical days that come between Christmas and New Years.  The 3rd day of Christmas to be exact.  The family was all together,  the gifting and cooking and church going was complete and kids and parents alike were in holiday happiness.  A short trip was scheduled over to the cabin where fireside chats, woodland walks, and evening games would  ensue with neighbors.

On our family road trips, sometimes an older teen, to the interest of those present, will open up like a March blooming camellia and start talking. This is notable because traveling teens have ear buds in and screens going.  True interaction will come after a coffee stop or a gas station break.  The officious teen will lead a robust discussion in the tight space of a vehicle traveling at 65 mph.  “Is Wal-Mart better than Target?”  “Does Global Warming really come from cow farts?” and “Has Homeschooling scarred  me for life?” are a few of our most recent, vital topics.   Most everyone in the large SUV will participate in these conversations, although at times they can get overly intense.  On this occasion, it was my 21 year old who was speculating on the future.

“And, do you want your wife to stay at home with the kids?” asked a younger son to the older.

“Well, she doesn’t have to.   I want her to be a successful person.  But, if staying home is what she wants to do, I’ll support it. ”

The bomb had dropped.  It dropped on me like a rotten peach in a gusty Georgia thunderstorm.  It was the word successful that flattened me.

The others continued on with the conversation, but my mind drifted inward.  Looking out at the barren trees and slick highway, I contemplated the comment: “I want my wife to be a successful person.”  Well there is certainly nothing wrong with that.  I want his wife to be successful too.  I want everyone to be successful.  But, somehow this comment mirrored back.

What is success?  And, do I need to be doing something outside the home to be successful?

Can a modern woman, who spends 20 + years raising and homeschooling children rather than pursuing a career outside the home be considered successful?  Is raising children a worthy career?

These questions welled up inside me.

“I’m going to get my resume done this year,” I thought.

I didn’t say anything for awhile and the conversation moved onto another topic, like “Was Fidel Castro a fascist or a communist?”

“This conversation isn’t about me,” I wagered silently and was able to keep my mouth shut.  My boys will figure out how to run their own families.

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I would like to tell you that I figured it all out that day and that all is well with my psyche. I could also sit here with my laptop and my cup of tea and tell you that there is a Bible verse somewhere that tells me I’m doing the right thing.   But, that is not the point of this post.  The point is that I still struggle with my identity and my role in this world.  I wrangle with being  important or successful.  I grapple with being a quality role model for my daughter.  And, the truth is, I’ll probably continue this tussle until I get on the other side of this child-rearing season.  After all, there are lovely women in my family who manage to effectively juggle both career and motherhood.  I will have to see them and hear their praises.  The point is, I have to get “cool” with what I am doing and not worry about what others think or do.  I’ve got to see my glass as full.  I was supposed to do that in my 20’s!  But, alas, here we are three decades later, still chipping away.   Maybe, 2017 will be different.  This is the hope we have at the beginning of something new:  that we can change and grow and do things better!  It is the hope we have in Jesus: That He will prepare us in His good timing!

Happy New Year to each of you!  May it be blessed with peace and joy and new beginnings!

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City Folks Hit the Pasture

City Folks Hit the Pasture

Recently we took a fall walk and encountered some iconic bucolic scenes.  My fourteen year old son, after viewing my photographs from the outing, penned this piece on his experience.  I hope you enjoy.

City Folks Hit the Pasture

by H.P.N.

The November air was soft and cool that evening. Walking up the gravel road, my dad was setting up a hunting blind in the field behind me. My dad loved to utilize his Thanksgiving break to go hunting. Guiding my neighbor and I up the road, my mom was telling us all about what she had seen up this way the night before. As our small company reached a barbed wire fence the wood ended and I saw them on the other side.

cows at the golden hour

Some were brown, some were white, some were black, and a few were mixed. I approached the fence and a few of them standing near the fence walked up to us. Ben, our lake house neighbor where we were presently staying, picked up a tuft of grass. Ben cruised over to the fence, reached out with the grass and let out a hardy chuckle as the cow ate it. Stepping back from the wire I too picked up some of the little stiff shoots around me and held them out to the cows. A brown one walked over to me and munched on the dried plants.

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“Hold right there,” My mom said while pulling out her camera. The low and sluggish fall sun gave off the perfect shade to the cool, but crisp afternoon. This made for the best environment for picture taking. Ben was still feeding the cows, but now was trying to challenge how far the poor thing could reach for its food. The large animal reached up as high as it could with its short stubby neck and stretched out a lengthy pink tongue. It curled this tongue around the weeds and pulled them out of Ben’s hand.

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Alien Cow! Look out!

 

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“Whoa!” I laughed, “That is one long tongue.

“Yea,” Ben answered in his almost southern accent.

By now the whole herd had gathered at our end of the pasture, coming to take advantage of the free hand outs. For a while we zoned out of our busy American lives to cross paths with this gentle community of cows. It was like the world around us froze, letting us enjoy this moment. Suddenly, I heard the crunching of boots on loose rocks and turned around to see my dad strolling up the road.

“Hey y’all,” He said announcing his presence and zapping us out of our utopia. “I finished setting up the stand.”

Walking back down the dirt road we told my dad all about the cows and how calm they were. Stepping back into the car the reality that this week was coming to a close came rushing in on me. Sitting there on the leather seat looking out the now dark window, I wished that I was back there at the pasture with the cows.

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Hypnotizing a Chicken

Hypnotizing a Chicken

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Have you ever hypnotized a chicken? I hadn’t either until we became urban poultry farmers.  Although I’ve hypnotized a few fowl in my day, it’s the kids who love it most!  There’s something entertaining about holding a soft, fluffy living thing in your hands, massaging it on the wishbone and then watching it blissfully melt into a heap of uninhibited slumber.   Hypnotized chickens drop into a sleep not unlike a one-year-old would in a car seat on a road trip to grandmas.  Sometimes you will see a partially opened eye.  Sometimes you will see a beak opened, which is the chicken equivalent to a drooling, napping baby, mouth opened, head slumped in relaxation.   The sight of an hypnotized chicken is something to behold and I’ve captured it here for you to ponder.  Apparently, this is an addictive past time that doesn’t get old, even with the surliest of teenagers.

In case you are over easy about the process, here’s how you do it.  First, you have to hold the chicken in your warm hand or on a flat surface.  Usually, the hen will stop squirming after about 20 seconds and then you can easily manage her into the hypnotic state.  Regardless of your pecking order, you can do this!

 

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Next, find the breast bone of the chicken and gently rub the muscles on both sides of this bone for about 20 – 30 seconds.  You will find that your bird will begin to relax and fall out.  This is the best part!  You can literally lay your chicken down and it will remain in this spellbound state for a minute or two until it comes to its senses.  As the Japanese proverb goes, “It is better to be the head of a chicken than the rear end of an ox.”   This wisdom applies here as the chick awakens refreshed and ready to work as hard as a hen hauling wood!

Be patient!  This may take a little practice.  But, you will soon be able to feather your nest with visions of hypnotized chickens slumbering silently in the setting sun.

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This happy hen above looks like she is still a bit groggy!!  Ah, the joys of hypnotizing chickens.

Mission Life:  Squeezing Your Sponge!

Mission Life: Squeezing Your Sponge!

I have a lot to say about mission life!  So, I’m going to write several posts about this over the next few weeks.

Basically, what I want to say about mission life are these things:  1. It’s busy, 2. it’s hard, 3. it’s good for the soul,  4. everyone should try it sometime.

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Jesus on the cross

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What is mission life anyway?  Mission life is small and the amount of responsibilities taken on by those who are there is large.  Mission churches typically have 25 families or less.  Our church has about 15 families. In a mission, you are trying to achieve everything a full parish does, trying to have the complete life of the church.  But, you have less families working at it.  So, as the adage goes, “It’s all hands on deck.”  This makes church life BUSY!  On any typical Sunday, I’m greeting people at the door, making sure there are bowls for coffee hour, plugging  in the coffee after the creed, adjusting the thermometer because we’re all sweating and possibly singing in the choir.   A teenager chants, serves behind the altar and helps on the building committee.  Little kids pass out bulletins and make the lemonade for coffee hour.   There’s no staff, employees or janitor.  So, we are all cleaning, cooking, and serving.

By its very nature, mission life is hard.  There aren’t already established programs.  There may not be people in your age group or station in life.  The church probably doesn’t have a cry room.  The priest may visit monthly or live out of town.  You know everyone really, really well.  Probably too well. It’s too easy to say something that is really stupid. You have to show up without makeup sometimes. Kids get too comfortable with the surroundings and don’t always act appropriately.  If you don’t show up,  perhaps there will be no choir or no coffee.

But, and this refers to # 3 above, it’s good for you.   Mission work is work that really matters.  We are bringing the ancient faith to a place where there was none before.  We are making an impact here for Christ.  People are coming to the faith.  Those of us working in the mission are being saved by grace.  Our salvation is literally being worked out here in the midst of this endeavor.  Why is this?  Because we are struggling here.  We are struggling with ourselves and with each other.  When we continue to show up here every week and assume these roles, we are growing!  When our kids have to take on roles they wouldn’t really choose, they are growing as men and women of God.  When we learn to repent for saying stupid things for the 5th time, we are learning to remain silent.

If God gives you the chance, you should participate in getting a church off the ground.  Why?  Because you have to squeeze your sponge and let the others drink!  How would the church grow if not for that?  At some point, you have to figure you aren’t going to be here forever and you might as well give back.  Mission life isn’t easy, but it’s good. Squeezing our sponges, giving back what we’ve been given, is the Mission life.

Dedicating the space for Christ and His church

Orthodox Mission Life