Luke 1:38 “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.”

Lately I have found myself deeply reflecting on the life of Mother Mary, and how she devoted herself to being a handmaiden of God. She found joy in serving the Lord and ministering to those he placed around her. If the Theotokos, who cradled the Savior in her womb, can find contentment and purpose in serving others, then certainly I can too.

 

Finding contentment in my calling to motherhood is something that I have really struggled with the past four years. The house that I once pictured filled with warm baby snuggles and comfortable, tidy rooms often feels overcrowded and rough. Finding fulfillment in scrubbing out carpet stains, planning nutritious family meals, and rereading the same picture books countless times can be quite the challenge. However, I have found that when I surrender my day to Christ and when I lay all of the menial tasks of motherhood at His feet, that I find a deep and lasting peace.

 

When my weeks get long and I feel overwhelmed, I have the Blessed Virgin Mary and sweet St. Sophia near to me. I feel their prayers filling my fatigued days and I rest in the knowledge that, since they were human mothers like me, that they truly understand my struggles. They guide me by their examples and from them I learn about the importance of trusting in God as a Christian woman.

 

I pray that the Lord will continue to open my heart to see the value of my vocation as a Mom. Each day I am striving to live my life as a handmaiden of the Lord and a servant to my family. There are days I fail, but glory to God for His mercy and patience.

 

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“Acquire the Spirit of peace, and thousands around you will be saved,” by St. Seraphim of Sarov

Last weekend, Spencer and I had the amazing opportunity of returning to the Hermitage of the Holy Cross Men’s Monastery in Wayne, WV. It was a very much needed trip. My soul had grown weary from the stress and the chaos of everyday life here in Lynchburg.

 

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It is hard to describe what it is like to visit a monastery. It is impossible to adequately explain the supernatural peace that you feel as you walk on that ground and as you listen to the quietly mumbled prayers of the tired monks. With every breath you take, a little incense tickles your nose. Each conversation you have is focused on Christ. Each spare moment is covered in prayer. God’s presence is inescapable there at the monastery. It is a little slice of Heaven on earth and it left my soul craving more.

 

 

By the time we left my feet were sore (we stood through about 10 hours of services total), but my soul was quieted. I felt energized and inspired to continue on in the faith. I was convicted in the areas that I had allowed my daily disciplines to slip, but most of all I was encouraged.

 

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A few days ago I was sharing our experience with a good friend. I told him that I really missed the supernatural peace that surrounded me at the monastery. He instantly reminded me that the peace I felt was Christ, and that I could achieve that same peace wherever I go because Christ is within me. That really made it all click for me and it gave me a goal. I want to make my home a monastery. A place where spiritual growth is the focus and God’s presence is inescapable.

 

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So how am I going to achieve this?

 

 

I have been adding more prayer to my daily routine. A wonderful thing I have learned from the monks is that it is possible to be constantly in prayer. Usually I find myself complaining about making the bed, cooking meals, folding clothes, and washing dishes. However, these mindless tasks are great times to pray! As I complete these tasks, I ask the Lord to bless my work and to accept my diligence as a sacrifice. When I look at the chores in this light, I am a lot more willing to do my best!

 

 

Also, I have been trying to make our home a quiet place for worshipping God. For us that means prayer candles, worship music, icons of the Saints, and incense. The incense, more than anything, really makes a huge difference in the atmosphere of our home. It helps us stay focused on our prayers, it is relaxing, and the lingering smell is a constant reminder of the Presence of God. I highly suggest using it if you aren’t already!

 

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Finally, I have been trying to be more patient with the girls and with Spencer. The monks are such godly men. They were so patient with us while we were there. We made so many mistakes and I’m sure we unintentionally offended them at times, but they never laughed at us or yelled. They remained calm and gracious and taught us by their example. That is the kind of person I want to be. I want to be humble and merciful.

 

 

That about sums up our trip. I am already looking forward to returning to the monastery in the Fall, but for now I am enjoying working out my salvation here at home in the arena that God has created for me. Glory to God for all things!

When I was pregnant with Renee, I thought I had it all figured out. I was excited to be a Stay at Home Mom. I was going to be a biblical Mom, spending every waking hour of my day serving my family and encouraging them to strive for excellence. I’d cloth diaper, read countless books to them, and make 3 nourishing meals a day. This was going to be my reality, and I was going to love every second of it. I was going to be the perfect example of patience, grace, and love. I would be precisely the Mommy my children needed.

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Now here I am three years later. My kids are walking around in disposable diapers, books are usually only read at bedtime, and we eat fast food way more often than I would care to admit. My perfect vision of motherhood has been shattered. I struggle daily to keep my patience, to show grace when angry, and to love wholeheartedly. I often feel like I am precisely the opposite Mommy of what my children need. Discouragement and depression are two of my closest friends these days…

 

My weeks with the girls are often long and almost unbearable. Keeping the house clean enough for guests is virtually impossible. Even finding the energy to pursue friendships is exhausting. There are so many days where I have just wanted to surrender to the depression and to give up…. Have you been there?

But giving up is just not an option for me. I can’t abandon my husband to do all of this on his own. I can’t leave my two precious little daughters without a Mommy.2ivlk5t

 

No, I will fight for my family.

 

I will let go of my completely unrealistic ideals. I will quit expecting perfection from myself. I will quit shaming myself for the personality that God has created me with.

 

I will start being realistic about my parenting styles. I will start to rely on God rather than my own strength. I will rest in the knowledge that God loves me even in the midst of my biggest parenting failures.

 

I am done with trying to fit my family into a neat box. I just want my home to be a place of refuge from the world. A place where creative inspiration blossoms and great souls can form. I want the Holy Spirit to be present with us and guiding us all along this winding path.

 

Motherhood is such an incredible calling. I am nurturing two eternal souls under my roof. I am training them how to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God and shaping them for His purposes. Wow, this journey is hard and a lot is at stake. But I trust in God to lead me. I trust that He will get me back on my feet and headed down the path of salvation once more.

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Glory to God for all things!

 

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” ~ Matthew 11:28-30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is our family table.

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This is where I sat down to enjoy a big bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee on the very first morning after I moved out of my parent’s house.

 

This is where my bridesmaids and I stuffed ourselves with junk food the night before my wedding.

 

This is where my husband and I have exchanged some very heated words and tearful apologies.

 

This my daughters took their very first bites of solid foods.

 

This is where my husband and I have discussed the wonders of God and the mystery of salvation!

 

This is where we entertain guests.

 

This is where we sit down as a family to enjoy home-cooked meals.

 

Yes, this little piece of furniture might not look like much, but I treasure it. I treasure every scratch, dent, and dried on flake of food. Why? Because it is here that my family gathers to reconnect. No matter how crazy the day has been, it is here at this table, that we face each other and thank God for His blessings, laugh at our unique personalities, and dream about the future. This table is a sort of altar where good food is celebrated, God is praised, valuable lessons are taught, and memories are made.

 

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It breaks my heart that so many families have exchanged the family table for a meal in front of the television set or a quick bite in the car. Can we not pause our busy lives for even an hour, to enjoy the company of our loved ones? Can we not be bothered to celebrate family life? I don’t know about you, but the dinner hour is just too sacred for me to give up!

 

I’m not going to lie to you – I’m having a really hard time accepting that Renee is now three. I’ve spent so many of our days together just trying to keep my head above water, snapping at her, beating myself up, and wishing the days away.

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And now three years have flown by and I’m not ready to let them go. I want a do over…

 

 

Because I’m just starting to realize how fast these 18 years are going to fly by. It is just starting to occur to me how much I missed out on while being discontent with life.

 

 

There have been so many days where I have hidden away from reality by burying my nose in the internet. There have been far too many times that I have lost my temper and let my voice rise above appropriate levels. There have been things said that I wish I could take back. There have been weeks of dark depression where I could only view life as black and white.

 

 

How much has all of this cost me? How many days have I lost to anger and selfishness? How many of these failures will be forever stored in my children’s memories?

 

 

This isn’t what I want. The blame is all mine. I can choose to act on my anger or not. I can make the decision to sacrifice my own needs for the needs of my children . It’s hard, but I know that I’m capable. I just need to commit myself to being a more peaceful parent. I need to strengthen myself with constant prayer and continually ask the Holy Spirit to grant me grace and patience.

 

 

Because here is what I am learning: I control the emotional health of my entire family. When I am happy, they are happy. When I vent my anger, they get angry. When I express discontentment, the entire house starts to complain.

 

Lord, have mercy on us.

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I’m done struggling against motherhood. I’m done letting my own sinful passions get in the way of my happiness. I still have around 15 more years until Renee is out of the house. I’m not going to let these ones slip by as quickly as the last. I’m going to be more intentional. I’m going to choose love.

 

 

And yes, I know that there will be days that I fail. And I’m sure my temper will flare up again. I know, I know. But I’m going to start trying a lot harder.

 

 

Slowly, I will make progress.

 

 

Motherhood was given to me as an arena to work out my salvation in. If I can manage to persevere through it in godliness, it will be a great tool that helps me grow in the faith! What a great gift that I have been given.

 

 

So pray for me? Pray for ordinary days full of color and wonder. Pray for love to be victorious in our home and anger to be trampled down. Pray for good memories that will last a lifetime and spiritual growth to carry us closer to God.

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Glory to God, for all things. May His peace be among us.

Coming up this Sunday, the Church will celebrate Holy Pentecost. This special day is very much like a “birthday” for the Church, as this is when the Holy Spirit first descended upon Christ’s disciples and bestowed upon them new life, grace, knowledge, adoption by God, and holiness.

 

As I reflect on this miraculous day, I can’t help but think about my recent Chrismation. Just like how baptism is a personal participation in the death and Resurrection of Christ, Chrismation is a personal participation in the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Isn’t that, amazing? I am completely humbled by receiving such a wonderful gift.

 

For the rest of my life, this special annointing will be on me. The Holy Spirit now dwells within me, and He is constantly inviting me to live a new life in Christ! He guides me, strengthens me, and illuminates me! Ever since that sweet smelling oil soaked deep into my pores, I haven’t been the same. My eyes have been opened to so many mysteries of the faith! My heart has been softened. My will has been made compliant. My soul has been set on fire! Glory to God, for this gift! I don’t know how I lived without it!

 

I wonder how the Apostles felt after they received their gift? Surely they felt this same sense of awe and thankfulness. Maybe even more-so since they were the first ones to ever experience it! It is kind of a neat thing to think about.

 

Blessed Feast everyone!

Blessed art You O Christ Our God

You have revealed the fishermen as most wise

By sending down upon them the Holy Spirit

Through them You drew the world into Your net

O Lover of Man, Glory to You!

~ troparion, tone 8

 

Christ is Risen, my Friends! Indeed, He is Risen!

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The past three weeks have been some of the busiest, but also the best weeks of my life. The hard work and fasting from Great Lent is now in the past, and the joy of Pascha has arrived! There has been lots of feasting and celebrating here in the Judd household.

 

 

On April 11th, during the Paschal Vigil, my little family officially came home to the Orthodox Church. Renee and Nora were both baptized and then as a family we were Chrismated and given new Christian names. Together as new illumined Christians we then received the Eucharist together for the first time and feasted on lots of meat with the other parish members! I will treasure the memories of that night in my heart until the day that I die. (I’m sure the other parish members will always remember it too. Nora screamed throughout the entire service. The only time she was silent was when she was choking on the water she swallowed during the dunking process. lol)
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Now we have begun a new life in the Church. Together as a family we are striving to imitate Christ in all that we do. We are learning how to pray from our hearts and teaching our children what it means to be a faithful member of the Body of Christ. The road ahead of us is long, but I am so glad that we are finally headed in the right direction!

 

Glory to God for all that He has done! Please enjoy a few pictures of the festivities below!

 

 

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Here is the cake from the girls’ baptism party! It says “God Bless Hope and Faith”

 

 

 

 

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Here you get a real insight into the different personalities that each of my girls have. Renee is dramatically telling a story and Nora is quietly listening.

 

 

 

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Nora was being a princess! By this point I think she was convinced that the whole dunking was merely a bad dream! haha

 

 

 

 

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Sweet Renee always has to be the center of attention. She kept telling me that she wanted to get baptized again. Since, Orthodox only permit one baptism, Fr. Alban has agreed to go swimming with her instead! haha

 

Today, in the middle of Great Lent, I find myself overwhelmed with the beauty of Orthodoxy. This ancient path is challenging, but so very worth it.

 

My faith has grown a lot in the past 12 months. It was around this time last year that Spencer and I were completely burnt out with Christianity. We were sick of unanswered questions, hypocritical leadership, and falsity. We were at the end of a tedious spiritual journey that had involved trying out about five different denominations in the Lynchburg area, within a span of 5 years. Each church was made up of wonderful people, but none of them could answer the questions that were burdening us and causing doubt. Have you ever seen a circus poodle jump through hoops? That’s what Christianity was beginning to look like to us… Circular reasoning, desperate grasping, and emotional manipulation. To say that we were discouraged, was an understatement.

 

Then late one night with a few last agonal breaths, I decided to give Christianity one last try. I pulled out my laptop and researched the Early Church. I wanted to see if there was any denomination out there that had stayed true to the original practices of Christianity. Within minutes, I found a document called the Didache.

 

The Didache is one of the earliest Christian writings ever found. It is estimated to have been written around AD 60, which is before most of the New Testament was even written! I poured myself into this Early Church manual and was blown away. I had never been a part of a church that stayed true to the beliefs and practices that were defined in this writing. To be honest, I found that realization both horrifying and exciting. Perhaps my problem wasn’t with Christianity in general… Perhaps it was merely with the modern forms of it! I had to know more! Where there any denominations out there who still held to these teachings and practices?

 

That’s when I found out about Orthodoxy, the oldest Church in Christendom. I was shocked to find out that this Church could trace back her history in unbroken continuity all the way back to Christ and His Twelve Apostles. I was encouraged, when I found out that the Orthodox Church had unaltered the Early Church’s faith and practice. And, I was elated when I found out that Spencer and I lived only minutes away from a local Orthodox Church.

 

That was the beginning of walking this dusty ancient path. Since that evening, we have taken lots of slow steps forward. We have been steadily incorporating formal prayer into our lives. We have been collecting icons and learning how to properly venerate them. We have been striving to bleed out all of the poisonous theology that was injected into us in the past. We have eagerly leaped into the steady rhythm of fasting and feasting according to the Church calendar. Goodness, the daily life of an Orthodox Christian is intense. Intense, but so rich!

 

I never knew that Christianity could be like this. There is this wonderful shroud of mystery to Orthodoxy. There is this unquenchable thirst for the Creator. No matter how much of His grace and love that I gulp up, I still can’t get enough. It is overwhelming, overpowering, and healing.

 

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls…” Jeremiah 6:16

 

Glory to God, for His mercy! Glory to Him for showing me the ancient path. I will walk in it.

 

Great Lent is in full swing here at the Judd household. Vegetables are being stir-fried, meat substitutes are being experimented with, and protein shakes are being chugged. There is a very real struggle taking place. A struggle to nail down our bodies into submission… to strip away gluttony… to store up a bit more money to give to the needy… and to free up more time to spend in prayer.

 

Even a few months before Great Lent started, I was already looking forward to it. I was looking forward to the possibility of stretching myself out of my comfort zone and achieving spiritual growth as a result. I think I was a bit naive though… I had no idea just how much of a struggle this would be.

 

Since Great Lent has started our home has been a battleground. Some people would call it a coincidence, but I call it spiritual warfare. Starting the weekend before Lent I came down with the norovirus. It was completely debilitating. Then one after another each member of our family has caught it. We are a few weeks into Great Lent now, and we have been unable to attend a single Church service. How discouraging is that?

 

The other day I was enjoying a few minutes of silence, while the girls were taking a nap, and a revelation came to me. Lately, I have been praying daily for God to give me the strength to renounce all worldly desires. I have been imploring Him to help me detach myself from pride. I have been clinging to the hope that if I achieve both of these things, that perhaps I will be able to live in exile just as the Bible commands.

 

Well, that is exactly what this trial has been forcing me to do… I haven’t gotten any decent amount of sleep in the past few weeks. I am exhausted, overworked, and depressed. My patience is thin and I’m a bit grumpy. (Sorry Spencer) I have barely even been able to leave this house. For the past few weeks I have done nothing other than clean up vomit, disinfect surfaces, change very nasty diapers, and control two insanely rambunctious toddlers.

 

It’s been miserable, but I wouldn’t trades these exhausting moments for anything. These past few weeks have helped me buckle down and accept that marriage and motherhood is the arena that God has created for my salvation. It is here in this house that I confront the majority of my life’s temptations. It is in these trying circumstances that I must conquer my passions and work hard to make my day-to-day life conducive to my spiritual progress. It is in these moments that I am given the choice to renounce the world, and to submit myself to God’s will.

It is in midst of the temper tantrums, the spilled juice, and the laundry piles that I sometimes find myself second guessing my decision to have children at such a young age. I catch myself daydreaming about missed opportunities and world travel. However, when I find the strength to overcome these thoughts, that is when I detach from my pride. When I realize that I made a lifelong commitment to serve other people… To sacrifice my will to train up my children and to serve my husband, that is when I overcome my selfishness. Yes, this chaos is my path to holiness.

 

I’m nowhere near perfection in these areas, but Glory to God, that I am seeing progress. Lately, I am constantly aware of my need for more patience, humility, and sacrificial love. Honestly, I think that’s a big first step. Now that I’m aware, I can press on towards fixing these problems.


Glory to God, for a blessed Great Lent so far. I hope it continues to stay just as challenging! My spiritual growth depends on it.

With one skilled plop into the crib  and one hilarious herding, my two girls are in locked in their rooms, a few precious moments are my own.

I walk straight over the coffee machine to get my fix. And put on some soft praise music to coax my chaotic mind back into submission.

 

And with that, a few deep breaths, I regain my sanity. s5dc8n

 

The dog snuggles up next to me.

 

And I sit curled up on the couch, laptop in my lap, sipping on some hot coffee and feeling the ache of passing time. This whole motherhood thing is getting easier. My girls are growing up.

 

Renee can carry on full conversations, she can let me know exactly what she is thinking. I’ve stopped counting her milestones, she’s ceased to be a baby…

Then there’s Nora. She’s testing her boundaries, constantly pushing herself to achieve new things. She’s moved out of our bed and stopped suckling every hour… The reality of losing yet another baby to childhood is almost unbearable.

 

My heart doesn’t know what to do with itself these days. I’m constantly doing my best to cherish each moment that I am given with these little gifts, to thrive in the chaos, to implant lasting memories in the souls of my children that will long outlive my final breath.

 

It’s a brand new year. The entire world is reflecting… Am I reaching my goals?

 

15fkntcAm I nurturing the souls of my children in a way that will grow them into healthy and prosperous adults?

 

Am I growing closer and closer to God? Am I on my way to achieving theosis?

I really hope I am. I know I am at least doing my best. After all, who knows if 2015 will be my last year. My last chance to make a difference on earth this side of eternity. I’m going to live each moment to the fullest!

“Time is a very precious gift of God; so precious that it’s only given to us moment by moment.”

~ Amelia Barr