A Prayer for My Children #3 by Kimberlee Ireton Conway

A Prayer for My Children (part three)
Today’s post is by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year. This is the last of a three-part prayer for our children, adapted from an Orthodox akathist to Mary the Mother of God. If you missed or would like to reread the first two parts of the prayer, you can find them here:

Part One
Part Two

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A Prayer for My Children

Prelude 9

Fill the souls and hearts of my children with all good—and You alone are good, O God. Drive away from them the evil spirit of atheism. Give to each of them all that they need of Your infinite compassion. I cry to You: Alleluia.

Song 9

Deliver my children from teachers and leaders who speak lies about Your all-powerful intercession, O Christ. Look upon me as I faithfully sing:

Raise my children to love You with all their hearts and minds.
Raise my children to love You with their whole soul and strength.
Raise my children to open their lips only in praise and glory to You.
Raise my children in watchful and continual prayer.
Raise my children (names), O Christ, to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.

Prelude 10

Desiring to save the world, O Christ, You came from heaven to call, not the righteous, but sinners to repentance. I pray that, having been saved through You, my children may call to God: Alleluia.

Song 10

Surround my children with indestructible walls, O God, that under Your blessed protection, they may accomplish a multitude of good deeds. I cry to You:

Raise my children to be leaders in doing Your will.
Raise my children to hate sin and all transgression.
Raise my children to love good and all virtue.
Raise my children in blameless purity.
Raise my children to ascend the ladder of their lives every day.
Raise my children to turn their eyes to Your compassion in the midst of sorrows.
Raise my children to serve You in obedience and purity of heart.
Raise my children (names), O Christ, to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.

Prelude 11

Make my children (names) worthy always to hymn Your unshakable intercession, O Christ, and through Your grace direct their lips to sing to God: Alleluia.

Song 11

O Shining Lamp from on high, make the lives of my children to burn and their hearts to melt day and night with love for You and for their neighbors. Hear me when I cry to You:

Raise my children to love You with all their hearts and minds.
Raise my children to open their lips only in the praise and glory of Your blessings.
Raise my children in watchful and continual prayer.
Raise my children to await Your coming with joy and tears.
Raise my children to stand always before You with reverence.
Raise my children to bear good fruit.
Raise my children (names), O Christ, to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.

Prelude 12

Fill the hearts of my children with the inexpressible grace of the Holy Spirit, so that they may love only You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For this, I cry to the King of all: Alleluia.

Song 12

Singing of Your loving-kindness, I pray to you, O Christ, who feeds and has mercy on my children: do not cease to intercede for them with the Father, for I believe that all is possible for You.

Raise my children to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Raise my children to live in a holy manner.
Raise my children to dwell securely on the path of faith by the grace of the Spirit of God.
Raise my children to hunger and thirst insatiably for the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.
Raise my children to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect.
Raise my children (names), O Christ, to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.

Closing Prayer

O Sweetest Jesus! Accept this small hymn of supplication for my children as a sweet fragrance and take them under Your compassionate protection. Grant them to think, know, hear, say, and do only that which brings them close to You, only that which helps them attain eternal salvation. And send them in this present life all that is profitable for the salvation of their souls, that they may cry to God all their days: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Growing Edge by Kimberlee Ireton Conway

Today’s post is by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year.
Doug is working late tonight, giving a presentation at some Seattle geek fest, which means I am home alone with four kids at the dinner hour.

This shouldn’t faze me. I mean, I manage to get dinner on the table five nights a week without Doug being home to help me. He usually shows up just in time to help me round up kids and wash their hands and cajole Jane into finishing her table setting.
And that’s precisely what I need tonight—someone to help me with those last few things before we can eat.
Only Doug’s not coming home yet.
“Jane, honey,” I call from the kitchen to the living room where she’s making a Duplo castle. “We still need plates and water on the table, sweetheart.” I say it sweetly. I don’t yell. This is a growing edge for me. “Would you please come finish your job?”
She collapses into a heap on the floor and moans, “I don’t want to.”
I force myself to smile. “I didn’t ask you if you wanted to. I asked you if you would.”
She staggers to her feet and drags herself through the dining room to the kitchen. She stands next to me and stares up at the dishes on the shelf. “I can’t reach the glasses!” she whines.
I can feel my frustration mounting. I take a breath as I drain the pasta pot. “I’m going to let you figure that one out.”
She sighs dramatically, then turns on her heel and skulks out of the kitchen to get a chair from the dining table, which she then drags back to the kitchen counter.
I try to ignore her as I read the end of the recipe for the tenth, or maybe it’s the twelfth, time. Lemon juice, butter, sauce, shrimp, parsley, salt to taste. Got it.
Jack races through the kitchen holding an imaginary bow and shooting an imaginary arrow at an imaginary enemy. “That’s 40!” he shouts as he blasts past me.
“Jack!” I say, loudly, because he’s in another world, one where people do not stand over hot stoves trying to get dinner on the table but live on game and wild mushrooms, which they cook over an open fire. Unless they’re fighting off orcs.
“Jack!” I say again, louder.
“Yes Mama?”
I smile, but it’s totally forced, a grotesque mockery of a smile. “No running in the house.”
“Sorry, Mama.” He looses another arrow.
I say, “Would you wash Luke’s hands, please, while I finish this?” I look at the recipe again. Lemon juice. Check. Butter. Check. Sauce. I pour this over the pasta.
“Lu-uke!” Jack shouts as he runs past me into the living room. “Time to wash hands!”
Didn’t I just say something about not running in the house? Or was I only imagining those words? I look back at the cookbook. Where was I again? Oh, right. Shrimp. I empty the bowl of shrimp on top of the pasta.
Jane is standing at the kitchen sink, holding a glass under the faucet. She bounces up and down on her toes and whines, “I can’t reach it to turn it on, Mama!”
I just stare at her for a moment, then turn back to the cookbook. “Mama!” she wails. “I can’t reach the faucet!”
Parsley. I need parsley. I open the refrigerator and wrench a handful of parsley off the bunch that’s sitting at the top of the crisper drawer. With my biggest knife, I chop it into tiny little shreds of green.
Jane starts fake-sobbing. “I—can’t—reach—the—faucet!”
I whirl around. “Are you kidding me?” I shout. “There’s a perfectly easy solution to that problem! There’s absolutely no reason to cry about it!” I realize I am still holding the knife in my hand, stabbing the air with it while I bark at my daughter. Oh. Lord.
I turn my back on Jane and rather vigorously scrape the parsley off the cutting board into the pasta pot and stir everything together. “Dinner!” I call in a falsely cheery voice as I carry the pot to the table.
“Mama!” Jack shouts from the bathroom. “Luke’s poopy! He stinks like a hippopotamus!”
I look up at the ceiling. I close my eyes. I wish I could say I’m praying. I’m not. I’m feeling bitter. I put the pot on the trivet on the table and go to the bathroom to change Luke. “Jack, could you wash Ben’s hands and get him in his seat, please? You can use the kitchen sink.”
Ben screeches in protest; he doesn’t want Jack to wash his hands. Jack is screaming back, “I have to, Ben! Mama said!” Jane is yelling, too, because Jack is usurping her place at the kitchen sink.
“Jack! Jane!” I yell through the bathroom doorway. “Shut! UP!”
Jack calls back, “What, Mama?”

I roll my eyes. “Be quiet!” I shout through gritted teeth, but I don’t think they can hear me for all the noise they’re making.
By the time I finish changing Luke and wash both my hands and his, Jack has gotten Ben strapped into his chair. Ben is not happy about it. He screeches and kicks and hits the table. “It’s okay, Ben,” I say as I strap Luke into his high chair. “It’s okay. I know you’re upset. We’re going to pray. Then we’ll eat, okay?”
Apparently, that’s not okay. Ben picks up his fork and throws it.
“That’s it! I’ve had it!” I grab the back of Ben’s chair and drag it, and him in it, to his bedroom. Then I slam the door shut and storm back to the table. Luke, Jack, and Jane are all staring at me.
I pick up the matchbox and pull out a match, but I don’t strike it. I can’t light the candle and say “Bless the Lord” when I’ve just slammed a door and have spent the last five minutes yelling at my kids. I close my eyes and breathe the Jesus Prayer in and out a couple of times. When I’m calm and can speak truly, I pray out loud, “Lord Jesus, please forgive me. I’m so sorry I yelled at these precious people you’ve entrusted to me.” I take another deep breath.
Then I open my eyes and look at each of my children in turn. “I’m sorry, Jack. I’m sorry, Jane. I’m sorry, Luke. I’m sorry I’ve been so grumpy. I’m sorry I snapped at you.”
“It’s okay, Mama,” Jack says. “We’re sorry, too. We weren’t obeying you.”
Jane nods. “I forgive you, Mama. I’m sorry I fussed.”
Luke is completely oblivious to my apology. He’s too busy eating the pasta that is somehow in his bowl.
I wish that I didn’t have growing edges, that I never raised my voice with my kids, that I was endlessly patient and kind and soft-spoken. But if I have to be a little rough and raggedy in places, and it seems I do, I’m awfully glad to be able to grow with these precious people God has entrusted to me. They’re full of love and forgiveness and grace. And I’m so grateful.
I smile at Jack and Jane. Then I strike the match and hold it to the candle. The wick flares. “Bless the Lord!”
Jack and Jane chorus, “The Lord’s name be praised!”
“You think Ben is ready to come out?” I ask. “You think he’s ready to pray with us?”
They both nod. I go to the bedroom and give Ben a hug. “I’m sorry I slammed the door on you, Benito.” He wraps his little arms around my neck. Then I push his chair back to the dining room. We pray, and I serve up the pasta.
“Highlight, lowlight!” Jane says. “I’ll start.”
And so dinner begins, with praise and prayer and the examen. The road to get here was a bit rough, but by the time we finish sharing our highlights and lowlights, we’re laughing together, eating together, enjoying each other again, and the roughness of the road has been forgiven and forgotten.

If you’d like to initiate your own mealtime candle-lighting ritual, here’s a free download to get you started: these short litanies that we use at the beginning of our family meal each day change with the seasons of the church year.

Praying With Tears by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

“The noun torah comes from a verb, yarah, that means to throw something, a javelin, say, so that it hits its mark. The word that hits its mark is torah… As we prepare to pray, to answer the words God addresses to us, we learn that all of God’s words have this characteristic: they are torah and we are the target.”

—Eugene Peterson, Answering God

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I sit on the sofa in a circle of lamplight. Night presses on the windowpanes. Cold seeps through them. But the heat rattles in the registers, and I am cozy under a fleece blanket.

The house is quiet. Everyone else is asleep. The stars have aligned tonight and given me a moment of silence, alone in asleeping house in the dark of a midwinter night.

My Bible lies open on my lap. I am praying through the Psalms again, morning and (when I can manage it) night. Tonight I read Psalm 11:

In the Lord I take refuge;
how can you say to my soul,
“Flee like a bird to your mountain,
for behold, the wicked bend the bow;
they have fitted their arrow to the string
to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
if the foundations are destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”

On the one hand, the poetry moves me—the image of the bird and the bow, the arrow on the loose, the destroyed foundations. On the other hand, the reality of the image hits a little closer to home than I would like.

These past six months I have been writing a memoir about my postpartum year with twins, a year marked by the darkest days I have ever known. Revisiting that dark time has been healing, of course, a chance to make sense of my experience, to see how God has redeemed it. But it also raises a lot of questions, questions for which I don’t have answers, questions like the Psalmist’s in this psalm: if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

In the darkness of my postpartum experience, I felt like the foundations of my life, of my self were being eroded and destroyed. And what do you do when you are no longer the person you’ve always believed yourself to be, when your faith—and therefore your identity—is shaken and you’re clinging to it by your fingernails and you know there’s a wicked something-or-other out there with a bow and an arrow trained on your grasping fingers?

Wrapped in my blanket, I shiver a little. But I am not ready to go to bed. The silence is rich, alive somehow, the circle of lamplight comforting, though I know the darkness presses at the edge of my sight. I flip through the pages of my Bible and stop at John 10. I’m not sure why, really, but I think the Good Shepherd story might cheer me, might remind me whose I am, and send that bow-wielder back to the dark from whence he came.

I read the Good Shepherd story. It’s a wonderful story, really, but so familiar as to cease to amaze. A pity, that. But I keep reading, past the space break in my Bible with its bold heading to show that we’re moving on to a new topic. Only we aren’t. Jesus is still talking about sheep. He says,

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

And suddenly, I am weeping. I read those words again and again, like a woman dying of thirst who has stumbled upon a spring. But this spring is inside of me, and I didn’t even know it was there. The tears keep coming, and I don’t even know why I’m crying. Something in those words released something in me, and it’s flowing down my cheeks.

Later, I will talk about this with my spiritual director, and she will help me see that these words touched a deep place of fear in me, the fear in which I lived during my postpartum darkness, the fear that I would cease to be, that I would never see my children again. These words of Jesus promise that life is forever, that I will never perish, that my children will never perish, that nothing and no one can snatch us from the hand of God. And I will say that I know that, that I have even written words to that effect before, many times. I will say I don’t know why this time they got through my intellectual filters and stabbed me right in my heart.

But for now, sitting on the sofa in a circle of quiet, I have yet to think those thoughts. I only know that Jesus’ words have stirred something deep in me, and though I don’t understand why, I also know that these are healing tears, tears of release and return and redemption. And I am grateful. Grateful for the words. Grateful for the tears. Grateful for God’s grace that would prompt me to read a familiar passage again and speak through it words I didn’t even know I needed to hear.

“Prayer,” Eugene Peterson says, “begins in the senses, in the body.” If that is so, then this night, I am praying as truly as I know how.

Post and photos by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, general misfit, mother of four, and author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year.

Longing For Green Pastures – A Lenten Reflection by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Today’s Lenten reflection in the series  Easter is Coming: What Do We Hunger and Thirst For?  comes from Kimberlee Conway Ireton. It was first published on her blog as Green PasturesKimberlee is a reader, a writer (she’s written a book: The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year), and a mother (of four) which is what she blogs about at http://www.kimberleeconwayireton.net/

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It’s been a day. Sometimes, it seems like it’s been a whole long string of days, and I am tired.

Jack wants me to come outside and see the hole he’s dug in the back yard and the coal he thinks he’s found. Jane wants me to read her a story. And the twins are fussy and cling to me. If I set either of them down, that one wails.

My ears need a break from the noise, the constant words and cries that drum at me from four directions.

My body needs a break from being a jungle gym and a security blanket.

I inhale and exhale the Jesus Prayer—Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me—and ask Jane to bring me a book, one the babies will enjoy. She brings Psalm 23, gorgeously illustrated by Barry Moser.

Luke squawks while I read. Ben tries to grab the book and eat it. Both grab at the pages. I keep breathing in and out, the Jesus Prayer rolling over and over in my mind—have mercy on me, have mercy on me.

A half hour later, Luke and Ben are in their high chairs, happily (and quietly!) eating Cheerios. Jack and Jane are playing outside.

I squat in front of my laptop, which is on the floor, for a reason I can no longer remember, if in fact I ever knew. While I wait for it to boot, I rest my head on my knees, close my eyes. They ache. Until this moment, when I closed them, let them rest, I did not know that they ached.

I take a long, deep breath. The Lenten questions prick at the edge of my mind: What do I hunger for? What do I thirst for?

I hunger for silence, stillness, rest. Time to simply be.

I thirst for space to reflect and ponder and hagah the word of God.

The Bible memory work I do each day is good. Praying as I go about my daily work is good. Creating a cone of silence around myself so I can think is good.

But sometimes I need to sit and soak in Scripture, not just say it in snatches. Sometimes I need to pray in silence and stillness and not in the midst of some other thing. Sometimes I need real silence, not the zoned-out cone I am able to create in the midst of chaos.

As I sit on the floor, my head on my knees, I think of Moser’s Caribbean rendering of Psalm 23. In the painting that accompanies the words “he restores my soul,” a sheep lies in green grass, the blazing sun shimmering hot on the field. Beside her, a young shepherd holds a large leaf in his outstretched hand, holds the leaf over her, creates shade for her to lie in, so that the sun shall not strike her by day.

I want to be that sheep. I want the Good Shepherd to make me lie down in green pastures, to lead me beside quiet waters, to restore my soul. I want to rest like that sheep in the shelter of the divine wings, to lean on the everlasting arms.

That is what I hunger for, what I thirst for.

And I realize, I who sit in this oasis of silence, these few precious moments of stillness—I realize I have been given that gift. Right here, right now, God is restoring my soul.

I exhale a short prayer of gratitude, simply the words thank you, even as I long for this moment to last and last and last.

It doesn’t.

Luke shrieks. Ben has stolen his Cheerio bowl. I inhale another Jesus Prayer, knowing (for a moment anyway) that my cry for mercy has already been answered, is being answered, will continue to be answered.

I get to my feet and go to my boys.