I was very excited to visit Dormition Monastery for the Dormition this year. It was both my husband and sons first time at a monastery. I expected to show my husband around the grounds after service. I wanted my son to get a chance to explore the children's garden. I anticipated sunshine, the smell of incense carried upon the breeze, and the shining faces of all in attendance.

However, my expectations were not met.

It rained. Not even a warm summer rain, but a cold and bitter storm. The scent of the drenched soil overpowered the light aroma of myrrh and frankincense. We, with our young son, were unprepared for the weather, resulting in us huddled together in order to avoid the ceaseless drizzle and remain warm. And it was not just us. With this being such a large pilgrimage, many young families ended up standing outside the outdoor chapel, praying for a break in the clouds.

I did not know how I would write about this experience. Believe it or not, I am under obedience to my priest to continue writing, and it was specifically requested that I recount my experience on this day to share with my parish. 

In regards to this visit, I have felt that I don't have much to offer. I suppose I will just sum up the highlights of my experience.

My son woke up unusually early that morning. This being the case, we left earlier to ensure he would nap on the hour long drive. This means we were able to arrive in time for Hours, ahead of Divine Liturgy.

The church was relatively empty, and this allowed us to take in the beautiful iconography. We were able to receive a blessing from the bishop and venerate the icons. We were able to participate in the first half of Hours before my son grew restless. Having the newly acquired ability to walk, he wanted to get down and explore. Knowing my husband would appreciate this time to take in the monastery experience, I took my son outside. 

I tried to show him the beautiful mosaics, the flowers, the candles, the icons that were everywhere. He decided against seeing all those beautiful things and wanted to play in the rocks. For every lovely thing he could have experienced, there was a rock he wanted to focus on. I grew tired of constantly setting him back on the path we were walking just for him to run off once more.

Fortunately, this walk allowed us to see some of my family. Both my grandma and tanti (term of endearment for older Romanian women) recognized us and came over to coo at my son. We waved to the local priests as they bustled around in preparation. We were also able to visit with my aunt, uncle and cousins, as well as my parents and sister. 

By the time we found my husband in the midst of the procession to the chapel, it was crowded. My son, still wanting to explore, forced us to forgo our cramped spot under the roof for more space, exposed to the elements. At the best of times, it was drizzling. It poured at the worst. All the while, my underdressed son could not help but put every acorn and pebble in his mouth. In a moment of desperation, we fled to the car.

As we all warmed up, I expressed to my husband that I did not know if it would be worth it to stay for the rest of the service. He assured me that we should stick it out. Once drier, we ventured out into the storm once more. 

Though it was miserable, everyone was generous, with both their space and umbrellas. Eventually, we were able to squeeze back in under the chapel roof, and my son fell asleep just before communion. He slept long after service had ended. 

My son, asleep, after Dormition Liturgy.

Finally, the weather began to lighten up. People grabbed their picnic baskets and opted to eat within the chapel, as opposed to sitting at the tables outside. My (rather bold) relatives opted to bring a picnic table inside. 

We set the table and shared with those around us. My husband talked with a woman inquiring about Orthodoxy. My sister and cousins talked to their friends. I talked with my aunt and mother as my son scarfed down schnitzel. 

It turned out to be a lovely time. 

As we made our way back to the car, I felt that something was off. We had come all this way, and for what?

Sadly, I realized I had almost forgotten what we had been celebrating: the life and death of the Theotokos.

The Theotokos, who had been in the temple since she was a young girl.

The Theotokos, who had to be betrothed to St. Joseph, as she could no longer stay in the temple as she became a young woman.

The Theotokos, who faced ridicule and scrutiny, even from her own husband at first, for carrying our Lord within her womb.

The Theotokos, who gave birth in a cave, surrounded by animals.

The Theotokos, who watched her son die on the cross for the sins of the world.

The Theotokos, who had a life much harder than most of us could conceive of, yet still maintained her holiness, and was assumed into heaven. 

She, better than any of us, knew how God can take struggle and turn it into something beautiful. Throughout this whole trip, my tired eyes could not see the glorious gifts God has presented us in giving us such a taxing day.

Our early-rising son allowed us to make it to the monastery in time for Hours. 

In taking my son out of Hours to walk around, I not only allowed my husband to enjoy his first time at a monastery, but I was also able to spend time with my family. 

By standing outside the chapel, we were able to get a glimpse of the world through our sons eyes. Not only that, but we got to witness the patience of other parents, as we all struggled together in caring for our kids in the inclement weather. We were also graced with the kindness of strangers who offered us umbrellas and places to sit. 

At the end of it all, the storm passed, and the sun returned. We were blessed with the opportunity to enjoy the feast as a community, and revel in God's glory together. 

And I almost missed it.

Like my stone-loving son, I kept looking at the hard patches we were trudging through, instead of the beauty all around me. Thankfully, both God and my husband served as guiding hands, leading me away from thoughts of quitting early and going home. 

Think of how many wonderful things we miss simply because we choose to focus on rocks…

We do not know what we are capable of until we are tested and tried. We never realize how unprepared we are until we are caught in the rain without an umbrella. We cannot see the beauty of God around us unless we open our eyes and see that everything is good, no matter how we feel about it in the moment.

This trip was not what I expected. It was not terrible, but it was not as amazing as I wanted it to be for my family. But such is life. A life lived in obedience to God. We are called to take the good and the bad, and give glory to God for all of it. And in doing so, our eyes grow more accustomed to the beauty of this life as we grow closer to Him.

So, please, look up from the rocks every once in a while. There is much beauty to be found.