“I will keep my eyes always on the Lord…”

I have been sharing about leaving Facebook. Boy, so many people got off Social Media platforms over Lent and they are choosing to stay off them! I am so happy. I realized I was not alone in my disgust and distaste over what is all over the media. And interestingly enough, in my age group, I discovered most of us got onto Social Media platforms in the first place, just to stay in touch with our kids and friends who had moved away.

I chatted with one of my sons and he was supportive of me leaving FB. My only concern was being in the loop with his life and kids and because we literally live 1,000s of miles away, and I wanted to ensure I was able to still be a part of their lives. Because for me, family is what matters to me above all else these days. Of course my faith is still #1 in my life, but my faith encompasses the love of my family. And let’s face it, we are getting so lazy. It is easier to post a photo and leave it for others to find and see, rather than personally sending one, or even getting a photo actually printed!! Sometimes we are not in the mood to chat, so we put off calling. I get that, I do.

With the death of my mother-in-law, the above meme became so personal. I will never again get to chat with her, learn from her, or laugh with her. I was recalling yesterday a poignant visit when our eldest son was born. My MIL and I were sitting on the couch, and she was holding our newborn son. My husband arrived home from work and it became almost like slow-motion video, or even a cartoon. He proceeded to drop what he had with him, as he walked through the house, piece-by-piece. And I recall she and I moving our heads in unison as he walked past us. Then she turned to me and said, “I’m sorry; I guess I didn’t train him very well.” And we both laughed and laughed. And the funniest part was I was sharing this with the wife of that newborn baby who is now in his 30s. And we decided it is a genetic trait! LOL! But these memories we hold so dear are made by spending time with one another. They are an investment in our future. They are part of who we become.

The Lord created us in His image. We are a Holy People. The Lord gave us this amazing organ – our brain. And with this brain of ours we have created some amazing things. Technology has helped our world so very much. And without some of our technology, the world would not function as it does. Production and processes would come to a complete stop. One of the things researchers have noted, however, is that technology can be addictive. Just as much an addiction as any other. Some people cannot put their phones down. They are constantly checking their status or looking to see posts on various platforms. One of the favors I did for myself is I turned off almost all notifications. No random dings or rings from my phone. I also took Facebook off my phone. I try to use it as a device to call people, not search the World Wide Web. I am far from my goals, but I am taking steps. And it is one of the reasons I am leaving Facebook. To enable myself to be personal again, and not so digital.

To be perfectly honest, being offline is scary. I am alone for much the of my days (since I am not working outside the home right now) and reaching for my phone or my computer to see what is up around the world is so easy, it becomes second nature. We got rid of cable and standard TV, but bingeing on shows is so easy – I find myself just putting it on for the company, while I go about my day. (I started the Supernatural series all over again and am already at Season 10…lol). Media has become a part of our lives. We are not comfortable being alone, or being in silence. And that is my goal – to be comfortable there. Quietly alone.

In an article on a website called “Inspirecycle,” called “Digital Detox – Disconnect to Reconnect,” they cited many reasons why our habitual use of digital media is bad, and what we can do to disconnect ourselves and be more present to each other. In the article, they cite that many people suffer from FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. And I realized that is me. I want to be a part of what is happening. The reality? I’m a 62-year-old grandma, who is alone most of the time, in Wasilla, Alaska. LOL. Being so remote, I am not really “in” or “a part” of much – it is the Last Frontier, and a much quieter lifestyle in and of itself. So it enhances that loneliness hole I have. But filling it with media is not the way to go! And staying connected for your whole day is also not healthy. Studies have shown, according to this article, that Smartphones have enabled people to become workaholics 24/7 because you can always be contacted on your phone. And it is hard for people to use that “Do not disturb” feature on their phones! I have heard of families that require all phones be placed in a bowl by the door, or on a family-sized charging station when they come home, so they can be present to one another. It is not a bad idea.

One of the suggestions of the article is to begin and end each day practicing meditation or prayer, instead of reaching for the phone/computer first. I have tried to do this. I have a stack of prayer books on the end table by the recliner in my living room. I endeavor to reach for one of those and meditate on the word of God and the Church Fathers before engaging in the world. And it truly does give my soul rest and peace. It also gets my brain in a really good mindset of “God first!” And then when I look on media platforms, the absence of the divine is so apparent, I find it easier to put it down.

It should concern us all, about where our hearts and minds are directed throughout our day. Because each step we take is a step towards God, or a step away. How we fill our minds, the thoughts we have, eventually become our character. The habits we develop say a lot about who we are, and what we are concerned with. And I scared myself. I was becoming so much of this digital world, that all I could converse about what who said what on Twitter, or who posted what on Facebook, or the newest photo on Instagram. My youngest son was telling me all these other social platforms the younger generation are using, to get away from us old people who use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I cannot even remember the names of all the new platforms, and there are a lot of them. This is a partial list: QQ, We chat, Qzone, Vibes, Tagged, Baddo, Stumble Upon, Snapfish, Vine, Tout, Spreely, WhatsApp, and Funny or Die. Those are just a few! Seriously! It is almost bordering on the ridiculous.

This is my social media! Ha-Ha. This is the cover of the Psalter I try to read daily. The prayers for before and after are amazing. It centers me. It calms me. Now, does everyone find solace in a Psalter? Of course not. But it is an example of the many, many, sources of faith and knowledge we can replace social media with. The list is far longer than the platforms I listed above! LOL! We can occupy our minds with prayers, with holy words from the Gospels, or the Church Fathers. We can listen to some amazing Podcasts. We can play Christian music. I recently discovered that I can play the music on my Phone (I have a guilty habit – I love Apple Music – and I have a lot of it. Yes, it is $9/month, but I download far more than $9 worth of music! And now they know what I like, they offer suggestions for more downloads. I recently downloaded all of Chicago’s music – one of my favorite bands of the 70s. Life is good!) by genre! So I choose Christian most of the time, and all my albums that are Christian play, in a randomly selected order so I don’t get bored. I stream it into my car and off we go down the road.

The point I am making is that for me, and for my faith and sanity, I am streamlining what goes into my brain, through what I see and listen to, because it affects my character. The old saying, “Garbage in, garbage out,” applies!

And with determination, trust in the Holy Spirit, and the Guidance of God, I will move into a much quieter place. And it will be a place where I am present to those around me in a real, tangible way. Less world, less media, more love for one another – up close and personal. Friends and family – it is all we really have in this life. Don’t replace them with media. And if we put God first in all things, the rest will beautifully fall into place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“…shall never walk in darkness…”

And it’s still snowing. On Bright Monday. LOL. I was asked about what I mean by Bright Monday. Well, Easter! The Lord rose and all darkness has been dispelled! The Light of the World has come to show us the way to Heaven. During Bright Week, we do not fast. We do no prostrations or bows. We stand with the elect; the chosen people of God. Why else would people who disagree with Christianity set off 8 bombs on the holiest day of the Christian calendar? We are not Easter Worshippers – we worship our Risen Lord – Jesus Christ, the Son of God. +Jesus Christ, one of the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.+ And we worship Him every day. Those who hate us persecute us when we are at our most Holy – Easter Sunday. Without Easter, Christmas is meaningless. Without Easter, there is no Christianity. And so those that wish us ill choose our holiest day to attack our people and our beliefs; to make a statement against those who follow Jesus Christ. Make no mistake, there was a concerted effort to hurt Christianity in Sri Lanka, in Paris, and all the other places Christians are being bombed, killed, and singled out for their faith. And during Bright Week, even in dark and snowy weather, the Light still shines for those who believe.

Most of us have just completed 40 days of fasting and preparing our hearts to welcome the Risen Lord. Every year, we re-dedicate ourselves to living a Christian lifestyle. One of the things about Lent that I love is that if you really, really apply yourself, you can come out, on Easter Vigil or Easter Sunday, a different person. And this Lent is no exception. I have been blessed to use an amazing Lenten Psalter study and it truly impacted my thinking and behavior. Another thing that touched me greatly was visiting some friends. They have been doing extensive remodeling. And one of the things they incorporated everywhere was religious art and icons. And walking into their home felt so joyful because God was everywhere. We relocated 2 years ago to a new home. And it has been a home of minimalism. Very little out on display. Very little on the walls. No curtains in our main living area (although in 2 bedrooms there are curtains). My daughter-in-law made a valance for my kitchen window, and also a covering for our glass door. And I love them so much. They added warmth. But I realized after our visit with our friends, I missed my icons. So on Wednesday of Holy Week, I sat and unpacked 4 large boxes. I hung family photos and artwork in our guest room. It looks so homey, now. And I got out my icons. I added them all over the house. We chose a wall we are going to make our icon wall, because we realized we missed them. We need our home to reflect who we are, and what we believe, unashamedly. We are not a Church, so we will not attempt to recreate one in our home. However, we are a Christian home. And I refuse to be embarrassed by my faith, and to not have it in my decor. It is part of who I am and if you are coming into my home, you should already know that about me. And probably expect it! LOL! And I truly hope you find the warmth, safety, and love of God in our home.

I also have decided I enjoyed 40 days without Facebook. I am cleaning it out and de-activating my account at the end of April. I am just done with the drama. I chose to be on FB to stay in touch with my kids. My youngest tells me if he lets me, I become a hovering mother. So he does not friend me on some media accounts. And I get that. He has a life of his own (almost 21!!) and I need to butt out. I am also curtailing my circle. It is becoming more intimate and meaningful. More real. I discovered that I need people who will support me, my faith, and my walk in this world. I want tangible friendships. I need to limit who I let in and who influences me. There are so many sayings like, “You are what you eat,” or “You are what you watch/read/listen to…”  And this applies to people, places, and events we allow in. From a couple of posts back, I wrote, “To quote from the Lenten study I am participating in (“Songs of Praise” by Sylvia Leontaritis), “Every so often I like to sit down and examine my life and the things I allow to take up space in it. I discover activities that don’t really need to be there, for the simple fact that they don’t contribute to anything needful.” And that is more than true in my life. What do I allow to “take up space in it”? 

Less social media, more in person. Less listening to the talking heads, more meaningful podcasts and written works. Less being of the world, more being just in it. I am trying to work out my salvation in the most meaningful way I can. Putting on the breaks, and breaking old habits, are hard things to do. But for me, necessary. Less can truly be more. In every corner of your life.

As we move through Bright Week, let us remember and pray for those who take their lives in their hands, each and every time they gather as Christians. And pray for the souls of those recently taken, and for their families, and their country. Our world is at war, as it always is. But these days, it is becoming more and more overt. More and more obvious. The world wants God out of it, and they want the state in it. They want to replace God with government. We all need to re-commit ourselves to living authentic, Christian lives. Trust in God, in the Light of the World. Simply put, we all need to be praying, all the time.

 

 

 

“…no room left for the unholy…”

“The best laid schemes of mice and men…”                                                               “To a Mouse,” by Robert Burns

I have always loved that quote. There is another one I like, too:

Why, I am sure you are wondering, am I bringing this up? Well, it is Holy Week. And I normally am bustling around getting prepared for Sunday – Easter – Pascha. Opening our home and celebrating the Resurrection of Christ!  And part of Easter is just the time of the year. We get to wash our windows, put our screens back on, and open the windows. We get to enjoy sunshine until something close to 10pm every night. And things are blooming everywhere. Not this year! Yep. Snow. And it started last night with rain and as of this afternoon, we had about 6″ of snow on the ground. Only it is still snowing. And snowing. And snowing. Can’t wash windows. Can’t put on my screens or open windows. It is snowing so hard right now, I can barely make out the trees in our back yard.

This has been happening all day long. A friend commented, “Oh no. Snow in Alaska!” And I get it. We live in Alaska. But darn it, it is almost Easter! We relocated to Alaska six years ago this month. And by Mother’s Day that May (just a couple of weeks later), we had blizzard conditions. So it should not surprise me. But I made plans. See…?

                 

The first photo is of all the plants I wanted to lay out in the yard or in pots, even one of those magnetic screen doors for our back door. And in the pot on the right? That is my baby blueberry plant. Needed to get it into soil, but it is not strong enough to survive a freeze yet. So, it gets to hang out in my dining room. I mean, it is April. And we are supposed to be having Spring. So I was ready. And God is laughing at me. Cracking up.

I have been doing this wonderful Lenten study using “Songs of Praise, A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women,” by Sylvia Leontaritis. (Do yourself a favor and buy this book. Click here). I love this book so much. The Psalms are just magnificent, if you give them the time and attention they deserve. But at the end of each group of Psalms, or Kathisma, Sylvia gave us some very good devotional reflections, which have really affected me. My goal for Lent was to embrace simplicity in all areas of my life, as well as to embrace a quieter lifestyle. Less noise. Less chaos. “Take control of the things you grant entrance to your heart.” (Page 189) That quote has been huge for me. What am I allowing into my life? My heart? What is taking up my time? “A woman’s home is a reflection of her heart.” (Page 208). Wow. What does my home say about me? Is it a haven? Is is a place of peace, comfort, and prayer? “Have you ever asked yourself what do you do differently than an unbeliever? How will the world know Christ if those of us who call ourselves Christians are no different from those who worship at the altar of the world?” (Page 225) This also struck me. How am I different? In how I treat others? What I say to them? How do I serve God in the world??? And quotes like, “Our shortcomings should humble us.” on page 242 or …”we have to remember the healing power of being still…” on page 259. Her entire reflection on “Unsocial Media” (pages 312-315) were the most profound for me, because this is where I struggle. This is where I find myself being pulled by the world. This is where I am my most vulnerable. “It takes constant effort to not fall down the rabbit hole.” Boy, does it ever! “Accept that your life does not need hundreds of likes or comments to confirm that your life is good.” And that is where I am today. She goes on to say this, “Decide which life is really worth investing in – your spiritual life or your virtual one – and then fill it with the things that truly make your heart happy. If we struggle to fill our lives with good and spiritual things and constantly have prayer on our lips, there will be no room left for the unholy.”

Because I have been quieter, and more reflective, and because I am choosing what I allow into my heart, a little hiccup like an “un-called-for-snow-storm-when-I-planned-to-prepare-for-Pascha (Easter)” sort of day truly does not derail me anymore. Instead, I re-read some Psalms and reflections and my journaling, and I prayed longer. I caught up with friends. I spoke to my brother and we enjoyed ourselves, laughing at memories of childhood. I was not in a hurry to catch-up to my made-up calendar in my mind. I can still pull off Easter dinner. The Lamb and Ham can still be prepared in a snow storm. Driving will stink. Getting around town will be more of a chore. But it is NOTHING when I look at where my Lord is walking this week. Where His suffering is this week. Where we will walk together on Good Friday: “We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee because by Thy Holy Cross Thou has Redeemed the World.”

And we will rejoice on Sunday, like every Easter Sunday, snow or sun, rain or shine. God never breaks His promises. But I am sure He cracks up when we make plans. Or sends us snow storms. I think He sent this snow to help me with my stillness and silence. He so knows what I need. Thanks be to God. Blessed Holy Week, my friends.

 

 

 

“…thousands around you…”

 

I read a new new poll which stated that, overall religious affiliation is, for the first time in recent memory, lagging far behind “none.” In other words, people check the box that says, “none,” rather than opting for a religious identity. Another says that people who are married are happier than those who remain single. And these polls made me think about what they are polling, who they are polling, and how they are sharing their “results.”

Attending Church changes lives. Even if you cannot last the entire service without checking your cell phone (which I witnessed recently) the grace of God will touch your soul, just being there. Being married in a Church ceremony adds countless blessings to your marriage. It does not mean it is better than a civil ceremony in the legal sense, but it certainly brings more grace into your marriage and positively affects your family life. Being a part of God’s family brings grace to your earthly family, and everyone around you.

Whenever I see these polls, I always think, “Well, no one asked me any questions!” And I wonder who it is they poll. America is filled with good people. The world is filled with good people. Some attend Church, some are married – others are not in those categories. Numbers, polls, statistics, can all be manipulated. And I opt for the “glass half full” philosophy. These articles and analyses are ways in which we are being manipulated by the people publishing them. We read this information and it colors how we think about things. We see only the worst being highlighted, and not the best. And this is by far, the most overt way in which so many facts are being shared with the public. It is all around us, in every subject matter you can think of. Sadly, it is hard when you cannot find anything positive on the radio or TV. Disconnecting cable and binging on programs you find appropriate, and listening to just positive radio and podcasts, will rock your world. Trust me.

We are called to be light in this world. We are called to share the faith we have. We are called to love others, even those who seem unlovable. We can opt to highlight the negative. We can choose to think on all the bad. Or we can seek peace. We can read all this negative news, and we can propagate the negative. Our we can just say, “No. It stops here.” Each of us needs to stop the negative in our own way. During Lent this year, I stopped almost all of social media. And completely leaving Facebook has been a wonderful thing for my life. Truly. And I am not saying it is easy. It is addictive, all this negativity. All the information overload we get. And leaving it alone, and not giving it “air time” in our lives and in our heads, is hard. It is like stopping any addiction. But the “spirit of peace” we acquire when our time is spent in better pursuits, is incalculable for ourselves, and thousands around us. Another thing I did was I added spiritual reading. Before anything except my morning cup of coffee, I read the Bible. I have a Psalter and love reading the Psalms daily. Often I will read the Proverbs daily. Or participate in a Bible Study for the particular season. And I have used it to replace mindless TV and poor radio.

There are things I see around me, and there are ways I can affect a positive change, and so I act. For many things and people, there is truly nothing I can do to influence them or change them. But I can be that ray of light, let into their world, and be a witness for them. I can plant seeds of positivity and faith. And I can pray for them. Maybe a particularly negative trait cannot be changed in a person. I can choose to ignore it, and I can pray for them. But I need not focus on it, making it the thing I see first in them. I am learning how to let it go. All of the negative. Let it just go. And now, I strive to find the traits that the Lord sees in others, especially those I have a rough time being around, because we are all created in His Image.

Lent is almost over for this year. Palm Sunday will be here this weekend. Then Holy Week, when we walk the “Way of Tears” with our Lord, thanking Him for His sacrifice, for us. Then we suffer a world without God in it – for three dark and lonely days, while He lays in the Tomb. It is known by many names, such as the Holy Triduum. It is the time from the evening of Holy Thursday until the evening of Easter Sunday. It is during this time, prior to His Resurrection, that we mourn a world without Christ. And so, every year we are reminded how our world without God is a dark, dark place. Let’s not encourage the darkness in others, in ourselves, in our world. Let us be the Light.

“a tiny aperture of light…”

 

There is just so much going on in the world right now. And I am, for the most part, blissfully unaware. Disconnecting from social media for Lent is such a blessing. I am missing out on news of friends (just found out a friend is pregnant again!) but the rest of it, well, I am glad I am unplugged. I do have IG and Twitter, but I am starting to wean off those, as well. It just adds stress to my life. And people were teasing that I had just substituted one for the other. So I am working on it – a “work in progress.”

One of the things I am learning about is simplicity. In all things. In life. In choices. In the time I spend. (Less is sometimes very much more). In the things I choose to have around me. In the way I spend my time – where and with whom. In the things I choose to read or listen to. I am a fan of podcasts these days! Yay! And, I figured out how to organize my iTunes on my phone. I really hate being in the groove with some of my Christian music, and then have Bing Crosby and White Christmas come through my earbuds. Or all of a sudden, I am listening to Disturbed’s cover of the “Sound of Silence” (which I love, but it is rather loud) after just praising God with Mercy Me and “I can only Imagine.” So now I can listen by genre. It is so nice. It is simpler.

Quite often we choose to make sacrifices during Lent. And that is great. We need to do what we can do, in order to more fully participate in our faith. Some people give up soda. And that is where they are at in their faith walk, and they find it difficult, because it was solely what they would drink. And the struggle with that is real. I have been at this Lent thing a long time. This year, social media is my struggle. My soda. And I also encourage myself in adding things each year – developing something that makes me better. A better habit. A better outlook, or way of living. This year, simplicity seems to be my overriding goal and continual lesson.

One of the major things I learned this week – major for me – is that there is a huge difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is fading. It is seeing the first little bloom in spring and smiling…and then moving through traffic and forgetting about it. Happiness is buying new shoes and then shoving them in the closet after you first wear them. Happiness is fleeting. It is a feeling that has to be fed constantly. It is a consumable. Whereas true joy is eternal. It can only be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ, Our Lord, and Our God. One of the prayers I say daily is this:

“O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ. O come, let us worship and bow down before Christ, our King. O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ, our King and Our God.”

And it truly puts things into perspective. Yes, I can find happiness in my faith and yes, it is a great feeling. Just like listening to some of the music on my phone. I love thinking about the lyrics from Lauren Daigle’s new song, “You Say” – “I believe, O, I believe what you say.” Belief is such a gift. And it brings such happiness. But unlike a new pair of shoes, true faith brings everlasting joy. Oh, I may not be joyful every day. But unlike happiness, my joy is always there. I allow the cares and events of the day steal some of my joy. And that is on me.

And my joy is always my joy. I need to let it shine forth. I also realize that it is my responsibility to safeguard my joy, to share it with others, and do what I can to ensure their joy is theirs, too. So often as parents, we assume our kids have their faith. We instruct, we take them to Church, we pray, we live our faith. And then they become teenagers and start thinking for themselves (oh, the horror of thinking teens!) and they question everything. Do all of our grown children go to Church on their own? They do not. One left for 10+ years but has now returned. One is a young adult and is boycotting family things, like Church with all of us on Sundays. (Unless it is serious and then he is all in, like deaths and weddings and babies). Our other son has never walked away from the Church, and he practices his faith differently than I do. But you know what? They are all finding their own way, their own faith, making that relationship with God their own relationship and not the same one their parents have. And now they, are in turn, sharing it with their own children.

A good Christian will struggle, and we will struggle daily. We are knocked down. But the difference between us and those in the world who have no faith, is we get back up; we enter back into the fray. St. Seraphim of Viritsa says, “Just as a candle, before it goes out, shines strongly and throws sparks, and with its light, it enlightens the surrounding darkness – thus will be the Church’s life in the last age. And that time is near.” I believe that it is my responsibility to my children and grandchildren, my extended circle of family and friends, to shine that light of faith, to help enlighten this “present darkness.”

I have discovered such joy in the simplicity of my faith. But I have also become aware that there are demons prowling about, trying to undo my Lenten progress. And I am so thankful that I am aware. One of the additional things I took on was a Bible Study related to weight loss, that I recently inherited from my mother-in-law (Memory eternal, Mary). I love reading her notes. It is helping me to know her so much better. It is sad that it has taken her death for me to grow closer to her, but it has also been a blessing. She struggled. She struggled mightily. I always looked on her as a strong, strong, woman of faith. To my eyes, she was someone who was so “together” and her talent, to me, was something I truly envied. She was so creative. She could sew and cook, do needlepoint, and quilt. I am so inept in those areas. And I always wanted to be like her in that regard. But now I know she and I are so much alike (guess my husband did marry his mother! LOL!). She had some of the same struggles I do. Her prayers, encouraging her faith goals and weight goals, are so much like mine. And what it showed me is that no one, truly, knows what we are going through and struggling with. We are all being assaulted by the demons in this world – all of us. Some of us just hide it better than others.

I inherited a cross I saw my mother-in-law wear for years, that also reminded me of the cross in the Church she was buried from – Spirit of Christ Catholic Faith Community. And when I wear it, I touch it and think of her, asking for her prayers, and praying for her soul. And it has made me more determined than ever to continue down my own path. I know there are assaults all around me, but I also know the joy I hold close to my heart is a forever joy – the joy of a woman who chooses to simply apply her time and her life to the Christian life – the struggle to attain the Kingdom of God. And it comforts me that I am still learning, and still able to grow as Christian, thankful for each season of Lent that comes my way. And I am thankful for getting to know my mother-in-law on another level; to know she struggled just like I do. Whew. I am feeling quiet, simple, and quite blessed today. I think it is a joy-full day!

“..and what takes up space in it.”

We all have responsibilities. And they extend out into our web of relationships. Sometimes they are family oriented, other times they stretch into our work life or social life, or service in our various communities. And sometimes they stretch so taut, we feel bound to them. I am feeling bound. I am feeling taut. And sometimes I want to break away. But I cannot. Why? Because I chose these responsibilities and if I walk away from them, I am not worth my word. We give our word to others, and that creates these responsibilities. Sometimes we take on far more than we should, because we cannot seem to say no to people, and we cannot keep up. Other times, things we have agreed to become much more than we expected. And that is where I am, today.

My mom and I were never really close. I moved out as soon as I could, at 17 years old. I wanted to be as far from my parents as I could get, yet still within reach. I went from living situation, to living situation. Roommates, living at my sorority house, even living with my brother as two adults. But once I left home for good, when I was 21, I never again lived with my parents. When my folks divorced, there was no home to return to. And I was 22 at the time. Mom and I did not move in the same circles. And my dad had remarried pretty quickly, so he was off in his own world, and rarely intersected with mine. The years went by, and mom fell in love with the love of her life. They traveled and lived all over the western half of the US, from Long Beach on their boat, to Utah and Arizona, and finally back to California. In the meantime, I was married and having my babies. Mom and I intersected on holidays and summer visits. But we did not speak daily, or even weekly. And it is the same with my dad. So when I chose to accept the responsibility of having my mom move in with us, I did not fully understand or comprehend what I was agreeing to.

Alzheimer’s is a rough disease. It is rough on the person who has it, and all those around them, who love and care for them. I thought I was up to the task. But my mom and I danced around one another and it was not a dance that was coordinated and it soon fell apart. Mom and I had not lived under the same roof for more than 40 years. She did not recognize me as an adult married woman with grandchildren. She just saw me as this teenager she had to control. And I was expecting more of a mother than my mom could be. It was not a good fit. And if you add in all the personality issues associated with Alzheimer’s, we were doomed to fail. Some days if all I did was breathe, I considered it a successful day. And mom, if she moved off the couch and could toilet successfully, well, that was a banner day. If she actually dressed and showered, it was like Christmas. She slept all day. She had no interested in anything. We tried. Crafting is not her thing. She had no interest in interacting with others her age (“Why would I want to be with all those old people?” she would constantly say). We were at our wit’s end. Our care coordinator asked me to consider placing mom in an Assisted Living home. God, I felt like a failure. I had raised three successful sons to adulthood. And I just could not manage this 89-year-old woman. At my rope’s end, where the safest space in my home for me was my walk-in closet because mom could never find it, I placed the call. I started looking for a place for mom. And because, I believe, I approached it with prayer, we found the perfect place for her. God answered our prayers.

Mom has been in the Assisted Living home since the end of October. It is now March. The transition was ugly, but she adjusted fairly quickly. Huge explosion. Over quickly. And we also took her off all her Alzheimer meds at the same time. She only takes an antidepressant and daily vitamin. She has been doing well. It is like she got her second wind. She is laughing and the life of the home. They all love her there. But her Alzheimer’s has progressed. At her last doctor’s visit, she told me mom was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s. We cannot know how long she has to live, but her mental state is declining quickly. Mom’s stubborn personality, and her sense of who she is, is interfering with her safety. She is refusing to use a walker. She has now fallen twice within the past 60 days. The first time, she broke her nose. This time, she broke one and possibly two, fingers. She also cut her hand, which needed stitches. But her skin is too fragile for them. The stitches are stronger than her skin and pull right through the skin. So she had to have steri-strips and bandages, along with a glove and brace.

Well, mom pulled off the bandages, lost the glove and brace, and her wound opened again. The Assisted Living staff placed Tegaderm on her skin. It is a clear bandage that is like “saran wrap” with adhesive for wounds. It is great for younger skin, but in the elderly, when they pull it off, their skin comes off, too. But we have little else we can do her her. And in a bizarre twist of fate, the wound seems to be healing just fine. However, she refuses to let things alone, and refuses to use her walker. And part of that is because when she looks in the mirror, she sees her 20-something self, and not my 89-year-old mom.

And now that she has had two incidences in the past 60 days, local agencies are noticing. And for that, I am very appreciative. Because most of the time, we think these agencies are so overwhelmed, they do not noticed each person in their care. So, on the one hand, I am very grateful. Her care coordinator had me sign some release of information forms and she is now able to intercede with these agencies on mom’s behalf. And it is allowing us to stay ahead of deadlines. Recently, one of her care providing agencies (which I will not name) sent me two notices. They both said they were second notices, and they both had past deadlines. To say I panicked is putting it mildly. Because when I took on the responsibility of my mom, I needed to fully realize that I am it. There is no one behind me. (My husband, but he is not responsible for my mom, just for my sanity with his continued support). And I realized that if all this paperwork were not completed in a timely manner, it could literally mean my mom would have to live with me once more. And I realized that I just could not move her back in with us. My sanity has just started to settle in, and I am once again feeling me to be me. So the thought of my mom living here again sent me into a major panic. I was not sleeping. Literally. I was barely eating. I was an emotional wreck. I had to contact people and play phone tag. I had to gather an inordinate amount of information in just days. Thankfully, I am one of those people who keeps copies of everything I send out. So I was able to dig through mom’s immense stack of paperwork and find information I did not realize I needed, or had previously submitted. I finally had to walk the paperwork into this agency. They proceeded to stamp it received, looked into her status, and told me everything was fine. Everything was in and it looked great and for me not to worry. So how did I react? I stood there, in this public agency, at the counter, and just wept. The tears rolling down my face. I felt like an idiot. But I had seriously been on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I was holding all that inside and did not even realize the huge pressure that had been on my shoulders. They were so kind, handing me tissues, and assuring me everything was okay. And two days later, my care coordinator called to confirm she was approved for aid for another year of care. Thanks be to God.

So now, things are settling. And this agency is requesting a review. The timing stinks for me, because I am having to cancel plans I had made for travel and some events (I am so sorry) I will be missing. But I am also grateful they are paying attention – for my mom’s sake. But here is where the rub is – I am the sole responsible party for my mom’s welfare. I am her POA (Power of attorney) and the only one who can legally represent her with these agencies. Her care coordinator stands with me, and she advocates for her, too. She speaks their language and understands all the myriad of forms they throw at you, and she knows how the system works. That is a wonderful thing. Long term care for the elderly is not something anyone should take on without being fully aware of what that really means. And the fullness is now hitting me. And it is so very different than taking on a new child or baby. It is just different, because I think it partially has to do with role-reversal. I mean, moms are supposed to care for their kids, and not the other way around. It is tossing our relationship up into the air and the pieces are falling all over the place. And it affects everything else in my life. Everything. I am hanging on by a thread.

Once upon a time, mom took care of me. And now I am trying to take care of her. In the meantime, I need to take care of myself. I have cautioned loved ones that if you give too much to others, you have nothing left for yourself. This is a harsh reality. And every once in awhile, we need to admit we cannot be in more than one place at a time, nor can we continually say “yes” to every request of our time, treasure, or talent. We sometimes have to say “no” and just take care of ourselves.

The Lord gives us Lent every year to reevaluate ourselves – our lives and the way in which we allow things tp pull us. And I am taking this time to say “no” more often. No to things, to events, to places I am asked to go. Because sometimes all I can see in my cup is barely a drop. To quote from the Lenten study I am participating in (“Songs of Praise” by Sylvia Leontaritis), “Every so often I like to sit down and examine my life and the things I allow to take up space  in it. I discover activities that don’t really need to be there, for the simple fact that they don’t contribute to anything needful.” And that is more than true in my life. What do I allow to “take up space in it”? There are basic needs and responsibilities I need to attend to. But I am deeply pruning my responsibilities and activities. And it makes me healthier. All the way around.

So when we say, “yes,” to things, we need to dig in and make sure it fits into our lives, is able to be fully supported, and is something we truly want to do. Because sometimes, there is no going back. We have made commitments and we need to honor them. This Lent, I am realizing there are things, situations, and people I can walk away from. There are things I cannot. So I prune where I can, and water what needs my attention. Spring is on the way…what will the future hold? Where will our time be spent, and with whom? We only have this one life…what will we allow to take up space in it?

 

 

“Gladden the soul of your servant…”

I don’t know if you have this same thing or not, but I have this constant dialogue with myself. I mean 24/7. I spend a lot of my time alone, and with no one around to talk to, I guess I have developed the habit of talking to myself. LOL. The problem? It does not stop. And I have found that I dread going to bed and I start to get agitated as I approach the evening’s preparations to go to sleep. The dog goes out, does her thing, and gets a little nighttime treat and we settle her into bed. The dishes are done and kitchen is clean; quite often the dishwasher is quietly whirring away. I check door locks and outside lights. I take my stomach meds and chew my Immunpro. And then there is nothing for it but to get into bed. As I sit there, I feverishly apply Lavender Essential Oil to my feet, temples, back of the neck, and brow. And I pray, begging for a quiet night’s sleep; a full night’s sleep.

My inner voice is a worry-wort. My anxiety grows and I get the same exact feeling each time, so I recognize it very quickly. I am working so very hard at silencing this voice at night. I get myself so worked up, I wake up in a complete sweat – head to toe. My hair looks like I haven’t washed it in weeks. It is insanity. Why do I listen? How do I make it stop? Why is my inner-self not at peace? I acknowledge and see the blessings in my life. I am loved by an amazing man, I have 3 incredible sons, and amazingly, I am overwhelmed with the love for my 6 grandchildren. I have a couple of friends I know I will have my entire life and I am a better woman because they call me friend. I have an amazing home I love. I look outside at the pouring rain and know Spring is about to show itself. The Lord is my God and I rejoice I found my Savior and I know He loves me. Why can I not silence this stress and worry-filled woman at night?

My sole comfort in this anxiety is the Jesus prayer. And when I run out of that mantra, I will start praying an Akathist to the Mother of God, or the Rosary. Whatever prayer I can recite without thinking about it, and just set my sights on God and His needs for these prayers. And I can usually get my heart-rate back down to normal, and my sweating will ease up. I will usually re-apply my Lavender and drift back off to sleep. Sometimes I am awake for hours; some nights it is just minutes. But I rarely sleep through until morning.

I was chatting with a friend at a fundraiser this weekend. She expressed to me how tired she is because she is woken up every night, and knows someone needs prayer. So she gets up and prays hard. Like she said, “This world is a mess and so many are hurting. We need to pray hard.” And I am thinking that I need to start this when my nights are disrupted. Get up, pray hard for people, and when I am drained, go back to bed. Instead of just laying there, stressed to the max, and exhausted, I will intentionally get up and pray for intentions.

And God, being the One of Infinite Wisdom, every year gives us Lent. And tomorrow I start my Lenten daily reading of the Psalms. Each year I join a Psalter group. This year, the organizer is now published! And what we have been doing is now in book form. I am so excited to start. The book is called, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women.” It is written by Sylvia Leontaritis. (You can get it through Ancient Faith Publishers). Don’t let the title fool you – it is not just for women who are Orthodox. Any Christian woman would be blessed by using this devotional, especially during Lent. The first year I participated, it rocked my world. I love reading the entire book of Psalms during Lent, and really pondering them. I journal in my Bible, and now I have this book to journal in, as well. And just thinking about it calms me. Lent calms me. It is my favorite time, liturgically, of the year. We have more services at Church, we get to pray these amazing prayers we use during Lent. (I actually pray them during the year, too, because I love them so much. I even carry a holy card with one of them on it). And I realized all the stress I have, I can lay at the Foot of the Cross, as we make this Lenten journey with Our Lord. And truly, the tension across my chest just lessened as I typed this. What a blessing Lent is. If you have never done any prep for Easter, start now. Devote yourself to reading the Psalms or the Proverbs for Lent. It will change your life. Promise. And start praying. Hard.

I am looking forward to praying St. Ephraim’s prayer. It makes me quieter and more humble. I once had it hanging on my desk, below the counter of a customer service job I had. I would read it as people approached me for help. It never let me down!

Some of the other prayers I just love are:

“O Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of truth, Who are in all places and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and Giver of life; Come and dwell in us and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O gracious Lord. Holy God, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us….(3 times). Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen…. All Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord, cleanse us from all our sins. Master, pardon our inequities. Holy God, visit us and heal us from our infirmities for thy Name’s sake. Lord have mercy. (3 times)….

And so this year, I have pretty much cut myself off from social media. It has become such a barometer of my moods. And as I advised a young lady this weekend, about an ex-boyfriend showing up to an event, “Don’t let him have that power over your joy and your life. Do not let him steal another moment from you.” And that is my prayer in avoiding social media. I cannot let it control my life, or allow what is put out there determine my life. In the book, “Our Thoughts Determine our Lives” by Elder Thaddues of Vitovnica, he tells us:

“Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture.  If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind then that is what our life is like.  If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.”  He further shares that “everything, both good and evil, comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become reality…when we labor in the fields of the Lord, we create harmony.  Divine harmony, peace, and quiet spread everywhere.”  He then tells us what the opposite things can do to us: “However, when we breed negative thoughts, that is a great evil.  Where there is evil in us, we radiate it among our family members and wherever we go.  So you see, we can be very good or very evil. If that’s the way it is, it is certainly better to choose good!  Destructive thoughts destroy the stillness within, and then we have no peace.” (Page 63).

And so we enter fully into Lent with a joyful heart, knowing the path we walk, the one we choose, leads us to Calvary, and the Cross. Which leads us to Salvation and conquers death. Sigh. It is such a blessing to be able to go over our lives, re-evaluating them like this once a year, and this year, Lent has come at the perfect time. God bless you! I pray all of us find this journey through Lent one of joyous reflection and anticipation.

“Incline Your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Preserve my life, for I am godly; save Your servant, who trusts in you. You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord, for to You I cry all the day. Gladden the soul of Your servant, for to You, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. (Psalm 85)

Pray hard, my friends. Pray hard.