Comfort zones and complacency…

Complacency.1

I love learning. I love being challenged to become a better me. When we are complacent we are becoming less; we are stagnating. When we are complacent, we allow foolishness to take over our lives. It is so easy to fall into habitual patterns that become walls. We can think of them as comfort zones, but never stepping into the unknown is limiting our horizons. I know so many people who never move. Quite literally – same house, same car, same job, same clothes – year in and year out. They never try anything new. They love their comfort zones.

Comfortzones

One of the comfort zone areas that many people do not realize they live inside of is when it comes to dietary restrictions. Some people eat the same things every, single, day. My husband is such a creature of habit. Change comes hard for him. And there was a local fast food restaurant (Taco Bell) that was near his job, about 20+ years ago. He was a regular. He was such a regular, they had his meal in a bag, waiting for him when he would walk in. Because he ate the same thing for lunch every, single day. That, my friends, is a comfort zone.

Many years later, my husband and I made drastic changes to our lives. We first began when we took fasting seriously, as a journey in our faith. We entered the Melkite Greek Catholic Church with a priest who was pretty wonderful, and whom we count as a friend these many years later. We were blessed that God placed him in our lives at just the right time. He is a fervent liturgist and has a wonderful singing voice. He gave us the complete low-down on fasting – all the dietary restrictions.  But, the key to what he shared was this: He told us to do what we could. He never expected us to fully adopt the complete fast kept by those in the Eastern Churches, since we had come with a western mindset. Just do what you can do. If you are called to more, do more. It was a wonderful way to learn, to change, and to grow out of our comfort zone.

salmonfishing2

More recently, we have begun to completely change our lives. We moved to a vastly different area of the country. We decided last year to get up off the couch and explore this beautiful area. We started fishing! I usually take my Kindle and read while the hubby messes with lines, bait, and all that other stuff. I like eating the salmon, but am not a good fisher-person! But I am out there, keeping him company, and it is just so peaceful and wonderful and relaxing (especially when we actually catch fish!).

cartoon.exercise

The next thing we did to change and grow was to incorporate exercise at our local gym to our routine. It has been wonderful. We are quite literally stretching and growing. We are becoming healthier. We are learning about foods and which we should eat and which we should not. It is hard to give the old tacos up, but it is for the best. We have grandchildren we want to live a long time for. We have so many places we want to see. This place in which we live will give us years and years of explorative vacations. It’s been a positive change and we are thrilled.

We are also changing in how we operate in life. We are constantly reading and taking online classes to become better. We are stretching our minds and our ways of living. Complacency is just not allowed in our lives any longer. There was a time when I had what my husband called, “Grandma’s spot,” on our couch. It had formed around my behind. My husband’s grandma had made a place for herself on her couch that was pretty amazing – it was sloped and dented in that direction. So he told me I was keeping up the tradition. Somehow I just do not want that tradition to continue with me. I am breaking out of my comfort zone, my spot on the couch, and I am moving – in all sorts of directions.

comfort zone.2

As I stated in a previous post, I did not attend Church this past week. It makes me sad and in my heart I heard this phrase, “Jesus is weeping.” I can’t seem to get it out of my mind. And I also remembered being told that when we are striving to become better, and walk closer to God, it is when evil will strike at you. It has struck. And He weeps. And I have wept more than once today. But I am now up after midnight, finishing this up, with complete peace in my heart. I have deep peace because I awoke to a feeling that everything is moving as it should. I am who I am and I am growing to become more. There are many who do not support me and think and I am not a good person or act in approved ways. I am sorry they feel that way; truly I am. Be that as it may, I will continue to move forward, to associate with those who support me, and I refuse to be complacent any longer. I matter. I deserve respect. And I am growing and becoming a better woman, wife, mother, and friend. God has truly got this, to quote a great Catholic theologian. God’s got this.

” but up to seventy times seven…”

Forgiveness – Matthew 18:21-22
Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

For those of us who are Eastern Rite Catholics, yesterday was Cheesefare Sunday, because it is the last time we eat any dairy and today is called Clean Monday – the first day of the full “Great Fast.” Every year, Lent is prefaced by Meatfare (two weeks ago) and Cheesefare, but more importantly, we also refer to this past Sunday as, “Forgiveness Sunday.” Traditionally, on this day, we are asked by our priest to forgive him any sins he may have committed against us, and we repeat, aloud, “I forgive you.” The clergy on the altar seek forgiveness from one another. In some eastern traditions, this act of seeking and giving forgiveness is expressed in a more formalized, and public, way with a line developing wherein each parishioner personally meets with the priest and other clergy, then joining the line, until each parishioner asks and gives forgiveness to every other parishioner. It can take hours if the parish is large enough.

It was celebrated in our parish, the long way, yesterday. I did not attend Church. I am so hurt in my heart, that I just could not stand to have the hypocrisy of some people played out in front of my face, when I know they gossip disparagingly about my family and I behind our backs. Gossip is alive and well in my life. I was fearful I would say something that would make the situation far worse. For me, and for them.

north_door_of_iconostasis_v-2The icon above depicts the Temptation in the Garden and the Expulsion from Eden and the Shame of Adam and Eve. This icon is used on Forgiveness Sunday to remind us of the Original Sin of Adam. And we are supposed to contemplate our sin, in light of God’s justice in removing Adam and Eve from His Presence. We believe that when we sin, we take a step away, or remove ourselves from, the Presence of God. Depending upon the sin, that step can be minute, or it can create a chasm between us and God. God is consistently standing with open arms, waiting on us to seek Him out, in repentance. In the Eastern Rites, and in the Roman Catholic Church, we go to Confession (or Reconciliation). The Church asks us to go to Confession at least once before we celebrate Pascha, or Easter, and the Resurrection of Christ.

Since last week, I have been thinking long and hard about all of this. I felt that removing myself from this would be better for all of us. I have nothing to prove to anyone, nor do I think my presence should have a definitive affect on others, one way or the other. I have wronged people, I am sure, and need to seek forgiveness from them. But I do not need to do so in a public forum. Do I have anger and frustration in my heart? You bet I do. Do I need to let it go? Oh my, yes I do. And how am I to do that? Therein lies the heart of my moments spent musing over this.

I have been doing this study, which I referenced in my last post, and I quoted from it about the boulders we have in our lives that we need to move out of the way. I have lots of boulders that I need shifted. And I am working on them. I do not think I would have served anyone any good by being at Church. God is working on me. Hard. In the eastern rites, we have no “obligation” to attend religious services. In the Latin Church, there is the pain of mortal sin if you purposely avoid Mass. For us in the eastern Churches, we feel no pain of “mortal” sin; we do not delineate sin in that way. We view sin a little differently and it does not entail whether or not we go to Church. The philosophy behind it is that when you love someone, you want to be with them, above everything else. You will do whatever it takes to be with them. And if you love God, you will do whatever it takes to be there, with Him, at Church. Sin is seen as a step away from God – does your choice put you closer to God, or further away from Him? Does staying home from Church cause you to be further from God or closer to God? For me, I felt that being at Church would be a “near occasion of sin” for me, and for others. And so I stayed away, purposefully.

Today, well, today is Clean Monday. Today we begin the Great Fast in earnest. And today I did something I have never done – I juiced! We bought a juicer and today was its first run. I am now drinking it over ice and I must say, it is pretty darn tasty! With this study I am doing entitled, “The Holistic Christian Woman,” we are also altering our dietary intake and trying to purge our bodies of the stuff that impedes good health. So I thought I would coordinate that with the start of Great Lent. I made my son a smoothie today. It feels good to focus on our health and is such a great way to share Clean Monday and the start of Great Lent.

juicing

Back to why I started this post – forgiveness. It is a rough thing and a touchy thing. To truly forgive someone, you remove the hurt and take it out of your timeline, if you will. You live as if the hurt was never a part of your life. And if the pain is too much, you just give it to God. He has a better way to handle our hurts than we do. He died for our hurts. He hung on that Cross for three hours, taking on the hurts of the entire world. Just for me. Just for you. And He said, as He was being crucified, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).  

Quiet

Do I forgive? Oh, I sincerely do. I really, truly forgive anyone who has ever wronged me. It is as though those things, those words, were never said. And I am completely at peace with that. Do others forgive me? In the same way? Perhaps; perhaps not. But all I can do is seek that forgiveness; how they forgive is between them and God. Forgiving is freeing. I still retain the memories of the hurt, but the pain is somehow removed because I truly let it go. But it does not mean I am stupid. I am not going to consistently, regularly, bang my head against that same wall. Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. I am adult enough to realize that repeating errors is just wasting my time. And it is honestly okay to just walk away….

Nonsense

So I will continue to embark on this Lenten journey. I am focusing on becoming healthier in many ways – emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I do forgive others and I pray for their forgiveness, as well. I read a great blog today by Joel L. Miller enttitled, “The Trouble with me – and  – Jesus Christianity” on Ancient Faith blogs. He talks about the story of the blind men each touching an elephant and describing it to one another. One touches a leg and describes the elephant like a tree trunk; one touched the trunk and described a snake…you get the idea. It is the same with Church, with our faith – if we only see our own interpretation of Jesus, we may only know Him as a tree trunk or a snake. We will not see the entirety of our faith. We cannot be Christians in a vacuum or as islands. Salvation comes in community. We celebrate our faith, we share our faith, we grow in our faith in the presence of other Christians. We listen to the preaching of our priests and deacons; we listen to the Fathers of the Church, who guide us in “orthodox” or “right thinking.” We cannot do this alone. We cannot seek salvation alone. Yes, our faith is between us and our Savior. But the Apostles sought one another and lived in community. We, too, should seek other Christians. So to not attend Church is not the best approach to growing in our faith. However, sometimes removing ourselves from situations that are not life-giving, nor healthy, is the best we can do for everyone. I’m not advocating avoiding communities that help us build and grow in our faith. But I am advocating an intelligent perspective on, as St. John Chrysostom said above, “Let us always guard our tongue; not that it should be silent, but that it should speak at the proper time.” And I believe removing ourselves and spending time alone is a healthy thing to do.

Alone time

This year’s Lenten journey should be amazing. I am working hard on listening more and talking less. On watching less TV and reading more. On making better choices in so many areas. I am working on becoming more fit in my physical, emotional, and spiritual self. This time, set aside each year, is given to us to reflect, repent, and start again. I feel blessed. Working to prepare myself in order to really welcome Christ with Palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna in the Highest.” See you on the other side…

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Procession_in_the_Streets_of_Jerusalem_(Le_cortège_dans_les_rues_de_Jérusalem)_-_James_Tissot

“Words left unsaid…”

Wordsleftunsaid

And that, my friends, is why I blog! I have had several incidents happen to me and I have been mulling these things over in my head. The words are screaming in my head, so here goes:

A faithful friend

The past few weeks have been transformative for me. And my journey is not over. I have been involved in a leadership training course (along with significant time management training) and have evolved as a person so much. I have made fundamental changes to my life. I have altered habits I have had for years and years. I have changed how I manage my time. And I have been evaluating the circles of friends I have, who surround me like ripples in the water from a thrown pebble. Every once in awhile, it is healthy to re-evaluate who gets the lion’s share of our time. And in addition, who gets the emotional energy required to maintain these circles of relationships.

When you think about it, you are involved with all sorts of people, from disparate backgrounds and situations. We have work friends, neighbors, church friends, friends we have had since kindergarten, high school friends, college friends, friends we have as a couple, friends we made while single. Friends come from all the journeys we have been on in our lives. And some of them we keep, some we have lost, some we have discarded.

Seat at table

I’ve spoken to not allowing everyone to have a seat at your table in previous posts, and I am so firmly entrenched in that process – letting go. Sometimes it is hard to let those go who are toxic to you, but I know that energy/emotion vampires are just not healthy for me. I have learned that there are people out there who smile and shake your hand, but who are not your friend. And to be honest, that is fine. Not everyone we meet is meant to be a friend. Many are meant to solely be an acquaintance; someone who passes through but whose soul does not take root with yours. In a way, that realization is rather freeing.

Forgive.LesBrown

And now I am working on letting go – and that includes my disappointments and unfulfilled expectations, my heartache and feelings of being let down. But I have learned that forgiving others when they let you down allows you to heal and move on. I know not everyone I meet is my friend, nor meant to stay, as I said above. And I know that I am not perfected – God still has a great work left to do in me. Because of this immense transformation and learning curve I am on, I realize that working on myself takes much effort. And I may let other things slide while I engage in this work of bettering myself and growing. But I cannot become who God wants me to be, sitting on my couch, hiding behind my books and feeling sorry about myself. I cannot get better physically, or spiritually, or emotionally by waiting on…well, waiting on what?

I am so happy and excited to be taking myself in hand and working on all these myriad issues I have. It is a good work. In the meantime, people in my life either support me and what I am doing, or they do not. If they do not, they will no longer be included in my circle. That “block” button on Facebook will be getting a workout in the near future. Don’t judge me for that comment. There comes a time in our lives when we need to cull those we allow close to us. Some of the people who have taken root in our lives are not healthy for us; they are not “life giving” but rather drain you. In addition to that, my time on social media is declining and it is a good thing. I am reading good things. I heard a great quote, “Don’t fill your head with another person’s trash.” Ponder that for a moment. That is the written word – in books, movies, music, news outlets, and all forms of media. Whose trash are we letting in? For one thing, I have disavowed politics. It makes me too angry and an uglier version of myself. It is gone from my electronics. Just flat out gone. I have no clue what is going on right now and it is a peaceful thing. I removed all my gaming platforms. Stupid way to be a sucker of my time – it can literally suck hours away I will never get back. Done. And I am evaluating my reading material. This is the hard one! I belong to so many book clubs and read such a variety of literature. My bible is getting a workout, and that is a great thing!

During this time of personal renewal and growth in this leadership/time management class, I am also embarking on a study with a couple of friends. We are using this amazing book entitled, “The Holistic Christian Woman.” (The author is Cynthia Damaskos, CHC. I purchased it through Ancient Faith Publishing, but it is also available on Amazon). Here’s a little taste: “Even being concerned about people’s real or perceived perception of you and your life can be subliminally stunting your joy. Are you afraid to be yourself? Are you afraid to be different from what people expect, in a culture of excess and cookie cutter expectations? These perceptions can lead you to say “yes” to too many requests, or “no” to many changes that should be made. For me, these were also self-imposed boulders that were also blocking my way.  There may be a big boulder that you need to move before all the rocks fall into place.”  And that’s just the intro! I am only 2 weeks into that book and I am fundamentally different. It is flabbergasting to me that I can be so affected in my 50s by two disparate things, coordinating together so flawlessly. Through our faith, we know there are no coincidences, just occurrences that God has construed for our good. I am so blessed.

Livingforothers

So I am moving forward and through this movement, I am finding that I cannot stay how I am, where I am, or who I am. It just does not work any longer. For me, or for my family. It is wonderful to undergo these sorts of things with the full support of your spouse. He is reaping the benefits of my learning curve and my becoming a better me. We are both starting to move some boulders, allowing the rocks to fall into place. We are seeking our joy in places that are new for us, and we are happy. Growth is a wonderful experience.

One of the things I just cannot tolerate any longer are those who purport to be friends but who fundamentally are not on the same page I am on. One area of belief is the equality of all people.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” —The Declaration of Independence

This is a fundamental view of Americans. We are all equal. Women have the vote! African Americans can sit on the same buses and drink out of the same water fountains, attend the same schools, work at any job they choose, and marry anyone they choose! All races have the same rights! We do not allow discrimination based on age, race, religion, creed – these areas are sacrosanct. That word means that this thing we hold, this belief, is so sacred, it cannot be altered or interfered with. It is inviolable! (That means it cannot be infringed upon). But there are still people out there, that when it gets right down to the nitty-gritty of life, do not believe everyone is equal. They just do not accept it. And I will pray their souls are opened to the Grace of belief, and of truly loving their fellow man. We are all created in the image of God. All of us. Not just some of us. And some of the change I am going through is being less tolerant of those who are intolerant, if that makes sense. They just don’t need a seat at my table. “If you can change, everything will change for you.” That was in a speech by Jim Rohn, a wonderful speaker. I am changing and I am affecting change in those around me.

KeepSilence

Even though I am thinning the circles around me in some ways, I am keeping a Holy Silence. I am giving these things to God, Who is far more equipped to handle them than I am. I am still such a work-in-process that I cannot really judge others. I can feel the pain of their poor choices in words and attitudes, and I can feel the pain of disappointment. Those are valid things. And I can wallow in it. I can. It is perfectly acceptable to wallow sometimes. But what exactly does it get me? What am I waiting for? Apologies that won’t ever come? Growth and change from people so entrenched in their ways of thinking, they are walking back and forth in ditches so high they cannot see out of them? No. I am moving onward and I am turning inward, working towards a better self, a stronger self.

Strongwoman

Life throws us curve balls now and then, but life also throws us opportunities. And I have been given one that I was not ready for a year ago. But I am now. And it feels like I am re-awakening to that “other” woman I was, before I stayed home. I am not saying that being a stay-at-home-mom, a homeschooling mom, was a bad thing. It was my vocation and I loved every moment of it (and I miss the days when we lived on farms and I had muddy boys in muddy boots, messing up my kitchen floors). But I started to hide. I was not out and about, affecting my community. I was not growing as a woman, outside of my growth as a married woman and mother of faith. My faith has been my saving glory in this life. I am so blessed. But I also know I have so far to go. And I am now moving. I am in motion. I am reading; I am learning; I am growing. I hope everyone comes along for the ride, but I am already noticing the circles growing thinner. And that is perfectly okay.

Processofchange

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Life is fragile…”

Life is fragile

Each and every opportunity we are given to embrace life at its fullest is a blessing. And life is so fleeting. I’ve quoted my former pastor many times on my posts and he used to say, “You are never guaranteed your next breath.” It is so very true. Each breath is a gift from God. Each and every one. So what are we doing with those precious breaths we have been given today?

I live near a military base. I actually really like it. I love watching the huge jets fly over the house. Even the Huey helicopters can make the walls rattle and dishes fall over. But we all jokingly say, “It’s the sound of freedom.” This week (and last week) they are playing war. The large booms have our cat scurrying for cover. Our walls rattle, the dishes shake in the cupboards, and pictures bang on the walls. We are near the artillery range and also near where the huge rounds land. At night, if you get the right angle, you can see the tracers. But it’s loud and it’s 24/7. I jumped out of my skin about 12:30 am, and laughed, saying, “Ahhh…that was freedom booming” and promptly went back to sleep. But during the day, since they are so random, I am on edge. It makes it hard for me to focus on getting done what I need to accomplish. I am a SAHM, but I also homeschool my son, maintain this blog (among other writing projects) and I am taking an online business-building course. The snow today is muffling the booming a little and my oldest dog is over on the couch snoring, so it’s not too bad. And I had to type because things are, as usual, weighing on my heart.

Life is precious and precocious, and full of amazing turns, twists, and alternatives. We shared the joy of a grandson’s birthday yesterday, celebrating his life, all four years so far. And coincidentally, there was a horrible accident on our only highway (yes, this is pretty rural) where an 18-month old was ejected from the car in the carseat, because another vehicle hit them head on with such force, the side of the car was ripped off. Our whole community was praying for the families involved (the 18-month old is okay as of this morning; just some broken bones – a miracle, really). Several pregnancies were announced, as well as some deaths. The ambiguous nature of life really hit me yesterday.

Seat at your table

There have been several people in my life who have sapped me of energy. They are energy-suckers who seem to create a sort of “Pig Pen” of chaos around them. (I am referring to that character in Peanuts, who has a cloud around him all the time). They also seem to bring with them a cloud of drama. Honestly, as I get older, I am less and less likely to want to deal with drama. Life has its own ups and downs, without adding to it. Some people love to gab about everything, and everything is dramatic. I don’t need more of it as I get older, I need less of it.

Friend.FB

I had someone ask me why I had “de-friended” them on Facebook. It was not meant as a slur or a slight. I tried to explain that social media is a construct; it is not reality. Just because someone “friends” you does not mean they are your friend. “I am not sure that word means what you think it means,” to quote from the Princess Bride movie. So many people derive their sense of worth by how many friends they have on Facebook, what sort of purse they carry, type of car they drive, how big their diamond rings are, what the logo on their jeans are…and they assume all those selfies posted online are a reflection of real life. Ha! I sit at my table, watching my son do school, as I type away. I am no way posting a selfie right now! It is snowing outside. I have on a nightgown, bathrobe, big socks, slippers, and my hair is pulled up into “I don’t know what” hairdo (basically a “get it off my face and out of my sight hairdo”). You think I want anyone to see that? It is my reality, but not what I share with the greater world. Most of what is on social media is what people wish for themselves; what they wish their lives were like. Some friends and I sat at a restaurant in California a few years ago, people watching. We were wondering how many who drove by in Cadillac Escalades and BMW’s were living debt-free? How many had tons of cash in the bank? Which ones were living paycheck to paycheck? But that’s not the image they were presenting. They were projecting what they needed to be, in order to feel accepted. Facebook is so much like that. There is far too much drama associated with friends you make there. To me, de-friending or unfollowing someone is sometimes the kindest thing we can do for ourselves, and for them.

Calvin and Hobbes. Friend

I value life and I try – more and more – to surround my life in prayer. To buffer myself, my family, and my friends with prayer. Adding someone to my prayer list is investing in that relationship. It is enlisting God to assist me in my concerns for that person. Of course, God already knows and has probably been waiting for my heart to soften for this person for years, but still, I love knowing God and I are tackling someone together, for their blessing. True friends are so precious. One of the gifts of my life is that I have a couple of people I KNOW, without a doubt, are my friend. I could call them and no matter the cost or inconvenience, if I needed them, they would hop on a plane and come to my side (or drive across town). That is so very rare in this self-oriented culture of ours. We need to nurture those relationships and we need to seek God’s blessings for our friends. We need to cocoon ourselves in God’s centering love and focus on that. And I do not think that everyone needs to be at my table. A table only seats a few people. We can think of the Last Supper as a great example. Christ invited only the 12 to sit with Him. We know through Apocryphal writings that there were family members there. There were women cooking and serving. There were children running around. But at the table were just the 12 – only those Christ invited to sit with Him.  For me, there are lots of people in my life. I have groups and subgroups of friends I have made from here and there (school friends, college friends, work friends, church friends, neighbors, etc – and even Facebook friends). The total of my Facebook friends number over 300. Would I want all of them seated at my table? Of course not. There are degrees of separation and there is practicality. There are also affairs of the heart. Most of the women I count as friend, truly friend, have shared emotional journeys with me. We have married, birthed, and buried together. I have a friend who showed up when my grandma, who lived with us, died. She was not asked to come; neither was her husband. But they came and held my hand and put an arm around me as the mortuary came and took grandma away. They stood with me as witness, as friend, as ally when my grandma passed from this life to the next. That is a friend. She and her husband will always have a seat at my table. They are also people I know who would rush to my side, regardless of my geography, should I ever need them. I am blessed. But when I compare them with some of the people called friends on social media? No; there is no comparison.

Realones

Life is becoming more and more precious. As we age, we start getting a solid look at the end zone; the final door; the end of this life. And those we have around us, those we choose to walk this path with, become more and more special. I will continue to unfriend on social media. I will slowly pull away from those platforms entirely. Because as we get closer and realize our days are numbered and there are far fewer of them left, we become aware of the priceless role a true friend plays in our lives. We become aware of the transient nature of life and how it can be taken in a moment. Through my faith in God and His infinite love for me and for others, I know that I will reunite with loved ones and share in that glory for eternity. Right now, my goal is to make life as precious and celebrated as possible, for all those who are in my life and those I may touch. My life is open to making new friends. I enjoy meeting new people. But I have also come to see that I am a better person because of the people I surround myself with. I am better because they are in my life. They are a part of my life. They are also not all on social media platforms, and you know what? It’s fine with me. The less I can be present out there, the more I can be present to those sitting next to me, at my table.

Phones to conversate

Today, as I take that next breath, I promise to be true to my commitments to my family and friends. I vow to always view the next person I meet as a potential friend. I vow to place relationship and substance with friends above pretense and convenience. I also know that God and I will continue to hold in prayer those who need it. I will try to be the kind of friend that people need me to be. I love this life and feel blessed in those who have managed to find a place at my table. And there is always room for more. But I also will not feel guilty when I need to “unfriend” someone and move forward. God is watching; I am praying, and I am breathing still.

“… a tempest of doubting thoughts…”

Russian Mary Mother of God Icon

“Having within a tempest of doubting thoughts, and wanting to give my children to drink of eternal life, I weep. Thus, having remembered Thy most rich mercies, I sing to Thy Son with hope and with a contrite heart: Alleluia.” (From the Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children; Kontakion 4)

The Akathist To the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children, is probably my favorite form of prayer when I think of my sons, and now, my grandchildren, too (My daughters-in-law are prayed for as well, because I think of them as my children, too).  As parents, we are called to lead our children to a life of Christian prayer, service, and sacrifice. To put “other” before “self” and to enjoy the companionship of other believers, being a part of a community. To enjoy serving. To enjoy and celebrate a simple life; one that encompasses prayer to God and being a part of a church community. To enjoy praying with and celebrating within a community. And to push ourselves outside of that community “comfort zone” into serving our communities at large. The thought of having faith and being a part of organized religion often frightens people away. “I know what I believe; I don’t need some organized religion telling me what to believe and how to behave.”  That is such an American, democratic view of faith, also laid upon views about life in general. And I know it has caused umpteen disruptions of relationships, of churches, and of our Christian faith in particular. It is one of the reasons I am awakened in the night, being asked by God for renewed faith and renewed prayer.

An Akathist, for those of my friends who’ve never heard the term, is just another way of saying a Novena, or set of prayers (although it is not done like a Novena – over 9 days – but is more like a formal prayer used regularly).  This particular Akathist is concerned with raising our children, from a mother’s point of view. (I also love the Akathist to Our Guardian Angels). Within this Akathist, Kontakion 8 says, “Where will my children, wandering in the greatly perilous and stormy valley of the world, receive joy and consolation if not in Thee, O Most Pure One? Travel with them and teach them the true path, that they may cry to God: Alleluia.” This sentiment is on the mind of all parents, when their children venture more and more away from their homes and establish their own homes. (Ikon 9) “Deliver my children from association with falsely-theorizing orators, who speak lies about Thine all-powerful intercession, and look upon me, faithfully singing…” These prayers keep coming to my mind in all hours of the night. And I pray for my children, and my grandchildren. This world can be a fast, ugly, sinful place. We can easily lose sight of what really matters. (Ikos 10) “Surround my children with indestructible walls, O Heavenly Queen, that under Thy blessed protection, they may accomplish a multitude of good deeds, and that with them, I may cry to Thee…”

Sons shoes

I am at the point of seeing my nest empty. It makes me sigh with relief in so many ways, but it also makes me sad. I’m definitely tired. Raising three sons so far apart is like having 3 singletons, as they say. And as I near 60, I am looking forward to married life without kids underfoot, as we have never had that. But I love teens (as weird as that may sound) and I am going to miss our last son being here, most especially because he is the last (and also a great joy in my life). And I have reflected on what we have done, as parents, to set our sons on the path to God. In this great book by Peter Kreeft (Everything You Wanted to Know About Heaven but Were Afraid to Ask – available on Amazon), he talks about standing at the Throne of God. When God asks us what we have done with the souls He entrusted to us, I hope to be able to answer, “Lord, I set them on the path to You.” Because, truly, as a parent, that is all I can do. I cannot shove faith down the throat of my sons. They have to discover what it is they believe, as men, and how they choose to go about their lives. Will they share God with their kids? Perhaps not. And that is something I have to live with, which is also why I diligently pray for not just my children, but my grandchildren, too. I don’t think we are ever done being a parent. I just had a chat with my dad, reminding him that his dad (my grandpa) told him at 50 years of age, “Well, son, I guess you’re old enough for me to not have to worry about you anymore.” But I don’t think Grandpa ever did stop worrying. I don’t think I ever will, either. My dad, at almost 90, still worries about us!

Near the end of the Akathist is a prayer, “A Prayerful Sighing of Parents for Their Children” and I try to pray this each week for my children and grandchildren.

motherofgod.nurtererof children

 

“LORD Jesus Christ, Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of Thy Most Pure Mother, hearken unto me, Thine unworthy servant (name), O Lord, govern in mercy my children, Thy servants (names). Have mercy on them and save them, for Thy name’s sake.O Lord, forgive them all their transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, that they may be perfected before Thee. O Lord, set them on the true path of Thy commandments and enlighten their minds with the Light of Christ unto salvation of their souls and the healing of their bodies.
Bless them, O Lord, at home, at school, in their journeys and in every place of Thy dominion. Preserve and shelter them, O Lord, from flying bullets, arrows, the sword, poison and fire, from mortal wounds and sudden death. Guard them, O Lord, from all visible and invisible enemies, and from all danger, evil and misfortune.
Heal them O Lord, from all sickness, deliver them from every impurity, and lighten their spiritual sufferings. Grant them, O Lord, the grace of Thy Holy Spirit and a long life; grant them health and chastity in all piety and love, and to live in accord with all their neighbors, near and far.
Multiply and strengthen them, O Lord, in mental ability and bodily strength, given to them by Thee. Bless them to lead a pious life and, if it is pleasing to Thee, grant them married life and honorable childbearing.
For Thy name’s sake, O Lord, give me, Thy sinful and unworthy servant, a parental blessing for my children and Thy servants, both in this present time, morning, noon and night, and also in Thine eternal, almighty and all-powerful Kingdom.
Amen.

O God, Maker of all creation, Thou hast made me worthy to be the mother of a family, and through Thy goodness hast bestowed children upon me; and so I dare to say: these children are Thine, for Thou hast given them being, hast infused them with an immortal soul, and hast raised them to life through baptism.
And in accordance with Thy will Thou has adopted them and received them into the bosom of Thy Church. Send down to me Thy gracious help in raising my children, for the glory of Thy name. Bestow on me patience and strength to do Thy will.
Teach me to plant in their hearts the root of true wisdom-the fear of the Lord-that all their lives they may tremble at Thy words. Open to them the understanding of Thy law. Until the end of their days let them act with the sense that Thou art everywhere present.
Plant in their hearts loathing for every transgression, that they may be pure in their signs. O Righteous Judge, who punishes children for the sins, but sprinkle them with the dew of Thy grace.
O Heavenly Father, order the fate of my children according to Thy blessings, do not deprive them in this life of their daily bread, send down to them in due time all that is necessary for the acquisition of blessings in eternity.
Be merciful to them, when they sin before Thee; look not upon the sins of their youth and ignorance; chastise them and have mercy on them, but turn not Thy face away from them. Turn not Thy face from the in the day of their tribulation, that they may not fall into temptations beyond their strength.
Cover them with Thy mercy, that Thine Angel may walk with them and preserve them. Abandon not my children, O Lord, and give them that which is profitable for salvation.
Amen.”

I shared this in its entirety because it is weighing heavily on my heart. I feel some mighty changes coming and I am praying I am prepared for them. I strengthen my heart and soul through praying, but sometimes we have a lesson we need to learn. I am ready. I know God has my best interests at heart, and I trust completely in Him. I also place my children within the mantle of the Blessed Theotokos, Mother of God, and continually ask her intercession on behalf of my children and grandchildren. I know this world is changing rapidly. People are becoming less and less concerned with their spiritual well-being and more concerned with the house they live in, the purse they carry, and what kind of car they drive. It makes me so sad, and frightened. My grandmother once told me that she was sorry for the world she left to me. She was born in 1903. She said that because of living through the depression, and a couple of horrible world wars, parents made the mistake of not wanting their children to suffer as they had, so they made life too easy for them. She told me that she had sheltered my dad in some ways, by always being on his side and praising him too much. She often thought he had an inordinate view of himself. And I believe that trend has continued. Kids nowadays get a trophy just for signing up to play a sport – not for actually trying or winning. Everyone is special and a hero. It is a disordered view of life and has created a generation of entitled young adults and teens. And it is getting worse every day.

A friend and I had a chat about recently about prepping.  You know, bunkers, laying up stores, ammo, water, a shelter. We reminisced about drills in school when we were young over the Cold War and Russia “dropping the bomb on us.” Now it seems more likely to come from a  much closer source and it is rather frightening. But how do we live our lives, knowing some of this? Her husband wants to go very prepper with  shelter, ammo, etc. whereas she prefers the approach of the movie, “The War Room.” I believe in an intelligent, happy medium. But I am not stupid, either. I know God has things in store for me, whether I am prepared or not. God is not done with His world, yet. To that end, I think it behooves us all to be smart. Learn something about living “off the grid” (Hey, earthquakes are real – they are something facing lots of us regularly; tornadoes are real; terrorism is real; our economy tanking is a very real possibility) and we all need to know how to take care of ourselves. One of the scariest things happened to me years ago when we took school kids on a tour of a dairy farm, “Where does the ice cream come out?” “Euwww…cows poop?” “That’s not milk; those cows are peeing out of their bellies.” “Yes, I know where milk comes from; it comes from the grocery store.” Although it might seem funny, are we prepared, as city dwellers, to take care of ourselves independent of the local market? Do we know where to get drinkable water in an emergency? Do we keep supplies in our garage? Car? Basements? Can we kill food for our families? Do we keep the Bible and family prayer ropes and icons where we can get to them in an emergency? Are we constantly storming heaven with our prayers?

(Ikos 9) “Raise my children to reject the deceitful teachings of the teachers of unbelief; raise my children to not accept the spirit of the sons of the adversary; raise my children to run from the world and the delusions of the world; raise my children to turn away from evil and to do good; raise my children to love their enemies and to pray for them; raise my children to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.” And the following Kontakion 10, “Desiring to save the world, Thy Son came from heaven to call, not the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. For the sake of this, pray to Thy Son that having been saved through Thee, my children may call to God: Alleluia.”

And so I pray. I pray unceasingly (Ikos 5 – Having seen my diligent supplication rising like incense to Thy glory, turn not Thy face away from my children, though they turn away from Thee, but all the more, hear the cry of my lips, singing to Thee…”). No prayers are ever wasted; no time spent seeking the counsel of God is ever wasted. And I know of no other use of my time to be as wisely spent.  In all honesty, seek God in all things, but especially as an intercessor for those you love. Our Lord made us parents because He trusted us to care for these souls. We need to redouble our efforts, even when our children are grown, have spouses, and children of their own.

To God be the glory. He is Born. Glorify Him.

IconNativity

“A still, small voice…”

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“The best laid plans of mice and men … ” (Robert Burns, “To a Mouse” 1786). The quote seems appropriate. I worked very hard to try and make Christmas happen for our family and friends, those nearby and those far away. For the first time in 31 years of marriage, everyone’s gifts were either under the tree and wrapped, or wrapped, boxed, and mailed the week before Christmas. And, Christmas cards were all sent out at the same time. I was free to plan my meals and goodies. I should have known other plans were afoot when, on our way out the door to a birthday party, we dumped our 9-layer dip upside down in the snow, breaking my grandma’s casserole dish I had inherited. Things tanked from there.  I was able to attend that event, even making a scad of pizzelles while the kiddos “hung out.” But by the end of the day, I felt awful and in the space of about 2 hours, had completely lost my voice. This was December 23rd.

As many of you know because you know me, or have read about it here, I am an avid convert to the use of essential oils in my life. I also added a nutritional system to my life. I have not felt better in, quite literally, years. Over the summer, I back-slid and I did it big time. I never walked away from my oils, but my nutrition and exercise tanked. We’ve started back with our nutrition and I am using vitamins that, for the first time in my life, do not upset my stomach. Taken twice a day, these packets are awesome and since I received them on the 23rd, I only missed once, because I flat out crashed in bed. Ha-Ha. The exercise is starting as soon as I am better. I am coughing far too much to exert myself. I am dressed, so that is a bonus! (Although I must say I love spending the day in PJs).

I find it amazing that changing something like adding essential oils to my life, had such a drastic effect. For the first time in my life, I no longer use any over-the-counter medications, nor any prescriptions. My aches and pains have ceased. My mood and energy levels were such that I could keep up with my grandkids! And I was taught a HUGE lesson – being healthy affects every aspect of your life. Because right now, I am missing out on the holidays. I am home, alone, in sweats (at least I have on clothes and and not just jammies) while family and friends celebrate. I spent the entire day of Christmas, alone, on the couch with a diffuser on right next to me, nursing a hot cup of thieves tea. It stunk. But thankfully, I am open to new experiences and I am always open to learning. Because of that, I had my first raindrop massage with essential oils and I must say, I would love one every day! (God bless you, Mindy). I am thrilled beyond thrilled it worked. The oils did their thing, but then I “overdid” my thing. Attending Christmas Eve Divine Liturgy until 3:30 am while fighting this bug pushed the limits of endurance for me. I cannot expect oils to save me from myself. And therein lies my lesson…

The Good Lord asks us to give Him our best, always. He asks us to love Him and love our neighbors as ourselves. He asks us to be attentive, to listen more than talk, to be present to those around us.  To trust Him and His Word for us in our lives. He also granted us free will. That darned old free will is something each of us uses daily in our walk. Do we take a step towards God, or one away? Trying to do everything, trying to get everything “perfect” for everyone, running yourself ragged. Silly, silly me. God’s got this, not me. The reason for the season? Because the Christ Child came to us in a cave, with NOTHING but Himself, to save us from ourselves. And I thought I had this wired. I thought that, for the first time in 31 years, having presents and cards ready, the house decorated, that I was ready for Christmas. That I was ready to welcome that Babe in the Manger. What gifts did I give Our Lord? Instead, He gave me a break away from all the festivities, and He gave me time and quiet to get myself together.

Christmas is a mess

I decided to try and make soup from our leftover ham, while my husband is off, serving as a Deacon on the altar, and our son accompanied him. I even sorted laundry. And then I sat down, coughing my head off. I reapplied oils, added water to the ham bone making us soup on the stove, and petted the dogs. I am exhausted. But I am not tired enough that I cannot see how so much of what the Lord has in store for us, we miss. We miss it because we are so busy getting ready for it, it passes us by.  My personal Christmas was a mess. Sickness made me flat out stop.  Just stop. And this time, I was quite literally stopped in my tracks.

I believe that when we come face to face with God, it should stop us in our tracks and we should become something different; distinct from our “former selves.” If we do not embrace and accept the change that an encounter with Christ should engender in us, why bother? Why keep banging your head against a wall, telling the world you have changed, when the evidence everyone can see tells a completely different story? I can adopt a healthier lifestyle. I can opt to create a healthier environment in my home. So why did I allow all those sweets to come into my home? Why did I encourage poor choices by making sweet things to share with others? How am I the example someone needs for their walk with Christ if I cannot even stay the course myself?

Cheaters never propser

“Cheaters never prosper” was yelled by kids on the playgrounds when I was young. We used to sing-song it to people who cheated at games. It is an old English saying (idiom) that actually was about treason, but we Americans changed it up a little bit. In any event, cheating never does us any good. The most blatant lies will show to be just that, given time. People position themselves certain ways and presume and assume no one is the wiser, but most of us can see the truth. I tried to cheat. I was given a healthier alternative and thought I was on the road to health and less weight, more energy, less pain..all the benefits I had been seeing. But I also thought I could “rest on my laurels.” (Another fun idiom we inherited from mythology. A laurel wreath was worn around the head as a distinction for a level achieved; a reward. To lay down and rest, not putting forth further effort because you already were crowned with a laurel wreath, was to presume what you had done was good enough and would last). But as with anything, we need to stay current. We need to keep at it, to become good at anything. If someone is trying to get healthy, you don’t stop doing whatever you have chosen once you reach a healthier status. You have to keep up living healthy or you become sick, like me. Ugh.  I really hate that I am still sick and it is almost 7 days later. But I am happy that I am still learning.

Confession

“Every genuine confession humbles the soul. When it takes the form of thanksgiving, it teaches the soul that it has been delivered by the grace of God.” + St. Maximos the Confessor, Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice 3.62, The Philokalia: The Complete Text (Vol. 2)

When we go to confession, as when we unburden ourselves to a friend, when we open our hearts to hear the Word of God on our souls, we are changed. We have been given a new breath. We can inhale and feel the burdens we bore removed from our shoulders. We can start anew. Start what? That daily step – that step we take with each choice, each decision, each breath of every day. Did the Lord allow you relief? Were you given a choice and opted to repent? Were you contrite? What now? Is your next step, your next breath towards God, or are you backing away? One of the hardest things in life is to know that you do not know. You do not know pretty much anything, outside from the Grace of God. Without God’s light and Grace, we become “noisy gongs and clanging cymbals” (1Cor 12). I know so many people who are nothing more than air. And usually hot air. Because they jabber but they don’t change. They do not listen. They do not open themselves to the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They are stuck, clanging away, because they already know it all. And today I reaffirm my commitment to not be a noisy gong, insisting on my own way, rumbling through life sick and miserable. I embrace what I have been shown and I am determined to inherit the Kingdom of God as a loving daughter of the Most High. I do not want to make so much noise with my own sounds, my own opinions, that I cannot see the path that God has laid out for me. I know that God acts in my life through others. He allows people to come into my life to help me, to make me a better person. I need to acknowledge that in my life; to embrace it; to accept it; and most of all, to act upon it. So this is sort of a New Year’s Resolution, if you would allow. I intend to listen more, speak less, and to follow God’s Word in my life much better than I often do. I will endeavor to hear that still, small voice. Will you?

Small voice

 

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Aurora.1Sometimes the world can seem so vast. There is so much that we are not truly familiar with. And yet, we make judgement calls about the world all the time. Judges, meting out justice from the bench, are supposed to be using their knowledge of the law, and making a judgement based on the law. They are not supposed to make their own laws, but rather uphold the ones we have on the books. They spend years learning laws, learning ways to defend the law, or the person accused of breaking the law. Some people are called to be prosecutors, some defenders. It is a pretty black/white thing, taken in its pristine form. But, as with much of life, there seems to be ambiguity inherent with our law system. And opinion; one cannot forget opinion. Trust me; I have one, which is why I blog. I share my opinion, my thoughts, with those of you who are interested enough to actually read them.

Today I was confronted with attitude. From several different sources. I love that I was blessed to haphazardly find my way to Anthropology from my start as a pre-law major, morphing into history, and finally finding archeology. I learned to have a broader perspective about things, and I also learned to appreciate differences. To actually look for, and explore differences. I try to not accept things on the basis of the cover. I was accused of judging young ladies one of my sons was dating, simply by their clothing, tattoos, and wildly colored hair. And I admitted that I was prejudiced – in my head, a “normal” girl didn’t present herself that way. I was so wrong. I also have learned that there are so many things that are not truly known to me, or by me. The world is, quite honestly, more complex and varied than we think. There is such a variety in the way in which we approach things. There is such a variety in how God presents His world to us.

moon sky mountains

I was raised and lived in pretty much a 100-square mile area in Southern California. I know traffic. I know smog. I know crowds. I know the beach, the mountains, the desert. I can tell you how to get somewhere and the relative amount of time it will take you to get there. Malls – I know all the good malls in Southern California. I know where to get deals on pretty much anything. The good towns, the places to avoid, the amusement park deals. Parades and major league sports venues. SoCal is full of all of that, and more. I just never realized there was something more out there. I mean, who knew what seasons really were? I never understood the whole Fall/Autumn thing until we lived in Washington. Oh my goodness. Fall is glorious in the Pacific Northwest. I also found out I could plant and grow, successfully, my own tulips. I had no idea there were so many types of tulips. I did not get gourds (why do we carve pumpkins and devour pumpkin pies??) until I lived where they grow them. I never liked asparagus, either, until I could buy it fresh, for less than $1 a bunch and cook it in so many ways (I mean, garlic and butter pretty much makes shoe leather edible). Another experience was living in a snow state. It is a wet state (parts are considered rain forest) but it is also a snow state. I learned to drive roads that are almost verticle on all-weather tires in ice, and also learned to maneuver around all sorts of road construction in pretty awful weather. I LOVED it! And then we decided to have the adventure of a lifetime (while we were still young enough to do it successfully) and relocate out of the contiguous United States, to the very far north. I can honestly say it has lived up to my expectations, and outdone them in so very many ways. This land is something that I never expected, and something I will take the rest of my life learning about and appreciating.

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One of the things I have learned is that I DO NOT KNOW EVERYTHING. (Hope those close to me, who know me well, didn’t just have mini-strokes, or heart attacks at that declaration!). And I love to experience new things. I am so interested in everything. I try to expose my mind to new things all the time. I try to not be closed off or to place walls between myself and new discoveries, knowing there is just a vast amount of knowledge I do not have. I’d like to chip away at acquiring more, the rest of my life. I want to constantly embrace new things and fill my mind, and my soul, with all the things I can learn. I am trying to leave words that hamper this desire out of my vocabulary (never, can’t, won’t, no). And I am working on not pre-juding people, situations, or even places and/or experiences.

I get frustrated when people say things like, “I would never…” or “I can never do…” when they have never ventured, never tried, never gone there (insofar as experiences). It is like a judge, who has the law before him, making a decision based on an opinion gained by reading the newspaper. We may think we have all the information we need, we may have dipped our toes in the water, but the ocean is not the beach. Saying all that, I KNOW I could never jump out of a plane. I can barely manage flying in one, let alone stepping out of one. My son used to do it for a living and told me, years afterwards, that he hated jumping, but got a kick out of landing, successfully. Adrenaline rush, etc. Not me. I am a scaredy-pants, just like my elusive cat, Rosie. So I do understand not taking certain risks, or do life-endangering antics, for the kick of it. And I do not judge those who are able to entertain those ideas, and even to act upon them. So, for the sake of my musings here, I am discounting that section of participants.

From the Book of Wisdom 7:21-25 (Douay-Rheims):

“And all such things as are hid and not foreseen, I have learned: for wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me. For in her is the spirit of understanding: holy, one, manifold, subtile, eloquent, active, undefiled, sure, sweet, loving that which is good, quick, which nothing hindereth, beneficent, gentle, kind, steadfast, assured, secure, having all power, overseeing all things, and containing all spirits, intelligible, pure, subtile. For wisdom is more active than all active things: and reacheth everywhere by reason of her purity. For she is a vapour of the power of God, and a certain pure emanation of the glory of the almighty God: and therefore no defiled thing cometh into her.”

I believe we all need to learn as much as we can. I don’t want to just grow older. I am praying that I also grow in wisdom. We need to make bucket lists and check those awesome experiences off, as we do them! I think we need to be brave, to embrace those roads less traveled and to not fear the new, the untried, the unfamiliar. Yes, there is danger around every corner. Sometimes there are no guarantees.

Looking back

I am the biggest chicken insofar as trying much that is new. I have the same clothes I have worn for the past ten years. I re-read the same books, over again, two or three times. I listen to music I listened to in high school. But about three years ago, as I was speeding down this very deserted highway (in a foreign country no less) at around 75 mph, on all-weather tires, on about a foot of ice and snow, I thought, “What are we doing?” My husband was trying to follow me, as I saw him through my rearview mirror, reaching out to manually wipe the accumulating ice and snow off his windshield. He was doing whatever he needed to do to stay wtih me. How blessed was I? Of course, he was also yelling into our walkie-talkie, telling me to “Slow down, woman!”  Ha-Ha. Good times. I doubt quite often the choices we have made. We plunge into things, thinking we’ve corned the market on all the possibilities. We try to really think things through, but inevitably, something comes out of left field that we had never expected. We got snow the week after we moved here – in June! I discovered icicles on my house and fell in love with them. (Now I totally understand icicles on Christmas trees, and those Christmas lights for your house that mimic real icicles!). What a bonus! I learned how to take out laundry in sub-zero temps. I can now cook moose and it tastes good! I can manage a sweater as my only cover in 20-degree weather. I have learned to make Ukrainian dishes for the different feast days. Me?! I am British, as in pot roasts and pots of tea! Ha-Ha!! I learned how to make Pascha cheese, in panty hose, in my shower (trust me – it really works!). But I am learning, still. I am experiencing new things. Still. I am trying to remove “no, can’t never” from my vocabulary. I am trying to not prejudge something I have no honest, direct, knowledge of. Please, let’s keep one another in prayer over the pursuit of Wisdom. Over the experience of the new, the unknown. The Lord has given this immense land to discover, filled with unknown adventures and a myriad of different people, traditions, and faiths. Let us approach these differences with an eye to this immense knowledge, and wisdom, of God. And let us at least try, one step at a time…

Babysteps