“It was then that I carried you.”

You know – God is good. Just flat out good. I get tossed and thrown around in life all the time. But my anchor is God and He is solid. It reminds me of a fly buzzing around someone’s head, and they just swat now and then but don’t move. That’s God, standing there, with me buzzing around His head, trying to land but never quite making it. And I know why. It’s because I keep relying on me and not Him. Many years ago, we went camping in the beautiful mountains of Colorado. We were there for the first weekend after the snow melted. The waters were so cold. The grass was green, the flowers were just starting their bloom, the skies were so blue, and the birds were chirping away. It was the 4th of July weekend. We spent our time hiking and fishing, sleeping in tents and enjoying the company of one of our favorite families. One morning, we were walking to our fishing spot when we looked back and our youngest son (at that time) was walking with his arms outstretched, going across a small footbridge, with all these May flies all over him. On his head, on his arms, legs, everywhere. And he was walking so carefully, so tentatively placing each foot quietly on that bridge. We asked him what he was doing, and his simple reply was, “Giving them a ride.” I often think of myself like that, getting a ride now and then when I need to cross a difficult bridge in my life… God stretches out his arms and lets me alight for a moment or two (or however long) and helps me across.

mayfly_B2A3KH_2913494b

I think we can all learn something, at least I hope I keep learning new things, from this example. They often “fly” into my head, unbidden, and I just have to get them out, which is why I blog! There have been so many things that have had me up in a tizzy, all worried and concerned. To the point of tears and upset stomach, where I could not even get dressed but went hog-wild doing research on my computer in my jammies. Sometimes an idea, issue, or thought gets in there and I have to work through it until I am at peace.

Recently, we were faced with homeschooling issues. From so many of my acquaintances within the homeschooling community, I kept receiving texts and comments via facebook of, “Pray about this.” “Wait for God’s direction in your choices.” “Listen to God.” “God will direct you; He’d never lead you astray.” “Keep faith with God; He brought you this far, to such a good place.” Over and over again, from so many disparate sources, I was admonished to rely on God and His Word in my life. To stop trying to do this alone. Wow. I was humbled and brought to my knees. Those of you who know me well, know that actually getting to my knees is just not happening. But I did bow my head, while I banged it on my desk, and prayed very hard. Things happened and I was relieved beyond my expectations. I could breathe again.

I started working out and had a meeting with a personal trainer last night. First of all, he was YOUNG. I mean, YOUNG. Older than my youngest son, but younger than my other sons. But he was smart, bright, and very, very nice. He encouraged me, challenged me, and gave me goals. He has expectations for my success. He gave me expectations of success. He walked me through my plans, my expectations for myself, and then we evaluated truly where I am. And no shame at how out of shape I have become, but just praised for acknowledging I am not where I should be and have begun to correct years of neglect. He walked me through exercises and stood by me while I successfully completed them. God place just the right person, at just the right time, in my life.

And I was thinking about all of this as I was filled with joy this morning. Pure joy. Don’t want to stop smiling. Our lives are moving in a positive direction. Intense change is occurring and we are all onboard with the same goals. It feels awesome. As I have posted before, I am using essential oils. One of my favorites is Joy. It is a blend that I like to wear in place of perfume. It has sort of become my scent. Today I feel as though I plastered Joy all over myself! And I know it is because I can feel God working in my life. Pieces are starting to fall into place. And He is working for a profound change. Not just a fad or something you do on a whim – a change. Metanoia – here’s the definition:

“Metanoia — an Ancient Greek word (μετάνοια) meaning “changing one’s mind” — may refer to:   Metanoia (theology), repentance;  Metanoia (rhetoric), correction, a rhetorical device; Metanoia (psychology), the process of experiencing a psychotic “break down” and subsequent, positive psychological re-building or “healing.””

I believe that when we truly desire change, we can make significant changes to our lives. Many Protestants believe that when you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, a deep change, or metanoia occurs.  When one accepts Christ into their lives in a real way, the world turns upside down and nothing should ever look the same. For those of us who practice a different Christian expression, we come alive when the Word is read in Liturgy, when certain prayers and verses are read at certain times of the year, when we smell a particular incense or Holy Oil.  We are humbled by the Presence of God in the Divine Liturgy, when He is present on His altar. Metanoia can be a recurring theme in our lives as we progress towards our goal of Theosis, which is defined as:

“In Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic theology, deification (theosis) is a transformative process whose goal is likeness to or union with God. As a process of transformation, theosis is brought about by the effects of katharsis (purification of mind and body) and theoria. According to Eastern teaching, theosis is very much the purpose of human life. It is considered achievable only through a synergy (or cooperation) between human activity and God’s uncreated energies (or operations).”

When you walk with God and everything seems to be in accord, you are moving towards a greater synchronicity with Our Lord and peace becomes the feeling you enjoy most often. Just like those May flies getting a ride on my son’s arms, occasionally we need a lift, too. Sometimes it is just a subtle reminder that we are not the power in the universe, nor in our own little orbits. But rather, God moves the world, the universe, and we are hitching a ride with Him. Often it is a friend who reminds us to rely on God more in our lives; but it can often be that soft whisper of Our Lord, calling us to Him, to His Word, to allowing Him to carry us.

Footprints. Carried you

18 in 18 – seriously??

Every once in awhile, things begin to get out of sync in life. And when you are working towards getting everything balanced, you really notice them. We, as a family, have grown tremendously in recent months, even in the past week. We are working towards getting balance in our lives, in all areas of our lives. One area has been fitness, which I detailed in a previous post. Another area is faith, which we work towards consistently. The other areas of focus are family, friends, fun, field, and finances. Those are the seven areas we are targeting. They are all a part of a philosophy called “The Oola Life.”  Oola is defined as “the art or state of being awesome.”  I know that sounds funny, and it is a very recent term that was coined (hence the use of the word, “awesome”).  But don’t let a word turn you away from it.  They are some pretty profound things to be found in an Oola life.

Of those 7 areas, “field” is an interesting one. This refers to your work, your career, things you do outside of the other areas. I put my homeschooling in this category. It is my chosen career, rather than working outside our home. For me, being aligned in a healthy way with God’s will in my life, and for placing my priorities in order, homeschooling is an important area for me to consider. Each family has to choose how they will educate their children. Most of us firmly believe that how we choose to do that should be our choice, as parents and responsible adults. Unfortunately, we are not given blueprints for being parents. There are books galore out there that can help us, but most of us read them AFTER we have kids and are experiencing issues in raising them. Education is something we, as parents, should be in complete control of. We need to keep education close to home, and local. It is one of the reasons we have local elections for School Boards. It is one of the reasons we have local school districts and elementary schools in every neighborhood. Education should be personal, local, and not federal.

For our family, homeschooling was introduced to us as a concept at the same time that calculators were being required in school for our 2nd grader. Calculators were put in place of learning basic math facts; the teacher told me that he didn’t have time to teach them with their curriculum’s schedule and testing each year. Kids would just have to catch up and calculators made that possible. This frightened me so much. The teacher told me he was pulling his kids out of school and between he and his wife (also a teacher) they would school at home (they had vastly different schedules). I had met some people who have remained friends since this time (1991-1992) who homeschooled their children with great success. They homeschooled because they did not like the curriculum choices, especially in regards to family life courses being required; they were morally outraged at what was being taught in elementary school. We opted our child out of these “family life” courses, but like one of the moms said, “You can opt them out all you want.  Guess what they talk about on the playground?”  Ha-Ha. She was right, of course. I chose to homeschool for curriculum choices (and calculators), and then it became about moral choices. We also went up against vaccinating against STDs when our kids did not socialize with others who had them, nor did we expect them to make poor choices. But high school, summer camps, and the military soon over-rode our objections and they were all vaccinated, eventually. Where I did not compromise was in the areas of curriculum or morals. If I felt either was compromised, we pulled ourselves home. In the course of time since 1992, we have homeschooled using religious programs, homeschooled doing “our own thing,” public schooled, private schooled, unschooled, charter schooled, and recently, public schooled at home (our state offers a variety of homeschool options as about 70% of kids are homeschooled here). We are now educating our last child, and only have two more years of schooling left. It makes me sad, but I am also tired and ready to be done with all of it. Because the world is creeping in and it is scary.

The world of Bill Gates and Common Core has stuck their noses into our little world.  And we all need to be duly frightened. It’s not so much that Common Core is mediocre (it is) but rather that once again the federal branch of the government wants to tell state and local entities how to do what they do. In other words, they want to tell us how and what, even when, to teach our children. They have aligned all 50 states and want the same materials taught using the same format and exact same materials, at the same grade levels, across the country. If you take federal money for schooling in your state/district, you are obliged to be in compliance with federal statutes and guidelines on testing. They want each district to use “their” tests when annually testing the kids. One irritant for me is that this is once again a money trail. Where does the money go? How does the money flow? There are publishers involved (who write, publish, and sell textbooks aligned with Common Core), there are testing corporations who write the tests and also control the grading of them. Tests that no one is allowed to see beforehand! Results that are published sometimes 6 months after taking (our tests are done in April/May and results are not provided until October). The tests travel out-of-state for scoring, not within a local district or even same state. Most companies who do the testing are asking for only online testing, so they can track them easier. And I’m not even getting into data mining of our children. The new legislation wants scores and school documentation to begin in pre-school and follow students through to the workforce, up until and when they are 20 years old. They insist they want to track the preparation the students received and their ability to enter the workforce. To me, if you wait from 3 years of age until 20, there are millions of kids who will be poorly educated and not prepared for the workforce (if the curriculum is poor or does not fit workforce requirements.  And how many workforce requirements are rigid for 20 years?) if we review after 17 years of using Common Core. There are specific reviews along the way, I know that. But still and all, it is an excuse to obtain a lot of data on our families. Legislation shows that they (the Feds) want to coordinate census data, tax returns, healthcare choices, loans and financial information and align it all with educational data once protected under FERPA legislation.  (They plan to align Social Security Numbers with Student ID Numbers). One huge, overwhelming and over-reaching grab of information about each one of us.  I’m not a conspiracy nut, nor am I an “off-the-grid” proponent (how could I download books onto my Kindle if I went off-grid?) but I am a concerned citizen. With the age of the computer and how freely and blithely we enter data online, it is no wonder someone smart enough hasn’t figured all this out before. The sad part is – they have. It is just now coming to light. And very few people even realize it, or are paying attention to it.

How do I reconcile this with my balancing act of my 7 areas of the Oola life? How do I responsibly homeschool my child, while keeping to my moral values? How do I protect my son’s right to privacy, and still allow him to receive a good education? Do I hide? Do we fly under the grid and unschool once again? Do I pull out or continue on? We only have two years left!! I am praying like a mad woman, in between bouts of tears of frustration. But, God is good. He never lets us down. We just need to seek Him in all things.  As I started to type this post, God interceded for me and I received an amazing phone call that changed everything. I took some time to actually cry in relief. I took some time to chat with my husband. I feel, once again, like I can balance my life in the area of “field.” I can continue to offer my son a quality education, wherein he is learning and retaining information like he never has before. I can continue to enjoy it as he explores more and more the world at large and becomes ready to strike out on his own. As my oldest son loved pointing out to me yesterday, my baby will be 18 in a mere 18 months. Wow. Time certainly flies when you are balancing life.

This does not change the issues at large: Common Core being forced on all school districts. Tests being written, and scored, by private companies in it for the money. Local districts and states not being allowed to develop curriculum for their own students and make choices and decisions outside of the federal guidelines. Data and information being gathered on everyone in alarming amounts and detail. States’ rights being eroded, not to mention personal privacy being invaded. We all need to be aware. We all can affect a change. We can opt to not play. We can opt to say no to governmental hijacking of our local educational programs. We can say no to programs that do not reflect the local electoral results. When a state chooses, via ballot, to not use Common Core but unelected people somehow make it the norm for the state, we should be contacting all our officials and letting them know this is not right. Some governmental positions are jobs – they are not elected. Those people, even the electeds in my point of view, work for me. They work for the “people.” We people need to take our government back and just say no to some of this. America was not created to be a nation of “sameness.” One of the beauties of this country is it’s diversity. Why would we change that now, after all these years? If we are all the same, where is the creativity we need to explore space, the oceans, medicine? Who is going to take us into the next century, leading the free world in science, math, engineering, the arts, the social sciences? If everyone learns the same exact thing, no one will even know how to think outside the box, because they won’t even realize they are in a box.

Pray, think, vote, contact your local representatives.  We need to be sure our children are educated to be the best they can be.  I do not believe Common Core or national education and testing is the way to go. And I am at peace.  For today.  18 months until 18 – so much can happen.  Teens keep us on our toes!

Spring has sprung… I think.

ItsSpringMinions

 

Well, it supposedly happened.  Spring sprung.  Up here, near to the Arctic Circle, things happen a little slower.  But truly, our winter was so very mild, in comparison to friends on the East Coast of the USA, in the “lower 48,” as they call it.  We are all happy to see longer days and more sunshine. I find it so humorous that because we now are getting longer days, that people assume it’s acceptable to whip out their shorts and flip-flops.  I did have to wear sunglasses, because the sun was so bright, but it was only 10-degrees outside.  Still, I saw a man wearing his shorts and flip-flops as he ran into the store.  Determined that it was Spring!  Ha-Ha!

ItsSpring.Nope

We were told to not get too excited with the sunshine, and that the weather pattern is changing, again.  Two weeks ago we all got blizzard warnings on our phones, warning of 15″ – 17″ of snow overnight.  We barely got a covering of frost.  So people don’t trust the TV weather people too much. Over the next 10 days, we are supposed to see a change from our 20s and sunshine to 40s, clouds, and rain.  Oh bother – just when I wanted to take down my Christmas lights! Ha-Ha!  They are some days not frozen to the roof, but most days they have been.  It’s interesting, living in the Last Frontier… weather is certainly never dull.

LakeMountains.AK

I am blessed to live in one of those places where honestly, I think God stood on the 7th Day and said, “It is good.”  The views here are truly breath-taking. The sun moves in a cycle that we can actually watch.  It is so different than anywhere else, it is hard to explain. I can watch the trail of the sun as it rises on the east side of my house, is over the hills to the south around noon or so, and goes down to the west of us.  It is never over my house, regardless of the time of year, nor is it ever in our front yard.  Ever.  Which, growing up in SoCal with the sun over your head all day, is a little disconcerting.  We can actually watch the moon move across the skies, too.  It is pretty amazing.  Up here, we can see the curvature of the earth.  What a blessing.

In this environment, it is not a good thing to be unhealthy or out of shape.  In fact, for people who are heavy, there are very few places to buy winter gear.  I guess the manufacturers just assume fat people (a) don’t live here, or (b) don’t get cold.  It cracks me up.  I love Amazon Prime!  So many of us live with Amazon because the shopping selection for some things is not the same as the Lower 48.  And with winter gear for us “fluffy” people, that is the case.  And I also have a hard time finding jeans.  Just jeans. I mean, come on!  All of this was starting to really annoy me.  When we lived in WA, this feeling was started.  Not because I could not find fat-lady clothes there, but because I wanted to be out and about, moving in the beauty that surrounded me. And I tried and totally blew out a knee.  The doctor told me I needed to loose weight before he could recommend knee surgery.  Then I had heart palpitations.  Went to the ER and then was sent to a cardiologist.  All sorts of expensive tests were run.  I am, and seem to always be, healthy as a horse…. I am just overweight.  The cardiologist told me I would die of complications from being overweight before my heart gave out on me.  And those experiences began an internal nagging.  One I am finally listening to.

Minion.EOSMy family and I were introduced to Essential Oils. I cannot fully express to you what a change that has wrought for all of us.  My son now uses a special blend on his forehead when he does school.  It is really helping him.  My husband had a bad shoulder, he is now able to hold his grandchildren.  I was having recurring chest colds and bronchitis… and I am now cough-free.  We diffuse them in our home, we apply them to our skin, we ingest them with carrier oils, we drink a drop or two in our water.  I even cook with them (the basil oil made amazing spaghetti sauce).  They have become an integral part of our lives.  And through the exposure to EO’s we have been introduced to a more natural, healthy way of living.  We are slowly replacing cleaning products with natural ones.  We are now using natural deodorants (that truly work) and I am using a natural face cream.  Slowly but surely we are detoxing our bodies and our home. And it feels so good.

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We have finally made the ultimate step.  Our family has changed from one that reads, to one that now works out.  We joined a family health club.  I have worked out twice and I can honestly say I am excited to keep doing this.  I was not at all intimidated because the staff was so very nice.  Even though I am clinically obese (sounds horrid, doesn’t it?) I wore my sweats and a t-shirt and tried all the machines. I found several that I really liked. I could feel my spine stretching and it was awesome.  To be honest, I feel like I am waking my body up from permanent couch potato status.  And after a couple of times of working out that induced sweat, I am a little achy.  Okay, it hurts.  “But it’ a good hurt,” right? Ha-Ha.  Who are we kidding? It flat out hurts.  But because it does, I am feeling; I am getting in touch with my body after a 30-year lag.  It took me that long to get this way, so I know it will take time and effort to improve.  The secret for me to want to keep going back is that I am doing it with my entire family, including my married son and his wife.  She and I work out together and quite honestly we have laughed so much, it has made the pain and sweat not so bad.  For example, on our first attempt at working out using an automated leg press machine: “You want me to put these legs up there, in that machine?”  And then we tried.  Oh my goodness, we laughed so hard.  A very nice gentleman was across the way and was laughing so much his head was red.  He walked over and kindly showed us how to move the seat, so getting my legs up there was actually possible! Leg presses used to be so different in the 1970s when I last used them! Ha-Ha!  My married son met my husband and our 16-year old at the club this morning at 5:00 am.  They all worked out together.  And my son actually started school by 8:00 am.  You have no idea what a victory that is (try homeschooling a night-owl teen boy and getting him up and moving before 10:00 am!!).

In addition to all of that, we are trying to eat better.  We are making better choices with our food.  We are adding more smoothies.  We are eating fewer carbs and more protein and vegetables.  We feel better for it.  Stimulating our bodies to move, adding in better nutrition, helping to stay healthy with oils, and preparing for Pascha – it all fits in with our Lenten journey.  For our family, this Lent has been life-changing.  We have not attended an over-abundance of Pre-Sanctified Liturgies.  We have not added many extra hours of prayer.  We have not fasted as strictly as we have in the past.  But we have gone through a reformation that we are mostly not even aware of.  As I type, my shoulders ache, but I am in touch of where that ache comes from.  I am diffusing Citrus Blend and the air is alive with scent, and it gladdens my heart.  I am reading a stimulating book entitled, “The Oola Life” and it is spurring me on to get my 7 F’s of Oola in order (check it out online under Oola Life or on Facebook).  Simple ways to get your life aligned in 7 areas that affect us all.  And Fitness and Faith, Family and Friends are right in there.  And it seems to fit.

LupineSpringAnd so we wait, here in the North, for the Springtime to actually bloom.  This year, we are actively preparing for the warmer weather by getting ourselves and our house in order.  We are actively waiting for Holy Week. I cannot believe it is just two weeks away! So many eggs to prepare, bread to bake, and baskets to get ready! Ha-Ha!  But I am smiling. I am feeling so good about how we are looking forward to the Resurrection of Our Lord, and the promise of Eternity in Christ.  We are first preparing our hearts, then our bodies and minds, and finally our homes.  It will be so wonderful to have an open window again – which reminds me that much Spring Cleaning awaits me!

Prayers for a holy and happy, healthy and uplifting remainder of Lent.  And for a gorgeous Spring!

Is it really Monday?

Minion Monday Quote

My grandma liked to say, “You can’t put a old head on young shoulders.” She had so many great sayings that got me through the early years of parenting. I could not help but think of this as my teen and I struggled with homeschooling today, a Monday.

And today, well, today is “such a Monday.” We had Daylight Savings time kick in yesterday, and when you get an hour stolen from you, it takes days to get yourself right again. I am not sure why this is so, but I think the days are past when we even need to have Daylight Savings time. Several states opt out; other countries think we’re nuts; most people I know think it’s stupid, too. Our state legislature was discussing it and I even think something may have actually made it to the voting stage, but once again, the government wheels grind ever so slowly. Which annoys me most particularly, on the type of Monday where I just want to crawl back into bed. But that is not what this post is about.

Today I struggle with ideas regarding authority. And I blog because I find it a wonderful way to sort my thoughts out, and have a chat with myself. And if I annoy you with this particular post today, chalk it up as a particularly nasty Monday!  Because, today I struggle with authority in so many areas within my life and living circumstances, so even on a Monday like today, I still need to sort things out. For example, today I had a chat with my father, who is 88 years old. He has always been an authority figure in my life; I have always respected him and honored his decrees in my life. As I have aged, our relationship has tweaked itself a little bit. I am no longer a youth under his direct authority, but he tries to reenact that sort of dance between us now and then. Today we had a chat that I would like to think friends would have, although some mention of the disparity in our ages came up (he loves to say how young I am, but at 58, I’m not feeling it! Ha-Ha!). We sorted through some things, and as we said our goodbyes, I was smiling. The smile was because we communicated today – he didn’t pontificate and I listen – we talked to each other. It was sublime in its simplicity. The authoritative relationship I had with him has changed. Sometimes aging does that to you; sometimes you just get older.

My teen and I had a little difference in opinion today regarding the work accomplished over the past two weeks. I was explaining how he holds his future in his hands. What he becomes tomorrow is predicated on what he learns today. I cannot give him a career. He has to gain that for himself. And our world has to have some sort of measuring stick. For most professions, it is a certain skill set you have to obtain, either through a hands-on sort of training, or book learning, or a combination of both. No one simply decides they want to be a neurosurgeon and they hand you gloves and a scalpel. It requires years of dedicated study, practice, and you have to perform with a certain amount of competency in order to practice on people. There are lots of jobs that are like that; many career paths take years and years. And there is always a governing authority in regards to careers. It may be someone in an HR capacity who allows an application to get through; a resume review that someone feels says the right thing and it gets passed to the person hiring; it could be an entrance exam for a college or trade school; it could be passing exams to graduate from high school so you can begin your journey towards a career. Again, an authority figure determines who passes and who fails; who moves on and who remains behind.  He doesn’t like me very much today.  The joys of parenting.

Orthodox Protest.Ukraine

I saw this meme posted on Facebook today. I commented that I thought it was amusing that we would show a picture of the Ukrainian Orthodox protesting in Ukraine, and caption it with a saying by the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. First of all, I mean no disrespect to the people who put this together, the Pope of Rome, or the people in the picture. I just found it amusing. My amusement was not appreciated. Once again, I was struck with the issue of authority. I am certainly not denigrating the comment the Pope of Rome made; the sentiment is wonderful. It is especially wonderful during Lent, as we approach the week of suffering wherein we remember in detail Christ’s hours on the Cross for each of us. It is also appropriate for the events pictured. Nor am I not cognizant of the world-wide implications of the actions of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, as well as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, during these tense days in Ukraine. I was struck by the stance against governmental authority in light of the Gospel Message of Christ.

We hear, almost daily, of the atrocities being committed by ISIS against Christians in the MIddle East. If you do not hear it daily, it is because your are not tuned in to what is happening there. You are not aware of the very real possibility of an entire ethnic group being removed from the lands they have inhabited for generations upon generations, as Christians. The atrocities are being committed against men, women, and children. They are not only killing men who can fight against them; they are killing women and children so no one else grows up to fight them. In those situations, who has the authority of life over death? ISIS believes it has supreme authority, given by Allah, through the Koran. But who has the ultimate authority?  God.

In the Muslim faith, they recognize and acknowledge God. They call him Allah, but they believe it is the God of Moses and Abraham, the God of the Jewish people, and of those who follow Christ.  They do not acknowledge the right of people to believe in these other faiths, but they believe it is the same God. They just believe their version of God is correct and the rest of us are wrong.  Which is where they derive their authority from.  We, as Christians, believe God has given us authority when we trample the rights of those who disagree with us, and go to war in the name of our God.  It is hard to hear those sorts of things, but we Christians have been doing it since the time of the Apostles.

Jihad.crusade

See why I struggle with authority? There are instances all through history where different factions have acted against one another, both believing they were correct, both believing God was on their side. Who wins? Or rather, who loses? In the case of ISIS, a complete ethnicity may lose it all – their homeland, their lives.

We had to choose to play with the current administration this year in regards to healthcare. We chose not to play. We use an alternative to standard insurance, and we went with a cooperative, religious approach (that was approved by the Obamacare writers as a valid alternative). We choose to educate our kids at home, and have done so since the 1990s. We are now facing being complacent and allowing something to take place in regards to our son’s education (something the current state/local government recently snuck in on us) or to standing up to the authority the school district has over us. Do we comply? Do we acknowledge their authority over what my son learns? Do we allow their data mining of our son to begin and the recording of said data to follow him through to his career choices? Or do we stop playing?  Sometimes I hate being the grownup. And that is another issue today with authority.  Mondays can be so cursed. Ha-Ha!

Today, I just wanted my teenager to take responsibility for his actions, and to accept my authority over him, as his mom and home educator.  I don’t want to slay dragons. I don’t want to overturn governments.  I just want schoolwork to be completed. Today, well, today I was able to fast and feel good about it, obeying the authority the Church has over me in decreeing fasting during Lent. I believe in the precepts of the Church, and so fasting is not a burden for me. It is sometimes hard to make work, but not a burden. And I accept the authority Christ gave His Church over me, as a believer in Him. I don’t buck it; I don’t complain about it. Sometimes I do question aspects of it, but I usually accept it. I am not what you would call a “cafeteria Christian.” I accept the whole of it, even if I do not understand it.

Authority is such an interesting concept/construct in our lives. When we are young, everyone is in authority over us. We buck it; we protest it (heck, I lived through the 60s and flower power! Far out! Cool!), but eventually we become it.  How freaky is that?  Eventually, we all go through that generational shift where we realize we are our parents and our kids are us! This government we have? It’s all on me. It’s my generation who is the authority in the world. And what a mess we have. What a mess.  It’s not just stupid Daylight Savings time. We have people beheading people; burning children alive in cages. We have millions of unborn slaughtered every day. We have millions of people starving all over the world while tons of food is thrown away, wasted, daily. We have people dying of illnesses in the Third World that have been eradicated here. We have thousands of acres of fallow land because our government is controlling agriculture and the amount of food available for harvest, when we could feed the world – and still have grain to store against famine (just ask a farmer).  Who has authority over us and why?  When can we say “no” to this authority and make changes for the good?  Boy oh boy my head is spinning today.  Maybe I do just need to call “uncle” and ask for a “do-over.”

Fast.Chrysostom

Oh no! It’s Friday! Fish sticks!

fish-sticks

I have to admit that for years, when I even thought of fasting, I thought of fish sticks. I grew up in Southern California and the public schools always served them on Fridays. Being raised Protestant, I had no idea why they only had them on Fridays. I liked them. I remember seeing those Gorton Fisherman commercials, too. I never connected why they would show up at the time of year they did, but I use to sing along.  Occasionally my mom would even serve them!

Flash forward 40+ years and here I am, a Byzantine Catholic who fasts. My kids cut out a comic strip for me and hung it on our refrigerator, not saying a word. The gist of the cartoon is one of the sons is poking the Thanksgiving turkey and the mom dead-pan answers, “No, it’s not tofu.”  My boys thought that was hilarious. At one point in time, my family thought I was taking fasting to the extreme. They dreaded anything tofu! They often referred to it as “mystery meat” and during Lent made a game out of guessing if it was “real food” or a tofu concoction. I don’t regret diving in with both feet. I was given some amazing recipes and I will still serve them, even when it is not a fasting period. Diving in also gave me time to realize my talent level with cooking and preparing fasting foods, define my limitations and the limitations of my family’s desire to try new things, and I lost the fear of fasting.

Why do I mention fear? I think it is because we all fear something we are not used to. When I shop, if I see a deal on “pretend” meats, I pick them up and put them in the freezer. You would be amazed at how many times I serve chicken strips on a salad and the family eats it up, only asking if it was tofu after they are done. And more often than not, it was tofu! I can fast all year long without stressing about it, without focusing on the cheeseburgers I am missing. (We actually found a brand of pretend burgers that we like, so it’s no longer an issue). We need not fear fasting but embrace what fasting really means to us.

Have you ever met someone who is totally cranky during Lent, moaning about this or that they have given up? Or complaining loudly that they can’t eat something because they are FASTING? And I did caps on purpose. It almost seems like a shout, when the complaints are non-stop. But let’s examine it in the USA. The Bishops in the Roman Church and many of our eastern brethren (Ruthenian, for example) have relaxed fasting rules so much, you pretty much don’t find it too much of a hardship. They ask you to restrain from full meals on Wednesday and Friday, and when you do eat, to refrain from meat. Every year there are internet discussions about what is permittable under the fasting rules. But the relaxed fasting expectations laid out by these Bishops are not the total picture of fasting. Bring on the fish sticks every Friday, but enjoy them with mac ‘n’ cheese, mashed potatoes, salad with ranch, rolls with butter, soda (“but no chocolate, I gave up chocolate”). Not much of a hardship, is it? We had a friend who used to stop daily at a market and get gourmet water in the largest bottle he could buy, and a loaf of freshly baked bread. He would eat that and drink that all day and feel like he was fasting. He was, in essence, but I think he missed the point. Anyone can eat bread and drink water all day if you eat gourmet bread and drink gourmet water. That is not what the Bishops of the West, nor most of the Eastern Bishops, would like people to do. They offer their guidelines as just that – guidelines to help you achieve a minimal participation in Lenten fasting traditions. Not to be haughty, but to offer another example, lots of Roman Catholics, and most Eastern Catholics, fast like that every Wednesday and Friday all year long. When Lent rolls around, they increase the discipline.

For us in the Melkite tradition, we are encouraged to attempt to keep the full fast. For that, you abstain from all meat, fish, dairy, olive oil, and wine. But that is keeping the strict fast, because the expectation is that you do that for the full 40 days… not just Wednesdays and Fridays. Our Bishops encourage us to participate as much as we can. The same norms apply to those who cannot fast due to age/health, or other reasons. For example, in an area where fish is the main diet, how do you fast from fish? Up here in Alaska, our diets are more narrow due to availability and expense. In the remote villages, fresh fruits and vegetables are very expensive and hard to come by. People eat mostly fish and game, supplementing with frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. We garden and “put up” what we can grow ourselves, but nonetheless, it is a different problem here. So the Church encourages us to do what we can.

We need to look at fasting as an opportunity to take stock of how we feed ourselves, our desires. Our culture has become so hedonistic. It has become a culture of “I want it and I want it now.” How often do parents buy their children a toy in the store to keep them quiet, rather than instilling the discipline of proper behavior, because it’s easier at the moment? How many parents do not attend evening services during the week, and often miss Divine Liturgy, because their children are not behaving, rather than bring them and give their children an opportunity to learn to be still and to appreciate other environments? How many parishes make those same parents feel comfortable and safe enough that they know they and their children are always welcome, even on bad-behavior days? How often do we stop and wait in a long line because we are craving a latte? Trust me, here in Alaska, there are coffee vendors on every corner and I have been fighting a craving for a “Venti Breve Latte, two shots, one Splenda.”  I have literally been thinking about the taste during the day, and avoiding it because for me, it is an example of my gluttonous nature and hedonistic desires (I want it and I want it NOW!). In addition to that, a Venti Breve Latte has 700 calories in just 20 ounces. And this is all a part of fasting. God is giving us this opportunity to rein in all our passions, including our deep attachment to the pleasures we get from food and drink.

Fasting is something to embrace. It means we pay attention to the bites of food and sips of drink we put in our mouths. We make a very conscious effort to control how much and what we eat and drink. But that is just the food portion. What about fasting from the portions of our nature that are not so God-like? Nasty behavior we automatically turn to, out of habit, when someone cuts us off while driving? What about talking behind the backs of others? Slandering others? Not giving others the benefit of the doubt about their behavior before ASS-U-M-Ing they are in the wrong? Just embracing silence (not watching TV, listening to the radio, going online all the time, texting ad nauseam)? Reading more, praying more, attending Church more often?

True Fasting. St. Basil

Fasting is just so much more than fish sticks on Fridays. And I don’t want to be afraid, ever, of embracing or trying more. I know books that beckon to me, and I know each Lent I peek inside and learn something new. I know prayers that long to be said, and I recite them, feeling better as I do. I know there are foods in my pantry and drinks available at Starbucks, but I know that by ignoring them/fighting that craving and instead focusing on my walk with God, my fasting will be something I can do all year long, but with renewed vigor during Great Lent. And as I fight the urge, even right now, to get that Venti Breve Latte, I will instead reach for my glass of water with Lemon Oil in it. At least this time, I am victorious. We have a long way to go until Pascha, when we celebrate Christ’s victory over death. Let’s do this together, one day, one prayer, at a time. Blessed Lent.

KeepCalm.Pascha

“…but experience.”

St. Nikolai

I have become a connoisseur of scents. I absolutely love to smell frankincense as we enjoy our Pre-Sanctified Liturgies. And because I am now involved with Essential Oils, my nose has become even more “excited.” The scents from a natural oil are amazing. I realized I am walking around smelling like a sachet packet or an old hippie. I let my hair dry naturally yesterday and it’s all wavy and gray, so I do look rather hippy-ish. Oh well! Today I have some frankincense, thieves, and lemon oils on, laced with a little melaleuca, and all floating in some olive oil. In addition to the great smell (and no longer dry skin), it helps me breathe and get over this darn chest cold thing I have been fighting. All I can say is that it sure smells yummy! In the kitchen I am running the diffuser with some purification oil and our home is starting to smell like spring. I am so glad I was introduced to Essential Oils and the loving way to apply them, with thoughtfulness and prayer.

When I walk into our Church, I can expect to be wonderfully assaulted by some amazing aromas. And once the Divine Liturgy begins, I can totally immerse myself in it, through all my senses. I see the beeswax candles and the glow they provide, while I can gaze on the wonderful Icons we have. There is a scent from the candles, too. There is a wafting, pale scent from the past use of incense. It all provides a wonderful environment. As the Liturgy progresses, we smell the incense filling our lungs and our minds with the Holy. The words of the chant can move your heart, even if the singing is not the best. The readings move your mind to the story of Christ and His suffering. A long time ago, a priest once suggested that as we listen to these readings, especially during Lent, that we try and picture ourselves as being present in the story. Imagine yourself as with Christ and the Apostles, walking with them on this journey to the Cross. It moves you in a different way when you place yourself there.

The entire experience of Divine Liturgy should overwhelm us. It should create in us a beautiful sense of faith and deep commitment to follow more deeply the journey Christ takes to the Cross. And I encourage everyone to immerse yourself in this wonderful time of year; a time of re-birth and re-commitment to our faith. It’s just so amazing and I feel so blessed our Church gives us this wonderful Lenten season each year. I know I need it!

cropped-jesus-prayer-candle.jpg

Blessed Lent.

St. Nikolai

It’s as simple as that.

I am a bookaholic.  I admit it, freely.  I love reading.  I think that having poor eyesight is one of life’s most horrible accidents for me.  When I went to my last evaluation, the eye doctor told me that eyesight gets better as you age, because your near-sightedness catches up with the far-sightedness and it makes it more even.  (Ha-Ha! My “even” is still legally blind without my glasses!!)  And that I will loose my eyesight more slowly as I age.  (But I am still loosing).  He then told me how bad my vision had become and I was so depressed.  I went out and ordered purple glasses…just for the heck of it.  And purple sunglasses.  In purple cases!  And when I got my Kindle, I got a purple cover.  For the heck of it.  I read every day, at least once a day, a real book. It may be an e-book, but it’s a book.  We all read a lot all day long and don’t realize it.  We read news, texts, Facebook posts, the captions on TV, signs, directions (well, some of us more than others), and even recipes!  Reading is what we do the most, without even realizing it.  We also reach out with our touch, smell, and sound senses.  For those who are born without their senses, I am so very sad.  To miss out on this is something I could never imagine.  And even though I have very poor eyesight, I am still blessed with sight.

Quite often, I realize I have not listened to anything via media all day.  Nothing has been turned on except my Kindle.  My son and I chatter while he does schoolwork, but no other noises disturb us.  And I love that I can read while he does school; he’s reading while he’s doing school, and we have relative silence.  “Silence is Golden.”  I never understood that as a kid.  But as I age and realize how short life truly is, I appreciate silence so very much.  I had a wonderful conversation with my great-grandmother one time.  She related to me how different the world was when she was a child.  She had immigrated to the USA and she and my great-grandpa spent their years working diligently, building a life here.  And they worked hard.  There is a scene in one of the Iron Man movies where he ends up sitting in a donut sign in LA, after a drunken night out.  (It’s a huge donut and you can see it from the freeway).  Once upon a time, my great-grandparents owned that donut shop and lived a couple of blocks away, right off the freeway in LA.  And she related to me how she missed the quiet years as a nanny on an estate in England.  There were no telephones, no TV’s, and very few radios.  She said you heard the breeze in the trees and the neighing of the horses, and lowing of the cattle.  Occasionally you would hear the bridles and reins of a sleigh or carriage rolling by.  You could sit in the house and read, with only the crackling of the fire as background.  What a glorious age it was then.  I wish I could have experienced that time.  And I often do, in my books!  Another reason I love reading!

Silence is sort of why I am typing this.  During Great Lent, silence can be a wealth of blessings to our prayer life.  Silence can feed us.  God can approach us and we can listen for His small steps in our lives.  We get so caught up in the latest song to “drop” or the latest TV show/movie to come out.  I wrote recently about a movie we had gone to see and how we felt so drained afterwards (and how regretful I was we bought the movie).  I realized that a lot of that was because we were drowning in sound.  Sound saturates your whole body and you are exhausted from it.  It seems like surround-sound and special effects are so much a part of movies these days, your ears will actually ache when you get into your quiet car, after visiting a theater.  And then there are ear phones, earbuds, or whatever they choose to wear.  My youngest son (aged 16) is almost 24/7 with earbuds or earphones on, plugged into my old iPod. I have convinced him to keep it out and off his ears for awhile, so we can communicate during the day. We are working on silence as a family. I love Lent.

Silence enables our hearts to still.  It enables our minds to relax.  It enables us to connect more readily with that prayerful part of ourselves we deny most of the time.  Humans are generally pretty spiritual people.  If you research it through history, mankind has always been looking for the answer to the great questions of, “Why am I here?” “Why was I created?” “Where did this all begin?”  In the silence of our hearts, God can enter in and be a part of us.  If we truly believe God is present, as present as He is on the Cross itself, in Holy Communion, in the reading of His Word, then we must believe He can be present within each of us.  “Lord, when did I feed the hungry?  When you did it for the least of these, you did it for me.”  He tells us He is within each of us.  We have a space in our hearts, in what the Orthodox refer to as the NOUS, a place that is reserved solely for God. And when He takes residence, we are changed.  Forever.  And silence allows us to commune with the God we believe in, Who lives in each of us.  He is desperate to love us, to guide us, to feed us.  Most of us are too busy, and too loud to ever hear Him.  God loves to whisper. He loves to be present in the mundane workings of life.  He is present in the simplest things, like bread and wine.  He is a part our basic needs, our simplest selves.  We cannot fully commune with God when there is so much going on around us. Many of us build walls between ourselves and Our God.  And it is so very sad.  He is patient; He waits our entire lives for us to welcome and acknowledge Him.

Some people have music on all the time – in their cars, on their phones, in their ears, when they sleep at night.  A lot of people have told me they cannot handle the quiet; they have to keep moving and have to be listening to something all the time.  Why is that?  What would happen if you sat still in silence?  What would happen if you laid in your bed, in total darkness, in complete silence?

And that, for me, is what Lent is all about.  Coming to grasp with what lies inside us, that thing we are afraid to deal with in the dark and in the quiet.  We are fearful because then we have no one else between us and God.  So this Lent I am challenging myself to more quiet.  To more rest.  To finding and holding onto that peace that can only come from the Presence of God in me, in my life, and in how I relate to those around me.  Allowing the indwelling Lord of All Creation to be alive within me is the goal of all Christians.  We just need to dial down the sound and the world, and allow Christ to come in and reside, truly live within us.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It’s as simple as that.

Blessed Lent.