“You are always with me….”

prodigal son

The Icon of Repentance, or of the Prodigal Son, tells us much of the story.  I was always sure that I was the guy on the left, tending the pigs.  My sibling was the guy on the right, being forgiven.  I have never been much of a rebel.  Oh, my journey has taken me over some pretty rocky pathways, but I never left my “Father’s” house, in the sense that I never lost my faith.  But I heard a homily on this one time and it made me stop and re-think who I am and how I am, as a faithful daughter of the Church.

Quite often, we look around us and in our “heart-of-hearts” think things like, “Wow, compared to that person, I am doing pretty darn good over here.” Or things like, “Thanks be to God I am not like that person.”  And if we catch ourselves doing that, we are not the good and faithful son.  In the story, when the faithful son complains that his Father has slaughtered the fatted calf for this “bad boy” brother of his, the Father’s response was, “But my son, you are always with me; whatever I have is yours.” (Luke 15:31).  And aren’t some of us a little like that? We sit in our comfort zone and we think we are doing all the right things, going to Church, helping those less fortunate than ourselves; we seem to be on the right track.  But are we?  We have been given EVERYTHING by Our Father.  Faith in this world, in this life, is truly everything.  What are we doing with everything?

A very good friend of mine and I were talking about her family (one of those “pillar of the community” families), and when I commented to her about what great parents she had, she then said to me, “Oh, they are great all right. They help out at Church; in fact, growing up, they were always at Church.  But they weren’t here for us kids.  I had sisters having abortions, brothers drinking at school, none of us were exactly virgins! But they were so busy helping others, they forgot about us. It’s why I will never do that to my children.”  It struck me so deeply – that conversation was probably about 30 years ago.  I have never forgotten that. I have known so many people who do great with others, but fail miserably at home.  Some have siblings they never speak to, or parents warehoused in some elder home they never visit.  Or children they buy everything for, but whom they never spend time with.

As I sat and listened to Father last night (I love how our Byzantine faith lets us celebrate a feast on the Vigil!!), speak about the prodigal son, he spoke about not only leaving our Father’s house, but squandering our inheritance.  He was speaking practically, in what our earthly parents leave for us, but also to what Our Lord has given to us…our faith. He said it is bad enough to spend our inheritance on that car we always wanted, or a piece of jewelry we always wanted to have, but the tragedy is when we squander what Our Lord has given to us.  Wouldn’t our parents be happier knowing we share our faith with our children and bring them up in the rich deposit of faith Our Lord left for us, rather than drive a new car?  Are we careful with the gifts we have been given?

Elder Epiphanios

All these things ran through my mind, as I listened to Father. I became increasingly ashamed of myself.  Do all my sons know the faith?  I believe they have been shown the faith, through homeschooling and practicing what we believe.  As children, they were altar servers at the 6:30 am daily Mass! So, yes, sort of.  Do they all live that faith?  Not exactly as I had pictured it, no, but I do believe they are men of faith.  When I stand before the judgement seat of God (and I think I blogged this before) and He asks me, “What have you done with the souls I entrusted to you?”  I hope to be able to reply, “Lord, I set them on the path to You.”  And in that regard, I have not squandered my inheritance. I constantly pray for them and constantly have their future laid before the Lord, seeking His intercession in their lives.  My love for my children leads me to my knees with God so often, and I pray they find their way to Him.  But am I living my inheritance? Sometimes I think I fall woefully short…woefully short. I know, that if I am granted eternity with Our Lord, I will spend it laying face-down, seeking forgiveness for the many ways I have not lived up to the inheritance He prepared for, and gave to, me.  I will be happy to have nosebleed seats in Heaven…just being in the general vicinity of Our Lord will be good enough for me, a sinner.  “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” as the Jesus prayer reminds me.

There are very few people on this earth who are perfect children of God, but all of us are capable of being the Prodigal Son.  Because God always – always – forgives us.  My prayer, my hope, is that I will constantly and consistently remind myself of this story, so that I can remember not to squander this amazing gift of faith, and to be sure I am sharing it with each and every person in my life.

St Tikhon 3

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“…he has light continuously….”

“…and the more resolutely, the more constantly, your heart is turned towards God and His saints the more it will be enlightened, purified, and vivified”.  “Be true in heart always and everywhere, and you will always and everywhere have peace, but especially be true in your converse with God and the saints, “because the spirit is truth.” St. John of Kronstadt

Today is the March for Life in Washington, D.C. and I was glancing through the morning shows on TV and while I was looking, at least, not one announcer or news reporter mentioned it.  To give them the benefit of a doubt, I did not watch every channel, all morning long.  But as I was surfing channels, no one said a thing about it.  Oh, they discussed whether or not Beyonce lip-synced the National Anthem at the Inauguration, but not one word about the March for Life.

It is becoming more and more obvious that the media chooses to ignore things that are not on their own agenda.  I found one channel, and only one, that was running coverage of the March and it was EWTN – the Catholic channel.  As St. John said above, “be true in heart always and everywhere…” and I think that the public arena is being true to their misguided hearts. And it makes me sad.  I read today some statements from the various Orthodox Fathers on abortion and it has been clear, since the Didache itself, that all life is precious.  (The Didache (pron.: /ˈdɪdək/; Koine Greek: Διδαχή) or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Didachē means “Teaching”) is a brief early Christian treatise, dated by most scholars to the late first or early second century).  You shall not slay the child by abortions.”

Many of our Church Fathers addressed abortion in the centuries leading up to the Modern Era, but people are just not in tune to the fact that all life is precious. I know there will be many people who do not want to deal with this issue, and I may get bombarded with comments because of my pro-life stance, but for me, this issue tugs at the core of our character, as a culture.  If each and every pro life person did just one act to save one life, then perhaps the millions of babies killed each year would be much less.  The very least those of us who are pro life can do is pray.  And prayer is a major portion of every war we face – and like it or not, the battle for life is a war, not just a battle.  The reason I say this is because we have a generation raised since Roe v Wade who have no concept of living without abortion and see it as a normal choice of birth control.

One of my favorite movies is Cheaper by the Dozen, filmed in 1950, and starring one of my favorite actresses, Myrna Loy. In the movie, she stars as the wife of an efficiency expert and mother of 12 children.  At one point, a woman from Planned Parenthood comes to see her because she has heard about her and her work, not knowing she is also mothering 12 children.  The scene devolves into laughter as her husband and their children make their entrances and the PP rep realizes that it is not a home for wayward youth, but rather, a family. She is horrified and leaves the house rather rapidly.  That scene has stayed with me my whole life.

Sanger quote about lg family

And to think that most people believe that Margaret Sanger had their health concerns at the forefront.  She most certainly did not.  She is one of the reasons abortion is so wide-spread and so accepted.

Sanger statementThe antithesis of what the Church teaches in regards to the sanctity of life is what Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood are all about.  She was a devotee of Adolf Hitler…

Sanger speech

That one woman did more for the downsizing of races, other than white, than any other single human being has done.  Our Lord spoke to having the “faith of a mustard seed” and that if we just believe, we can change the world.  As much can be said for people like Margaret Sanger – one person has indeed changed a culture and a world view.

We need to begin, once again to turn our hearts to God, to stop this awful assault on humanity, to inherently change the way we all view life, and to turn our culture around before we value just things, with no regard to humanity.

John of Kronstadt

Once again, St. John Kronstadt tells us what we need to do, and to do it “henceforth.” The fight for the unborn is just symptomatic of what we have devolved into.  My mom, who is 83, taught me how to love as a mother loves. I have no doubt that my mother would die for me…she dove into a brawl when I was attacked at just 13 years old! All 4’10” of her!  She is brutally defensive and protective of her children, even now.  But she also believes that women have the right to “control their own bodies” and this is where she and I differ.  And it is endemic of how the vast majority of people in our country must believe, or Roe v Wade would be an historical event, not something we live with.

So as a devout Christian and pro life Byzantine Catholic, I choose to light a candle of faith and pray that flame will be spread to others, and then others will spread their flame. I think it is time we just said “no” to the many promptings of evil in our culture and stood for the faith Christ has passed down to us.  Pray…be a prayer warrior for those who cannot care for themselves and are the most vulnerable among us.  This is a gift, this faith we share.  And it is our privilege and our duty to share it with others.  Today, as millions march on Washington DC to share this love of life, let us all join with them, at least in prayer.  Let us share our light of faith and perhaps we can change history.

St Gregory Palamas

“…we stick for life.”

friendsonbeachThere are some people who will only be in our lives for a brief moment, friends who will be there for a short while, and yet others who will last for the long haul.  Amidst the vast (or very few) friends we have, usually one or two rise to the top and are termed the “best”. The ones who are there no matter what; the ones you can count on through thick and thin. Finding such a friend can be real challenge, but when we find them, we stick for life. It doesn’t matter the distance, nor the difficulty; a “best friend” is there forever.”  (thehomeschoolmomblog)

I have been mulling over a lot of things lately.  As we have been struggling with decisions about our lives and our living situation (because we have to move from this particular house) it came to me that in all the choices, in all the scenarios I played out in mind, and in the many discussions I have had with my husband, it was never about the house we lived in, the car we drove, the things we have around us.  We realized, through this period of quiet discernment, that we can live in pretty much any house, in any city, in any state (we probably could even live in another country like Canada), working at any sort of job; because when it comes down to it, we really don’t move away from, or quit, the friends we have gained along the way.  I also believe, that in the end, there will be very few friends standing around the bed I someday die in; that more than likely, it will be my family.

The blog I quoted and the photo I started this blog with, well, both of them struck a cord in me about friendships and family.  The people I would consider my good friends are more like an extended family to me.  We have seen each other through births and deaths, living almost next door to one another and living thousands of miles apart.  The distance does not count in a true friendship; it’s the mileage you share along the journey of life.

St Dorotheos of Gaza

My friends are my partners on this journey to our final home with God.  They have boosted me up when I was down, and I have held them up when they have sought my strength. They have taught me, encouraged me, and chastised me when I needed it. My friends have been the Face of Christ when I needed to see Him the most.  While I was searching my heart and my soul, not once did a reflection have to do with anything other than who we surrounded ourselves with.

A recent morning show had some sort of dating guru on there who spoke to the idea that our personalities and our successes are directly related to the five people we have closest to us. He opined that if one of those five instrumental people were not making us better people, then we should cut them out of our lives. It sounds brutal, but there is some truth to that.  Abbot Tryphon, once again, spoke some truths that hit me.  As he said in his morning blog, “One more reason why we need to surround ourselves with friends who are committed Christians, and who know the importance of living lives that are centered on Christ.”  And if there are people who seem to poke into your daily life and have an undo influence on your life choices, and they do NOT share your journey towards God, or who tend to make you less than you can be, then it is time to move on. They have been placed in our path to distract us, or perhaps to strengthen us in our resolve to live a Christ-centered life.  We have all be caught up in fads and have come through them, scratching our heads and asking, “Why?”  Certain people in our lives can be a “fad” as well.

There are also those who were placed in our lives for a time and have been a good friend to us.  We need to discern when it is time to allow that relationship to drift away.  It is okay, in real life, to “de-friend” people.  On Facebook, there is a lot of controversy if you “de-friend” someone.  But honestly, is staying in contact with everyone you have ever known, really worth keeping as “friends” on some social networking site?  I saw a comic recently where a widow was standing at the back of the Church, with her husband laying in his coffin at front of the altar. She saw one or two people in the pews and commented to her minister, “Gee, I though the Church would be packed. He had more than 300 Facebook friends!”  We need to define what friendship is to us, and who truly is our friend. And we also need to consider the role our family members play in our lives, being our friends as well as family members.

When we were infants, our world was the length our vision took in – at birth it was to the face of the person holding us, usually our parents.  As we grew and explored our world, we took in more people; family members (like grandma’s!) and friends of our parents, neighbors.  Gradually our worlds expanded as we entered school. I remember a driving lesson we had in high school. A new freeway was not opened yet (I dare not say which one because I will so date myself) and they allowed Driver’s Ed on the roadways.  When I entered the freeway, using the on-ramp, there were miles of empty roadway before me. I remember trembling at how far it seemed to go and how small my hometown seemed right then.  As I grew up and traveled, and expanded my education, my world also expanded. I added many friends along the way. I have friends from kindergarten through to people I have just met in the last year or two. My friendships encompass my lifeline, to date.  But as I am getting older, my world is once again contracting. The importance of who is around me is shrinking drastically, and it is becoming more discernable. So when that dating guru on morning television spoke about the 5 people around you, it did not seem so far out of whack to me.  Because as I have aged, so have my friendships.  It is time to allow some to fade away.  I will hold these people in my heart, because they touched me and helped me grow along the journey of my life, but from now on, I think it will be okay to have my couple of “best” friends, and my family. I am content with that.

For each of us, when it is time to move on, we take with us those people (in our hearts, if not physically with us) who lift us up and make us better, and who share our life’s journey to God.  Within my close-knit circle are my very few true friends, and my family, and I know they will stand beside me until I see the face of God.  What a comfort!

Orthodox monastery

“…God always helps.”

St Theophane the Recluse

Do you ever get so tired, that nothing can seem to keep you awake?  And when you finally do get to bed, it’s what my family calls, “sleeping like the dead?”  Wow…for me, that was yesterday.  My youngest son belongs to CAP, Civil Air Patrol, and they have weekly meetings.  It is a hectic journey for us to get there on time; we eat in the car and race across town in what is called “Microsoft” traffic!  The drive takes us 35 minutes on the way home, but can take up to an hour and a half on the way there.  So we try to leave our house about 2 hours before the meeting, drive through some place (usually McDonald’s) and eat in the car.  Thank goodness we can use the carpool lane, or it would take even longer!  (And I thought we moved up here because there were fewer people and less traffic! Ha-Ha!).

My husband has changed his hours, so he was able to go with us last night.  It is nice in that we have some time to chat and be a family, even if it is grabbed in traffic with a Chicken Wrap in hand!!  Last night was no exception…through McDonald’s we went and onto the highways.  The traffic was moderate and we arrived in time for our son to grab his PT gear and rush off to hang out with his friends, before their PT started.  (Twice a month, it’s Physical Training [PT] at CAP).  My husband and I looked at each other and sighed.  After the headlong rush through the traffic and eating on the run, neither of us felt like moving. It was a scant 33-degrees outside, so we weren’t taking a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood.  We pondered this wonderful English Pub not too far away, or a local coffee house, but chose instead to hunker down in the car.  The CAP personnel welcome parent participation, so we could have gone into the barracks area and sat comfortably inside, but we were so tired and rather comfy, so we opted to stay put.  We brought things to read – he brought his NOOK and I had a novel.  (I refuse to cave into electronic books – so far anyway).  So we sat with the engine running (to keep warm and have interior lights) and we read our books.  Except that I feel asleep!!  He chuckled at my sleeping, he later told me, and I just crashed. I mean, I was out!!  Now, for some background! We are long-distance drivers.  My husband is from Colorado and for all the years we lived in SoCal, we made frequent trips with our kids to CO…it’s about 18 – 20 hours. Our middle son went to college in Montana, so I got used to that trip, too (it’s about the same distance as Denver from SoCal).  So getting comfy in a car is nothing new to either of us.  For whatever reason, last night was the end of energy!  I slept about 20 minutes and I did not budge, until my middle son sent me a move on Ruzzles, a word game we play on our phones.  It buzzed and woke me up.  I was startled to know I had fallen asleep reading my novel! And it’s a “page-turner,” too!! I was completely spent.

The meeting got over and before we knew it, we were home. It was a little after 10pm.  I did my due diligence with the dogs and then went to bed.  I barely remember my husband kissing me goodbye around 4:30am…I think I said something like, “I am sorry you can’t sleep any longer” or something to that effect.  And then I awoke at 8:30am…..I cannot believe I slept that long. Increasingly, I am one of those who stays up late and is still awake by 6:30 or 7:00am.  Not last night and not this morning!

I think that at times, we need to rest.  We need to take some time to regenerate our batteries and just take it easy.  I journeyed to Alaska for a week last week and came home to a schedule already in progress.  I jumped right back into life, without a rest in-between.  I prayed a lot yesterday and last night, trying to keep “The Silence” for most of my day.  In fact, while my husband and I sat in the car, we read (or napped!) and didn’t talk much at all…we’ve been together 30 years now and are comfortable in silence with one another. It is so nice!!

I realized something this morning…I am set; my heart is quiet, my mind is still. The choices that were laid before me have been narrowed down to the correct one; the decisions I needed to make, have all been made. I am dedicated to the path we have chosen, and I am easy with it. No consternation; no fear – I am at peace and I am ready to do this…to take on the life we have chosen for ourselves.  And because all the pieces are falling into place, I feel this peace, which I know is from God, means that we are choosing the path He has laid out for us.  Discerning which way to go can be exhausting work.  You have to mentally go through lists and make little decisions and choices between one road or another, that all lead to that final decision.  An in between thinking about it, you are talking it over and looking at data and discussing these choices. It is tiring! And I think God let me be completely tired so that I could rest in His peace, and know that our decision is the right one.  Because you don’t sleep well when you are mulling over all the different ways things can go; you dream outcomes and play out choices in your mind, causing you to really not rest while sleeping.  But last night, it was a quiet night, all night.  And I awoke in a rather startled way, realizing it was late in the day for me.  But then, I sat there and just smiled.  I smiled because I felt peace.  What an awesome start to our future! Yes, there are details that remain, but the journey has begun and I am excited and confident.  What a gift Silence can be….prayers are always answered.  Ahhh….peace.

Elder Joseph the Hesychast

A winter’s quiet reflection…

Jersualem in snowThis is a photo of Jerusalem covered in this winter’s snow.  For me, it is a scene that renders me quiet and contemplative.  Once again, entering into the “Silence” that is so necessary for our minds and hearts and souls to connect with Our Lord.  When we become more “silent” and “hold things close to the vest” as my grandmother would say, noises seem to come at us from all directions.  “Stop the world, I want to get off” is the title of a play from the early 60’s that told the story of a man who opted to partake of relationship outside of his marital vows, seeking the fulfillment he could not somehow grasp.  The gist of the story is that he realized, as an old man, that the fulfillment he sought walked right next to him, his entire sordid journey, and that it was in the love from his wife.  Sometimes things we seek “outside” are with us, all along.

I have often spoken to others about stuffing themselves with the things of this world, trying to fill the place in their hearts, minds, and souls that only God can fill.  I see so many people reaching for physical perfection, often resulting to surgery to obtain it, and they are still left contemplating their reflection in the mirror. “Who’s the fairest of them all?” was the question the Queen asked in a famous story we often read to our children.  We are sharing with them, at a young age, that the physical is far more important than the people we are. And we will quite often seek the physical, rather than spiritual cure, for our ills. We buy bigger houses, newer cars, ridiculously expensive purses and shoes, and we still are not satisfied.  Some friends are always changing to a different color of hair, rather than dealing with the changes aging brings along with it.  Botox and eyebrow-lifts, collagen treatments and smile enhancements.  It seems that everywhere you turn, advertisers are trying to get you to buy something else that will “improve” you.  And that sets up a mindset that is often in direct opposition to a life of contemplative prayer and reflection.

As Abbot Tryphon wrote today, “Heaven and Hell are a condition of relationship with God that is either theosis or perdition. The lake of fire and heaven occur within the same realm, both being not about places, but about relationship. For one who hates God such a place as in the presence of God, will be eternal suffering. The Orthodox Church teaches that Heaven and Hell are in the same realm, and that Hell is not separation from God symbolically or physically, Hell is a place chosen.”

I was trying to explain to a loved one the decision-making process my husband and I are going through and he just could not grasp the why of it. He thought in a completely different way than I do.  His perspective is very worldly, in that he has no formal religious affiliation and has often stated things like, “Religion is for weak people.” In this conversation, I resorted to a “silence” and let him rant away, because I realized that no amount of explaining on my part would enable him to see things from my perspective. It was healthier for our relationship to just remain silent.  I do not seek after the “almighty dollar” in my life; neither does my husband.  And to someone who lives for financial achievement as their sole source of recognition and confidence, it is inconceivable that someone would opt to choose family over location, job, or income levels.  And comfort is one of the top items on the list for accomplishments. So for our relationship to remain intact, I chose to keep my silence.  And it was the perfect choice, because at the end of the conversation, we were able to express our love for one another and choose to speak at another time, with depth and thought, as well as the love we bear one another.

St Ambrose

When we are faced with choices and there are decisions before us, later in life, they quite often involve more than just “self.” At these critical times, I believe that silent reflection and careful conversation goes much further in reaching a right decision, than constantly talking about it to everyone you see. And let’s be honest, we cannot please everyone and life is not about pleasing “anyone” in any way. Life is about “theosis” or the goal of being God-like to be with God in Heaven; seeking eternal perfection in the Presence of God.  When Christ admonished us to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12) and that we are to “do for one another as I have done for you,” (John 13:15) “for whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me” (Matthew 25:40) He was admonishing us to care for each other as God cares for us; that all-encompassing, Agape expression of pure love.  And we should be admonished enough to know that our devotion, outside of our devotion to God, should be for those He has entrusted to us.  For me and my family, that encompasses our children, our parents, siblings, grandchildren, and the like.  Caring for those God has entrusted to us is a far more important an edict that chasing the “almighty dollar” and also chasing a lost youth.  I enjoy, more than anything in this life, hearing my little grandson run around looking for me, calling, “Ga-Ga, Ga-Ga.” It makes my heart sing.  I would prefer chasing a grandchild around any day, than chasing monetary or physical “perfection.”

A perspective that is based in the love of God, before the love of self, is something that is becoming more and more foreign in our culture. I was astounded to read so many articles in today’s news about people choosing self over others. It is endemic to a culture that is becoming less and less recognizable as one that is based on faith, the faith our Founding Fathers intended we should have.  When we look around the world, living a life based on belief in God is becoming more and more scarce, and the ability to declare it, becoming often, more deadly.  Our country is drifting more and more towards a socialistic state and socialism has no room for God. Our culture is money- and youth-driven, with less and less emphasis on intact families and the love for one another.   And to reach others around you, who come at life, charging their way through the “ranks” with a ungodly perspective, is becoming less and less possible. When we “come at life” from a Godly perspective, we need to “stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:14-16)  Because, as Abbot Tryphon stated today, “Hell is a place chosen.”  As we silence the world about us and enter into a deeper communion with God, each decision and each choice before us, will be a choice and decision steeped in the love of God.  It may not reflect the standards of the world in which we live, but it will reflect the eternal standards of God.

My prayer is that we can all become reflective as this cold weather takes its last bow during our winter season: that we will all try and learn in the silence of the heart and the silence of your home, even the silence of your car on the daily commute, to become intuned to the Word of God, and to listen to what He has planned for you, rather than the plans of men.

“I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD. They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope.” (Jer 29:11)

Lighting Candles

“Lifeless things….”

Monastery Icons

GUARDING THE HEART
Lifeless Things Offer no Satisfaction

The lifeless things of this world offer no spiritual satisfaction, yet we often sell ourselves off to things or people by giving them power over our hearts. It is easy to feel abandoned or hurt by those to whom we’ve given power. If we need affirmation from others we take the chance that we empower demons who would use our personal needs to keep us from focusing on that which is eternal.

Our need for affirmation from others can distract us from focusing on God. Ownership of our heart should be reserved for God alone, for evil spirits use whatever means they can to make us feel abandoned, discounted or unloved by anyone we’ve allowed to own our heart. We can easily be distracted from our service to God if we allow ourselves to become envious of the recognition others receive. Recognition for a job well done can be nice, but not if it comes at the price of having lost our soul.

God’s love must be sufficient, for only our relationship with God has lasting and eternal value. Sometimes we have to pull ourselves back from others and enter into The Silence. This self imposed exile is the spiritual retreat that helps us focus on what we have in God. Then our relationships with others become healthy, fulfilling, and life giving.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon – All Merciful Savior Orthodox Christian Monastery – Vashon Island, WA

Abbot Tryphon is such a wise man and I quite often quote him; I know I read what he has to say, or what other saints he quotes, daily.  It has enhanced my life immeasurably and I thank him for his prayerful insight.  He wrote this on January 14th, 2013 and I cannot help but note its impact on my current life situation, and the impact it should always have.  When we mull over choices and options before us, the material should always take last place in our consideration and in our deliberations.  As I reiterated my experiences and personal “a-ha” moments on my journey to Alaska last week, I profoundly realized that things, and the accumulation of them, are false gods.  I watched an interesting You Tube video this morning of a man in Canada addressing their governmental body and his referencing America and Americans, along with Europe and the European Union.  He was discussing our incessant need to accumulate things, even when we cannot afford them. He mentioned that the interest alone that the Chinese collect from us each year pays for 100% of their military budget; he went on to add another 8-10 countries and noted that not only do we pay enough in interest to fund China’s military, but all the others he listed, combined!  All the sub-prime loans through Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac that are now bust…it shows that people were loaned money on homes they could not afford – ever.  And the government knew that and did it because it was another way to control our flailing economy!  And, it shamed me, in a way. What a poor example we are, as a consumer-driven culture, to the world, but most importantly, to our children.  Why does a 10-year-old need an iPad?  Who says 12-year-olds need iPhones and Macbooks?? Why does a pre-teen have a Twitter account? (I still don’t fully understand what Twitter is or how it all functions, although I do understand it has to do with accumulating “followers” or “fans.” For a 12-year-old? Really??!!). I was at a well-loved bookstore (Barnes and Noble) for lunch recently (yes, they have a cafe there) and my daughter-in-law pointed out to us a young mother (in her late 20s or early 30s) sitting with her young son (3 or 4 at the oldest) at a table.  She had a latte, he had a drink box; she was reading a stack of magazines; he was playing on her iPhone.  (And he was good at it, too).  But here we were, in a bookstore, and this little boy was playing on an iPhone; books all around him and he is on electronic media. (Expensive electronic media, I might add!!). How very sad.

We have been unfortunate in our married life, and we have been very fortunate.  We have lived in large homes within well-planned and nice neighborhoods, and we have lived in relatively poor farmhouses that have motorcycle-stained carpets.  We have had housekeepers to clean for us and we have had to buckle down (like now) and do for ourselves. We have lived from one extreme to the other in the 28 years we have been together.  We have accumulated a lot of “things.”  This summer, we purged much of that (600 books to our local library, alone!).  And now we are considering a deeper, and more thorough purge.  We long for “simple and humble,” and before us lay some interesting decisions.  In our past, we did allow people power over us, both personally and in our working lives, as well as our spiritual lives.  We have been deceived and let down in horribly professional, spiritual, and personal ways.  We have, however, learned from those experiences. Ownership of our Hearts does belong solely to God.  We need to keep our eyes focused on eternal truths, rather than how many parking spaces our garage has.  We were looking at houses and neighborhoods in Alaska (I am a woman! C’mon!  I love to drive by houses, just enjoying the drive) and each home I commented on, and liked, seemed to have a 3-car garage.  My daughter-in-law quickly pointed out to me, “Mom, you are a grandma now, you can really, really downsize! Why do you need 3 garage doors?”  And she is right; I don’t need that. It is simply a way for things to have power over me.  I need small and I need simple; guardianship of the Heart.

As we face decisions before us, and choices we need to make, I will be retreating into “The Silence,” which is a Byzantine/Orthodox way of intimating the type of quiet Monks and Cloistered Religious keep.  Not just intimating, but also imitating!  A personal, spiritual retreat right where you are.  I plan to enter into more contemplative times throughout my day in order, to order, my thinking in a right way – Guardianship of the Heart!!  We are striving to put off the shackles of our “stuff,” all the noise of life around us, and look to a life-change that is significant:

Where do I want my front porch to be facing when I sit in my rocking chair, with my husband at my side?  What do I want to be looking at and have close to me?  Who do I want near me; close to me?  What do I need to be doing to make these things I am thinking about real?  How do I make the things I want to be living and the way I want to be living, and the “where” of my life, become a reality? I will enter into “the Silence” of my heart and pray Our Lord reveals His will for my life, and the life of our family.  As my eldest son likes to say, “I firmly believe that God uses 2 x 4’s when we need them, and that He has no problem using them!”  I pray that God uses His 2 x 4 on me and my husband soon.  His will is what I seek; living a simple life of grace through work and through loving our family and friends, which is a way of living a life of continual prayer.

St Maximos the Confessor 2

I quoted St. Maximos the Confessor during this past holiday season, but I believe we need to listen to this all the time, not just in moments of proposed excess.  I am prayerful that the “guardianship of my heart” will lead me into more and more of the mindset that “lifeless things offer no satisfaction.”

“….as I have loved you….”

Girdwood

I just returned from a week in Alaska with my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. It was the highlight of my life, so far.  I mean, there have been some incredible moments and I will treasure them always – my wedding day, the birth of my children, the weddings of my sons, and the birth of my grandson, as well as moments celebrating the passing of a life – my grandmother dying while holding my hand; the death of my father-in-law…moments of living and life, and death. “All of that being said,” as that trite saying goes, there was nothing that has come before to prepare me for the floodgates of emotions I experienced in spending a week with a one-year-old grandson.

When you are a parent, you experience the joys of that child.  You have concern for your child, and you feel responsible for all aspects of their life.  As they mature and move on to their own, separate existence, that tends to ease off a little bit, but never goes away.  In my mid-50s and married for 28 years, my parents still exhibit concern for me and the life I am living.  I love that about being a family – that circle of love expands and grows, and is stronger and stronger.  I treasure the life I had under my parent’s roof.  Some of the most amazing moments happened when I lived as their daughter.  And now I have passed some milestones in my own life; having two of my three sons married and parents is a huge thing!  Our middle son’s baby is due this spring and she is already loved so very much, it is almost fantastic in the sense of it being “other worldly.”  We think of her or say her name, and our hearts just melt.  A lot of it, I am sure, has to do with the idea that she is a girl…we have only ever had sons. My husband melted when they told us she was a girl and said, “Thanks be to God we had sons, because I feel so in love with her and protective of her already, and she is not even born yet! I know she will wrap me around her little finger, and I am just the grandfather!” Ha-Ha.  The profound joy we have experienced in becoming grandparents is almost overwhelming in its intensity, and its simplicity.

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My grandson loves his trucks.  Almost anything he plays with makes a truck sound. It was so much fun to be around a little boy’s toys, again.  And his joy was infectious.  This trip was a pivotal trip for me.  My son lives very humbly, in a very modest neighborhood. They have four rather large, and rambunctious dogs, who are everywhere all at once, adding to the chaos and the joy of living.  They have, although small, a home filled with love.  And as I sat in their very comfy living room, surrounded by their dogs and listening to the truck sounds coming from my grandson playing on the floor, I was overwhelmed.  I felt such an overabundance of love and peace and contentment…and it did not matter where we were.  Nothing mattered, other than we were all together.  My daughter-in-law works so hard to keep their space clean and organized and I admire her so much!  She has poured herself into being a wife and mother and it was wonderful to see.  They are deliriously happy, and so in love with each other, and their son.  I loved being there and seeing how their relationship has grown over the years, and how much they’ve grown as people since becoming parents. it was a joy to witness.  And they were a witness for me, even though they probably don’t realize it.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jn 13:34-35

I did not realize, fully, all the different kinds of love we can bear for one another. I re-checked my Greek, and Biblical definitions of love, and this is what I found:

(1) Mania – this is the strangest, sort of sickest type of love, and it involves more of an obsessive sort of love; a desire to own.

(2) Storgy – this is often referred to as ‘motherly’ love and is completely wrong in a marital relationship. It involves loving a dependent person; once they become independent, just the emotional vestige of love remains, which is proper in parental relationships to children. Once they are grown and on their own, that overwhelming desire to mother lessens.

(3) Eros – yes, this is where the word “erotic” comes from, but it is not just sexual love.  This sort of love is also very emotionally based and is integrally tied with Agape in marriage.

(4) Phileo – this is also known as ‘brotherly love’ and is the root of the name for Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. This love is the love we bear our friends, and those around us.  This type of love cares for neighbors, sets up soup kitchens, and volunteers to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

(5) Agape – this is the purest form of love because this requires no action or involvement from the receiver of the love. This form of love enables us to truly “love your enemy” because it does not require our enemy to return that love.  It is also the love we can feel for others, when they do not know us or realize that we love them; we are satisfied with just loving them and require nothing in return. This is the love God has for us.

I think that the word, “love,” is overused and misused so much.  It is not possible to “love” our car, “love” our shoes, “love” that steak we just ate. Those are inanimate objects and we cannot love an object.  We don’t love our phones or love our homes, we love the people we speak to over the phone and the people who live with us in our homes.  We need to emphasize this with our children…they need to realize that love is reserved for the people in our lives and it can be expressed in many ways.  We can love in a phileo way our dear friends, and we can pray for them and do good for them and it stops with that.  Our eros love is reserved solely for that one person in our lives we are bonded with in Holy Matrimony.  The eros form of love should be reserved for what I refer to as the “marital embrace” and should not be squandered in sexually rampant couplings that not only damage our bodies, but can often damage even more keenly, our souls.  The obsessive, or mania type of love, is something that occurs when our lives become disordered and we have no sense of purpose guiding us.  We obsess over objects, people, things…but that sort of love is sickly because we want to own that thing or that person and value them or it solely because we own it.  There is an important aspect of love missing from a mania style of love…the agape portion.  To love someone in a motherly, or storgy, style of love means that you love someone when they need you. If they stop needing you, you only experience a slight emotional remnant of the love you had for them.  And again, that important aspect of agape is missing.  When we love selflessly, and live for that other person, we experience the type of love that Christ was talking about when He instructed us to “love others as I have loved you.”  Christ did not expect our love in return; He loved us with a pure love.  His love is what we need to love others with, regardless of how or if they return our love.  And I experienced that with my grandson. I felt the gates of my heart just flood with love for him, with absolutely no expectations of love from him.  And I witnessed something else, too, that moved me….

While I was there, sitting in their little home, surrounded by love, I realized that nothing, absolutely nothing, else mattered. It did not matter where I was, my things certainly held no sway over me, and my world had contracted to just those people in that little room.  How profound it is!  I do not require anything else in this world but to be surrounded by my loved ones.  My home does not matter; the type of car I drive does not matter; the “friends” in this life do not matter – only love of family matters.  As to friends, we have very few, truly, in our lives. We have acquaintances that flitter in and out when God wants them a part of our lives, and I can count on one hand my true friends.  So when I say that friends don’t matter, I am not including those very few, but rather, all the others who are in my life for now, but will not remain with me over time.  The other truth that came to me was that it also truly does not matter what you do all day long for a living, it is what you do and how you spend your time when you are NOT working that counts.  So many people, mostly men (and it is just how men seem to express this, more so than women, in a general sort of way), so tightly associate who they are with what they do.  You are not an accountant; it is what you do.  You are not an engineer; it is what you do. You are, however, a father, a son, a mother, a daughter, a grandmother.  Those are the important roles in your life – your career is a paycheck and should not define WHO you are.  You are a child of God first and foremost.  And if you only identify yourself as an engineer or a doctor, and realize all your satisfaction from that, you are missing the agape in your life; the emotional or eros love is also absent, which God ordained as part of our human love.  And I now know that all I require for satisfaction in life is my loved ones to be near me.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Cor 13.

I am so blessed to have my little grandson show me how to love in a pure, Agape, sort of way. It opened my heart and showed me the inherent goodness in people…God gives us all we need to find Him when we are born.  It is our duty and our job to seek Him, and along the way, to learn to love Him through loving others.  I am blessed with an inordinate and overwhelming sense of love and family and the bonds we share, and I pray everyone can experience this blessing, too. If there is something in the way, or something that hinders this relationship or this bond, do away with it immediately.  In the end, all we have is family.

St Silouan the Athonite