“…your Father’s good pleasure…”

Wine Barrel Tulips.1Spring is trying its hardest to arrive.  We’ve had days and days of dark, wet, and gloomy, with record snowfall just 20 minutes north of here and avalanches (complete with rescues of stranded snow-shoers) as well as tulips and daffodils poking their lovely heads above the soil.  I have an old wine half-barrel on my patio that is loaded with tulips.  They are struggling with the craziness of bright and sunny days followed by a string of rainy days.  This morning is clear and cold…low 30s…and there is frost everywhere. We have a little Miniature Schnauzer whose name is Chet.  He is so typical of the breed…strong willed, stubborn, and refusing to listen; typical terrier.  He loves to perch on the tops of the cushions of the couch, keeping an eye on the golf course behind the house.  We live on the 14th tee box and when it is full of people, we have to do our best to keep Mr. Chet under control, as he thinks whatever he sees, he is the lord of.  Today was no exception.  He just sat on his perch, growling. I could not see anything out there that would make him growl, and was thinking that perhaps it was a left-over emotion.  Last week, we had a scare with him.  I had my cup of coffee; it was about 7:00 am and Chet was outside on his tether, doing his morning rounds. All-of-a-sudden I heard him yelping. I scrambled outside and at the base of our porch stairs was a coyote, with Chet in his mouth.  I yelled and the coyote dropped Chet, who was whimpering and running towards me.  That darn coyote stood under the copse of trees that front the 14th tee and just stared at me, almost daring me to go after him. Instead, I just yelled and waved my arms and he ran off.  By then, I had a shaking, wet, terrified little terrier in my arms.  This morning, however, his growl broke into barks and I raced to check out what had invaded his line of sight, and it was a little bunny!  She’d been nibbling on my budding tulips and was hopping off the patio and out onto the golf course.  Chet was having none of it and was barking his head off, shaking from head to toe.  Boy oh boy, did he want out on that patio.  I corralled him and we came to the other side of the house, where I have my office, and he is comfortably ensconced in his favorite spot.

Chet on Couch

This morning is so quiet and peaceful and I treasure mornings like this!  The birds are chirping and the sun is shining (even though there are black clouds to the east and the north) and little bunnies are hopping outside. It feels so wonderful.  And then I see the chaos all around me as we finalize this move of ours.  My stomach clenches and I realize I need to gird my loins for another day of wrapping our lives up into crates and boxes, making all sorts of annoying changes that are required when you move across town or across states.  And even the peace of a spring morning can be darkened a little bit.

Yesterday was an awful day for America, with the bombing in Boston. I wonder if it is terrorists or someone wanting their 15-minutes-of-fame.  Regardless of the reasons or the perpetrator, people were killed (memory eternal) and others are in critical condition, while still others are coping with horrific injuries they will have to learn to live with.  Life can take such turns in such a quick space of time. This was intended to hurt, not destroy.  The coyote who grabbed my dog is emblematic of the terror that gripped these people.  Feeling powerless and overcome by something bigger and stronger than you is a horrible feeling.  I was so proud, however, to see how everyone reacted.  So many did not run away; instead they turned to help those around them.  So many first responders sprang into action.  Boston was heroic yesterday and it made me realize that deep down, we are made in the image and likeness of God and it showed.  Blessings upon blessings to those who rushed to serve others, with no regard for their own safety.

It is amazing to me that tulips will be coming up, daffodils will be blooming, and there is a bomb.  There is bright sunshine and on the horizon are the blackest of clouds.  Our life is a dichotomy of light and dark, good and bad, spring and deepest winter.  We have our days that are blessed and we cling to those times.  We have our darkest and most horrid days, and for those days, we look for the heroic around us, seeking the sign that God is present in His people.

Fred Rogers QuoteI do love that quote of Mr. Rogers, because it exemplifies the struggle I am speaking to this morning.  Working through the horrible right alongside the blessed.  Our path to God is strewn with experience…some of the experiences lead us off the path He has laid for us, because we get caught up and lose our way.  Some experiences help us to dig deeper and prepare our hearts to follow the path God prepares for us.  He never has our destruction in mind, but always what is best for us.  We are the ones who deviate and get lost.

This experience for me, of a joyful spring morning juxtaposed with the dark clouds on the horizon; a barking little dog with the cute little cotton-tailed bunny hopping across the patio; the peace of waking to sunshine and birds chirping and the chaos of the move I am trying not to trip over!  Then there is the joy in my heart at all my blessings compared to the disturbing, ongoing news about Boston…how do we reconcile all of this?  I cling steadfastly to the promises of God.  He warned me that He came to divide, not unite. (Luke 12:49-51) and that He came to cast fire upon the earth (Luke 12:49).  But in this same chapter of Luke, He tells us to not be afraid (Luke 12: 22-31).  He calls us His little flock and assures us “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12: 32-34).  And to these promises, I cling.  I treasure the moments of peace and clarity. I notice the birds and the flowers, those moments when God is sharing creation with me.  Those moments sustain us when the coyotes growl at the door and the bombs rip through a peaceful jog.  God allows us to experience these things to bring us strength of conviction.  Those responders ran into the fray to assist those who were suffering. God allowed their heroics to be noticed and appreciated, thereby strengthening us all.  We know that when the going get tough, we are called upon to be stronger and it is like exercising our free will….with repetition comes strength…by repeatedly aligning our free will with the Will of God, our faith is strengthened and we find peace.

St. Isaac the Syrian5


“…which one to embrace…”

Sleep is becoming a rare commodity. I just cannot seem to shut down my mind for long.  We move this Saturday!  Today is my husband’s last day at work.  Things have been pending for months, so for it to all of a sudden be down to days, it is a little daunting.  Packing and purging are such a drudgery…everything aches. My head pounds as I have to sift through all these things we have accumulated, constantly asking myself if we need this or just want this particular item; can I throw it away or give it away and not need it or miss it later on?  It is interesting when you get down to some of the basics in life, how truly little you honestly do need.  I read this great Homily by Abbot Nicolas of Holy Resurrection Monastery today.  He gave it on Bright Monday and in it he addressed the issue of the western notion of “giving up” things during Lent and other times of fasting and abstinence.  And it struck me that I am slowly developing this attitude that while I am certainly giving up certain items that I have had for awhile in my life and in the life of my family, I am finding that instead of it being a sacrifice, it is more of getting into alignment with the person God is calling me to be.  Abbot Nicolas tells us that we are all called to these mystical experiences not just inside the Liturgy, but inside the life of all Christians.  We are becoming a part of the Trinity itself.  He further states, “Our vocation as mystics challenges us to be ascetics, to purge away everything in our nature that doesn’t support our deepest desire to be united to God. It is this ascetical dimension to our mysticism that makes the Byzantine “sense of mystery” so intensely practical.”  And this is where my purging to move has had not just a practical use (trust me, it all has to fit into a 20-foot truck) but also a spiritual, or mystical use.  When we pare away the dross of our lives and become a simpler, humbler people, we notice God working in our lives much easier.  There is so much noise and chaos in the world, and we surround ourselves with things that we hope bring us peace and quiet.  Sort of like wrapping a baby in swaddling – keeping them content and warm and baffled against the inputs of the world.  It is hard to go from a newborn, used to the quiet warmth of the womb, into the bright and noisy world.

Blessed Seraphim

Abbot Nicolas reminded me that we must live the Liturgy in our daily lives.  We must make room for God each and every day.  There is this great Facebook page that is called MonkRock and their motto is: You don’t have to be a monk to live like one!  I love that entire concept.  (They have a great web site called http://www.monkrock.com and offer lots of wonderful things for sale…support them if you can).  Abbot Nicolas said this about it, “There’s no competition here (shouldn’t be anyway!) between ceremony and charity, between social justice and moral living on one hand and sacramental ritual on the other. These are all stages on the same road, or movements in the same dance. Our Temple must be cleansed so we can worship. Our legs must be healed so we can walk into heaven on our own two feet. The Saints have power to work miracles, but not because there’s anything wrong with nature! Miracles show us what nature is already in process of becoming in the continuous and never-ending process of creation leading ultimately to the “New Heaven and the New Earth” of the Eschaton.”  For me, cleaning out my temple has had a practical side – I have pared down our things to just the barest of necessities.  There are so many things which can place artificial barriers between us and those we love, especially God.

I have a son who has attention deficit disorder.  I was initially poo-pooing the whole ADD thing in pop psychology and have fought for my son to not bear labels he can never be rid of, so I approach his disorder in a natural way and ordering our little world goes a long way in dealing with his ADD. Being a teenager brings its own set of issues, and throwing ADD and homeschooling into the mix creates a miasma of circumstantial issues.  Everything in its place and a place for everything has been my motto for all of our children.  With this child in particular, it has had a huge impact.  It is as simple as no Legos on the table when he is doing math.  He will rebuild that Lego creation over and over again, even if just in his mind, and get very few math problems accomplished.  This process of our move has proved extremely agitating for him. His new pet saying is, “My world has been turned upside down and I can’t find anything!!!” usually said dramatically with both hands on his head.  He stood in the door of his room, after his dresser was given away and said to me, “Mom, I just don’t know what to touch first.  Will you help me?” Music to a mother’s ear! Ha-Ha!  And so we tackled his room, piece by piece, and inch by inch.

Gods planI am like my son with his ADD when it comes to God.  So much gets in the way and my path is not clear at times; I often stand there, with both of my hands on my head, too. The world offers us noise and chaos…that is what the lord of this world does to distract us from the path we need to take.  We all have a certain amount, or tendency towards, ADD when it comes to our relationship with God.  How many of us are exhausted at Liturgy some days and can barely hide a yawn, but after Liturgy rush off to hike in the local hills?  How many things do we place between ourselves and an honest relationship with Our Lord?  Abbot Nicolas encouraged us to see that there is no real separation between Liturgy and life, but rather these are all stages on the same road, or movements in the same dance. And as I look about me, there is less and less of the stuff of this world to get between me and living my faith in my daily life.  And as I have been purging my things I have also been purging the stuff getting in the way of my spiritual life.  When I honestly look at most of the things I am packing, I could really drive off in my car with my family, our pets, and the clothes on our backs and I could start over with nothing at all.  I would miss the memorabilia I have collected over the years, but the important things in my life would be with me…my family and my faith.  My pathway towards eternity would certainly have less clutter to wade through!!  All this clutter is both worldly clutter insofar as noisiness, stuff, and bother, but it is also the clutter in my heart and mind that I must process through…a simpler mindset is a simpler path towards God and is a part of my process of Theosis.

Kaliningrad Oblast Russia

“You therefore must be perfect…”

Gerontissa Gabriella.2I am so distressed today.  There are a lot of words being said, back and forth, across the social media sites today about the lack of media coverage of the abortionist who is being tried for murder.  One of the nurses testified that at least one infant screamed as the doctor severed its’ neck with scissors.  That in and of itself is a horrible thing to testify to, to witness, and to have done.  Wanton-less killing is evil; pure and simple.  And I am a pro-life person through and through.  I have learned, through the years, that being pro-life does not just mean that you are anti-abortion.  It does mean, however, that you believe in the sanctity of all human life, from a natural beginning to a natural end.

And the rhetoric that is being flung against this man, and against the mainstream media, is pretty strong.  I was invited to participate in a tweeting meeting…I have no idea what exactly that is, because I really haven’t figured out tweeting.  I guess it’s like instant messaging a whole bunch of people, all at the same time?  I am unclear on the concept or the need for it.  But I digress.  Part of this invitation included lots of comments from the pro-life contingency.  And that is where my upset stomach comes in.

We cannot say the sort of things that are being said about this man and consider ourselves Christians.  It is one thing to believe that someone is guilty of a heinous crime, and I in no way believe this man is innocent, and it is another to speak with such hatred and vitriolic commentary.  How can someone say they are pro-life and Christian, and wish upon a fellow human being the same atrocities they have committed against these babies?  One commentator said he thinks this doctor should be killed by scissors, without anesthesia, piece by piece until he is dead.  There were so many comments about an eye for an eye and so many Biblical quotes from the Old Testament.  The one most used is: “If two men are fighting and they strike a pregnant woman and her children are born prematurely, but there is no harm, he is certainly to be fined as the husband of the woman demands of him, and he will pay as the court decides.” (Exodus 21:22).  For one thing, this verse is talking about a woman being an innocent bystander when two men are arguing; they accidentally hit her and she miscarries.  Her husband can then demand recompense for the loss of her child.  This is not about abortion.  In the case of abortion, the mother is complicit with the decision to kill her child; she is no innocent bystander, but an active participant.

Christ came to change the world.  Yes, He came to cause division.  Yes, He certainly stirred the pot in the ancient world and tried to change how people viewed themselves and their neighbors.  He instructed us to, above all, love our neighbor and pray for those who persecute us.  He also taught us the value of life…of all life.  We are not to sit as judge, jury, and executioner; that is God’s prerogative.  Certainly, this doctor deserves to be punished by the law.  Pope John Paul II said that the death penalty is just in a just society.  Is the society we find ourselves in right now, a just society? I think not.  We have all sorts of standards, in all sorts of situations.  Very few people believe our judicial system is actually working.  We have more people in jail in America than total populations in some countries.  We house more criminals than any country in history.  But does this system work?  Recidivism, that subconscious desire to return to the world of the prison system, pulls hard at so many of our convicted. They prefer life on the inside versus life in the streets.  We have raised a generation who believe the world owes them everything and they don’t need to do a thing to earn it.  We have one of the most severely under-educated populations in the world, and yet we spend more per pupil than any other nation.

Most of the commentary about this doctor is so hateful and spiteful, and supposedly said by Christians, that it is frightening.  Now be prepared, because I am a person of eclectic tastes.  One of my favorite TV shows is called Supernatural.  The premise is these two brothers, working with angels, are trying to stop the apocalypse from happening. There is a lot more to it than that, but that is the basic idea.  In one episode, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are slowly escaping (the explanation for the whys of that take an entire season) and War has made himself known in a small town in Colorado. When one of the brothers is chatting with War, he asks him why is he poisoning the people?  What is he doing? Is it an incantation, a spell, a drug?  War simply answers that he needs none of that.  Lovely, complacent, Christians (many of the scenes take place in the Catholic church’s basement Hall, where a stunned priest asks, “Wait, you mean the Apocalypse?) can turn on their neighbor when you simply introduce doubt and suspicion into their minds.  He goes on to say that being War is one of the most simple things to be because humanity itself can war on itself, with nothing more than a little nudge from him.  That got me to thinking about the reaction to this doctor.  Hateful.  And the reaction in politics – it is frightening how our hatred spews from the same mouths that proclaim Christ as King.

Today, the vitriol made my stomach just churn in knots.  I grabbed a tums and sat down to write.  What we say and how we act shows where our hearts truly lay.  If we can so easily turn on another human being with such hatred, is it any surprise that things like the holocaust could happen in those quiet, German, suburbs?  Is there any surprise that Planned Parenthood can operate in our towns and cities with no reaction?  Where is the surprise at what a late term abortion entails?  Babies are born alive and then they are killed.  When my sons were born, they were crying almost right away.  Of course a baby will scream when you cut its neck with scissors.  What did we think happened?  But do we really want to impose that same thing on this doctor?  What happened to us that we think that is justified, while decrying ourselves as Christians?  Christ told us, quite specifically, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-48)  The fifth chapter of Matthew contains the Sermon on the Mount.  Christ exhorts us to behave above and beyond what our culture expects of us. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5: 21-26).

St John of Kronstadt.love others

It frightens me, how easily the hatred and frustrations people bear towards their neighbor comes to the surface.  How can we possibly attract people to Christ when we behave like that?  If someone from the pro-abortion side were to read the comments made on this pro-life site, they would feel even more justified in their position.  They spew things about pro-life supporters, calling us names and telling us how false we are.  Perhaps if we show our underbellies like this, there is some truth in what our naysayers actually say about us.  I stopped reading the sites and went to prayer for these people.  We need to love the sinner, but hate the sin.  It is stated this way in Scripture: If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen? (1 John 4:20)  St. Augustine is thought to have expounded on that with the love the sinner but hate the sin statement.  There is more evidence that we should not judge our brothers: “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, `Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log from your own eyes; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5).  Furthermore, Christ instructs us: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever …” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

In no way do these statements of Christ I have opted to quote, nor my commentary, undermine or reduce the crime this man has committed.  In no way do I condone his actions. I believe abortion is evil and wrong, and a choice of convenience. In our hedonistic society, we are all about serving ourselves and not looking out for our brothers.  We think that we have the right of death over life, when in fact, that belongs to God alone.  My point is that the words we use do remain until eternity.  And because eternity is never-ending, our words are never-ending as well.  Do we want to be known for the vitriolic hatred spewed about this man, or would it be better to calm down this hateful rhetoric, push for a life-long jail sentence, and see to correcting the societal ills that approve of abortion in the first place? Let us not sink down into the miasma of hatred from which the desire to kill the unborn sprang.  Let us instead approach the situation with the love of Christ.  He quietly stood among those in a small community, calling for the stoning of the woman accused in adultery.  He alone caused that community to calmly walk away, by asking those without sin to cast that first stone. We can do at least that.  We can put down the stones and allow the man to spend his life in repentant jail time, and try to change the world that caused him to abandon his training as a doctor who saves lives, to one who takes life.

St Silouan the Athonite2

“… displayed it to all…”

Holy Cross VerifiedI love miracle stories.  And this is one of my favorites, the finding of the True Cross of Christ.  It is not really necessary to believe in miracles, or to believe in visions or visionaries.  We rush to these things because once in awhile we need to be reminded that what we believe is honest and true.  Sometimes people travel great distances to visit the Holy Land, to walk on the Via Dolorosa, or the Way of Grief and participate in the Stations of the Cross, walking where Christ walked and touching places in history.  Many people make a regular occurrence of visiting monasteries or other places where they feel the presence of God more fully than in their favorite easy chair.  I have many friends who love to just visit the Eucharist daily, to just sit in the presence of God, before starting their day.  There are also lots of people who wear things to remind them of their faith, like prayer ropes or crosses.  I was lucky enough to purchase a plain, Byzantine cross at a monastery many years ago, that had been made by an artist, to help support the monastery. I wear it pretty much all the time, and it reminds me of my walk with God and as I touch it off and on during the day, it also comforts me.

390px-OrthodoxCross(black,contoured).svgBecause it is a cross normally associated with Byzantines or Eastern Rite Catholics and the Orthodox, most people do not readily recognize it.  I am often asked if I am wearing some sort of language symbol and most people suppose it to be an Asian-language word or symbol…like something you would get tattooed on yourself.  I usually chuckle at that, but it also gives me an opportunity to share my faith.

When my husband and I were choosing our wedding rings about 30 years ago, he really liked simple bands and the one he loved was a gold band that had a cross inset on it, with tiny diamond chips. (Very tiny chips! Ha-Ha!! We were young and pretty poor, as most newlyweds are!)  He wanted me to wear the matching band, but I had my heart set on another design.  And I realized that I did not want to wear a cross on my finger, because I was not quite ready to proclaim to the world that I was a Christian.  I look back on that now, and I am rather ashamed, but also treasure the growth God allowed to take place in me.  Wearing a cross around your neck or on your finger says something about who you are as a person.  Putting a sticker of a cross on your car, or hanging one from your rear-view mirror also makes a statement.  Having a religious symbol on your home or in your yard makes a big statement about the people who live there. Some people now tattoo religious symbols or sayings on their flesh…a permanent reminder of what they believe and a permanent statement to whomever they are in contact with, on a daily basis. And sometimes I think we all forget what statement we are making.  How often have we been run over by someone trying to exit the Church parking lot on Sundays, or cut off in traffic by a driver with a WWJD sticker on the back of their car?  How often, while wearing a cross, do we get nasty with someone at a store or while driving?  How often are we uncharitable to our neighbors, while flying a flag with a statement of our faith from our rooftops?  We often forget that we have forged a relationship with God and that we have chosen to wear or display that relationship on our person, our vehicles, or on our homes.

We attended this wonderful parish picnic at a Melkite parish out of town one summer.  It was a nice drive, the weather was wonderful, and we arrived early enough to be able to check out all the booths and sample some of the wonderful food being sold, before it got overly crowded.  In the Melkite Church, we were spoiled because everyone appreciates those who serve on the altar so much.  We were given little gifts of food and some wonderful coffee, as we strolled the picnic.  We had parishioners coming up to us, explaining what they were selling, and the aromas of the shawarma booths were making me salivate!  (Shawarma‎ is a Levantine  Arab meat preparation, where lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, veal or mixed meats are placed on a spit (commonly a vertical spit), and may be grilled for as long as a day. Shavings are cut off the block of meat for serving, and the remainder of the block of meat is kept heated on the rotating spit. Although it can be served in shavings on a plate (generally with accompaniments), shawarma also refers to a sandwich or wrap made with shawarma meat. Shawarma is eaten with tabbouleh, fattoush, tabboon bread, tomato, and cucumber. Toppings include tahini, hummus, pickled turnips and amba. It is now a fast-food staple worldwide. We are blessed to have a great Arabic food restaurant nearby where we can buy gyros with our choice of beef, chicken, or lamb shawarma!  So blessed!). There was a booth that caught my eye, and it wasn’t even food-oriented!  This booth had these great flags to put in front of your house. They are what are called garden flags in that you hang them on a stake in your yard.  And there were flags for almost all the Holy Days, as well as some of my favorite feast days.  I bought one of each and promptly went home and replaced my pretty flowered flag with a flag for the season of our faith. I loved being able to do that!  When we relocated up here, one of the first things I did was hang my flag by the front door.  I did not think a thing about it.  In about 60 days or so, I had a letter from the HOA telling me I had to remove the flag or pay $50 fines for each month it was not removed.  Apparently, nothing religious is allowed to be on your home, visible by anyone else.  I was flabbergasted.  I replaced my religious flag with a flowery-spring thing.  I was so irritated.  I could not believe there would be an ordinance about flags like this.  In addition, we were not allowed to place religious artwork in our gardens or front areas of our home. The list was specific and long.  Because we just lease and are not owners, I did not make a fuss.  About a month after that, the President of the HOA drove up to our house to chat, as we were working in the yard.  She told us that we could once again fly our flag because people complained about the fines and they got another company to represent the HOA.  She told me, “Please fly those flags. I love seeing them.”  Wow!  Was I shocked and happy. I walked into the house and grabbed a flag, and proudly re-hung it by our front door.  With packing up for our move, I brought the flag inside and I must say, I miss it being there.  It sort of grounds me.  And I also think our neighbors all appreciated our wanting to share a little of who we are in a quiet way.

Gerontissa GabrieliaI think that when we visibly demonstrate our faith before others, we become, perhaps, the only Jesus they may ever see or become acquainted with.  We need to pray when we place a cross around our neck, on our fingers, tattooed on our person, or placed on our cars, or on our homes.  We are a visible sign to others that God is present and that we are His followers.  St. Helen was determined to bring the True Cross to her son, the Emperor Constantine, and she traveled great distances and endured much hardship to do so.  She was a determined woman of faith and her faith never wavered in her quest to find the Cross of Christ, raise it out of obscurity, and bring it to where generations of Christians would worship the instrument of their salvation. It is a powerful thing and an incredible statement to and for others.  I love wearing my Byzantine Cross around my neck and the ring my husband presented to me, matching his, with the simple Cross on it.  The different styles of crosses confuse people, too, and it has started many conversations about what I believe.  It is also a reminder to be the Christian I am declaring to the world when I drive, when I shop, when I am with anyone else.  But more importantly, it is there for me, to remind me of the wonderful gift of faith Our Lord has given to me, and blessed my life with.

Prayer candles cross

“…to develop a collective mindset…”

I change up the theme photos at the top of this blog site now and then. I like to focus on something or highlight some things.  I have shared photos of Seattle, Anchorage, the AlCan Highway, various saints, and photos from churches.  This new one is a photo of an oil painting, depicting a Russian family gathered around the dinner table. You can see the icon corner and there is a lovely saying, as well.  It speaks about the importance of the Christian family in our society:  “If the Church is a huge pillar of fire, then the Christian family is a small candle lit from that fire.” (Archimandrite Raphail Karelin).

There has been so much hoopla given over to the family and raising of children in recent months, especially in light of the violence in our streets and schools. Recently, a pundit on MSNBC said that we need to get over the idea that kids belong to their parents or their families and once we realize that we are all responsible for the children in this country, we will make more responsible decisions in the areas of education and healthcare.  She went on to say that we need to develop a collective mindset towards children, aka “the village” approach to parenting.  Now, as a parent, these words are a little troubling. I do agree that we all need to be invested in the children of this country, but I do not want a governmental entity telling me exactly how to do that.  Being in a Byzantine parish, where most of the families are not from this country, it has been interesting to watch them with their children.  They definitely kept an eye on each other’s children and if any of the adults disciplined a child, they responded well to that.  No one let anyone’s children get out of control.  In a Latin rite parish that we used to attend, it was similar to that, because we were all homeschoolers, and that is a different mindset than most American parents have developed.  When you homeschool, you take your children out of the governmental schooling system and you opt to educate them yourself.  Most of us also chose to educate our children in the ways of the faith on a more regular basis than just on Sundays and Holy Days. We are a little anti-governmental intrusion in our lives, and believe vociferously in our rights to parent as we deem best for our families, and are also staunch practitioners of our faith.

Choose words wiselyI think that when rhetoric gets a little out-of-hand, we all need to first and foremost, take a deep breath, then perhaps reflect on the person using the words, and think about where they are coming from.  I believe the pundit who spoke on MSNBC was speaking to issues of funding school programs and lamenting the fact that so many people are disinterested in what happens in our culture, even at the local School Board level.  I chose to educate my sons at home because there are things that I just do not agree with in our system.  And through the years, I have been so glad we opted to teach our children at home.

Have my children participated in the culture at large? Well, yes they have and still do.  We did not remove them from life, just from public education.  They still played Little League and even Ice Hockey.  They still had lots of friends and had some incredible experiences growing up; they just did not attend government-controlled education centers. Homeschooling does not cut you off from the world, you just choose to educate at home.  When we talk about developing a collective mindset when it comes to our children, and that children do not belong to their parents or their families, that’s when I get a little jumpy.  I love that this pundit wants to get more of the community involved.  We need to do something. The USA used to rank in the top 10 % of educational statistics worldwide.  We are now languishing somewhere in the 30th zone.  What happened?  I believe we forgot about the basics; you know, Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.  But that’s for another post!!

We can and should develop a concern for the children in our midst.  We should worry about drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll: there are poignant and important issues in our world today.  But we also need to care for our children and choose our words wisely, because there are so many children who have nothing to look forward to when they wake up in the mornings.  We are poorly educated, yes, but far more importantly, there are so many children who are poorly catechized in their faith.  In a state like Washington, where only 6% of the population is churched, we are failing miserably in this regard.  When you add to the missing faith life of children, their lack of education and poor job prospects, life can be depressing.  A famous young man, the son of a famous protestant preacher, committed suicide this week.  He is endemic of the culture pervading this country, and in that regard, we do need a more collective mindset.  For me, this means I need to share my family and my faith with every person, every child, I come in contact with.  We are asked to be godparents and we agree.  What does that mean? It means that I am theologically and morally responsible for that child – for their entire life – not just the baptism photo ops, party, and cake.  I am theologically and morally responsible.  How do I live out that responsibility? On my knees! (“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians 6:18).  I offer prayers for my godchildren; I interact with them; I share who I am with them.  I have a god daughter who is in her late 20s.  She came to spend Thanksgiving with us and I posted about it; it was wonderful spending time with her.  She asked me pointed questions when it came to men and her future, dating, living together, etc.  And I had to have that sort of talk with her that makes us sort of uncomfortable.  And you know what? She loved me even more for sticking to what I believe and for steering her in the right direction.  I was relieved and I was thankful that God helped me to live my faith for her and with her, affecting her life-choices in a positive way.

Each of us is responsible for each of our children; each of our god children.  The community at large is also our concern.  I still believe it is my right to raise my children, and educate them, in the way I believe is best for them.  Until they are 18, by law, they are mine.  So I think that erasing that line between collective mindset and personal responsibility is wrong.  But we also need to be aware of what is going on around us and to at least pay attention.  So many people think someone else will take care of it and so they do nothing to help; they don’t even get out and vote. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend everything is just hunky-dory.

St Dorotheos of GazaWhen we care for our neighbor, we care for our own spiritual well-being.  Christ instructed us to love one another as I have loved you (John 34) and in doing that, He instructed us to develop a sort of collective mindset insofar as we care for the lives of those around us.  We do not diminish their right to live as they choose, nor do we judge them.  We simply love our neighbor, watch out for them, and “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40).

Elder Siluan

“…a whisper of the Divine….”

Warriors of Christ fite best on kneesI love this photo.  Roughly translated it means that the “Warriors of Christ fight best on their knees.”  What a thought!  Someone commented that there is a lot of black in their vestments.  Yes, there is.  But it is worn as a sign of mourning or sadness, during Lent.  And I love how beautiful the entire thing looks.  I long to be there…instead of….

My house!  I am decidedly going crazy right now, with the hectic pace of our moving looming over everything.  My husband has 5 or so days left on his job, then we seriously pack up and move.  We have one room upstairs almost totally empty; our poor son has no dresser or night stand in his room, and his bed is going soon, too.  We have odds and ends to be rid of and we are all about cleaning out to the bare bones.  The hectic, chaotic mess of a house torn apart, well, it really gets to me. I did not realize how much I like having everything in its place. Not necessarily white-glove clean, but neat.  Having to step around and over things is getting to me.  Right now, all my dishes (and I mean all) are on our counter top, waiting to be packed or sold.  I cannot move in my kitchen.  The bathrooms are great, so that is a place to hide away! Ha-Ha!  My office is in total chaos and I still have to either pack or burn all the papers in there.  We are trying to get rid of a large oak roll-top desk, so I need to empty it.  So much in process; much done, but oh so much left to do!

And I find myself looking for solace and peace.  The opening post photo is exemplary of what I need to be doing…fighting this battle on my knees.  All of this is in God’s hands and I need to stop taking it back from him. Surrendering in prayer is what I need more of, not struggling with these things I need to pack, choices I need to make, and space bags to fill and flatten.  I am not disposing myself to complete surrender, to just sit and wiggle my nose like Jeannie on the old TV show, and expect that everything will magically be packed and we will be on our way.  It is more of a surrender to the Will of God in all things.  This move included.  All things.

Elder Sophrony1Spending a few moments in prayer is worth all the chaos that may arise because of being absent to the chronos of life, and spending some kairos time with God.   And those moments when you hear “a whisper of the Divine is glory beyond compare to all the content of a life lived apart from God.” This momentary interruption to having things in their place, and the quiet and contentment of living in your home where you feel like it is your place of solace, are all worth living in the light of God’s Will for us.  Life is not about those years we engrave on our tombstones, but rather about the life in between those dates.  A little chaos now and then makes the peace that much more sublime and rich.  And as my kids keep reminding me, “Keep your eye on the prize.”  Today, I am living that…God’s truly got this!

“..struggling towards…”

My house is a mess, a chaotic mess.  We are moving in a couple of weeks and I am seriously purging and packing.  I opened it up to our homeschool group online and a young woman, just starting out, came by to look at our things.  When I say my house is chaotic, you have to watch where you walk.  There are plastic crates stacked in the living room; my dining room is my packing table.  There are items from my cupboards in the kitchen all over the countertops.  There are piles of “things to keep” and “things to get rid of,” as well as piles of “just throw away.” I can barely function.  And this sweet young lady, carrying her 1-year-old boy, says nothing of the mess.  We walk into the kitchen so she can peruse the dishware and her first comment to me was, “Oh, I love your icons.”  And I looked over at our mantle across in the family room area, the only place left that has not felt the packing chaos, and it was a place of serenity.  There is the Blessed Theotokos, holding the Christ Child, looking down at us. There is Christ, Pantocrator, gently showing us his book of Scriptures and gently beckoning us closer; the many saints and Holy Day icons…we have at least 25 icons on our mantle.

Mantle with icons I realized that this little nest of Our Lord, the Theotokos, the Saints…they are a bastion of sanity in life.  I was drawn to just look at them, standing there in the midst of packing crates and packing paper, tape, and kitchen stuff!  And I sighed deeply and just smiled.  “ And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:4)  I smiled because I was helping someone, and witnessing my faith at the same time; it felt wonderful.  My husband has been worried that I was being forced to leave so many “things” behind and that, after 30 years, we would be moving with less than I brought to this marriage.  I actually smiled and laughed at that, because I am finally at the point in life where I don’t want the stuff.  I don’t want to have to worry about things because I want to spend my time with my family, not cleaning and dusting a big house full of things.  I want small, simple, and humble…freedom from the burden of things.  Christ exhorts us in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And I really feel like I am getting there, closer to where I want my heart to be – surrounded by my family.

As I was going through things today, I was contemplating a dish and realized I didn’t actually need it but that I liked it; I also realized that God is asking me to give it up.  I looked at the icons and realized the Heavenly Hosts are around us all the time.  They are watching us, interceding for us, and praying for us.  They encourage me through the words of others, and through their presence in the Church Triumphant, to make the right choices when faced with decisions.  The greatest gift God gave us is the gift of sharing His life.  We have been made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 PT 1:4) and when we live a life of faith, this relationship is deepened, furthering the process of our divination or theosis.  This movement continues through our life and death and will not be complete until the resurrection of all mankind on the last day.  Then our risen bodies as well as our spirits will share in the resurrection life and partake in glory, “We know we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 Jn 3:2) [God with Us publications, “What Eastern Christians Believe”].  I am certainly not a finished product, but a work in progress.  Today I learned that this process of theosis begun in me is sparked now and then through the words and actions of others.  Just bringing my attention back to the icons on our mantle took the drudgery aspect out of purging, packing, and moving, and brought me back to the reasons we are doing this – a new life. And it was so very easy to put that dish I was contemplating into the “give away” pile.

Russian baptismGod has given me this incredible gift of faith and even though many would find me to be middle-aged, or even old (agh!!), I feel like I am just beginning to live what I believe with no compromise.  I spoke with a man on the phone today who is a devout Catholic, husband, and father who is suffering through a divorce he does not want.  He was lamenting how easy it is for most people to set aside their beliefs and choose the culture over those beliefs.  I agreed with him and tried to offer him some comfort.  But there is not much I can say, other than to agree with him.   It is much easier to accept what we don’t believe, when their is societal pressure to do so.  That is witnessed by the divorce rate, abortion rate, unmarried parenthood the norm; so may examples to cite.  And it is a one of the prime motivators in why we are choosing to move.  We are going toward family, but it is also an opportunity to do with less, to live simply, and to become the people we really want to be.  My husband is free to choose a completely different career.  We are also choosing to shape our daily lives in a different way; time is going to be spent enjoying our family and not so focused on working.  We are also going to worship in a more family-oriented way.  God has been giving us chance after chance, and we are taking this one and choosing the path that God is offering us.  A step in faith, to be sure, but it is not out of fear, but with that same joy I felt when I looked up at the icons on our mantle; a joy deeply felt that God is with us, and with the cloud of witnesses there to comfort me.  And I know this is right.

Blessed Seraphim

“…Let us set aside the cares of life…”

Church Doorway.RussiaThis painting was posted on one of my favorite Facebook pages today.  The page is written totally in Russian, and there is no English translation, and I found it through an Orthodox friend of mine. They specialize in paintings and photos of Russia.  I have developed a deep love for Russia since my childhood, when we lived next door to some Russians – the Ivanoff family.  The father of the family shared his heritage with me and showed me all of the wonderful things he was able to save from his family’s escape during the fall of the last Tsar, Nicolas (of Blessed Memory).  His tales of Russia stayed with me and as I grew up, I read all I could on Russian history.  My husband is what is known as a Volga River Russian, or Germans-from-Russia.  Their history is actually German; their ancestors having been transplanted to Russia from Germany by the Tsarina, Catherine the Great.  When she arrived in Russia from Germany, she wanted to bring Russia some modern techniques in building and the trades, so she brought in talented German craftsmen and their families; that is who my husband is descended from.  In the USA, Volga Germans, as they are also known, settled together towns across the upper Midwest.  There is one large settlement in St. Peter, Kansas, where my husband’s family settled before moving further west in Colorado.  Being a sort of culturally boring Brit, I loved and absorbed all things Volga German from my husband’s family and enjoyed learning about all the foods and traditions.  When the time came, for me, it felt natural to become absorbed into an Eastern Rite Church.  I think we were always headed East, as the Divine Liturgy filled our hearts and we just could not think of worship in any other way.  As we have moved northward in the USA, we have drifted into a more northeast-European expression of our Byzantine faith, from Syria to the Ukraine; from Jordan to Romania.  It is still Byzantine and the Divine Liturgy is the same; it is just language, tone and custom that changes.  And I love that about the Church; so many expressions of the same faith.

cropped-church.jpgIn a Byzantine church, you pass through doors like in the first photo, and immediately feel that you have entered something other-worldly.  The narthex, or entrance hall, is meant to help you transition from the worldliness of your everyday life and lead you to Christ.  Usually, the narthex has icons of the Old Testament prophets all over it, who prepare us for our encounter with Christ.  As you enter into the main body of the Church, the nave, this space is symbolic of the body of believers.  The walls, the ceiling, all contain icons of saints of past ages.  This is to remind us that we are one with all believers of every age, who make up the Body of Christ.

800px-07Thessaloniki_Agia_Sophia05The iconostasis is a screen with icons on it, that separate the nave from the Holy Place, which represents the Throne of God. Heaven and earth are joined by Jesus Christ and that is represented by the iconostasis, filled with images of Christ and those central to the mystery of His coming.  The iconostasis above is from the Agia Sophia in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece.   Behind the Holy Doors, which are at the center of the iconostasis, is the Holy Place, which is the altar.  Above and in front of the Holy Doors is usually a large icon of Christ, depicted as the Pantocrator, or Christ the All-Powerful, Who sits at the right hand of the Father.  This is to remind us that Christ is the Head of our Church, the One who presides at our worship and through Whom we live.  The Pantocrator is placed in an area (and on the ceiling) called the Soleas, which is where the priest stands, offering Holy Communion to the faithful.  The Pantocrator icon below is from the Cathedral of St. Seraphim in North Carolina.


The Holy Place is where Christ becomes present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity through the consecration of our priest.  In the east particularly, it is common to kiss the hands of a priest when you greet him, as these hands bring us Christ; these hands bless us, baptize us, and welcome us – they are holy hands.  Most western, or Latin Rite, priests are not used to that and it can often make them uncomfortable.  When we first relocated up here and could not locate a Byzantine parish and attended a Latin Rite parish, we greeted the priest by kissing his hands. He was embarrassed, but told us he felt honored, too, and came to love it.  He felt it also reminded him of his obligations and extreme honor of the position he held as parish priest.  I believe that we need to keep reminding the priests in our lives how special they are and how lucky we are to have them.  In most Byzantine parishes, we are smaller in number and are so lucky to actually know our priests.  We have them in our home at least once a year (house blessings) and more often than not, invite them to our homes to share those special moments in our lives.  When my husband was ordained a deacon, our home afterwards was filled with priests and other deacons; what an honor it was for us!  How exciting to have all those holy men in one place!

Holy Cross Holy TableThis is the alter of the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross in New York.  The altar is where Our Lord becomes present to us under the species of bread and wine.  For those of us who believe in transubstantiation, this is the pinnacle of our Sunday worship.  We look forward to receiving Our Lord each and every week.  The Divine Liturgy itself takes us on a journey, as much a part of the journey we take as we step from the parking lot, and into the building of the Church itself.  We come from outside and noisiness, chaos and confusion, into the place of God.  We enter a quiet, candle-lit, incense-imbued, icon-filled space of tones and prayer and Love from God, present in His people and in His temple. I think one of the things I love most about being Byzantine is that it is different; it is other-worldly; it transports me out of myself and into a space, place, and time that stands apart from whatever is happening outside.

Priest at Holy Doors

There are no clocks in a casino; have you ever noticed that?  There are no windows, either.  They want you to loose track of time while you drop your money into their slots and onto their tables.  They do not want you remembering the world outside, they want you to become totally absorbed in gambling.  I think they learned this from Churches!  We don’t have clocks – we have windows, yes, but not usually in a place in a Byzantine church where you can gaze, disjointedly, to the world outside. They are usually to allow light and are way up high, far above eye level.  Most Roman churches have stained glass windows, where gazing outdoors is not really possible, either.  It is not to hold you prisoner!  Being in Church is when you lose yourself in God.  There are two Greek words for time: Chronos – that is chronological, or sequential time, and is what we use watches, clocks, and calendars to keep track of.  Then there is Kairos, or the appointed time in the purpose of God, which is when God is to act.  In eastern Churches, before the Divine Liturgy begins, the Deacon exclaims to the Priest, “Kairos tou poiesai to Kyrio” (“It is time [kairos] for the Lord to act”); indicating that the time of the Liturgy is an intersection with Eternity.

Some days I want to spend my time in pure Kairos, outside the demands and the time frames our lives place upon us. We have to schedule this and schedule that.  We keep our children busy with soccer and Little League, we have meetings and workout times to keep.  We have laundry to wash (Oooo..that reminds me! Ha-Ha!) and meals to prepare.  But sometimes, when I come into this space where I can ponder, muse, and blog, I loose myself in pure Kairos by thinking about and focusing on all things God, and I can loose my sense of the Chronos and completely forget the plans I made today. I enter into a room with icons and reminders of God, I look at the photos of my family, and I loose myself; what a pleasure and what a joy.  And it is fulfilling, but I still long for the days when I can loose myself in God, in His time, in His temple.  I love the sights, sounds, and smells of faith; I love being imbued with the Kairos of worship, lost in the love of God.

St. Nikolai

Reflection on the “long goodbye…”

after the rainWe had a beautiful spring weekend! Easter arrived amid sunshine and scattered, white, fluffy clouds.  Downtown was absolutely gorgeous; women were wearing bright, spring colors, and it seemed like all the flowers were wide open and smiling at us.  Pink-flowered trees lined all the streets and the glow of spring was on everything.  Today is dark, wet, and rainy.  What a contrast!  The temps have dropped a little; on Easter it was 72 and right now it is just 49, but 58 is expected later on.  Not too bad for April, I would say; Spring is still working its way in!  But the contrast over such a short period of time is startling.  And with the change in sunshine came a change in mood today.  I was pretty excited yesterday about our move…we are now counting down the days.  In less than three weeks, we will be on the road, driving through Canada; the famous AlCan Highway!  I am so excited to see many of the places I saw as a child, whilst visiting distant cousins and enjoying the Canadian summertime.  As a child I visited Canada, all the way from California, in a camper.  I remember laying above the cab with my brother, watching out the window as we drove. It was pretty exciting and the change in climate and foliage was just as exciting as being in a camper!  My family usually camped during summers at the Colorado River on the Arizona side, to spend days and weeks water-skiing. We would sleep on cots under the star-filled skies, never in a tent or other camping arrangement. So for my brother and me, being in a camper was pretty exciting stuff.  The memories of that trip are etched on my mind and I can pull them out from time to time and just smile.  Honey-comb candy; horseback riding in the rain; the city of Banff and Lake Louise; my cousin’s pool that was inside a dome; the mountains and running through fields.  Glorious summer for a kid!

Jan and Mark 1960sMe and my brother in the 1960s!

Childhood can be a glorious time, if we remember to spend some time, enjoying the moments with our children.  My husband and I realized, as I stated in an earlier post, that time has suddenly passed us by; our children are almost all grown and parents themselves.  Did we make the sort of memories with our children that they can look back on and smile?  We are hoping this trip through Canada with our youngest son will create some joyful memories for him.  I find myself in a position with my mom where I am the only one who is remembering these past times spent together.  My mom has Alzheimer’s disease, combined with some dementia.  Alzheimer’s is called the disease of the long goodbye and it is that and oh, so much more.  My mom and I can carry on conversations but they repeat themselves about every 10 minutes or so. She does not remember yesterday, let alone last week, or last month.  Time becomes a blur for Alzheimer patients.  It is especially difficult when it comes to life-altering events, decision making, and the ability to care for yourself on a daily basis.  Eventually my mom will have to be declared incompetent and my brother and I will be making all her decisions for her.  One of the hard parts about Alzheimer’s is that those who suffer from it, realize they have it, as it begins.  She sat there, and heard from her doctor, exactly what was happening to her; she was completely lucid at the time.  My mom will often slap her forehead and say, “Stupid disease!” and know she has forgotten something or said something incorrectly.  Her moments of pure lucidity are dwindling, though.  And it is truly the long goodbye because from moment to moment, I am loosing a little bit more of her.

My mom has always been a very strong willed person.  It created lots of drama in our house, especially with me.  As a teenaged-daughter, my hormones were raging, I was learning a lot (you know how teens can be!!) and we clashed.  Oftentimes it was vociferous and nasty.  My mom and I never really got along that well, until I moved out of the house during college. I am sure my parents sighed with relief when I left, as I know the pressure was released a little bit with me gone. My mom and I have only really developed a good relationship since I have been married.  So the past 30 years or so have been wonderful.  She has been a great mom in that she never interfered or told me how to raise my children, neither did she tell me how to be married.  She was married to my dad for 26 years, but they divorced when I was in my early 20s and before I had even met my husband.  She met her second husband the same month I met my husband and our lives have been intertwined since then.  It has been so nice. My kids love their grandma, although she can put the pressure on!  We would prepare for her visits, first of all by cleaning the house, and second of all by cleaning up ourselves!  My mom never wore white gloves on her hands, but you can bet they were on in her mind!  When we cleaned the house, my boys would ask, “Grandma clean or our clean?” and more often than not, I would ask for Grandma clean!!  She is what I would call a clean freak.  Growing up, she would literally move all the furniture out and polish our floors…weekly, if not more often. The entryway was marble and you can bet there were no smudges or marks to mar the perfect surface.  The counter tops were never allowed to have things on them, and our clothes had to always be picked up.  We had play clothes, school clothes, and nice clothes.  It took a lot of convincing to allow me to wear jeans!  My parents are British and the jeans craze had not crossed the pond, yet. Once I reached high school, she gave up cleaning my room for me (before that, she would come in and re-arrange things and put things away and polish and vacuum while I was out of the house).  The running joke was about what color the carpeting in my room was, as you could not see it.  I hung posters on the ceilings, played my guitar, and bemoaned lost relationships up in my room and she allowed it to be my sanctuary away from the world.  So dramatic.  And my mom just stepped back from that and did not interfere, which was rather nice of her, as now I know how much it must have driven her crazy!  She also always wanted me to cut off my hair.  In those days, it was long, blonde, and straight.  Half-way down my back, parted in the middle…gee, does that give away my age?!?  I never got too hippy-ish, but just enough to be cool. My mom allowed me enough rope to hang myself, as she was fond of reminding me.  I appreciated that about her.

Maureen Rogers Massoth 1960sMy Mom in the early 1970s

These days, after talking with my mom, I find myself sick to my stomach.  I am angry with her for her stubbornness, and I am also reminded that this disease is a cruel one.  The nice mom I have enjoyed for the past 30 years is slowly being replaced by an angry old lady…almost a stranger, and reminiscent of the mom I had growing up.  Not quite yet, but I can feel it coming on more and more, each time we interact.  And I am deeply saddened.  My brother and I are faced with questions we never dreamt we’d be facing.  How do you care for someone who, one day, will not even know you or recognize your face? Especially when it is your own mother?  How can you force someone to go where they do not want to go, especially when they do not realize it is beyond our control, or beyond their wishes?  My stepdad and I, as well as my brother, had talked about the future for my mom several times since her diagnosis with dementia.  Once she had progressed in dementia and added Alzheimer’s, we had still more discussions.  It was commonly agreed between the three of us, that I would care for her. I had cared for my paternal grandmother (she lived with us for the last few months of her life) and I am willing and able to care for my mom, and my husband is supportive of that.  The hard part about Alzheimer’s is that the patient thinks they are lucid and in charge of themselves, when reality can be far from what they imagine their lives to be.  There are not many options left to my mom, since my stepdad passed away.  Eventually, she will need to come to live with us, because her financial options are so very limited.  The dilemma for me is that she has no desire to do so.  She does not like cold weather and has become a desert baby and loves all things Southwest.  We are relocating about as opposite that as is possible, and to still be living in the USA. As of yesterday, she is bound and determined to stay in SoCal, in her own home, surrounded by her friends and her things.  I greeted that information in silence, with a prayer on my lips, for us all.

Which brings me to my reflection today.  How do I reconcile these changes? One day there is sunshine and the flowers are out, and today it is wet and rainy.  My mom was a vibrant woman, full of life and love for her husband and family; today she is descending into a darker place, a place of anger and frustration and also fear.  How do I help her adjust to this? How do I hold her up during this descent into her mind? She is a stubborn woman and has no desire to be with us in a cold climate. She does not want to leave her familiar home or community. She wants life to continue on as it has.  But the reality is, it cannot continue on as it has.  She will not be continuing on as she has, in a place that is familiar to her.  Very soon, very little will be familiar to her.  Her future is so cloudy and her world is contracting at such a quick pace, I find myself just sitting…unable to make decisions for her; unable to take this on right now; and filled with sadness and an impending sense of confrontation and unhappiness all around for her…and for me.

I know the Lord promises us that He will not give us more than we can handle (“No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.” 1Corinthians 10:13) but every so often, I find myself looking heavenward and making the time out signal at Him.  I often think God thinks way more of my capabilities than I do!  I feel so overloaded some days.  And then I think of this past week…I contemplate again His passion and death…and I realize that these burdens are carried by Him as he fell those three times.  The weight of my burdens were carried by Him, suffering along His way to His death for me.  Then I am filled with an overloaded mixture of thanksgiving, guilt, shame at my weaknesses, and again with thanksgiving that He would do that for me.  I also know He was carrying my mom’s issues along with Him, as well.  Mark Hart, the Bible Geek, posts regularly on Facebook.  His comments are always timely and his sayings are usually right on the money.  Whether he realizes it or not, he coined a phrase that has become my new mantra, “God’s got this.” It is so simple and so profound.  God truly does have all of this. He has all my worries and love for my mom.  He has her future and my future all taken care of.  Now comes a time in my life when I must truly step out in faith, knowing that “God‘s got this.”  There are moments when I want to take back these burdens and carry them myself, but I know that is my stupid pride speaking. I am working hard to remember that He does truly have this day, and all our days, in His hands. Do I let go and let God?

This is taken from an article on a site called, “www.gotquestions.org” titled, “Are we supposed to let go and let God?”~

“Furthermore, when we struggle, we assume the problem is that we are not letting go and letting God. The reality is that we struggle for a variety of reasons. One is that we have a weak faith. We just don’t have enough confidence in God to rest in the reality of His nature and have the peace that comes with a strong faith in Him. For instance, when trials come or we experience illness, financial ruin, or the death of a loved one, do we really believe that “God works all things together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28)? If we don’t know God intimately, it’s very hard to trust that He is working all things together for good. But if we do know Him, if we have spent time digging into His Word and meditating on His works and His nature, we have faith in His plan and purposes, His love for us, His sovereign control over all circumstances in life, and we rest in the “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). But if we don’t know Him, we will always struggle against life’s hard circumstances.

On the other hand, there is a positive reason for struggling—it is good for us and is God’s plan to grow and mature us into the people He wants us to be. Struggles are just one of the ways He strengthens us for the hard things life throws at us. Each one enables us to be stronger and better able to handle the next one. Trials are designed to show us and others that our faith is real. “Your faith will be like gold that has been tested in a fire. And these trials will prove that your faith is worth much more than gold that can be destroyed. They will show that you will be given praise and honor and glory when Jesus Christ returns” (1 Peter 1:7). In Christ, we can face the trials of life with grace and good humor and complete faith that whatever God has for us is okay. This comes from years of walking with Him, trial upon trial, struggle upon struggle.”

I think that rather than hiding, inert with fear, from the trials that are facing me, I would instead “put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11) and “fight the good fight in faith” (1Timothy 6:12) and “endure hardship… like a good soldier of Christ” (2Timothy 2:3).  This life is so short.  There is much to overcome and much still facing me.  Through the lessons this Lent in keeping the Holy Silence and enduring these trials through my re-invigorated faith in Christ, I can reach for the sunshine instead of the shadows.  I can choose to be the eternal optimist and placing my trust in Christ and His promises, I can step out in faith.

Psalm 142,3

“…let him become a fool…”

Zosimas_and_Mary_of_EgyptSts. Zosimas and Mary of Egypt (April 1st)

Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He takes the wise in their own craftiness.” (1Corinthians 3: 18-19)

Today is April 1st, also known as April Fool’s Day. I find it interesting that it falls just after Easter Sunday this year.  As if to make light of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ; that it never took place.  There are so many theories out there about the whole process. Historians often find things that happened just too uncomfortable to deal with, so they explain them away.  In recent history, the Muslims have said the Holocaust never took place – it’s all faked by the western countries; an elaborate hoax to woo favor for the emerging powerhouse of Israel. I personally know some Holocaust survivors, have spoken with them, have seen their tattoos, and have listened to their gruesome stories.  I believe.  But I believed before I met them; I saw pictorial evidence; I listened to eyewitness accounts from soldiers who rescued those left in the Concentration Camps. I believe.  There are other instances where people are taken in by hoaxes.  Stories abound of people whose life savings were taken by hucksters, selling them the dream of getting rich, quick.  To me, there is no scheme worth my savings.  Hard work and the sweat of one’s own brow!  Even after being taken in and feeling used or stupid, there is always a way to look at things with a positive faith, with trust.  Our faith is the same way.

There are so many detractors to Christianity.  There are even more detractors from under the masthead of Christianity who believe that organized religion is the “Bride of Satan,” most especially the most visible Church, the Catholic Church.  I find it humorous that the Church is the first one to be picked on by so many, especially the liberal media and Hollywood!  But when they need a religious expert, or some sort of icon to portray the religiosity of a scene in a movie, they trot out a priest in Roman collar, or show an iconic view of a Roman Catholic Church.  Why? Because it is the most visible faith; almost everyone has had some sort of interaction sometime in their life with something Catholic.  It is a visible, tangible symbol of Christianity.  And because it is all of that and more, it has the most detractors.  Being a Byzantine Catholic is an entirely different kettle of fish.  We are perhaps the most misunderstood part of the Christian, Catholic picture.  Many of our Catholic friends assumed we’d left the Church altogether, upon our switch to Byzantine worship.  So many people only know that visible Church; they do no realize the true ethnic and religious diversity of the Church they belong to.  So really, how could we of the Byzantine tradition ever hope that anyone would understand us, other than ourselves?  The Orthodox aren’t sure what to do with us, either!  We have the same Divine Liturgy, but we are aligned with Rome; they are not.  And I am sorry for that, because I identify much more with Orthodoxy than I do with Romanism in theological outlook and religious practice.  We Melkites have been laughingly referred to as the Orthodox of the West on more than one occasion, because we seem the most Orthodox of the Byzantine rites; perhaps we are.  Up here in the Pacific Northwest, there are more people from Northern climates across Europe, and the rites that geographically and socially come with them.  There are lots of Ruthenian and Ukrainian parishes, and many, many Russian churches.  Some of the Russian churches are Orthodox, some are Byzantine.  We even have a Romanian monastery nearby, who keep the Orthodox calendar, but are also in union with Rome.  All of this diversity, for me, is heaven-sent.  It gives me such joy to know the many manifestations of the Church around the world.  Wherever the Apostles and Disciples went, they established Christ’s Church on the earth, as He had mandated to them (“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19)  One of the unique things about our faith is that these Apostles and Disciples reached the people where they were; they incorporated local custom, tradition, folklore, dress, music, and food into the formalized worship of Christ.  (And yes, the Church also incorporated common festivals, seasons, and dates, to further ease people into practicing their new-found Christian faith).  And because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, they did it without diluting Christ’s message, or changing a single word He told them.  We  believe the age of revelation died with the last Apostle.  God’s message was complete in the Apostles He sent forth. There is nothing new to be revealed to man.  That is a sticking point with Protestants and other sects that have branched off from Catholicism.  They believe their pastors and other mystics have been given prophetic powers, that there is still much God wishes to share with humanity, that is new and revelatory.  One of my favorite scriptures is the Old Testament book of Jeremiah. In Chapter 23, he pretty much lays it on the line insofar as false prophets go.  There are so many memorable quotes in that chapter and one of them is: ‘“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.’ That is how the chapter opens and it goes from there.

The point here is that we believe. Period. We are believers because we heard the Good News of Christ’s love for us and we believe it all.  (eg. John 6: 48-59)  We received this message from those who heard it from Christ Himself, through Apostolic succession.  That means that once the Word was given to the Apostles, as they went around the world establishing the Church, they passed this Word onto their successors.  They passed this on directly to their successors through the laying on of hands, which was first described in the book of Acts:  “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17, ESV)  

Priests hands aloft incenseThis act of laying hands on an apostle so they could receive the Holy Spirit has continued since, unbroken.  For someone like me, who loves history, pomp and circumstance, and all-things old, it comforts my heart and my spirit to know my faith is an unbroken line or connection, back to the Apostles themselves, who learned at the knee of Christ, God made Man, on earth.  There can be no April Fool’s joke played on me when it comes to my faith. No false prophets can assuage me away from my God, my worship, my love of the Lord. It is a basic relationship that I wish others could experience, or see, or recognize.  So many get caught up in the externals that they do see.  The world wants a representation of religion and they trot out a priest….not a pastor, not a minister from an obscure off-shoot of Catholicism….they want a priest.  Because there is universal recognition in the person of the priest, that Christ is present with us, visibly, in His Church.  When a Byzantine or Orthodox priest walks about in his rason or tunic, people notice.  It does not look like a Roman collar, worn with a black shirt and normal slacks; it is a long, black robe, reminiscent of days gone by.  The visible sign of our faith is in our Priest.  And it is different; it stands apart from a Roman collar, and it is symbolic of the Church that is in the world.  We are diverse and we worship in a divergent manner from the Roman Church, but we share the same faith.  No April Fool’s joke, no manner of ill-speaking of our practices will make it untrue or non-existent.  The Muslims want the Holocaust to go away; they want Christianity to go away.  It is not happening.  “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 18-20)  Christ left us His Church, the Word of God, intact in His Church and He will be with us until the end of the age.  Thanks be to God. And there is nothing foolish about that.

Sunlight divine liturgy