I had a nice chat with my mom today. She is 83 and lives in a retirement facility in Southern California. I always get, “It’s so pretty here. The sky is so blue and not a cloud in the sky! It’s going to be a gorgeous day today.” I am loosing my mom a little more each day; she has Alzheimer’s and the progression is inevitable. Sometimes we have a fruitful conversation and we don’t repeat for, perhaps, 10 minutes. And then it’s back to, “It’s so pretty here. The sky is so blue…” Today she kept saying, “It doesn’t matter where you go, you pay a price for where you live” at every opportunity she could wedge it in. She gets on kicks like that and we just have to talk it all the way out, so she can move on. She told me at least three times that she was getting dressed for lunch. And, “Well, I could have it worse. It’s a pretty nice place. But of course, you pay a price for where you live, you know.” Ha-Ha. I love her so much. At least she is happy and seems content. Gradually, as with all Alzheimer patients, you just stop thinking about what you forget and it eventually becomes lost in a haze forever. Even now, as my mom is at lunch with her friends, she does not recall we spoke today. It is a horrible disease.
And as God is good and would do something for my happiness, I no sooner hung up with my mom than my daughter-in-law came by for a drop-in visit with my grandchildren. It made my day. And as I sat holding my 4-month-old grand daughter, I reveled in the marvelous relationship building with both her and my daughter-in-law. (Actually, I am blessed with two amazing women who married my sons. They could not have found better mates! I feel like I now have two daughters, but more importantly, two friends). And as I held my grand daughter and watched her giggles, drools, and smiles, I fell in love all over again. I thought of the wonderful thread of lives, all the generations, in fruition in my grand daughter. “And I make all things new.” God re-energizes our family each time it grows and expands. And each time I am presented with a grandchild, my heart expands again, re-energizing me and filling me with love.
I told my mom this morning that I think I was born to be a grandmother. This particular time of my life, right now, and in the coming years, are my best. I love some of the early years when my boys were young and we lived on a dairy farm. Those days are precious to me, and I look on them as my “good old days.” It was carefree in a way I haven’t had since. All that taken into consideration, I think I have grown to be a better person over the years and am disposed to my grandchildren much better because of the times gone by. Of course, I still have a 15-year-old at home, so I am also still raising a young man, and that helps me relate to my older sons and their wives in a way I never thought I would have. It is a difference and it’s like we’re becoming friends, and I love it!
“For everything there is a season…” Ecclesiastes 3 has so much wisdom to share. We all have times in our lives where certain things are appropriate. We grow to fill the time we occupy. For example, one of my mom’s favorite sayings is, “Children are for the young.” I didn’t fully appreciate that until I grew into my late 50s. And now I have patience and time for children, but even more so, I have boundless patience and time for my grandchildren. I know I am blessed!
“…a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
(Ecc 3: 2)
In our lives, the cycles move…and they don’t stop because we would like them to. They keep on moving; that clock keeps ticking. I like to explain it as a “generational shift.” One day you look around your life and realize you are now your mother; she is now your grandmother, and your children are now you. Your place and perspective have changed; you moved up a rung. And it feels odd sometimes, because you feel like a teenager in your head, but when you look in the mirror, the gray hair and wrinkles remind you that you so are not. (Even if you still secretly feel like you’re still “cool” and can rock it! Ha-Ha!!).
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;” (Ecc 3:11-12)
As I struggle through Great Lent this week, I keep my eye focused on the prize: my eternity. God and His Church gives me this time every year to stop and re-focus my energies and my daily life onto my eternity. It is a time for reflection, for prayer, for penance, and for almsgiving. For me, almsgiving has always been something more of the heart than of the wallet. Some of the most satisfying days I have ever enjoyed were shopping at the local food bank and buying food to make for our homeless and needy population, who surrounded our parish in SoCal. I would go to the local foodbank and fill my suburban to the brim and load up my two boys still at home, and off we would head to the parish. I would set them up with a table and chairs to do their schoolwork (homeschooling mom here) and then I would head to the kitchen. I loved the afternoons of chopping, slicing, and dicing with the other ladies of our parish. We had such a great time. And that type of almsgiving, to me, is just so satisfying. We were making a difference in our community. I miss those days. And during Lent, the people who came to be fed knew we fasted, and they loved how we made fasting food that tasted good! They often stayed to listen to Evening Prayers (Vespers) we had after we had cleaned up. The candles, the incense, drew them in and gave them a respite from the ugliness out there.
We can all struggle through Lent, or we can be joyous about it, while we struggle. Remember the admonishment in Scripture? Matthew 6: 16-18 tells us: “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
We are all called to make something of this time of fasting. I have been shown so many wonderful things. I have seen my blessings in the lives of the family we have gathered around us, and those we hold dear in our hearts who live far away. I have been blessed with friends; some who I have loved for decades, and some new ones, too. I have been taken to a land that has gotten under my skin and a place that I don’t see me ever leaving. I am not even anxious to vacation away from it, as there is still so much to see and experience. My faith has been widened to allow for “other” and “different” to be accepted and even welcomed. This Pascha will be my first one celebrating with Slavonic traditions and I am so excited! The baskets, the covers, the red eggs…I am really looking forward to it and am loving all the prep for it! One thing that is hitting me very strongly this Lent, and it is a great truth I am learning, well worth the “look-see” time of the fast, is this:
I am here, I am still me. My zip code is really different than last Lent. My entire life is upside down. The view is drastically changed, as well as the environment I find myself in. I left all that was familiar, and so many relationships. I miss my friends, but I have also been taught the value of friendship and who are my true friends. As my mom said today, “It doesn’t matter where you go, you pay a price for where you live.” She is so right-on (‘Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom.’ Job 32:7) but I should not be surprised. Lots of people in my mom’s life chose to ignore her for her intelligence (she was usually eclipsed by someone else around her) but she always had wise things to say, if you but sat and listened to her. Her tongue was sharp, as was her mother’s before her, but once she aged, she imparted more wisdom than vinegar! And now I find myself listening to her today and thinking on her wise words to me. She misses me because I am so far away, but she understands my need to go. She left New Zealand to come to America with my dad; she knows what it is like to leave all you know for the unknown, and how to make a life where you are, still retaining who you are, while remaining open to new things.
For this Lent, one of the biggest lessons to me is that things are not what I had in my head; I am where I am and guess what? I brought baggage with me. And now I am being shown all these blessings and learning the baggage is far less important to me, as I have opened myself to growth. I am finding a peace that I never realized I lacked. God is good, so good, if we just sit still and allow His presence to be the most important thing in our lives, allowing Him room to do His great work in us. I am still learning and I am more than halfway “home.”
“Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:5)