“..to fight the fear of the unknown…”

Man before cloudsSometimes we face a deep unknown.  And time stands still in so many ways, until we take that first, tentative step into it.  I was thinking about this as I prepared to delve into my world of medical bills.  It’s so fun (*sarcasm alert*), trying to reconcile who is billing you for what, and what your insurance has paid, and if you are paying too much.  The pile was large and our budget is small, and so I was intimated.  Once everything was done, it was not as bad as I had originally thought.  And my husband said to me, “Sometimes we need to just do it and we will find out it’s not so bad.”  There is a lot of wisdom in that. (Another reason I am blessed to be married to that man!).

“We associate fear with danger because that is how our body interacts with our God given motivation for self preservation. When we go into a dark room, we might sense fear, especially if we are apprehensive about the dark, but that does not mean that there actually is a danger. It only means that there is an unknown, and that unknown can breed fear – fear of the unknown. To fight the fear of the unknown, counteract it with faith based on the known – the known will of God.” (Scriptures Against Fear at HopeFaithPrayer.com)

“The fear of man brings a snare: but who puts his trust in the LORD shall be safe.” Proverbs 25:29

There are many things in life we fear, and often our fear ‘gets the best of us’ because we have no place to hang on to, no firm foundation beneath us.  For me, I often fear my security of having a certain bank balance scare me from taking care of things in a more timely matter. Quite often, I will also put up with aches and pains because I fear doctor’s bills, and some horrid diagnosis.  Usually, once that is faced, it melts into nothing and I realize I created my own fear, my own unease, my own insecurity.  When I wake at night in a sweat, freaking out over some unknown thing, I try to pray and drink some warm milk.

Carry HellOur Thoughts Determine Our Lives is a book I quote from often and to be honest, it is truly one of those books that fundamentally changed how I think and how I look at things.  But I am also very human, and I forget the adages; I fail to remember the comfort found in Elder Thaddeus’ words; I forget to read Scripture to ease my mind. And so I create my own sort of hell…one solely made in my head, but which affects everything and everyone around me.  I project my fears, or my hell, into all that I do. I can motivate others to a higher good, or I can welcome them to wallow in my grit and grime.  But that is not God’s call to me, and that is what I need to listen to.  Not my fears or worries or concerns, but God’s call to me.

“For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

I am working at starting some new things.  And it feels like that stack of medical bills…in that it is a large undertaking and my “budget” (in this case my self-confidence) is a little lacking.  And for those who read this post and know me well, they will find that humorous. I’ve never been known to shirk or avoid diving into anything.  First one off a cliff or first one to share in a group…that’s me!  But as I get older, I find myself being discouraged more often. “Is this worth the effort?”  “Do I really want new (and more) drama in my life?”  “Is this the right thing to do?”  “Will my actions even help?”  Those are all skittering through my head.  And I know that I can help and can make a difference, but I am also at the point of being a part of that same 10% who is always “doing things” in any organized group – and it does get sort of old.  Ha-Ha!  Always being in that small group of people who dig in and get it done, and not one of those who is unknown by the group at large and contributes little, gets tiring – honestly. There are some other, amazing people, with so many gifts to offer, who do nothing. And that is perhaps out of a place of fear, or lack of self-confidence. I sure wish I could somehow motivate them to become leaders, too.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 

I know I have a firm foundation in my faith. I have gone through so much to become a comfortable Melkite Greek Catholic. I don’t feel any burning to explore further; I have found my spiritual home.  Although my journey of faith has been convoluted and rocky, often off the path to God completely,  I am at a place in my life where I am comfortable with what I believe, with what I know, and I feel like my foundation in this, my faith, grounds me.  As it said in Timothy above, God has given us power and a sound mind, and in Romans we are told that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” I need to rest in those promises more often, not fearing to launch into new things, based on faith.

Armor of GodAnd so I am determined to gird my loins (Ephesians) and prepare to wade into some rough waters, wearing the full Armor of God, and I know that God is with me, “for your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23). I will pray and ask God for comfort, strength, and soundness of heart, soul, and mind.  It is His call I will heed, laying aside my own fears, and resting in His promises and His grace.  I am blessed.

Isaiah 41-10

 

 

Advertisements

“Here are my wounds; here is my sore…”

I’m not perfect; certainly not even close to being perfect in pretty much any category.  I’m the biggest sinner I know.  It is part of our make-up; our sinful nature. I trip all the time. I trip daily.  But I do get back up. I do try.  And I believe that when we are hit by something, are tripped up, we need to address it and work to make it better.  And I’ve been pondering this subject all day…well, actually since Easter.

I read this article about forgiveness today that a friend shared. (Look at the link here: http://www.cuppacocoa.com/a-better-way-to-say-sorry/). The article spoke to how a teacher in a classroom setting worked on getting her students to forgive one another. And I really liked what she said (and wish I had of thought of this when my kids were young!).  There are 4 parts to trying to mend a relationship and they are:

1. I’m sorry for…

2. This is wrong because….

3. In the future I will….

4. Will you forgive me?

And as she spoke about how it had worked with her 4th graders (average about 9 years old) I thought about a relationship I have that needs mending.  Could I use this in an adult setting?

220px-Jerusalem_cross.svgI have this burgundy, leather-bound little book I carry with me at all times and it is called, “Holy Things for the Holy!” and it was published in 2006 by the Eparchy of Newton (Melkite).  There is a gorgeous Jerusalem cross on the cover (like the one above). This book has the Canons and Prayers for Holy Communion, Repentance, and Holy Confession.  Archbishop Cyril wrote a wonderful introduction to it and in it he said, “Before this awesome, Heavenly Presence, we cannot but be aware of our littleness, our unworthiness, and our sinfulness.” He goes on to say, “For the Christian, repentance is a way of life – a continual heartfelt turning toward God in love and, at the same time, a mindful turning away from sin and self-centeredness in humility.”  We can approach the Mystery of Confession to Our Lord in the same way that we seek forgiveness from a friend on the playground; it is truly that simple.  In the back of the book there is a section on the Mystery of Confession and it quotes St. John Climacus: “Uncover and show your wounds to this physician and putting shame underfoot say, ‘Here are my wounds, here is my sore, here is the fruit of my weakness. None but I am responsible; it is indeed I who am to blame.'”

In keeping with the idea of the article and with the information I continue to find in my little book, it somehow makes it easier to seek forgiveness and to heal a breach in a relationship, when we take the whole of it onto ourselves. It seems so little in comparison to the weight of the Cross which Our Lord carried for us.  It is hard to swallow our pride and to take the whole of the blame for something onto ourselves, and to just seek forgiveness.  To let ourselves be completely at fault goes against our interior need to protect ourselves.  I believe that being right is something that makes us feel our armor is strong and in the right places – we all seem to erect these imaginary fences where we stand behind, ready to defend ourselves. Even in marriage it is often difficult to lay open all the weakness, in fear of someone getting that close to us.

Psalm 91-11And so I thought I would begin applying these 4 steps towards repairing relationships that need it.  I have a sense of who I am talking to, but I might have hurt people and be unaware of it, which is almost worse.

I’m sorry for my actions or lack of action, or perhaps my use of words that has caused you pain. If I have harmed you through my words or actions, or inaction, I am truly sorry.  There are people in our lives that no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we give, it isn’t right nor is it ever enough.  Do we keep on giving? Do we keep on trying?  Sometimes there are people who just drain us and we try to meet their needs but always seem to be lacking in some way.  In those situations, we know that it is not totally our fault. It can be this person needs someone “more” in their lives.  Perhaps we are not the right person to meet their needs.  But it does not mean we stop and we do not try; that we do not seek to help them, even if it is in too small of a way to really make an impact.

This is wrong because I need to be there for you; I need to be the best person I can be for you.  It is wrong to turn someone away, to ignore them, or to treat their issues or pain lightly.  I have this scenario in my imagination that can best be described as a woman standing in a crowd of people, and there is this annoying gnat irritating her by flying around her face, and she is constantly swatting at it, while ignoring it at the same time.  If we put ourselves in this situation, that gnat can be a person trying to get our attention; someone trying to fit into a social setting (or business setting) who just wants to be a part of whatever it is we are doing.  For whatever reason it may be, we are trying to deflect them and ignore them, hoping they will just bother someone else.  And that is so desperately wrong.  I recently encountered a situation of what I call “discriminatory behavior.” In my situation, there was someone being excluded and treated differently than the rest of the group.  That is making someone feel like an outsider, or not good enough (by whatever stick is being used to measure them) to join more fully into the group.  That is discrimination by any other name.  How often do we find ourselves excluding someone because they just don’t quite “measure up”?  Measure up to what?  Our standards? Our expectations?  Well, I am certainly not one of the “in crowd.” I’m a middle-aged (man, I hate admitting that), overweight, gray-haired woman.  What makes me think I can exclude anyone?  I am also the wife of an ordained Deacon.  How could I exclude any of our flock? Any of our faithful?  It is wrong; it is hurtful; and it is certainly not Christian. And this is just wrong.

Fisheyeview.churchinterior.russiaIn the future, I envision a church where we are all welcome, regardless of the measurements anyone can use or devise. I envision a society where no one ever feels excluded.  To that end I will endeavor, in the future, to contribute to those visions by how I behave. In the future I will endeavor to include those who feel marginalized and those I may have inadvertently made feel apart or separate from the life I am living. In the future, I will work to become more cognizant of those who feel this way now, working to ease that pain in their lives.

Church.Savior of Spilled Blood. RussiaIn most Orthodox and many Eastern Catholic Churches, there are no pews.  In the fish-eye photo (two above) taken of an Orthodox Church in Russia, one can see the wide open spaces. In the above photo of the Church of Our Savior Spilled Blood, also in Russia, you can plainly see there are no pews.  In Medieval times, no Churches had pews.  When Royalty wanted to not “mix with the masses” they had boxes constructed where they could stand, apart from the “rest,” in their little fenced-off areas.  Once the Royals felt they were supposed to have their own space in churches and were too weary to stand for the long prayer services, pews were introduced, still with little fences around them.  If you attend Church in a Church of England parish in England, there are boxes and pews all over the place.  Usually the names of the people to whom the boxes belong have their names on them. Churches are arranged a little differently in Church of England parishes.  (Episcopal churches in the USA have boxed pews in the ones considered to be “High Church” wherein the traditional masses are said. The lower churches do not have boxes, but still have pews). In many Protestant churches, especially those in early America, we also have boxed pews. Methodist and United Methodists use boxed pews in some of their older churches.  It isn’t as common as it once was.

386920_371544942914698_1360739825_nIf we did not have pews, we would stand shoulder-to-shoulder in Church.  The Orthodox have some mighty long services (Easter Vigil can be 4 hours or more) and everyone is standing.  In some Eastern Catholic churches, we have chairs instead of pews and people can opt to sit if they need to, but many prefer to stand the entire Divine Liturgy.  There are some postures that are proper for certain times during Liturgy, and some that are not.  We do not genuflect except during Lent.  We do not kneel in eastern Churches; it just is not part of our charism.  Standing is pretty much a proper posture almost all the time in Eastern and Orthodox Churches.  Children are free to wander around and witness Church up close and personal.  I would love to see our parish return to the days of no pews.  By standing next to one another and supporting one another, you are brought closer. In the future, I would love to stand with you, worshiping Our Lord.

boys in church(There’s a great Facebook page called “Children in Orthodox Churches” and I took this photo from their page. These kids are just so cute!).

And now that I have come to the fourth step, in seeking to repair a relationship, I ask forgiveness.  If I have offended you in any way, please forgive me. The same way I seek forgiveness from an earthly friend, I always seek forgiveness from Our Lord each and every time I fail; each time I trip and fall all over my best intentions, I scrape off the dirt and seek to start again.  It is one of the beautiful things about being a Christian.  This process of forgiveness is continual.  Rather than just one moment and ZAP – I am clean forever! As St. John Climacus said,  “Uncover and show your wounds to this physician and putting shame underfoot say, ‘Here are my wounds, here is my sore, here is the fruit of my weakness. None but I am responsible; it is indeed I who am to blame.'” I believe God is a loving and generous God and walks with us on our journey of theosis, and He is there, lifting us up after each fall from grace.  No, salvation is not something I earn, but it is something I seek continuously.  And forgiveness is something I strive for, here on earth from my friends and family, but it is also something I seek continually in the eyes of God.  Standing shoulder to shoulder with my fellow believers, I seek to praise God, to worship Him, and to be working towards my ultimate state of Grace…being with Him in Heaven, forever forgiven.

cropped-lofe-of-pi.jpg

 

 

“…and will bring you into your own land.”

“For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.” (Ezekiel 36)

0804-ss-glacier-1A year ago today we arrived in Alaska.  We were beat up.  It had been a long and arduous journey to arrive in one piece.  We chose to leave the “lower 48” for many reasons.  I loved living in Washington.  A trip to a local farm to buy pumpkins by the pound was one of our best times in Washington.  I loved wandering Pike’s Market and getting fresh flowers and a cup of coffee from the original Starbucks, as well as the deals on local cheeses and vegetables.  I came to love the season of fall in Washington.  One of our most memorable Thanksgivings was spent with dear friends and family just north of Seattle. Living in Washington was a preparatory move and very good for us.

wet pumpkinsBut we had decisions to make about our living and work situation and we missed, terribly, our children and grandson who lived in Alaska.  Our middle son was in the midst of getting married and setting up his household, not knowing where he would live, and encouraged us to get away and live closer to his big brother.  So, we packed up 30 years of marriage and memories into a 20+ foot U-Haul truck, loaded our pets and suitcases in our car, and off we went, into a very uncertain future.

Alaska.dirt roadI learned to drive on ice – on “all weather” tires, no less.  The AlCan Highway is truly an experience I will never forget – nor will I ever repeat it.  Our journey to Alaska was one that was charged with so many emotions.  The physical part of the journey was harrowing and nerve-wracking, and extremely tiring. I remember at one point asking our then-14-year-old if he thought we would see Alaska over the next mountain…all I got from him was a grunt.  (He was thrilled with the trip because he played his x-box non-stop!  I don’t think he looked outside unless I told him to).  Our U-Haul truck was full and heavy and ungainly on those snowy and icy roads.  Watching behind me as the snow and ice gathered on the windshield of the truck and Ed reaching out the window – while driving – to try and clear it! Scared me to death, but we were so afraid to pull over and stop because the terrain was erratic and we were not sure if we were on the road or off the road. These crazy truck drivers would zoom past our little caravan with no warning and nary a peek in our direction – talk about “ice road truckers”!!!! They would spray snow and ice all over us. I was shocked at how fast they drove on those harrowing roads. Learning later on that the roads are not even paved did nothing to enhance my memories!  Up and down, up and down, and around and around some pretty incredible curves on those mountains;  I am just glad it is done! I even bought myself a sticker that is on our refrigerator, “I survived the AlCan“! Ha! And I did.

Alaska2.2012When we crossed the Alaskan border, I cried.  We finally arrived!  We were in constant cell contact with our daughter-in-law most of the journey and we arranged to meet her and our little grandson for a burger before we followed her to our new home.  We were so thrilled to see a familiar face!  It also cemented for us why we made this amazing journey.  When we drove into town, seeing that Welcome sign that said we were home, I was never so excited to be “home” in my life.  Our little house, settled into its quiet corner of Alaska.  I think there are two stoplights here.  Two.  I love that I am far enough out of town to have the peace and quiet, and close enough to drive into it as often as needed.

I have learned so much about living in a snow state since moving here.  Things I never even thought of, growing up in SoCal.  And I have so many blessed memories packed into this last year, I am blown away.  While we have been here, we have seen the most incredible sights. This state is incredibly beautiful and still very wild.  We have had eagles in the trees in our yard.  We have had a moose lazily make its way through our yard, eating the leaves off the trees. The vistas here are simply breath-taking.  Every time we go out of our little house, we want to take photographs! We still feel like we are tourists. I am sure it will take years to feel like real Alaskans.

Alaska.sunSome of the amazing things we experienced over this past year only deepen our gratitude to God, as well as help us realize how blessed we are.  Our middle son welcomed his first child, a daughter, into the world in May.  What a blessing her arrival was!  I was thrilled to visit them in SoCal for her baptism and to spend some time with my mom. An incredible summer spent watching Andrew get in his glider and orientation flights with CAP.  And in October, our oldest son welcomed his second child, also a daughter, into the world.  We were actually here and were able to see her, hold her, and cry all over ourselves on the day of her birth.  What an amazing experience.  We’ve been here to celebrate holidays and birthdays with our oldest son and his growing family, which is something we have not been privileged to do in more than eight years.  We had Christmas with our grandchildren.  We have walked on glaciers.  We have seen the ocean, waterfalls, mountains, fields and fields of green, and gorgeous blue skies.  We have seen the wildlife here, just roaming freely.  It is truly amazing and I love it!

20140315--Dean-Biggins--U-S--Fish-and-Wildlife-Service-We left everything familiar behind us.  We left access to the “lower 48.”  We left friends of decades behind us.  We left adobe and tile roofs and they have been replaced with siding and downspouts that grow the most amazing icicles!  We’ve learned to shovel snow instead of dirt.  It is a simple life.  It is a quiet life.  We left the maze of freeways and highways and toll roads for a state that has no interstates and only 3 highways.  We have driven through some crazy snow storms, sliding all over the road, and barely able to see where we are going.  But we made it just fine.  My oldest son commented that I needed boots higher than my ankle for those “snow drifts” I may have to wade through. My return comment to him was, “I am the grandma. I have sons who will shovel or plow those out of my way for me.  I do not need high boots.”  He laughed when I reminded him that he was one of my sons! Ha-Ha!

water-cascading-from-a-bull-mooses-antlersWe have been exposed to one of the best homeschooling experiences I have ever had.  I have now homeschooled and/or had someone in school in three states and I can honestly say this is the best place to educate your child, hands down.  Over 60% of the state homeschools because of environment and location.  Because of that the materials and resources available to families is amazing.  In addition to receiving a top-notch education, our son has been reunited with a family we’ve been friends with for over 20 years, and their children.  It has been wonderful. He has been able to continue with his CAP involvement and is growing into an exceptional young man. He is making friends through CAP, through our parish community, and through our friends and outreach opportunities in homeschooling.  For our youngest son, this move was a blessing. He is looking forward to more hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and other outdoors experiences here.  Alaska is a place where you are constantly outside, exploring this wonderful place.

St. Nicholas of MyraAnd we found a new church home, as well.  We have struggled with our new parish because it is so unlike anything we’ve experienced as Melkite Greek Catholics.  We are changing, and our parish is undergoing major changes, but I tell you, we have been more welcomed here than in any of the churches we visited while in Washington.  And I am making some wonderful friends. I am learning all about new cultures (as I detailed in my Easter basket prep saga) and learning to appreciate new and different ways of doing things (even at my age, I can still be taught!!).  I have had to turn inward more and more, because I don’t have friends who drop in for tea or who I can pick up the phone and gab with. It’s hard when you have had intense friendships for so long, to not have your friends around you. But I know this is where God brought us, and He brought us here for a reason. I feel so blessed to be here.

  “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”- Anatole France

I truly believe God brought us through so many changes, out of a place that was not feeding our spirits, and into a land that is hard and tough and requires us to change not only who we are, but how we see who we are, in order to make us better people. There is a philosophy I have touched on many times in my posts on this blog and it is called, “Theosis.”  Many people mistake this for man thinking he can become God.  But rather, it is the process through which man becomes like God.  We aspire to all those qualities that God has, and we try to incorporate them into who we are.  We become as He is.  Each day we take steps towards our final destination. Each day we are faced with choices that make us more like God, or our choices take us further away from Him.  I have imagined the days when Adam and Eve strolled through the Garden, deep in conversation with God.  But they were tempted by the Serpent and they chose to eat of the Tree of Life.  Once they were equal with God, He cast them out of the Garden: “And then God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3: 22-24)  So it is not for us to become the same as God, nor is it for us to become a God.  But rather, it is for us to strive to be like Him in all things.  And I know I am in this place because it gives me a simplicity of life.  An approach that is simple and sincere, saved from much that used to distract me from pursuing the best of the person God wants me to be.  Each day is a step in the direction I choose for it to be.  And moving so far away; moving to a place that is incredibly beautiful but at the same time harsh in many ways, is proving to be the place where I can be tested and formed and made in the likeness of Him who sent me here.  It all began one year ago today, as I unloaded that first box. God is good and we are so blessed with this new life.

alaska.2012

 

Bright week….

I am laughing on the inside, because I have no voice to express it on the outside! God is having a great time with me. This is Bright Week! The week after Easter, where we in the Eastern Churches continue our celebration of the Paschal Divine Liturgy. There is no fasting allowed. Most who keep the strict Lenten fast don’t even want to see a vegetable in the house! Ha-Ha! This week is the week we keep celebrating the Risen Lord.  We greet one another with “He is Risen! He is truly Risen!” We smile, we laugh, we feast.  Because Our God has done what He promised us He would do.

Easter TableI prepared SOOOO much for Easter. This was my first year in preparing for Easter with a Slavic or Eastern European flavor/style to it. In the Eastern or Slavic nations, each family has a basket and each thing you put in the basket has special significance.  The particulars can vary by country and by ethnic tradition.  First of all, I hunted and hunted and hunted for the perfect Easter basket; it turns out I should have gone with the larger size, because I also prepared quite a lot to go inside it: (1) I prepared Lamb Butter (molded two, actually) by softening butter and placing it in a mold shaped like a lamb – lamb butter!; (2) I dyed 5 DOZEN Easter Eggs using all natural ingredients (brown onion skins, turmeric, and paprika);  (3) I made Easter Cheese called Hrudka (it’s called a custard cheese and from my point of view, as I was stirring it, I wanted to add some raisins and make a proper custard pudding); (4) I also made the traditional Easter bread called Paska or Paskha (2 loaves!!); (5) I made this spread by grating fresh beets, adding horseradish, and then adding a dash of sugar – my husband loved it.  There was also a shaker of Kosher salt in the basket, a small ham, some polska kielbasa, and a “rasher” of uncooked bacon (actually, it was more like several rashers, as a rasher is just a slice of bacon, but I love that word).  I decorated our family candle with crosses and bows and some pearls. It looked so nice!! And I ordered this hand-made cover off e-Bay by this wonderful Russian woman who hand-embroidered it with “Christ is Risen” on it (it was only $10 including shipping and I love it!! It was perfect!!) But, as Easter morning dawned, I knew I was sick.  And I mean SICK.  I did not even make it through the entire morning of prayers and Divine Liturgy. I did not even receive Our Lord in Holy Communion on Easter morning. I was passed out at the table by our basket. Ugh.  Our parish has this lovely tradition of setting the tables up in a “u” shape in the hall and everyone displays their baskets.  Their lovely covers are taken off the basket and laid in front of it, draping over the table.  As the priest walks by, he incenses and blesses each basket with holy water (in our case, it was a waterfall! Father was having so much fun – it made it very special). After the blessing, we share our food with one another, walking around the room, enjoying the Pascha celebration.

Easter Basket 2014On Holy Saturday evening, we attended our granddaughter’s Christening at the local Episcopal Church for their vigil services.  It was supposed to go from 8:00 – 10:00 pm but lasted until after 11:00 pm.  We enjoyed ourselves. They had the lighting of the fire outside, a procession indoors with everyone holding lit candles.  We had some lively music (a blue grass band was there and they were good) and sermon, and then they christened everyone who was prepared. Our granddaughter looked adorable in her Christening gown complete with matching bow and blinged-out cross (I loved it).  I have some wonderful photos of my husband holding our granddaughter after she was christened and both are smiling so big! It fully expressed our joy in the evening.  Then I started getting hot; as in “experiencing my own personal summer” sort of hot. And then my voice dropped a couple of octaves (whatever that is…I started to sound like a man, and I knew that was not good). We scurried home as soon as we could and I knew I would not have a healthy Easter morning.

He is risen.languagesEaster morning dawned and I was ill.  I was so looking forward to our first morning, sharing our baskets and having fun, at our new parish.  I had to leave Divine Liturgy because I started coughing and sweating, and feeling like I just wanted to curl in a ball under my blankets at home – I made it to our basket in the hall and just collapsed.  The rest of the parish processed to the hall and Father blessed our baskets amongst song, incense, and a waterfall of holy water. It was so much fun. He then called all the “littles” into the center of the tables, along with their baskets, blessed them and then the kiddos started to really have fun.  (In our tradition, no one can touch the contents of their baskets until they are blessed.  It takes a great deal of willpower for the kiddos; and for the adults.  There is usually lots of candy and meat!!)  I got myself a large coffee and plopped down by the basket. I didn’t want to get too close to anyone, but I had to crack some eggs, which I joyfully did.  My “warrior” egg was finally demolished by this lovely older woman (at least 80 years old) who promptly confiscated it!  We left before it was all over, because I was dead on my feet.

Basket blessing.2014We got home and I went to bed.  I’ve been mostly in bed since. I took naps most of Monday and just existed yesterday. Today I am so over being sick, but am still hacking and have no voice, and still feeling pretty lousy.  No voice is what my husband says is his Easter gift! Oh ha-ha!  But all this enforced quiet and stillness has been good for me.  Because I realized that all the prep, all the worry, all the hoopla did not really make the day any better – at least for me.  I was too sick to enjoy it all.  But HE still rose. HE still came for me.  HE touched me and has shown me that He is risen! Easter came because He promised us it would; nothing I did or did not do changed the fact of the Resurrection. He is Risen! He is truly Risen!

Holy SepulchreWhen I think of my paltry issues in comparison to people around the world, I am sort of pathetic to even complain. I read an article about the Palestinian Christians denied entry to the Holy Land.  The expression of difficulty they have being less than 50 miles from the Holy Sepulchre itself (pictured above) and not being allowed in by the Jewish authorities just broke my heart.  Several instances where mom or dad would get a permit, but none of the rest of the same family.  It’s just so sad.  However, there was a bit of good news, actually, from Lebanon. I watched one of those “flash mobs” start singing in a mall in Lebanon, the words to “Jesus is Risen” in Arabic.  Reminded me of my days of celebrating at our old Melkite parish!  The video is from 2011, but it is still amazing it exists!  (Watch it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0ZS9o6NLnM#t=87).  There was an article yesterday by the Melkite Patriarch about the Churches that were destroyed in Syria.  He is asking the world to acknowledge it as war crimes.  My Church is still standing.  Is yours?  Not to mention all the churches in Egypt that were destroyed.  And still the people come. They come because of what Christ promised each of us.

Egyptains prayingThere’s a wonderful tradition about the Holy Fire at the Sepulchre itself wherein a priest (different one each year) enters the tomb and his candle is lit – all by itself – every year. This “holy fire” is then shared by thousands of people, lit one candle at a time.  The photos this year were amazing.

israelfireinternal151So for me, sitting here feeling miserable, my heart still sings. My heart still knows.  I know that Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen! And He did that for me, for each of us, regardless of how we prepare to receive Him, or if we even noticed what day it was, or even if all we know about is Easter Egg hunts and pretty baskets and dresses and hats.  He still came; He died; He Rose.  I find such joy and comfort as we recite in the Nicean Creed:  “… who was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried; who rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and is enthroned at the right hand of the Father; who will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; and of whose kingdom there shall be no end…”  (*cough-cough; sniff-sniff* ). Regardless of how I prepared, of how aware I was of what was going on; how prepared so much of the world is or is not, it still happens.  He keeps His promises.  Always.

Tomb of Jesus Christ Jerusalem

 

“…My own personal flurry…”

The Easter prep is fully underway, and we are striving for a peaceful Easter.  Somehow I think it will be elusive this year.  There are so many little “peas in the mattress” of our lives right now that I am not sure how we will smoothly sail into Easter Sunday.  So I am burying myself in the preparatory portion of it.

St. Dimitri of RostovOnce in awhile (it seems to me) we need to regress to the simplest things.  We need to do away with the dross and the extras floating around us.  Sort of like one of those sensory deprivation tanks – we need to silence the chaos and we need to stop looking at the negative, and we need to focus ourselves on Christ.  For example, this week is called Holy Week for a reason.  We are preparing ourselves to welcome the Bridegroom.  It is the week of the ultimate sacrifice for each of us, death on a Cross.  And so I cling to the words of St. Dimitri of Rostov above and place myself with the Angelic Host, and I am praying, constantly praying, and I am clawing my way back to that peaceful place of Pascha prep!

Hand prayer incenseHave you ever experienced the sort of frustration where you shake inside? Where perhaps you are drawn to tears, but it’s not sad tears? They are tears of frustration and anger?  Well, I have.  Several times over the past week. I don’t think it’s good for my blood pressure or longevity!  Sometimes there are situations and people in our lives that make our stress levels just climb.  There are people who bring drama and chaos with them, because it is just how they operate.  And I seem blessed to have many of them a part of my life.  (Another occasion for prayer!).  Remember Pig Pen in the Peanuts cartoons?  He carried his own cloud of dirt around with him?  That can be a bad thing – like the stress and chaos and drama that just accompanies certain people.  Another way to approach it is like the snowman character in Frozen, Olaf. Princess Elsa makes him his own little snow cloud, his own personal “flurry,” so he can survive in summer – have you seen that? Olaf and his own personal snow flurry….

250px-Ownpersonalflurry!This character was so loveable.  He just wanted to experience summer, because he had never seen it.  He was so thankful that Elsa, through her snow magic, created a little snow flurry to accompany him wherever he went.  I was thinking about this (I have two grandchildren who both adore this movie – yes, we own a copy so they can watch it whenever they are here! And no, I will not expound on nor attach an audio file of any version of “Let it Go.” You are welcome). Olaf is happy that he can exist to see the flowers and the sunshine and not melt.  He is always smiling and laughing and looking for the good in everything around him.  Even though it is a cloud over his head, it is a cloud that keeps him alive, so it is a happy little flurry and a happy little snowman, Olaf.

Why can’t this be how we all operate? Even though it is a cloud that accompanies Olaf, it is a joyous one, because it keeps him alive.  Our cloud is the joy we find in Christ, in the Holy Spirit who enervates our very lives.  In the Melkite Church (and most of Byzantine worship) we have this amazing ceremony mid-day on Holy Saturday. It is about the “New Light.”  We light our new Easter Candle, which we will use the rest of the year; this is the beginning of our new Liturgical year. The first, tentative announcements about the Resurrection are made. I love thinking about the women who went to the Tomb early in the day and found the guards asleep and the Tomb empty.  It was very early in the morning; the towns around the Tomb, and the people in them, still slept.  The women ran back to tell the Apostles what they saw and heard.  They spoke to an “angel” and saw an empty Tomb, the cloth laying in a heap. Those are the first whispers that Christ has risen..that He is not in the Tomb.  That Liturgy is so beautiful.   It is the early Light of the Truth of Christ’s Resurrection that is being shared, one voice at a time, with the Apostles.

Hand cupped candleWe can carry this Light with us; we can choose to share the Light of Christ with others; we all carry our own personal flurry of goodness, peace, love, and light with us. Or we can hide our Light under our bushel basket of anger, frustration, hate, prejudice – all the negativity swirling around us.  We can choose how our world is, around each of us, by the way in which we approach our lives.  Elder Thaddeus, in his book entitled, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, ” tells us:

“Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture.  If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind then that is what our life is like.  If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.”  He further shares that “everything, both good and evil, comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become reality…when we labor in the fields of the Lord, we create harmony.  Divine harmony, peace, and quiet spread everywhere.”  He then tells us what the opposite things can do to us: “However, when we breed negative thoughts, that is a great evil.  Where there is evil in us, we radiate it among our family members and wherever we go.  So you see, we can be very good or very evil. If that’s the way it is, it is certainly better to choose good!  Destructive thoughts destroy the stillness within, and then we have no peace.” (Page 63).

250px-OlafsvenfrozendisneyLittle Olaf is just a simple example of how we often choose to be sad that our lives are so limited.  He was going to melt and his life would be over as soon as Spring came to their Kingdom.  Or, once he had his own personal flurry, he chose to relish the moments, smelling flowers and playing with his buddy, Sven, the reindeer.  We have our own personal flurry we can carry with us everywhere and in every circumstance, the Holy Spirit.  We have God.  We can choose to put our faith aside, to relegate God and our life of faith to only an hour on a Sunday, and relish in the angry moments, loosing our heads over them, so to speak.

250px-OlafrearanfeChrist calls us to our better selves, not our lesser selves. My prayer for the rest of this Holy Week is to embrace the better self Christ is calling me to be.  I will endeavor to be the wife, friend, sister, daughter, mother, grandmother, mother-in-law – all the roles of who I am called to be – to my utmost, not my least.  I will prepare to walk with My Lord down that horribly painful road to Cavalry, where He sacrificed Himself for me.  With my own personal flurry surrounding me – the Holy Spirit – I will walk to that empty Tomb with the women, quietly seeking He Who is Risen.

Tomb of Jesus Christ Jerusalem

“…and some are first who will be last.”

CharacterI have been pondering so much lately, but writing very little. I even stopped my poetry because life just, well, interfered, as life does.  One thing that has come through in so many areas recently is the subject of Character.  Now, I am not speaking to the idea of someone who makes you laugh and does funny things, as in, ” He’s such a character!”  But rather to the core of who someone truly is.  Because I have seen quite recently that the character that we put out there towards other people, and the character that makes up our very marrow, can be quite, quite different.

Gerontissa GabrieliaI wonder why honesty in our dealings with others is such a hard thing to do.  There are people we all know who change, depending upon the audience. There was a woman I worked with and she was in a position of authority and was quite intimidating at the office. I was invited to her home one Friday evening and came away from that so changed in my attitude towards her as a person. I had no idea she was so nice!  We laughed and had such a wonderful time. Back at work, she reverted to her office “persona;” I much preferred the other woman! Ha-Ha! But I understood her reasoning and I also came to know her better, so that we had lunch quite often and we laughed at jokes and could have a much better relationship at work.  But I asked her why we did not get to see the “real” her at work and she told me it was because she had so much authority and had to impose so much disciplinary action towards employees, that she needed to keep herself a little removed from everyone. She was also worried no one would respect her if she were too nice.  It’s been many years now, but I still always wondered why we can’t just be who we are, with everyone we interact with.

Recently, I was taken in by someone who pretended to be a friend, and who exhibited what I had thought were admirable qualities: volunteerism, camaraderie, leadership, faith, and a strong character.  I literally trusted this person with the lives of those I love. Literally.  And it has come to light recently that it was a huge sham. This person is nothing in ‘real life’ that was trotted out for all of us to see. It turns out the faith is something worn like a suit, but not practiced.  The character was barely skin deep.  The leadership, I devastatingly learned, was by intimidation and coercion, with lots of profanity thrown in for good measure.

Gerontissa Gabriella.2When we interact with people, they trust that “what they see is what they get.”  We implicitly trust others in lots of ways.  We trust our bank to do right with our money and not play fast and loose with our funds. We trust the grocery store to not sell us tainted or bad food.  We trust the gas station to sell gas that honestly is gas and not something watered down that damages our cars.  We trust that when the mechanic says he changed the oil, he really did.  We trust our doctors when they say we need surgeries.  We trust our children’s teachers, their leaders in organizations to have their best interests at heart – and when we leave them for the day (or event, or week, or whatever it is) we trust our children are safe and in capable hands.  We trust our friends to be honest with us; when we ask them to pray for us, we know they will.  We trust our priest – he brings us Christ through his ordination and holy hands.  There are so many people we trust in life, we just don’t think about it all the time. And when your trust with someone is shattered, it can be unraveling.  Like you have to physically take a step back.  And I have – I did.  And I sat down, amazed at the turn of events I had witnessed, and I am just pondering this whole concept of trust and character.

Orthodox NotesOur words and how we treat other people truly do become our actions.  And those actions can become habitual (which is another thing about Lent I am grateful for – a specific time each year I can turn inward and fix those nasty things keeping me from being a better person) if we do not stay on that.  And our habits become the character of who we are.  And that, in turn, determines our destiny. Am I a liar? Do I cheat people regularly?  Am I an honest person? Do I lie? Even silly, white lies, to cover a silly transgression? Or do I own up to who I am and what I have done, trying to atone for that and become better?  Has my character become infected with poor choices of words and deeds, habits that have taken me over?

“And He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them,“Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from Me, all you evildoers. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30)

I love that Scripture verse. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  God is among us.  In each of us.  And how we treat others affects His Kingdom.  Will you be known, or will the door be closed and He will know you not? I am thinking more and more about this as I have been shown how duplicitous people can be.  I still believe that honesty in all things is what God is calling us to. I believe He knows who we are, and He desires us to be more and more like Him in all things…that old Theosis philosophy.  And I truly believe that those who pump themselves up in the eyes of others, and who do so lying their way to the top, will be like those in that last statement, “And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”

And one of the most amazing things I have gleaned from this introspective time is that God truly has this in hand, and He has all things. I need to “let go and let God,” allowing Him to work in all things, for our good. Little by little, I see good triumphantly making its way forward.  Little things are happening that show me sometimes the bad is allowed for good to triumph.  And I am getting out of my own way, by learning to discern in silence all these things, for my own growth and betterment.

KeepCalm.PaschaIt is wonderful to know that during Holy Week, as we begin to gradually turn our attention to Our Lord and His lonely walk to Calvary, that things in our lives can mirror it in a cosmic, esoteric way (certainly not like Our Lord suffered).  We all go through our moments of intense suffering, of questioning everything, and having to walk through it, in order to get to the other side, clinging to our own Cross.

I still believe honesty, transparency, and character all count.  They are all characteristics of a person who truly cares for others and is honestly trying to be a Christian disciple.  And I still know that when I am hoodwinked and when someone turns out to be far, far less than I had imagined them to be, I will mourn. It is a physical loss of a friend and an emotional scar.  But I also know Christ allows these things for my edification and growth, for my own character development.

HolyOilCandle.HolyBookThe first three days of Holy Week are treated as sort of one day.  We focus on the Bridegroom and the preparation.  We read today of the virgins and their lamps and of the ten talents.  The gifts we are given and how we use them to best prepare ourselves for the Coming of the Bridegroom, Christ Our Lord.  And preparing for His Coming is something we do all the time, every day, in how we spend our days and our time.  We pray.  We reflect.  We attend services.  We seek confession.  We keep our lamps full and we use fully all the gifts (talents – a form of money, and not something you do well like sing or paint or dance) given to us.  Do we seek a return on our gifts? Do we hide them? Is our lamp filled with oil at all times?  Boy, that is hard to do in our everyday world.  I acknowledge my shortcomings and I pray for my healing – for patience, for character of a sterling quality, and for love for each person I come into contact with.  And I pray, so much, for the gift of forgiveness. Not for me, but that the Lord will help me give over this pain and disappointment and turn it into love and forgiveness for those who have so let me down.  And we keep our lamps full and patiently await the Bridegroom.

Eph 4-26 ForgiveAs I prepare this week to celebrate Pascha and the Resurrection of Our Lord, I am preparing my heart. I am enjoying the smell of our house as I dye our eggs using all these spices I am trying: turmeric, paprika, onion, and vinegar (I only wish our dinner would smell so good). And it is a wonderful way to seek silence in the doing of it, in the preparing of it. I can contemplate and await the Bridegroom through my humble service of preparation for my family and friends.  As I bake break and prepare the other foods and goods in our family’s basket, it is a time of reflection, peace, and prayer.  God is so good to us. He gives us these Holy Days of Holy Week to prepare, to come to Him ready and joyous for His gift of eternal life. I am blessed.

sunrise easter

 

“…yet He did not sin.”

Sail-Boat13I’ve had weeks when life just sails along and you really have to pinch yourself at how awesome that week has been.  And then there is this week.  Well, it’s not the polar opposite, but it ranks right up there with days I would prefer not to repeat, although it is ending pretty good.  I love spending fun, abrupt, and un-planned time with my kids and grandchildren, and last night was just that. Sort of helped wrap this week up with a bow, so to speak!

BowsWhen I see injustice, it is somehow wired in me to do something, if I can.  I also have this habit of not being easily intimidated.  I am not sure where I get this over-inflated sense of confidence from, because physically, I am so not in tip-top shape and someone could just push me and down I would go.  Which is another entirely different thought for a post!  However, when the hairs on the back of your neck go up and you feel deep in your bones that something is wrong, well, for me, I have to lash out at the perpetrator.

“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER’; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.”…” Matthew 21:12-13

tissot-the-merchants-chased-from-the-temple-746x471Jesus got mad.  Don’t forget, He was human in all things, save sin!  (“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.” Hebrews 4:15).  And some feel that righteous anger is just that – righteous.  This week I confronted someone who I felt was being unjust.  Because of that it has been intimated I was lying and embellishing the truth to fit my own agenda.  I find it laughable and ludicrous because obviously this person does not know me well.  This person also presents as a Christian; one who attends Church regularly.  But the metanoia, or change of heart (“to express that mighty change in mind, heart, and life wrought by the Spirit of God.” by Richard Trench in his work, “Synonyms of the New Testament”) does not seem to have really occurred.  And I am saddened by the whole thing.  Partially because I dislike getting that angry. I knew in my heart I was right and that I had truth on my side, but I still hate loosing my temper. And I have a profound sense of disappointment in learning someone is not up to the standards I had presumed they were.

When we see things that we know are inherently wrong, it is almost adding to the sinfulness to not do anything about it. In traditional, western, Catholic theology, there is the concept of the “sin of omission,” which is considered to be as evil as the sin of “commission,” when we actually do a sinful act.  Because, truthfully, not doing anything in the face of evil is as bad for us as committing evil, in regards to the stain on our souls.  And that is where I was stuck – in that proverbial position of the rock and that darned old hard place.  And so I stood up and railed against the wrongs I witnessed and was told about.  And it got ugly; I did not feel intimated and I never felt that I was going “off” on someone, but I truly did loose my temper.  I actually only had resolution in mind for those who had been wronged, but instead it has grown into a sense of protecting any others affected now or in the future. And that is why, I think, I got angry.  The injustice around me, but also that which could be perpetrated on others, in the future, if I stood aside and said or did nothing. And to top it off, I was also protecting family, and friends who mean the world to me.

Knowing that you have truth on your side makes railing against wrongs so much easier.  Another side incident occurred when I could demonstrate this to my son.  He and a friend each told their parents about some things that had happened.  When the parents discussed the incidents, it was found that the boys never wavered from what had taken place. And I told my son how wonderful it is to tell the truth, because you don’t have to remember stories, or worry about keeping things “straight,” because truth is truth and it is always the same. Lies get convoluted and twisted and become some difficult thing to transverse through, much like the maze of wiring below. (Shout out to my electrically-oriented friends and family!!)

Tangled wiringAnd now we have to move forward and make some changes. All change, in pretty much all areas, can cause pain.  It can be rough to go from one environment to another.  We experienced over the past year complete relocation, thousands of miles from our comfort zone.  We made a place for ourselves; we changed; and we are getting comfy, and feeling safe and loving a new sense of belonging.  And then something pretty ugly happens.  Now, we have to regroup once again!  But I know truth triumphs over all things; I know that anger is occasionally justified; and I know my heart is in the right place.

DidacheThere is a profound sense of who we are and what we stand for, that we develop as we age. Hopefully it is not a prejudicial point of view wherein you treat anyone who diverges from your point of view as evil, “other,” or inherently in the wrong.  According to the Miriam Online Dictionary, prejudice is defined as:

a (1) :  preconceived judgment or opinion (2) :  an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge; b :  an instance of such judgment or opinion;  c :  an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics

I was tasked with working for an EEO Unit within a Human Resources department in California a few years back.  I learned the legal treatment and definition of prejudice in all its glory and ugliness.  I think it colored my sense of right and wrong, and perhaps made me sensitive to prejudicial behavior.  Prejudice can come from many places and it can mean many things.  There are the most common forms based on color, creed, or gender.  But there are some others which seep into our lives that we do not even realize. In schoolyard sports, back in my day, it could mean being called last when choosing teams.  It can mean “not being seen” in the profoundest sense of the term by the society around you because you somehow do not “measure up.” There’s prejudice when we separate those who have difficulties from those who do not – as in mental or physical defect.  There is, however, a common one that makes me crazy and that is prejudicial treatment based on belonging to the “in crowd.”  Keeping others on the outside while developing a clique among a large group is wrong and hurtful. It can be based on unfamiliarity (“Who’s that kid over there?  He doesn’t belong here!”) or lack of exposure (“When did they move here?).  It can be based on preconceived notions (“I never knew a girl could run that fast”) that we have been handed down by our elders. There are many, many ways prejudice can enter our lives and we need to acknowledge it exists, and then we need to work on stamping it out.

Main_camporeeAnd so I took my stand and I made my statement and I sleep well at night. I have no problems defending against prejudice and we all should become aware of it.  I have started saying, in part to help me remember, “Different is just different. It is not better; it is not worse; it is not more, nor is it less. It is just different.”  Perhaps if we could apply this to all aspects of our lives, the world would spin a little smoother, and joy would be the emotion we experience more and more often.