Double rainbows, Beluga Whales, Oreos, and the Pope

Aurora.9.22.15

We feel blessed to live where we do. There are so many amazing sites and so much we have not seen. Witnessing the Aurora Borealis in person is something I wish everyone could see. As I was explaining to my dad, it makes you feel so miniscule and humble. In the next few days, they are supposed to be so busy and so close, you can hear the sound of them when the colors cross over themselves. I never knew you could actually hear the Aurora, so I will let you know. 

Rainbow on ground.2015

The above photo was taken this past Saturday, while riding in the car (no, I was not driving). It is part of a double rainbow, and if you look you can see where the rainbow touches the ground (middle right of photo). Now I don’t know about you, but I was looking for my leprechaun and his pot of gold! I did see a Chevron station, which is much the same thing, I suppose. But the weirdest thing that happened is that we drove through the rainbow! And as we did, we passed through the different colors. I turned around and looked, and sure enough, there was the rainbow, behind us. How spectacular is that??? As we ventured further towards home, we saw Beluga whales in a pod, spouting water and surfacing with their babies. I mean, how much can you take of the exceptionalism that is the creation of God, in one day? Oh wait, I forgot! An American Bald Eagle flew directly over our vehicle, while hunting, and swooped low enough that we could see its belly as it flew over our sunroof! With all of these things happening, and with all the news this week, it takes your breath away at times.

eagle15

How can all this amazing stuff surround us, who are mere creations of God, and we can not feel overwhelmed with joy, thanksgiving, and humility? But rather, we attack one another and we beat each other up over trivialities.  The Pope is visiting the USA this week. In fact, he apparently is here, arriving in New York today. Trust me, homeschooling a high school student takes a lot of energy and patience. This morning we were tackling fractions as expressed in percentages and decimals, and solving for “X” – I hate that letter! Ha-Ha! Just writing this brings back my headache… where’s my coffee? I rarely turn on the TV or listen to the news. I have little free time until this time of day and I have begun to love football practice! (It’s every afternoon, Monday – Friday!). As I was catching up on the news and the pope’s arrival, I noticed there are memes, and photos, floating around Facebook about the pope marveling at our “plenty.” There was a joke about him taking back his comments about capitalism when he saw and held the variety of Oreo cookies available at the local supermarket. Ha-Ha. I cracked up. Lots of other people took offense. I am obedient to his teachings on things regarding faith and morals. I respect the office of the Pope and his position within the Catholic community and the world. But it does not mean I have to agree with his teachings on anything else. Thanks be to God for a universal church. And I am allowed, even while still being a good Byzantine Catholic, to laugh at a joke about the Pope marveling over Oreo cookies. I am also allowed to comment.

I do not think that we are all on the same page about a great many things. Diversity is part of humanity. Once we were afforded free will, uniformity became obsolete. No one person is exactly like the next. And isn’t that the beauty of being alive? Yes we can categorize creatures and nature into orders and phylum, genders and races. But as Ben Carson once stated, “You see, when I take someone to the operating room, I’m actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are. The skin doesn’t make them who they are.” We are all fundamentally the same, but our free will has given us our individuality. And the Church knows this. Why do you think the Apostles preached to the people “where they were” and did not try to make them all like they were? It is why we have all the different Churches united with the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Pontiff is the Bishop of the Roman Church. He is considered the “first among equals” and I respect this particular pope specifically because of that. I don’t agree with him on much, but I respect him as the Pope of Rome. I also heed my Patriarch, one of the pope’s equals. I happen to listen to him before I listen to the pope, because I belong to one of the many churches united with the Roman Church; I am Melkite Greek Catholic.

Different color skin, same souls.

So I have learned that being surrounded by all this creation of God, still in its pristine form, that I am a speck. I am an insignificant thing compared to what God has created. But I am His insignificant speck; His humble servant. I love Our Lord with all my heart and I respect His servants who are in the public arena, such as our Pope. I am respectful of his office, but I still giggle at some of the jokes and I truly believe that is okay. “In the  grand scheme of things,” this Pope will be a blip on the timeline of the Church, and I won’t even get an honorable mention. My opinions are, however, just as important to God and He loves me equally to the Pope. That’s what is so awesome about our God and our Church! Christ died for each and every person who believes in Him. Be respectful, be loving, be Christlike. But revel in your free will that drives you to seek the holy, the sublime, the beauty of this life. Drive through double rainbows, cry when an eagle soars overhead, smile like a child at a pod of Beluga whales breaching beside the roadway.

belugawcalf_usarmy

And if you want to, giggle about the pope and some Oreo cookies. It’s okay.

pope-oreo-300x169

Advertisements

“…let it go, let it go…”

Frozen

Unless you are completely separated from children, or live in a country without Disney movies, those words above connotate a certain reaction. For most of us with, at least, grandchildren, we know those words are from a Disney movie called, “Frozen.” And many of us wish it would hurry up and just be gone! But when it comes to our children, not so much.

We are down to our last child living at home. And he does not consider himself a child, but rather, a young adult. My middle child reminded me that both he and his older brother are married men, with children of their own (which is precisely why I know about that Frozen movie) and that his brother will be 30 in October. I responded with, “Thanks.” Ha-Ha! This past week, Cinderella came out on DVD. Some movies are meant to be seen in a theater, whereas some can wait for the DVD release (cannot wait for the new Star Wars – definitely a theater movie!). I took my teenager, along with some friends, to see Cinderella in 3-D IMAX. There were just two boys in our adventure, and they were both more excited for the candy/popcorn and the 3-D glasses than the movie, but the other mom and I loved it. To me, it was so worth it to go to the theater. I loved that movie. And I bought it the day it came out. Why? It made me feel good. Her dress (the blue one) was so gorgeous. The backstory of her parents and family – and their love for one another! I loved the special effects with the mice and lizards. Her fairy godmother was hilarious. The scene when the king dies, but he and his son have that “needed” conversation about love. I loved that movie. There were some meaningful and poignant moments in it, which balanced the lovey-dovey parts boys would naturally hate. And this past Friday night, I made my two men watch it with me over dinner. My husband loved it. Yay! Mom win! It was not a war movie, or a sports movie, or a disaster/end-of-the-world, fantasy epic. That’s a win in a house of men. (My dog and cat are the only other females in my house). My teen sat next to me and as the movie ended, he said, “Please tell me you are not crying about Cinderella.” I, of course, was! Ha-Ha! Love a happy ending! (And that dress!!!).

lily-james-1024

But also this weekend, something epic happened. My youngest son had his first date – as in a car with a girl – to a movie – date. And this mom freaked out a little bit. It was just another step in the letting go process of parenting. And those steps can hurt sometimes, especially when you know it is the last time you have to experience a “first date.” As a homeschooling mom, it was nothing at all like the last time I taught Geometry! For that, I did the happy dance! I taught Geometry to three kids, and I had to suffer through it myself. Ms. Fogler. I swear she hated me, and hated teaching, and hated Geometry. It did nothing for my math career. So for me, the last time through Geometry was not a sad thing. This year, I am going through my last year of Algebra II and I must say I am preparing my happy dance. Way ahead of time, I know, but nonetheless, I am preparing. I am not a math person (Cathy, I love you and am so proud of you for having a PhD in Math… someone has to do that, but it is just not me!). There are things we go through as parents that we are not sad about not having to do again (give birth, change diapers, clean up barf, potty train… it is quite a list and this is just part of it). But there are some things that are monstrously difficult to wade through, over and over again. And the last time is especially momentous. The First Date fits the bill on that one.

In this day and age of rampant sex everywhere, wading through courting/dating is a heavy responsibility. And it is nothing to be taken lightly, nor in my opinion, is it a subject to be discussed in school. This is a family decision. And even though I have raised several, each son is different in how they feel about it and how they choose to experience it. Both of my older sons dated sporadically. They had more friends who were girls than girlfriends. Which is fine by me. And they both knew the moment they met their wives and they were done dating anyone else. And I tried so hard to instill in my boys a love of women in the sense of respecting and loving me, and the model for all women, the Theotokos; the Mother of God.

I always have insisted the boys treat each girl in their company as someone’s future wife and mother. Would they have wanted me to be treated the way they are treating that girl? Would they have wanted their wives to be treated that way? The mother of their children? Friends of theirs who were female – did they appreciate how their friends were being treated by other boys? How did it make them feel? How was the Mother of God treated? From Scripture, we know that some in her home village kept their distance because she was pregnant out of wedlock; they actually shunned her. Joseph took her as his wife to protect her, and to honor her, and because an ANGEL, a real ANGEL, appeared to him and instructed him to do so. He knew that GOD wanted him to be with Mary, and he never doubted it, for a moment. And the ANGELS continued to care for the Holy Family, once again instructing Joseph to flee when the Christ Child was in danger. He trusted God with his decision to marry Mary. I want my sons to trust God in their decision making processes, as well.

360 Rest on the Flight into Egypt 1879 Oil Painting by Luc-Olivier Merson

I love this painting and have used it in posts before. It shows Mary and Christ resting on the Sphinx, with Joseph on the ground, as a guard. “The Flight Into Egypt.”  I love so much about this painting. The stillness and peace within that vast desert is conveyed through color and lack of light, except from Christ, Himself. I love that both Mary and Joseph slumber in peace, even with the Divine Light still glowing brightly.  That is what I have hoped for all my children, that they can rest in the Divine Light of Christ.

Letting go a little at a time begins to happen just after birth when we, as mothers, have to let someone else hold our child, who we have kept safe within our womb for the past nine months (or so). And we continue to let go, in steps, often quite literally, as our children grow and walk away. I remember letting my eldest walk into a parochial school kindergarten. I knew the nuns were there and his teacher was amazing. I had complete trust he would be safe, but I still cried – my son ran into class, never looking back. Yeah, that’s typical of my almost-30-year old! Running towards his future! I distinctly remember my chat with our middle son as he prepared to attend school for the first time. (Ironically it was a class with Cathy, who I mentioned above. She was his math teacher and eventually became a dear friend). And after I dropped him off, I cried. He was off to a high school, and not with me. My life has been a series of moments of letting go. Death in our family, friends who have died, and friends along the way we have lost contact with, and my children beginning to have a life separate from mine. They are making memories of which I share no part. It has been hard in many ways, and yet seems right in so many others. As our children merge their childhoods into adulthood, letting go becomes more severe in the sense that the steps are larger. This past summer, our youngest flew across the country to a summer camp – alone. He had to change planes in 4 major airports, and then catch a bus for the camp itself. Last year he attended the same camp, but with a friend. This year he was alone. I was a wreck. Once the camp confirmed he was there, I was finally able to breathe. It was a long journey, for us both. When our eldest went off to war, he took part of me with him. I never slept very well until he was on American soil, once and for all. He doesn’t realize it, but I shed the same sort of tears when he left for basic training as I did when he walked into kindergarten. Dropping my middle son off at college, thousands of miles from home was devastating and exciting, all mixed together. And as each child takes their momentous steps away from home, we all die a little. We mourn their babyhood, and we rejoice at their maturity. Seeing my sons parent their own children is an indescribable joy and part of this whole parenting and letting go process. Parenting is not for wimps or fraidy-cats. This is serious stuff. And it doesn’t stop, even when they are married with children of their own.  I recall my grandfather telling my dad, on his 60th birthday, “Well, son, I guess I can stop worrying about you now.” We all sort of laughed, but as I get closer to 60 myself, I totally understand my grandpa’s statement. My grandfather was 86 at the time, and I think I can see myself worried over my children another 20 years or so!

So, today as I chatted with my son about his date, we laughed and we were both happy. I think he felt good about himself. I know he was proud he paid for it all out of his hoarding abilities. (That kid always has more money on him than I do!). He introduced us to his date and we all chatted a little last night. It was good. They first attended youth group at Church together, which I think is a great place/way to meet someone and get to know them. My husband and I share a strong faith and I know it has been the glue for many years, in our family. I am learning to let go – just like the song admonishes me. My older kids tease me that it’s okay and he will be fine, etc. I know that. But that last one out of the nest is rough. I am looking forward to our empty nest time, though, as we have never known marriage without children (yes, honeymoon baby!) and we have lots of places we want to go and see. So life is getting more exciting, even as we hit our golden years. I hope my kids know I never intentionally held them back, but rather, held their hands until they let mine go.

hands

“Whatever you did not do…”

I had such an ugly experience on Wednesday. It colored my entire day. I even made a chocolate cake (I have not been eating cake or sweets in awhile) because chocolate usually helps. I also showered… twice! Did you know they make Godiva Chocolate Liqueur? So good.

I was sipping my morning coffee and perusing my newsfeed on my Facebook page. I came across a disgustingly vivid photograph that apparently a friend had “liked,” that was in fact, pornography. I was so shocked. I immediately made sure my son was nowhere near me.  Then I proceeded to complain to FB admin.  If you have any knowledge of FB, you know how ridiculous their administration of their pages are. They will remove photos of women breastfeeding as being too offensive, but they allowed porno on my wall. And trust me when I say that this photo was so bad, it made me sick to my stomach. After I complained to FB and requested it be removed, I also did the same to those who had posted it. I was then verbally assaulted through instant messages by the owner of this particular photo.  The verbal tirade made me sick to my stomach, again, and caused me to shake. Literally. I also cried at one point. No one has ever used such vehemence combined with such horrible terminology towards me – ever. I finally figured out how to block the person from my FB wall, as well as from instant messaging me. (They are two separate procedures). I never heard from FB, but when I spoke to my friend who had supposedly “liked” it, we could no longer see the photo; I guess FB pulled it. We both decided to change settings and passwords and move forward. But it really got me thinking.

I will be 60 on my next birthday. I just never thought of myself as 60 years old. The friend this happened to, well, we share the same birthday and have been friends since High School. I have 4 grandchildren and my baby is almost 17 years old. My oldest son is almost 30 years old. I go to church at least weekly, if not more often. I read a lot. We watch a little TV, usually things we have TiVo’d, or DVDs we have purchased. I choose my entertainment carefully. I do not have interaction with pornography, nor even profanity (at least not of my choosing). We just don’t cuss. I have gray hair, for heaven’s sake. I cannot fully express to you how horrid this experience made me feel. I felt sick and dirty, somehow. The worst thing was the verbal tirade this man assaulted me with. I felt vulnerable and kind of scared. His words frightened me. I shared with with my youngest son, who still lives with me. I even called my husband, who is off traveling this week. I know they listened. I told a couple of friends. I know they listened. But I don’t think any of them appreciated how I felt. And I know it’s silly, but in a way it is not. Can you imagine how women who are physically abused or assaulted feel? Women who are brutalized in war zones and through ethnic cleansing in war-torn countries? Women who are forced to be sterilized, impregnated, or mutilated simply because they can be? All that happened to me was I saw a pornographic photo of a woman, and then had a man verbally harass me because I complained about it. It was not in my face, but on my phone. But I felt that assault and that vulnerability and I was frightened. I was able to lock him out and change passwords for access by anyone else. But what about those who are vulnerable and cannot change a password or privacy settings? What about the thousands of children who are attacked on a regular basis, who have no options, no control over it? I cannot help but think of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 

“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.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

How do we help those most vulnerable around us? How do we comfort and clothe and care for the sick around us? This hit home yesterday, when I felt somehow violated and unable to protect myself. In reality, I am perfectly safe. But emotionally? Not so much. God is good and the shower, the chocolate, and some great movies with my son helped me feel much better. And when I went to bed, I prayed and thanked God for keeping me safe. I tried to forgive the man who verbally assaulted me. I prayed for the woman in the photograph, hoping her life is better than that now. And I prayed for all the vulnerable around us. I do not want to ever feel helpless and vulnerable again – and I certainly don’t want anyone else to feel that way, either. How can we all buckle down and really, truly, and honestly help those around us who need it? Sometimes it’s just listening. Or a smile on a bad day. Letting someone cut in front of you on the highway or check out line. Taking cookies or coffee to a friend who needs it. Saying “I love you” even when it’s not necessary. Or saying “thank you” when it is unexpected. Saying a simple prayer and letting God put it to its best use. No prayer is ever wasted. The difference in our world has to start with each one of us. We have to protect those who cannot protect themselves, especially the innocent in the womb, our most vulnerable. It has to start with me.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

“Here’s your sign…”

Church spire

I have been thinking about signs. There are all sorts of signs in our lives. Sometimes we heed them, and quite often we obtusely ignore them. This will be a tired set of comments for those of you who know us, but there has been road construction in and around our house since July. They tore up the corner (we are not exactly on a corner, but there is not enough space between us and the corner for another house, if that makes sense) and the cross street adjacent to us in July. We live at a “T” intersection. They finally tore up the long part of the T, which is in front of our house, in August. We have had a huge hole in front of our driveway for the past month. They are replacing a sewer pump station, replacing poor storm drains, and putting in a paved trail area in the space between our house and the corner. Our town recently became part of the municipality and all these upgrades have followed. Apparently, there are curb requirements at intersections. We have never had a curb on our side of the street. And our side is where they pile the snow in winter, when they plow. So they are trying to put in curbs and also replace and flatten the dirt to repave the area. There have been “Road Closed” signs up for weeks. Apparently no one reads them. Each week, the crews flatten and grade this road. Each week idiots do their 4-wheeling best to tear up the grading and drive past the “Road Closed” signs. The only ones who do not have direct access to their home is us – and we’ve been taking the alternate route, adding considerable time to our commute. I was chatting with the work crew today, because I have to park our truck out on the graded dirt for the next three days while they attempt to pour cement curbbage in our area (did I mention it is pouring rain?). We spoke about ignoring signs. It is funny because it is only the convenience factor that has people ignoring the “Road Closed” signs; every single one of them can access their homes through the alternate route. In fact, at the top of our street (it’s a fairly decent hill) someone actually moved that “Road Closed” sign onto someone’s lawn, so they could drive through. It just amazes me. The workers and I discussed how it is taxpayer money (a state project no less) and grant money that people are wasting by 4-wheeling down graded roads and making them spend half their days redoing the roads. It was supposed to have been done a couple of weeks ago, but due to rain and traffic damage, they are way behind. They jokingly told us back in July that they hoped to be done by the first snows. And we all laughed. Perhaps they weren’t as far off as they joked. If only people would heed the signs.

And that brings me to reminisce on our feast day yesterday, “The Exultation of the Holy Cross,” as it is referred to in the Eastern Churches. We venerate and celebrate the Cross of Christ. Why would someone celebrate the Cross? Why would we even want to see a Cross? Many Christian sects around the world think it is wrong to celebrate and remember the Cross. Someone once told me a Catholic Crucifix is like wearing a photograph of a dead body around your neck. I guess I can see that. Somewhat. In the East and in Orthodoxy, we don’t normally wear a crucifix, but instead a Byzantine Cross.

Byzantine Cross

I am often asked why I wear this particular cross and what it means. People often assume it is some sort of Asian glyph. But it is not. To explain the meaning of it, the top cross beam represents the sign they hung above Christ, “Jesus Christ, King of the Jews.” The second cross beam is where they nailed His hands. The bottom one is where His feet were nailed. When they removed His body, the cross beam at the bottom slipped – the right side was raised, pointing to the Thief who obtained Paradise with Christ that very day; the left side, pointing downward, represents the thief who chose his fate in separation from Grace. It speaks volumes to me and is THE sign for me; THE sign that Christ gave His life for me.

There are signs all over, asking us to pay attention. My neighbors insist on ignoring the “Road Closed” signs and continue to “go around.” They cause ruin and lost time each and every time they ignore that sign. What do we ignore in our lives that also costs us? I know that God places signs all over the place for us to notice Him in our lives. Quite often they are small; but often they are 2 x 4s, slapping us up the side of the head. Have you ever been obstinate in something, continually seeking it, only to have it slip away? Or obstinate to the point of stubbornness? To the point where you throw caution to the wind and “do it anyway”? Have you ever ignored everyone’s advice (even when you asked for it) and gone and done something anyway? How did that work out for you? Most often, when I have pushed something, it does not end profitably for me. And profit is not just about money.

I dated idiots in my youth, thinking I could “fix” them. Yes, I dated some wonderful men who were great for me, but with whom I was not meant to share a life. But the proportionate of men who did not work out were “projects,” not dates. What was I thinking? Like I am some incredible woman and I know what’s best for them, so I can change them and make them better? Ha-Ha. I ignored every sign sent my way, all advice given to me. It is almost as if I was thinking, “I’ll show them! I know what’s best for me. But more importantly, I know what’s best for them!” Yeah. Stupid me. I have people in my life who consistently ask for advice, but they are not listening. They are preparing their response to me, in order to justify what they are going to do anyway. And hey, that’s just fine. More and more I give them lip service, because I know they aren’t truly listening, and are going to do what they choose, anyway. And that’s okay. But how often do we pray to God, seeking advice, while we’re already going to do something anyway??? How often do we go around those “Road Closed” signs and cause all sorts of damage?

Intent to reply

During the Exultation of the Holy Cross, we have some incredible prayers. There are several that I think apply to our world, and most especially to our Country. I only wish people would heed these signs, and pray some of these prayers:

Kontakion of the Cross: “O Christ our God, Who chose by Your own free volition to be elevated upon the Holy Cross, grant Your mercies to Your new people who are called by Your name. In Your power, gladded the hearts of our public authorities; strengthen them in every good deed so that Your true alliance may be for them a weapon of peace and a standard of Victory.

One of the Sessional Hymns for Orthros on this feast is: “O Lover of Mankind, we venerate the Wood of Your Cross, for You, the Life of all, were nailed upon it. O Savior, You opened Paradise to the thief who turned to You in faith, and You counted him worthy of blessedness when he confessed You by crying out, “Remember me O Lord!” Accept us, like him, for we cry out, “We all have sinned; in Your merciful kindness, do not reject us!

And we continually sing, throughout the Liturgy, “We bow in worship before Your Cross, O Christ, and we give praise to Your Holy Resurrection.”

How can we dismiss the signs Our Lord has left for us? We can witness to one another by wearing a cross. We can place stickers of them on our cars, hang them from our rear-view mirrors. We can offer them to others, as a sharing of this Sign from God. When we were first married, my husband had a wedding ring with a cross on it. He wanted me to wear one, too. At that point in my life, I realized I was not ready for the Sign of God on my hand.  I mean, what if I cut someone off in traffic? Used bad words in anger, while wearing a cross on my finger? I just could not do it. Nowadays, I feel naked if I do not have a cross on my person in some form, somewhere. I always wear one around my neck. For an anniversary my husband got me that matching ring with a cross on it, and when my fingers aren’t all swollen with arthritis, I wear it. Gladly, I wear it. Why? I need the reminder. I need the sign. I need it, whether anyone else does or not. Christ hung on that cross for three hours, for me. Whether or not there was another human being on earth, Christ would die for my sins, and mine alone. Each and every person, who believes in Him, was atoned because of Him. And His grace spreads… every where. We are so blessed with signs.

road_closed_local_traffic_only12538026424abb829291c0a

Road Closed – Local Traffic Only. That’s the sign by my house. Which signs do you heed? Which signs do you ignore? Does your indifference to the signs you are given cause damage and cost those around you? Do you purposely thwart God and continually do it your own way? I saw a great little comment on Facebook this week:

“You cannot pray for an A on a test and study for a B. You cannot pray for a faithful relationship and still live an unfaithful life. Moral of the story is you cannot pray for something and act less.

Don’t question my God and His abilities when your actions don’t match your prayers.”

I love that. Don’t pray for something and act less. How often have I prayed for peace and been disgustingly cranky to everyone around me? How often have I brought peace to this world? How often have I begged God for something, but done nothing to help myself along? When we were discerning the radical move to Alaska, we sought sign after sign after sign. We asked that doors be not only closed, but removed and disintegrated. We asked that no other options present themselves to us, but to relocate. We sought peace in our decision. We sat in the presence of God and sought silent affirmation. We opened ourselves to His will. And we heeded the peace we found, the answers given to us. Just last night, on our drive home from Divine Liturgy, we thanked God once again for bringing us here. We are so blessed. We look consistently, and constantly, for God’s Will and His signs for us in our lives. We have missed a few, because He loves to whisper in this noisy world, but we have seen those errors and we try, fervently, to listen and watch for His will in our lives. It is the hardest thing I have ever done, being a Christian. But it is the most rewarding and peaceful thing, as well. As this world spins crazily on its axis and things get more and more insane around us, we cling to His Cross, to His Sign. We choose to listen to, and see His signs. We choose not to go around them. 

cropped-lenten-candle-stand-gold.jpg

“…spiritual experience…”

As you read this, please remember the emotions I present it with. I do not, nor have I, sit in judgement on anyone. Rather, I poke away at the differences. I look under the rocks strewn around this world we live in, rather than accept the standard landscape. In this post, I am exploring my own experiences and exposures to the differences in life, as I have been exposed to them. I offer this post in that vein, and with love.

St. Nikolai

This summer has provided me with opportunities to worship with family, friends, and fellow parishioners, in a variety of circumstances. Certainly the environment we find ourselves in colors our world. It colors how we view so much, including the Divine. The old adage about nature/nurture comes to mind. As an Anthropology major in college, I feel I was blessed to learn about a variety of cultures, cultural norms, and expectations. The USA is a unique blending (remember being taught how we were a “melting pot” back in the old days?) of cultures, languages, and traditions. Quite often we want everyone to be the same because it is so much easier that way. I am often teased by family members and have a rejoinder I use regularly and it is, “You’re right! I wish everyone was like me because life would be so much easier that way.” Of course, in my life, I live variety on a daily basis. We are a mixed race family. When young, my son asked me why he was “chocolate” and I was “peach.” My response to him was (and I still believe this) is that God loves variety. He loves colors. Look at birds, dogs, cats, people – there are very few exactly the same. (Even when you buy your dog from a reputable breeder, there is no guarantee they will be the breed standard. Trust me. I know this from experience and Chet is now over 11 years old and still not the standard for his breed! HaHa!). The rainbow is God’s promise to us that He will not destroy the earth – and He gave us that promise in a glorious array of colors.  God appreciates the different, the “off the beaten path,” the “oddball,” the “square peg” that doesn’t quite fit. And I love that about life.  I love that saying, “Viva la difference!” And I am different, as well.

upside-down-bird_18378_990x742

In life, we are given a set of circumstances and environments where we grow. We have a certain set of parents, we live in a certain house, in a certain town, etc. Every sibling is unique. Our life experiences are unique. I am saying all of this because I noticed so many unique qualities to the varying worship services I attended this summer.  I was blessed to be exposed to many faiths before I was married. I have attended some Reform Jewish ceremonies, as well as some Orthodox Jewish ceremonies. I even attended what I lovingly referred to as “Let’s Be Jewish” classes with a rabbi many years ago. I studied Mormonism in junior and high school.  I studied various sects of Protestantism growing up, being baptized seven (7) times. Yes, 7! I attended Greek Orthodox marriage prep courses with a college roommate. I’ve explored options within Catholicism, going from a more modern, post-Vatican II experience, to a Tridentine sort of environment, to evangelical Catholicism and even some of the very expressive masses with Liturgical Dancing. I gravitated to the more traditional experiences within the Church and eschewed many of the modern changes to mass and to the interior of Catholic churches, as well as devotional changes and architecture changes. Our eldest son introduced us to an amazing Melkite priest who invited us to “Come and See” and we have never looked back.  We were blessed to be involved with a very strict/orthodox (as in right thinking) liturgical/spiritual instructional period before formally becoming Melkite Greek Catholic. And all of that has colored how I view my faith, and the way in which I choose to worship.

AfricanMigrantsBoatEuropeAerial-500x333As the news of this past week or so hit my internet newsfeeds, I cringed at the photos of people escaping Syria and ISIS.  I cringed because, in so many respects, this should not be happening. When Our Lord instructed His Disciples to go into all the nations, He meant what he said. And they were obedient, even unto death. My son took the confirmation name of John. When I asked which John, he told me, “The Apostle.” When I asked him why he chose him, his response was, “Because he was the only one who died of old age.”  And we all need to remember that the Apostles died for their faith. They went into a world of paganism and evil, preaching the Word of God. And they died to do it; being obedient to Christ cost them their very lives. Today in our world, Christians are once again giving their lives to live within their faith. ISIS is trying to undo a millennia of Christianity. And they are doing it by the sword.

Some Muslims are also escaping, along with Christians, from the Holy Lands. In the news this week, there have been stories that many trying to get into Germany are converting to Christianity in order to be welcomed. I don’t think it is a conversion of the heart, but rather a conversion of the head. They don’t want to live under ISIS, be they Christian or Muslim. And the world is watching. Many do not want to get involved, nor do they want more Syrians in their country. As a Melkite Greek Catholic, I have been blessed to meet, befriend, and worship alongside some amazing Arab Christians. People who brought just the clothes on their backs, to escape Sadam Hussein, among others. But the reason for this post is that I have read where so many countries are turning these refugees away. They are different. They dress differently. They speak a different language, eat different foods, and their worship (even if Christian) seems foreign as well. Different is often scary. But God celebrates the different! He loves the different.  As His Apostles converted people and established Christianity around the world (in the form of Catholicism) they did so where the people were. They did not change their culture, but adapted the worship of the faith to the country/culture they were in. Roman Catholicism reflects Roman culture when Peter arrived. The Roman Catholic practices evolved around the stricture/structure of Roman culture. The Melkite Church grew up in the Middle East and the Liturgies, while Greek in nature, use lots of Arabic terminology (the whys and wherefores are for another post) and call God, “Allah.” It is the Arabic word for God – it is not a strictly Muslim term. Many Americans wig out when they hear “Allah” from a person like me, especially when used in context about our Christian God. It is a shame more people are not open to, nor even exposed to, the history and truth about how our faith came to be. Christianity is a big tent – there is room for all sorts of diversity.

jordan_2660789b

The above photo is of the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan. This circulated on Facebook yesterday, but was featured in an article by the UK publication, the Telegraph, today. This is a refugee camp that has been there for YEARS; for GENERATIONS. One of the most precious things these refugees hold are keys they wear around their necks. The keys belong to the homes they were forced to leave. The keys are passed down to each generation – that is how long these refugees have been forced to live in these camps. This is not a new problem, but it is a growing one. Yes, they are different. Yes, it is something that is “across the ocean” from the USA. But this is in the Land of Christ. Thanks be to God for the magnanimity and generosity of the Jordanian Royal Family, who has extended refugee status all these years. There is less than 3% of Christians remaining in the Holy Land, the land of our faith.

I was blessed to worship at our Melkite parish on our vacation. It had been 5 1/2 years since we attended Divine Liturgy there. We missed it so much. We attended Mass at our son’s Roman Catholic parish, also while on vacation. It was nice to sit with my granddaughters and worship. So much has changed in the Roman liturgy, it was hard to know what to respond with, but the priest had a wonderful homily. We came home to our Ruthenian parish, where our priest is Ukrainian Greek Catholic, my husband (the deacon) is Melkite, and many of the parishioners are Eastern European (Polish, Russian, and Slavic in general). And I thought about my experiences and was in awe of how truly universal our church is. I mean, I prayed in Arabic, Latin, English, and listened to our priest speak Ukrainian, all within a 3 week period of time – and all within the Catholic Church. How awesome is that?

Different color skin, same souls.

I’ve posted about this issue of differences before. This recent sadness about the Syrian refugees brought it back into the forefront.  Why do we focus on how we are different? All this ugliness toward those who protect and serve our communities. The selling of baby parts by Planned Parenthood; the experimentation on not-dead-yet-babies. The atrocities around this country, and in our world are mounting.  Why? Because of the differences.  Because Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood because she was a follower of Hitler and a white supremacist, who believed anyone not white was less in some way. There are Protestants who believe we Catholics do not even worship the same God, for heaven’s sake, when the Catholic Church is who brought the faith to the world. There are more than 30,000 Protestant denominations around the world, most of which began in the USA. Why? Every time someone had a disagreement (or “protested”) against the Church, they started their own Church. Why? Why do people think because you are black, you think/behave a certain way? Why do people think because you are white, or brown, or tan, or whatever color, you will behave/believe a certain way? And that those differences are inherently wrong? Different is sometimes just different; not wrong.

apple colors

Did you know there are more than 7,500 varieties of apples grown worldwide, each with its own colors? Green? A little tart for me to bite into; I prefer a nice, red, Washington apple. But I like green ones to cook with! They make incredible apple pies. The secret, I discovered, to making the best homemade apple sauce was to cook a variety of apples all at once. The mixture gave the applesauce a lovely, complex flavor that my kids preferred over store-bought. We have variety all around us. We need to put the differences into the context of a reason to learn, to explore, to grow and embrace, rather than something that is set apart, set aside, ignored, and avoided. The Syrians will keep fleeing ISIS. If we are lucky, all our police and firemen will keep protecting us. People will keep intermarrying and having mixed race families. Languages will come to us and we can learn those, as well as new traditions. I love that my heritage is British, but I have learned to cook Russian dishes via my husband’s family, Arabic foods via my Melkite faith, and now I am embracing Polish and Ukrainian foods from my fellow Ruthenian parishioners.  I grew up eating traditional British fare as a child. I was exposed to Greek food growing up and attended Greek festivals as a child. I love learning new traditions and foods.  Why can we not all enjoy these differences, especially the ones in worship, without judging it to be less than what we are familiar with? When we will extend our hands in welcome and embrace something we are unfamiliar with?

Icons.lamp

Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

“…who is truly reliable?”

Everybody friend

I have been pondering this subject a lot lately. I have been forced to think about it over several months, through several occurrences and conversations. And it has been an instructive adventure, to be sure.

Over the course of more than 30 years of marriage, my husband and I have had a myriad of “friends.” We have friends we brought with us to our initial dating relationship. I have friends from elementary school with whom I still correspond. My husband has one particular friend from his childhood who still means the world to him, even though they have not lived near one another in over 35 years. We have made friends as a couple over the years, as well as made friends as individual adults through life experiences. I am friends with an old boss, a couple of friends made through our dairy life, and my husband has many friends throughout the USA because of work and through his diaconate program and training. There are some people who you will be close to throughout your life. And then there are those who do not stay with you. And that is where I am at, on this fine, rainy, and very fall day in Alaska.

 “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24

We have come to realize that “friend” is a term that is used very loosely. With the advent of Facebook, you can add friends at the push of a button, and you can also “unfriend” someone just as simply. People often brag about how many Facebook friends they have, and I have heard of some people who have a thousand or more! That’s is almost inconceivable. Last night, our grandson was jumping up and down in front of our window, and so excited because “his friends” were coming over. We had to explain that they were friends of grandma’s and grandpa’s, and also friends of his daddy. He then yelled, as he continued to jump up and down, “Daddy’s friends are here. I see them!” (He’s 3 years old). Friends mean so much to people, and quite often it is our friends who save us from drowning in our lives.


“Many will say they are loyal friends, but who can find one who is truly reliable?” Proverbs 20:6

As our children grow, friends come to mean something very much to them. Our youngest son is in high school and friends are quite the topic in his life. And as teenagers, we know how up and down moods can be, and how very fickle friendships can also be. I’ve seen teens be “besties” for a month or two, and then become total anathema towards one another the next month. And it causes such anguish in their lives. If we are honest, it can also cause anguish in the lives of adults. There are those we have been friends with for years and years, and the next thing you know, they are no longer a part of your life. This has happened to me quite often over the past 5 years of moving around. And because I have experienced it recently, and my son has also been subject to “drama” within his circle of friends, it caused me to write this out, to help myself get a handle on it.

I truly believe God places people in our paths at certain times, and for a specific amount of time, for our edification and for our education, as well as for our presence in their lives. But not perhaps to stay for a lifetime. Letting go is one of the hardest lessons in this process towards maturity, and hopefully, wisdom. I believe that my maturity – not just aging – has been deeply affected by the people placed along the pathways of my life. And for all those experiences and relationships, good and bad, I am profoundly grateful. Because of these people and experiences, I have come to know myself; and I am getting more and more comfortable with myself. Different influences by different people brought me to be who I now am. And I am a daughter of God; a child of the Most High. And I am blessed. We all are blessed. I have a few bumps and bruises; even some scars. But the Lord has brought me to this day, and for that I am eternally grateful.

As we have grown older, and our children have aged and moved out on their own, our friendships have changed. We had groups of friends we hung out with when we were all dating. Some went on to get married, as we did, but some did not. Hanging with single friends while married is not conducive to staying married, so many of those relationships fell away. As our children grew, we gathered friends with kids the same ages and with similar interests. As schooling started for our children, we garnered an entire group of friends surrounding our homeschooling and parish activities. We still have many of them, now sharing grand-parenting together. But most of them have fallen off. Our interests changed and we moved away. Convenience is a huge factor in maintaining relationships.  It is very hard to maintain deep friendships while living so far away from one another. There is no daily interaction; no morning coffee or park days. And I miss that very much,

I realized that people I thought were friends were not. They were people we engaged in the same activities with. Once we were “geographically undersirable,” our relationships flitted away. I thought this past year was a good example of that – Christmas cards. In past years, we received stacks of cards. This year, I checked to see who sent cards. Very, very few of the people I considered friends. And it made me sad. As I have aged, my circle of friends outside of family has shrunk. And I am completely okay with that; truly I am.

This summer, in fact just a few weeks ago, we visited our son and his family in our old stomping grounds. We saw very few friends. Some people were a little hurt we did not see them, or make the effort to see them. But I thought about it, and a very close friend also verbalized this: When you work and have just a short amount of vacation time/money to spend on travel each year,  and your children live thousands of miles away, you have limited time to see family – and our family is priority #1 for us! And so my circle has become quite small and exclusive. We stayed with a family, our youngest son’s godparents, for a couple of nights when we first flew into town. I had the best time. We dined with them and another couple and I was content – I was happy. We saw another family while connecting our teen up with some friends and he spent a couple of nights with them. It was great to reconnect. We also interacted with some other friends who happen to own a gathering place of sorts where other friends met up with us and we had the best evening! However, we spent the majority of our time with our son and his family. It was where I wanted to be – holding on to each moment I could, making memories with my grandchildren. I hugged and cuddled as much as I possibly could. And my smaller group of friends totally understands this; most of them live it, too.

“Don’t befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.” Proverbs 22:24–25

I have tried to explain these different aspects of friendship to my youngest son. I have often told him that people who are in your life should make you a better man. Friends should bring out the best and enrich our lives. They should not drag you down, nor make you a lesser person. There are so many pressures on teens; we’ve all experienced that. Who in our group of teens were an occasion of sin for us? Who pushed us to break the Commandments of God, the rules of our parents, and even the law (for me it was under-age drinking)? Are they friends in the best sense of the word? Do they pray with us, and for us?  Do they gossip about us behind our backs, or do they discourage evil words? Do they encourage our faith and stand beside us as we try to fight the tide in our culture? Do they lead us to that wide, simple pathway to evil? Or do they hold us up as we traverse that narrow road of righteousness and truth? And with all the pressures in each age that young people face, how are we as parents helping our children? Do we encourage the right relationships and help them navigate the teen years with Christ as the Head of our Families?

“Whoever loves a pure heart and gracious speech will have the king as a friend.” Proverbs 22:11

This has been an arduous practice in discernment for me. It has been painful, this process of letting go. But I also have learned that I am blessed beyond measure by the people I have in my life. I am making new friends, people who “hang around you and laugh with you.” They may not be “friend” in the truest essence of the word. But I am okay with that, too. Because I know who my friends are. I have held them and wept with them as we have parted. They have shared life and death with me. They have held me up as I have tripped. They have comforted me and brought me joy and laughter. And as I recently read, “Friendship has to be an exchange. It cannot be a one way street; that’s self sacrifice. As someone recently told me “if someone wants to be a part of your life they will make the effort to be in it, so don’t reserve a place in your heart for someone who doesn’t make the effort to stay”. Harsh? A little, yes. But ultimately, the Lord of All places people in our lives when they are needed to be there. Or perhaps when we need to be in their lives. When they don’t stay, we need to let go and be thankful for the enrichment that experience gave us. I know I am rich; I have my faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And, I have the love of my life beside me, an incredible family I love more than life itself, and a handful of people I can honestly call, “friend.” I am so very blessed.

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” John 15:13–15