“…grant me to see my own sins…”

The readings at Mass last night were some of my favorites. They reminded us that God wants us to trust Him. That worrying cannot add a day to our lives. (Matthew 6:26). Our priest spoke about his early days, as a new driver. He was so concerned with staying in his lane, he would focus on the lines, often missing what was around him, and even what was in front of him.

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From this example, I readily laughed at all the times I, too, get so concerned about lines, that I am missing what is around me. Every year, I endeavor to keep all the rules of the Great Fast – during Great Lent. One great quote I love is an exchange between two people. One asked the other, “How do you plan to keep the fast?” And the other replied, “By paying attention to what is on my own plate.” Sometimes I get so concerned over thoughts like, “Am I doing this right?” “Am I fasting enough?” “Did I remember my prayers?” “Are my kids doing it right/enough/with the right attitude?” And somewhere in there, I am forgetting that I need to prepare my heart.

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Matthew 5:21-23

The Book of Matthew exhorts us to leave those Pharisaical ideals and be simpler. How can you fast and do prayers and make prostrations, when you are in a long-standing fight with your brother? Your friend? Your boss at work?

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This Great Lent, which for those of us who practice in the Eastern Catholic/Orthodox Churches, began today with “Clean Monday,” I am trying to pursue different sorts of Lenten practices. I am going to get rid of behaviors that are not good for me, and I am going to foment those that help me. The lines I follow will probably not look like your lines, as in Father’s story last night about driving.

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Up here in Alaska, the lines in the roads are pretty much blurred, at best. We have snow. Then we have ice on top of snow, with some more snow on top of that, just to make driving more interesting. Last night we had some thawing, along with some amazing road plowing, and we could see the roads, and the lines. About 7:00am today, it started with icy-fog and crystals floating around. By 8:00 am, we had falling snow. It wasn’t even swirling; just falling straight down. It has been doing that for the past 4 hours. We have at least another inch or so on top of that morning ice fog. The lines are gone, again. So we make our own lines; our own lanes. And so it goes until Spring Thaw (which is looking more and more like May). You learn to ad-lib and be flexible while driving. And I am taking this analogy about snow driving without lines to my approach to Lent. I will be flexible and learning to adapt to new ways of looking at it; looking to my own plate, so to speak.

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I have had priests and spiritual fathers caution me over the years to try adding something, rather than giving something up. Yes, we should curtail our diets and definitely fully fast on specific days the Church requires, but generally, we should work at adding things to our lives that we normally leave out or ignore. How often do we spend time in silence, perhaps reading a book by one of the Early Church Fathers? How often do we sit in silent prayer, perhaps praying the Rosary or the Jesus Prayer? Have you read through the Psalms and made notes? One Orthodox writer I love suggests keeping a journal of everything we are grateful for. And also one on our readings of the Psalms and other spiritual works each Lent. It helps to journal, to see how we grow. Each year we can give up chocolate or sugar or coffee…we can abstain from foods, but what about behaviors? In the words above, there are ideas of things we can abstain from during Lent.

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But what can we add, to make Lent more meaningful? Have we forgiven those who have wronged us? Have we sought forgiveness from those we have wronged? Do we repent for the evil in our lives and what we have done to add to it? Do we abstain from harmful music or movies or books? How can we develop a culture of true, Christian love for one another when we read “50 Shades of Gray” or go to those types of movies? How does a book like that generate so many sales? And it is just the first in a series. People laud it as a love story. Really? (The book sold 29 million print and 15 million digital copies in 2012. It topped the 2012 best-seller lists in the categories adult fiction and romance). What sort of love are we sharing with others? I’ve often blogged about that hole in our hearts that only God can fill. I believe this example shows us where people lack spirituality in their lives. For those of us who identify as Christians, how are we presenting ourselves to others? Do you know that today, you may be the only “Christ” people see – perhaps ever? Especially during Lent, we need to turn inward and focus on our personal relationship to our Spirituality and our core beliefs, so we can present ourselves to others.

“Ever the lawyer, Tertullian the apologist subscribed to the view that the best defense is a good offense. His treatises To the Gentiles and Apology directly attacked pagan beliefs and practices as superstitious and immoral, and argued that the Christian life as taught in Scripture and practiced in the church was morally superior. He imagined pagans looking at Christians and saying, “Look . . . how they love one another (for they themselves [pagans] hate one another); and how they are ready to die for each other (for they themselves are readier to kill each other).” (Tertullian, as quoted on the website, Christianhistoryinstitute.org)

Can you imagine if people knew we were Christian just by watching us? How we drive? How we shop? How we live in our homes? How we treat others in the workplace? In our families? And all the other interactions we have daily? How can we make Lent a time for us to reconnect to our base in our faith?

This year, for the first time in many years, I am going to participate with the Roman Church and try to attend some Lenten offerings at our local parish. I haven’t see the “Stations of the Cross” or prayed those prayers in decades, literally. I haven’t participated in a lot of things over the past few decades. I dearly, dearly miss our Liturgy of the PreSanctified Gifts. And I dearly miss our prostrations during the Prayer of St. Ephraim. I carry that prayer with me always. Our Eastern practices offer us so many opportunities to reflect and repent. Almost daily services, like Vespers, where we can pray the prayers of the Church with others who are working on their own salvation. Salvation is not an event; it is a process. And one that the Church offers us to work on over and over again. We are blessed with the words of the early Saints and Martyrs; those closer to the time when Christ walked the earth; simpler ages. I love the stories of St. Ephraim, the Syrian. And the writings and prayers he left us are priceless. “Lord and Master of my life…” is just a magical way to address God in prayer.

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I will always pray that prayer. This year, I will revisit some other prayers I have long ago treasured. It is beautiful to know our Church is truly universal and we can gain from all her rites and prayers, songs and chants, and places of worship. This year, I am praying for enlightenment and a different approach to life that will stay with me. And perhaps I will find my own lines in the snow. And perhaps I will look up and see what is right in front of me, keeping my eyes on my own plate and not the plate of others. I think that is a good start, here on Clean Monday.

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“…nor any other created thing…”

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I am seeing more and more addictions, of many types. And I read something yesterday that brought it home. It was in a novel by Victoria Dannon and the character replies to a demon that he is not an addict and this demon, who is trying to extract payment on a debt says to him, as he laughs at him, that basically, he does not care what you are addicted to, addiction is addiction, whether it is to alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping, plastic surgery…you get the idea. And the demon laughs as the man realizes that his addiction is just that, an addiction. He actually had no idea he was living his life around his addiction. In the storyline, his particular poison was horse racing. And he was willing to risk even his life, to continue betting.

I have seen comments from addicts who say they are not addicted to a particular thing (alcohol, drugs, porn) but rather are running from, or trying to turn off from, life. And that, to me, is sad. We are repressing our inner thoughts by an activity. I know many of us have developed an addictive relationship to social media…Facebook is worth billions of dollars. How? They do not give me a product, but they allow me to communicate with people I would not normally see. I joined to stay in touch with my kids all over the world (literally) and some friends who had moved away. It has become a life-line to many relationships and I have made wonderful friends through Facebook. But what is social media costing us all? Have you actually looked around at restaurants recently? Everyone is on their phones! People are not communicating with that warm body sitting next to them. They are preferring that alternate reality of social media. People text to break up. Don’t even bother to see the person in real life, real time, but send a text. People declare they are “in a relationship” and yet they never see one another. It is totally online. It is just one of the ways we are losing our humanity to technology.

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There are many other addictions and some of them are far more costly. Do we surround ourselves with stuff to cushion us from the world? What is it about accumulating each thing we collect? I have seen women who have more shoes than I thought possible. I have seen men with tools that take over their garages so they cannot park in them. I have seen women collect cooking utensils – how many strainers do we need? (Okay, I have 3…) But why do we spend money on all this stuff, until we are busting out of our homes, when we complain about being broke? How can we spend on stuff and have no savings? How can we wear all those shoes? Ugh. How much make-up or plastic surgery does one woman need? How many cars are enough for some men? Collecting is one thing, whereas hoarding is quite another. And many of these addictions/obsessions are shielding us from a host of other things.

It is not the stuff itself that people need. It reminds me of a scene from a cartoon movie my kids used to watch (they watched it so much I knew the dialogue by heart!) where this bug cannot stop heading into one of those zappers that has a bright light to attract them. One character says, “Don’t go into the light” and the other responds, “But it’s so beautiful!” And that bug is then zapped. We always laugh at that and have used that line (“But it is so beautiful”) often to express our concern for people who go toward something that is not good for them. In the movie, “Percy Jackson, The Lightning Thief” they find themselves in Las Vegas at this “Lotus” hotel. They lose days in this hotel, because there are no windows or clocks (typical for casinos) and they are fed these Lotus Flowers, which drug them. They finally snap out of it and leave. How many days have I gone through, not remembering what I accomplish? Do I numb my mind with thoughtless activities like cruising social  media or watching endless TV programs or movies? Do I thoughtlessly eat? Do I mindlessly read junk? How do we “snap out of it”????

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We are an inherently spiritual being. Each of us. We are created in the image and likeness of our Creator. We long for that intimate love relationship with the God of all Creation. And we all have this “God Hole” that we try to fill with things. Sometimes the world is a cruel place and humans are cruel to one another, creating individuals who are damaged and seek relief through drugs, alcohol, overeating, shopping, and other behaviors. All the while, people are trying to fill this gaping hole inside each of us. You cannot own enough shoes to fill that. You cannot buy enough leggings or tools or toys for yourself or your children, and expect to find fulfillment and contentment. You cannot drink enough alcohol to fill this wound, this hole, that only God can fill. And it saddens me greatly. Because I am just as guilty as many, in that I acquire things and have behaviors that are not, arguably, the things and behaviors of a Godly woman, wife, and mother. Because quite often, I lack the fortitude to persevere in my faith walk. It is much easier to plop on the couch with a cup of coffee and an Oreo in my hand, and check Facebook, than it is to accomplish something meaningful, like prayer. Or comforting a friend or loved one. Or doing the duties I have acquired from my station in life – a housewife and homeschooling mother. Being lazy is much easier than being accomplished, but the rewards are definitely not the same.

I read an article this morning about why millennials don’t go to Church and how the American Church is losing people faster than they are gaining them. The article spoke to all the ways the American Church could act, to attract these young people. And as I read the article, several things struck me. It was not about any of the mainstream Churches in America. It certainly was not about the Eastern Catholic or Orthodox Churches. Much of what they were proposing Churches do, most of the mainstream Churches offer already. One of the complaints is that the American Churches need to adapt to the world around them. I took great offense at that. I love my Church specifically because it has NOT changed. I see lots of young people in there every week. I am seeing more women dress more modestly and even wear veils. They prefer that their faith remains steadfast, strong, and unchangeable. It offers them comfort in a crazy world. It helps them fight their addictions by remaining the same – unmovable, unchangeable, and steadfast. “And on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18 This is where millennials, and whoever is hurting in this world, needs to come to be filled with God. It is a place for the broken, the hurting, the sinners.

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It is not easy to fight addictions. At all. There are attractions, tempting us almost 24/7 into sin and deviant behavior. We make almost hourly choices towards good or towards evil. And with Great Lent soon upon us, it is the perfect time to slow down and focus on these many addictions, and to seek God’s Grace to help us fight them. To help us overcome them by filling our empty lives and hearts with Him, instead of stuff.

One great suggestion given to me was to do the “40 bags over 40 days” purging project. Definitely doing that this year. The timing is perfect for our family. Another suggestion I saw was to spend 1 day per week with no electricity in the evenings. Instead you light candles and read, pray, play games together. But nothing you do can be supplied by electricity. The author of the blog about it noticed some immediate benefits.

(Here is the link to the article:

http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jennifer-fulwiler/8-reasons-to-turn-out-the-lights-during-lent#.WK3C5oWG7FI.facebook)

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Here in the wintry north, sunset comes early. But I still think this could be a valuable Lenten aid, in that it quiets our lives. It calms us down. It helps set a mood, a tone, in our home of quiet reflection. As one who reads by Kindle at night, going to bed without reading will be weird, but maybe it is time I took a break from that habit. We would have to turn off our phones (agh! We’d have to talk to one another!). And there would be no TV or computer. My son does his Spanish totally online, so I would have to be sure he’s on top of his lessons before we unplug! My Instant Pot dinners would have to be completed on time. No late night laundry panics. We would just sit in the candle light and be together as a family. I think this may assist us with some of our addictive behaviors.

Please consider slowing down and coming more into the Presence of God. Rededicate yourself to becoming closer to He Who created the world. Closer to He Who commands the seas and sets the sun on its rounds every day; Who holds the stars in His hands. He is so much greater than anything we try to substitute for Him.

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

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“…more than we can handle…”

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“Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out.” 1COR 10:13

There are days when we want to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over us. We just cannot face the day. I know this. I had a rough night with very little of that restorative sleep we all need to keep going. My eyes are stinging and, well, frankly, I am cranky. But the Lord apparently wants me to keep on keeping on, because if I try, I cannot sleep. Just remain tired.

I love these quotes above about this topic; they give me hope. If Mother Theresa felt she had days when she would prefer to stay in bed, then who I am to expect more from my days? The Lord promises us He will allow us to be put to the test, but He will also give us the strength we need to endure, as well as a way out.

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So today was a heavy day…and it’s just past noon! Ha-Ha! I was told of a marriage ending; a child lost; a sickness being borne; illness taking hold; weather wreaking havoc on lives; government tussles; and so much more . But on the other side, a mother is preparing to go home with her newborn today, and my mother-in-law is going home from the hospital. There are good things, too. It is balance. Unfortunately, when in the middle of it, it is hard to see the other side. But God promised us a way out; he promised us the strength to get through whatever we are facing. And sometimes how we do that needs to change!

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God allows trials, but He does not create evil; evil is a thing on its own. Our salvation lays in learning to combat evil, in all its insidious forms, every day. When we are beat down, we clammer back up to the top. We do not allow evil to keep us pinned to where he wants us…despairing, immersed in misery and sadness. And each day when we awaken, we are given a new day to dedicate to the Lord and His will in our lives. We need to praise His covenant over us each and every day. We need to smile in the face of all that can destroy our faith. We need to cling to all He has promised us! Keep praying; remain strong in the faith; and hit your knees as often as you need to!! And when our numbered days are at their conclusion, so much of what we have conquered will make complete sense to us. Never doubt, never waiver, never give up…and never allow evil in where peace and love reside.

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“Let our prayers rise as incense before You.”

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Slaying our dragons…one day at a time.

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There are so many times I just *sigh* and think, “God is good.” And there are those days when I think, “Life is just so hard.” Luckily, I believe God has got this in balance. He balances our days and give us hope for those days to come.

Don’t get me wrong, I am no saint. I am not holier, nor more sinful, than the next mom driving to the grocery store. I am just me. And somedays I feel the joy in my heart of God – He resides there and I know it; I sing as I drive to the grocery store. I sing as I load the dishwasher. I sing as I carry another load to the washing machine. Why? Well, the alternative would be that I have no money to buy food; no one to buy food for. Or perhaps I have no dishes to unload because I have no family to eat with, or a place to eat my meals, or plates to eat them on. I have to wash the clothing, because I have clothing. So many blessings in amongst the sighs of life’s trials.

Today I was reminded that Lent is almost here. I read a post I had written a few years ago on this date and it brought me up short. I have nowhere near the spiritual experience going on now that I had then. And I am a little sad about that. But I also know I am surrounded by blessings. And there are many things I can do, in order to get more out of Lent.

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I posted this on my Facebook page today. I had a friend respond that she is not Catholic but it still sounds like a good idea. And I realized that so many people approach our seasons without any preparation. We see things in the stores and say, “Oh. Look at all the green. Saint Patrick’s Day is coming.” Or we see all the cute Easter decor and realize that Easter and Spring are right around the corner. I will tell you, that living in a snow state that is seeing a ton of snowfall and cold temps (today it was -5 this morning!) it is hard to even wrap your mind around the fact that Spring is coming. My Merry Christmas sign is frozen in place and we cannot even see the top of the flag part. So to see Spring in the stores and cute Easter eggs on display, it is hard to prepare for that, let alone Lent. For me, this approach of purging every day for 40 days is perfectly timed. I am busting out of our little house. We all need to purge (meaning the three of us who live here). So for me, giving up my clutter and over-abundance in clothing and, well, all our stuff, is a wonderful idea.

In the light of the Church’s seasons, we always fast before we feast. And if you have not experienced that, I feel bad for you. It changes everything – especially how you look at holidays. It’s like always attending banquets and formal events, you get inured to it. They mean nothing. It’s one of the reasons I hated “Kindergarten Graduation.” Or formal graduation from Elementary/Primary school, another for Junior High/Middle school, and then finally, High School. So many kids think HS graduation is no biggie. Half of them don’t show up. For college, barely 25% participate in walking for that diploma. It becomes something not worth the effort. If you do not understand the affluence you experience daily, you will come to stop appreciating it.

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Fasting from food, without a change of heart, is worthless – it’s just a diet. Instead of giving up chocolate, give up yelling at your mom or dad. Instead of spending money at McDonald’s, drop those dollars in the collection box at a homeless shelter. Instead of being envious of someone and disliking them for their success, why not have a coffee with them and get to know them? Instead of hating someone who disagrees with you (and there are so many issues we can disagree about) perhaps spend some time with them, exchanging ideas about something else. I have many dear friends who I disagree about politics with, but who are close to my heart and very loved. I have so many friends who are Protestant, or Orthodox, or Jewish, or many other styles/types of worship traditions, and we meld together beautifully. It’s like this amazing, colorful tapestry.

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One year many years ago, when we first discovered the eastern Churches, specifically the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, we experienced true fasting for the first time. I have never eaten so much tofu in my life. I have never been so sick of salads, ever. Melkites are sticklers for the rules of fasting; however, our priests and Bishop would always tell us, “Do what you can do. And each time we have a fasting period, try adding something else you can do.” They never expected us to keep the full fast, as most monastics do. (The full fast is no meat, dairy, wine, or olive oil for all 40+ days of Great Lent). But we tried the full fast that first year, and it was when all our kids still lived at home. The kids protested when they saw tofu again, and cringed at that next salad or bean dish.But we persevered for the entirety of Great Lent. (And below is a favorite fasting recipe of mine, that I enjoy year-round. It is called Majedra. You can add meat to it when you are not fasting. Google the recipe. Divine!).

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In the Melkite tradition, Easter is celebrated on Holy Saturday, starting at about 10pm and lasting until well after 2:00am. There are prayers, singing, processions, and all sorts of tears and laughter. And the incense? Oh my word! We used to have to open the side doors and let that Holy Smoke out! Ha-Ha-Ha! A good Melkite Easter Vigil and Liturgy is something I wish everyone could experience. It is a sensory experience I will forever treasure. Each year, one of our parishioners would make a deal with a local hamburger place (In and Out Burger) and would leave Liturgy just before the end, to pick up a stack of burgers for our Priest. And when those arrived, we could smell them over all the incense in that Church. Because we had fasted every, single, day of the 40 days of Great Lent; not a morsel of meat crossed our lips; not a sip of wine; not a drop of Olive Oil. And not one bit of dairy. But after the Liturgy, we all paraded to the Hall and boy oh boy, did we Feast! I have never experienced such an incredible thing in my life. Our youngest was asleep on the floor that first time, but our older sons were devouring everything meat they could. Our pastor used to say, “This is the one feast day when no vegetables are allowed!” Ha-Ha.

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We had denied ourselves and it made the eating and feasting, and sharing with one another, such an amazing experience. It heightened our experience of Easter. We wept with Christ as He denied His very life for us. And we celebrated when He rose again, and showed each of us the Paradise that awaits us, all of us who believe. Each time the Church requests we Fast, we try to comply, because it makes the Feast afterwards incredible. It makes that “Holy Day” aka “Holiday” that much richer. Christmas is an incredible experience when you have fasted from before Thanksgiving, which is called the Apostle’s Fast, for those 40 days before celebrating the Birth of Christ. (Most American pastors allow feasting on Thanksgiving Day, here in the States).

So, to deny yourself allows you to appreciate what you have. What you have gathered to yourself. When we have over-indulged and allowed ourselves to be gluttonous about life, we do not appreciate the intricacies, or the inherent but tiny blessings in all aspects of our lives. Trust me, to live with a leaner closet and sparser walls, fewer items in your pantry, and a clean or orderly home and garage, does much to help you appreciate what is contained within it. For me this Great Lent, I am going to focus on a learner life. In all aspects of it. I have already begun by containing my social networking presence. I have left groups and stopped watching things like programs that do not enhance the best of me, but rather feed the worst that is in me. I have stopped communicating with lots of people who do nothing more than make my blood boil. I now pray for them instead. But I no longer expose myself to them. Sometimes things, situations, and people do not enhance our lives. They do not make us better people. They feed the worst that is in us and in order to be our best selves, we sometimes have to cut people, situations, and things out of our lives.

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We all have our dragons that need to be slain. When my husband and I started Whole30, we both had Sugar Dragons that needed slaying. Some people have issues with alcohol, and some will say that is also a Sugar Dragon. Carbohydrates are also like sugar for some metabolisms. And some of us have dragons that interfere with our healthy interactions with others. We have issues that are perhaps mental or psychological. We all have things that need to be plucked from our lives, in order for us to live a better life. And Great Lent is offered by the Church every year, as a time for us to focus on our dragons. This year, orderliness and cleanliness, less clutter and junk in my life, is going to be my focus. How lean can I make my life? How can I be simpler? It has such huge ramifications. And right now, I am going to start by bringing a large, black, plastic bag into my room and tackling my dresser. It is a start. I will pick up my sword daily, starting again, for these 40+ days, to slay the clutter/gluttony dragon that is part of my life. I thank God He gives us this time every year, to rededicate ourselves to becoming better at this thing we call life, preparing us for eternity with the God who created even the stars.

“Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars; the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing.” Isaiah 40:26

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“…you were bought with a price…”

 

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“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1Corinthians 6: 19-20

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Guess where I am at today? Yeah; I am there. It seems like there is a push in our culture to expose us to uber-sexuality. It is everywhere. It is temptation surrounding us. And it is pervasive. The evil one is sitting back and laughing. The movies, the TV shows, song lyrics…and those are the legitimate sources of temptation. I just found out there is an alternate universe of YouTube that is dedicated to pornography (Red something or other). And it is free. There is Snap Chat where kids can sext each other and the image disappears after a few seconds. Except nothing disappears. And our children can find porn so easily. I read an article today that said 97% of all young men before the age of 18 have watched pornography. And it is not like trying to find a centerfold in a Playboy magazine. No. This is hard cord porn. There are images and videos of “rough sex,” and even group sex. Children as young as 11 and 12 are becoming addicted. And they are becoming reclusive and disordered. There was a court case this week against a father, accusing him of sexual abuse. A secondary charge of bestiality was dropped because there was no “penetration.” And that, as sick as it is, unfortunately, is now in our legal system and can set precedent for other cases of child abuse. Pornography and the culture surrounding it is all out there, easily obtained. And it is killing our country’s cultural base, and our families, which are the foundation of our culture. It is creating this disordered sense of what family is supposed to be, our sexuality, and all of our interpersonal relationships. And it is scaring me. And it should be scaring you.

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I am not sure how to combat this epidemic. I do know that I need to change myself, before I can help anyone else change. Do I watch porn? No. Do I read porn? No. Do I allow it in my home? No. Is it here? Probably. Because we allow sexual innuendo and jokes, and poor vocabulary, to sneak into our home and our lives. We slowly allow the level of purity and modesty to sink. It is like the story of the frogs in hot water. You place them in a pot on your stove in warm, tepid water. You slowly increase the heat until the frogs are boiling to death, and they are happy all the way, because they do not notice the water getting increasingly hot. Do we laugh at impure jokes? Do we allow movies rated “R” for sex or violence into our homes? We allowed a movie in that we still regret – the “F” word was used more than 300 times during that movie. That’s more than 1 time/minute. That is ridiculous. It is in the trash. I have to stop this from invading our home. I need to judge myself and see where I am lacking, in that I am allowing this cultural deviation to have a place in our home and family. It is part of the actions that I need to take; that each of us needs to take in order to combat this evil pervading our country, one person and one family at a time.

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What I find so interesting, is that this whole issue was noticed by me, over the past few days, coming from several sources – commercials about this new 50 Shades movie, comments on a couple of ProLife pages on FB, and news reports, even comments from people I know. And the timing is so much the Lord’s. Because this weekend is MeatFare Sunday. This weekend we enter into the preparation for Great Lent. This weekend we turn our focus inward, onto how we are preparing for the sacrifice God made for every one of us. A sacrifice that He would make, even if each of us were the sole person on earth. He would die for my sins alone. He would die for your sins, alone. He is that magnificent of a Creator. He values His creation above all things. He desperately wants each of us to belong solely to Him. Not this world. Not the evil that tempts us in this world. Not the wrong that is trying to invade our righteousness, our holiness, our future of eternity in the presence of God. Because sin separates us from God.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. And this is the verdict: The Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness more than light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever practices the truth comes into the Light, so that it may be clearly seen that what he has done has been accomplished in God.”” John 3:16-21

If we read part of that in light of pornography and evil, we can see how clearly God is talking to us. When John says, “The Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness more than light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” Pornography seeps into the world in darkness – behind closed doors. There are have been studies showing that kids can spend hours in their rooms, on their computers. These computers are tools that can help them with their schoolwork, yes, and can be invaluable tools for education. But think of the study that said 97% of boys before 18 have watched pornography. Where? How? Have you checked their laptops? Do you allow computers, Play Stations and the X-Box in their rooms? Did you know they have internet capabilities? I did not realize they are like having another WiFi Hot Spot. Have you scanned their phones or looked at the photos on them? Do you have their log in codes for the internet or their phones? Do you understand the apps they have on their computers and phones – what they can and cannot do on those apps? Do you have all their passwords? They are sometimes alone, in their rooms, with temptation swirling all around them. We trust our kids to become the people we set the example for them to aspire to be. We instruct them. We pray with them, and for them. We go to Church with them. We send them to Youth Group. We monitor their “dating” practices. We know their friends. Some of us homeschool, in order to keep an extra eye on our kids. But are we with them every moment? Is what we are doing enough? The evil one is laughing, because it is NOT enough. Don’t fool yourself. It is NOT enough.

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As we enter this preparation period for Great Lent, we are asked to focus more on our prayer life. Yes, we fast from certain foods; the list for Melkite Greek Catholics is quite lengthy and strict. Many Catholics and Orthodox give up chocolate or coffee. Some give up Facebook or the internet. But for me, fasting is a exercise in self control that I should be trying to do every week; it is not enough of a sacrifice for me (it doesn’t “hurt” enough to be memorable, if that makes sense). We should be fasting from meats on Wednesdays and Fridays all year long (in the Eastern Churches, we do). What works for me is to add something; to intensify the good, wholesome, faith-filled and inspiring things in my life. Doing so helps drown out all this evil and all these ungodly influences. Paying attention to what influences you can even include how you present yourself to others – too much make-up, or even flashy or revealing clothing. Because ungodly attire is a distraction to everyone and it can come from both males and females. How do others perceive you just from how you look when they see you? What is the first impression you give off to others? Are you a wholesome and Godly young person (or older person) or are you projecting the world and its influences? Are you trying too hard to be a part of the world? Try doing more in the religious and faith-filled part of your life. Go to Church more often. Sit in the presence of God in the Tabernacle, where He waits for us. Spend more time praying. Add volunteering with those who are less fortunate. Donate your time, and the money you save fasting, to those who are in need, to those who are suffering. Dedicate a portion of each day to silent prayer. Read stimulating, religious works by some of the Church Fathers. (The Ladder of Divine Assent by John Climacus and Our Thoughts Determine our Lives by Elder Thaddeus are two of my favorites). Stimulate your mind and your heart with thoughts and prayers of God. Divest yourself of the things of this world that make you less than what God calls you to be. Stop allowing the world and its bright and shiny temptations to skewer your relationship with God. Go to confession. Find a mentor or Spiritual Father you can chat with. Have coffee with your Youth Pastor or confessor. Make Godly relationships a priority, while pulling away from those who would do your soul, your eternity, harm. The evil one is laughing…let’s shut him up.

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Take this time of Lent to get yourself right with God. Work on your relationship with your parents, siblings, children, and friends – but most importantly, with God. Cement the Godly and be rid of the evil. Christ endured beatings and belittling for us. God, Himself, hung on that cross for 3 agonizing hours – just for you; just for me. Do not throw His sacrifice back in His face.

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But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

“…our way of keeping discomfort at bay…”

“This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD.” Jeremiah 17:5

You know, I try to just “let go and let God.” And when I do, I can breathe. I can relax. When I take back that wheel, I have sleepless nights and an upset stomach. Take last night for example. I could not relax and sleep and finally went to bed about 11:30pm. I was up again at 2:30am, sick to my stomach and in total panic mode. I’d taken a shower earlier in the evening and my face reacted all weird in that I had gotten way over-heated and my face was on fire, and a tad bit swollen. It was like a hot flash on steroids. So when I had the panic attack, I figured it was all related. I know my hormones are not done with me, yet. But I also know that we have been eating junk and it affects my entire system. I need to return to my Whole30 attentiveness! I had expressed my concerns to my husband a day or so earlier, and he had calmly assured me that things were good and to just relax. Ha-Ha. I used to be so cavalier and not a worry-wort. I am not sure when that changed. Maybe when the mantle of responsibility felt firmly ensconced on my motherhood shoulders? Maybe recently when I realized my baby is graduating high school in May and everything has to be completed and turned in for the entire year by then…and I am woefully late on the grades/samples due already? Whenever it was, it is firmly on my shoulders and some days, it weighs so heavily.

“It’s important to recognize that fear does not only manifest itself as heart-pounding, sweat-producing anxiety. There is a quiet fear that can equally dominate our lives. That quiet fear manifests itself as procrastination. Behind every procrastination is an excuse and behind every excuse is a fear we’re not facing. Indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say that procrastination is our defense against fear, our way of keeping discomfort at bay.” This quote is from an article in Forbes entitled, “Living Fearlessly by Facing Our Fears by Brett Steenbarger.

And you know what? Procrastination has been my mantra lately. “Maybe if I ignore this thing, it will resolve itself or just go away.” Ha-Ha. Never happens. In fact, I have found that facing these things that frighten or intimidate me often give me much-needed peace.

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Getting our affairs in order is something we all need to do. We all need to get organized and have a handle on things. All things. I have boxes I have not opened, nor looked inside, since I boxed them up almost 4 years ago. I know that some of them are still closed because this house is just too small to accommodate my “collections,” but I also know I could probably purge. My office is piles. Literally piles. And that is not my normal operating style. I was known, in the workplace, as the supreme organizer who could take someone’s chaos and bring them order and a smooth workflow. But it’s like that old saying, “The Shoemaker’s son has no shoes.”

I had written awhile ago that I had been in a funk but that I thought I was coming out of it. I think that is true, to an extent. I have worked on a few things – today I cleaned and am sanitizing my dishwasher! How often does that get done? (Uhmm…rarely to never). I cleaned up dog-hair-zombie-dust-bunnies. The dog hair thing really sends me over the edge. Since I now have totally groomed dogs, who are basically naked, I can get on top of the shedding. Ugh. But I desperately need to dive in and purge, organize, and clean my house. And why do I procrastinate? Why do I operate like I have to wait until we’re at “ground zero” or “critical mass” before I tackle these projects? To be honest, I am not sure. But I think it something about that quote from the Forbes article. In that article, he talked about successful people:

“In his book Crisis? Let’s Beat It!, Michael Virardi discusses the results of a study he conducted with 101 successful business people. He found that the vast majority (over 90%) engaged in two behaviors: 1) they made lists to prioritize their work and 2) they spent time each day and week preparing for the next day and week. In other words, the successful businesspeople were anti-procrastinators. They developed routines for facing the future…”

And then he wrote, “Emilia Lahti, writing about Hypponen’s text, argues that facing what we most fear builds our character and gives us strength. In so doing, we expand our mental and emotional reserves and find a second wind of motivation.” (same Forbes article).

Today, I faced those stupid things that woke me at 2:30am. I do feel energized, and far more relaxed. So now, I think I will tackle the actual dust in my house, and maybe conquer some more things on my list. The list that I need to make for today, and for tomorrow. And that is a list that I need to start checking things off of…for my own sanity, and to get ahead of the things I have allowed to slide. It does not reflect well on me, nor my family. I will get a handle on all of it; honest.

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I think our end-goal is to acknowledge and conquer the things of this world that are placed before us, rather than allow them to conquer us. Fear makes us almost immobile at times. Procrastination is not the cure for what is causing us to put things off. Right now, I am slowly coming to terms with that. And with the fact that our lives are finite. We are only given a certain amount of time on this earth, and I firmly believe we only get this one shot at it. So to waste time is to squander something we can never get back. Yes, there are days when we need to unplug, staying in our jammies, and just vegging out for a day. Everyone needs to recharge their batteries. But that should not be our daily “grind.” We need to be useful and productive. The Lord expects us to give this world our best. His best? He gave His life on the Cross. The least…very least….I can do is be attentive to the obligations in this life that I have taken on. Those obligations are my choices in life, and the resulting responsibility I have towards myself and others. It is the very least. And to that, I can add caring for my neighbors (near and far) and a renewed fervor and love of God that I have let slide. Lent is fast approaching. We had best get prepared for that, as well. I am writing my list. Are you?

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“I love you every day, not just on Valentine’s Day..”

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So, yeah, it’s Valentine’s Day. I don’t really put a lot of value on some of these “Hallmark Holidays.” Throughout history, we have taken something holy or sacred, and turned it into a twisted and spun holiday that truly has no relation to the original celebration. There are so many things I could think of that ring of consumerism or commercialization. Chocolate covered cherries are something I really dislike. I love marachino cherries in drinks; I even love to chomp on them. But the chocolate covered ones? They are just awful. My husband got me a large box of them when we were first married. Once. LOL  We joke about it now. There are so many varieties of chocolate devoted to this particular holiday, they are even too numerous to mention! Then, there are those darn peeps, now sold on every holiday. They used to just be for Easter, which was bad enough, but now they are all year long! Which makes my husband, a Peeps devotee, very happy!

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The reason for Valentine’s Day goes back to the story of Saint Valentine, who risked his life insisting on performing Christian marriages, which were ILLEGAL at the time, under the Emperor Claudius of Rome. Valentine continued and was arrested. He was beaten and tortured and released. Once again, he returned to performing Christian marriages. He was arrested again. This time they scheduled his death. As he was waiting in prison, he communicated with a young woman he had been counseling (and reportedly cured of blindness. And some stories say she was the daughter of his jailor; other stories that it was the daughter of Claudius himself) and signed a note to her, allegedly with “from your Valentine.” And that is where we get the tradition of Valentine cards and notes from. He was soon beheaded on February 14, 269 for his crime of insisting on Christian marriages, and not renouncing his faith in Christ. The color red is associated with his holiday because the color red in the Church is the color of martyrdom. And a red heart seems appropriate because he was beheaded for celebrating Christian marriage. In a way, it is a fitting holiday to celebrate love. In one story, the girl he cured planted a pink, flowering almond tree outside the Flaminian gate where he was martyred (and the gate’s name was later changed to the Valentine Gate) and it still blooms pink flowers; another reason for flowers to be associated with his feast day. Below is a photo of how the gate looks now. It is now called the Portal del Popopola – the “door of the people.” (I don’t see the tree but apparently it is safe and still blooms…perhaps they moved it. Another one of those pesky traditions we cannot verify).

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I don’t know why we take these wonderful stories of our faith and make them so different. Christmas and Easter are so far removed from reality. The sad part is, these holiday (see that word? Holy-day??) celebrations could enrich our lives and not the pocketbooks of retails giants like Hallmark Cards and Hershey’s Chocolate! And so many people get angry because they say that the Church took a valid pagan holiday and stole the date for their own use. Uhm, well, yeah. In some cases, they did that. Why not? If that became the practice of the people, why keep something outdated on the books? Gee? Does this sound like how people want to remove Christopher Columbus and replace him with Indigenous People Day? What is the difference? Well, it’s who holds the calendar and who holds the strings of the historians (the victors write history, don’t they?? Ha-Ha), and who writes the books.

One of the most exciting things about being a history nut, and college-educated anthropology student, is that I have been able to string things together. It’s like standing outside of the timeline and watching things progress. Ever see one of those timelines in a classroom, along the tops of the walls, wrapping its way around from the formation of the earth to present-day events? That is what studying history is like. Anthropology is the study of peoples as they are associated with timely events…it’s like being able to touch history. And so much of what we know, and who we are, is interwoven with our historical story. And each generation takes this precious history and messes with it, to match our current cultural miasma. We can always strive to find the original, and learn to appreciate where we have come from, and what the origins of what we celebrate, really are. And that’s why I love history and anthropology.

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So my rant for the day is to stop the silliness. Tell those you love that you love them everyday. Don’t wait for the brightly colored and packaged peeps to arrive in the store, or for the retail world with all their decorations entice us into buying things representing the love we have for one another – things we don’t really need. Tell each other you love one another. Show how you love one another by doing kindnesses for each other. Open the door for someone. Let someone ahead of you merge onto the highway. Make the bed. Pour another cup of coffee. Empty the dishwasher. Throw in a load of laundry. Make their favorite meal. Write a love letter. Put little notes into the suitcase of a traveling spouse. Write a note and stick it inside your child’s lunchbox. Make something for the person you love, that comes from your heart. Do something that demonstrates how you feel. You can do it without going into debt or buying more things you do not really need. So celebrate our holidays, with a look back to what they really are, where they came from, and who we really are. Celebrate with full knowledge, and enjoy these special days on our calendars even more!!

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**This is dedicated to my husband of 32 years and the love of my life for 34 years. You are my life and I love you everyday, not just on Valentine’s Day.**