“Memory eternal…”

Joe smiling

This is my father-in-law, Joe. He passed into his eternal rest four years ago today. As Eastern Catholics, when we recall someone or remark upon their deaths, we say to others, “Memory Eternal.” One wonderful explanation comes from Scripture itself. As we read in St. Luke’s Gospel, the thief asked: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”  And in answer, in satisfaction of his wish, his wish to be remembered, the Lord witnesses: “I say to you, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.”  In other words, “to be remembered” by the Lord is the same thing as “to be in Paradise.”  “To be in Paradise” is to be in eternal memory and, consequently, to have eternal existence and therefore an eternal memory of God. (Orthodox Christianity.net). I love that explanation. But there are many others, too.

This is also posted on Orthodox Christianity.net: “The Jewish equivalent of “memory eternal” would be zikhrono/ah li-vrakha (“may his/her memory be unto blessing”). Heretics, apostates or evil doers are never mentioned by name after they are gone. If they are referred to, a mock name is used instead (I guess that explains why some call Our Lord “Yoshke”). Also, on Purim when the Scroll of Esther is read, noise is made to blot out the name of Haman, the enemy of Israel. With us, this happens when the Synodikon is read on Orthodoxy Sunday: people call out Memory Eternal thrice to acclaim Saints and righteous Emperors and thrice Anathema for heretics and enemies of the Church. When one really wanted to punish an enemy, they would kill everyone in his household, so that nobody would perpetrate his memory/pray for him. Cf. 1 Samuel 25:22 “So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.”

That explanation is a little extreme, but I love the ties to our Jewish roots in theology. And more is found in other scripture references, too.  Proverbs 10:7 “The name of the righteous is used in blessings, but the name of the wicked will rot.” Psalm 112:6 “Surely he shall not be moved for ever: the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.”  And from the book of Isaiah (Iz 49:13-15) “Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.”Joe BryceIn the Eastern Churches, we don’t have a funeral “Mass.” We have a memorial service. And this is the last portion of that service:

The Dismissal

Priest: “Glory to You, O God, our hope, glory to You. May Christ our true God, who rose from the dead and as immortal King has authority over the living and the dead, have mercy on us and save us, through the intercessions of his spotless and holy Mother; of the holy, glorious, and praiseworthy Apostles; of our venerable and God‑bearing Fathers; of the holy and glorious forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; of his holy and righteous friend Lazaros, who lay in the grave four days; and of all the saints; establish the soul of His servant Joseph, departed from us, in the dwelling place of the saints; give rest to him in the bosom of Abraham and number him among the righteous.

People: Amen.

Priest: May your memory be eternal, dear brother, for you are worthy of blessedness and everlasting memory.”

I love how we are asking for a place among all the saints, a place of rest among the righteous. We are remembering the person who walked among us, and we are asking that God “remember” him, too. On that same site, Orthodox Christian.net, this is said,

To remember – to have memory of in the western world is to THINK and RECALL an individual.

To remember – to have memory of in the Eastern Church it is to RE-MEMBER – to pull that person, that part of the body, and RE-MEMBER – REJOIN that body part back into the Body of Christ.

So to say, Memory Eternal is saying “May he/she FOREVER be a MEMBER – A PART OF THE BODY OF CHRIST.”

And I truly ask that whenever I say, “Memory Eternal.” May that person forever be with us. We have the Church in 3 states – the Church Militant, here on earth, the Church Triumphant in Heaven, and the Church Suffering or Waiting (that would be those in Purgatory, should you accept that teaching). But we are all One Body in Christ. It is why we feel we can confidently ask the Saints to pray for us – they are part of the Body of Christ in the Church Triumphant. And we can continue to pray for those who have gone before us, asking for their memories to be eternal, for them to reside with God in Paradise.

Joe Kyle Ron

And this leads to what I’ve been musing over. What would I like to be remembered for? My kindness to others? My temper? My sarcastic wit? My smile? My faith and love of God? I pray my children, and those who know me well, would have an amalgam of memories of me, that would form the whole person, imperfect as I am, for them to cling to after I am gone. But am I also that thief, hanging next to Our Lord, asking to be remembered? Well, yes I am. I have committed sins. I  have great need of forgiveness and repentance.

I read a great blog today by Father Barnabas Powell over on Ancient Faith Blogs entitled, “We deceive ourselves – Faith Encouraged.” In it he says,

“If I am so blind to my need for forgiveness and repentance, I will continue to be at the mercy of my passions. I will continue to be ruled by my spiritual poverty and I will miss the healing power of the spiritual medicine offered to me by God in Christ. But, if I come to myself, as the Prodigal did when he was working feeding the hogs on a farm, and he remembered that the servants in his father’s house were well fed and cared for, I will begin the admittedly difficult journey back to the Father’s House.”

He goes on to say: “Once I see that I am only lying to myself and escape this delusion through honest confession, I am finally free to see myself as I really am: A person who needs God’s mercy and grace. How powerful the trick of the evil one is when he cons me into believing that God won’t accept me because of my mistakes! I allow shame and pride to build a wall of delusion between me and the very love that will set me free. God already knows me better than I know myself. He sees all my weaknesses and mistakes and He loves me still. He, like the Prodigal’s father, stands at the end of the road every day looking for me to return home to His warm embrace. He does not shame me. I shame myself by foolishly wallowing in my ego!”

And he then says, “Today, are you willing to abandon the lie that you are OK? Are you willing to look into your own heart, without shame, and be honest in your need for God’s mercy and grace? Are you finally willing to travel the Lenten wisdom of prayer, fasting, and repentance to see your loving Father throw His arms around your neck and welcome you home and forgive all? Such spiritual treasures await the honest and humble man. All the love and forgiveness you will ever need is as close as your willingness to abandon the delusion of your own heart and embrace the invitation to be Orthodox on Purpose!”

I take great comfort in that. I know that God forgives me and when it is my time to “be remembered” among the saints, I can take my place. But I need to be honest about who I am, and that this constant journey is a process of picking myself up and starting over – and over again. It is not being intimated into admitting I am far from perfect and that God has so much left to do in me; it is an acceptance of my true sinful self and a reconciliation with the real me and God. I also need to remember that we are not guaranteed our next breath. Am I ready to be remembered right now? Am I in that place that gives me comfort, knowing if today is my last, that I am ready for eternal remembrance? My father-in-law was a good man. He worked so hard and he loved his family fiercely. He and I butt heads quite a lot. I wish I was the woman I am today, back when he was breathing his last. I think we would have liked one another more (I think he would have enjoyed me more). His death came so rapidly that most of us were truly unprepared for it. It is a blessing in that he did not suffer for too long, but he did suffer. His entire family suffered along with him. The last moments he and I shared were awkward and deeply sad, but I can sincerely add my prayers to everyone who says, “Memory Eternal,” and I can beg for his repose among the righteous. God knows my heart and he knows the relationship I shared with Joe. Joe and I loved one another, in sometimes an argumentative way, but we wanted the same thing for our family. Disagreements in families are commonplace. But I also know that saying, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” is a wise saying. Time is not something we can count on – there is a finality to this life. Let us all strive to forgive one another and treat one another with loving kindness always and foremost.

Memory eternal, Joe; memory eternal. “…give rest to him in the bosom of Abraham and number him among the righteous.”

Joe Mary

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“…the Beloved of all…”

Memory eternal…my stepdad looked up at my mom, while she was gently speaking to him, and breathed his last, yesterday afternoon.  This illness was as sweeping as it was brief.  We are all thankful he suffered very little and was peaceful until the end.  My mom and his other family members are now struggling with all the details that come in the wake of the death of a loved one.  I pray for peace, some moments of laughter, and the comfort from grief shared by family and friends.

Couple.memories

I mentioned in a previous post the prayers wherein we ask God to assist us in the various surprises that come our way; thanks be to God I have faith so that when these little occurrences are thrown my way, I can deal with them. I honestly do not know how people can go through life without a strong faith; a belief in something stronger than themselves, and a reason for existing. I am not referring here to the death of my stepdad, but rather, the other things that come along and throw a kink into your life.  I was prepared for his passing, and I prayed for a peaceful death, surrounded by those he loved.  And it was….many family members, as well as many friends, were surrounding his bed yesterday.  It was a blessing.  Following a different vein, I believe, as I have stated before, that God is laughing at me and my plans, and I am down here, feverishly signalling a “time out!!!”  It is a compliment, I suppose, that God believes I can handle just about anything, and all those things He is throwing at me in rapid succession.  I must say that it pretty much hamstrings me at times.  My grandmother (Memory Eternal) used to laughingly say to my husband and myself that she didn’t think we’d have to wait in any sort of line, nor endure any sort of “purgatory” time, because so many things were always happening to us. We had so much to deal with in our lives on a daily basis, that she said we would be on the fast track to heaven – no waiting at all – we would pass “go” and collect our reward!  I hope she is right, because some days, I feel weighed down by some of the things rushing at me.

God has made so many promises through his Old Testament Prophets, His time preaching directly on this earth, and through His Apostles and Disciples, and I take claim to each and every one of them.  I was told by a Protestant friend once that we waste so much of our faith by not claiming God’s help in our lives, and His many promises to be with us until the “end of the age.” (Mathew 28:20)  And although I may feverishly be signalling “time out,” I am also reaching out…to God in prayer.  I am quieting my heart and listening for his quiet whisper.  Yesterday I quoted some scripture where God promises us a “way out” of our troubles, a path we can choose, that will help us with everything that comes our way.  I choose the path God gives me, and I lay all my cares at the foot of His Throne.

Comfort my heart

I believe that most days, especially these reflective days of Lent, are given to us to reach out to God; to know and acknowledge our inability to do this alone.  As Elder Thaddeus told me in his book, God does not need our prayers; He wants our prayers. He is waiting for us to call on Him to help us.  Someone close to me told me that they had survived many of life’s trials with no one to help them, no Church community had come to their aid; they were inferring that they were fine and they were okay with making it on their own. They also told me that they had “heard it all before” and did not really appreciate the quotes I use in my blog from the Church Fathers.  Because they had “heard it all before.”  I have been thinking about that.  This person is a Protestant, a Protestant who has “heard it all before.”  I find that along my journey to heaven (where I am praying I will eternally reside) I am continually surprised by a new aspect of the truth, laid out for me.  These truths, of course, are eternal ones and have not changed since Our Lord presented them to His Church more than 2,000 years ago.  The Disciples, who learned at the knee of a Master, have shared these with us in writing.  Their disciples, in turn, have also shared these insights and bits of wisdom with us.  Don’t you also believe that with a slight turn of phrase, or different wording or emphasis, that something very old can become new again?  I know that I can sit through a boring lecture on anthropological linguistics (which, trust me, I did on many occasions) and not pick up a thing.  Or I can be engaged by a professor who loves language and shares with us how one word can be traced from the arctic regions of the Siberian outback, clear down to a remote Indian tribe residing at the tip of South America, further sharing each stop and mutation that word made along its 1000-year journey!  Quite often, when I have discovered someone from antiquity, who has made my faith new, I share it.  I have recently found so many Saints I did not know existed, and they have changed and rejuvenated my faith, without changing the truths they are sharing, just the way they are expressed.  I love that about a faith that can trace its lineage back to a specific Apostle, or Christ, Himself.  Yes, there have been stops along the way, but the Word was not mutated on its journey, and yet it has arrived, for me, 2,000 years later, intact through the words of a Saint.

One of my favorites I more recently discovered is St. John of Kronstadt. I only wish I could have lived in Russia in his lifetime.  It seems like every time I begin to read something that intrigues me, someone is quoting St. John.  He is used as a stepping-off point for so many wonderful posts, blogs, or articles.  And I love his wisdom and his turn of phrase. He has made my faith jump with refreshed vigor.  What is sad for me is that so many people reject his words simply because they are old, they are not in the Bible, and they are not Protestant or Roman Catholic.  The universality of our faith is lost on so many of my contemporaries and so very many people are loosing out on an important dimension to the words of Christ, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

I was told an interesting story by a priest (who later became a good friend) who happened to be bi-ritual. He was from India and he was Syro-Malabar, and Roman Catholic.  He was dispensed to say the Liturgy in either form and was assigned to a Roman Catholic parish we attended; he was an incredible confessor.  At dinner one evening in our home, he told us about the history of the Syro-Malabar Church, now in communion with the Catholic Church.  I do not remember the exact dates, and perhaps will get some of this brief synopsis incorrect, but the gist of the story went like this: St. Thomas the Apostle traveled to India and established the Church there, converting and baptizing as He went.  Those Christians were called, “Thomas Christians” in his honor.  The native Indian population had already erected places of worship to their gods and St. Thomas had the new Church simply occupy these buildings, already in place.  The content of the liturgy itself became driven by the local language and customs of the people, while following the typical format of liturgies around the world. The consecration has been kept intact exactly as St. Thomas had shared with the people of India.  Many years later (perhaps hundreds), some explorers from Portugal came to India, with their armies and their Roman Catholic priests.  They found only “pagan” temples (these original temples the Church had occupied) and the priests instructed the armies to demolish them all.  This was done, even though the Syro-Malabar priests were telling the Portuguese Roman priests that they, too, worshiped Christ and were a part of His Church, through St. Thomas the Apostle.  Well, the Portuguese did not acknowledge this and many, many years passed before their rite was formally back into allegiance with Rome.  (With much anguish and pain to this Church community along the way). This story illustrates the fact that the 12 Apostles took their instructions from Our Lord very seriously and they traveled the world, baptizing and establishing the Church, all over the world.  They also recognized and brought in the local languages and customs of the people they converted.  And this is why there are so many rites in communion with Rome.  (The apostles, however, did not establish the other sects that sprung up around the world, most of which came to be centuries after their deaths).  These are the Churches in communion with Rome still today. There are many Orthodox Churches as well, and we all long for the day when we can worship together.  As I have stated many, many times, I am drawn to the east, and most especially into the simplicity of Orthodoxy.  St. John of Kronstadt was a Russian Orthodox priest and his writings and his quotes are for me, as a Byzantine Catholic, resonating deeply with me, as I stand alongside my Orthodox friends.

My prayers today are for an increase in overt faith for me, in the clear practicing of the things I am learning from the Saints and Church Fathers who have preserved these innate truths for us over the centuries.  Elder Thaddeus, a Serbian Orthodox Monk, has so much to show me and share with me, although I am not Orthodox.  Many in our Byzantine community read all we can from the Church Fathers in Orthodoxy and we apply these lessons to our lives every day.  We believe in the true universality of Christianity and we are open to learning from those who have gone before us, either within the umbrella of the Catholic Church, or from our Orthodox brethren.

St. John of Kronstadt.7

I also pray for my friends and family who stand outside and peer into this life of faith, this struggle, this meandering path I am on to my eternal rest.  I pray that they will continue to support me, to love me, and to accept me.  Quite often I am rebuked and told that I am off on a spiritual tangent and I need to stop; I need to be more like they are.  And this grieves me.  It grieves me because I feel, for the first time in a very long time,  I can honestly say God is working in my life. My children have told me recently, that they, too can feel God working in our lives.  We all feel like we need to just stand back and watch God make it happen!  We all can feel His presence pulling us along; He is with our family as we make some hard decisions, as we face new obstacles.  He is our path, He is our salvation, and He comfortably rests in His Church.  And that is where I choose to be, where I derive my comfort, and where I will continue to always be.  And it is where our family resides.

Holy Gifts up close

“…the path by which you should go.”

St. Isaac the Syrian5

Today I am digging deep inside myself, because I am on watch.  My step father is fighting his last fight and I am deeply saddened.  I am looking deeply into my own walk with God and my own zig-zag pathway to eternity.  I recall so many of the wonderful chats we have had over the past 30 years; the many, many laughs he has given us.  Today, though, I am remembering the more sober, serious conversations we have had and I am praying for his soul; I am praying for a peaceful death and reunion with God.  Over the years, we have spoken about his mistakes, the ways in which he wishes he could have behaved differently. The beautiful part of that is that he recognized those mistakes and he acknowledged a life lived apart from his faith.  He struggled to get himself right with God, even before there was a diagnosis of cancer.  He went to his priest, he made a long confession, and he got himself back into Church.  Nearer to the end of his life, he sought comfort in his faith.  And he brought my mom with him; that is a gift I will forever be grateful for.

St. John Chrysostom2

Today, and once again, Abbot Tryphon wrote a post on his Facebook wall about relationship and our fear of them.  It was a beautiful piece and I quote some of it here: “Grieving the loss of a relationship, either by death or breakup, is just as important to the maturation of our heart, as having a long term relationship, for in grieving we allow ourselves to stay connected to others, and remain openhearted to what God has for us. If fear of loss disables us, we may not be able to risk having anything that really matters to us, for by throwing courage to the side, we deprive ourselves of the touch and the intimacy that helps us open our hearts to all that God has in store for us.

Grieving is the way you can heal from loss, and, in turn, be open to relationships that can make your life more complete, and more fulfilled. Many people do not allow themselves to grieve, so they deprive themselves of relationships that can lead to spiritual growth that only comes through suffering loss. You grow stronger if you allow yourself to grieve when you’ve experienced loss, for grieving is one of the most fundamental of life skills. It is the way that the heart can heal from loss and go on to love again and grow wise. If we refuse to love another, for fear of loss, we remain closed off from not only others, but from God. “He who does not love remains in death (1 John 3:14).

As the Abbot stated, we cannot close ourselves off from relationship for fear of grieving; “grieving is one of the most fundamental of life skills.”  Today I am grieving because while my stepdad is struggling for each and every breath today, I grieve the loss of someone in my life who really affected my entire family.  My mom is a better woman because he chose to love her.  He loved me and my children as if we were born through him. never differentiating between any of us.  And I am forever grateful for that. My brother told him on Saturday that he hopes he can love his wife as my stepdad loved our mother and he thanked him for loving our mom so totally.  What a gift he gave us.  And I know he would be embarrassed by my saying this in a public forum, and he would joke it away; but I also know he would secretly be very pleased to know he touched us all so deeply.  My sons learned a lot from their grandpa and they all love him very much.  He used to play with my sons and tell them silly stories. But most of all, he shared himself with them and that is a priceless gift.

Lent is surely trying us this year.  I am still clinging to Elder Thaddeus’ book and struggling to make my way through it.  The book and his thoughts have truly touched my heart and soul this year, and I hope engendered permanent changes to the woman I am. He stated that, ” Our Lord is pleased with the good deeds we perform.  Works of mercy and everything else we do for our salvation and the benefit of our neighbor and the Holy Church, all this is pleasing to God.  However, what pleases Him most is simple, innocent and childlike love which cleaves to His heart.  This is what is most pleasing to Him and what He wants from us. This is what every person can give Him, rich or poor, young or old.”  My stepdad became a changed man once he was welcomed back into the Church. He and my mom began working for a homeless center their parish ran.  They sold clothing and household items there, and also provided free weekly meals.  They even assist people with paying utility and grocery bills.  My mom was in charge of organizing the donated clothing, pricing it, and putting it out for sale.  More often than not, when someone in need came for a meal, they would also be walked through the little shop and given whatever it was they needed, no money expected.  The local need grew bigger and bigger and my stepdad used to ride in this big semi-truck down to a different county to get food from this central food bank, to resupply their center.  He loved doing that.  They got involved and made some wonderful friends through volunteering there.  It enhanced their lives and brought them great joy and peace.  And although they did all these great things, I appreciate more especially how God worked in their lives and allowed them to love more and become more at peace.  I was so shocked when my mom volunteered to do this, because it was so out of character for her; but it became her character, as it changed her.  And what a blessing that is – and a lesson for me, in my struggles (most especially this Lenten journey).  My mom was never an overly demonstrative person, but as she has aged, and gone through her own journey, we have grown much closer.  I treasure that relationship now.  I also know that my stepdad helped to bring this change about and for that, too, I am forever grateful.

Character

By the end of this Lenten journey, I am hoping for a joyous morning, when we welcome our Risen Lord.  The hope I have comes from a mighty struggle; a struggle I have yet to complete.  But as the Scripture verse from Romans promises us, we have hope through our struggles. I now pray for strength to endure these coming days and moments when I cannot afford to wallow in my own grief, but must be strong and a comfort to others, mostly to my mom.  I know God does not give me more than I can handle (“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength but with your testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” 1 Corinthians 10:13) and I also know that He will lead me in the way I should go (“This is what the LORD says, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you how to succeed, who directs you in the path by which you should go.” Isaiah 48:17) and through His guidance, we will all reach our Resurrection, our Easter.

easter-lily-woman-cross

I pray for God’s blessing on our family through these next days; most especially for my mom. I ask the Lord’s strength rest upon her as she faces these days ahead. God grant us peace and love…and healing from this grief. Amen.

“…when things unforeseen occur…”

Cross sunlight rocks

“Thou hast raised me from bed and sleep, O Lord; enlighten my mind and heart, and open my lips, that I may praise Thee, O Holy Trinity: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God. For the sake of the Mother of God, have mercy upon us.  Grant unto me, my Lord, that with peace in mind I may face all that this new day is to bring. Grant unto me grace to surrender myself completely to Thy holy will. Instruct and prepare me in all things for every hour of this day. Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, do Thou teach me to accept them calmly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfill Thy holy will. Govern Thou my thoughts and feelings in all I do and say. When things unforeseen occur, let me not forget that all cometh down from Thee. Teach me to behave sincerely and reasonable toward every member of my family and all other human beings, that I may not cause confusion and sorrow to anyone. Bestow upon me, my Lord, strength to endure the fatigue of the day and to bear my share in all its passing events. Guide Thou my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to suffer, to forgive, and to love. Amen.” (A small portion of the Orthodox set of Morning Prayers).

I remember a cute saying that goes something like, “If you want God to have a good laugh, just tell Him your plans.”  And I try to keep that foremost in my mind as I plan, not just the day, but when we are planning our future.  I have had so many conversations with parents recently who have shared that their children are still dependent on them, in so many ways, even though they are perhaps married themselves.  With the new Obamacare, children can remain on their parents’ health insurance until they are 26 years old.  Some of our friends have children who have their own lives, are married, and live in other states, but whose cell phone is still paid by the parents, because they have a “family” plan and it’s cheaper for everyone.  Still other children, married and on their own, have their car insurance or portions of their rent, covered by their parents.  I even have friends my age, whose parents still send them the occasional infusion of cash, because for lots of us, we live pretty close to the “edge.” The cost of living is climbing at a pace that many young people, just out on their own, cannot afford to live without some assistance.  This has happened with our sons in differing degrees, and I do not begrudge them a cent, and feel happy that we can help them as they establish their independence.  It just seems like it is becoming the norm, as much as living with your parents when you are first out of college or newlyweds.  “Back in the day” people did not leave the family home – they enlarged it to encompass their children’s spouses and the grandchildren.  Large families, all living together, were the norm.

Today, I am re-arranging my head and my processing of our future, because we had grandiose plans (that’s God you hear laughing) to relocate to another state, thousands of miles north of us.  We have been purging and taking down the quantity our “things” to try and fit onto a 14-foot trailer.  I have been giving things away and selling some things. Nonetheless, it has been a process of purging.  It’s been feeling good to have less, but “icky” at the same time.  We are still relocating, and still relocating to the same place, but God has given us more to deal with than we originally had on our plates.  And each day I pray that I can successfully deal with whatever God places in my life, and it has been no exception over the past few days.

I always try to picture things in my mind, ahead of time.  There seems to be a certain order to life….birth – life – death.  Sometimes we make assumptions about the order of things.  One assumption is that we will live with our own, nuclear, families and we will see our extended families from time to time (aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, etc).  Quite a few years ago, when all three of our sons still lived at home, my paternal grandmother became unable to live on her own.  I had been her custodial caregiver for years and was accustomed to running over to her place on a moment’s notice.  The time eventually came in her life when she could not longer care for herself, and she came to live with us.  God had blessed us with a home in the same town, that was large enough to house all of us, with a bedroom and bathroom for my grandma on the first floor.  It was good for my children to live with an elderly person, and to see their great-grandmother on a daily basis, in her time of need, and at her most vulnerable.  Up until then, my grandma had been a “force of nature” in all our lives.  My sons stepped up and were wonderful.  (My middle son still has nightmares about cleaning her dentures, but that is for another post! LOL!)  We all gathered around her as she passed from this life to the next, and it was a beautiful thing; something we shared as a family and have never forgotten.  And now we are going to relocate, and at the same time, incorporate an aging parent into the mix.

Bringing an aging parent to live with you is something most of us never had expected to do.  This morning, I was drawn to re-read the Scripture verses about worrying (Matthew 6:25-34): “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?  And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  These verses give me comfort; I will not worry about the million-and-one details about how we are going to pull all of this off (my parent lives in a different state; we have to sell their house, their car, their things and then get them up to us) but instead think of the blessings this will bring our family.

Once again, my children will be a light to an aging relative. We still have a teenager at home and my oldest son and his family will be living very close to us.  They will bring energy and love into the house, where an aging parent of mine can siphon-off some of that, to keep them aware and enjoying life.  My grandchildren will get to know their great-grandparent.  In this day and age, how many children know their great-grandparents?  I was blessed to know and love my paternal grandmother’s parents…they were a joy in my life that I feel so very grateful to have had.  My grandchildren will be able to learn to love someone like me, but also someone older than myself, who also is part of our family.  My plans have altered a little bit, but I am looking at the blessing of having an elder member of our family present every day, not just on holidays.  My daughter-in-law and I had plans to sight-see this summer and now it will be even more important, as we also take my parent along with us, to introduce us all to our new homeland. She and I also chatted about sharing this responsibility together, and I am blessed that she is looking forward to it!!

hands

I am putting a positive spin on this, because I am also feeling a tad bit overwhelmed.  You see, this parent of mine also suffers from Alzheimer’s, so there is quite a lot of this tandem-future of ours, that is a little cloudy right now (no pun intended).  The overwhelming experience of loosing a beloved spouse affects any person’s mental well-being, but most especially someone with Alzheimer’s.  The importance of assisting my parent, as their surroundings are going to change several times, until a familiar room is created with memories on tabletops and walls, to ensure there is some place they can call their own.  My heart is breaking with love and tenderness, because God has blessed us with this disease in the sense that there is no anger or hostility, but instead a kinder, gentler personality has emerged, with a quiet and peacful resignation (some Alzheimer patients are angry and difficult to be around).  For me, growing up with this particular parent was not an easy thing; I moved out the week after I graduated from high school and we do much better living apart.  Coming together could have been cataclysmic, but God has seen this coming (I believe) for years, and has been preparing us both for a future together.

This Lent has turned out to be quite a Lent for me.  I have been struggling with keeping peaceful thoughts and emptying my mind, as well as dealing with relocating so drastically, and the impending death of a dearly loved stepfather.  Now the implications of taking in my parent after so many years of living separately….added to the fact that this parent of mine dislikes “weather” and prefers the calm, sunny, days of Southern California!  There is a huge pile on my proverbial plate, but God is good. He does not give us more than we can handle (yes, that’s me, looking up to God and signalling a time out!!) and He also promised us that He would be with us always (Matthew 28:20 “…And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”).  So I choose to cling to those promises and seek His assistance, as we face an uncertain, but never dull, future.  Easter Sunday should be quite interesting; I wonder where I will be and what God will have in store for me.  Stay tuned.

after the rain

“…fellow pilgrim on my journey…”

Man before clouds

This morning, I was driven to write, amongst the tears I am shedding.  I was watching the Pope address the crowds at Castel Gondolfo this morning and he said (paraphrased here) ” I am now just a fellow pilgrim on my journey to my final destination.”  It made me weep.  I am weeping because my stepdad, who is very loved, is entering hospice today, to also begin his pilgrimage to his final destination.  And I could not help but notice the parallels between the two men. Pope Benedict looked so frail and weak as he climbed aboard his helicopter and then again, when he entered the cars waiting for him after his short flight from the Vatican, to his final home at Castel Gondolfo.  He was peaceful but obviously tired, as he addressed the crowds waiting to hear, and cling to, his final words as Pope. The weight of office has certainly wreaked havoc on his physical health.  My stepdad has been valiantly fighting cancer for the past 11 months.  The doctors see no purpose in further exposure to chemo-therapy and feel that they can do no more for him, other than to keep him comfortable.  My step-sister and I chatted, wept, laughed, and cried about her dad yesterday; it was a good conversation. He has been such a powerful personality in my life for the past 30 years, that realizing I may never hear one of his silly stories, or hear his laughter again, leaves a major hole in my life.  My sons adore him as well.  He always made us laugh and my mom used to roll her eyes and just sigh, having heard his stories and jokes countless times.  But he also had her well in hand and has helped her to become a kinder, gentler woman in these past 30 years.  He used to say, when she would go off on some tangent and be angry, “Oh Maureen, put a sock in it!”  The first time he did that, I could not help but laugh and laugh.  Seeing the “pin” pop my mom’s balloon was hilarious.  All the starch would go out of her anger and she would look at him and just smile.  He has been so good for her. He has insisted they attend Mass and has been receiving the sacraments regularly since making a confession and regularizing their relationship several years ago.  The priest has been coming every Sunday with communion for him and my step-sister told me he received anointing, and had a good confession and communion, this past Sunday; it warmed my heart.  After their last doctor’s appointment, my step-sister said he was “not ready to throw up the white flag.” That is so him! But after consultation with hospice specialists, he agreed that it was time and today, he begins his final journey.  And I am sad, very sad.  I posted that picture above because it made me think of how we all face our final judgement – alone.  Family may be beside us, but we all enter into our final conversation with God.  With my father-in-law last year, that became more and more evident as his time with us drew to an end; he was already in deep conversation with God.  The photo reminds me of the Pope, beginning his final days in solitude; and my stepdad, his final days in hospice at home, with my mom.  This all, of course, has me thinking.

The world revolves; it is part of how the cosmos was constructed by our very wise Lord.  He was in the darkness and it became light – He alone controls the movements of the Heavens and all of us, His children, are under His watchful eye.  We go through our days, facing many choices and making many decisions.  Each choice laid before us is a temptation God has allowed for our own spiritual good – we opt, through free will, to “take a step towards God,” or we opt to “take a step away from God.”  That is how the Eastern Churches, and the Orthodox, view sin.  There is no gradation, it is just sin or it is not.  From our early childhood, we begin to choose our pathway towards our final destination.  I have been taking this time of Lent to re-evaluate my journey, and to tweak the things I need to, in order for my path to be more in line with God’s Will for me.  Often, the spinning world interrupts our journey towards Heaven. We go off on tangents and we choose ways that are not strictly how God would have us live our lives.  Elder Thaddeus, in his book, Chapter Ten, “On Spiritual Struggle,” #3 says this,” The evil spirits are always wanting to interfere with whatever we are doing for our salvation. Alas, we who are lukewarm usually say to ourselves, ‘Wait, I have not yet done this, I have not yet tried that … I will repent later.  After I have done all these things I will repent, God, and I will walk the straight path, wandering neither to the right nor to the left.’ This is exactly what the spirits of evil want us to do; they want us to put off our salvation until tomorrow, or the day after, and so on and so forth, until the end of our life.  But the Holy Fathers say,’Go with the Lord, go today, follow Him!

St Mark the Ascetic.3

We are all blessed to watch the journey not only that we make towards our own eternity, but the journeys others make alongside us.  Watching someone like Pope Benedict struggle with the cross that was presented to him in the office of the Pope (something it seems to me he did not want and was not particularly suited to), or friends and family members who choose to put off getting their lives in order and are still struggling in this world, and people like my stepdad, who have struggled and are at the end of their journey.  We can all learn from the struggles of those around us.  Often incorrigible youth are taken to prisons, where the inmates, “scare them straight.”  I think that watching the world around us should scare all of us “straight.”  I know I am scared and am working diligently to “get my house in order.”  And I am deeply in prayer for the Pope, as he settles into a cloistered existence of reading, writing, and continued prayer for the world.  And I am also entering into a time of focused prayer for my stepdad, as he enters this final stage of his pilgrimage. Elder Thaddeus tells us that God doesn’t need our prayers; He wants our prayers.  He knows our sinfulness first hand and is just waiting for us to acknowledge it before Him.

‘When you sin, blame your thought, not your action. For had your intellect not run ahead, your body would not have followed.’  St. Mark the Ascetic

As we all journey on as pilgrims, and especially for myself, I am prayerful that in the limited days I have been entrusted with, that I choose wisely; I decide that today is that day I will choose “to walk the straight path, wandering neither to the right nor to the left.”

Pathway