“…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