“…than to your children about God.”

TalktoGod

This has been a hard one for me. Because I love God so much and I love my faith. I adore the smell of incense and the sound of the bells on the altar. I love the beautiful vestments of our eastern priests. I love the beautiful Holy Doors and the entire flow and process of the Divine Liturgy. The beautifully ornate Holy Books as they are processed in by the Deacon remind me that God is coming into His Temple through His word. The prayers take me closer to God in my heart. I adore beeswax candles and the peace I find praying in Church before the Holy Icons. I feel so blessed to be in the presence of God in His Temple and to receive Him, unworthy as I am. And I want my children to feel all these things like I do. I want their hearts to swell with love of God and be thinking of all His commandments when they are out and about in this world, making decisions, making choices.

mushroomsteak

However, as much as I enjoy these things, it is like getting my son to eat mushrooms. It is just not going to happen. I have dressed them up in so many ways, but he will not eat them. He finds them in all sorts of dishes and will set them aside and pick them out, choosing not to eat them. And I adore mushrooms. I love them sautéed in garlic and butter and dripping all over my medium-rare steak. My son loves siracha sauce. I can barely tolerate pepper on things. He slathers it on sliced ham, along with spicy mustard and siracha salad dressing, peppers, onions, and pepper-jack cheese – on one sandwich – rolled in thin flour tortillas (he prefers it to bread). Ugh. Our tastes are very different. Therein lies a problem many of us face with our kids – we are not them and they are not us, and many years separate the experiences we had as kids with what our kids experience now. How do we communicate this to them, without having them separate it off to the side of their plate, refusing to absorb it?

Mothernurterer

Recently, I have had some interesting conversations with friends about our teens. Having teens with friends at the same time is such a bonding experience! There is so much out there, influencing them in ways we do not like. The media onslaught makes those of us who talk normal seem like crazies. The new normal is so easily presented and eaten up by our teens. We fight against the slick marketing of evil in our culture. But when we try to prohibit experiences and places with our kids, we are seen as the bad guy. Well, I personally think that is okay. I do not mind being the bad guy. I am not my son’s friend; I am his mother. I am the one who has been given the gift of having him as my son, but also the responsibility of raising him to be a responsible adult, and a good man.

Oneofakind

My son is unique. All of our children are unique. I am in love with the young man he is becoming, as I fell in love with our older kids, too.  Sure, when you are handed that little newborn, the floodgates open. Perhaps not at that moment, but there comes a moment with all new moms where we realize how shocking it is that we can love another being as much as we do our children. It is different that the love we have for our husbands. It is supposed to be different. There are many expressions of love and we owe it to ourselves to experience all of them. And as our kids arrive at these glorious years of being a teenager, life takes a little detour. Those wonderfully secure moments we had when they were starting to be the same height as us (for me, that doesn’t take long, as my kids tell me that I am “vertically challenged”) and could carry on a meaningful conversation, are upended and become more rare as puberty takes over. It is hard to raise men. Because their instinct is to be manly. They (especially when they become taller than you) want to imitate their dads or older brothers, or other male role models, and “take care of you.” For us, because my husband travels two or more weeks each month, and we homeschool, my youngest son is alone with me for at least 1/2 a month, each month. Just the two of us, arguing over history or learning about the environment, or groaning together over Algebra. We have a unique environment and at times, it gets overwhelming. We discuss issues that are poignant and more and more, are revealing glimpses of the inner man he is becoming. We have developed our own, unique way to communicate. And I am starting to fall in love with this young man, as a young man, and not as my baby or young son. He has matured so much over the past few weeks, it sort of scares me.

Chastity

And yeah; that conversation. We are all called to be chaste to our state in life. All of us. If we are single, we are to remain celibate. If we are married, we are called to be chaste to our marital vows, which means to remain pure to our spouse. Chaste means purity and virtue as it refers to a personal, physical relationship with another person. And it is important that we have these talks with our teens. Chastity to our state in life is an important concept. One that is not popular with our culture’s insistence upon “if it feels good, do it” mentality. But if our teens want to be treated like the adults they feel they are becoming, then we need to do that. We need to share with them our views on why we believe they should remain chaste. We can share our life experiences and show them, demonstrate to them, why we believe in this concept of chastity to one’s state in life. We can share the “Theology of the Body” with them (as they do at the Youth Group he attends). But once again, I return to the mushrooms: he can opt to push them to the side of his place and not eat them. The sole responsibility I have towards my son is to point him to God. There are all sorts of other things like shelter, food, education, and sharing with him the tools to survive this life. We are trying to help him become the leader he will need to be when he is the man of his own family. How he will need to be the force of morality and rules for his own children. How he will need to exemplify the virtues he wants to see in his children. And sometimes, be the man the woman who will one day be his wife, needs him to be for her salvation, too. But the true responsibility I have is to point him to a God-centered life, regardless of how he earns his income. We pray just for him to be a good and Godly man; we pray for that for all of our children.

Goodman

Sometimes we fail at showing our kids what it is to live a God-centered life because we, too, push God to the side of the plate sometimes. We do not live an anointed life in the sense of a “domestic church.” We allow those things that are inherently evil slowly seep into our world, our lives, and we become “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1Cor13) It is our job to accompany our children as they become adults so that, as they mature and realize the love of God and want to keep His commandments, it will be a process that is welcomed, and not forced onto them.  “When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1Cor13)

1Cor13

My older son laughs because he totally gets Algebra now. My youngest is suffering through getting the concepts down. They are at different places in their lives. My oldest is married, has two children and just bought his first home. He is making adult decisions, based on adult experiences. My youngest feels manly, but is still a boy in so many ways. And we are discussing adult things because he is at the point in his life where he can choose – he can choose something that will ensure a wonderful future, or he can choose things that will hamper his growth into a Godly man. So many choices to make about so many things. He’s pondering career, college, playing football, and going to youth group events, snow boarding when he can, hanging with friends and seeing that special young woman in his life. Decisions that are marked more and more by adult issues and less and less about legos and playtime. It is a confusing time for most kids.

How am I the right parent for him at the right time? Well, I can only be me. I can only share my faith and my love of God. Like I said to him recently, “When you love someone you want to be with them all the time. For example, when you love God, you want to have Him with you all the time.” Of course, his mind is a little more focused on a certain girl right now, so he sort of nodded and said, “Yeah. I get that.”  And I also shared that if we love someone, we should respect them and follow their requests for us, in our lives, like God’s and his parents. And then I left it up to him.

My mantra? “Keep Calm. God’s got this.” And I’m always praying for all of my kids.

God's Got This

 

“…Not to act is to act.”


Who you raise

I have one child left at home; a teenager. I have two other children who are married with children of their own. It is wonderful, this process of raising children. It is time consuming and fraught with all sorts of pitfalls and triumphs. I have gray hairs and I tell my kids, “This gray hair was from that time you…” Or I will tell them, “Thanks for that; I just felt 5 more gray hairs pop out!” It is never dull, having kids around (and grandkids)!

This week I learned quite a lot about perceptions and facts. Quite often they are arrayed so far apart, “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12). I ridiculously responded online to a story last night about legislation and Planned Parenthood in our schools. I say ridiculously, because I keep banging my head against the same wall, hoping for a different outcome. I am 100% Pro-Life; it is my proverbial line in the sand. I do not support Planned Parenthood in anything they do, present as truth, or say. My comment was jumped upon so heartily by those who support PP in the schools, as well as abortion rights. (Same outcome!! LOL!). They accused me of being a liar by standing against PP and all it represents. I commented that opposing viewpoints are obviously not welcomed in the public forum, therefore negating that it is, indeed, a public forum. You can only comment if you agree with a very vociferous minority. We recently had the caucus votes here and resoundingly, Ben Carson won. It shocked the local pundits and politicians. No one expected it. And when legislation was brought in to ban PP from our schools, the commentators were in shock then, too. It amazes me how people think that this radical-left-winged world is populated by the liberal majority. It is not. It is populated by a silent, conservative, majority.

Notvotingisbeingsilent

By not exercising our right to vote, we are giving credence to evil. We are allowing evil to reign in our culture. By not voicing our conservative viewpoints everywhere we can, we are abdicating our culture to those who choose to speak up. We are making normal seem abnormal. “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.'” (St. Anthony the Great).  And that truly has been happening lately. Our election process should be evident of that. We cannot say “normal” things anymore or we are considered to be lying or crazy.

voting

And it hit me so hard last night. I have one child left at home, to prepare to enter into this insanity we call our culture. And I only have 1 year left – the last year of high school is almost here. Pretty soon, my youngest will be a voting, wage-earning, adult member of society. Did I do this right? Is my child prepared? Ready? Mature enough? Did I lead my child to God? To truth? To eternity?

pointedtoyou

Each era has its challenges when raising children. Each era believes it is critical at that time. But right now, man, is it hard to be a parent. I’ve been dealing with electronics lately. We changed our cell provider. I cannot believe how ridiculously complex it has been. Our son got my old iPhone and he is so happy because he finally has a “smart” phone. He was teased about his old, out-dated, flip phone we affectionately called his “dumb” phone. But it amazes me how self-worth is determined by our phones, our purses, our cars, our computers. I know it has always been this thing of comparing ourselves to others, always looking at that greener grass, but recently, it seems like it has trickled down so much so that a friend’s 6-year-old granddaughter has an iPhone6+. Did you get that? She is 6 years old. An iPhone6+ costs well over $600 to buy outright. Sometimes more. But the fact that parents see no problem in her having one blows me away. She also has an iPad and her own MacBook computer. She is 6 years old. At six, I was into Barbie dolls and playgrounds. I got my first phonograph, that played both 45s and 33s, when I was six. I had all the Disney songs, on brightly colored vinyls (I still have them) and I played them and listened while I played with dolls. My friend’s granddaughter goes to a private school, has a tutor, and takes private lessons in a host of areas. I know I keep saying it, but she is just 6 years old. I hope I am around when she is 26. It will be interesting. And that is the new norm. My oh my. And we wonder why politics are a mess!!

Buckets

While I agree with this in spirit, I do not agree with this movement of “everyone gets a trophy.” Our kids need to experience rejection. They need to know what it is to lose. They need to know what it is to fail. Because if they do not know those things intimately when they go out into the world, they are going to be crushed. Our current administration, from the federal level down to the local level, supports a theory of entitlement. This feeling of entitlement is making its way down to 6-year-olds who think they need an iPhone. It is insanity. We need to be sure our children are loved and grounded. We need to ensure they are educated so they can be whatever it is they choose to become. We need to be sure they have the tools to survive in this mad, mad, world.

ElderPaisios

And this brings me back around to my original comments, because to me, to be silent, to not act…those are things a responsible parent just cannot do. We are called to always speak for and to our children. We are called to admonish them. We are called to instruct them. We are called to always defend them. And we are called to act…on their behalf, yes. But we are also called to act in the public forum, to ensure a future for them. I have one year left with my youngest child still living at home. We are working on all sorts of life skills. We are working on laundry and cooking, on yard work, and woodwork. We are also working on bill-paying and account balancing. And we are working on what it means to be an active member of our society. To not participate or not vote means we are condoning evil and allowing it to take over our culture. We are trying to live as role models, so our children can see how to act when evil knocks on their doors.

rolemodel

I know cell phones, in their essence, are not critical to this lifetime, but inherently, the technology sure is. My grandkids know, at just 2 years old, how to swipe sideways on a phone to find photos and movies, texts and their favorite links. At just 2 years old. My 2-year-old grand daughter knows how to change the movie on an iPad that is slung from the back of the driver’s seat in the car, with HER TOES. And although I am proud she figured it out, it is kind of frightening at the same time. I’m just not sure where all this is leading us. Facebook friends around the world we have never met in person. Church via website so we can stay home in jammies. Having a girlfriend you rarely see in person but spend hours a day “face-timing” or “instant messaging” or texting. Making up and breaking up via text messages. Finding out important life-events via Facebook or text. Not even a phone call. We are becoming removed from the reality that things like abortion are not removing cells…they are killing an unborn child. Not a bunch of cells. We eat foods that are killing us because they are convenient.

“Six lanes, tail lights
Red ants marching into the night
Disappear to the left and right again
Another supper from a sack
A 99-cent heart attack..”

Those lyrics are from a great song by Tim McGraw entitled, “Where the Green Grass Grows.” The song came out, believe it or not, in 1997. It is now 2016 and it has only gotten worse. So, to wrap this up, I have struggled with inaction and being silent. It just is not the way the Lord calls us to be. “The late Blessed John XXIII wrote, “Every believer, in this, our world, must be a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying ferment in the dough: He will be so to the degree that, in his innermost being, he lives in communion with God. In fact, there can be no peace among men if there is no peace in each one of them.” (Catholic Online).

Lightoftheworld

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matt. 5: 13 – 16) 

So my challenge, to myself and others, is to go out there and be the salt of the earth; be the light that is no longer hidden under a bushel basket. Be responsible for this world we are handing to our children and grandchildren. Do not assume others will take care of it for you; that others will vote the right candidate in or enact the right legislation. Have you looked at Washington lately? How has all that inaction worked out for you? We need to fix this craziness before it truly becomes the norm. We need to work for a world we want our children and grandchildren to be loved in, where they are safe, where they can flourish.

BenCarsonGodQuote

“Life is fragile…”

Life is fragile

Each and every opportunity we are given to embrace life at its fullest is a blessing. And life is so fleeting. I’ve quoted my former pastor many times on my posts and he used to say, “You are never guaranteed your next breath.” It is so very true. Each breath is a gift from God. Each and every one. So what are we doing with those precious breaths we have been given today?

I live near a military base. I actually really like it. I love watching the huge jets fly over the house. Even the Huey helicopters can make the walls rattle and dishes fall over. But we all jokingly say, “It’s the sound of freedom.” This week (and last week) they are playing war. The large booms have our cat scurrying for cover. Our walls rattle, the dishes shake in the cupboards, and pictures bang on the walls. We are near the artillery range and also near where the huge rounds land. At night, if you get the right angle, you can see the tracers. But it’s loud and it’s 24/7. I jumped out of my skin about 12:30 am, and laughed, saying, “Ahhh…that was freedom booming” and promptly went back to sleep. But during the day, since they are so random, I am on edge. It makes it hard for me to focus on getting done what I need to accomplish. I am a SAHM, but I also homeschool my son, maintain this blog (among other writing projects) and I am taking an online business-building course. The snow today is muffling the booming a little and my oldest dog is over on the couch snoring, so it’s not too bad. And I had to type because things are, as usual, weighing on my heart.

Life is precious and precocious, and full of amazing turns, twists, and alternatives. We shared the joy of a grandson’s birthday yesterday, celebrating his life, all four years so far. And coincidentally, there was a horrible accident on our only highway (yes, this is pretty rural) where an 18-month old was ejected from the car in the carseat, because another vehicle hit them head on with such force, the side of the car was ripped off. Our whole community was praying for the families involved (the 18-month old is okay as of this morning; just some broken bones – a miracle, really). Several pregnancies were announced, as well as some deaths. The ambiguous nature of life really hit me yesterday.

Seat at your table

There have been several people in my life who have sapped me of energy. They are energy-suckers who seem to create a sort of “Pig Pen” of chaos around them. (I am referring to that character in Peanuts, who has a cloud around him all the time). They also seem to bring with them a cloud of drama. Honestly, as I get older, I am less and less likely to want to deal with drama. Life has its own ups and downs, without adding to it. Some people love to gab about everything, and everything is dramatic. I don’t need more of it as I get older, I need less of it.

Friend.FB

I had someone ask me why I had “de-friended” them on Facebook. It was not meant as a slur or a slight. I tried to explain that social media is a construct; it is not reality. Just because someone “friends” you does not mean they are your friend. “I am not sure that word means what you think it means,” to quote from the Princess Bride movie. So many people derive their sense of worth by how many friends they have on Facebook, what sort of purse they carry, type of car they drive, how big their diamond rings are, what the logo on their jeans are…and they assume all those selfies posted online are a reflection of real life. Ha! I sit at my table, watching my son do school, as I type away. I am no way posting a selfie right now! It is snowing outside. I have on a nightgown, bathrobe, big socks, slippers, and my hair is pulled up into “I don’t know what” hairdo (basically a “get it off my face and out of my sight hairdo”). You think I want anyone to see that? It is my reality, but not what I share with the greater world. Most of what is on social media is what people wish for themselves; what they wish their lives were like. Some friends and I sat at a restaurant in California a few years ago, people watching. We were wondering how many who drove by in Cadillac Escalades and BMW’s were living debt-free? How many had tons of cash in the bank? Which ones were living paycheck to paycheck? But that’s not the image they were presenting. They were projecting what they needed to be, in order to feel accepted. Facebook is so much like that. There is far too much drama associated with friends you make there. To me, de-friending or unfollowing someone is sometimes the kindest thing we can do for ourselves, and for them.

Calvin and Hobbes. Friend

I value life and I try – more and more – to surround my life in prayer. To buffer myself, my family, and my friends with prayer. Adding someone to my prayer list is investing in that relationship. It is enlisting God to assist me in my concerns for that person. Of course, God already knows and has probably been waiting for my heart to soften for this person for years, but still, I love knowing God and I are tackling someone together, for their blessing. True friends are so precious. One of the gifts of my life is that I have a couple of people I KNOW, without a doubt, are my friend. I could call them and no matter the cost or inconvenience, if I needed them, they would hop on a plane and come to my side (or drive across town). That is so very rare in this self-oriented culture of ours. We need to nurture those relationships and we need to seek God’s blessings for our friends. We need to cocoon ourselves in God’s centering love and focus on that. And I do not think that everyone needs to be at my table. A table only seats a few people. We can think of the Last Supper as a great example. Christ invited only the 12 to sit with Him. We know through Apocryphal writings that there were family members there. There were women cooking and serving. There were children running around. But at the table were just the 12 – only those Christ invited to sit with Him.  For me, there are lots of people in my life. I have groups and subgroups of friends I have made from here and there (school friends, college friends, work friends, church friends, neighbors, etc – and even Facebook friends). The total of my Facebook friends number over 300. Would I want all of them seated at my table? Of course not. There are degrees of separation and there is practicality. There are also affairs of the heart. Most of the women I count as friend, truly friend, have shared emotional journeys with me. We have married, birthed, and buried together. I have a friend who showed up when my grandma, who lived with us, died. She was not asked to come; neither was her husband. But they came and held my hand and put an arm around me as the mortuary came and took grandma away. They stood with me as witness, as friend, as ally when my grandma passed from this life to the next. That is a friend. She and her husband will always have a seat at my table. They are also people I know who would rush to my side, regardless of my geography, should I ever need them. I am blessed. But when I compare them with some of the people called friends on social media? No; there is no comparison.

Realones

Life is becoming more and more precious. As we age, we start getting a solid look at the end zone; the final door; the end of this life. And those we have around us, those we choose to walk this path with, become more and more special. I will continue to unfriend on social media. I will slowly pull away from those platforms entirely. Because as we get closer and realize our days are numbered and there are far fewer of them left, we become aware of the priceless role a true friend plays in our lives. We become aware of the transient nature of life and how it can be taken in a moment. Through my faith in God and His infinite love for me and for others, I know that I will reunite with loved ones and share in that glory for eternity. Right now, my goal is to make life as precious and celebrated as possible, for all those who are in my life and those I may touch. My life is open to making new friends. I enjoy meeting new people. But I have also come to see that I am a better person because of the people I surround myself with. I am better because they are in my life. They are a part of my life. They are also not all on social media platforms, and you know what? It’s fine with me. The less I can be present out there, the more I can be present to those sitting next to me, at my table.

Phones to conversate

Today, as I take that next breath, I promise to be true to my commitments to my family and friends. I vow to always view the next person I meet as a potential friend. I vow to place relationship and substance with friends above pretense and convenience. I also know that God and I will continue to hold in prayer those who need it. I will try to be the kind of friend that people need me to be. I love this life and feel blessed in those who have managed to find a place at my table. And there is always room for more. But I also will not feel guilty when I need to “unfriend” someone and move forward. God is watching; I am praying, and I am breathing still.

“… a tempest of doubting thoughts…”

Russian Mary Mother of God Icon

“Having within a tempest of doubting thoughts, and wanting to give my children to drink of eternal life, I weep. Thus, having remembered Thy most rich mercies, I sing to Thy Son with hope and with a contrite heart: Alleluia.” (From the Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children; Kontakion 4)

The Akathist To the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children, is probably my favorite form of prayer when I think of my sons, and now, my grandchildren, too (My daughters-in-law are prayed for as well, because I think of them as my children, too).  As parents, we are called to lead our children to a life of Christian prayer, service, and sacrifice. To put “other” before “self” and to enjoy the companionship of other believers, being a part of a community. To enjoy serving. To enjoy and celebrate a simple life; one that encompasses prayer to God and being a part of a church community. To enjoy praying with and celebrating within a community. And to push ourselves outside of that community “comfort zone” into serving our communities at large. The thought of having faith and being a part of organized religion often frightens people away. “I know what I believe; I don’t need some organized religion telling me what to believe and how to behave.”  That is such an American, democratic view of faith, also laid upon views about life in general. And I know it has caused umpteen disruptions of relationships, of churches, and of our Christian faith in particular. It is one of the reasons I am awakened in the night, being asked by God for renewed faith and renewed prayer.

An Akathist, for those of my friends who’ve never heard the term, is just another way of saying a Novena, or set of prayers (although it is not done like a Novena – over 9 days – but is more like a formal prayer used regularly).  This particular Akathist is concerned with raising our children, from a mother’s point of view. (I also love the Akathist to Our Guardian Angels). Within this Akathist, Kontakion 8 says, “Where will my children, wandering in the greatly perilous and stormy valley of the world, receive joy and consolation if not in Thee, O Most Pure One? Travel with them and teach them the true path, that they may cry to God: Alleluia.” This sentiment is on the mind of all parents, when their children venture more and more away from their homes and establish their own homes. (Ikon 9) “Deliver my children from association with falsely-theorizing orators, who speak lies about Thine all-powerful intercession, and look upon me, faithfully singing…” These prayers keep coming to my mind in all hours of the night. And I pray for my children, and my grandchildren. This world can be a fast, ugly, sinful place. We can easily lose sight of what really matters. (Ikos 10) “Surround my children with indestructible walls, O Heavenly Queen, that under Thy blessed protection, they may accomplish a multitude of good deeds, and that with them, I may cry to Thee…”

Sons shoes

I am at the point of seeing my nest empty. It makes me sigh with relief in so many ways, but it also makes me sad. I’m definitely tired. Raising three sons so far apart is like having 3 singletons, as they say. And as I near 60, I am looking forward to married life without kids underfoot, as we have never had that. But I love teens (as weird as that may sound) and I am going to miss our last son being here, most especially because he is the last (and also a great joy in my life). And I have reflected on what we have done, as parents, to set our sons on the path to God. In this great book by Peter Kreeft (Everything You Wanted to Know About Heaven but Were Afraid to Ask – available on Amazon), he talks about standing at the Throne of God. When God asks us what we have done with the souls He entrusted to us, I hope to be able to answer, “Lord, I set them on the path to You.” Because, truly, as a parent, that is all I can do. I cannot shove faith down the throat of my sons. They have to discover what it is they believe, as men, and how they choose to go about their lives. Will they share God with their kids? Perhaps not. And that is something I have to live with, which is also why I diligently pray for not just my children, but my grandchildren, too. I don’t think we are ever done being a parent. I just had a chat with my dad, reminding him that his dad (my grandpa) told him at 50 years of age, “Well, son, I guess you’re old enough for me to not have to worry about you anymore.” But I don’t think Grandpa ever did stop worrying. I don’t think I ever will, either. My dad, at almost 90, still worries about us!

Near the end of the Akathist is a prayer, “A Prayerful Sighing of Parents for Their Children” and I try to pray this each week for my children and grandchildren.

motherofgod.nurtererof children

 

“LORD Jesus Christ, Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of Thy Most Pure Mother, hearken unto me, Thine unworthy servant (name), O Lord, govern in mercy my children, Thy servants (names). Have mercy on them and save them, for Thy name’s sake.O Lord, forgive them all their transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, that they may be perfected before Thee. O Lord, set them on the true path of Thy commandments and enlighten their minds with the Light of Christ unto salvation of their souls and the healing of their bodies.
Bless them, O Lord, at home, at school, in their journeys and in every place of Thy dominion. Preserve and shelter them, O Lord, from flying bullets, arrows, the sword, poison and fire, from mortal wounds and sudden death. Guard them, O Lord, from all visible and invisible enemies, and from all danger, evil and misfortune.
Heal them O Lord, from all sickness, deliver them from every impurity, and lighten their spiritual sufferings. Grant them, O Lord, the grace of Thy Holy Spirit and a long life; grant them health and chastity in all piety and love, and to live in accord with all their neighbors, near and far.
Multiply and strengthen them, O Lord, in mental ability and bodily strength, given to them by Thee. Bless them to lead a pious life and, if it is pleasing to Thee, grant them married life and honorable childbearing.
For Thy name’s sake, O Lord, give me, Thy sinful and unworthy servant, a parental blessing for my children and Thy servants, both in this present time, morning, noon and night, and also in Thine eternal, almighty and all-powerful Kingdom.
Amen.

O God, Maker of all creation, Thou hast made me worthy to be the mother of a family, and through Thy goodness hast bestowed children upon me; and so I dare to say: these children are Thine, for Thou hast given them being, hast infused them with an immortal soul, and hast raised them to life through baptism.
And in accordance with Thy will Thou has adopted them and received them into the bosom of Thy Church. Send down to me Thy gracious help in raising my children, for the glory of Thy name. Bestow on me patience and strength to do Thy will.
Teach me to plant in their hearts the root of true wisdom-the fear of the Lord-that all their lives they may tremble at Thy words. Open to them the understanding of Thy law. Until the end of their days let them act with the sense that Thou art everywhere present.
Plant in their hearts loathing for every transgression, that they may be pure in their signs. O Righteous Judge, who punishes children for the sins, but sprinkle them with the dew of Thy grace.
O Heavenly Father, order the fate of my children according to Thy blessings, do not deprive them in this life of their daily bread, send down to them in due time all that is necessary for the acquisition of blessings in eternity.
Be merciful to them, when they sin before Thee; look not upon the sins of their youth and ignorance; chastise them and have mercy on them, but turn not Thy face away from them. Turn not Thy face from the in the day of their tribulation, that they may not fall into temptations beyond their strength.
Cover them with Thy mercy, that Thine Angel may walk with them and preserve them. Abandon not my children, O Lord, and give them that which is profitable for salvation.
Amen.”

I shared this in its entirety because it is weighing heavily on my heart. I feel some mighty changes coming and I am praying I am prepared for them. I strengthen my heart and soul through praying, but sometimes we have a lesson we need to learn. I am ready. I know God has my best interests at heart, and I trust completely in Him. I also place my children within the mantle of the Blessed Theotokos, Mother of God, and continually ask her intercession on behalf of my children and grandchildren. I know this world is changing rapidly. People are becoming less and less concerned with their spiritual well-being and more concerned with the house they live in, the purse they carry, and what kind of car they drive. It makes me so sad, and frightened. My grandmother once told me that she was sorry for the world she left to me. She was born in 1903. She said that because of living through the depression, and a couple of horrible world wars, parents made the mistake of not wanting their children to suffer as they had, so they made life too easy for them. She told me that she had sheltered my dad in some ways, by always being on his side and praising him too much. She often thought he had an inordinate view of himself. And I believe that trend has continued. Kids nowadays get a trophy just for signing up to play a sport – not for actually trying or winning. Everyone is special and a hero. It is a disordered view of life and has created a generation of entitled young adults and teens. And it is getting worse every day.

A friend and I had a chat about recently about prepping.  You know, bunkers, laying up stores, ammo, water, a shelter. We reminisced about drills in school when we were young over the Cold War and Russia “dropping the bomb on us.” Now it seems more likely to come from a  much closer source and it is rather frightening. But how do we live our lives, knowing some of this? Her husband wants to go very prepper with  shelter, ammo, etc. whereas she prefers the approach of the movie, “The War Room.” I believe in an intelligent, happy medium. But I am not stupid, either. I know God has things in store for me, whether I am prepared or not. God is not done with His world, yet. To that end, I think it behooves us all to be smart. Learn something about living “off the grid” (Hey, earthquakes are real – they are something facing lots of us regularly; tornadoes are real; terrorism is real; our economy tanking is a very real possibility) and we all need to know how to take care of ourselves. One of the scariest things happened to me years ago when we took school kids on a tour of a dairy farm, “Where does the ice cream come out?” “Euwww…cows poop?” “That’s not milk; those cows are peeing out of their bellies.” “Yes, I know where milk comes from; it comes from the grocery store.” Although it might seem funny, are we prepared, as city dwellers, to take care of ourselves independent of the local market? Do we know where to get drinkable water in an emergency? Do we keep supplies in our garage? Car? Basements? Can we kill food for our families? Do we keep the Bible and family prayer ropes and icons where we can get to them in an emergency? Are we constantly storming heaven with our prayers?

(Ikos 9) “Raise my children to reject the deceitful teachings of the teachers of unbelief; raise my children to not accept the spirit of the sons of the adversary; raise my children to run from the world and the delusions of the world; raise my children to turn away from evil and to do good; raise my children to love their enemies and to pray for them; raise my children to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.” And the following Kontakion 10, “Desiring to save the world, Thy Son came from heaven to call, not the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. For the sake of this, pray to Thy Son that having been saved through Thee, my children may call to God: Alleluia.”

And so I pray. I pray unceasingly (Ikos 5 – Having seen my diligent supplication rising like incense to Thy glory, turn not Thy face away from my children, though they turn away from Thee, but all the more, hear the cry of my lips, singing to Thee…”). No prayers are ever wasted; no time spent seeking the counsel of God is ever wasted. And I know of no other use of my time to be as wisely spent.  In all honesty, seek God in all things, but especially as an intercessor for those you love. Our Lord made us parents because He trusted us to care for these souls. We need to redouble our efforts, even when our children are grown, have spouses, and children of their own.

To God be the glory. He is Born. Glorify Him.

IconNativity

“A still, small voice…”

nativityicon

“The best laid plans of mice and men … ” (Robert Burns, “To a Mouse” 1786). The quote seems appropriate. I worked very hard to try and make Christmas happen for our family and friends, those nearby and those far away. For the first time in 31 years of marriage, everyone’s gifts were either under the tree and wrapped, or wrapped, boxed, and mailed the week before Christmas. And, Christmas cards were all sent out at the same time. I was free to plan my meals and goodies. I should have known other plans were afoot when, on our way out the door to a birthday party, we dumped our 9-layer dip upside down in the snow, breaking my grandma’s casserole dish I had inherited. Things tanked from there.  I was able to attend that event, even making a scad of pizzelles while the kiddos “hung out.” But by the end of the day, I felt awful and in the space of about 2 hours, had completely lost my voice. This was December 23rd.

As many of you know because you know me, or have read about it here, I am an avid convert to the use of essential oils in my life. I also added a nutritional system to my life. I have not felt better in, quite literally, years. Over the summer, I back-slid and I did it big time. I never walked away from my oils, but my nutrition and exercise tanked. We’ve started back with our nutrition and I am using vitamins that, for the first time in my life, do not upset my stomach. Taken twice a day, these packets are awesome and since I received them on the 23rd, I only missed once, because I flat out crashed in bed. Ha-Ha. The exercise is starting as soon as I am better. I am coughing far too much to exert myself. I am dressed, so that is a bonus! (Although I must say I love spending the day in PJs).

I find it amazing that changing something like adding essential oils to my life, had such a drastic effect. For the first time in my life, I no longer use any over-the-counter medications, nor any prescriptions. My aches and pains have ceased. My mood and energy levels were such that I could keep up with my grandkids! And I was taught a HUGE lesson – being healthy affects every aspect of your life. Because right now, I am missing out on the holidays. I am home, alone, in sweats (at least I have on clothes and and not just jammies) while family and friends celebrate. I spent the entire day of Christmas, alone, on the couch with a diffuser on right next to me, nursing a hot cup of thieves tea. It stunk. But thankfully, I am open to new experiences and I am always open to learning. Because of that, I had my first raindrop massage with essential oils and I must say, I would love one every day! (God bless you, Mindy). I am thrilled beyond thrilled it worked. The oils did their thing, but then I “overdid” my thing. Attending Christmas Eve Divine Liturgy until 3:30 am while fighting this bug pushed the limits of endurance for me. I cannot expect oils to save me from myself. And therein lies my lesson…

The Good Lord asks us to give Him our best, always. He asks us to love Him and love our neighbors as ourselves. He asks us to be attentive, to listen more than talk, to be present to those around us.  To trust Him and His Word for us in our lives. He also granted us free will. That darned old free will is something each of us uses daily in our walk. Do we take a step towards God, or one away? Trying to do everything, trying to get everything “perfect” for everyone, running yourself ragged. Silly, silly me. God’s got this, not me. The reason for the season? Because the Christ Child came to us in a cave, with NOTHING but Himself, to save us from ourselves. And I thought I had this wired. I thought that, for the first time in 31 years, having presents and cards ready, the house decorated, that I was ready for Christmas. That I was ready to welcome that Babe in the Manger. What gifts did I give Our Lord? Instead, He gave me a break away from all the festivities, and He gave me time and quiet to get myself together.

Christmas is a mess

I decided to try and make soup from our leftover ham, while my husband is off, serving as a Deacon on the altar, and our son accompanied him. I even sorted laundry. And then I sat down, coughing my head off. I reapplied oils, added water to the ham bone making us soup on the stove, and petted the dogs. I am exhausted. But I am not tired enough that I cannot see how so much of what the Lord has in store for us, we miss. We miss it because we are so busy getting ready for it, it passes us by.  My personal Christmas was a mess. Sickness made me flat out stop.  Just stop. And this time, I was quite literally stopped in my tracks.

I believe that when we come face to face with God, it should stop us in our tracks and we should become something different; distinct from our “former selves.” If we do not embrace and accept the change that an encounter with Christ should engender in us, why bother? Why keep banging your head against a wall, telling the world you have changed, when the evidence everyone can see tells a completely different story? I can adopt a healthier lifestyle. I can opt to create a healthier environment in my home. So why did I allow all those sweets to come into my home? Why did I encourage poor choices by making sweet things to share with others? How am I the example someone needs for their walk with Christ if I cannot even stay the course myself?

Cheaters never propser

“Cheaters never prosper” was yelled by kids on the playgrounds when I was young. We used to sing-song it to people who cheated at games. It is an old English saying (idiom) that actually was about treason, but we Americans changed it up a little bit. In any event, cheating never does us any good. The most blatant lies will show to be just that, given time. People position themselves certain ways and presume and assume no one is the wiser, but most of us can see the truth. I tried to cheat. I was given a healthier alternative and thought I was on the road to health and less weight, more energy, less pain..all the benefits I had been seeing. But I also thought I could “rest on my laurels.” (Another fun idiom we inherited from mythology. A laurel wreath was worn around the head as a distinction for a level achieved; a reward. To lay down and rest, not putting forth further effort because you already were crowned with a laurel wreath, was to presume what you had done was good enough and would last). But as with anything, we need to stay current. We need to keep at it, to become good at anything. If someone is trying to get healthy, you don’t stop doing whatever you have chosen once you reach a healthier status. You have to keep up living healthy or you become sick, like me. Ugh.  I really hate that I am still sick and it is almost 7 days later. But I am happy that I am still learning.

Confession

“Every genuine confession humbles the soul. When it takes the form of thanksgiving, it teaches the soul that it has been delivered by the grace of God.” + St. Maximos the Confessor, Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice 3.62, The Philokalia: The Complete Text (Vol. 2)

When we go to confession, as when we unburden ourselves to a friend, when we open our hearts to hear the Word of God on our souls, we are changed. We have been given a new breath. We can inhale and feel the burdens we bore removed from our shoulders. We can start anew. Start what? That daily step – that step we take with each choice, each decision, each breath of every day. Did the Lord allow you relief? Were you given a choice and opted to repent? Were you contrite? What now? Is your next step, your next breath towards God, or are you backing away? One of the hardest things in life is to know that you do not know. You do not know pretty much anything, outside from the Grace of God. Without God’s light and Grace, we become “noisy gongs and clanging cymbals” (1Cor 12). I know so many people who are nothing more than air. And usually hot air. Because they jabber but they don’t change. They do not listen. They do not open themselves to the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They are stuck, clanging away, because they already know it all. And today I reaffirm my commitment to not be a noisy gong, insisting on my own way, rumbling through life sick and miserable. I embrace what I have been shown and I am determined to inherit the Kingdom of God as a loving daughter of the Most High. I do not want to make so much noise with my own sounds, my own opinions, that I cannot see the path that God has laid out for me. I know that God acts in my life through others. He allows people to come into my life to help me, to make me a better person. I need to acknowledge that in my life; to embrace it; to accept it; and most of all, to act upon it. So this is sort of a New Year’s Resolution, if you would allow. I intend to listen more, speak less, and to follow God’s Word in my life much better than I often do. I will endeavor to hear that still, small voice. Will you?

Small voice

 

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Aurora.1Sometimes the world can seem so vast. There is so much that we are not truly familiar with. And yet, we make judgement calls about the world all the time. Judges, meting out justice from the bench, are supposed to be using their knowledge of the law, and making a judgement based on the law. They are not supposed to make their own laws, but rather uphold the ones we have on the books. They spend years learning laws, learning ways to defend the law, or the person accused of breaking the law. Some people are called to be prosecutors, some defenders. It is a pretty black/white thing, taken in its pristine form. But, as with much of life, there seems to be ambiguity inherent with our law system. And opinion; one cannot forget opinion. Trust me; I have one, which is why I blog. I share my opinion, my thoughts, with those of you who are interested enough to actually read them.

Today I was confronted with attitude. From several different sources. I love that I was blessed to haphazardly find my way to Anthropology from my start as a pre-law major, morphing into history, and finally finding archeology. I learned to have a broader perspective about things, and I also learned to appreciate differences. To actually look for, and explore differences. I try to not accept things on the basis of the cover. I was accused of judging young ladies one of my sons was dating, simply by their clothing, tattoos, and wildly colored hair. And I admitted that I was prejudiced – in my head, a “normal” girl didn’t present herself that way. I was so wrong. I also have learned that there are so many things that are not truly known to me, or by me. The world is, quite honestly, more complex and varied than we think. There is such a variety in the way in which we approach things. There is such a variety in how God presents His world to us.

moon sky mountains

I was raised and lived in pretty much a 100-square mile area in Southern California. I know traffic. I know smog. I know crowds. I know the beach, the mountains, the desert. I can tell you how to get somewhere and the relative amount of time it will take you to get there. Malls – I know all the good malls in Southern California. I know where to get deals on pretty much anything. The good towns, the places to avoid, the amusement park deals. Parades and major league sports venues. SoCal is full of all of that, and more. I just never realized there was something more out there. I mean, who knew what seasons really were? I never understood the whole Fall/Autumn thing until we lived in Washington. Oh my goodness. Fall is glorious in the Pacific Northwest. I also found out I could plant and grow, successfully, my own tulips. I had no idea there were so many types of tulips. I did not get gourds (why do we carve pumpkins and devour pumpkin pies??) until I lived where they grow them. I never liked asparagus, either, until I could buy it fresh, for less than $1 a bunch and cook it in so many ways (I mean, garlic and butter pretty much makes shoe leather edible). Another experience was living in a snow state. It is a wet state (parts are considered rain forest) but it is also a snow state. I learned to drive roads that are almost verticle on all-weather tires in ice, and also learned to maneuver around all sorts of road construction in pretty awful weather. I LOVED it! And then we decided to have the adventure of a lifetime (while we were still young enough to do it successfully) and relocate out of the contiguous United States, to the very far north. I can honestly say it has lived up to my expectations, and outdone them in so very many ways. This land is something that I never expected, and something I will take the rest of my life learning about and appreciating.

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One of the things I have learned is that I DO NOT KNOW EVERYTHING. (Hope those close to me, who know me well, didn’t just have mini-strokes, or heart attacks at that declaration!). And I love to experience new things. I am so interested in everything. I try to expose my mind to new things all the time. I try to not be closed off or to place walls between myself and new discoveries, knowing there is just a vast amount of knowledge I do not have. I’d like to chip away at acquiring more, the rest of my life. I want to constantly embrace new things and fill my mind, and my soul, with all the things I can learn. I am trying to leave words that hamper this desire out of my vocabulary (never, can’t, won’t, no). And I am working on not pre-juding people, situations, or even places and/or experiences.

I get frustrated when people say things like, “I would never…” or “I can never do…” when they have never ventured, never tried, never gone there (insofar as experiences). It is like a judge, who has the law before him, making a decision based on an opinion gained by reading the newspaper. We may think we have all the information we need, we may have dipped our toes in the water, but the ocean is not the beach. Saying all that, I KNOW I could never jump out of a plane. I can barely manage flying in one, let alone stepping out of one. My son used to do it for a living and told me, years afterwards, that he hated jumping, but got a kick out of landing, successfully. Adrenaline rush, etc. Not me. I am a scaredy-pants, just like my elusive cat, Rosie. So I do understand not taking certain risks, or do life-endangering antics, for the kick of it. And I do not judge those who are able to entertain those ideas, and even to act upon them. So, for the sake of my musings here, I am discounting that section of participants.

From the Book of Wisdom 7:21-25 (Douay-Rheims):

“And all such things as are hid and not foreseen, I have learned: for wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me. For in her is the spirit of understanding: holy, one, manifold, subtile, eloquent, active, undefiled, sure, sweet, loving that which is good, quick, which nothing hindereth, beneficent, gentle, kind, steadfast, assured, secure, having all power, overseeing all things, and containing all spirits, intelligible, pure, subtile. For wisdom is more active than all active things: and reacheth everywhere by reason of her purity. For she is a vapour of the power of God, and a certain pure emanation of the glory of the almighty God: and therefore no defiled thing cometh into her.”

I believe we all need to learn as much as we can. I don’t want to just grow older. I am praying that I also grow in wisdom. We need to make bucket lists and check those awesome experiences off, as we do them! I think we need to be brave, to embrace those roads less traveled and to not fear the new, the untried, the unfamiliar. Yes, there is danger around every corner. Sometimes there are no guarantees.

Looking back

I am the biggest chicken insofar as trying much that is new. I have the same clothes I have worn for the past ten years. I re-read the same books, over again, two or three times. I listen to music I listened to in high school. But about three years ago, as I was speeding down this very deserted highway (in a foreign country no less) at around 75 mph, on all-weather tires, on about a foot of ice and snow, I thought, “What are we doing?” My husband was trying to follow me, as I saw him through my rearview mirror, reaching out to manually wipe the accumulating ice and snow off his windshield. He was doing whatever he needed to do to stay wtih me. How blessed was I? Of course, he was also yelling into our walkie-talkie, telling me to “Slow down, woman!”  Ha-Ha. Good times. I doubt quite often the choices we have made. We plunge into things, thinking we’ve corned the market on all the possibilities. We try to really think things through, but inevitably, something comes out of left field that we had never expected. We got snow the week after we moved here – in June! I discovered icicles on my house and fell in love with them. (Now I totally understand icicles on Christmas trees, and those Christmas lights for your house that mimic real icicles!). What a bonus! I learned how to take out laundry in sub-zero temps. I can now cook moose and it tastes good! I can manage a sweater as my only cover in 20-degree weather. I have learned to make Ukrainian dishes for the different feast days. Me?! I am British, as in pot roasts and pots of tea! Ha-Ha!! I learned how to make Pascha cheese, in panty hose, in my shower (trust me – it really works!). But I am learning, still. I am experiencing new things. Still. I am trying to remove “no, can’t never” from my vocabulary. I am trying to not prejudge something I have no honest, direct, knowledge of. Please, let’s keep one another in prayer over the pursuit of Wisdom. Over the experience of the new, the unknown. The Lord has given this immense land to discover, filled with unknown adventures and a myriad of different people, traditions, and faiths. Let us approach these differences with an eye to this immense knowledge, and wisdom, of God. And let us at least try, one step at a time…

Babysteps

“To everything there is a season…”

Christmas Ornaments

Well, we did it. We put our tree up. Normally, it’s up on Black Friday. This year, I was feeling sort of bah-hum-bug-ish and did’t feel motivated to decorate. But now, I am glad we did. Sometimes we need to force ourselves to do things we may not want to, and we may even like how things turn out.

Saturday, my husband and I had a date. We went to this “door buster” sale that said it started at 7:00am. I was up and showering at 6:30, while my husband enjoyed some coffee. Off we went, expecting crowds, and me with wet hair, in the snow. We arrived to a pretty much empty lot. I was worried I got the dates wrong, checked my phone and my coupons, but I was right. We entered and remarked to the many employees, who were wearing their ugly Christmas sweaters, that we were lucky no one else arrived early. They had been expecting crowds, too. And for those of you who are men and can relate, my husband was able to relax with so few people around; shopping is not his thing. We try to spend at least one day each Christmas, just the two of us, shopping for the family. I refer to it as our Mr. and Mrs. Claus day. Last year we videod a message for our grandchildren who live out of state, while we shopped. It’s usually a good time and Saturday was no exception. We felt blessed. We had hot coffee, coupons, there were indeed “door buster” sales, and there were no crowds! And the bonus? We were home, unloaded, and sipping more coffee by 10:30am – done with our annual Christmas shopping and watching a huge snow storm!! (Which ended up lasting all of about 1 hour!) Whoot-whoot!

Christmas sales. jpg

It’s nice to set a goal, get moving, and accomplish something. And it’s nice when things sort of come together. I am working at being healthier in my approach to expectations. I know that God expects me to always do my best, especially when it comes to my faith and family. But sometimes my expectations are pretty out of whack with reality. It leads to depression and disappointment. Up here, we have so few hours of daylight during the winter, that depression is a reality. They have “happy lights” they sell at all the local stores. But one of the best things about winter and Christmas and decorating, is the lights. We have this tradition of lighting the inside, as well as the outside, of our homes – and by lighting, I mean a lot of lights!! We try to get the outside up before the first snow/freeze and the interior ones usually stay up until almost Easter or Pascha. And this year we have lots of interior lights, which just makes me smile. Most are mixed colors, some are red, and our tree is all white. So I am glad my family pressed me into decorating. It does feel good.

I am also an avid Christmas song person. My cell phone even has a Christmas ring tone. I love some of the songs that an a cappella group, Pentatonix, does. They have done an amazing job of “Mary, did you know?” If you want a treat, google them! They are worth it. We played Christmas songs off our various iPods and phones while we hung lights and decorated our tree. It was good. To add to the environment, it was snowing like crazy. Perfect!

window.tree.snow

One of the most wonderful things about being Byzantine is that through our Vespers and other prayers, as well as our Liturgical songs, we are never left surprised by the holiday or feast day approaching. The Nativity Fast is one of those things that helps us prepare for the Christ Child. I think that sharing this with others make the season so much more alive. We often skip the prep and go straight to the event. But the journey is the most important part. A pastor spoke at a funeral and the gist of what he said was when you see the dates on the death announcement, remember our lives are lived in the dash marks (like 1945-1995). And how do we fill that space? For each holiday, each season, how do we fill our days? My expectations, as I said above, make movement sometimes difficult. We freeze out of fear of doing it wrong. Within the gentle movement of the liturgical year, we are brought forward for each feast. More than likely, we fast prior to the feast. It is the Church’s way of preparing us. We sacrifice our stomach’s demands, the demands of self, and bring our reality into line, focusing on the feast. Like dragging my feet about decorating, I realized I was becoming a reluctant participant in this glorious preparation of the Nativity Feast (aka Christmas Day) because I am worried about doing it wrong. What if I neglect prayers? Proper fasting? What about all the gifts for all our family and friends? When do we see whom? What do I serve for dinner? Who goes to which home, which day/night? So many things to juggle around these high-pressure holidays.

Nativity icon

We are all called … very few come. There are some amazing things about the Nativity of Christ that get lost in all the red and green, lights and tinsel, gifts and cooking. “Today the Virgin is on her way to the cave where she will give birth to the Eternal Word of God in an ineffable manner. Rejoice, therefore, O universe, when you hear this news, and glorify with the angels and the shepherds Him who shall appear as a newborn Babe, being God from all eternity.” (Kontakion of the Preparation). We’re missing the point of all this stress, all this hoopla. And I am as guilty as the next stressed-out parent! Historically, in the quiet of the desert, the Theotokos (Mother of God) was making her way, on a donkey, escorted by Joseph, her espoused husband to the land of Joseph’s birth, Bethlehem. I do not think they were concerned with anything other than finding shelter so She could give birth to the Son of God.

desert.bethlehem

How can I help myself, my friends, my family prepare for the celebration of the Birth of Christ? It is hard when many we are close to do not attend Church, and Christmas is all about Santa Claus, not even St. Nicholas. Some children I am very close to do not even know who Jesus is, let alone that Christmas is when we celebrate His birthday. And I had an “ah-ha” moment. The “ah-ha” was this: keep it simple! For Thanksgiving, I reverted to paper – plates, napkins, tablecloth, utensils, etc. I had people bring dishes to share. I simplified everything and we had a wonderful day. But since that is a secular holiday, how do we infuse Christ into this, a Holy Day, a Feast Day celebration? I am thinking, that in addition to simple, we need to share what we believe. We need to invite people to come to services at our churches with us. We need to send cards that reflect what we believe. Our priest has been talking to us (repeatedly) about Christmas cards. His point was that text messages and emails are nothing but steam, or smoke, or keystrokes. But a card? A card you can hold in your hand? A card with a personal note is like letting someone know you thought of them; that they were important enough for you to spend the time and effort to think of them, and bring them in, with you, to this joyous holiday, to that cave as we share this journey through the desert to Bethlehem.

Christmasdinner

Around our communities, our friends, our families, our tables we should share who we are and what we believe. We need to put our actions where our faith is. Too often we cave to the media’s interpretation of who we are, what our country is like, what Christmas is all about. Schools are telling teachers, parents, and students that they can no longer say “Merry Christmas” but must refrain. No mention even of Santa Claus. There will be no Christmas vacation; it’s now Winter Break. Happy Holidays, so we don’t offend anyone. Instead, let’s be the Christ Child, simple, quiet, unassuming, yet firmly who we are. Let’s invite others to share our faith walk. Let’s simplify Christmas in the gift giving and instead “do” for others. Make dates, have dinners together, park days, hikes. Shovel a neighbor’s driveway; help elderly people by singing Christmas Carols to them. Call old friends. Mend fences that need to be mended. Be present. Be loving. Above all, put self last and other first. Forgive without expectation. Love expecting no love in return. Give until you have nothing left to give. Often, even if we are reluctant to participate, or feel afraid of failing, we need to commit to being a part of this world we live in. But instead of being of the world, be in the world, but be a person of God. Sometimes, in this life, we are the only Jesus people will ever know. I know that I am reconfirming my determination to take deep breaths, reaffirm my determination to love others, and to positively share this faith I proclaim. I am going to be present when the Christ Child comes to us, and I am going to invite everyone to share in His Birthday.

“Today the virgin, gives birth to the incomprehensible One;
and the earth offers a cave to the unapproachable One;
Angels and shepherds glorify Him;
the Wisemen journey with a star;
since for our sakes is born the ETERNAL GOD, as a little Child.”

Christ is Born

I have not come to bring peace…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how God challenges us. Well, challenges me. I tend to be a little bit of a stickler about certain things. I guess what it boils down to is that I like rules. I prefer being in a box, rather than free ranging it. For years, I always felt my children operated best when they knew the limitations of what they can and cannot do. Borders. Edges. Limitations. Expectations. I realize that as a person, I am not the one to stand at the podium and give the speeches. I am not the one to be in charge. I am basically a background person. I can make you look great. I can help anyone, by working “back stage,” as they say. I do not need to be the leader. Although because of my personality, it is often thrust upon me, it is not where I am best, nor is it where the best in me is played out for others.

And I believe it is this tendency within myself that led me to love organized religion. I am a historian at heart and an anthropologist by training. I love getting to the roots of things. One of those things is that I love knowing that I belong to a religion that has come down to us, unchanged, from the Apostles themselves. There are no surprises, nor am I expected to be in charge. And I have loved learning about how our faith came to be, how it works, and has worked, for thousands of years. And I don’t need to change, edit, or alter a thing. God gave us His Church through His Son, and His Apostles. Done. Each time someone disagrees with how the Church does something, they leave. When someone gets angry at a priest or deacon, they leave. Many are upset at the caliber of the men in the Church. What they forget is that they are just that – they are men. No one claims to be a Saint or Christ Himself. There has only been one “Perfect Man” and He died for each one of us, on a Cross, over two thousand years ago. We all strive to be good, but no one is perfect, except for Christ Jesus.

ChristPantocrator

This past week, with the increased violence and the shootings in San Bernardino, California, the realization that people are not perfect came to a dramatic head. This shooting touched me personally, in many ways, and through many relationships, past and present. My heart hurt. My spirit was heavy. And I was soooooo angry. And I immediately jumped on the anger train and was unsympathetic to anyone who did not share my anger and my hurt for those who were killed, and their families.

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.…” Matthew 5:44-45

Boy, is that a rough lesson to learn. And it cuts deep and close to what we consider our faith. I have experienced, in the past, being excluded. When my children were very young, I attended a weekly bible study. It was called non-denominational and everyone attended different churches. There was a local school that many of the teachers of the bible study, and many of the attendees, sent their children. It seemed like a great school. I applied for a position for our eldest son to attend Kindergarten there. I received a very awkward phone call from the principal who told me that although we were all Christians, our practices differed substantially and it would be a falsehood to deny our differences. He also said that as of that time, they did not accept students who were not their particular type of Christian and our family worshipped too differently for us to be accepted at the school. About the same time, our bible study spoke about Mary and I found myself standing up to defend Mary. Standing and speaking was to defy the rules of the bible study, which stated you did not interrupt nor give opinion during presentations, only during private classroom time. I could not stop myself. They were promoting heretical notions. I could not let it stand. I found myself unwelcome and I was forced to discontinue my membership in this women’s group, and pull my children from their program. It was disheartening and I was so very sad. I lost friends over it. Faith can be so divisive. (Politics, too).

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10: 34-39).

evangelical-divide

We are becoming a nation, a world, of factions. It is historically significant that Christians (aka the Catholic Church) have been pitted against Muslims for centuries. The times that are the most famous are those surrounding the Crusades, when the Pope sent armies to defeat the Muslim invaders; to stop them from coming into Europe and decimating the Christian populations. The Muslims acknowledge Mary as the Mother of Christ (and are actually more accepting of her than most Protestant denominations) and believe Christ was a preacher sent by God. They do not, however, believe He is the Son of God. They believe Mohammed is equal to Christ, even slightly more important than Christ. We agree with Muslims that there is but one God, and there is no other God before Him (they refer to Him as Allah).

I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:5-7).

But apart from that, our essential belief system is extraordinarily different. Our value systems were formed through adherence to our belief system, and those differ vastly in some very basic precepts. In our Christian world, the Lord Jesus Christ calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And I agree with that; I struggle with it on an almost daily basis. He also called us to arm ourselves:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:10-18).

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And yet, how do I reconcile my feelings of being apart and separate from other believers, because of the differences in how we worship? Not to mention the theology of the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Mother? There are many aspects to highlight how we are different, but how does that help the cause of ecumenism in our world? How do we battle what we have been fighting for generations, if our faith is not united? Yes, as Americans we feel united against terrorism on our lands, much as our recent family members felt during World War II. We feel united. Much of the Judeo-Christian world feels united against a common foe. In some ways we truly are. We value human life, for the most part, differently than those from the Muslim world. Females are not valued at all. Abortion, rape, genocide…those are all common in the Muslim world. But how can we, as Christian Americans, judge our Muslim brothers when we kill babies in the womb? When we fight one another over religious differences, here at home? No, the Muslims do to want to convert me; they want to erase me from existence. I truly understand that, and I struggle with those realities in light of the Gospels. I recall that as an aware child I knew that our country was horrified that President John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, had been elected President. He simply could not be a good president because many felt his loyalties would be divided – “What if the Pope tells him to do something?” That statement, alone, explains how little our Protestant brothers understand about Catholicism. There are more Catholics who serve in governmental positions, but how many of them live by the tenets of their faith and are good examples of Catholic Christians? (As in not supporting funding abortion or supporting anyone or any legislation that is not pro life). Misperceptions still persist, even today; many Christians are Christian in name only; many because it’s sort of cool at the moment to declare your love of God, even if you don’t treat others “as yourself.” My country is not as united as we like to think we are. When we face a common enemy, we stand together. But when that enemy recedes, how do we love one another?

I started this post about living in a box, within rules and limitations. I spoke to how my faith reflects my love of order, and even rules and responsibilities, and behaviors. I believe we should all be free, free to choose which Church we want to worship in. I do not believe law should reflect any one religion, which is the basis for our Constitution. Sharia Law does not belong on American soil. But I am still saddened by the vehemence with which people who are “Christian” treat one another. Yes, I am determined to gird myself with the “belt of truth.” Oh yes, I believe in eternal truths. I also believe God, through His Apostles, spoke that truth throughout the world, establishing His Church around the world. Men have taken that Church and torn it into pieces; into “denominations.”

Denominations. A denomination is defined in this Encyclopedia as an organized aggregate of worship centers or congregations of similar ecclesiastical tradition within a specific country; i.e. as an organized Christian church or tradition or religious group or community of believers, within a specific country, whose component congregations and members are called by the same denominational name in different areas, regarding themselves as one autonomous Christian church distinct from other denominations, churches and traditions. As defined here, world Christianity consists of 6 major ecclesiastico-cultural blocs, divided into 300 major ecclesiastical traditions, composed of over 33,000 distinct denominations in 238 countries, these denominations themselves being composed of over 3,400,000 worship centers, churches or congregations.” (World Christian Encyclopedia, 2001).

A denomination refers to an actual name, or the naming, of something. That means that there are over 33,000 “names” for Christianity and Christian in this world. The Church that Christ established with just 12 Apostles, their families, and the early community established after Pentecost, grew to be over 3,400,000 “worship centers” throughout the world. Worship centers that are not united around one faith, one Church, but are made up of communities by someone who disagreed with the tenets of the established Church, and started their own “brand” of Christianity. It’s sort of like those of us who opt to homeschool and not participate in a national indoctrination program, called public education. We start our own little community, at home around the kitchen table, and call it “Bob’s School.” Well, in that same vein, there are all sorts of “Bob’s Church”(es) around this world. How do we fight the one or two Muslim denominations who are determined to wipe us off the face of the earth? How do we unite, truly unite, down to our most basic units (the family) when people continue to disagree about fundamentals of our faith?

Mother Theresa.Peace
The only thing I can come up with right at this moment is to just LOVE. Overshadow all we do with LOVE. The Love of God for our fellow man. Our priest gave an excellent homily last week about loving others. He said that we open our arms, tell God that we love Him, embracing everything that is Him. We truly do. Then God asks us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31). But that’s where it all falls apart. That guy over there? You want me to love that guy? Oh, I can’t do that. We don’t get along. I can’t love someone I don’t get along with. Or we say  – I can love my husband(wife) and my kids, but my sister? My brother? My parents? We had a disagreement years ago; they hurt my feelings. I can’t love them; I don’t even like them. If that is the case, how can we truly love God? How can we expect to get along with everyone if we do not start right at home, with our own families? If we cannot love our co-workers, those who even attend our same Church but with whom we had a disagreement? How can we conquer something like the Muslim faith with LOVE of God if we cannot love those most known to us? How can we, as a country, continue to survive as a nation, without love of our neighbor?

I am sick over all this violence. I will not lower my awareness and just blithely give into it.  But I am so tired of the energy it takes to hate someone or be angry with them. My heart aches over the shootings in San Bernardino and the loss of life there and around the world. But I cannot hope to solve this problem of hatred around the world if I cannot love the guy next door who drives me crazy, can I? How did those 12 Apostles do this? How diid they spread the LOVE of God around the world when it does not exist around my block, in my parish, my family, or in my little corner of the world? Some days, my heart just aches, thinking about all of this. And so I blog…

World PEace

“We give thanks to You, invisible King..”

 

Food Thanksgiving

We give thanks to You, invisible King. By Your infinite power You created all things and by Your great mercy You brought everything from nothing into being. Master, look down from heaven upon those who have bowed their heads before You; they have bowed not before flesh and blood but before You the awesome God. Therefore, Master, guide the course of our life for our benefit according to the need of each of us. Sail with those who sail; travel with those who travel; and heal the sick, Physician of our souls and bodies. By the grace, mercy, and love for us of Your only begotten Son, with whom You are blessed, together with Your all holy, good, and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

This week is hectic. It’s Thanksgiving here in the USA. So many ways to celebrate; so many ways to give Thanks. Each time we attend Divine Liturgy, we continually beseech God for mercy, and we constantly give thanks, “to You, invisible King.” This holiday season is one where tensions fly with family members and friends, alike. Everyone has a plan in their head of what the “Holidays” are supposed to be. For whatever reason, they ALWAYS fall short. Why is that? I remember a conversation between two siblings, wherein they were recalling incidents in their youth. One of them remarked, “Were we even raised in the same family?” It was because their memories were vastly different of the same events. And I know that is what happens each year. We have fond recollections from our youth, but they are quite often not what truly occurred. We laugh and laugh as our boys retell certain instances in their lives, because to the mind of a child, it happened a particular way. But, we, who experienced it as adults, have a far different recollection.

kidsthanksgiving

Hosting the holidays has been stressing me out. It’s because I have a very tiny house and there will be a lot of grown-ups trying to cram into it. I do mean a tiny house, with a one-butt kitchen. (If you have one, you know what I mean). There are other reasons, too. Like trying to live up the expectations of a family feast for my kids, grandkids, and extended family members. We also have many, many subjects that will naturally be taboo at our table. (A varied belief system, political system, and even agnostic/atheistic tendancies). There will be football! Ha-Ha! But even that can be heated (we all like different teams). The food is coming in from a variety of people, so all I have to worry about is the turkey (they don’t stress me out – just a big chicken), stuffing, cranberry sauce, and sweet potatoes. Should be simple. We will have far more food than we can eat but hopefully everyone can taste something they like. My kids have already said that since they are now adults, I can’t make them eat what they don’t want to eat. So if all they eat is stuffing, gravy, rolls, and pie, washing it all down with a beer, I need to deal with it. Ha-Ha.  Well, okay then.

I am missing the days of attending Divine Liturgy and feeding the homeless, as we did in previous years. Our current parish is hosting a meal after the Divine Liturgy and I will miss it this year; perhaps next year we can hop from place to place, enjoying the company of a variety of family and friends. Perhaps sharing our previous experiences in helping the less fortunate will be something I can share around the table, maybe even inspiring an openness to giving to others. Who knows, maybe next year our family (extended as it is) will help to feed the homeless? One can always hope. One particularly happy Thanksgiving was shared with friends in Washington State a few years ago. My god daughter flew up for the weekend and we went to a friend’s house. They had invited a lot of disparate individuals and their table conversation was incredible. We had such a wonderful time. It was nothing like we had experienced in the past and to this day, it is one of my favorite holiday memories.

Hand held table

Thanksgiving, or Turkey Day as I like to call it, is a peculiar holiday to America – and I like the idea of it. But with all the political correctness going on, we don’t really focus on the Pilgrims being grateful for a harvest helped by their interaction with the native peoples, and with them sharing their bounty. We instead are focusing on our own small families (in perspective) and on what time the stores are having their “Black Friday” shopping hours! People are boycotting lists of stores who are opening on Thanksgiving itself, and many who are already set up for Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, Christmas is my second favorite holiday. For most of my life, it was my favorite holiday (I have been converted to Pascha. I adore the whole environment of Lent and Easter, especially learning all the new traditions here). In recent years, it seems like more and more that the marketing world leads us from Labor Day in September, right through to Thanksgiving and Christmas – all at once. The ads and the deals; retailers trying to get your money. It is taking away from the “thankfulness” of the season. I wish we could return to simpler, quieter, and slower days and years. We just seem to be rushing through all our days lately. Perhaps it is because I am getting older and I notice it more. And I truly wish we could get over this attachment to all the “stuff” we need to buy. Remember the old saying, “You can’t take it with you?” Seems so appropriate. We should stop and be content, be grateful for what we do have.

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.…” (1Tim 7:6-8)

My prayer for my family and friends is a grateful heart and spirit. Silence, peace, and loving kindness to everyone. Being sated by what we already have and being able to recognize our wealth – in things, yes, but in our family, friends, faith, country. Enjoying those around us. Feeling the blessings God has laid before us in our lives. God is good and He knows what is best for us. Hosting Turkey Day is good for me. It lets me work on my “Martha” and learn to be more “Mary.” God is working in me, even in the week of “Thanksgiving,” as I am learning to redefine my essence of “family” and being grateful for those who darken my doorstep and gladden my table.

11122015_DawnCamp_ThanksgivingThankful

From a wonderful site, “(In)courage ~ Home for the Hearts of Women” and an article entitled, ” A More Mary, Less Martha Thanksgiving”  by Dawn Camp, came the following WONDERFUL advice:

If you’re an anxious holiday host, I hope these thoughts help you, too:

Don’t experiment with new cooking methods or recipes on crucial dishes unless you have a backup plan. Delegate, delegate, delegate: ask other guests to bring bread, sides, or desserts. More Mary, less Martha: spend more time enjoying your guests and less time cleaning; use paper plates! Let your guests help you set the table and get the food ready to serve; they’re thankful you’ve opened your home and want to assist you. Enjoy the people you’re with; you probably don’t see enough of them. Thanksgiving is about being thankful; make it the focus of your holiday.”

I plan to take her advice to heart. I am about to sojourn to the store with my youngest son. I plan to get paper plates and lots of napkins, even plastic silverware and cups. I want this to be an easy Thanksgiving; a joyful and thankful day. And I hope by simplifying things, we can enjoy one another more (and I will even help myself destress a little bit) and truly be in the mindset to give Thanks.


HappyThanksgiving

“…You are praised by the Seraphim …”

Archangel.2

I absolutely love angels.  I love reading fantasy novels which pit good against evil.  Most of the time, good wins; sometimes evil is just too powerful in the face of purity.  But I am drawn to that sort of literature. I mostly read the Young Adult genre because there’s not much profanity, of language or situation, in them.  And I love battling evil. I believe it is what all Christians need to do.

I read a great article on Thursday. “Why Orthodox Men Love Church” by Frederica Mathewes-Green (Here’s a link: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english.42390htm. I think if you click on the word, Orthodox, above, it will direct you there, too).  I have loved her writing for years and years.  There were some great insights into the spirituality of men in the article and I highly recommend it.  This is one of her quotes, “A convert priest says that men are drawn to the dangerous element of Orthodoxy, which involves “the self-denial of a warrior, the terrifying risk of loving one’s enemies, the unknown frontiers to which a commitment to humility might call us. Lose any of those dangerous qualities and we become the ‘JoAnn Fabric Store’ of churches: nice colors and a very subdued clientele.”  I love this because I happen to adore JoAnne’s Fabric Stores, and my husband hates stepping inside one. He says it’s a “woman’s domain.”  Although he is crafty, he would prefer to shop at Home Depot or Lowe’s for his crafting supplies, as would our son.  And I get that, I truly do. I feel that one of the reasons we were drawn to the East was because we were challenged in what we knew, what we thought we knew, the historical context in which the Eastern Churches arose, and where we, as Americans, all fit in.

Luckily for us, we found the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. Our pastor, Fr. Justin Rose, ensured that we would know to what we were committing ourselves.  We went through some wonderful faith development and enlightenment around the tables in our hall.  We had wonderful shared meals with other journeymen of faith; we shared bottles of wine and some amazing bar-be-ques and hookahs. We loved every moment of that experience. The Melkites are a church of the MIddle East. Most of our parishioners did not speak English as their primary language, nor did they speak it at home. Our Liturgies are sung in Arabic, English, Greek, and occasionally, a little Spanish. I was blessed to learn the tones in Arabic as well as English. I will clarify that for those of you who know my singing ability and say that I can “follow the guy in front of me” pretty well.  Heaven forbid one of the other deacon’s wives and I sat too close together, because she is as bad as I am.  Fr. Justin told us we sing in Tone 10 – deacon’s wives tone! (For those of you unfamiliar with tonal singing in Church, there is no Tone 10!). For another quote in her article, “As Leon Podles wrote in his 1999 book, “The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity,” “The Orthodox are the only Christians who write basso profundo church music, or need to.”  It is wonderful to hear good, clear, tonal music from men’s voices in Church. I love it.Male Cantors

And one of the things I get most from Eastern-styled worship is a sense of safety and comfort. The faith is not watered down; there is no ambiguity about what I need to do to strengthen my relationship with Jesus Christ. I need to not sin. Period. I need to place my complete faith in Jesus Christ. Period. “The prayers the Church provides for us — morning prayers, evening prayers, prayers before and after meals, and so on — give men a way to engage in spirituality without feeling put on the spot, or worrying about looking stupid because they don’t know what to say.” The same holds true for women. We love that we can come to morning prayer, even a little late, and just join in. No surprises. We always know what comes next and there is comfort and a feel of protectiveness in that.

Our world is careening out of control these days. There is wantonness everywhere you turn. Sex sells. It sure does. And it saddens me that promiscuity is now rewarded. How many times do we hear, “So and So were just engaged and plan to marry after the birth of their first child, due next month.” Wow. There’s even hedonism  – it is defined as seeking pleasure as the highest good in life (think of Herod and the licentiousness of the late Roman Empire) – and even when seeking to have children. There’s an up and coming trend these days among women who make a living in the public forum and who don’t want to look “bad” in the press or in their business suits, so they are hiring women to have babies for them.  Because they don’t want to mar their bodies with the glories of stretch marks, or appear to be fat. Oh my. There is an over-importance placed on the purse you carry, the car you drive, even what clothes your children wear, which restaurants you frequent. How can all of this come into line with an Orthodox, as in right-thinking, life of faith? It just doesn’t. Pretty simple, really.

I am feeling so out of control about how this world is affecting my friends, my kids, my church family. There have been seemingly innocent kids caught “sexting” at a high school in Colorado (click on the word and it should take you to a CNN article about it). Some of their nude photos were taken on campus. Literally hundreds of students were caught with hundreds of photos. There is an app kids can get for smart phones that looks like a calculator on their phone but is really a “secret” file sort of like Snap Chat, where kids can hide their nude photos from their parents. And there was a game involved – who could collect the most photos of fellow students – nude photos – was the winner. Now many of these teens face felony charges and life-long registry as sex offenders. How do we combat this? It is NOT okay to send nude photos of yourself. Things on the internet never die. Ever. Someone has a record of it somewhere. Every, single, keystroke or attachment, file or photo is stored in the great internet “cloud” of information somewhere. A friend’s son is going through the process of becoming a fire fighter, which is something my youngest son aspires to. There are intensive background checks, as well as lie-detector tests, health screening, and psych exams you have to pass, above and beyond the skill set of firefighting, itself. If a 14-year-old kid made stupid statements on FB, or posted inappropriate photos of himself or others, 8 years later, as a college graduate, he could not get a job because there’s a record of that idiocy on the internet somewhere, that some expert in unearthing stuff, will find. How do we stop it before it begins?

Icon wall

Orthodoxy preserves and transmits ancient Christian wisdom about how to progress toward this union, which is called “theosis.” Every sacrament or spiritual exercise is designed to bring the person, body and soul, further into continual awareness of the presence of Christ within, and also within every other human being. As a cloth becomes saturated with dye by osmosis, we are saturated with God by theosis.

A catechumen wrote that he was finding icons helpful in resisting unwanted thoughts. “If you just close your eyes to some visual temptation, there are plenty of stored images to cause problems. But if you surround yourself with icons, you have a choice of whether to look at something tempting or something holy.

Do we surround ourselves and our families with things that bring us into the “Presence of God?” Do we watch our speech? Is what I say life-giving? Is it destructive? Do I harm others by my speech? Are others better because of knowing me? Or do I bring others down? Are my actions reflecting what I believe in? Do I allow abhorrent behavior to continue around me? Do I associate with others who reflect what I believe? Do I allow my children to associate with others who are not good for their character development? Will I be able to stand before God, when He asks me, “What have you done for the souls I have entrusted to you?” Will I answer, “Lord, I prayed for them; I sheltered them; I fed them; I instructed them; I set them on the path to You?” For my children, I pray I did this for them. And they then made their own adult choices and decisions. We can only “lead a horse to water, but you cannot make them drink.” Each person’s faith is specifically that – their own. As parents, we try to lead our children to a life of faith. In the world, at times we are the only Jesus a stranger, even a friend, will ever know. So how do we conduct ourselves, even at the grocery store, on the highways and byways of life, with our own relatives? Are we Christ to them? Do we lead by example? Are we the light and leaven in this fallen world?

Christians in the world.

I have been feeling so out of control of the things around me. It seems like nothing I can do can affect a change, especially an immediate one. I feel hamstrung some days. Thursday was a particularly trying day. I was trying to affect movement and change in the world of business and was thwarted at every turn. I was trying to help my children and some friends. But the Lord decided I needed some fine tuning today. He wanted me to learn patience and utter reliance on His Word in my life. He wanted me to learn that stopping, taking a deep breath, and praying is more often the valued path to choose. Sometimes my words are not what others need to hear. Sometimes I cannot effect change in the timeframe my brain had settled on. Some things have to germinate and take forever to change. But God truly has my life in His hands. I truly believe this world is a fallen place where I am to work out my salvation for the next. We are tried again and again. Sometimes we fall. The trick is to always get back up, ready to battle evil again.

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It is proper and right to sing to You, bless You, praise You, thank You and worship You in all places of Your dominion; for You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same… We also thank You for this liturgy which You are pleased to accept from our hands, even though You are surrounded by thousands of Archangels and tens of thousands of Angels, by the Cherubim and Seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, soaring with their wings

I try to imagine Heaven, where all the choirs of angels are constantly singing praise to God. Where they are flying to and from His Throne, ministering to their charges. And I pray that some day the sweet sounds of their eternal song will be heard by me, for eternity. I pray I can greet my family members and friends, who have made the journey before me. All the angels and saints, greeting me as I approach the Throne of God. And I wondered, with all the stress of the day I had yesterday, the chats continuing on today, the many conversations and actions throughout my life, if I have done enough – for others. We are called to love those who persecute us; to love our enemies; to pray for those who hate us. Have I, honestly, done that? What have I done for the souls entrusted to me? I pray that all of us, as our world continues to careen out of control, that we stop; we all just stop, take a deep breath and pray to God. Stop and notice those hurting around you. Re-evaluate the words you use with others; the actions you take with others. If each of us were to truly be Christian in this fallen world, we could affect a change. A real, authentic change. We are called to be the “light and leaven” in this fallen world. And not because of what we do, but how we believe, take that belief of Christ Jesus living in us (Theosis) and turn it into love for one another.

For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we will live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you. Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you– unless indeed you fail the test? But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test.…” (2Cor 13:5-8)

Prayer candles cross