“…children are a heritage from the Lord…”

Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court. Psalm 127:3-5

Family can mean so many, many different things. Some of us, me for example, have very small families. My parents immigrated to the USA. Both of them are only children. So I have no aunts, uncles, or cousins. And I have just 1 brother. Any other relatives I have are living in other countries. My paternal grandparents came to the USA, because they did not want to be away from their only son. So for me, 6 people at the table was big. I married into a large family. My father-in-law was the eldest of 10 siblings. My mother-in-law is the eldest of 3 siblings. They are all “Germans from Russia” or “Volga Russians” and they all married within their culture. Until me. Our wedding  was filled with literally hundreds of people I did not know, and may have only seen that one time.

When we got married, we wanted a large family. We decided on 6 kids. Well, biology and God chose to make that number 2 and then we adopted, which brought us to 3 boys. My oldest son has two kids (although I think they may be thinking more might be fun) and our middle son has three girls (and we think there will be more!!). Our youngest is not married yet, so we will see on him. My sister-in-law, however, decided to keep up with her paternal grandmother (Grandma Kaiser) and is the mother of 10 children. They are vacationing with us with 9 of their 10. It has been so exhausting but has brought so much joy and laughter. I will miss them terribly when they leave. And when they leave, I leave for 10 days! LOL! Our lives are insanely crazy right now, but as my head hits the pillow each night I am so grateful for these many moments with family.

When you live so far apart, relationships have to be re-established and sometimes there can be mis-communication and missed opportunities for healthy communication. It is a tightrope and/or a tap dance. But if you work at it, you can enjoy such a wonderfully full life.

Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates. (Proverbs 31: 28-31)

The crown of marriage (quite literally in Byzantine/Orthodox weddings) is our families. Some of us have to adopt to have a family; some of us have friends who become our families. However you gain a family, it is what we pivot our lives around.

In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence,
and his children will have a refuge. (Proverbs 14:26)

I truly feel that when we surround ourselves with the love of God and instill this love in our families, we are doubly blessed. But oftentimes we worship differently and this causes issues, too. In order to keep the peace we sometimes have to be silent. And being a silent witness to your beliefs can challenge even the greatest theologians. And above all, we need love. And love translates to some of the most sublime moments we will ever experience in our lives. This week, we have had some of the most precious moments in our lives, so far. And it is through “smushing” all this family together around a single table; into a motorhome and SUV and trudging through rain and wind and enjoy the beauty of where we live, that we are forging a stronger family. We are blessed.

 

 

 

“…and blessed shall you be…”

So, we are all moved in and we are totally out of our old house. Now I just have to clean it and return the keys. It was a great house to get us into our new adventure here in the Last Frontier. It wasn’t too remote (there were apartments across the street) and yet it was not in a large town. There are 30,000 living in the main town and surrounding areas. The town we moved to? About 9,000. Ha-Ha. When we last visited the greater Los Angeles area, we left Long Beach Airport and drove onto the 405 Freeway, where it is melding with the Garden Grove Freeway. We realized we had seen more people on that freeway than lived in the town we lived in. Now I realize there were more rental cars in that parking lot than in the entire town we live in. And I love it.

How often have we heard, “I don’t go to Church because so-and-so did this-and-such to me.” Or, “I have my faith in God; I don’t need a Church.” I have written blog posts on this before. No man is an island. We need one another. For better or worse. And our world is becoming more and more fractured. It makes me so very sad.

What do these things have in common? People. Numbers of people. Living styles. Remote, quieter life style and city/concrete jungle life. Neither is perfect. Many people have left the countryside to move to the city for a better life, better job, better opportunities. Not as many have escaped all that to live in more remote areas. Regardless of where we live, we do not live there without neighbors. They may be close enough to hand us a tissue when we sneeze, or they may be miles away. But nonetheless, we have neighbors.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. …” Deuteronomy 28: 1-68

What can we do to be good neighbors, regardless of where our neighbors are? Regardless of who our neighbors are? There are so many of us who purport to be Christians, but how “Christ-like” are we, really? Ghandi did not like Christians; he liked Christ but commented at how terribly judgmental Christians could be. And many are also very exclusionary. We pulled our oldest son from public school mid-way through 2nd grade and chose to homeschool him. There were some people who would not let our son play with their children because he had once attended public school – and these were very rigid “traditional” Catholics. They snubbed us, as adults, too, because we “mixed”with the world. (Funny, ironic, story? Their boys were the ones selling alcohol to all the minor homeschool kids behind their parents’ rigid backs. Karma). My point is that it is silliness to limit yourself when it comes to “neighbors.” I have grown exponentially in the past year, by stepping outside my comfort zone and embracing all sorts of people. And my life is so much richer for it. So much richer. I have made some friends that have enriched my world so very much and I feel very, very blessed. Even in this little corner of the world.

I have refrained from posting lately because I have been so very busy, but also reflective. There have been news stories that have caught my interest, things happening with friends and family, and the busy-ness of settling into a new home in a new community. Enough that at the end of the day, I fall into bed, exhausted. And that leaves little time for blogging. Instead of unpacking another box or doing another chore this weekend, we took off at the invitation from a group of people we have come to enjoy so very much (we are starting to see them more and more often and it has been so much fun) to enjoy some wilderness time. We drove 72 miles north of where we live, feeling like we were driving on top of the world. It was beautiful in every direction, and rarely did we see another building. We drove on paved roads for most of the way, but then we hit the dirt roads (more roads are unpaved here than paved) in my grandma car. Ha-Ha! And the drive did not disappoint! We got to cross this gorgeous bridge and see some amazing sites. We hung out with a great group of people. We were able to have a “sit around the campsite” chat with our local Senator (seriously…our Senator) and discuss the state of our state. How wonderful is that??? Even though we were miles and miles and miles away from anything, we were with neighbors. We communicated. We discussed. We challenged one another. We bonded. It is what people do with each other, when they allow themselves to be neighborly.

As we drove into the sunset (the above photo was taken through my dirty windshield about 7:30pm) and contemplated all these things, we realized that we cannot remain separate. We cannot say that we will only associate with people who are like us, or who think like we do, or who reflect our best selves back onto others. We need to embrace the heart of the person we are with, regardless of the trappings of who they are or how they are perceived. God calls us to this very thing – to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” And “neighbor” is every, single person, we are not. Everyone other than ourselves is our neighbor. And there is a spark of God in every, single person out there.

Is this an easy thing? Most certainly it is not. Most of us cannot stand someone because of a myriad of reasons important to us (at the time we chose to not be neighborly). Our neighborhoods, our towns, our schools, our states, our country – all of them are unneighborly in some form or another. But it all starts with me. Since this is my last move and I have dubbed this house my “casket” house (I do not want to move again – ever) I am planning to embed myself in this community, in this neighborhood. I will endeavor to know my physical neighbors, as well as those I gather with, in all our shared glory and ugliness. I cannot do it without the Grace of God. If only each of us would endeavor to try this. Just think of what we could accomplish!?!? If everyone would participate with their next-door neighbors, in their communities, we could change the entire world. If everyone who usually waits in the wings for other people to take care of things would just pick up that rake and do it themselves, our lives and our world would be transformed. And if you translate that rake to our vote – yeah; the “Silent Majority” needs to reawaken and make this happen! We can change this world…starting at home.

God bless each of us, and as we approach the anniversary of our country, God Bless America.

 

 

“…break off and have a cup of tea.”

God is so good. I am loving my journaling experience so much, and I am filled with hope, and joy. I am so beat-up tired, but I am happy. Exultant, even. I am so over moving. I truly hate packing stuff and shoving it into a box. I really do. I am, however, looking forward to our new home and putting down some roots. It feels good.

And then my day got going. And I had a fairly enjoyable time, enjoying breakfast with my kids and grandkids, getting some stuff we needed at the store, gas in my car, and resting up a bit (it was Sunday). And then we headed over to our son’s home, where he is installing a fence.

Sunday was a feast day – the celebration where the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit. I mean, I can sort of relate to how the Apostles must have felt. They had followed this Man who filled them with joy and awe. He was healing people and speaking truths they had never pondered. He was doing and saying things that normal men could not do. Who was He? Was He truly God Incarnate? Their lives were up-ended and completely changed. And then He was crucified. It was a horrific death. And the politics were crazy at the time, too. They ran; they hid; they were afraid. He promised He would return, and He did! He showed up in their midst with the holes in His hands to prove it was Him. But then He said He had to “go home” to the Father. And they were, once again, afraid. He also promised to send them the “Holy Spirit,” Who would fill them with love and be with them always. And we celebrated this on Sunday – the Descent of the Holy Spirit onto the Apostles – Pentecost – 40 days after Christ rose to be with His Father, our God. And we believe the Holy Spirit is still with us, protecting us and enervating our lives. We keep this sense of the holy within us. We celebrate how the Holy Spirit resides in all peoples, across the world. Some believe that can only happen if you accept Christ as your personal Savior. Others say only 144,000 will be saved. (Had that argument a time or two). Still others say that only if you are baptized in their church, are you “saved” and going to heaven. Yeah; I have other things to say on that.

People teach their children by their words and their actions. And if you keep them at home to school them, you are their sole example of life. That is it. I know many homeschoolers who isolate their children from the world, thinking it will somehow save them from being affected by it. I have known homeschooled kids who also snuck off every free moment to do drugs and have wanton sex with many partners, while teens, and while being perceived as “innocent” and “precious darlings” by their naive parents. Boy, were they surprised (and frankly, so was I about some of them!!). And I have known many publicly schooled children who were far better saints. I believe it has something to do with how you model life for them. How you are in front of your children, when no one else is there. Those precious, teachable moments. Those moments cling far more than an English paper they were forced to write, prayers they had to memorize, or keeping your kids away from other children who are being raised differently than you are raising yours. We chose to homeschool for the academics, and the faith followed. But we never isolated our kids. For most of their pre-teen years, we had no network TV. However, they played baseball, soccer, ice hockey, and even rugby. Our kids were always in this world, but we taught them to not be of this world. And I saw character in my kids yesterday, and I was proud of them.

I was, however, profoundly disappointed in myself yesterday. I was angry. I was not carrying a palm branch for peace to anyone. I was not an example of the Holy Spirit to anyone. I was a mother bear and I was going to bat for my kids. And my kids have kids. They are adults. They are married. LOL. It doesn’t matter one iota. Someone has been attacking my family and I was protecting them. Trust me. Do not harm my family. Ever. But I am disappointed that I allowed my protectiveness for my family to over-ride my faith. I know Jesus lost His temper many times. And He was totally justified. I am not sure I was. I did not model a decorous, peace-loving, quiet hearted, Christian woman. Rather, I was a shouting, angry, protective mother. Not good. My heart was racing and I as so very, very angry. It has taken about a year to build up, with my kids being insulted and spoken down to; having their dreams shattered at the hands of people who say they are one thing, but act totally the opposite; and having people do little things to place yet another pea in the mattress of my kids’ lives. And when I received a call with an hysterical, sobbing, daughter-in-law on the phone, I reacted. We raced to their sides. (We discovered my new car has a lot of “pick up and go”!!) We defended our family. And their legal rights. And their character. And we tried to shelter the little children from all of it.

The truly sad thing is that these people did not shelter their kids, at all. And they affected my grandchildren. Ugh. I get angry just reliving the moments. And I missed going to Church, trying to calm everyone (and myself) down; trying for a compromise with people who don’t understand the concept of what that truly means; and trying to help my own kids feel like they were not bad people, after having their very character called into question. It devolved so badly, it will now be in the hands of their attorney. (They already consulted with their attorney and KNOW they have all the rights and these other people have no leg to stand on. And yet, refuse to accept the legality of it. Raspberry bushes and fences – disrespectful people and little children run astray. It could be a soap opera. And now we start the next phase. So so sad!). And my grandson, last night, asking his dad if he was all those things the neighbors accused him of being. Broke our hearts.

And so, how do I find peace? How do I relate to the Holy Spirit in this conflict? I was told many years ago, by a priest, that sometimes we are called to be elsewhere, doing other things, and not be attending Church, and, that at those moments, we are BEING Church. Like when you want to be a part of the Liturgy, celebrating Easter (this totally happened to us) and have a VERY FUSSY BABY, that will not be calmed by anything other than a nice stroll in the sunshine, outside of the Church building. And your priest calmly telling you that at that moment, pacing with your baby, you were doing exactly what God called you to do, and that is BEING CHURCH. Not attending, and barely even taking anything in, but BEING what it means to be called, “Christian.” And through my anger yesterday, I knew I was off the rails a little bit. My presentation lacked. But the message was the same. (Stop spouting things at people, being a hypocrite and not living the same things you pretend you are. Stop accusing and manipulating your children; stop acting out like a child yourself. Take personal responsibility for raising good, Christian kids, like you say you are.). I said many things that were truth, but they perhaps were lost in the presentation, and for that I sought forgiveness. Not what I said, but how I delivered it. And in the end, I felt the hand of God on our family. The Spirit was there. (Perhaps in overabundance of fervor and zest, but there!).

We all learned something about ourselves yesterday. We truly, truly love one another. We will be there in a pinch. When the chips are down, we know we have one another’s back. We are blood – by birth or choice – and we are united. In all of it. And for that little test, I am supremely grateful. Our family is strengthened and was proofed in fire, so to speak. Thanks be to God.

I also learned that sometimes my sense of family, and my protective instincts, get the better of me. And I need to work on that. There are so many wise Church Fathers who exhort us to let the things of this world pass us by. And I forgot it all yesterday. Which means I have so far to go in my growth as a good, solid, Christian woman. And for that, I will redouble my efforts at finding that sweet spot between being in this world, and becoming a part of it. The Saints really had that down – our recent, modern day martyrs for the faith in the Middle East and elsewhere have exhibited it, far better than most of us, up until experiencing even death for their faith. I fell remarkably short.

Father Vasile Tudora posted on the Orthodox Christian Network. In an article about Depression, he wrote:

“So what to do? In an interview I recently read, the Archimandrite Sophrony Sacharov, of blessed memory, at that time a younger monk, was asked by a visiting priest: “Fr. Sophrony, how will we be saved?” Fr. Sophrony prepared him a cup of tea, gave it to him, and told him, “Stand on the edge of the abyss of despair and when you feel that it is beyond your strength, break off and have a cup of tea.” Obviously this was a very odd answer, and the young priest was definitely confused. So off he went to St. Silouan the Athonite, who lived not far from there, and told him everything, asking for advice. Long story short, next day, St. Silouan came to the cell of Fr. Sophrony and the two started a conversation about salvation. The beautiful fruit of their conversation was an unforgettable phrase that I would like to also offer as the answer to our conversation today about depression: “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.”

At first glance, St. Silouan’s take on salvation is not less strange that Fr. Sophrony’s initial answer, but it actually makes great sense. In traditional Christianity, the difficulties of life, the hardships are assumed as part of our fallen existence. Our bodies and our minds suffer the torments, but this is nothing but a temporary stage. The ascetic Fathers considered them as tests on par with the athletic exercises, very useful in practicing and improving the powers of the soul like patience, kindness, hope, faith and so forth. We keep our mind in hell when we consciously assume the pain of living in a fallen world, when we learn from this passing agony to avoid the even greater torture of an eternity without Christ. But there is hope in this suffering because Christ himself has suffered them first and has opened for us a way out of despair, a way out of pain, a way out of death. Christ is the well of life, the bread of eternity, and the only Man we need.

So as Christians we keep our minds in hell and we despair not, but courageously give glory to God in all things, even in pain, hoping, always hoping, in our Savior, the only One who can take us out of the brink of despair and set us for a new life in Him. In Him we put our hope, in Him we find our purpose, and on Him we set our goal.”

And today, I take solace in loosing my temper, in being a poor example. Because today, at 4:30 am, awaking from a fitful sleep, I realized that the great work of my salvation is far from over. It is still a work in progress. I did not accept Christ into my life as a one-time experience and was then perfected. He snuck into my heart, little by little, embedding Himself in the nous of my existence. And He exhorts me, even in my sleep, to reach for better. To keep getting up again, retrying my salvation in light of this world, and to learn to be thankful each time I do misstep and fall, because He is there, helping me back up. And the Holy Spirit is in me, whispering for me to rise up out of my bed and deal with the things that flutter in my heart, causing me unrest; causing me to rise with the bleak rainfall and see the green that is growing around me, the world that is blooming after a harsh winter, giving me courage to keep trying. Hope. It is still there, and I am smiling again today.

“She laughs without fear of the future.”

I haven’t posted in while. Life sort of gets in the way of my musing. I need to be elsewhere, than on my computer. But today, well, today I felt like sharing thoughts. I have been participating in a bible study on Proverbs. This past weekend, my husband joined me in listening to Fr. Josiah as he spoke about “the perfect wife.” I did not realize the title of the talk until we started it, and we both chuckled. But the talk itself was not just about a father’s instructions to his son on finding the perfect wife, but rather about the character traits we all need to strive for. It was a good talk and it seemed over so quickly.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” Proverbs 31: 25

There are more ways than we think of demonstrating a good, moral character. We can look for all these attributes in others, or we can strive to have them ourselves, to mirror those things we wish others had. “When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instruction with kindness.” (Proverbs 31:26) As we explored this chapter, which is the final chapter of Proverbs, we learned so very much about ourselves. And I was struck by some pretty amazing thoughts!

I have caused myself to rethink how I see other people, and the effect I allow them to have on my life. There are people who I have strived hard to be like. People whose opinions mattered to me. People I looked up to. And as I have studied these sayings about the perfect wife, I realize that many of these people are just play-acting roles they have assumed. They did not truly embody the character traits I thought they had. They were pretending, or “going through the motions” of being something or someone, but when I pondered many of them, thinking of them particularly in light of the character traits I strive to have, I realized they spoke of these traits, but did not own them.

Metanoia – the change in one’s way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion.

When someone says they have embraced their faith, there is an expected change. They alter how they view life, how they treat people, and how they live. Granted, some people will never fundamentally change, but a great deal about how they are and how they treat others undergoes a profound change. And sometimes, it does not. At all. They parade, they act, they pose. And, when you come up against someone like this, for me at least, I want to make them a huge sign that says, “WWJD” and flash it in their faces.
When our metanoia only shows itself at church, it is not a change of heart or soul. I attended a conference many years ago that was supposed to be a “charismatic” conference. I had a little exposure to charismatics throughout my life and I thought it would be fun to attend. It was visually pretty mind-boggling. I have never been one of those who outwardly expresses themselves in church with “hallelujahs” and “praise the Lords” with shouts and raised arms. I am a quiet church attendee. I am pretty traditional in how I like my church services, which is why I think I have gravitated eastward for so many years. Anyway, at this conference, people were being prayed over and being “slain in the spirit.” (Overcome by spiritual emotion causing fainting and other reactions). When it came to me, three people stood around me (making a box with their bodies and I was very uncomfortable) and the fourth person stood in front and prayed over me, and then pushed me with the palm of his hand on my forehead, expecting me to faint. Instead, I yelled, “Ouch! Why did you hit me?” They all looked at me and said, “Next, please.” I felt like I had missed out on something amazing. I had no life-changing moment; no metanoia. In another instance, when I was at a pre-sanctified liturgy during Lent more than 10 years ago, as the priest passed over me, carrying the Body and Blood of our Lord, and as his vestments passed over me, I felt an electrical charge that went straight to my heart. Much later (as in months had passed) this same priest and I were chatting and he brought up that exact moment – because he had felt it, too. That was confirmation enough for me! God was present. And my heart melted. I have never forgotten that moment and it still brings me up short, that God would allow me to personally experience His presence in such a way. It changed me. And it brought me closer to God than anything I had experienced up until that point.

1 Timothy 11-16

“Command and teach these things.  Let no one look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in your speech, conduct, love, faithfulness, and purity. Until I come, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift you have, given to you and confirmed by prophetic words when the elders laid hands on you. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that everyone will see your progress. Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.”

When we accept the faith that is in our life, either through early baptism and confirmation (as in the eastern and Orthodox churches) or we come to it later in life as a discovery (being “born again” in Protestant churches) we are called to be examples to those around us of Christian living. When we give poor example, we damage our own reputations, yes; but we damage the Church as a body and its members as a whole.

The profound thing I realized is that there are people around me who have shunned organized religion of pretty much every sort, but who are more Christian and Christ-like in so many way than those shouting it from the street corners (Matthew 6:5). And what I realized is that no one has told them they are living a Christian life; that they embody so many of the character traits we look for in the “perfect wife.” And how sad is that? They are dealing with people who purport to be Christians. I know that “we are not perfect, just forgiven,” but c’mon people! We are held to a higher standard! And there are those who somehow think less of themselves because they do not “go to church” in light of these church-goers (always comparing themselves to them) and yet have far better characters, are far more trustworthy, and who will defend your life to the end of theirs.

And so this weekend, I came to see people in light of what they do in relation to others, rather than who or what they say they are. And I was profoundly moved by people who don’t even realize how good they are; and conversely I was profoundly disappointed by some who insist on acting like they are such good Christians of character. And so, once again, my children are teaching me. I have commented in other posts about my son chastising me about judging how some people look, without even getting to know them. That was about 15 years ago. And I have profoundly changed and I know I am a better person for it. I just wish some people knew what great people they are and did not measure themselves in light of the words of others, who profess how good they are!

“Open your mouth for the mute…”

I am constantly amazed how people can say one thing, purport to be one thing, and yet are completely different. When the “real’ person comes out, it can be so shocking. We have been experiencing this over the past few years, over and over again. I just wish people would be exactly who they are. I know so many people who change their faces, even their voices, depending on their audience – they have a work self, a homebody, a person for their spouse, and another type for their friends. That must get confusing. I have always been the same, regardless of my audience. I suppose that can be good, or bad.

I’ve always been told to put on clean underwear in case you’re in an accident. So I do. (My mom should be proud I still do that! I almost hear her when I am dressing! LOL!)  I can wear clothing appropriate for situations. And as I have gotten older, I choose comfort over style most of the time. But that does not mean I change the person I am, nor the values I believe in. It just means I dress appropriately for the occasion.

There are people in our larger faith community who dress a certain way, wear their hair a certain way, and always wear a symbol of faith on their person. For them, it symbolizes their modesty and simplicity, and their beliefs. (My sons referred to it as my “Little House on the Prairie” days! LOL!) However, many of these same Christian families do not allow their children to interact with “public school children,” nor do they allow them to play sports on public league teams, or have friends outside of their strict faith circle.  Some do not allow their children to interact with anyone who does not attend their same church. But we are exhorted in the scriptures to live in this world and to deal with others. We cannot learn, being hidden away. “My child, if sinners entice you, turn your back on them!” (Proverbs 1:10)  It is biblically, and scripturally, incorrect. We are not called to be separated from our neighbors, but rather we are called to participate and be the “light” and the “salt” in this world.  The godly are called to be as bold as lions (Proverbs 28:1) There are so many instances where we are asked by Our Lord to involve ourselves in our communities and neighborhoods, for the good of everyone.

We are not instructed to alienate or shame, either. When parents are teaching their elementary-aged children to speak to adults/neighbors like the “Inquisition,” there is a problem. Pre-teen children should not be telling their neighbor adults that they are going to hell because they do not attend a particular church. That is learned at home. When adults act like they reside on a higher plane because of their religious beliefs, they are not being Christ to others, or when they act superior because of their careers and income levels, they are not being Christ to others. When they wear crosses on their chests or the back windows of their cars, but yell, shout, and belittle their neighbors, they are being a false witness to the faith. When they don’t like something their neighbors are doing, and threaten law suits, or offer monetary rewards to make it go away, they are being dishonest and are actually being a briber. And that is not a Christian act. At all.

When we act a certain way in front of our children, we are teaching them. They watch our bodily actions and they listen to our words, and they pay attention to how we treat others. And unfortunately, quite often the adage, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” ends up falling far short. Children are great imitators. They will act and speak just like their parents. If you want to know everything there is to know about a family, talk to their 10-12 year-old. You will know it all. So people ought not to fool themselves into thinking they are making a certain impression in a community. Their false-face is there for all to see. And when they parade through their parishes, the hypocrisy is unnerving.

“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)

The Lord asks us, so many times, to care for others. For those who cannot care for themselves. I have thought about this a lot lately. What does it mean that someone cannot care for themselves? Quite often we look to the easy example of the poor, the handicapped, the elderly, and the pre-born baby. But as I thought of this, caring for ourselves can often be beyond some of us. We simply don’t know how. And caring for myself means I make sure I have food and shelter; I help myself become more skilled at what I do; I work constantly to grow in wisdom and love. But what if I can’t really do that? What if I am hurting inside and cannot help myself? What if I have never been taught the love of Christ and His forgiveness, and all I am exposed to and see is my neighbor? What if I am one of those who cannot care for myself, one of the needy? What if my neighbor, who says they are a wonderful homeschooling, Catholic, Christian family, is my only exposure to those things? Then my neighbor becomes my school. I learn from watching you, and from interacting with you, just as your children do. What it is to be those things, I learn from watching you. And when you belittle others and exclude the neighbors because they don’t “measure” properly, what sort of example are you? You are a false one. And you are causing people to stumble. Some of those people are your own children. And I am angry. I admit it. I am royally, beyond the pale, mad.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)

I am angry because you are being this poor example to my children and grandchildren. You are turning them away from Church. You are turning them away from learning to be good neighbors. They are becoming exclusionary because it is safer that way. When they let you in, or allow you to come closer, you hurt them, again. They are not excluding your children, because this was not caused by them, but they are no longer happy to see them walk up the driveway. They no longer really want your children teaching and interacting with their children. Why? Your children tell them everything you say in your home. They know how you really feel. They share freely what your opinion of my children and grandchildren really is. And this is just wrong. So very wrong. And you are hurting others. You are hurting my family.

When we will be honest with one another? When will we learn to grow and become better people? Just because you want things to be a certain way, does not make them that way. What is, well, it just is. Some things we can affect a change on; others we have to accept. Wisdom is knowing the difference. Temper tantrums, in front of the children and the entire cul-de-sac, cannot change what is. Shame on you. Shame.

I am struggling to not go barging in to situations that are not about me. Being a parent does not stop when they leave your roof. You are always going to be protective of your kids. When my oldest son went into the Army, in my mind, all I could see was my 5-week preemie. In my head, he was not well over 6-feet tall, but barely old enough to be born. And even though my kids are all adults now, I still worry about them. And when others array themselves against them, this mom goes all “shield maiden” on them! (I love the Viking stories and lore surrounding Shield Maidens. They were so awesome!). It is also like being a mother-bear…watch out!

The Christian in me longs for peace. I long to be able to share with these people the error of their ways, in a godly, Christian way. But I have been the victim of these sorts of Christians for more than 25 years. And it pretty much follows a pattern. It is ugly, it is predictable and I am thankful beyond thankful that I was able to extricate myself and my family from that environment and be more of a presence in this world. But I never lost my faith, nor my values, nor myself. Dante says, “The darkest places of hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in a time of crisis.” He is telling us we are not to abandon the world when it needs us the most. We need to insert ourselves into everyday life, as Christians, bearing a true witness of the love of God. If we are to be that “light” and “salt” in this world, we cannot bear false witness. We will lead others to hell. Proverbs instructs us to be people of character, above bribes, and to be honest in dealing with everyone. It is laced all through the Book. Because, “If the godly give in to the wicked, it’s like polluting a fountain or muddying a spring.” (Proverbs 25:26)  We cannot become like the world. And we cannot sit back and allow evil to muddy our springs. Sometimes we have to speak up…or in my case, vent!

“So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

And how are we doing? Have we truly accepted the Word of God for our own lives, thereby being an honest witness of a believer? Is this posturing? Make believe? Are we charlatans? Or are we modern-day Pharisees, praying on the street corner for all to see??

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:5)

I am done venting. I am retiring to my chair where I can drink a cup of tea, and cuddle with my cat, enjoying our spring mix of rain and snow. And I will pray for these people, to be honestly who they are, to be kind before all else, as well as to be a Godly witness and not a false one.

I feel like I went off the rails a little bit in this post. Maybe I did. But sometimes I just want to shout it from the rooftops: ENOUGH! STOP!  And so, proverbially speaking, I have done that. Back to normal, now!

“Let your heart hold fast my words…”

 

I am finding such joy in Bible journaling. I have lifted the lid off this whole cultural thing I had no idea was out there. I am paying attention to craft store sales. I am hoarding craft coupons from Michael’s. I am hoarding pencils and gelato pens. I am in love with Washi tape. Washi tape you ask? Oh my goodness…yes.

It’s this amazing, colorful, fun tape that I discovered when I chose to do a journaling planner for my daily life. And it has flowed so smoothly and simply into journaling in my Bible. And far from feeling like I am writing where I am not supposed to, I purposely bought a Journaling Bible! It is okay to color in my Bible! LOL! And I am having so much fun. I am not artsy, at all, but I drew a lamp. A lamp sounds so simple, but for someone whose stick figures look decrepit, I was so excited! LOL!

That photo above is from my journaling bible and it is one of the simplest pages I have done. I am no artist, but I wanted to share something with you. When I was in both high school and college, and would take notes in a class, I would find my mind wandering. Did you ever own Pee-Chee folders? They were yellow and had athletes and other things on them. I had one for each class, I think. They looked like the ones below. And I colored on them when I was bored. My notes from classes had doodles all over them. I remember this thing where everyone would make random, cross-section lines all over paper and then color in shapes where the lines crossed, making mosaic-style designs. I have always been a doodler. I would practice my imagined married name, or imagine names of future children I would have and doodle all over my notebooks and class notes with imaginative scripts and designs. But I also learned the material I was taking notes on, and recalled entire pages of notes in my mind, because I could envision my doodles!

The difference now is that it is an approved activity for us adults! There are coloring books all over the place. And they cover almost every subject. Don’t believe me? Go on Amazon and do a search. Google it. There are even colored pencils and special markers that don’t bleed through and are acid-free so your grandchildren will be able to look at your doodles 50 years from now. Ha-Ha! It is a big business, doodling. But why are we doodling? I am not sure what the social scientists would say, except that perhaps it comes from a need to do something with our hands. We are always “watching.” We passively take in information on our phones, computers, iPads. We write very little. Maybe our signatures on a random check, or when we use our ATM/credit cards at check-out and sign for our purchases? That’s pretty much it. So, I think doodling and coloring is helping us fulfill a need we are missing out on by using computers and other machines to communicate. And perhaps being prolific in journaling is also answering a need to express ourselves, using our own hands and fingers, and creating something we find pleasing to the eye.

About a thousand years ago, we had “Illuminated Manuscripts” like the one above. And nowadays, we have coloring books, journals, and journaling Bibles. It has taken my study of my faith to a new level. I am recalling more, and in more detail, what I am studying, because I am choosing a portion and illuminating it in the Bible, itself. I am enhancing the message the Scriptures had for me that day, and saving it to savor more later.

“When you lie down, you need not be afraid. When you rest, your sleep will be sweet.” Proverbs 3:24

“Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commands that you may live.” Proverbs 4:4

“Turn neither to right nor to left; keep your foot far from evil.” Proverbs 4:27

“So now, my sons, listen to me. Never stray from what I am about to say…” Proverbs 5:7

I could, quite literally, go on and on. Because I am recalling these verses. I am illustrating them, highlighting them, coloring them, saying them, and remembering them for days, even weeks, later. God is so good to me. He brings me avenue after avenue to make His Word come alive for me. And He brought me to a study for Lent that changed my life and now I am doing a study on Proverbs that is so incredible, I find it hard to express what is happening in my head and my heart. But I know that keeping the Word of God alive in our hearts helps us to keep the Word of God alive in the marketplace.

As I listened to Fr. Josiah this morning, discussing the next section of Proverbs in our study, I was struck with how important studying scripture truly is. He talked about how Solomon wrote these Proverbs for his sons, so that they would become wonderful leaders, after him. He was imparting his knowledge so they could successfully lead a kingdom. But we are all called to be involved in our world. We cannot simply pray and hide within a safety zone of only like-thinkers and believers. We are all called to be light and salt in this world. “My son, should sinners entice you, turn your back on them!” (Proverbs 1:10). Fr. Josiah quoted Dante, who said, “The darkest of places in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis.” We cannot be inactive in our times. We need to be in the marketplace…the places people inhabit, where we do business and raise our children. We cannot be the leaven if we don’t have wisdom and knowledge to impart to those who desperately need our help. For me, I think of our public arena of politics and political action, of having our voices heard at the highest levels of our federal government, and even at the lowest levels of local burough politics. “The price of apathy in public affairs is to be ruled by wicked men.” (Plato). The majority of moral America stepped aside and allowed the government we have to happen. “If the godly give in to the wicked, it’s like polluting a fountain or muddying a spring.” (Proverbs 25:26) And I learned this, and more, delving into the Bible. And through my journaling, I have come to see the importance of keeping the voice of Wisdom out in the open, not hidden away in the darkness. “Wisdom shouts in the streets; She cries out in the public square.”(Proverbs 1:20) “The woman named Folly…sits in her doorway… She calls out to men going by… ‘Come with me,’ she urges the simple….Stolen water is refreshing; food eaten in secret tastes the best!” (Proverbs 10:13-17).

And so today, I am encouraged to keep journaling in my Bible. To keep learning, and holding fast to the commands of God (Proverbs 4:4) and I am working at putting one foot in front of the other, keeping far from evil (Proverbs 4:27). I am also going to think at least twice before I use the term, “proverbial,” again. Because now I realize it is meant to reflect the Wisdom contained in the Book of Proverbs, and not just conventional wisdom; although in our modern terminology, that is just what it is. I choose to adhere to the Wisdom imparted to us all, in this amazing book, the Book of Proverbs.

I hope this has encouraged you to at least delve more deeply into the Scriptures, and maybe even doodle a little bit! Happy Journaling, my friends!!

“..and they rejoiced with her.”

I have been struggling with anxiety recently. We stand on the cusp of some major changes in our lives, and I am one of those people whose brains somehow shift into overdrive the moment my head hits the pillow. And the night before last was the worst. I think I slept maybe 2 solid hours the entire time I was in bed. And I woke yesterday so exhausted. But the one thing that I did do a lot of was, I prayed.

I was told this saying above about not being able to sleep, many years ago. And I have tried to apply that. And so, during my wakefulness, I prayed like crazy for all the people who have been asking for prayers. And I even added some who I knew could use the extra help. A friend of mine, who had suffered a few years ago, told me that she could tell when people were praying for her, because she felt a sense of relief each time the praying would begin. I have always wanted to be that sensitive to the prayers of others, and oftentimes I do believe I can feel that sense of calm, in the midst of the craziness, and then I know people are praying.

My Lenten study has been amazingly right on the nose almost daily. It is like God wrote it just for me. The reading of the Psalms has, quite literally, changed my life. And using a Gratitude Journal has changed the way I look at things. The day before  my night of sleeplessness, our writing prompt had been, “A habit you need to break.” For me, it is SLOTH. Basically, laziness. And I completely addressed that, right away. But the other thing is to always balance that by what we are grateful for. I had a friend who was ill and that friendship came into question; that our friendship was pivotal in my life. I realized it is a friendship that my life would be empty without. We do not see one another often, but like I said in my earlier post, I realized she is one of my anchors in life. And I am forever grateful for her. And I loved being able to balance my need for correction with gratitude for an important person in my life.

And one of the techniques I applied while I was unable to sleep was that I vowed to hand everything over to God. Literally, my life. My family. My future. Our future. My worries. The outcomes. Because our directed journaling the next day was, “Prayer for patience,” I actually laughed when I read it. Timeliness. God is always waiting. Always. And as I could not sleep, I prayed the Jesus Prayer over and over again, giving my sleeplessness to Him, to work for His greater good. In among the many Jesus Prayers, I added a decade or two of the Rosary. As one Mother to another, I know the Theotokos can relate to worry. My situation in no way compares to Hers, but I know She waits to offer us Her comforts. I always think of the Passion of the Christ movie, where Mary lays on the ground, and She can feel her Son in the prisons below Her. My heart breaks every time, because I know that connection intimately. And so I sought the comfort of Mary, in my sleepless struggles.

And through that long night, I felt immeasurable comfort. I was actively assisting in bringing Christ to others, through my prayers. God needed my prayers and I happily offered them. The readings for that day in the Psalms also drew a chuckle from me, at their timeliness:

“I trust in your faithfulness. Grant my heart joy in your help, that I may sing of the Lord, “How good our God has been to me.”” (Psalm 13:6)

Keep me safe, O God; in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord, you are my only God.'” (Psalm 16:1-2)

“I bless the Lord who counsels me; even at night my heart exorts me. I keep the Lord always before me, with the Lord at my right, I shall never be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure.” (Psalm 16:7-9)

And for my Psalm journal, I found an amazing journaling sticker (yes, they make stickers for journaling) that says, “TODAY – Be an encourager” – and another that says, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” And in my gratitude journal I added stickers that say, “But first, God,” and “God bless this hot mess.” Ha-Ha!  It amazes me continually how all these disparate things just seamlessly come together to make my Lenten Journey this year so very fruitful.

“Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown His great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.” Luke 1:58

Even though I realized that Scripture was referring to the birth of St. John the Forerunner, I rejoiced in the fact that Our Lord has blessed me during this Lenten Journey. That this study has reignited a faith long dormant. And that re-confirming my dedication to doing the Will of God for my life, has strengthened me beyond anything in recent memory. This joy that Elizabeth experienced at the birth of John was shared by her family and friends. Her husband lost his speech because he did not fully believe what was told to him, but at the birth of his son, his speech returned and he praised God. I like to think that I lost my voice a little bit, too, along the way. But I have rediscovered it and my dedication to sharing what counts in my life with those of you who actually read this has returned. Throwing off the world in social media, in a way, helped me to focus on this blessing of faith, regenerated. Lent is such a gift to each of us, that we need to grab hold to it and wring it out for every blessing contained within it.

And one of the many miracles coming out of a sleepless night is the gift of the answering of prayers. The Lord is always, always there. And He is just waiting for us to acknowledge His presence in our lives, and the many promises He made that He is waiting to fulfill for every soul who approaches Him.

“FOR THIS IS THE CHALICE OF MY BLOOD,
THE BLOOD OF THE NEW AND ETERNAL COVENANT,
WHICH WILL BE POURED OUT FOR YOU AND FOR MANY
FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS.

DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME.” (Breviary, Eucharistic Prayer III)

Not all of us feel inclined to come to the Altar. And I get that; I do. I continue to pray for the many who decline to approach God, feeling they have no need of Him or his succor – His aid in times of distress and hardship. I know many who feel that to be a Christian of any stripe is to be weak. And I will continue to pray for them. Because I have been shown, without doubt, the strength of God in my life. I am so blessed.

May your Lent continue to bring you closer to Our Lord. Blessed Lent.