“From an infant into an adult…”

PreciousJewelsLast night a dear friend asked me to accompany her to the local hospital’s NICU ward.  For those of you who have never been to one, or know what that acronym stands for, it is a little slice of heaven where gifted doctors and nurses care for those least able to care for themselves, our newborns and preemies.  (Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit). My friend and her husband are foster parents and we were visiting with the newborn they will soon be bringing home.  She was there to outfit him with a car seat small enough to hold and protect him, and attend a class for parents on germs.  I opted out of the class and made my way to the waiting area or, “family room,” to wait for her to finish the class.  While in the “family room” reading the newspaper, I met a man who was there from South Carolina, visiting his newborn twin granddaughters.  The babies each weighed a pound.  He shared photos of them with me, showing him holding one of the girls.  She completely fit in the palm of his hand.  I cried.  I cried for the miracle of that photo.  When I was birthing my babies, and loosing so many of them, a baby that size would not have survived.  Science has changed so much in the past 30 years, especially in the care of premature babies.

When we were finally able to go and actually see the baby, we first had to de-contaminate ourselves.  That process was interesting!  Once we finally got on the baby’s floor, it was so quiet!  We walked into that room and when I saw that little isolette with that tiny baby in it, tears just rolled down my face.  That little man weighed barely 5 pounds and was already more than 2 months old.  The interesting thing is that he was not due for another 4 weeks, yet.  It was wonderful to meet the nurses caring for these little babies. They love what they do.  They have a heart for these most vulnerable among us, and they are kind, gentle, and loving to all of them.

Hand on baby's backMy friend was able to change the baby’s diapers and then settle in to feed him a bottle.  I sat next to her, and I started to quietly weep.  I have lost babies that size.  I have mourned the loss of my babies, and I think because of that, I just felt so connected to this little guy.  When he smiled, my heart just melted.  Here he was, still supposed to be tucked safely inside his mommy, holding my finger and smiling at me.  What a miracle of life, and modern medicine.  And my heart started to race when I realized – it is still legal pretty much anywhere in our country, to abort a baby this size.  My friend looks at me and says, “Don’t you start crying, because I will, too.” And we both smiled at this little gift of life from God.  How could anyone hurt a baby this tiny?  He was no lump of tissue; he was no “inconvenience” in the life of his mother.  He was born far, far too soon; at least his birth mother chose life for him.

Baby holding fingerEach of us has been vulnerable in our lives. Many of us still are.  But holding that little baby in my scrubbed and itching arms brought me back to the times when I needed the most care, when I was the most vulnerable, and I was thankful for the people around me, who cared for me.  Each day is a miracle because we woke up.  Father Justin Rose, a dear friend and our former pastor, has a saying and it is, “You are not guaranteed your next breath.”  That quote always brings me up short, because my days are definitely getting shorter. I’m no longer that crazy, young woman or little girl. I’m a wife, mother, sister, daughter, grandmother, mother-in-law, friend. But there are many things I no longer am…I am no longer someone’s grand daughter, because that generation has all been laid to rest and I’m certainly no longer a girl, or a teenager. I am still a daughter, but not for many more years.  Those things that I was, I will never be again.  And there are not many other things I will become, as I edge nearer and nearer to my last breath.  I read an article written by a woman who cares for the dying and in it she spoke to the 5 things you regret when you die:  Working too much; not living the life we want, but living what others want for us; wishing you had been able to express your feelings; staying in touch with friends; and letting yourself be happier (http://www.lifebuzz.com/5-regrets/).  The list seems simple enough, and yet, how many of us do these 5 things?

Miracle baby toesLast night, holding that little man in my arms, I thought of all the things in life I have not done, and I am pretty happy with the things I have done.  I try to live as regret-free as I can. I wish I had pursued the things I wanted, more than what my parents and others wanted for me (like choosing the wrong major in college, again and again!!). I think I should have taken the time to write the “great novel” or something along those lines. I realize, as I gain wisdom, how truly little I know.  Learning should never stop.  I am grateful for the love of my family and close friends, and I am extremely grateful for the gift of my faith. I know, without any regrets or doubts, that I am living the life of faith God intended for me.  I am content.  And I have realized that I can still be surprised at things, I can still learn things, and I can still love new people.  It is amazing, our capacity for love. I try to be open to the new things I see in life, the new experiences, the new life buzzing around me.  The oncoming Spring is bringing with it a sort of excitement.  The dark of winter is slowly being replaced by days of 12+ hours of sunshine. The snow is melting – I actually saw grass this morning! The world is turning and new life is all around us.  Lent is an amazing time of reflection and coming out of Lent is a time we run smack-dab into the promise of eternal life.  The Cross is born by Christ for us, and we all add to the weight of that Cross.  We all hoist our own cross on our shoulders and trudge through the winter to the Spring, and the promise of eternity.

Elder Paisios.2Seeing and appreciating the fragility of new life and how we all enter the world that way, reminded me that eventually, we all leave life in the same way – dependent on others for our care, perhaps even the very air we breathe.  We leave the world a shriveled vestige of what we once were. Isn’t it so interesting to think that we come in this world dependent on others and leave the same way? I know some are taken rapidly, without need for palliative or any other sort of care.  But most of us just sort of fade.  And as I look closer at the sunset, and realize that my days are truly numbered, I pray to look forward to it with peace in my heart.  I pray that nothing was left untried that I truly wanted to do and that I loved the best I could, loving everyone around me.

Infant BaptismThrough the grace of our Baptism, Chrismation, and reception of the Holy Communion, God is with us.  He is also there to comfort us with sacramental anointing when we feel weak and vulnerable.  This Lent, I am remembering my own vulnerability, praying for those among us who are completely vulnerable and weak, and daring to open my heart to all of God’s children.

Feeling a little vulnerable today in light of the miracles I witnessed yesterday.  Definitely humbled by those miracles and the working of God in that hospital and the dedicated staff seeing to those babies.  God’s blessings often overwhelm me with the sublime beauty of it all.  Blessed Lent.

St.Barsanuphius

 

“..the child grew and became strong.”

290px-Saint_Joseph_with_the_Infant_Jesus_by_Guido_Reni,_c_1635I am preparing for the birthdays of two of my sons tomorrow.  One will be 24 and is married with a baby daughter; the other is turning 15.  I am fresh out of babies!!  It seems only yesterday that my 15-year-old was born.  It was a surprise because we had no idea we were having a baby!  We had gone Christmas tree shopping the weekend before.  As my two older boys (13 and 9 at the time) were decorating the tree, the younger one (the story is still in dispute between these two!! Ha-Ha) stepped on a broken glass ornament behind the tree.  As the older one lifted him over a small dividing wall, blood was dripping down.  We realized right then that it was going to be a doctor’s visit and stitches pretty quickly.  So our day and evening was a chaotic one! Our younger son came home on crutches and would be missing out on the local soccer tournament the following day. His dad was coaching his team and both my husband and older son were signed to referee the tournament.  We got home around dinner time and dealt with a 9-year-old who had stitches in his foot and a 13-year-old denying any complicity!  Later that evening, we had a phone call from the cousin of a good friend.  She recalled a conversation we had at a family bar-be-que FIVE years prior, and she asked us if we still wanted a baby to adopt.  I never hesitated.  I immediately said, “Yes.”  And then I said, “Hang on; let me be sure my husband is okay with this!!”  He was very okay with it and the next morning, our son was born.  I took my 9-year-old on crutches with me to WalMart (my older son and husband went on to the soccer tournament).  I grabbed a baby blanket and a car seat and headed to the hospital.  When the nurses greeted us, they were awesome.  They had me back up my car to the entrance and loaded us up with all sorts of baby things – bottles, diapers, blankets, t-shirts, socks.  It was so unexpected but wonderful.  We loaded him up and off we went, to introduce him to his father and older brother at a soccer tournament!  What a tournament that turned out to be! He was the hit of the day!  Newly born, wrapped in blankets against a chilly December day, and sleeping sweetly in his car seat.  From the moment I first held my son at just a couple of hours old, I loved him.  It is amazing to me how much God allows us to love.  We are the ones with the hang-ups; God wants us to love all people.  And I could not love this young man any  more, had he been brought forth from my own loins.  He is my son. Period.

It is interesting to me that people feel free to comment and criticize adoptive parents, families, and the process, especially if there are differences in race in the adoption process.  It is like complete strangers stroking the belly of pregnant mothers.  People seem to think it’s okay to comment on the make-up of our diverse family. My response to people initially was, “Where were you; where was your community, when no one wanted this child?”  My husband and I never hesitated in welcoming this child into our home, hearts, and family.  My other sons love him like they love each other; there is no difference.  There are differences due to age, but the two older ones have that, too!  He has blessed us more than he will ever realize.  I know God needed me to love this young man and to have him hold a part of my heart forever.

St JosephAt this time of year, I am drawn to the story of St. Joseph.  An angel appears to Mary and she accepts that God’s will be done and that she will bear the Son of God.  Now, imagine:  Mary is already betrothed to Joseph and she finds out she is pregnant, but not by Joseph, as she is still a virgin.  First of all, I don’t think we in the West truly have a grasp on what betrothal means.  In the East, the betrothal is declared after the couple have met with their priest, their parents (if it is appropriate) have agreed with the impending marriage, and the couple agrees to the wedding (usually about a year away).  The couple has a formal ceremony, wherein they make their vows and exchange rings.  They continue to meet regularly with their priest and plan their wedding with their families.  At the end of the betrothal period, the couple finalizes their agreement and is married by the priest. In the East, the priest marries the couple.  It is not like the West where the priest is just a witness.  The sacrament is conferred by the priest.  And the wedding closes a year or more of preparation.  It is a process and the church community, the priest, and the families are all a part of it.

So let’s place St. Joseph in this.  He hears rumors; Mary has up and left to visit her cousin. He has no idea what’s happening.  The little community is abuzz with gossip.  The Romans are talking “census” and the political climate is stressful, to say the least.  Mary makes her way back to town from visiting Elizabeth, where she felt her Child communicate with His cousin, John the Baptist.  Their relationship would grow over their lifetimes into something amazing.  As Mary is traveling back to Joseph, an angel appears to Joseph and tells him everything is okay; Mary is to bear the Son of God, and he needs to take her as his wife.  Mary comes home, Joseph accepts her and they marry.  I can only imagine all the gossiping about that!  (People gossiped badly back then; just as badly as they do today.  And what is sort of sad is that it probably wouldn’t cause too much chatter in our current moral climate!)  Right when they are wed, the Romans tell everyone about the census requirements and Joseph has to take his very pregnant wife with him, so he can be counted at the town of his birth (can you imagine the world having to be part of a census like that now?  Where would you have to show up??). And Joseph never hesitates. He does what is right in regards to the law – the law of the land and the Laws of God.  He takes Mary, fully confident she is bearing the Son of God, and off they go on the back of a donkey.

752px-Gerard_van_Honthorst_001Joseph took Mary on faith, fully believing Her Son would save us all.  He loved Christ as his son, knowing all along that He was the Son of God.  Joseph should be the patron of adoption!  He accepted Mary on faith, loved her with all his heart, and took Jesus as his son. He interceded for Jesus when His life was in danger, rescuing both Mary and Christ when an angel again appeared to him and warned him in a dream to get away.  What was coming was the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.  It is the feast we celebrate on December 29th, which is our wedding anniversary.  It is another feast day that points me to adoption, and it is an ancient story about the sanctity of human life, as Herod had all male children from birth through two years of age killed, just in case one of them grew up to challenge his throne!

flight into egypt xx~001I love this painting.  The sole source of Light is the Christ Child, asleep in His Mother’s arms, atop the Sphinx.  St. Joseph is pictured asleep, next to their tethered beast, with a small fire next to him.  Quiet, peaceful, and safe.  Joseph raised Jesus as a carpenter, teaching him his trade.  He was already an old man when Christ was born, but he raised Him as best he could, giving of himself for his family.

I love that my husband and I could open our home to another son.  I thank God for this gift of life that has blessed us so immensely.  God knows how easy it is for us to love; to love each and every one of our fellow men.  He gave a wonderful example in St. Joseph and his love for Christ and the Theotokos, Mother of God.  And each year I am reminded of the blessing of life in our home.  The years are passing so much more quickly than they ever have.  I mourn the days of little feet running all over the house and fingerprints on windows and tripping over toys.  But God has gifted me with grandchildren and so the cycle of life continues!!  I give thanks for my sons, their wives, and my grandchildren.  And this last son still at home lifts my heart with his humor and his silliness.  His not-so-tidy bedroom is something I will miss in many ways, when it is his time to journey on in life.  And tomorrow it’s birthday cake, friends, and pizza! And I am sure lots of laughing and joking and high school teenagers being just that.  Time is racing past and I am trying to enjoy these fleeting moments.  St. Joseph reminds me to be faithful, unquestioning, and to just love.

250px-La_TourLuke 2:39-40
“When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

The Gift of Life…

On Friday, a friend shared a video that was posted on The Blaze website about a mother and her reaction to her prematurely-born son, and their journey of life. He was born 3 1/2 months early and weighed barely a pound.  When she held him for the first time, she wept.  I am sure it was with joy,  but also with sorrow/trepidation at the journey that lay before them.  The video was put together by her husband, for her birthday, and it detailed their journey through the NICU, the day they brought their son home, and it continued up through his first birthday.  And I have to admit, I wept.  No, I cried.  I really, really cried.  Watching that little heart beat right through the skin of his chest just unraveled me.  I have not had the best success when it comes to bearing children.  My husband and I have suffered through 7 miscarriages in our marriage and it is hard for most people to even understand what that means.  Many of our family and friends don’t even know I’ve had that many losses.  It got to the point of just keeping quiet when my mother said to me once, “Why do you keep having babies?  You have a son; just be happy with that.”  She did not understand my desire to birth lots of kids.  My parents are both only children.  And my parents came here from New Zealand.  Think about that for a moment.  I have no aunts, uncles, or cousins.  My dad’s parents eventually moved to the USA to be near him and their grandchildren.  My parents had me and my brother and opted to not have any more children.  My dad always joked and said, “We had one of each; any more would have been repeats.”  Our holiday dinners consisted of six people.  My parents, grandparents, and my brother and me.  Pretty quiet, tame, and boringly British.  I longed for the chaos of a large family.  We had good family friends who were Greek.  Now there was a fun family!!  They only had two daughters themselves, but man oh man, where there ever cousins, aunts, uncles, 2nd and 3rd cousins, etc.  I loved holidays at their house. I learned to roll grape leaves and make Wedding Cookies as a young girl.  I loved being in the kitchen with all the ladies, the noise, and the wonderful foods cooking.  My quiet, staid, British heritage always seems dry and boring to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love British food; I was raised on it, and I love being British and am proud of my heritage, but I always longed to be a part of a large family.

When I met my husband, he rocked my world.  To start with, he was pretty cute!  And a man of deep faith, and it was like a moth to the flame!  I was immediately drawn to his faith life; I wanted that for myself.  And then he had 3 siblings, his dad was the oldest of 10 kids, his mom the eldest of 3 kids, and they were Volga River Russians!  On both sides! How exotic!  My first holiday with them, I was freaked out.  There were going to be 17 people at the dinner table and I was a nervous wreck.  How would I remember all their names?  Which kids went with which set of parents?  My future husband thought to calm me by saying, “Don’t worry! This is my mom’s side; there aren’t very many of them!!”  Ha-Ha-Ha!  It was one of the most fun Christmases ever.  I learned about snow and I taught them to love snow all over again. My father-in-law was tickled by the fact that I noticed how the snow sounded under my feet – crunch crunch crunch!  He never forgot that.  I met several of my father-in-law’s siblings and while we stopped alongside the road to chat with an aunt,  I saw my first snowflake, too.  I always thought when we cut them out of paper at school it was all make-believe.  I didn’t know snow flakes really looked like that (California girl!!).

fallen-star.img_assist_custom-600x400My husband and I married on December 29th, almost 29 years ago.  I loved winter and wanted a Christmas or New Year’s Wedding and got as close as I could.  We had no snow on our wedding day, but it snowed the day after and kept snowing for about a week.  We were married in Colorado with all his myriad family in attendance.  People asked me if I was nervous to walk down the aisle and I truly wasn’t, as I only knew about 20 people there!  Hardly anyone from my side because there were just the six of us, and my grandparents were too old to travel, which cut down considerably my side. My parents had divorced and remarried by this time, and my brother brought his fiancee, so I did have 6 family members there.  My in-laws were so nice; they reminded me that St. Thomas More was set up as a sort of round church with no center aisle, so it wouldn’t look lop-sided and they would have the ushers just seat people in the center area.  I could save face! Ha-Ha!  It was an incredible, candle-lit wedding and from the moment we said “I do” my husband and I were open to the possibility of life.  We wanted children as soon as God would give them to us.  I conceived almost right away.  Our oldest son was baptized on our 1-year anniversary and each of our children has since been baptized on that same date (makes it very easy to remember!!).  Our oldest was born 5-weeks prematurely, and I should have guessed pregnancy would not be easy for me.  I lost 4 more babies before conceiving our second son, who was born 4 years after our oldest.  After his birth, I suffered three more miscarriages and God just stopped allowing me to conceive at all. We adopted our youngest son 15 years ago this month.  In about 15 days, actually!  What a blessing he has been to our family.

While watching that video, I was brought back, once again, to the fragility of human life.  I commented to my friend that maybe if science would have been more advanced all those years ago, I would have 7 more children in my life.  But then again, perhaps my “quiver” would have been full much sooner, and the joy of my youngest son would not have happened.  God knows the reason; He opens the womb and He closes the womb.  I thank God for the gift of my sons, and for all the babies I did not get to hold and love.  I think that loving through death made me stronger. It made me more sensitive to the gift of life. I met a very dear friend many, many years ago.  It was a casual meeting. She was pregnant at the time.  We struck up some wonderful conversations, but it was nothing too serious or deep.  Then she lost her baby.  I thought to call her and offer my comfort, as I knew deeply and personally her pain.  Our friendship grew from that day into something I will always treasure. Our children became friends and my husband and I are the godparents to the beautiful daughter she welcomed the very next year, after her loss.  Death bonded us together in ways no one understands.  And it also made us fiercely protective of these fragile lives of the unborn.

I know some people are fiercely protective of the right to choose.  I get that. But for me, I feel that it is a mis-construed ideology that has caused that fierceness to develop in our culture.  When we choose to engage in behavior that can produce a life, we need to take responsibility at the point we are choosing that behavior.  It is like saying that spoons make us fat; guns kill people; cars kill people…we don’t get rid of the spoon, we stop eating so much.  It is called self-control.  We don’t kill the product of our choice of behavior, we welcome that child and we change our behavior.  There are so many who cannot have children; we bear those children conceived in “error” and we allow them to be adopted. I have personal experience with adoption and it is an incredible blessing.  The right to kill another human being is wrong.  Pope John Paul II said that in a “just society” we have the right to execute people.  But our society is so far from just.  There are loop-holes, exceptions, corruption…our world is in a mess.  God is the ultimate judge, not me.  Incarceration is a completely different topic from this post, so I will not delve into it here.  I am lamenting, rather, the right to choose to kill a child.  An innocent life.  It is not the mother’s body…it is a baby in there.  It is not an organ, or her tissue.  The heart is struggling to beat, the little hands and feet are working their magic. Random tissue doesn’t have brain waves.  It is a child.  And I believe that even if we cannot afford a child, or have the life-long desire to commit to another human being (parenting is for life…it’s one of the little things people don’t tell you when you become a parent.  You just cannot turn it off even when they are parents, themselves!!) we can allow that child to have life, outside of our life, by allowing them to be adopted. It is the loving, best option.  Be chaste to your state in life.

And as I watched the video that morning, watching that little boy grow and smile, and the adoration on the face of that mother, my heart just swelled with love for my sons and for the babies I longed to hold but whose souls I know are safe in God’s care.  In this season when we celebrate the Birth of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, I offer a prayer for all our unborn babies, to come safely into this world.

This is the Christmas Kontakion, or the Kontakion of the Preparation, we sing in Church from now until Christmas Day.  I offer this as a prayer, through the story of Mary preparing to give birth to God the Son, for all our sons and daughters, and those still to come:

“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.”

King Size Bed

“You therefore must be perfect…”

Gerontissa Gabriella.2I am so distressed today.  There are a lot of words being said, back and forth, across the social media sites today about the lack of media coverage of the abortionist who is being tried for murder.  One of the nurses testified that at least one infant screamed as the doctor severed its’ neck with scissors.  That in and of itself is a horrible thing to testify to, to witness, and to have done.  Wanton-less killing is evil; pure and simple.  And I am a pro-life person through and through.  I have learned, through the years, that being pro-life does not just mean that you are anti-abortion.  It does mean, however, that you believe in the sanctity of all human life, from a natural beginning to a natural end.

And the rhetoric that is being flung against this man, and against the mainstream media, is pretty strong.  I was invited to participate in a tweeting meeting…I have no idea what exactly that is, because I really haven’t figured out tweeting.  I guess it’s like instant messaging a whole bunch of people, all at the same time?  I am unclear on the concept or the need for it.  But I digress.  Part of this invitation included lots of comments from the pro-life contingency.  And that is where my upset stomach comes in.

We cannot say the sort of things that are being said about this man and consider ourselves Christians.  It is one thing to believe that someone is guilty of a heinous crime, and I in no way believe this man is innocent, and it is another to speak with such hatred and vitriolic commentary.  How can someone say they are pro-life and Christian, and wish upon a fellow human being the same atrocities they have committed against these babies?  One commentator said he thinks this doctor should be killed by scissors, without anesthesia, piece by piece until he is dead.  There were so many comments about an eye for an eye and so many Biblical quotes from the Old Testament.  The one most used is: “If two men are fighting and they strike a pregnant woman and her children are born prematurely, but there is no harm, he is certainly to be fined as the husband of the woman demands of him, and he will pay as the court decides.” (Exodus 21:22).  For one thing, this verse is talking about a woman being an innocent bystander when two men are arguing; they accidentally hit her and she miscarries.  Her husband can then demand recompense for the loss of her child.  This is not about abortion.  In the case of abortion, the mother is complicit with the decision to kill her child; she is no innocent bystander, but an active participant.

Christ came to change the world.  Yes, He came to cause division.  Yes, He certainly stirred the pot in the ancient world and tried to change how people viewed themselves and their neighbors.  He instructed us to, above all, love our neighbor and pray for those who persecute us.  He also taught us the value of life…of all life.  We are not to sit as judge, jury, and executioner; that is God’s prerogative.  Certainly, this doctor deserves to be punished by the law.  Pope John Paul II said that the death penalty is just in a just society.  Is the society we find ourselves in right now, a just society? I think not.  We have all sorts of standards, in all sorts of situations.  Very few people believe our judicial system is actually working.  We have more people in jail in America than total populations in some countries.  We house more criminals than any country in history.  But does this system work?  Recidivism, that subconscious desire to return to the world of the prison system, pulls hard at so many of our convicted. They prefer life on the inside versus life in the streets.  We have raised a generation who believe the world owes them everything and they don’t need to do a thing to earn it.  We have one of the most severely under-educated populations in the world, and yet we spend more per pupil than any other nation.

Most of the commentary about this doctor is so hateful and spiteful, and supposedly said by Christians, that it is frightening.  Now be prepared, because I am a person of eclectic tastes.  One of my favorite TV shows is called Supernatural.  The premise is these two brothers, working with angels, are trying to stop the apocalypse from happening. There is a lot more to it than that, but that is the basic idea.  In one episode, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are slowly escaping (the explanation for the whys of that take an entire season) and War has made himself known in a small town in Colorado. When one of the brothers is chatting with War, he asks him why is he poisoning the people?  What is he doing? Is it an incantation, a spell, a drug?  War simply answers that he needs none of that.  Lovely, complacent, Christians (many of the scenes take place in the Catholic church’s basement Hall, where a stunned priest asks, “Wait, you mean the Apocalypse?) can turn on their neighbor when you simply introduce doubt and suspicion into their minds.  He goes on to say that being War is one of the most simple things to be because humanity itself can war on itself, with nothing more than a little nudge from him.  That got me to thinking about the reaction to this doctor.  Hateful.  And the reaction in politics – it is frightening how our hatred spews from the same mouths that proclaim Christ as King.

Today, the vitriol made my stomach just churn in knots.  I grabbed a tums and sat down to write.  What we say and how we act shows where our hearts truly lay.  If we can so easily turn on another human being with such hatred, is it any surprise that things like the holocaust could happen in those quiet, German, suburbs?  Is there any surprise that Planned Parenthood can operate in our towns and cities with no reaction?  Where is the surprise at what a late term abortion entails?  Babies are born alive and then they are killed.  When my sons were born, they were crying almost right away.  Of course a baby will scream when you cut its neck with scissors.  What did we think happened?  But do we really want to impose that same thing on this doctor?  What happened to us that we think that is justified, while decrying ourselves as Christians?  Christ told us, quite specifically, “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 makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-48)  The fifth chapter of Matthew contains the Sermon on the Mount.  Christ exhorts us to behave above and beyond what our culture expects of us. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5: 21-26).

St John of Kronstadt.love others

It frightens me, how easily the hatred and frustrations people bear towards their neighbor comes to the surface.  How can we possibly attract people to Christ when we behave like that?  If someone from the pro-abortion side were to read the comments made on this pro-life site, they would feel even more justified in their position.  They spew things about pro-life supporters, calling us names and telling us how false we are.  Perhaps if we show our underbellies like this, there is some truth in what our naysayers actually say about us.  I stopped reading the sites and went to prayer for these people.  We need to love the sinner, but hate the sin.  It is stated this way in Scripture: If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen? (1 John 4:20)  St. Augustine is thought to have expounded on that with the love the sinner but hate the sin statement.  There is more evidence that we should not judge our brothers: “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, `Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log from your own eyes; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5).  Furthermore, Christ instructs us: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever …” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

In no way do these statements of Christ I have opted to quote, nor my commentary, undermine or reduce the crime this man has committed.  In no way do I condone his actions. I believe abortion is evil and wrong, and a choice of convenience. In our hedonistic society, we are all about serving ourselves and not looking out for our brothers.  We think that we have the right of death over life, when in fact, that belongs to God alone.  My point is that the words we use do remain until eternity.  And because eternity is never-ending, our words are never-ending as well.  Do we want to be known for the vitriolic hatred spewed about this man, or would it be better to calm down this hateful rhetoric, push for a life-long jail sentence, and see to correcting the societal ills that approve of abortion in the first place? Let us not sink down into the miasma of hatred from which the desire to kill the unborn sprang.  Let us instead approach the situation with the love of Christ.  He quietly stood among those in a small community, calling for the stoning of the woman accused in adultery.  He alone caused that community to calmly walk away, by asking those without sin to cast that first stone. We can do at least that.  We can put down the stones and allow the man to spend his life in repentant jail time, and try to change the world that caused him to abandon his training as a doctor who saves lives, to one who takes life.

St Silouan the Athonite2

“There is no better teacher than death.”

St Irenaeus

To some, most especially my Protestant friends and family members, the practice of many Orthodox and Byzantines of having an “ossuary” (An ossuary is a chest, building, well, or site made to serve as the final resting place of human skeletal remains. They are frequently used where burial space is scarce. A body is first buried in a temporary grave, then after some years the skeletal remains are removed and placed in an ossuary. The greatly reduced space taken up by an ossuary means that it is possible to store the remains of many more people in a single tomb than if the original coffins were left as is) to remember the dead seems highly morbid or gross. In addition to that, many of the skulls kept in an ossuary are engraved with the deceased’s name and birth/death information.  In many places around the world, cemeteries are a luxury that cannot be afford to a particular place or situation, or perhaps for financial reasons.  In the USA, we often have crypts or mausoleums where we inter our deceased in caskets.  Lots of people do not want to be placed in the ground, or perhaps they choose cremation.  In Orthodoxy in particular, we do not cremate.  In the Byzantine tradition,  it is not favored, but is allowable.  There has been a return, in recent years, to simplicity in burial and to even “green” caskets, where the casket actually decomposes over the years so as to not add to the landfill and allow the remains to be returned “from whence they came,” as in “ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.”  I met an incredible man at a homeschool conference a couple of years ago. He was a boat maker and he loved wood carving and working with wood. He watched Pope John Paul II’s funeral on TV and was moved by the simplicity of his casket.  It moved him so much, he relocated his family to Vashon Island in Washington state and providing these amazing caskets has become his life’s work. (You can find him at http://www.mariancaskets.com/ and I highly recommend his magnificent and simple caskets). When I first saw one at our conference up here, I stood next to it and wept – the simplicity and beauty were overwhelming. It seems odd to recommend someone get in touch with a casket maker, even if there is no impending death, but these caskets are one-of-a-kind and are each handmade with craftsman-like attention to detail.  Very worth planning for!!

Marian Casket Company

Today marks one year since the death of my father-in-law.  He was diagnosed with cancer and exactly (I mean to the day of his diagnosis) two months later, he had passed on into life eternal. (May his memory be eternal).  He changed quite dramatically in the small period of time in which he was ill.  There were good days and there were some pretty bad days. Through days of pain, his demeanor was that of a man who knew his days were few, and was peaceful.  Most importantly to all of us, he had made peace with God, and it was evident to all of us around him.  [A side note in all this was that he even encouraged his wife to get rid of things in their home, saying it was just “stuff” – a HUGE thing in our family.] He also actively participated in the choices that were made regarding his last days, his burial, and his internment.  He was calm and resigned, but more importantly, he was peaceful, and at times even joyful.  He gathered his family around him, he expressed his love for each of them, and he said his goodbyes.  He was the eldest of 10 children and each of his siblings that could, came to see him and spend a short amount of time with him, bidding him farewell. He had his wife, sons and daughter all around him at one time, which was miraculous considering we resided in several states, and had so many complications in getting together.  (My sister-in-law had just given birth to twins, but was able to fly out to spend some time with her dad).  All of my sons were there, and my oldest son brought his wife and newborn baby, so that my father-in-law could meet his great-grandson.  It was beautiful.  And when he took his last breath, the Kaiser world was rocked.  He had, probably without even realizing it, become the planet we all revolved around…his siblings, his grandchildren, god children, nieces and nephews, various in-laws and outlaws, and friends he’d kept since early childhood.  His funeral was beautiful and his internment quiet and peaceful.  He was laid to rest in peace, and it was a celebration of his life.

The year since his death has been one of so many wonderful occurrences in our immediate family – we’ve had the college graduation and wedding of our middle son, and now his impending fatherhood.  Our oldest son’s firstborn son celebrated his first birthday a month ago, and now we are awaiting the birth of his second child.  Our youngest son became a member of CAP and entered his middle teens going full blast, challenging us and keeping us on our toes every day!  My husband changed jobs late last year, is changing jobs again, and now we are moving thousands of miles from here. For me, it was a big year in that I started blogging! Our lives are in full swing.

My father-in-law has left us a legacy, and a lesson.  A priest we know used to love to say, “You are not guaranteed your next breath.”  I believe that when my father-in-law breathed that last breath, he was willingly walking towards his eternity in peace and fully engaged in the process of “meeting his Maker.”  I pray that I, too, keep my eye on meeting my maker and that each moment of every choice laid before me is spent spiritually aware and is profitable to my salvation.  I was also shown through the experience of the death of my father-in-law, that family is the single most important thing Our Lord gave us.  Everything we learn about who we are, everything that we have been given, has come through our family.  I am now determined to keep family close by me, and I never tire of telling my family that I love them.  Lent is always a rough time of year; it is especially rough this year because we are in mourning, at the one-year anniversary of someone who was pivotal in so many of our lives.  My husband, youngest son, and I had lunch together today and my husband was able to share tidbits with our son about his father.  And he was able to smile; we even laughed a little bit.  It is good to smile and laugh when we contemplate those who have gone before us, rather than always to mourn.  Today our middle son had an interview and it was a little nerve-wracking (he really wants this job).  We chatted a little about invoking the saint names of my father-in-law and asking them to intercede for my son. Although a year ago today my son was sitting with him as he passed away, today he can ask his grandpa to spiritually sit with him in his interview.  What a wonderful gift!!  Our faith is not an easy thing, but it is also such a comfort on days like today.

St Cosmas of Aitolos

So today I remember my father-in-law and ask his prayers for the family he has left behind. I pray for his soul and wish him peace and repose.  I also am more focused on my own path to salvation, as this time of Lent gives me so much to reflect upon and pray about. God is working in our lives and He has a plan for us.  When we contemplate our own death in light of those we love who’ve gone before us, it makes our own struggle seem much more real, and very timely.  The days grow shorter for each of us and I pray that each day I have, God will manifest Himself in me more and more, and that everyone will know I am a Christian, by the love that emanates from me towards all those around me.  My prayers go out today to our family-at-large and “May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.”  Memory eternal, Joe….

Cross sunlight rocks

“…but to be silent;”

I have been stimulated to place words down here again by something someone said, and something I heard and/or read.  For me, blogging about things is a way for me to communicate with myself, my husband, family, and friends.  More often than not, my stimulus to write is because I am reading or listening to someone, and it gets my mind reeling with possibilities.  Today is no exception.

I read some articles yesterday about the Pope’s resignation and how the world, most especially the mainstream media outlets, do not get Catholicism, or organized religion, at all.  The other things were an article by an Abbot I love and the introduction to St. John Climacus,’ “Ladder of Divine Ascent,” which is my other reading for Lent this year.  All of those combined, in odd, very odd, ways to bring me to write.

Very few in the western mindset of democracy understand those of us who opt to unite our journey towards God with an organized religion.  Most of the world (especially the western world and most especially, America) has listened to soundbites throughout history and has allowed those limited words to explain 2,000 years of history and tradition.  In my own family, I am the sole practitioner of organized religion.  Quite often, even among friends, I am the die-hard of Byzantine practice and that is rarely understood, as it differs so much from Latin or Roman Catholicism, as well as most Protestant denominations.  In the forward to the “Ladder of Divine Ascent,” the author explains that most western eyes look to monastics as “different” and even the words surrounding monasticism as “different.”  There are a few Roman Catholics who have discovered the wealth contained in monastic orders and they flock to the monasteries for Mass and prayer, even confession, whenever they can.  In the Eastern side of the Church, we breathe with our monastics; we turn to them as friends, as confidants, as Spiritual Fathers and Spiritual Guides.  One of the incredible gifts of being Byzantine is that we are generally a part of either a monastery itself, or we attend quaint little parishes.  The priests and monks are not strangers; they know us.  One of the great joys I experienced was attending a conference on Byzantine spirituality of some sort (it may even have been a Melkite Greek Catholic conference…I am not certain and that part of it did not resonate with me) and the most important thing that came out of it for me was the camaraderie that developed within the small group we came to associate with.  My husband, being an ordained Melkite deacon, immediately congregated with his fellow deacons.  We wives also congregated together. With us, we added a coupe of priests, an archmandrite, and a Bishop.  We had the most amazing dinners together and ended up, all of us, in our hotel room, gabbing the night away.  I was in awe of the level of intelligence, humor, and love for God and His Church that surrounded me that night.  The other deacon’s wife and I huddled in the corner and we whispered together about how cool it was, to witness the repartee that was taking place and the amazing thing (for women) is that neither of us felt the need to speak; we just drank in all the wonderful conversation around us. It is very rare for something like that to occur within other denominations.  The priests, Bishops, and other clerics are just not that available to their people.  And because I have barbequed, fed the poor, prayed, and worshiped with priests and deacons, I feel so close to my Spiritual Fathers, and so do my children. It is a blessing.

This morning I read an article that explains why we women love to talk.  Well, it is not something new under the sun, but scientists can now explain it – biologically and chemically!  I feel so much better about myself! Ha-Ha!  But I point this out because one of the issues I struggle with is keeping silent.  Sometimes silence gains you so much more than chatter.  The noisiness of this world can cramp our relationship with God so very much.  My son and I were sitting in a parking lot last night, waiting for someone to open the gates for our entrance onto a small, local, military base for his CAP meeting, and he made the most interesting observation: “Mom, have you noticed how much noise is all around us?  Did you notice the sounds of all those cars and trucks as we drove here on the freeway?  Even here, up on this hill, you can still hear the sound of all those cars!”  And we chatted a little bit about how very noisy our world has become.  He even said that he cannot wait to get out into the wilds when we move, to experience the quiet of nature.  And I believe that part of the misconception about monasticism and keeping Holy Silence is due to the fact that we rarely are in a position of total silence; there is always a gentle humming of background noises, even in the quiet of our homes.  And people are very uncomfortable in total silence.

St Ambrose

As we enter more fully into Lent, I am pulled to “withdraw” more and more from contemporary noises.  As a chatterbox most of my life, being silent is something very few expect from me.  Many years ago, a friend of mine who was also known to love talking, asked me to attend a weekend “Silent Retreat” at a monastery.  I was scared to death – because I had never been quiet that long, and I was not sure I could do it.  The first few hours were especially difficult, as my friend and I were roommates!  They asked us to not converse – at all!  We did talk over details about rooming together, but then we split up, in order to not talk, each of us exploring the monastery on our own.  There were lectures off and on throughout the day, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in a side Chapel all day and we could go there anytime we chose, and there were priests available all day for confessions, as well as all the regular prayer times throughout the day, common to monastic life.  Where did I find myself?  Well, I did not stroll the wonderful gardens, nor did I take advantage of the wonderful views, nor did I spend much time in quiet adoration; I was inexplicably drawn to their amazing two-storied library.  Up in the rafters, a rickety “third” floor that was more like scaffolding, they had all the books they were getting rid of.  For a book lover like me, I was delirious!  I lost track of time, finding all these wonderful treasures to bring home!  The smell of a library filled with old books is something only a book lover would treasure, and I did.  I found a niche by a rounded window that I cracked open for the slight, warm, breeze and set to reading books by the Church fathers, some old priests, and even books of prayers. I found myself startled by the sound of the dinner gong.  And I had not spoken a word in an entire day.  It was actually miraculous.  My weekend flew by and my friend and I scheduled that same retreat for several years in a row (until we had just too many children to leave our husbands alone for that long! Ha-Ha!) and we both marveled at how silence was something we both looked forward to each year.

Now that I am older and my home is less chaotic than when all my sons were running through it, I find that keeping quiet is not that difficult.  And I have, on occasion, answered a phone call with a cracked voice, realizing I have not spoken in hours.  And you know what? I have learned more and heard more in silence that I ever have in noise.  The Lord, it is said, comes in a “whisper.”  We have, jokingly, said many times in our family that God needs to use a 2 x 4 so we are sure we get His messages!  But I am learning that in the stillness of my heartbeat, and in the quiet of breathing, God is more present to me.  I am learning to control my thoughts (thanks to Elder Thaddeus and his book, “Our Thoughts Determine our Lives”) and keep my life from becoming too much about all the stresses that assail us on a daily basis.  I find myself reciting the Jesus Prayer, or the Prayer of the Heart, more often during my day (“Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”) and will often stop to place my mind fully on the prayer.  It is amazing when you have these little prayers you can offer all day, how settling they can be.

Abba Agathon

God is pleased when we give all that we are and all that we do, over to Him.  After speaking at length with a friend experiencing a crisis last evening, I shared how much we can change a situation by turning things over to God.  There is this amazing book, which I have quoted before in my posts, called, “Everything You Wanted to Know About Heaven, but Never Dreamed of Asking,” by Peter Kreeft.  In that book, he wonderfully speaks about truly giving everything over to God.  He describes a closet in our hearts/minds that we dedicate to God.  In that closet are shelves, with shoe boxes lining them, each with a label on it.  Each box is labelled for that particular thing or issue (or person and personal relationship) that you cannot handle on your own.  You place that thing in the box, giving it over to God, and close God’s closet door.  You truly have to picture yourself giving this thing to God.  I have all sorts of things in God’s closet.  Because I have that wonderful gift of free will, I will often yank that thing out of God’s closet and think I can handle it on my own.  Once more, God, Who is ever patient with us, will show me that I cannot handle this on my own.  He gently opens that door and I see quite clearly that box, with its lid askew, asking for my “thing” to be put back inside of it.  God is more faithful than any friend we have, who offers to help us out.  God will always come through for us.  His method, His time, His way…but He always answers our prayers.  And sometimes praying can be the single most difficult thing we do.  We also will, more often than not, forget to pray for ourselves.  We always pray for our husbands, children, friends, community and country; but most of us forget to ask God for something.  In the season of Lent, boy oh boy, do I seem to dump everything into God’s boxes!!  His arms are full of all the verbalized shortcomings I have come to own.  But the funniest things is, He already knows all of that about me.  He knows where I am weak and where my strength lays.  He is just waiting for me to humble myself, realize that I can do NOTHING without Him, and to simply implore Him for His intercession in my life.

St. John Climacus’ book, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,”  is the other book I am trudging through this Lent.  He addresses our incessant need to talk in his book, as so many scholars before and since have done.  One of the messages that came to me was my tongue praises God; my tongue receives God in Holy Communion; my tongue shares my faith with others.  My tongue is a holy instrument. How can I defame myself through my words? How can I defame my Lord and my God through profanity?  How can I allow negativity and strife to surround me and those near me, through my words, said with my tongue? There was a joke emailed to me this week, about a police officer who came up behind a woman who was gesticulating at an intersection, and yelling and screaming, at the car in front of her.  He pulled her over and arrested her.  She was brought to jail, fingerprinted and photographed, and left in a holding cell; she was hysterical, not knowing why.  He later came to her and apologized, saying that he thought she must have stolen the car because she had bumper stickers like “WWJD,” and “Pro-Llife” and “God Saves” and many more on the back of her car and so he thought that her behavior must have been that of a thief!!  We are all tempted to stray; we are all fallible; we are human.  The point is to get back up, dust ourselves off, and re-start on the journey we have begun.  For me, when my mouth gets tired and I realize I have been talking too much, too long, over trivia, I will quite often stop mid-sentence and sit back, realizing I have not only broken with my efforts at “Holy Silence,” I have outdone myself in the chatter department!!!

St Anthony the Great

As St. Anthony the Great tell us, it is not impossible to reach a virtuous life, but it certainly is not easy!  I take great comfort in his words, because I know that God expects a struggle.  Christ told us: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36).  And because He promised us struggles, even in our own families, why would we expect Lent to be easy?  The purpose of these 40 days is to struggle.  We are supposed to work towards becoming better at day 40 than we were at day 1.  At the very least, if we spend Lent wisely, we should know more about ourselves at the end of it.  And perhaps we will have picked up some new, positive, habits along the way.  I propose to become a more centered, loving, quiet woman by the time I am praising God on Easter Sunday, for His gift to me of “Eternal Life.”  A gift that I am praying I will become more cognizant of, and worthy of, through this struggle we call Lent.

Blessed Seraphim

“Don’t react, be at peace”

Holy Table

I believe Lord and profess that You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God, come to this world to save sinners, of whom I am the greatest.  I believe also that this is really your spotless body and that this is really your precious blood.  Wherefore I pray to You: have mercy on me and pardon my offenses, the deliberate and the indeliberate, those committed in word and in deed, whether knowingly or inadvertently; and count me worthy to share without condemnation your spotless mysteries, for the remission of sins and for eternal life.” Amen (from the Byzantine Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

When my husband and I first attended a Byzantine Divine Liturgy, and I heard and read these words of prayer recited by each person in attendance, before the reception of Communion, I was stunned and truly moved.  The prayers of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy have such an impact on how we think and behave, if we but allow them to.  And one of the things that drew me to the East were these prayers.  When they are recited week after week, they tend to sink into our psyche, whether we realize it or not. Which brings me to my blog today.

We have made friends from so many different walks of life.  I have friends from elementary school, two different high schools, college, sorority, neighbors from various living situations, and different working environments. They run the gamut from very liberal and atheistic, to very conservative, right-wing, born-again Christian fanatics, with many other faiths thrown in for good measure.  And I love them all for what they have brought to my life.  It has enriched me and made me a more well-rounded person, and enabled me to become friends with people of very divergent backgrounds, philosophies, and faiths.  Being drawn into an Anthropological, or a more “over-all” and “all-encompassing” viewpoint (begun in my collegiate days) has helped me become who I am and helped me to see these differences for what they are, and how they have also formed these friends of mine.  It is one of the treasures in my life.

Our Church is a very large tent, metaphorically speaking.  There are rites existing in this tent which encompass the history of Christianity around the world; it is truly a universal Church.  And within that miasma of cultures, languages, and practices, I have found my deepest comfort on the eastern, or Byzantine, side of things.  The feeling of holiness, for me, is more simplistic and direct.  The faith is simple and direct; the words are profound and the movements indelibly marked on my soul. The sights, smells, tones and bells entrance me.  The Holy Icons speak to my heart.  I also find myself drawn further and further into an Orthodox view of life and faith.  I find myself being continually enriched by the Holy Fathers and the many incredible gifts their words have given to me.  And now, all of these things have begun to collide in my life.  How am I being that Christian soul, who is asking for forgiveness for sins?

The crux of this post is that I am feeling terribly let down by people I thought were “friends.”  I believe their position, should they find themselves reciting the prayer above, would be that in regards to me, they acted indeliberately and unknowingly towards me. I believe that their hearts are good and their souls are struggling, just like mine is, to reach Sanctification with God in Heaven.  The people I have made as friends are good people, regardless of their voter registration or place of worship (or even lack thereof).  But my problem is how to handle rejection, or perhaps lack of response, from people I have been close to for years.  Yes, I love to gab; I am a woman! A woman home alone all day with a 14-year-old son.  And perhaps when they have messages from me they have to decide when best to reply because they know the conversation will be a long one!  And is that a good thing to be known for?  I am thinking that it is not.  But I also know that people get caught up in life and the busy-ness of our days, and quite often, and perhaps because I moved away from our community, I am now “out of sight, out of mind” to some of them.  If that is so, am I really friends with them?  The other issue is people I see locally, who have I have become (or have been for years) friends with…they are also so busy.  I am “assuming” their lives are busy and chaotic and therefore, not communicating with them perhaps as often as I would like.  These slights I am feeling, well, it makes my heart contract a little bit because it is an opportunity to grow in holiness and I am failing miserably. The Lord never stops correcting us through the actions of others, and through our own misconceptions.  But this realization and situations has given me an opportunity to grow, as a gabby female, friend, and Child of God.

Abbot Tryphon (what a great man) from “All-Merciful Savior Orthodox Christian Monastery on Vashon Island in Washington State is someone I quote quite often. If you have Facebook, please look him up. Each day he shares some of his wisdom with us Facebook users.  Today was no different…and it was the impetus behind me blogging! Here is his post on Facebook today, in its entirety:

HOW TO HAVE A HEALTHY SOUL
Don’t react, be at peace.

“Each day brings on new challenges regarding the health of your soul. Those moments when a family member or coworker makes a remark that are meant to anger you, are those times you need to guard your heart. When those around you are gossiping about someone, that is an opportunity for you to keep silent. The driver who’s just cut you off on the freeway; the woman who pushes her way in front of you in the check out line; the rude neighbor; all are moments in time when you can take control and grow stronger spiritually.

Trials and temptations, when confronted with a peaceful heart, bring forth healing and make the soul that much stronger and healthier. Reacting does nothing but bring forth paralysis of the soul, binding us to our fallen nature. Receiving all these temptations with a peaceful heart and not reacting to outside negative stimulus, helps strengthen you for the next round of trial and temptation. Little by little, you will find that the Peace of Christ fills your every waking moment, bringing on a joyful spirit and a peaceful heart”.

And so, today, when my heart is aching because someone is slighting me, I read these words of comfort from Abbot Tryphon and I know that my goal towards that peaceful heart is slowly evolving.  The words from Divine Liturgy about seeking forgiveness for those things I have committed….”whether knowingly or inadvertently” really hit home.  If someone is not responsive to me, what am I putting out there, to them?  Am I being that light of faith, or is my faith really resting under that bushel basket?  Am I extending the hand of Christ to them, or does my invitation of friendship involve reciprocity?  Do I expect as much, in equal measure, in return?  Ugh….because Scripture clearly tells us, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be given to you. For with the same measure you measure it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38).  We cannot give with the expectation that anything will be given back to us.

I am resolving to work at training my heart and my soul to give without the thought of recompense; without expecting people to give back to me.  In friendships and most relationships – to give fully, without expectation of anything in return and I am struggling to find peace with that. The idea of getting no response, nothing in return is not a common philosophy in our world, which normally thinks, “What’s in it for me?”  I think that when the Abbot said, “Reacting does nothing but bring forth paralysis of the soul” he was speaking to me.  And I know that expectations usually leave us feeling empty and dissatisfied.  “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not depend on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5).  And I also think that one of the things I need to do for my own spiritual health, is learn to keep a Holy Silence.  It truly benefits me the most.  My trust is in the Lord (Psalm 16:1) and keeping a Holy Silence allows Him to heal me and help lead me to a “joyful spirit and a peaceful heart.”

St Ambrose

“…like the flame of a candle…”

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True love is something we all aspire to find in our lives.  We experience so many different types of love.  My first “crush” was a boy named “Armando” when I was twelve.  He had a crush on me, too, and used to walk me home from school; but we did not even touch! No hand-holding permitted!  He was allowed on our doorstep, but no further.  He dedicated a song to me on the radio (something that used to be a regular thing when I was a kid) and I thought I would burst with joy. I often think of that time of my life and cringe a little bit, but also smile.  It is amazing how many twists and turns our lives take, in pursuit of “true love.”

Throughout my childhood and into my early adulthood, I was dedicated to the ultimate search for “true love” and I realize now that it was nothing more than me, trying to fill a hole that only God can occupy.  In this noisy, confusing world, we try to cram as much into living as we possibly can.  Life is lived at breakneck speed and we most often leave a wake behind us consisting of poor choices, questionable decisions, and often, broken hearts.

“In the Christian life, temptations and tests or trials of our spiritual condition are necessary; and as our life, like the furniture of a house, becomes covered with various stains, it is necessary to cleanse it. As for testing objects made, for instance, of silver, instruments are required, so likewise for testing the state of the soul, men are required, like for like, who, willingly or unwillingly, intentionally or quite unthinkingly, show us by their conduct in relation to us, in a manner apparent both to ourselves and others, whether we are obedient to God’s commands, declared to us in the Gospel, or not–whether we live according to the spirit, mortifying in ourselves the desires of the flesh, or according to the flesh, being obedient slaves to the will of the flesh and to carnal thoughts and passions; so that we, recognizing that we are not living in accordance with the will of God, not in accordance with the commandments of our Sweetest Savior, but in accordance with our own sinful and blind will, may speedily amend and zealously follow the commandments of the Divine Gospel.”  (St John of Kronstadt)

And thanks be to God, my experimental lifestyle came to a crashing halt when I met my husband, over 30 years ago.  He was a breath of fresh air and a light for my life.  His faith was a beacon to me, and I was drawn to it almost as much as I was drawn to the man.  I recall kneeling next to him in prayer at Church, while I was still exploring my own faith, and glancing over at him and realizing that his faith was so deep and so intense, I know I could have stood up and left at that moment and he would not have noticed I was missing, until he had finished his prayers.  He pursued his love of God throughout our marriage and eventually entered the Diaconate, where he found his ultimate joy, serving at the Altar.  And his faith radiated out to others who witnessed his love of God, most especially when serving.  Once his vestments came on, he became a Deacon first and foremost, and all the other roles in his life became secondary.  It is a wondrous transformation to witness.  Our journey together has brought us to many highs and many lows….that pretty much describes marriage for most people.  Along the way we have become a part of a community, and we have departed communities.  We have made and lost friends, we have created life and mourned death.  It is a wondrously-intertwined experience and I relish the memories of it all.

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As we vowed to remain together for life, it also was a vow to live a life of faith, together.  The crowns we wore symbolized the nature of married life and the nature of how we treat all those who come into our circle of married life.  Our children have found wives that enlighten their lives and they are blessed now with children of their own.  It was my distinct pleasure to spend a week with our eldest son on the occasion of his son’s first birthday. It was the first time I have been in their home, as they live in Alaska and he has spent most of their marriage deployed in war time.  The week I spent with them was my first chance to see their marriage in action, in their own home.  I cannot express the joy I felt at seeing how much they love one another and as a mother, I was overjoyed at the love his wife has, for my son. It is all a mother wants for her son, to find a wife that will enrich and bless his life.

Our middle son and his wife are expecting their first child in a few months and they know already that it is a girl.  We are so excited, already referring to her by name, and already loving her so very much.  They have been married 8 months now and their lives are very fluid and flexible, with their futures still undecided.  It was a joy to spend a week with them prior to their wedding, in preparation for their vows.  The mother of my daughter-in-law and I were friends through our homeschooling group and we commented once that we should set them up – we were successful!  We did not realize what a great fit they would be for each other and both families were overjoyed at their engagement and marriage.  I don’t think my friend and I ever envisioned being grandmothers together, but it is an incredible feeling.

It is amazing how far our love can go, how stretched we can be to include others in our lives.  The amount of love you have inside of you is infinite, because God will assist you in loving the seemingly unlovable.  We throw away people in our culture in so many ways.  We have abortion readily available and becoming even more the norm than it has been – what a tragedy! We have homeless people who do not belong on the streets for a myriad of reasons (mental health being just one); we throw away so much of humanity without a second thought, and that is just so very sad to Our Lord. Each and every life is precious and each and every person deserves our best, as a culture, and as individuals.

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We are all created in the image and likeness of God and if we allow ourselves to love with that “Agape” type of love that only God can share with us, it is amazing, truly amazing, where that love can take us.  Our circles grow and grow, and encompass more and more people, with the type of love that God shares with us.  We can love people through prayer and through participation in worship.  We can add names to prayer lists without even meeting the person.  Each time we are asked to pray for someone, even if we just stop for a moment and whisper, “Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner…and I hold —- up to you in prayer.”  It is a simple way to expand our circle of God’s love for others.  We need not feel that we are bound to take in every homeless person we see, nor are we obligated to feel guilt at passing by that person standing by the freeway exit with a sign declaring they are homeless.  We can, however, pay attention to the homeless shelters in our area; we can volunteer at soup kitchens; we can extend ourselves in so many ways to show our love for our fellow man.  As the quote at the top of this post states, each time we light another candle, that original candle’s flame is not diminished.  I often feel that the more we show the love of God to others, the more God’s love grows in us, and the more we give to others, the more we are given by God.  It is amazing how good it feels to clean up a kitchen after feeding the homeless.  Exhausted? Yes.  Stinky with food and sweat?  You bet.  Happy and satisfied?  Most definitely.  At our parish where we used to live in SoCal, we would feed the homeless and then walk over to the Church for Evening Prayers.  And my heart would be soaring over the people we had touched and having served the poor of our area.  It is an incredible feeling, to help others.  And all of this I experienced (and continue to experience) because I searched for, and found, the love that would fill that hole within my heart.  We are capable of more loving in this life than we can imagine; we just need to trust and love as easily and simply as Jesus Christ instructed us,

A new commandment I give you, to love one another; that as I have loved you, you also may love one another.” (John 13:34)

“…he has light continuously….”

“…and the more resolutely, the more constantly, your heart is turned towards God and His saints the more it will be enlightened, purified, and vivified”.  “Be true in heart always and everywhere, and you will always and everywhere have peace, but especially be true in your converse with God and the saints, “because the spirit is truth.” St. John of Kronstadt

Today is the March for Life in Washington, D.C. and I was glancing through the morning shows on TV and while I was looking, at least, not one announcer or news reporter mentioned it.  To give them the benefit of a doubt, I did not watch every channel, all morning long.  But as I was surfing channels, no one said a thing about it.  Oh, they discussed whether or not Beyonce lip-synced the National Anthem at the Inauguration, but not one word about the March for Life.

It is becoming more and more obvious that the media chooses to ignore things that are not on their own agenda.  I found one channel, and only one, that was running coverage of the March and it was EWTN – the Catholic channel.  As St. John said above, “be true in heart always and everywhere…” and I think that the public arena is being true to their misguided hearts. And it makes me sad.  I read today some statements from the various Orthodox Fathers on abortion and it has been clear, since the Didache itself, that all life is precious.  (The Didache (pron.: /ˈdɪdək/; Koine Greek: Διδαχή) or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Didachē means “Teaching”) is a brief early Christian treatise, dated by most scholars to the late first or early second century).  You shall not slay the child by abortions.”

Many of our Church Fathers addressed abortion in the centuries leading up to the Modern Era, but people are just not in tune to the fact that all life is precious. I know there will be many people who do not want to deal with this issue, and I may get bombarded with comments because of my pro-life stance, but for me, this issue tugs at the core of our character, as a culture.  If each and every pro life person did just one act to save one life, then perhaps the millions of babies killed each year would be much less.  The very least those of us who are pro life can do is pray.  And prayer is a major portion of every war we face – and like it or not, the battle for life is a war, not just a battle.  The reason I say this is because we have a generation raised since Roe v Wade who have no concept of living without abortion and see it as a normal choice of birth control.

One of my favorite movies is Cheaper by the Dozen, filmed in 1950, and starring one of my favorite actresses, Myrna Loy. In the movie, she stars as the wife of an efficiency expert and mother of 12 children.  At one point, a woman from Planned Parenthood comes to see her because she has heard about her and her work, not knowing she is also mothering 12 children.  The scene devolves into laughter as her husband and their children make their entrances and the PP rep realizes that it is not a home for wayward youth, but rather, a family. She is horrified and leaves the house rather rapidly.  That scene has stayed with me my whole life.

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And to think that most people believe that Margaret Sanger had their health concerns at the forefront.  She most certainly did not.  She is one of the reasons abortion is so wide-spread and so accepted.

Sanger statementThe antithesis of what the Church teaches in regards to the sanctity of life is what Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood are all about.  She was a devotee of Adolf Hitler…

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That one woman did more for the downsizing of races, other than white, than any other single human being has done.  Our Lord spoke to having the “faith of a mustard seed” and that if we just believe, we can change the world.  As much can be said for people like Margaret Sanger – one person has indeed changed a culture and a world view.

We need to begin, once again to turn our hearts to God, to stop this awful assault on humanity, to inherently change the way we all view life, and to turn our culture around before we value just things, with no regard to humanity.

John of Kronstadt

Once again, St. John Kronstadt tells us what we need to do, and to do it “henceforth.” The fight for the unborn is just symptomatic of what we have devolved into.  My mom, who is 83, taught me how to love as a mother loves. I have no doubt that my mother would die for me…she dove into a brawl when I was attacked at just 13 years old! All 4’10” of her!  She is brutally defensive and protective of her children, even now.  But she also believes that women have the right to “control their own bodies” and this is where she and I differ.  And it is endemic of how the vast majority of people in our country must believe, or Roe v Wade would be an historical event, not something we live with.

So as a devout Christian and pro life Byzantine Catholic, I choose to light a candle of faith and pray that flame will be spread to others, and then others will spread their flame. I think it is time we just said “no” to the many promptings of evil in our culture and stood for the faith Christ has passed down to us.  Pray…be a prayer warrior for those who cannot care for themselves and are the most vulnerable among us.  This is a gift, this faith we share.  And it is our privilege and our duty to share it with others.  Today, as millions march on Washington DC to share this love of life, let us all join with them, at least in prayer.  Let us share our light of faith and perhaps we can change history.

St Gregory Palamas

A winter’s quiet reflection…

Jersualem in snowThis is a photo of Jerusalem covered in this winter’s snow.  For me, it is a scene that renders me quiet and contemplative.  Once again, entering into the “Silence” that is so necessary for our minds and hearts and souls to connect with Our Lord.  When we become more “silent” and “hold things close to the vest” as my grandmother would say, noises seem to come at us from all directions.  “Stop the world, I want to get off” is the title of a play from the early 60’s that told the story of a man who opted to partake of relationship outside of his marital vows, seeking the fulfillment he could not somehow grasp.  The gist of the story is that he realized, as an old man, that the fulfillment he sought walked right next to him, his entire sordid journey, and that it was in the love from his wife.  Sometimes things we seek “outside” are with us, all along.

I have often spoken to others about stuffing themselves with the things of this world, trying to fill the place in their hearts, minds, and souls that only God can fill.  I see so many people reaching for physical perfection, often resulting to surgery to obtain it, and they are still left contemplating their reflection in the mirror. “Who’s the fairest of them all?” was the question the Queen asked in a famous story we often read to our children.  We are sharing with them, at a young age, that the physical is far more important than the people we are. And we will quite often seek the physical, rather than spiritual cure, for our ills. We buy bigger houses, newer cars, ridiculously expensive purses and shoes, and we still are not satisfied.  Some friends are always changing to a different color of hair, rather than dealing with the changes aging brings along with it.  Botox and eyebrow-lifts, collagen treatments and smile enhancements.  It seems that everywhere you turn, advertisers are trying to get you to buy something else that will “improve” you.  And that sets up a mindset that is often in direct opposition to a life of contemplative prayer and reflection.

As Abbot Tryphon wrote today, “Heaven and Hell are a condition of relationship with God that is either theosis or perdition. The lake of fire and heaven occur within the same realm, both being not about places, but about relationship. For one who hates God such a place as in the presence of God, will be eternal suffering. The Orthodox Church teaches that Heaven and Hell are in the same realm, and that Hell is not separation from God symbolically or physically, Hell is a place chosen.”

I was trying to explain to a loved one the decision-making process my husband and I are going through and he just could not grasp the why of it. He thought in a completely different way than I do.  His perspective is very worldly, in that he has no formal religious affiliation and has often stated things like, “Religion is for weak people.” In this conversation, I resorted to a “silence” and let him rant away, because I realized that no amount of explaining on my part would enable him to see things from my perspective. It was healthier for our relationship to just remain silent.  I do not seek after the “almighty dollar” in my life; neither does my husband.  And to someone who lives for financial achievement as their sole source of recognition and confidence, it is inconceivable that someone would opt to choose family over location, job, or income levels.  And comfort is one of the top items on the list for accomplishments. So for our relationship to remain intact, I chose to keep my silence.  And it was the perfect choice, because at the end of the conversation, we were able to express our love for one another and choose to speak at another time, with depth and thought, as well as the love we bear one another.

St Ambrose

When we are faced with choices and there are decisions before us, later in life, they quite often involve more than just “self.” At these critical times, I believe that silent reflection and careful conversation goes much further in reaching a right decision, than constantly talking about it to everyone you see. And let’s be honest, we cannot please everyone and life is not about pleasing “anyone” in any way. Life is about “theosis” or the goal of being God-like to be with God in Heaven; seeking eternal perfection in the Presence of God.  When Christ admonished us to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12) and that we are to “do for one another as I have done for you,” (John 13:15) “for whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me” (Matthew 25:40) He was admonishing us to care for each other as God cares for us; that all-encompassing, Agape expression of pure love.  And we should be admonished enough to know that our devotion, outside of our devotion to God, should be for those He has entrusted to us.  For me and my family, that encompasses our children, our parents, siblings, grandchildren, and the like.  Caring for those God has entrusted to us is a far more important an edict that chasing the “almighty dollar” and also chasing a lost youth.  I enjoy, more than anything in this life, hearing my little grandson run around looking for me, calling, “Ga-Ga, Ga-Ga.” It makes my heart sing.  I would prefer chasing a grandchild around any day, than chasing monetary or physical “perfection.”

A perspective that is based in the love of God, before the love of self, is something that is becoming more and more foreign in our culture. I was astounded to read so many articles in today’s news about people choosing self over others. It is endemic to a culture that is becoming less and less recognizable as one that is based on faith, the faith our Founding Fathers intended we should have.  When we look around the world, living a life based on belief in God is becoming more and more scarce, and the ability to declare it, becoming often, more deadly.  Our country is drifting more and more towards a socialistic state and socialism has no room for God. Our culture is money- and youth-driven, with less and less emphasis on intact families and the love for one another.   And to reach others around you, who come at life, charging their way through the “ranks” with a ungodly perspective, is becoming less and less possible. When we “come at life” from a Godly perspective, we need to “stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:14-16)  Because, as Abbot Tryphon stated today, “Hell is a place chosen.”  As we silence the world about us and enter into a deeper communion with God, each decision and each choice before us, will be a choice and decision steeped in the love of God.  It may not reflect the standards of the world in which we live, but it will reflect the eternal standards of God.

My prayer is that we can all become reflective as this cold weather takes its last bow during our winter season: that we will all try and learn in the silence of the heart and the silence of your home, even the silence of your car on the daily commute, to become intuned to the Word of God, and to listen to what He has planned for you, rather than the plans of men.

“I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD. They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope.” (Jer 29:11)

Lighting Candles