“Let me sit with you awhile…”

My post about self-defense is the single, most read post, I have ever written. Well over 1,000 people have read it. That feels so weird to me. I am not sure if I even know 1,000 people. But I am prayerfully optimistic the post may bring people back and they can read other posts, and that may lead them to taking on a loved one’s total care, and it may also lead them to think about their faith a little more, as well. Which are some of the many reasons I post on this blog, from time to time.

So, winter is really here, up in the Last Frontier. All our gifts are wrapped and/or mailed out. We spent a wonderful evening with some friends last night and on our way home, we noticed the temp in the car said 2 degrees. So I was not surprised to see -10 this morning. Yeah; a tad bit nippy! But – we are having a White Christmas and I love that!

We have been blessed with enough snow so that it is sticking around for awhile (not melting off) and increasingly low temperatures. People are snow machining and ice fishing, and skiing, and enjoying the winter wonderland that is Alaska. Having been raised in Southern California, I always longed to experience real weather patterns. I had always hated being hot and sweating. I recall, a few years back while still living in SoCal, laying on the bed completely drenched in sweat, the A/C was blasting, and a ceiling fan was whirring overhead and I thought to myself, “If I can ever get out of this, I will jump at the chance. Lord, help me get away from this awful heat.” I remember the feeling and I really did not like it. I was miserable. And a few months later, an opportunity came to relocate to Washington State, to the town of Maple Valley. It was a dream come true. And we both jumped on it. What an adventure that was. Our first winter outside of SoCal and we are living in a hotel during a huge winter snow storm. I remember trying to figure out how to do Christmas, birthdays and New Year’s Eve in a hotel with a pre-teen son, one home from college, and both a dog and a cat. LOL. We pulled it off. A couple of months of hotel life until we got moved into our house. I actually have fond memories of that Christmas.

The following Christmas, we had the most wonderful tree we cut down ourselves. It was gorgeous. Massive, too. LOL. But it was so beautiful. And then in January, before the decorations had even been put away, we were offered an opportunity to relocate once again, to Alaska. Things just presented themselves and we chose to shoot for the stars! We packed up our 3,000 square foot house (after much purging) into a 25-foot U-Haul and drove to Alaska. One of the most horrible road trips of my life. I hated it almost daily. LOL. Never want to be in Canada again, either! But we made it to Alaska and we were stunned at the beauty. As we made our way into the state, the topography really changed. And the closer we got to our meeting place with our daughter-in-law, it seemed like the faster I drove. LOL. But we pulled into the driveway of the little house our kids found for us (it was just 1,080 sq ft) and we felt like we were home.

And in May 2013, just barely unpacked, we had our first snow storm. LOL. We thought, “Oh no, what have we gotten ourselves into?” Because May in SoCal, or even WA, was all about flowers and spring and getting close to summer. And here we were, shoveling snow and driving in snow – in May! LOL. But it was just a random storm and when the snow melted, the green arrived. In abundance. Oh my word. It was a revelation of the beauty of God in this world. Truly. We saw things we never thought we would.

I was asked just this morning, “Do you like living in snow? Do you like winter?” And it took me back to these moments of discovery. Of learning about a completely different way of life and looking at life. I still get excited when I hear the crunching of snow underfoot. I stand in awe as the snow falls and flurries fly around us. The glistening of the snow when it gets down cold enough – when the snow re-freezes with ice on top of it. It is amazing and looks like someone threw glitter on it.

And I realized that I adore winter. I really do. It makes the fall holidays just so much more than they ever were. All the references to snow and glistening in the many carols of Christmas make so much more sense, now I live in a place with winter over half the year. I totally understand Spring Cleaning! My windows. Oh my word. When the sun starts to come back and stay for more of the daytime hours, it reflects on all the places you thought you had cleaned but where the dust bunnies own the real estate! LOL! So many things I chuckle at, that make so much more sense, now I live where there are real seasons.

The gorgeous pinks of Alpenglow really do render the landscape to this ephemeral look and I find such great peace in the quiet of a snowy day. We are blessed to live where we do, and I am thankful for it every day. I miss my family and friends in the lower 48, but I know God brought us here for a reason and we are all working out our salvation where we have been placed. And I am thankful for the beauty that only enhances my walk with the Lord, bringing home feelings of comfort and home and hearth and family. I feel so blessed and am so thankful that Christmas is upon us. And that these feelings of peace and good will I have, will endure throughout the year. I prayerfully hope for each of you, that you find the peace, the home of Christ, in your hearts this year and all your years.

Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year

 

“…if you live in the fear of man…”

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So so much in my head…swimming around. We have so much on our plates, but that is cool. It keeps us moving and motivated! Ha-Ha! We attended a class on house buying. Those of you who know us also know we’ve owned homes before. What’s cool is that if you have not owned in the past three years, you are considered a “first time home buyer.” Which is so very cool. And in Alaska, they have so many loan products for you, waiting to assist you in buying a home here. Our second night is tonight, so my brain will probably explode. Again. So much information!!

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And in addition, we have decisions coming up that are important, life-changing ones. We are preparing to care for my mom, who has Alzheimer’s. So we are looking into a larger residence, in preparation to have her live with us. We need to decide where the best place will be for us to live. We have so many factors to take into consideration. And when you have a huge decision to make, what do you do? Well, you start by taking a deep breath and praying about it. And I mean seriously praying, in light of Gospel principles…

“Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope…”

Lord, We come before You and place our deepest and heartfelt desires at Your feet. We have a decision to make and we want it to be in Your best interest, according to Your will and plans for our life. We pray for guidance for the best choices in life, through all the blessings You bestow, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

When I prepare to make a huge decision that will affect not only me, but my entire family, I completely place it in God’s hands. I am just not qualified to make these decisions, based on solely my own judgement. And isn’t it really what our faith is? We trust in the Lord to guide our steps. Every step we take is either a step towards God, or a step away from Him. And I want to walk in the path He has selected for me, for my best welfare. Quite often, in the face of a heavy decision, we are faced with a multitude of choices, among a multitude of opinions and advice. It is often hard to single out the Word of God for us.

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When you are placing yourself in God’s hands, these large decisions, even if there is a multitudinous cacophony around you, can be realized in the quiet peace of being in the presence of God. I liken it to being in a crowd and feeling alone. Most of us know what that is like. Even though we are in a crowded room, we often feel alone, even lonely. And sometimes, we are able to block out all the other sounds, but our own hearts; our own breaths. That is what it is like, coming into the presence of our Creator. But truly, we are always in the presence of God. And when we listen for the stillness amongst the chaos, we can find His peace, and His answer to our prayers. I have quite often heard that if it is from God, it will happen; it will flow; it will be easy, simple. Most decisions that are fraught with chaos are those we make, taking full responsibility for them, without input from God.

I was asked recently how I handle these decisions and the stress. I can tell you this past Christmas was one of our worst. We were lonely. We did not celebrate; not really. It was pretty in that it was a white Christmas and our parish had some wonderful ice sculptures and Nativity pieces, and our older children and grandchildren tended Mass with us (the kids were the highlight of the evening!!). But we were missing something. I realized that we were missing the Godly element in Christmas. And it makes it sort of hollow and empty. It’s not for us to receive gifts, it is for us to receive the Christ Child in our hearts and in our lives. And this missing element caused a lot of unknown-origin-stress, so much so that I had severe heart palpatations that lasted for 5 days. It was un-nerving in the sense that it wore me out and it was painful – my chest began to ache. I had been diagnosed with this a few years ago, and it is not life-threatening, but it is bothersome. But it was my stress, coming out in my body. Not good, my friends, not good. But why? Because I was doing things without God, without sincere, deep prayer. I also did not fast this year. Bad, bad, bad. Fasting precedes feasting – the one is hollow without the other. And so to answer my friend, I told her that I needed to pray and when I found peace, I knew God was in the answer, and not man; not me. Joyce Meyer, an evangelist and author, wrote an entire article entitled, “Following Peace to Make the Right Decisions (here is the link: http://www.joycemeyer,org) and in her article she says:

“Colossians 3:15 clearly tells us how. It says, And let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts [deciding and settling with finality all questions that arise in your minds]…. “If you follow God’s leadership, you will have peace, joy and righteousness.” If you follow God’s leadership, you will have peace, joy, righteousness, and you’ll bear good fruit. What you won’t be is confused and frustrated. God never leads us to busy ourselves so much that we’re stressed out all the time and have no joy. And He won’t try to confuse your mind—that’s the enemy’s job. To find where your peace lies, simply ask yourself: Is there a scripture that applies to my situation? What does the Word say I should do? For example, if there’s something you want to buy but you don’t have enough in your bank account to buy it, it’s probably best to wait because God doesn’t want us to be in debt (see Romans 13:8). Many times, God’s Word sounds a lot like common sense. I encourage you to let the peace in your heart decide with finality every question that arises in your mind.”

And I believe that; I truly do. She also talks about seeking guidance from friends: “The Bible does say there’s safety in a multitude of counselors (see Proverbs 11:14). But you could ask 10 different people about your situation and end up with 10 different answers. One thing you should ask yourself is, Am I seeking wise counsel? A lot of times, we end up asking people who don’t even know what they’re doing. Or they may have a selfish motive. Keep this in mind: True counseling leads you to God; it doesn’t try to run your life.”

orthodox-prayer

And so we will take in all this information we are being given about home buying. We will listen to those with wisdom and a Godly outlook. We will listen and pay attention to those who have done this and come out ahead. We will listen to the experts in the field, but also place a mantle of Godly wisdom and prayer over the whole thing. We cannot expect to be guardians of more if we are not wise guardians of what we have now. We cannot expect God’s blessing on our decisions if we do not seek His wisdom in choosing. We cannot expect an easy life, either. My grandma used to say that my husband and I were going straight to heaven because of all the things that seem to happen to us. And in a way, I loved that she said that. Each time you try to approach life in the arms of God, the evil one tries to interfere and take you down. Evil is lurking just outside our line of sight, waiting to help take us down. And so we need to be wise in the ways of God, and simple. The more complex and chaotic, the easier it is for evil to enter into the mix. God comes in the quiet and stillness of our hearts and true Peace is ours, and our decisions are blessed, when He enters into the picture. The name of the game is to persevere in faith towards God, not towards man and the many obstacles placed in our way by the wiles of this world.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

As Joyce Meyer says in her article:  “If you feel something strongly in your heart, you’ve prayed about it and it goes along with Scripture, then follow your heart. If you feel led to make a decision that others don’t like, you shouldn’t have to give an unreasonable amount of explanation for what you feel led to do. Maybe you don’t know why—you just sense that’s just what you’re supposed to do. God has a plan, and you are part of that plan, but you won’t live it if you live with the fear of man. What do you think God is saying to you? What are you sensing from God? Ultimately, you need to take responsibility for making the decision that brings peace to your heart. If you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. But being true to what God has put on your heart is the key to your happiness.”

elder-paisios-of-the-holy-mountain

“Bethlehem, make ready, for Eden has been opened for all…”

whole30onWell, we made it. All 30 days. Today is, in fact, day 31 and we have chosen to keep on going. When you have made poor dietary choices for so long, it sometimes takes your body longer to adapt to new energy sources and to adjust to eating clean food. It has been hard for us. There are detoxing things like headaches and grumpiness, as well as lethargy and plain old feeling tired. Most people experience that right off. For us, we have just started feeling those effects of clean eating. So we opted to keep this up until at least the 21st of November. Our oldest son has been out of town (in the Arctic Circle, in fact) on a long distance job site and returns about then. So we thought it would give us a good target date.

One of the things about changing so drastically is the fear of falling back into poor choices and being “food lazy.” To me, “food lazy” is hitting the drive through on your way home, or ordering pizza, or eating pre-mixed/frozen foods on those nights when you just don’t want to face the stove again. For me, my go-to then is bacon and eggs! Ha-Ha! And I am also afraid I will go back to the easy recipes I have been boring my family with for the past 32 years, that are not compliant. I truly want to put my “sugar dragon” in its cave, never to see it again. So I am avoiding all sweets for now. I am good with no bread or noodles or rice. Don’t really miss it. Sugar is in everything – try reading a label. It shocked me. So much of our “convenience” foods contain sugar as one of the first ingredients. And if push comes to shove, isn’t homemade always better than boxed?

One of the things that doing this has done for me is that it has focused me on being healthy. It also showed me that my success or failure is one bite, one day, at a time. I am the one who controls what goes into my mouth. I can choose good, healthy foods, or I can plop in an Oreo. Trust me, Oreos are truly like crack! So addictive. I know. It is one of my weaknesses. And I am working, daily, on better choices. An interesting thing about that is it makes you think about other times you make choices.

sparkling-trees-snow

As someone who literally lives near the North Pole, once it snows, we all get sort of “Christmas-y.” It’s not shocking for us, on snowy Halloweens, to have Christmas lights already up and on. Nor is it odd for kids to wear snowsuits under their costumes on Halloween. This year our pumpkins literally froze on our front porch. And promptly thawed and crumpled on a day we had sunshine and 40-degree temperatures (what a mess that day was) just before Halloween! And for us, we are becoming pickier at what we choose to watch and have in our home. And I am going to confess that television right now sort of stinks. The news is horrible, the political garbage is just demeaning and depressing, and the violence abhors me. We spent the morning the other day, standing and waiting for the cavalcade of a deceased police officer to drive by, on his way home to Fairbanks. We all spoke to one another and shared tears for the young father of four who was slain, doing his job. And so our choices as to what we bring in our home have also changed. We have opted for different news sources and for programming – here is the big confession – we are watching the Hallmark Channels’ “Countdown to Christmas” every night! Ha-Ha! They now have two channels – one is for the romantic, “happily ever after” sort of stories, whereas the other is for more dramatic story telling. To be honest, I can’t really tell the difference. Our TiVo is programmed so we don’t miss a single one! Why are we doing Christmas when Thanksgiving hasn’t even arrived, yet? Well, it’s truly that part I took from Whole30 about “one bite, one day, at a time” and transferring it to our entertainment.

advent

If you have never read the book, “Ben Hur,” I highly encourage you to do so. It will enrich you beyond what you can think. Truly. It is the single most read book outside of the Bible in the world. It is how many people were introduced to Christ. And in the book it describes where Mary and Joseph were…the stable, and the process of finding a place to stay. The time and era of when Christ was born. It was messy and crowded and in a town. It was hot and dusty. There were people on the roads and everyone was trying to get to where they needed to be for the census. And the census took a long time. There were only 1-2 people counting everyone in each town. And there were no computers to tally things. No printers or iPhones to record information. It was by hand and it was time consuming and frustrating for everyone. The stable was not off on some mystical hillside, all by itself. It was a common place for travelers to leave their animals, near the city gates. Don’t forget Joseph was returning to his birthplace. He was related to many people who lived there, and all the others making their way to Bethlehem. Advent. That is the time we prepare for the coming of Christ as the Babe…as the God Who chose to become Man to save us all, coming as the weakest of us, an infant. And it is the time to get our houses in order. We begin Advent soon. So why not start by moving towards our “Manger scene” and getting our houses in order?

mary-and-joseph-walking-camel

For us, that means getting ourselves on this Whole30 regime so that it becomes habit, so that it remains, among all the Holiday temptations. We have to make our way through a miasma of things getting in our way, just as Joseph had to guide Mary to his home in Bethlehem. It is nowhere near the same importance, don’t think I am equating it at all. But it descriptive of a journey. We are all on a journey. Ours began with food, but it is making its way felt in so many other areas. What a blessing, choosing to do Whole30 has become!

“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.”

This is what is sung in the Melkite Church from the Nativity Fast on November 15th, through Christmas Eve, December 24th. It reminds us that Mary is making her way to give birth…but also, “Bethlehem, make ready, for Eden has been opened for all; Ephrata be alert, for the Tree of Life has blossomed forth from the Virgin in the cave. Her womb has become a spiritual paradise wherein the divine Fruit was planted- and if we eat of it, we shall live and not die like Adam. Christ is coming forth to bring back to life the likeness that was lost in the beginning.” We are all Bethlehem…we are all preparing to welcome Christ into our homes and into our lives on Christmas Day. What a better way than to clean our homes and our bodies and prepare to receive Him!

All of the above first paragraphs can also be taken in context of our faith. We mostly make poor choices throughout our lives. We are given opportunities to “eat clean” over and over again by a loving and forgiving God. Each time we stumble, He lovingly assists us to get back up and keep going. The choices we make each day affect our eternity in more ways than one. Each bite I take, each time I choose to be a couch potato, affects how long I have with my loved ones. Each prayer I don’t say, each religious service I duck out of, affects my eternity. Each time God calls and I ignore that in favor of “food lazy” (i.e. not wanting to go to Church or opting not to pray) affects my relationship with Him. He knows our hearts and He often places choices in our paths in order to help us grow. I have grown a lot over the past 30 days, but I don’t think the program had that in mind! To me, that’s totally a win-win! I have learned about healthy food choices and making good choices is affecting my other choices. How awesome is that?!?

cave-manger-scene

On December 24th, we sing, “Christ is born to renew the likeness that had been lost of old.” Quite often Christ comes so that we can put off the old, and adorn the new. But He also wants us to reclaim what has been lost over time, over habit, over poor choices. I want to truly prepare for this Christmas by making good choices all around. For my health, my relationships, my business, my family, my God. And so we will Whole30 on until we begin to prepare, in earnest on the start of the Nativity Fast, for the coming of the Christ Child.

 

“A still, small voice…”

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

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

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

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

Christmas is a mess

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

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

Cheaters never propser

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

Confession

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

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

Small voice

 

“To everything there is a season…”

Christmas Ornaments

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

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

Christmas sales. jpg

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

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

window.tree.snow

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

Nativity icon

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

desert.bethlehem

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

Christmasdinner

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

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

Christ is Born

Red Cups and Controversy

I am all torn up inside. I made a comment on my Facebook wall recently where I said that words can be harsh, but our hearts are soft… and that we need to be kind. In this world of media, most especially social media, we need to realize the power of our words.  And on media like Facebook, photos as well. Photos can be harsh to see, and sometime evoke memories we work hard to bury.

There was legislation pending about cutting funding to Planned Parenthood, and an article was posted by the local TV station on Facebook. Let me start off by saying that I am 100% pro life, from a NATURAL beginning of life, to a NATURAL end of life. That statement says a lot. That I truly value all life. Insofar as being fertile and successfully bearing children, I know from which I speak. And speaking of photos on social media, when I stated that I did not think abortion was the solution for any life endangering problem, I was assaulted with photos of anacephalic children; of aborted fetuses from ectopic pregnancies; of women dying from ectopic pregnancies. I know what loosing a baby is like. I did not have to see aborted babies to understand their point of view. I had nightmares about some of my labors and the babies I have lost. Thanks for that. But regardless of the pain I felt at the words flung at me, and the horrible photos sent to me, I still stand as 100% pro life and prayed our legislature would do the right thing. I think it is important to stand for what we believe as Christians. Abortion is murder. Period. It is my political line-in-the-sand and a stance I do not waiver from. I believe it is the point from which other character traits can be discerned and I use it to discern things about other people, be they friends, “Facebook friends,” people on social media I do not even know, and politicians in particular.

NoLaw.Abortion.Lincoln.

As if my day/week were not complete, and my tears not enough, along comes another assault. It is known as the Starbucks “Red Cup” controversy and conversation. Ad naseum. The remarks and photos have been hateful, to say the least. The creativity of the memes has been impressive, I will give you that. However, this discussion is so much more than the color of a cup. I just wish people would see where we are headed. I still say most people miss the point. I do not think that our faith is at all decided upon by the color of a cup used by a retail coffee seller. Supporting that company has far more implications than coffee. I had a great discussion with a friend (and she put me on speaker because her daughter was learning these concepts in school) about economics and the power corporations have in our government. Starbucks wields enormous power in the marketplace. They are the largest coffeehouse company in the world. They are one of the largest buyers of coffee crops – around the world. (In 2000, they bought 136,000 metric tons of coffee). If they stop buying coffee, economies are affected. Many countries depend on exporting their coffee to buyers like Starbucks.

800px-A_time_for_a_cup_of_coffee

I love coffee – coffee to drink; I eat roasted coffee beans; love coffee in ice cream; love Kahlua and coffee. I am a coffee lover! And when I discuss it, I feel pretty confident in the conversation, insofar as beans, brewing, the buying and selling of coffee worldwide, and all the different ways to brew it. (French Press is still my favorite method, although good, old, “Cowboy Coffee” is pretty wonderful, too). I learned more than 30 years ago all about importing and exporting coffee beans, reputable buyers, growers, etc. And I can tell you, once Starbucks came into being on the world-wide market, things changed. They have made a huge footprint into the industry. And they allow their economic health and power to impact our government. When we lived in Seattle, Starbucks was a huge presence. In neighborhoods, people purposely avoided them, preferring local coffee brewers to “give the little guy a chance.” Sort of like buying at a vegetable stand versus the grocery store. 

The corporation of Starbucks threw their weight behind Prop 8, the Defense of Marriage proposition. The CEO of Starbucks has made it plain at shareholder meetings and in the press that he defends and supports diversity in all its forms.  Here is a quote from a March 2013 article,

“At the Starbucks annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday, CEO Howard Schultz sent a clear message to anyone who supports traditional marriage over gay marriage: we don’t want your business. After saying Starbucks wants to “embrace diversity of all kinds,” he told a shareholder who supports traditional marriage that he should sell his shares and invest in some other company.”

Mr. Schultz, and Starbucks, also fund Planned Parenthood through their employee matching program. It’s an interesting way for corporations to subvert their funds to their pet causes. Employees get a list and the corporation tells them that if you give part of your salary (pre-tax) to one of these causes, we will match (or even double) your contribution.  Starbucks gives their employees a choice, and one is Planned Parenthood.

The rumors about their lack of support to our Military, both active and veterans, has shown to be largely false, and I admit that. My personal experience was working with Blue Star and Red Star moms, in trying to get them to donate to active duty, deployed servicemen and send coffee in coffee care packages. They refused. That was more than 10 years ago. They wanted to do it in a corporate fashion, ensuring a larger market share and brand recognition. I get that. At the time, it was hurtful. But at least they now supply coffee packets to our servicemen overseas. They took the idea from small, local support groups and did it on their large, corporate scale. At least it was done. For that I am grateful.

DunkinDonuts cup.

This is the new Dunkin Donuts cup. It’s nice. It’s a cup. It was revealed this week, in response to the Starbucks Red Cup reveal. I am not particularly fond of Dunkin Donuts coffee, and their cup doesn’t make me want their coffee, or a donut, more. It is a cup. 

Starbucks red cup

That’s the infamous Starbucks Red Cup. It is a cup. I could care less. The cup is plain. Their other cups used all year long are exactly the same, just white. It is a cup.

Gingerbread-Latte%5b1%5d

This is a holiday cup from 2010, I think. It’s red. It has snowflakes on it. It is a cup. Yippee.

The reason I showed all these cups is because the internet is on fire, and even MSM is doing stories on this cup controversy. Do I think Starbucks is trying to “dis” Christians or do harm to Christmas and the Holiday Season? Of course not. A new hashtag on social media has now popped up, “#Itsjustacup” lets us all know there are bigger issues in the world right now, than the color of Starbucks’ cups. Some people are saying it is just another way corporate America is taking the Christian aspect away from Christmas and making it just another shopping holiday; some particular day in the year in the wintertime where families get together and eat a meal and exchange gifts. For many people around the world, there is no such thing as Christmas, and for many in our own country, Christmas is just what I described – a day to get together, eat, and exchange gifts. And that makes me sad. Christmas, the word itself, means, “Christ’s Mass” – the celebration of the Birth of Our Savior. It is kind of a big deal to practicing Christians. As a Byzantine Catholic, Christmas is big. Not as big as Lent and Easter, but it is big. We have a Fast before Christmas, just like the Fast before Lent. It is called the “Philip’s Fast” or the “Apostles Fast.” Since the Council of Saragossa in 380 AD, the Church has been practicing a special period leading up to Christmas. One of increased Church attendance, reading of Scriptures, and other devotionals. The current St. Philip’s Fast was formally decreed by the Council of Constantinople in 1166 and the council decreed it would start on November 15 and last until December 24. It is called the St. Philip’s Fast because it begins the day after his feast day. The Apostle’s Fast (same fast, other name) is more lenient than our Lenten Fast, but it is a period of preparation. Typically, practicing Catholics do not attend Christmas parties and celebrations until after Christmas. Makes all the local celebrations with employers and well-meaning friends a little dicey, but it can be done. We prepare for the birth of Christ through increased Church participation and through fasting, so for most of us who keep this fast, we won’t be going to Starbucks anyway!

My point in all of this is that we are trying, valiantly, to keep our traditions alive and well. As Christians, we believe, for example, that marriage is only to be between one man and one woman. We believe in the sanctity of all human life. We do not support abortion or other ways to end the life of a pre-born human being. Fertilized human eggs are just that – human – from the moment of conception. They are 100% human and are a separate entity from the mother. They are not parasites; they are babies. Regardless of how they came to be created, they deserve life. Abortion should never be a form of birth control, or gender selection, or other methods of producing designer babies. Corporations who support Planned Parenthood should not be supported, if we can at all help it. It is difficult, and at times impossible, but it is a worthy challenge. I try to do everything I can to not give my dollars to entities who support abortion. Period. Up to and including the coffee I drink. And I was heartily slammed for it, by fellow Christians. I am finding more and more that if I do not fall in line, exactly, with other believers, I can be thoroughly trashed in social media. I had to lock down my Facebook page, as well as my Messenger page. It was painful and so unexpected. One particular series of comments was from a person I did not know, who was in politics, but a “friend of a friend,” who decided I needed an education. He was angry, mean, and hurtful and told me I was the one with the problem. I had asked for his prayers and understanding, and proceeded to be trashed even harder. I just do not understand some people. As I said above, this is about far more than the color of a cup. This is about our culture, our faith, and this country.

Rockwell-freedom from want

In our insane world of hyper-political correctness, we need to be concerned that while we are being so “correct,” we are allowing our own faith to be compromised. And yes, this is a Christian country. We were founded on Judeo-Christian values, by practicing Christians. By holding fast to our beliefs, I am not shoving my faith down someone’s throat. As a Christian, I am called to share my faith. “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light” (Luke 11:33). Separation of Church and State means that the State cannot dictate which faith I practice. They cannot declare a “national religion.” The protection from a state religion does not, however, mean that Christian principles cannot be inherent in our laws. We have a Christian-based Constitution. Read it. Look at it. Absorb it. The principles inherent in it are Christian-based. We do not live “an eye for an eye” existence, as do the Muslims. We believe in a fair trial by our peers. These are all Christian philosophical stances; they come from nowhere else.

The coffee cup controversy is just emblematic of the inherent problems we are facing in our politically correct times. It is coming to a point where people are going to want to silence all of us who disagree, and we need to be prepared for that. I often have shared that to be a Christian, we need to be prepared to be that “stick in the river” that stands tall and does not bend with the flow. Just because Hollywood actors say things does not make them so. Why is their opinion worth any more than mine? Because they act in movies? Because they can sing? We need to say “no” when it is appropriate to do so. But I am finding that it is becoming more and more difficult to do that. People really do not want to know what you think, especially if it is different from what they are espousing. Be careful of this trend. It is socialist in nature, communistic in many aspects, and can be found in countries with little to no personal freedoms. It is certainly not Christian.

St. Anthony the Great

 

 

“Today – it’s my favorite day!”

Christmas living room

I am taking down Christmas today and it is making me sad. I am sort of avoiding it, actually.  I love Christmas.  I love the whole season.  I re-read the cards we received, made notes of new addresses, saved photos, and then tossed them.  As I did, I prayed for everyone who remembered us with cards, everyone we sent cards to, and everyone we know that we no longer stay in touch with.  I try to do that with our decorations, too.  I pray as I put them away for another year.  To me, Santa is so much more than a guy in a red suit. He embodies the Saint himself, St. Nicholas of Myra.  And the lessons from St. Nicholas are supposed to stay with us all the year long, as well as the lessons we gain from the Birth of Our Savior. We are blessed to attend St. Nicolas of Myra parish, so the icon of St. Nicholas, and one of his relics, is always with us.  He was a Bishop and he loved the poor and he loved his community.  Those are attributes we should keep in mind more than just in December each year.

I love being Byzantine because our Vespers, our Orthros, and our prayers keep our calendar busy, as well as all the wonderful feasts throughout our liturgical year.  There is a term called, “Ordinary Time” for the days between the preparation of the Feasts on our calendar.  People often get this confused and think it means that our time is “ordinary,” as in mundane or rote.  Not at all! The term relates to the order of the days, and the way in which we count them.  As in numerals or ordinals; it has nothing to do with the character of the days, but rather the ways in which we keep track of the days between feasts.  So as you take down Christmas and feel like your home is just “ordinary” until the next feast (for most of America that would be Easter) take a moment to think about that.  We are counting, or keeping track of our days, until we fast and feast!

BVM Laundry

I read a great blog on FB today about the art of housekeeping.  In the article, the author talks about the mundane – laundry, chasing dust bunnies, folding clothes, picking up toys, cooking meal after meal.  Sometimes in the eyes of the world, those of us who stay home and keep a house have nothing to do.  We are the dross, the extra, of our culture because we are not gainfully supporting it by working outside of our homes.  We have a boring routine and our lives are the same, day in and day out.  I have SO much to say on that, but I want to share just a couple of thoughts.

My life truly began when I was married 29 years ago.  We conceived our first child soon after we were married and he was born just 10 months after our wedding. I really do not know what it is like to be married without children around me, without being a part of a family.  But I feel like I truly found myself as a wife and mother.  I feel like the life I led up until marriage and motherhood was all preparation.  My father used to question how I could be satisfied being at home. He thought I was wasting my intellect and my time.  And I have always felt sad for him because he thought that way.  Each moment, each experience I had in life, every tid-bit I learned up until I was a wife and mother, was just preparation for my true vocation in life. I have the intellectual chops to have become pretty much anything I had wanted to.  I changed my major so many times in college, and was there so long, they used to ask my if my student ID number was legit, because it was so ancient (true story).  I never managed to be able to complete an area of study, because my intellect would be drawn to something else and off I would go, changing my major again.  And I learned so many odd, fun facts, that I know a lot about quite a few subject areas, but have mastered none of them.  (The old adage, “Jack of all trades, master of none” totally applies to me!!).  And I learned that all of that knowledge was gained to impart to my children.  To share with them as they were growing and learning. I would not trade a moment in a career with the moment I saw a concept click in the mind of one of my sons.  I know why teachers teach and why they love sharing knowledge. It is just so magnified when you teach your own child.  And my father thought my time would be better spent becoming something (he wanted me to be a doctor) and did not understand how I could stay at home every day.  I loved, and quite often miss, the chaos of having your children at home all day and teaching them everything they need to become adults.  My older sons attended high school, but my youngest is staying home for high school and I am so glad.  Time is racing by and there will come a day not too distant, when I will be alone all day long.  (Hopefully I will have grand children that need some babysitting!!).  But my days as a homeschooling wife and mother are the most precious thing I have, and can share about my life.  It is my vocation, to be married and a mother, and I would not trade away a moment of that “mundane” for a boardroom, the hectic racing out of the house each day to be on time to yet another meeting, the long evenings when homework came after a crazy commute home and dinner being prepared on the fly, while throwing in a load of laundry.  I am a wife and mother who stays at home, and I am so very blessed.

The other things I must face, in reflecting on the article I read, is that mound of laundry, the piles of papers I need to organize in my “office,” (I used quotes because my office is a mess and really can’t be called an ‘office;’ it’s more like a paper-storage area!) the endless dust bunnies moving around the corners of my hallway, the stupid stain I can’t seem to get out of the corner of my shower, the windows that need washing, the dishes that need to be put away, the dinner that needs to be planned.  All of these things are a part of my every day.  (And in addition to those mundane things, I also assist my youngest son in gaining knowledge through homeschooling). Each day I need to pull up my socks and charge into it.  And for some reason, I just could not find the motivation.  Until I read that article.  The author reminded me that the home is truly where our hearts are. She reflected that she had such fond memories of the sameness of her grandmother’s home. She would feel sad if furniture had been moved, or wallpaper had changed.  And I thought about that.  I loved the smell of my great-grandma’s house and the ticking of the clock on her mantle, the cherry tomatoes growing in the backyard, and the same tablecloth always on her dining room table.  I loved the smell of my grandmother’s house (the daughter of my great-grandma) and knew where every, single thing was in that house. She never kept us out of any cupboard or drawer as kids.  She even had a drawer of chewing gum and mints, but we had to ask to get into that one. I fondly remember the clothes wringer sitting next to her modern washer. I loved watching her wring the clothes out. Then she would pile them in her laundry basket and we would walk past her famous “Johnny Weismuller” swimming pool (he played Tarzan on the old TV show and afterward designed swimming pools) and out to the far back yard, where we would use wooden clothes pins to hang the laundry. The sound of her laundry cart is one of the sounds I will always miss.  Her mother’s mantle clock I loved? I own it and love the sound, still. I loved the sameness of their homes.  I loved that I could snuggle down in that same “eiderdown” comforter when I spent the night there.  I loved helping her cook and clean, and I use many of her pots and pans still, as well as a couple of her dishtowels!  And I thought of all of that today, and I realized I need to put that same love into trudging out through the ice on my front porch to move a load of laundry into the dryer. I need to apply that same love to chasing stains and dust bunnies, and finally organizing my “office,” because those are ways I express myself and my love for my family.

I have started to keep some “sameness” in our home for our grandchildren. My oldest grandson practically runs to the drawer I save for him in the kitchen, with all my plastic baking tools in it. He also has this box of wood samples my husband played with as a child, that were given to him by his grandfather.  He also knows what cupboards he can’t go into, but he still tries.  My sons are floored I allow him to play in the pots and pans and even encourage drum-playing with them.  Ha-Ha!  I’m the grandma now, not the mom, and I can enjoy the noise for the joy that shows on my grandson’s face.  But more importantly, I am sharing my love for him through banging on pots and pans, that drawer always having my cooking things in it, the same table, the same blankets thrown over the back of the couch…this is how I share my love with the next generation.  We rock and sing together; we cuddle and I am praying these times will become his memories of his time with his grandma.  My little grand daughter is only a couple of months old, but I talk to her about the fun times we will have baking cookies and making cakes…girlie-stuff! My husband is planning on sharing his love of woodworking with his grandchildren. These are all ways we share our love with our family.

cow walking down road

We used to live on a dairy when our sons were pre-school aged.  The dairy was not convenient to get to, and if you did not know how to get to it, you would not have known it was even there.  It was behind a horse ranch, down a long, dirt road.  But we used to get all sorts of visitors.  Friends would come to just sit and gaze out the kitchen window.  Once, a friend and I were drinking some tea and happened to notice a cow walking down our dirt road.  We did a double-take.  Someone had left a gate open and the cows were out! A quick call to the milking barn and there were milkers chasing them down our road.  What an afternoon!  But our home was never empty.  I loved those days.  I learned to cook from scratch and always had something cooking. I used to can fruits, vegetables, make my own jams, and at least two loaves of bread a day.  The smells were welcoming.  For Christmas, I got a “Sentsy” candle holder from my daughter-in-law.  Yesterday I burned some vanilla wax in it.  My husband told me he hated that scent because he kept looking for sugar cookies! Ha-Ha!  The scents of our home, as well as the things we have around us, say “Welcome” to our friends.  And I am re-learning that.  Today’s article has helped me re-focus after 29 years of doing this.  I had become complacent and jaded.  But now, along with our new liturgical year, I am setting goals for myself. I am going to attack my vocation as a wife and mother, and renew my dedication to it.  Sometimes we all need a kick-start in life and this article really has been good for me. I hope that if you read this, it will help you get yourselves motivated for this wonderful opportunity we have – today!  There’s a great cartoon of Winnie-the-Poo and Rabbit.  Rabbit asks, “What day is it?”  And Poo answers, “It’s today, my favorite day.”  And so today, my favorite day, I am tackling taking down Christmas and I put a citrus/mango scent in my “Sentsy” candle to rev things up a bit, even if it is still all ice and snow outside!

oranment storage

Theophany is the Holy Day we just celebrated.  In that special holiday, we commemorate Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan.  We also remember Saint John the Forerunner, who Baptized Our Lord.  And baptism ties in so perfectly to my post today on keeping a home.  Chasing the stains, the dust bunnies, and the laundry all have to do with keeping ourselves and our homes clean – as in washing.  I love the photo I used above of a piece of art depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, doing laundry while the Christ Child played at Her feet.  We need to constantly be on guard to ward off the evil one, and one way we can do that is to keep order about us.  We can “clean house” in our homes, and in our hearts, every day.  I can opt to just close the door on the chaos that is my office, or I can face whatever demon is keeping me from diving in there and cleaning it up, organizing it, and keeping it that way.  What do we not want to face when we allow the dust bunnies to win?  When we pile the laundry and dishes?  When  we allow our homes to reflect the chaos that lives in our hearts and minds?  How do we find the peace, the clarity of mind, and the simple joys of keeping a home?  I think we find it in the seasons of faith we live in.  Today I have to face that Christmas and all the things that go along with it are well and truly over.  We closed out the season, liturgically, by the feast of Theophany.  This feast is often discussed as the feast when God chose to acknowledge His Son by speaking and the Holy Spirit coming as a dove to rest above Christ.  It is when God declared, “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” (Matthew 17:5).

Theophany

So we have our faith showing us God in His Son, being cleansed of, not His sins, but our sins, in the Jordan River.  He submitted to being baptized to show each of us that we need to be cleansed, over and over again.  Yes, we are baptized and our lives become Christ’s.  But over and over again, we allow the world to get us grimy and stained, we are tripped up and we fall. We need to seek forgiveness and cleansing each time we fall.  And as a housewife, I can apply that to my home. I keep a constant vigil over my family.  I keep constant prayer for them as they go about their lives each day. I show glory to God in applying myself to my vocation – I school my son and I keep a clean, tidy house (well, I try!!).  God is smiling as we apply ourselves and learn His many lessons for us.  As I see the mess in my office, I reminded of my soul and the need I have to clean it out, air it out, and straighten it up.  And it makes me look forward through these ordinal days, until we welcome the Great Fast. 

Today? It’s my favorite day!

Home office

Paradise Tree to Christmas Tree…

Christmas desk tree pillowI was recently told by a friend that she had “passed through” her “red stage” a few years back and has moved on to a different palette.  She is preparing to decorate a new house and I was commenting on how much I loved the deep red paint on an accent wall in her kitchen.  She said she had a whole can of it the last owners left in the garage and she was putting my name on it.  We laughed as I explained that I have loved the same colors for most of my married life.

It got me to thinking about what things I prefer around me, what I like to see, and what gives me peace or keeps me calm.  And I thought about color.  I know there is a whole psychology to color analysis, but I am so not going there!  When we were married, our colors for our home were gray and yellow.  I have no idea where I got that combo from, but I received towels and bedding in those tones.  My husband hated them!  The funny thing is that our wedding was in ivory, black, and red.  We were married in December and I chose complementary winter colors.  But for my home, I chose yellow and gray.  Well, it didn’t last long.  As soon as the towels wore out, I switched – to barn red, old gold, navy blue, and hunter green.  All my homes and rooms have been done in those color combos of some sort.

We moved to a dairy house when our middle son was almost a year old and our oldest was in kindergarten.  The house’s floor plan remains my husband’s favorite and he told me if we ever build our own home, that is the plan, with very few changes.  I liked it, too, and have fond memories of that house.  A friend helped us paint our kitchen this lovely yellow (not the same tone as my previous towels – more along a butter color; golden tones) to match cabinets from the 40s and we trimmed it all in wonderful wallpaper with greens and reds and blues in it.  Unfortunately, the house was carpeted with blue carpeting that we could not afford to replace, so we had throw rugs down that were red and green and blue.  And I decorated around it. I was told once that if there is a feature you can’t get fixed, decorate around it.  Very few people remember we had blue carpeting!!

From that point forward, I have always decorated with those same colors.  We visited my in-laws for a week one time (well, we visited far more than one time, but this one particular visit I remember well) and when we got home I felt my eyeballs relax; the muscles in my shoulders went down and I realized I’d been clenching them (maybe it was my husband’s driving or the fact that we had a 19-hour drive home with two little boys in the car!!).  It is weird because I noticed how pale things seemed at their house.  There was lots of snow all around, so that made things appear pale.  But their home was decorated in pale blues and pale greens.  I realized that I decorate using a very strong palette.  I had never thought about it before, but I realized that I used those colors over and over again for the past 30 years.  Why?

In this house, we have pale tan walls or white walls.  All the floors are hardwood in a dark oak tone, except for the kitchen, which is a dark brown linoleum pattern that makes you think it’s stone (I’m glad it’s not or it would be cold in the winter time!).  We have a brown couch and I have my red and green blanket over the back of it.  I have my color palette around me and I am comfortable.  And then we brought out all the Christmas decorations.  That was enlightening.  It’s all reds, greens, and deep blues and golds.  Hmmmm….is it related to my choice of palette?

I know that Christmas is my favorite time of the year.  I love, as I have posted, pretty much everything about Christmas.  The sights, sounds, and smells are incredible to me. I realized in October that I longed for the last leaves to fall, so snow would come and we could be that much closer to Christmas.

Holly BerriesI learned about the Paradise Tree long ago, and the story is that in the 1300s the Church used to tell the story of Adam and Eve, usually on December 24th; “Adam and Eve Day.”  The majority of people were illiterate in those days, so they would use props to tell the story and one prop was an evergreen tree.  There were no apple trees blooming in December, so they would bring in their stored apples and hang them on the trees, or they created red orbs to represent apples.  In the 14th century, individual Germans began to bring evergreen trees indoors, decorating them with apples, in reminiscence of this Paradise Tree.  As the years went by, they added round wafers, depicting the communion wafers, or Eucharist, received during Divine Liturgy or Mass.  The explanation was that Adam and Eve’s sin of eating the apple was replaced with the salvific nature of God in the Eucharist.  So there were red and white orbs on the green trees.  You can see where this is going. Other traditions using these colors were from much earlier.  The Romans used to bring evergreen boughs into their homes over the long winters, and would gift one another with them to help ameliorate those long winters.  Another tradition was to bring mistletoe and holly into homes over the long winters, reminding people that spring would come and things would bloom (as the holly berries reminded them of fruit and flowers).  Gradually these traditions came to be associated with Christmas.  White is the color of snow and of purity.  Churches are usually decorated in white during Advent and Christmas.  Gold is the color of royalty and in most eastern and Orthodox Churches, the altars are decorated in gold.  Blue is the color of the Blessed Mother, or Theotokos.  In ancient times, dyeing cloth blue was more costly than gold and was reserved for royalty to wear.  To show the importance of Mary, She is always depicted wearing blue cloth.

Mary and Christ ChildThere are lots of other theories about green being the color of hope, red being the color of sacrifice (and blood), and blue representing the sky and heaven, while white represents snow and purity and God.  Whichever theory or historical evidence you prefer, it seems that the colors of Christmas are with us to stay, and have been for more than 700 years.  It is so ingrained that one elementary school in Texas actually told their students that no red and green can be used during Christmas to decorate their classrooms, and they cannot wear red and green in combination, so as to not offend those who do not celebrate Christmas.  I guess that means no “ugly sweaters,” no Christmas play and no Christmas music for those kids. Bah! Hum-bug!

Christmas CrackersAnd so I find myself wondering why these tones resonate so much with me and I realize that it is all wrapped up in what brings me joy, and peace, and hope. I feel that so much during the Christmas season.  We wish people a Merry Christmas and we also wish them a Happy New Year!  Why do we do that?  Because we are being renewed.  We are given this time of the Holy Birth to experience our own rebirth.  We have the rest of our lives ahead of us…the Birth of Christ opens us to the numberless possibilities of our future.  We look forward to that “New Year” when we can apply the hope, and joy, we feel this season to the rest of our lives.  Being reborn each year means we get a fresh start.  We can choose to deny the season’s gifts of love, and joy, and hope, and the possibilities that lay before us – we can bah-hum-bug our way through life.  Or we can embrace these gifts and we can choose to be reborn, renewed, and we can go forth with the Spirit of Christmas in our hearts (and maybe in our home decor) all the year long.

Christmas living room

“..is the great I AM?”

baby-feet8I typed a link to a you-tube video above because it is my favorite Christmas song, ever.  And I think Kathy Mattea, the singer, did it the best I’ve heard.  Not sure why her version touches me the most, but it does!  The song?  “Mary, did you know?”  The song speaks to the wonder most of us feel, gazing upon our babies.  Only in this case it is particularly poignant, because Mary is the Theotokos, or Mother of God.  Her Son is God, the Christ Child come to save us all.  I’ve spoken before about our period of preparation prior to Christmas, and that it is almost as important as Christmas, itself.

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.” Luke 1; 26-38 (RSV)  It is agreed in Christian theology that this occurred.  So why would a song writer pen the lyrics to this song, asking if Mary knew all these things about her Son?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would some day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you’ve kissed your little baby, you’ve kissed the face of God?

Oh Mary did you know?

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I AM?

All the questions the writer poses to Mary are all the same questions we should pose to ourselves, as we prepare to receive Him at Christmas; this little baby prepared to save each and every one of us.  Did you know?  Perhaps Mary did not know the details that would surround Her Son during His lifetime.  But she knew, oh yes, she knew He was the Son of God and also “the great I AM!”  In Old Testament terms, the “great I AM” is how people would refer to God, because no one felt that saying His name was appropriate. Yahweh is another term used for “God.”  When we really think about the fact that God manifested Himself as an infant, coming to walk among us as a man, devoid of the pomp and circumstance common to rulers in that age, it is pretty incredible – meaning almost “not-credible.”  Why would God do that? I mean, some of the most amazing things of the Old Testament are when God would do something out-of-the-ordinary, signifying His Presence.  I love the imagery of Moses’ face as played by Charleton Heston, after seeing God in the Burning Bush.  He was astonished; his face was sunburned and his hair bleached completely white.  Or Elijah ascending on his fiery chariot up into the sky?  Moses parted the Red Sea!  But this Baby comes in a cave (in most versions of the story) among the cattle, on a cold night under a cloudless sky.  The Christmas Star appears (only in the Gospel of Matthew) and the Shepherds come to adore the Child (Luke 2:8-18).  It is all so quiet, so serene, so peaceful.  No crowds, no parades, no splendor; a simple birth (“…and she brought forth her firstborn Son…” Luke 2:7).

So did Mary realize the immensity of this event? I think both she and Joseph were fully aware of their participation in the salvation history of God.  We don’t really hear much about Joseph in the gospels from here on out.  Christ was a carpenter, as was Joseph, during His life before His preaching began.  So we know that Joseph influenced Him as a child and young man.  The early years of Christ are shrouded in mystery. Perhaps it was because they were mundane and normal until His ministry began.  So Mary, at His birth, was perhaps not aware of the fullness of His yet-to-be-lived life of ministry and His Ultimate Sacrifice on the Cross.  But she was very aware of HIM!

We celebrated the birthday of our youngest son last night. I cannot fully express what an incredible evening it was.  So much was against it happening, at all, and yet it was a great night.  The weather wreaked havoc on our plans with icy rain, slick roads, closed schools, highways, and transportation.  But it happened, and it happened through the efforts of my husband daring to get our Costco pizzas and our older son and his wife’s determination that his brother’s birthday would be a great one.  They blazed a trail through the ice and snow, bringing friends over and an amazing cake!  They played a pretty amazing prank on me, too!  I loved that!  (Shhhh….they think I freaked out but it was so fun!!).  My son and his friends had a ball together, and I was able to stand back, and watch my children interact and just smile; my heart aglow with it all.

Baby handThe pregnancy I had with my older son was so frightening.  I was in and out of the hospital so many times, that when I showed up at the labor room, everyone knew me by name.  I was there so often, I had my favorite labor-monitoring chair!  He was born 5-weeks prematurely and we rejoiced that he was here, and healthy, and alive.  I was so afraid of NICU’s and the whole preemie process, that when he was born, God lightened our fears!  He was 8 lbs and 20.5 inches long.  All the NICU equipment they had on standby was too small for him.  The oxygen mask, the isolette, all the little t-shirts, booties, blankets and hats – too small.  He was the biggest baby born that day, and the only boy in the newborn section!  Our youngest son had a pretty rough time of it, too.  He was just 18-inches long and only 6 pounds.  I wasn’t used to such little babies! (My middle son’s pregnancy and birth were so normal, I felt neglected by my OB/GYN! He was 8 lbs. 9 oz!).  And as I sat on the couch last night, watching my oldest and youngest sons interacting over a new air-soft gun (given by the eldest to the youngest) my heart just swelled with love.  I was holding my grand daughter, seated next to my daughter-in-law, and chatting with both her and my husband, while our almost-2-year-old grandson ran around the room.  It was pretty much perfect. (Just missing our middle son and his family – whose birthday it also was!!).

handsDid I imagine or envision this event at the births of my sons? When I was holding my oldest boy in my arms, did I imagine him as a husband and father?  Did I see him as a big brother? A soldier?  When my middle son was born with those gorgeous strawberry blonde curls, did I imagine him holding his strawberry blonde baby girl? His marriage? His college graduation?  When my youngest son was placed in my arms, did I see him as that adorable toddler he grew to be? As a teenager? A pilot?  No to any of that.  All I saw, when I held my children, were these precious babies, themselves – little baby boys, alive, wiggly, and beautiful in my arms.

Mary participated in the salvific history of mankind in a special and unique way.  But she also participated in the act of creation, with the Creator Himself, God.  Each of us who bears a child participates in that same creative process with Our Creator.  What a gift, this gift of life is.  And each year, at Christmas, I feel myself participate, once again, with the Theotokos, as she holds her Baby Boy.

Mary, did you know?

King Size Bed

“…being God from all eternity.”

Snow cabinThis is the season I love the best.  I love winter and I love Christmas.  We were married on December 29th because I wanted to have our wedding and subsequent anniversaries around this time of year. I had always dreamed of a winter wedding, complete with white fur muffs, a horse-drawn sleigh, and wearing red in my wedding outfit.  I loved having a candle-lit, winter wedding.  I love the cold weather, the snow, the lights on people’s houses, the tree with all the ornaments that tell of our lifetimes in them, the smell of Christmas baking, the Christmas music my husband plays continually from Thanksgiving Day onward, seeing friends we haven’t seen in a long time, enjoying the joy of gifts given and received.  I especially love Christmas Eve Vespers and staying out late and seeing all the lights, drinking hot cocoa and splurging on Christmas cookies.  I love making Gingerbread Houses, a fairly new tradition my daughter-in-law brought to our family.  I love baking during Christmas.  I was never much of a holiday cook but since I married into this family, I learned so many delicious holiday treats.  I love preparing the stockings even for our grown and married children.  This year we get to add three stockings of our grandchildren.  I love the prep and the running around and the chaos of it all.  There are days I just sigh in contentment.  All of it, Christmas; I just love it.

Snow fence lightsIt was brought to my attention that I started sharing Christmas-themed posts and photos before Halloween.  I am not sure about the October date, but I do know I started before Thanksgiving.  It is my first season living in the Arctic Circle and I can tell you that weather definitely had an affect on me.  Up here, people try to hang the lights on their houses and fences, front yards, and outside trees prior to the first snow. It makes sense.  We were a little late, and with the help of our older son, hung our lights after the first serious snowfall (we got 6″ overnight) and it turned out to be a fun experience! The older sibling dumped loads of snow off the eaves onto his younger brother, as he carried the string of lights for his big-brother up on the ladder.  The oldest brought his dad a cigar and the two of them smoked cigars in the snow (it started to snow while they were half-way through) and they had a lot of fun.  We have since received a couple of feet of snow, and our Christmas lights glow through the snow accumulating on the roof.  It is pretty.  Because the house lights were up, we brought in all our decorations the following Monday and put up our tree and completely decorated our house.  My husband came home and just smiled.  Another tradition this far north is to keep house lights up until Spring and the days lengthen a little bit.  The basic decor is taken down, but the lights remain to keep our spirits up in these long days of dark.  And maybe I started a little early, but all this snow and minus temps just got me excited for the season, seeking some joy and happiness through decorating for it; I also was beginning to prepare for Christmas in my heart.  A friend also reminded me that I used to decorate my homes all in red and green, it was wasted in Southern California, and perhaps I was always meant to dwell in the Arctic!  She may be right, because I don’t like hot weather, the beach or sand, and I love wearing coats, sweaters, boots, and living in all this snow!

sit with you lordThe season of winter and Christmas is also a very interior or prayerful time for me.  We are indoors a lot, it is dark a lot of the time, and it brings with it a sensual experience of warm fires, gentle lights, and the quiet of the winter terrain, all buried in deep snows.  I have found myself contemplating the whys and wherefores of Christmas and the traditions that go with it.  And I have also been chatting with various people about Santa Claus, and other winter traditions.  For me, I find that matters of faith, tenets of faith, all germinate in reality.  The story of the Wise Men; the birth of Christ; the slaughtering of the Holy Innocents; the Crucifixion and Resurrection…these all had their start in truth and historical occurrences.  There are those who poo-poo the whole December 25th date and the fact that the “Church” stole the date from the pagans of the early centuries; the fact that pagans had trees indoors for far different purposes; the “wise men” were not all that wise, nor were there just three of them…on and on it goes.  I know that; I was blessed with studying Biblical Archeology as my minor in college.  I know what we have physical evidence for, and what is real and what is hysterical – or historical – and what is not.  And I acknowledge those who love just Santa Claus (made jolly and friendly by the early Coca Cola ads in the 20s), the Tooth Fairy (recently made famous again by “the Rock” in a movie), and the Easter Bunny (whose fame was resurrected in the movie, “HOP,” and which I just watched today with my grandson), and they do not want to know where those traditions come from. I will agree to just enjoy those “Hollywood” versions of the truth, but all the while knowing there is so much more to it.

I choose, however, to understand, celebrate, and share the historical roots of the things we believe in.  Our parish here is St. Nicholas of Myra.  It is the only Byzantine parish in the area and the diocese exempts our parish from the pre-Christmas Fast on the Feast of St. Nicholas, which we celebrate this Friday, December 6th.  I have invited my son and daughter-in-law to attend, so my grandson can be exposed to this story surrounding Christmas.  It’s wonderful to share these traditions with our families.  St. Nicholas has been real for my husband and myself at least all of our marriage. There were many Christmases where we were in such dire straits that we should not have been able to provide gifts for our sons; St. Nicholas always interceded for us and Christmas was always a joy for our children.  In Russia, St. Nicholas is the patron of the family and we took him as our family patron many years ago.  St. Nicholas exemplifies giving and his determination to help families in trouble is one of the many reasons he is a Saint of the Church.  (http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/fatherchristmas.shtml). Regardless of which story you have heard, or have not heard, Bishop Nicholas of Myra (now Turkey) was a Saint who later became a legend, and whose legend we keep each Christmastime.  I love St. Nicholas and I love keeping his memory alive.  This year, our youngest son remarked that he knows there is no Santa Claus and that we are the giver of the gifts.  But he also said he likes believing in things at Christmas, so he’s choosing to still cling to Santa, and enjoys the stories of St. Nicholas.  All of those heroes in our children’s lives are actually Saints, making their way into modern culture. A little twisted and turned to meet modern culture where it is, but they are present nonetheless.

Nativity_htmIn many Christian cultures, we celebrate Christmas until the 6th of January, or in the west, Epiphany (in the east, it is the Baptism of the Lord, or the Theophany).  In the west the different feasts were all celebrated together, and is where the tradition of the 12 Days of Christmas come from.  In the East, as these feasts began to separate themselves, the Byzantine and Orthodox chose to celebrate the Theophany, or Baptism of the Lord, on the same date the west celebrates Epiphany.  Interestingly enough, the term “Epiphany” is defined as a revelation.  We can all have epiphanies when we learn something new or gain an awareness of something we never knew before.  The Epiphany is the celebration of the revelation of Christ to the world, and started with the 1st of the 12 Days of Christmas when Mary accepted the Word of God and proclaimed her great fiat of, “Be it done unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38).  The Epiphany continues through the Birth of Christ, the visitation of the Magi, and the Baptism of the Lord.  Most people in western countries use the day to celebrate the Gifts of the Magi to the Christ Child and often have parties called, “Little Christmas,” where they give one another gifts (some families have adopted this date as their major Christmas celebration, keeping December 25th more as a reflective day and a day to celebrate the Birth of Christ). In the East, we celebrate the Theophany, or the Baptism of the Lord.  Theophany means: “the manifestation of God to man; the sensible sign by which the presence of God is revealed.” It is when Christ was Baptized and His Kingship made known to man through His Father’s recognition in his declaration of “This is my beloved son” and of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Both of the terms, Epiphany and Theophany, are words explaining the revelation of God to His People; to each of us.

Baptism-of-Christ-theophany-icon-444-200x300“At Your baptism in the Jordan, O Lord, the worship of the Trinity was revealed, for the Father’s voice bore witness to You by calling You His beloved son, and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of these words. O Christ God, who have appeared to us and enlightened the world, glory to You!” (Kontakion of the Theophany).

So much surrounds us during this Christmas season.  I don’t understand why we need to limit ourselves to specific times; artificial dates.  Some people will only decorate for Christmas between the day after Thanksgiving, and then take everything down by December 26th.  In the seasonal feasting and fasting cycle of the Church, the preparation for the Feast is almost as important as the Feast itself. We in the East began our preparation for Christmas on the 15th of November, with the Feast of St. Philip.  It is often called, “Philip’s Fast,” or the “Apostle’s Fast,” but is commonly called the “Pre-Christmas Fast.”  In the Melkite tradition, this is when we begin singing the Kontakian of the Preparation:

“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.”

We’ve been preparing for the Birth of Christ since November 15th, and have been since the Council of Constantinople in 1166 AD.  Prior to that, the worldwide Church celebrated different dates, requiring daily attendance at Church for services and prayers, with moderate fasting.  After 1166, the tradition we now keep was begun in earnest.  So for at least the last 900 years in Christianity, the Preparation for Christmas began on the 15th of November.  This year, I opted to keep the tradition of the Preparation alive by decorating my home, to coincide with our fasting and liturgical year.

snowy tree.lights

The other interesting side-note to this is that our Liturgical traditions allow us to keep our Christmas decor up from November 15th through January 6th.  It is a good thing we use a fake tree! Up here it seems we tend to celebrate Halloween and run straight into Christmas, with a brief respite at a little family dinner – Thanksgiving – in between. Thanksgiving, to me, is like the practice run for cooking Christmas dinner!  It’s also a great day for Football on TV!  And this year, our Parish celebrated Divine Liturgy with a potluck afterward; it was nice to celebrate as a parish family.  Recently, my feelings were pretty stepped on and I was criticized for this early Christmas thing, and after thinking about it, and now posting about it, I feel sort of justified in keeping the traditions of my faith, even if public pressure is to downplay it.  I will celebrate through fasting and preparation, decoration and cooking, gift giving and singing of Christmas songs, putting my tree up and hanging lights, from November through January, at the least.  And in our tradition, you don’t party until AFTER the Feast…so true Christmas parties are from December 25th through Theophany on January 6th. It works perfectly for someone who decorates year round in red and green colors, collects antique Santas from around the world, loves the snow, and lives where people keep their Christmas lights up until Spring.  Maybe I was meant to live in the Arctic all along!

back lit blue trees.snow