“…you were bought with a price…”

 

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“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1Corinthians 6: 19-20

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faith-words

Guess where I am at today? Yeah; I am there. It seems like there is a push in our culture to expose us to uber-sexuality. It is everywhere. It is temptation surrounding us. And it is pervasive. The evil one is sitting back and laughing. The movies, the TV shows, song lyrics…and those are the legitimate sources of temptation. I just found out there is an alternate universe of YouTube that is dedicated to pornography (Red something or other). And it is free. There is Snap Chat where kids can sext each other and the image disappears after a few seconds. Except nothing disappears. And our children can find porn so easily. I read an article today that said 97% of all young men before the age of 18 have watched pornography. And it is not like trying to find a centerfold in a Playboy magazine. No. This is hard cord porn. There are images and videos of “rough sex,” and even group sex. Children as young as 11 and 12 are becoming addicted. And they are becoming reclusive and disordered. There was a court case this week against a father, accusing him of sexual abuse. A secondary charge of bestiality was dropped because there was no “penetration.” And that, as sick as it is, unfortunately, is now in our legal system and can set precedent for other cases of child abuse. Pornography and the culture surrounding it is all out there, easily obtained. And it is killing our country’s cultural base, and our families, which are the foundation of our culture. It is creating this disordered sense of what family is supposed to be, our sexuality, and all of our interpersonal relationships. And it is scaring me. And it should be scaring you.

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I am not sure how to combat this epidemic. I do know that I need to change myself, before I can help anyone else change. Do I watch porn? No. Do I read porn? No. Do I allow it in my home? No. Is it here? Probably. Because we allow sexual innuendo and jokes, and poor vocabulary, to sneak into our home and our lives. We slowly allow the level of purity and modesty to sink. It is like the story of the frogs in hot water. You place them in a pot on your stove in warm, tepid water. You slowly increase the heat until the frogs are boiling to death, and they are happy all the way, because they do not notice the water getting increasingly hot. Do we laugh at impure jokes? Do we allow movies rated “R” for sex or violence into our homes? We allowed a movie in that we still regret – the “F” word was used more than 300 times during that movie. That’s more than 1 time/minute. That is ridiculous. It is in the trash. I have to stop this from invading our home. I need to judge myself and see where I am lacking, in that I am allowing this cultural deviation to have a place in our home and family. It is part of the actions that I need to take; that each of us needs to take in order to combat this evil pervading our country, one person and one family at a time.

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What I find so interesting, is that this whole issue was noticed by me, over the past few days, coming from several sources – commercials about this new 50 Shades movie, comments on a couple of ProLife pages on FB, and news reports, even comments from people I know. And the timing is so much the Lord’s. Because this weekend is MeatFare Sunday. This weekend we enter into the preparation for Great Lent. This weekend we turn our focus inward, onto how we are preparing for the sacrifice God made for every one of us. A sacrifice that He would make, even if each of us were the sole person on earth. He would die for my sins alone. He would die for your sins, alone. He is that magnificent of a Creator. He values His creation above all things. He desperately wants each of us to belong solely to Him. Not this world. Not the evil that tempts us in this world. Not the wrong that is trying to invade our righteousness, our holiness, our future of eternity in the presence of God. Because sin separates us from God.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. And this is the verdict: The Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness more than light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever practices the truth comes into the Light, so that it may be clearly seen that what he has done has been accomplished in God.”” John 3:16-21

If we read part of that in light of pornography and evil, we can see how clearly God is talking to us. When John says, “The Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness more than light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” Pornography seeps into the world in darkness – behind closed doors. There are have been studies showing that kids can spend hours in their rooms, on their computers. These computers are tools that can help them with their schoolwork, yes, and can be invaluable tools for education. But think of the study that said 97% of boys before 18 have watched pornography. Where? How? Have you checked their laptops? Do you allow computers, Play Stations and the X-Box in their rooms? Did you know they have internet capabilities? I did not realize they are like having another WiFi Hot Spot. Have you scanned their phones or looked at the photos on them? Do you have their log in codes for the internet or their phones? Do you understand the apps they have on their computers and phones – what they can and cannot do on those apps? Do you have all their passwords? They are sometimes alone, in their rooms, with temptation swirling all around them. We trust our kids to become the people we set the example for them to aspire to be. We instruct them. We pray with them, and for them. We go to Church with them. We send them to Youth Group. We monitor their “dating” practices. We know their friends. Some of us homeschool, in order to keep an extra eye on our kids. But are we with them every moment? Is what we are doing enough? The evil one is laughing, because it is NOT enough. Don’t fool yourself. It is NOT enough.

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As we enter this preparation period for Great Lent, we are asked to focus more on our prayer life. Yes, we fast from certain foods; the list for Melkite Greek Catholics is quite lengthy and strict. Many Catholics and Orthodox give up chocolate or coffee. Some give up Facebook or the internet. But for me, fasting is a exercise in self control that I should be trying to do every week; it is not enough of a sacrifice for me (it doesn’t “hurt” enough to be memorable, if that makes sense). We should be fasting from meats on Wednesdays and Fridays all year long (in the Eastern Churches, we do). What works for me is to add something; to intensify the good, wholesome, faith-filled and inspiring things in my life. Doing so helps drown out all this evil and all these ungodly influences. Paying attention to what influences you can even include how you present yourself to others – too much make-up, or even flashy or revealing clothing. Because ungodly attire is a distraction to everyone and it can come from both males and females. How do others perceive you just from how you look when they see you? What is the first impression you give off to others? Are you a wholesome and Godly young person (or older person) or are you projecting the world and its influences? Are you trying too hard to be a part of the world? Try doing more in the religious and faith-filled part of your life. Go to Church more often. Sit in the presence of God in the Tabernacle, where He waits for us. Spend more time praying. Add volunteering with those who are less fortunate. Donate your time, and the money you save fasting, to those who are in need, to those who are suffering. Dedicate a portion of each day to silent prayer. Read stimulating, religious works by some of the Church Fathers. (The Ladder of Divine Assent by John Climacus and Our Thoughts Determine our Lives by Elder Thaddeus are two of my favorites). Stimulate your mind and your heart with thoughts and prayers of God. Divest yourself of the things of this world that make you less than what God calls you to be. Stop allowing the world and its bright and shiny temptations to skewer your relationship with God. Go to confession. Find a mentor or Spiritual Father you can chat with. Have coffee with your Youth Pastor or confessor. Make Godly relationships a priority, while pulling away from those who would do your soul, your eternity, harm. The evil one is laughing…let’s shut him up.

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Take this time of Lent to get yourself right with God. Work on your relationship with your parents, siblings, children, and friends – but most importantly, with God. Cement the Godly and be rid of the evil. Christ endured beatings and belittling for us. God, Himself, hung on that cross for 3 agonizing hours – just for you; just for me. Do not throw His sacrifice back in His face.

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But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

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“…Do not let your hearts be troubled…”

winterroad

Oh do we have snow! Not as much as they have been warning us about (although it’s not over, yet) but everything is white. You see the world in whites and grays in this winter wonderland. The light from the sun weaves its ambient presence among us and the world is much more quiet and serene. Even the local dump is pretty, covered in beautiful layers of snowy goodness! As we wander into the last days of this incredibly wild year, I have pondered what my next days will be filled with. I am not good with “resolutions” and even the word sounds so final. I rarely keep them. I intend to, which is the main thing, but my follow-through for an entire year is usually weak. And since I know that about myself, and am “of an age” where I can readily express that with no embarrassment, I do! Ha-Ha!

2017

I do wish everyone a blessed and happy New Year. I pray that 2017 is a year of profound peace and prosperity, in whatever ways mean that to you. For me, I am seeking a return to what I somehow laid aside. I am anxious for inner peace – moreover, an inner contentment. It has somehow escaped me and I spend many nights tossing and turning, many days exhausted from a lack of good sleep, and an overall feeling of impending doom. That is no way to go through life. I am working on my health and my supplements! I know I need more vitamin D! I am working on that. We had a very successful experience trying the Whole30 elimination diet and we did so for 49 days, until Thanksgiving. Since then, we have both seen our overall health tank. The old aches and pains are back, some new ones cropped up, and we have an overall feeling of just plain, well, “yuck.” So in 3 days we will back at this Whole30 experience. You can google it, if you are unaware of what it is, and you can also look back at some earlier posts, when I explained in more detail what we are up to.

This year, we met a lot of new people and I can honestly say, our lives are the better for it. Our perspectives have broadened, and we have found areas that we want to grow in. It is wonderful, too, to find a group of like-minded individuals. While many of them have younger families, we have found a group where we are among our peers. And we both love being with people our age and life experiences. It is fun. And so in the coming year, we hope to strengthen these relationships, make many of these people close friends, and grow and learn many new skills. Living where we do, we are deeply intrenched in the seasons of the earth. Right now, in deep winter, we are all hunkered down and only occasionally getting together. I cannot wait for spring and summer – more opportunities to mingle, lots of new things to experience, and more people to get to know. And, we get to try our hand at a better garden this year!

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One of the things I have learned this past year is that social media, while it can be a good thing, can suck you dry. It can pull you in, because perhaps you are lonely. It can take over your day. You can be so caught up in checking Facebook and emails, tweets and pins, that you forget to be present to those around you. You forget to live this life in the here and now. I do believe our computers aid us (I am typing this on my gorgeous, and purple, MacBook) but I also think that the ease with which they purport to make our lives, also complicates them. I can’t recall the last time I went days without checking things on either my computer or my phone. I deleted a bunch of apps off my phone the last few days. I decided it was just too much. Facebook Messenger was insane. Ugh. My phone beeps and tweets and sings to me all day long. Even when I turn off my notifications, something beeps at me. And I came to the realization that I sit far too long, looking at the activities of other people, and not having enough of my own. How silly is that?

So I am trying to keep a sort of “resolution,” in that I have deleted apps from both my phone and computer, and I am simplifying. I mean, for instance, I am down to 1 Angry Bird app. Period. And I am down to 1 solitaire game across all media platforms.  That is progress my friends! I am seriously thinking of deleting my aquarium app, as I have 6 tanks and if I don’t feed those darn fish…well, you know. (Gross). But seriously. I am 60 years old. And I play Angry Birds. What is up with that?? I feed make-believe fish in make-believe aquariums. I think I knew I was going off the rails when I started breeding sharks in amongst the angel fish. I mean, how sick is that?? And what am I NOT doing whilst feeding imaginary fish and  defeating imaginary pigs? I am not praying. I am not reading. I am not becoming a better me. Does Angry Birds help me get closer to God? Uhm, no. I think He is probably shaking His head at my silliness.

We are all called to be His children. We are all called to share the Word of God with those around us. We are all called to help our fellow man. Angry Birds does not do any of that. I spent an afternoon canning with some new friends this fall. In a very out-of-the-way place (where there was not even navigation in my car or phone reception, and yes, I got momentarily lost as I journeyed home) with some wonderful new people in my life. The conversation was great. We shared stories and we laughed. The skills acquired were really a re-introduction to canning, as I had not done it in years. But the skills shared, the wisdom in that cabin, has stayed with me. And I hunger for more of the same. These were some real people and I felt so welcome and so “at home.” We shared, with one another, the gist of who we are in the simple tasks of washing black currants, and boiling water, of making coffee, and slicing and blanching carrots. What a simple joy that afternoon was. And it profoundly struck me. That is what I want more of.

Do you know I have only been shopping in our one, large mall here 1 time? Guess what? I have no desire to go there. At all. I’ve never been a shopper, and I am really growing to hate crowds of people. But you know what I am anxious for? What I want to do? What I am excited for? Getting together to cook and  make some scrumptious recipes with some of my new friends. We’ve been teasing each other with recipes! I am looking forward to some shooting lessons. I desperately want to feel more confident in my basic skills in regards to being prepared for our next “snowmaggedon” or our new volcanic eruption, or the next big earthquake. Learning to freeze foods; learning to dehydrate foods. Canning, in all its glory. Planting a well-thought-out garden. These things excite me.

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As we age, our dreams change. I no longer foresee a house in a development, or master-planned community. I envision a place with space around it. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s home; it doesn’t have to please anyone else. But I would like it to to be simple, serene, and away from the “maddening crowd.” I dream of a log cabin, although I am aware of how much adjusting and upkeep they require. I don’t need my own lake or river, but it would be nice to have one close by so my dear husband can grab his fishing gear and walk down to the water, and relax while challenging the salmon. I would love to have space so he can hunt if he wants to, without having to drive miles upon miles to do it. And I want a space where others feel welcome and want to come and hang out. Even if it is simply for some card games and coffee. I would like my forever home. Because I am so very tired of moving. I want my roots in this land to go deep. I want a home where my grandkids will someday say, “Remember grandma and grandpa’s house in the woods where we got to fish and run around?” I want to make those memories with my grandchildren, and with my children, and my husband. I want inner serenity. I want peace and contentment. I certainly don’t want millions of dollars and all that it requires to take care of it. I want to be safe and comfortable, in a space where I can host others, and share some peace and laughter with them.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

And so for 2017, I wish for you the same. The peace the world cannot offer; the peace of Christ. I wish for all of us, to have fear leave us and for contentment to find us. I pray the world will calm down and we can each find this peace in our own little corner of it. For some, it will be an apartment in the middle of a vast city, driving to and from on complicated highways and byways. For others, it will be on farms and rural homes. Still others in suburban hideaways, where they can escape the madness of their commutes. But at least once a week, I pray we can all find our way to kneel before the One Who created us, to give thanks, to be humbled, and to enjoin with Him Who gave us life and breath, and hearts to love. “Our thoughts determine our lives” (Elder Thaddeus) is something I try to live by. If we all have thoughts of peace and we share them, peace will emanate from us and fill those around us. One way to find peace is to seek the quiet and serenity wherever, and whenever, we can. For me, I think I will slowly unplug from the rat race. I may still play a round or two of Angry Birds, but I am trying to rein that in, too. I know that waking early, spending some time reading the Word of God and having a chat with Him, starts my day off right. I also love to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee, and a little time with my husband before he is off to his day. These good habits that ground us are often hard to come by, and hard won. But they give us peace and prepare us as we enter into the work the Lord has given us for this day. And for me, I will take these “resolutions” and tackle each day, one at a time, as I resolve to find peace, contentment, and work on all these new things and new people in our lives. “…Do not let your hearts be troubled…”

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God’s blessings on you and yours as we wade into this new year – 2017.

“…Not to act is to act.”


Who you raise

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

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

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

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

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

Buckets

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

ElderPaisios

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

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

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

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

Lightoftheworld

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

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

BenCarsonGodQuote

“What does it profit if…”

 

In the Eastern and Orthodox Churches, Great Lent is upon us.  For those in the West, Lent will start tomorrow, with Ash Wednesday.  Great Lent is when we stop and take a good look at who we are, who we have become, and who we truly would like to be. It is a time for reflection, yes.  But Great Lent is when we embark on a renewed road to God.  It is when we embark upon a time of renewed and vigorous re-conversion.  The Church gives us these weeks every year to re-evaluate ourselves in light of the Teachings of Christ and His Church.

I love some of the questions in prayer books, that we can ask ourselves as we approach confession. In the book, “Holy Things for the Holy” published by the Eparchy of Newton in 2006, there is a list of questions to ponder under several categories: “On the Love of God” – Have I had any doubts concerning the Faith or the teaching of the Church?  Have I taken the Name of God in vain, or spoken disrespectfully of Our Lady, the Saints, or of sacred things or religious matters?  Have I neglected to attend the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and Feasts?  “On the Love of Neighbor” – Have I done my duty toward my family?  Have I watched over my children and the company they keep, the books they read, the entertainments they engage in?  Have I been guilty of hatred or vengefulness?  Have I injured anyone by word or deed?  Have I been immodest in my dress or conversation so as to be an occasion of sin for others? Have I neglected to help the poor and needy when I could have done so?  Have I deceived anyone in business transactions? Have I purposely failed to pay my debts?  Have I given false testimony against anyone or passed judgement on anyone?  Have I gossiped or harmed the reputation of others? Have I wished for things God has not given me and been discontented with my lot? And on “Confession in General” – Is there anything that troubles me that might be a sin?  Do I really intend to avoid my sins in the future?

These are a few of the questions under each section, under each of the Ten Commandments of God.  And just these few should bring most of us up short, should we honestly look in the mirror and contemplate them, myself included.  They are a place to start, when we take these initial days of Great Lent to plan our re-conversion, our re-imagining of ourselves into truly the Sons and Daughters of God.

In the East, we celebrate Forgiveness Sunday. This practice was strange to me, and a trifle intimidating, when I first was exposed to it. But you know how things can build up and you don’t even realize you are carrying around a sack of rocks on your back? The stress that builds from anger, hurt, jealousy, unfulfilled dreams, and many human disappointments?  It is amazing how Forgiveness Sunday can relieve all of that.  Even if the subject or focus of your issues is not present.  There is a Latin Term for priests called “in persona Christi” (forgive me, son, if I said that wrong) and it means, “in the person of Christ.”  Our priests are there, representing Christ for us.  They do not become Christ; they are there for Him, like a “stand in.” (If any theologian reads this, please forgive me for my simplistic explanations).  In the same light, we can look at our parishioners as standing in for those who we are having issues with.  When you hug someone and seek their forgiveness, and they forgive and seek yours in return, it is like you dropped that bag of rocks at the altar. You feel lighter, and much more peaceful. It is almost as good as the feeling you get after a good confession, or a deep heart-to-heart with a trusted friend or counselor. Whew. I love it.

The sad part is when people go through motions, but it is nothing more than skin deep.  When people are insincere.  When they laugh behind your back or smirk at you behind your back after something like Forgiveness Sunday is shared.  And that is the crux of the impetus for my post today.  Insincerity.  Deception.  Dishonesty.  When you purport to be a person of God, a Christian, we all make presumptions.  We all do it.  If you say you are a fireman, we presume you put out fires.  If you say you are an attorney, we presume you know the law.  An engineer fixes things.  A mechanic can get your car running.  A nurse can soothe your pain away.  A secretary can organize the heck out of things.  A plumber keeps the water flowing and the toilets flushing. A chef can make you an incredible meal, as a baker makes divine pastries.  We all presume, or profile, about others based upon our perception of their title, or their category/classification.  When you say you  are a Christian, I presume you follow Christ. WWJD?  What would Jesus Do?  Hmmm…sometimes I think He would cringe at what goes on in our churches.  At how un-Christ-like Christians can be towards one another.  Presuming you know Christ and love Christ, and follow His teachings, we all presume certain characteristics about you.  First of all, and for me foremost, is that you are trustworthy and honest.  Christ abhors a liar, as do I.  Being false in any way is not a Christian attitude. “Have I been guilty of hatred or vengefulness? Have I injured anyone by word or deed?”  We’re supposed to contemplate these words before confession.  And we are supposed to live them.  During Lent, we are offered 40 days to reflect on how we are progressing as Christians, and how we are towards our fellow man.  How does dishonesty or deceitful behavior fit into our perspective as Christians? Do we see these as our attributes when we contemplate our own reflections?

Please know that I realize so deeply how far from the mark I, myself, fall.  And I am so very thrilled that the Church offers me these 40 days each and every year to fix myself.  It is an incredible opportunity that so very many of us do not fully utilize.  In the book of Matthew it says, “They give me lip service but their hearts are far from me.”  It is just a sad state of affairs that so many of us Christians do not take advantage of the healing salve of faith our Church offers to us.  The Church offers us countless opportunities to reconnect with our God.  We have prayer times during the week, in our homes, in our cars, on a break, while driving. I have friends who automatically start the Rosary each and every time they are in the car.  People who stop, cross themselves, and acknowledge Christ in the Tabernacle at each Catholic Church they go by – and they know all the ones in their town and the areas around them, so are constantly crossing themselves.  I love that.  They bring the Divine into the every day, in a physical way.  During Great Lent, that can be so enhanced. We can re-focus our energies into our own personal walk with God by re-doubling our efforts at fasting, at praying, at attending weekly services, of reading holy books and books by the early Church Fathers (my favorite Lenten readings are “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” by Elder Thaddeus, and “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” by John Climacus).

We are personally suffering right now; our hearts are aching.  The little world we inhabit is upset and things are awry.  It makes for a rough start to Lent.  But, as I mourn the Coptic Christians beheaded for our Faith this week, and all those who suffer for our faith, I also feel lousy about complaining and reacting. I feel like crap (excuse me) for being down in the dumps.  People will ALWAYS disappoint you. People will ALWAYS let you down.  People will ALWAYS deceive you.  It is part of being human.  God never deceives, nor disappoints, nor lets you down.  That all belongs to us.  All of that is squarely on our human shoulders.  And that bag of rocks I thought I had left at the altar last Sunday? Well, it’s back up on my shoulders.

I need to remind myself that some people who purport a faith, well, they are not that faithful.  They “Talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.”  It can be for a multitude of reasons.  Life might just totally stink for them.  They could have horrid jobs and even worse home lives.  Divorces, drug abuse, teen issues, their health may be poor, they could have mental issues; they could be facing financial ruin.  I don’t know, nor is it my place to know.  The lesson I have learned is that Lent, Great Lent, is totally about me.  About me and my God. Where I stand with my Creator.  It does not matter where my neighbor stands.  That is between them and God.  It is not my place to judge.  A great man, a Saint, once said, “Let the mouth also fast from disgraceful speeches and railings. For what does it profit if we abstain from fish and fowl and yet bite and devour our brothers and sisters? The evil speaker eats the flesh of his brother and bites the body of his neighbor. ” ― John Chrysostom.  Deceit and deception, dishonesty and insincerity may be present because there is evil in this world, too.  There is the pressure that evil puts on us when we try to be better Christians.  There are a multitude of things that pull us away from God. I need to always focus on my walk with God, on my personal salvation. And I need to be sure that I am not deceitful nor dishonest, nor insincere.  I need to pray always, for myself and everyone around me. My issues are petty and minor in comparison to the lot of our fellow Christians around the world.  We need to gain some perspective.  A good place to start is from the Foot of the Cross.

There is so much wisdom to be found in the writings of the early Church Fathers.  So much caution about fasting from meat but devouring our neighbors.  “I must keep my eyes on my own plate,” as St. John Chrysostom was fond of saying. As we dive into this Great Lent, my prayer for myself and for everyone is this:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

“..to fight the fear of the unknown…”

Man before cloudsSometimes we face a deep unknown.  And time stands still in so many ways, until we take that first, tentative step into it.  I was thinking about this as I prepared to delve into my world of medical bills.  It’s so fun (*sarcasm alert*), trying to reconcile who is billing you for what, and what your insurance has paid, and if you are paying too much.  The pile was large and our budget is small, and so I was intimated.  Once everything was done, it was not as bad as I had originally thought.  And my husband said to me, “Sometimes we need to just do it and we will find out it’s not so bad.”  There is a lot of wisdom in that. (Another reason I am blessed to be married to that man!).

“We associate fear with danger because that is how our body interacts with our God given motivation for self preservation. When we go into a dark room, we might sense fear, especially if we are apprehensive about the dark, but that does not mean that there actually is a danger. It only means that there is an unknown, and that unknown can breed fear – fear of the unknown. To fight the fear of the unknown, counteract it with faith based on the known – the known will of God.” (Scriptures Against Fear at HopeFaithPrayer.com)

“The fear of man brings a snare: but who puts his trust in the LORD shall be safe.” Proverbs 25:29

There are many things in life we fear, and often our fear ‘gets the best of us’ because we have no place to hang on to, no firm foundation beneath us.  For me, I often fear my security of having a certain bank balance scare me from taking care of things in a more timely matter. Quite often, I will also put up with aches and pains because I fear doctor’s bills, and some horrid diagnosis.  Usually, once that is faced, it melts into nothing and I realize I created my own fear, my own unease, my own insecurity.  When I wake at night in a sweat, freaking out over some unknown thing, I try to pray and drink some warm milk.

Carry HellOur Thoughts Determine Our Lives is a book I quote from often and to be honest, it is truly one of those books that fundamentally changed how I think and how I look at things.  But I am also very human, and I forget the adages; I fail to remember the comfort found in Elder Thaddeus’ words; I forget to read Scripture to ease my mind. And so I create my own sort of hell…one solely made in my head, but which affects everything and everyone around me.  I project my fears, or my hell, into all that I do. I can motivate others to a higher good, or I can welcome them to wallow in my grit and grime.  But that is not God’s call to me, and that is what I need to listen to.  Not my fears or worries or concerns, but God’s call to me.

“For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

I am working at starting some new things.  And it feels like that stack of medical bills…in that it is a large undertaking and my “budget” (in this case my self-confidence) is a little lacking.  And for those who read this post and know me well, they will find that humorous. I’ve never been known to shirk or avoid diving into anything.  First one off a cliff or first one to share in a group…that’s me!  But as I get older, I find myself being discouraged more often. “Is this worth the effort?”  “Do I really want new (and more) drama in my life?”  “Is this the right thing to do?”  “Will my actions even help?”  Those are all skittering through my head.  And I know that I can help and can make a difference, but I am also at the point of being a part of that same 10% who is always “doing things” in any organized group – and it does get sort of old.  Ha-Ha!  Always being in that small group of people who dig in and get it done, and not one of those who is unknown by the group at large and contributes little, gets tiring – honestly. There are some other, amazing people, with so many gifts to offer, who do nothing. And that is perhaps out of a place of fear, or lack of self-confidence. I sure wish I could somehow motivate them to become leaders, too.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 

I know I have a firm foundation in my faith. I have gone through so much to become a comfortable Melkite Greek Catholic. I don’t feel any burning to explore further; I have found my spiritual home.  Although my journey of faith has been convoluted and rocky, often off the path to God completely,  I am at a place in my life where I am comfortable with what I believe, with what I know, and I feel like my foundation in this, my faith, grounds me.  As it said in Timothy above, God has given us power and a sound mind, and in Romans we are told that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” I need to rest in those promises more often, not fearing to launch into new things, based on faith.

Armor of GodAnd so I am determined to gird my loins (Ephesians) and prepare to wade into some rough waters, wearing the full Armor of God, and I know that God is with me, “for your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23). I will pray and ask God for comfort, strength, and soundness of heart, soul, and mind.  It is His call I will heed, laying aside my own fears, and resting in His promises and His grace.  I am blessed.

Isaiah 41-10

 

 

“…My own personal flurry…”

The Easter prep is fully underway, and we are striving for a peaceful Easter.  Somehow I think it will be elusive this year.  There are so many little “peas in the mattress” of our lives right now that I am not sure how we will smoothly sail into Easter Sunday.  So I am burying myself in the preparatory portion of it.

St. Dimitri of RostovOnce in awhile (it seems to me) we need to regress to the simplest things.  We need to do away with the dross and the extras floating around us.  Sort of like one of those sensory deprivation tanks – we need to silence the chaos and we need to stop looking at the negative, and we need to focus ourselves on Christ.  For example, this week is called Holy Week for a reason.  We are preparing ourselves to welcome the Bridegroom.  It is the week of the ultimate sacrifice for each of us, death on a Cross.  And so I cling to the words of St. Dimitri of Rostov above and place myself with the Angelic Host, and I am praying, constantly praying, and I am clawing my way back to that peaceful place of Pascha prep!

Hand prayer incenseHave you ever experienced the sort of frustration where you shake inside? Where perhaps you are drawn to tears, but it’s not sad tears? They are tears of frustration and anger?  Well, I have.  Several times over the past week. I don’t think it’s good for my blood pressure or longevity!  Sometimes there are situations and people in our lives that make our stress levels just climb.  There are people who bring drama and chaos with them, because it is just how they operate.  And I seem blessed to have many of them a part of my life.  (Another occasion for prayer!).  Remember Pig Pen in the Peanuts cartoons?  He carried his own cloud of dirt around with him?  That can be a bad thing – like the stress and chaos and drama that just accompanies certain people.  Another way to approach it is like the snowman character in Frozen, Olaf. Princess Elsa makes him his own little snow cloud, his own personal “flurry,” so he can survive in summer – have you seen that? Olaf and his own personal snow flurry….

250px-Ownpersonalflurry!This character was so loveable.  He just wanted to experience summer, because he had never seen it.  He was so thankful that Elsa, through her snow magic, created a little snow flurry to accompany him wherever he went.  I was thinking about this (I have two grandchildren who both adore this movie – yes, we own a copy so they can watch it whenever they are here! And no, I will not expound on nor attach an audio file of any version of “Let it Go.” You are welcome). Olaf is happy that he can exist to see the flowers and the sunshine and not melt.  He is always smiling and laughing and looking for the good in everything around him.  Even though it is a cloud over his head, it is a cloud that keeps him alive, so it is a happy little flurry and a happy little snowman, Olaf.

Why can’t this be how we all operate? Even though it is a cloud that accompanies Olaf, it is a joyous one, because it keeps him alive.  Our cloud is the joy we find in Christ, in the Holy Spirit who enervates our very lives.  In the Melkite Church (and most of Byzantine worship) we have this amazing ceremony mid-day on Holy Saturday. It is about the “New Light.”  We light our new Easter Candle, which we will use the rest of the year; this is the beginning of our new Liturgical year. The first, tentative announcements about the Resurrection are made. I love thinking about the women who went to the Tomb early in the day and found the guards asleep and the Tomb empty.  It was very early in the morning; the towns around the Tomb, and the people in them, still slept.  The women ran back to tell the Apostles what they saw and heard.  They spoke to an “angel” and saw an empty Tomb, the cloth laying in a heap. Those are the first whispers that Christ has risen..that He is not in the Tomb.  That Liturgy is so beautiful.   It is the early Light of the Truth of Christ’s Resurrection that is being shared, one voice at a time, with the Apostles.

Hand cupped candleWe can carry this Light with us; we can choose to share the Light of Christ with others; we all carry our own personal flurry of goodness, peace, love, and light with us. Or we can hide our Light under our bushel basket of anger, frustration, hate, prejudice – all the negativity swirling around us.  We can choose how our world is, around each of us, by the way in which we approach our lives.  Elder Thaddeus, in his book entitled, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, ” tells us:

“Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture.  If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind then that is what our life is like.  If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.”  He further shares that “everything, both good and evil, comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become reality…when we labor in the fields of the Lord, we create harmony.  Divine harmony, peace, and quiet spread everywhere.”  He then tells us what the opposite things can do to us: “However, when we breed negative thoughts, that is a great evil.  Where there is evil in us, we radiate it among our family members and wherever we go.  So you see, we can be very good or very evil. If that’s the way it is, it is certainly better to choose good!  Destructive thoughts destroy the stillness within, and then we have no peace.” (Page 63).

250px-OlafsvenfrozendisneyLittle Olaf is just a simple example of how we often choose to be sad that our lives are so limited.  He was going to melt and his life would be over as soon as Spring came to their Kingdom.  Or, once he had his own personal flurry, he chose to relish the moments, smelling flowers and playing with his buddy, Sven, the reindeer.  We have our own personal flurry we can carry with us everywhere and in every circumstance, the Holy Spirit.  We have God.  We can choose to put our faith aside, to relegate God and our life of faith to only an hour on a Sunday, and relish in the angry moments, loosing our heads over them, so to speak.

250px-OlafrearanfeChrist calls us to our better selves, not our lesser selves. My prayer for the rest of this Holy Week is to embrace the better self Christ is calling me to be.  I will endeavor to be the wife, friend, sister, daughter, mother, grandmother, mother-in-law – all the roles of who I am called to be – to my utmost, not my least.  I will prepare to walk with My Lord down that horribly painful road to Cavalry, where He sacrificed Himself for me.  With my own personal flurry surrounding me – the Holy Spirit – I will walk to that empty Tomb with the women, quietly seeking He Who is Risen.

Tomb of Jesus Christ Jerusalem

“The rest really doesn’t matter.”

My “take away” from my day yesterday was my status on my FB page this morning:

“God, family, and friends are what make the world go ’round.  So blessed to have them. The rest doesn’t really matter.”

I had quite a day. First of all, I was reluctant to post my feelings about being Eastern Catholic, for fear of offending anyone.  Some of the comments, made publicly as well as privately, have engendered good conversations.  Those I had hoped would not take offense, did not, and for that I am grateful.  I also believe that by exposing some of my feelings about the process of becoming a Byzantine Catholic, it was helpful and reflective of the journey of many others.  And that is one of the main reasons I started this blog in the first place.

Kneeling Prayer.Orthodox ChurchFriends that I had prayed were friends, still are!  So God is good.  I also was concerned, as one of my fellow bloggers pointed out, that I would confuse non-Catholics or Catholics who had wandered away from the Church. Perhaps I did add to their confusion.  For that, I do apologize.  But it planted a seed for me, too.  Why do Protestants and many Catholics (cradle or convert) not know the history of this amazing faith we all share?  When I was in college, my brain was so excited at all the enormously new facts I was learning.  It’s funny to think how cocky you are when you are a High School Senior, knowing everything! It’s not until you to start to truly learn, that you realize how little you know. Your world is so small while in high school, many times being bordered by the confines of where you live and where you can drive. I remember going to drive on a freeway that had not been completed or open to the public, yet. They allowed Driver’s Ed programs to practice on it.  We practiced getting on and off the freeway, and changing lanes, slowing and speeding up. It was neat because there were no other cars on the road, except for us.  But what took me by surprise were all the other neighborhoods and shopping areas and schools I had not realized were even there! The elevated roadway showed me areas I had not seen any of, before then.  I did not know how small my world was.  Interestingly enough, that freeway became a major thoroughfare and I used it constantly while attending college, and well into adulthood.  And in college, my world view grew and expanded. My knowledge of history just exploded.  And as I got into my minor of Biblical Archeology, I wondered why the entire world was NOT Catholic.  It made perfect sense to me that the Catholic Church was the Church established by Christ through Peter…every Protestant sect could trace its origins to it.  And then I discovered the eastern world.  It is not something we are typically taught, as we are a western country, fully embracing western philosophy and thought.  When I discovered that the Catholic Church was all over the world, I was mesmerized.  But when I learned there were 22 other Churches aligned with the Roman Church, I was stunned.  Why did we not know this growing up? Why were we not taught the glorious history of Constantinople?  Why did we not know more about the Crusades and what really happened?  Why were we, as a country, and as a culture, in the dark?

Icons.lamp When Christ gave His great commission, did we think they would not do as He instructed?

“But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28: 16-20

And as I delved deeper, I discovered this treasury of faith that just enveloped me.  I did not throw off western ideology, per se.  I just embraced eastern thoughts, philosophy, theology, and practices in place of it. I found that it suits me and my personality so much better. But I live and deal with western thought and philosophy all around me, all day long. I operate in a western culture and live a western life.  I prefer to worship, however, in an eastern way.

cropped-incensor.jpgThere are some fun sayings that have become part of the lexicon of our speech. One of them is, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”  And I think about this often as it applies to our expressions of faith.  St. Peter stopped along his way towards Rome in the east.  He stopped long enough to establish a Church there.  We Melkites like to joke that we had Peter first!  But the Church he left us in the middle east is a Church that reflects the life of the nascent Church and the environment in which it grew up.  It is primarily Greek in orientation, and its Liturgy is that of St. John Chrysostom.  It was where the term,”Christian” was first used. The tones used in the Divine Liturgy of the Melkites are so ancient that when they were first written down, no one knew where they originated, they had been used for so long.  And when you hear someone who can sing the tones properly, intone the Divine Liturgy, it is as one commenter said, “Like being in Heaven.” It is Divine.  It is hard to explain if you have not experienced it yourself, but it is very different from the tones used in Gregorian chant, for example. The tempo and sounds are vastly different.  Not to mention the incredible infusion of beeswax candles and incense, adding to a total religious experience.  And I just happen to love the eastern style more. It harkens back, for me, to the ancient Church.  Not the early Church of Rome, but further back, into antiquity.

250px-Colosseum_in_Rome,_Italy_-_April_2007After Peter left the east, he journeyed to Rome.  And, as he and each of the Apostles did, taught the people where they were, to bring them to an understanding of Christ and His words, to facilitate conversion.  In Rome, society was structured, ordered, precise, militarily-oriented in ranks, so to speak.  And the Church grew up around that.  (Think of confessionals…boxes.  Roman culture had people in specific places, or boxes.  Their roles in culture were specific and immutable). The early Roman Catholics were renowned for how they loved each other, and shared all they had with each other. This was a foreign idea to a culture with castes (boxes) from which people did not leave. Born a slave, born a bread maker, born a soldier – die the same way. In the early Christian community, they changed that when they said (in Colossians 3: 11) “…a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

The cult of Christ grew up in an era of conflict and Christianity was a bastion of peace in amongst warring nations.  Even now, Christianity finds itself among warring nations.  And one of the cradles of the faith, Syria, finds itself being purged of its Christians.  Just today a new article came out stating that something like 1.5 million have escaped but another 4 million are in refugee status!  But that 150,000 have been killed in the past three years!  (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10737682/Syria-civil-war-kills-over-150000-people-in-three-years.html)  Do we not see what is happening?

Icon wallI love being Melkite. I love being Melkite Greek Catholic.  Yes, it is one Church standing, with another 21 Churches, alongside and in union with, the Church of Rome.  But I am not Roman Catholic. My blood still bleeds red, my friends. I love my fellow Christians, and my fellow Catholics.  My expression is, however, decidedly Melkite Greek Catholic – it feeds my soul.  I have been shunned by many I thought were friends, accusing me of leaving “the Church.”  I realize their ignorance of this amazing Church is what caused them to behave the way they did.  Catholic is a term that loosely means, “universal.”  If people only realized how universal the Church as a whole really was, they would stand in awe, inside any “Catholic”, sui juris Church.  Our separated brethren in the Orthodox world have not been subject as much to some of the westernization of our sui juris Churches.  And I take great comfort in the spiritual treasures there, reading all I can from the Holy Fathers.  One of my favorites is Elder Thaddeus and his work entitled, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” and others are St. John of Kronstadt and St. John of the Ladder (St. John Climacus, whose feast we celebrated this past Sunday).  These Church Fathers and writers have enhanced my life immeasurably over the past few years and I treasure their wisdom and their words in my life.  And they are decidedly not western in thought or approach, and I feel greatly blessed by their eastern insight and philosophy.

StMarkCathAlexLike a person who commented about my embracing the Melkites said, “it is almost like when you walk into a Muslim (or Coptic – St. Mark’s in photo above) temple – you remove your shoes.”  That is pretty much what describes my immersion in the faith of the east. I am immersed in it and I love it so, and I really appreciate how my faith has grown because of it.  I am saddened that my total immersion has some questioning my choices and my sanity, but that is okay, too.  It also does not mean there is no merit in other faith expressions.  Frankly, if someone is attending Church at all in this culture, I am thrilled! Be fed where you can.  My father and my siblings are NOT Catholic, and I don’t think they understand it, either.  And that is okay, too. (Other than the fact that they think I am “married to the bride of satan” and going to hell part).  That being said, I somehow know in my heart that if they could but step into the many eastern Churches I have experienced, the overwhelming presence of God would affect them, too. (Below is a fisheye – camera view of a Russian Church).

Fisheyeview.churchinterior.russiaSo the term, “my take away,” is a neo-pop-psychology term meaning, “what I got out of it.” Yesterday was a test, and a testimony, to the power of faith, of God working in my life. It also demonstrated that none of us are immune from the uncertainty in life. We pray, we try to live as best we can, and occasionally life will throw you a curve ball.  Yesterday was a curve ball, in another area of my life.  I was able to stand my ground and defend my family and those I care about. I was not in the least intimated, and I was praying, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” the entire time.  It was good in that God presented me with a situation, I chose not to back down, and I felt the courage to speak truth in a room of lies and lying people.  And I felt pretty beat up by the whole experience (I have for some time).  But after dropping by some friends’ home, and then speaking with friends and family today, I am feeling how God is so good in my life. He has placed people in it who add to it and help build it up when it feels like the edges are folding in on me.  I was able, and have been able, to express myself regarding my faith through this blog and through some wonderful conversations.  It gives me strength to do what I need to do to ensure my family and friends are taken care of, taking comfort in their love and the love of God. And even with all the ugly going on around me, I know God has blessed me, truly blessed me.  Because, as I opened with,  “God, family, and friends are what make the world go ’round.  So blessed to have them. The rest doesn’t really matter.”

cropped-archmandrite-karelin-family1.jpg