Slaying our dragons…one day at a time.

lifeishard-godisgood

There are so many times I just *sigh* and think, “God is good.” And there are those days when I think, “Life is just so hard.” Luckily, I believe God has got this in balance. He balances our days and give us hope for those days to come.

Don’t get me wrong, I am no saint. I am not holier, nor more sinful, than the next mom driving to the grocery store. I am just me. And somedays I feel the joy in my heart of God – He resides there and I know it; I sing as I drive to the grocery store. I sing as I load the dishwasher. I sing as I carry another load to the washing machine. Why? Well, the alternative would be that I have no money to buy food; no one to buy food for. Or perhaps I have no dishes to unload because I have no family to eat with, or a place to eat my meals, or plates to eat them on. I have to wash the clothing, because I have clothing. So many blessings in amongst the sighs of life’s trials.

Today I was reminded that Lent is almost here. I read a post I had written a few years ago on this date and it brought me up short. I have nowhere near the spiritual experience going on now that I had then. And I am a little sad about that. But I also know I am surrounded by blessings. And there are many things I can do, in order to get more out of Lent.

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I posted this on my Facebook page today. I had a friend respond that she is not Catholic but it still sounds like a good idea. And I realized that so many people approach our seasons without any preparation. We see things in the stores and say, “Oh. Look at all the green. Saint Patrick’s Day is coming.” Or we see all the cute Easter decor and realize that Easter and Spring are right around the corner. I will tell you, that living in a snow state that is seeing a ton of snowfall and cold temps (today it was -5 this morning!) it is hard to even wrap your mind around the fact that Spring is coming. My Merry Christmas sign is frozen in place and we cannot even see the top of the flag part. So to see Spring in the stores and cute Easter eggs on display, it is hard to prepare for that, let alone Lent. For me, this approach of purging every day for 40 days is perfectly timed. I am busting out of our little house. We all need to purge (meaning the three of us who live here). So for me, giving up my clutter and over-abundance in clothing and, well, all our stuff, is a wonderful idea.

In the light of the Church’s seasons, we always fast before we feast. And if you have not experienced that, I feel bad for you. It changes everything – especially how you look at holidays. It’s like always attending banquets and formal events, you get inured to it. They mean nothing. It’s one of the reasons I hated “Kindergarten Graduation.” Or formal graduation from Elementary/Primary school, another for Junior High/Middle school, and then finally, High School. So many kids think HS graduation is no biggie. Half of them don’t show up. For college, barely 25% participate in walking for that diploma. It becomes something not worth the effort. If you do not understand the affluence you experience daily, you will come to stop appreciating it.

fasting-stjohnchrysostom

Fasting from food, without a change of heart, is worthless – it’s just a diet. Instead of giving up chocolate, give up yelling at your mom or dad. Instead of spending money at McDonald’s, drop those dollars in the collection box at a homeless shelter. Instead of being envious of someone and disliking them for their success, why not have a coffee with them and get to know them? Instead of hating someone who disagrees with you (and there are so many issues we can disagree about) perhaps spend some time with them, exchanging ideas about something else. I have many dear friends who I disagree about politics with, but who are close to my heart and very loved. I have so many friends who are Protestant, or Orthodox, or Jewish, or many other styles/types of worship traditions, and we meld together beautifully. It’s like this amazing, colorful tapestry.

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One year many years ago, when we first discovered the eastern Churches, specifically the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, we experienced true fasting for the first time. I have never eaten so much tofu in my life. I have never been so sick of salads, ever. Melkites are sticklers for the rules of fasting; however, our priests and Bishop would always tell us, “Do what you can do. And each time we have a fasting period, try adding something else you can do.” They never expected us to keep the full fast, as most monastics do. (The full fast is no meat, dairy, wine, or olive oil for all 40+ days of Great Lent). But we tried the full fast that first year, and it was when all our kids still lived at home. The kids protested when they saw tofu again, and cringed at that next salad or bean dish.But we persevered for the entirety of Great Lent. (And below is a favorite fasting recipe of mine, that I enjoy year-round. It is called Majedra. You can add meat to it when you are not fasting. Google the recipe. Divine!).

majedra

In the Melkite tradition, Easter is celebrated on Holy Saturday, starting at about 10pm and lasting until well after 2:00am. There are prayers, singing, processions, and all sorts of tears and laughter. And the incense? Oh my word! We used to have to open the side doors and let that Holy Smoke out! Ha-Ha-Ha! A good Melkite Easter Vigil and Liturgy is something I wish everyone could experience. It is a sensory experience I will forever treasure. Each year, one of our parishioners would make a deal with a local hamburger place (In and Out Burger) and would leave Liturgy just before the end, to pick up a stack of burgers for our Priest. And when those arrived, we could smell them over all the incense in that Church. Because we had fasted every, single, day of the 40 days of Great Lent; not a morsel of meat crossed our lips; not a sip of wine; not a drop of Olive Oil. And not one bit of dairy. But after the Liturgy, we all paraded to the Hall and boy oh boy, did we Feast! I have never experienced such an incredible thing in my life. Our youngest was asleep on the floor that first time, but our older sons were devouring everything meat they could. Our pastor used to say, “This is the one feast day when no vegetables are allowed!” Ha-Ha.

feasting-words

We had denied ourselves and it made the eating and feasting, and sharing with one another, such an amazing experience. It heightened our experience of Easter. We wept with Christ as He denied His very life for us. And we celebrated when He rose again, and showed each of us the Paradise that awaits us, all of us who believe. Each time the Church requests we Fast, we try to comply, because it makes the Feast afterwards incredible. It makes that “Holy Day” aka “Holiday” that much richer. Christmas is an incredible experience when you have fasted from before Thanksgiving, which is called the Apostle’s Fast, for those 40 days before celebrating the Birth of Christ. (Most American pastors allow feasting on Thanksgiving Day, here in the States).

So, to deny yourself allows you to appreciate what you have. What you have gathered to yourself. When we have over-indulged and allowed ourselves to be gluttonous about life, we do not appreciate the intricacies, or the inherent but tiny blessings in all aspects of our lives. Trust me, to live with a leaner closet and sparser walls, fewer items in your pantry, and a clean or orderly home and garage, does much to help you appreciate what is contained within it. For me this Great Lent, I am going to focus on a learner life. In all aspects of it. I have already begun by containing my social networking presence. I have left groups and stopped watching things like programs that do not enhance the best of me, but rather feed the worst that is in me. I have stopped communicating with lots of people who do nothing more than make my blood boil. I now pray for them instead. But I no longer expose myself to them. Sometimes things, situations, and people do not enhance our lives. They do not make us better people. They feed the worst that is in us and in order to be our best selves, we sometimes have to cut people, situations, and things out of our lives.

cartoon-dragon-slayed-by-knight

We all have our dragons that need to be slain. When my husband and I started Whole30, we both had Sugar Dragons that needed slaying. Some people have issues with alcohol, and some will say that is also a Sugar Dragon. Carbohydrates are also like sugar for some metabolisms. And some of us have dragons that interfere with our healthy interactions with others. We have issues that are perhaps mental or psychological. We all have things that need to be plucked from our lives, in order for us to live a better life. And Great Lent is offered by the Church every year, as a time for us to focus on our dragons. This year, orderliness and cleanliness, less clutter and junk in my life, is going to be my focus. How lean can I make my life? How can I be simpler? It has such huge ramifications. And right now, I am going to start by bringing a large, black, plastic bag into my room and tackling my dresser. It is a start. I will pick up my sword daily, starting again, for these 40+ days, to slay the clutter/gluttony dragon that is part of my life. I thank God He gives us this time every year, to rededicate ourselves to becoming better at this thing we call life, preparing us for eternity with the God who created even the stars.

“Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars; the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing.” Isaiah 40:26

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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.

“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?

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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?!?

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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.

 

“…Hallowed be Thy name…”

FatherSonHands

Yesterday was Father’s Day. Some of these holidays seem so contrived. But the ones wherein we recall those who have played an important role in our lives, well, those days seem extra special. Sometimes my kids would joke, “Oh, it’s just another ‘Hallmark Holiday'” because they seem so contrived. And a lot of these days do. A friend posts on Facebook every day what the special cause or theme of the day is. Things like, well did you know that today (Monday) is “National Vanilla Milkshake Day”?  Our government took the time, some time in the past, to declare a national day remembering Vanilla Milkshakes. Seriously? Although I would admit it is a remembering I would enjoy…along with National Steak Day, or National Chocolate day…but, seriously? Is this what I need to remember on these days?

Dadson hunting

We can recall all sorts of father figures on Father’s Day. I grew to be exceptionally close to my stepdad, and always remembered him on Father’s Day, as well as several of my close friends’ fathers. They were a part of my youth and I always wish them happiness on Father’s Day. I have many special memories with my own dad. Moments of me standing on his feet to learn to dance. Sightseeing all the Missions in California. Waterskiing. Dates to Father/Daughter dances. Traveling in England and trying to sneak warm beer (yucky). Walking me down the aisle as I was married. I spoke to my dad, who will be 90 on his next birthday, as he was off to Sam’s Club to get some coffee, shop, then off to eat with his family. He lives on the complete opposite side of the continent from me, so it is rare anymore that we spend these sorts of days together. It was nice to chat for a few moments, as I rounded up our crew for my husband’s outing of shooting with his sons. It was his choice of what to do! And they sure enjoyed themselves. Immensely!

Fly Fishing Float Tube

But when we think of Father’s Day, do we remember our Heavenly Father? Do we pray extra prayers of thanksgiving, to a God Who loves us so much, He allowed His Son to die for us? I thought of the joy on my husband’s face when we presented him with this floaty thingy for Father’s Day. I believe the proper term is, “Fly Fishing Float Tube.” Floaty thingy. (I do not fish. I accompany my fisherman, complete with my comfy chair that has a built-in cooler, and my Kindle. He fishes). My oldest son found one on Craigslist that did not break my secret-stash-budget and when I went to pick it up, found it had been used once! It was in perfect condition and my husband is so excited. It is, however, standing on its fully-inflated side along the back wall of my office at the moment. I need to find a better storage place for it, because soon it will smell like fish (if we are all lucky, Alaskan salmon!!). But I planned the purchase and had it hidden at my son’s house. When we gave it to him, he seemed to truly smile. And it just warmed my heart so much. He does so much for us, a simple thing like a tube to fish in was such a small gift. And it got me thinking – how do we gift God, Who gave us life??

OurFather.meme.

We ask God to forgive us our many sinful ways, and to provide us with our “daily bread.” We ask for our lives be “on earth as it is in Heaven.” Wow. A pretty stiff order. What are our gifts to our Heavenly Father…the Name above all names….the Alpha and the Omega, on a daily basis, let alone a special day like Father’s Day?  I know I fail so miserably at giving thanks. I seem to always be asking for something from God. I find it hard to sit in His presence and just let Him surround me with His Grace and blessings. Silent prayer, wherein I am silent and the Lord speaks to me. Being a Child of God means I need to recognize His Kingship over me, His protection of me, and His many blessings and gifts for me, every day I breathe. Every, single, day. “Hallowed be thy name.” Have you ever stopped to think what that means? Hallowed is something that is sacred, holy, or sanctified. Many theologians say that when we use this phrase, what we are saying is, “Let your name be holy.” Per Matthew Henry (an English clergyman who died in 1714), “We give glory to God; it may be taken not as a petition, but as an adoration; as that, the Lord be magnified, or glorified, for God’s holiness is the greatness and glory of all his perfections. We must begin our prayers with praising God, and it is very fit he should be first served, and that we should give glory to God, before we expect to receive mercy and grace from him. Let him have praise of his perfections, and then let us have the benefit of them.”  I think that is just such a neat way to phrase what we are doing at the start of the Lord’s Prayer. We are giving thanks; we are praising Him. And this from one of my favorite Orthodox saints, “When I pray saying ‘Hallowed be Thy Name,’ the meaning of these words apply to me actualizing God’s blessings. Lord, through the cooperation of Your help, may I become blameless, just and pious. Abstaining from every evil, may I speak the truth, practicing righteousness and walking on the straight path. May I shine with prudence, be adorned with incorruption, and be beautified with wisdom and discernment. Overlooking earthly things, may I set my mind on the things above (Col 3:2) and be radiant with the angelic manner of life.” ~ St. Gregory of Nyssa

incensor.pantocrator

As I acknowledged my husband for the many, infinite ways he incredibly fathers our sons, and now our daughters-in-law, and grandchildren, I could not help but think of Our Lord.  How much more adoration and acknowledgement Our Lord deserves, on a moment-to-moment basis. Think of all the ways He Fathers us. Every day, every way, God the Father guides us and blesses us. I should kneel and “hallow” His name always. “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place, and gave Him the name above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11)  I know I am woefully short when it comes to this aspect of my faith. One of the things I have decided to do is that each time one of these days shows up, a “Hallmark Holiday,” I will endeavor to make the day about God…I will try to relate even today, the national “Vanilla Milkshake Day” about praising God.  And today I will thank Him for the sweetness that is in my life, and pray for those who have particularly touched my life by their very presence in it. And we should all have a Vanilla Milkshake, and remember to hallow the sweet name of God, with every breath, with every day we have been blessed with.

Vanilla beans.milkshake

“A still, small voice…”

nativityicon

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

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

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

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

Christmas is a mess

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

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

Cheaters never propser

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

Confession

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

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

Small voice

 

“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

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

 

Food Thanksgiving

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

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

kidsthanksgiving

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

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

Hand held table

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

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

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

11122015_DawnCamp_ThanksgivingThankful

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

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

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

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


HappyThanksgiving