“Let your heart hold fast my words…”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…but the greatest of these is love.”

Clinging, clinging, clinging. The world is all about loss today. It seems like things happen in 3’s, as they say, so I am holding on.

It amazes me how we ignore the needs of some portions of our community. And that is not a judgmental statement. Not at all. Unless you are exposed to the need, quite often we don’t know it even exists. I am not all that familiar with things outside of my experiential life. There are some things I know about that seem random, but it is because somewhere along the line I was exposed to it. And I learned. But we all go along in life, noting what we need to note to survive our days, and pretty much ignoring the rest of it. Because of time.

My major in college was Anthropology. We study what was, about a culture, and what is. We study the remains of older cultures through Archeology. And if we are blunt about it, archeologists are the world’s dumpster-divers. We dig through trash left behind by cultures that faded away, or moved on. Today, dumpster diving is sadly a way of life for many of our indigent and poor. But something else that is happening is that we are becoming a throw-away society. A transient population. Ever moved? Trust me when I say, I have. Too many times that I am almost embarrassed by it. But with moving, you learn to get rid of stuff. We had an enormous garage sale prior to relocating. I sold literally boxes of paperback books (it turned out the buyer owned a used book store! LOL!) and all sorts of outdated toys and tools, and a myriad of other supplies I no longer needed; oh, and furnishings; tons of “furnishings” (love that broad-base descriptor). It amazes me what people will and will not buy. We are moving again. This weekend we made our first dump run and a run to the Salvation Army. We are, once again, purging. We realize we need less of this stuff we have somehow accumulated. Heck, I have boxes I have not unpacked from our last move, four years ago! LOL! And furniture we have never used, and it looks like we won’t need it again, that has been in our shed for 4 years, too! And we have to get rid of our “stuff.”

But what about the other, more precious things, we have in our lives? We warehouse people. We find it too hard to care for them, so we warehouse them. They call them “nursing homes,” or “memory care facilities,” or “senior centers,” and “long term care facilities.” There is pretty much a name for whatever/whomever we are housing. But when you try to keep family members home with you, what help is there? It is hard to come by. Most medical professionals don’t even know what is out there. How sad. You have to work in some branch of social services to appreciate what is out there, that can assist you. We don’t have to experience loss several times when it comes to our elderly or infirm (the first loss is when you separate them from you by warehousing them; the second loss is when they pass away). But it amazes me how few people acknowledge the needs of our elderly population. We are now living longer. There is going to be a shortage of professionals to deal with our senior population, and we are going to see, increasingly, situations where multiple generations are once again living together. We need to stop and think about how we are educating our children, and what they are being taught. Compassion? Caring attitude? Serving attitude? Do they know how to put others first?

Today is the Feast Day of St. Joseph the Worker. My husband took him as his patron when he was ordained, and this icon was magically placed on the cake I had made for him, by an amazing baker. It was created from rice paper and edible inks. I still marvel at it. What a talent. St. Joseph is such an incredible role model for us all. He epitomized the ideals of selfless service. He married the Theotokos, Mother of God, knowing She was carrying the Son of God. And he put his life into the service of Mary and Jesus. He was a background saint…not much detail is known of him. But he taught his Son, Jesus, the skill of a master carpenter. Jesus worked until he was 30 years old, as a carpenter. He took care of the needs of his community, quietly working with wood. In those days, the skill set to work in wood was special. Things were made to last, to be passed on from one generation to the next. It was not Ikea furniture. And Joseph excelled at it.

Today, I was recently informed, we have the generation of kids who register at Ikea and Target. They are mobile and they are not particularly drawn to the old, the antique. It has to be something pretty special for today’s young adults to appreciate it. We have become this “throw-away,” transient, people. Look at me! I have moved so many times in my life, it is ridiculous. This next house? I am fondly calling it my “casket” house – because that is how I want to move out of it – in my casket. I am done moving. I am tired of the transience in my life. I want to stick to a place and stay there.

My parents, my mother-in-law, are all aging. They require care. They require someone to take care of them in their home. And they require a lot of care. Coordinating that, organizing that, and implementing a plan is taxing on those left to care for our elderly. Today I spent hours on the phone and internet trying to coordinate, from clear across the country, care for my dad. Only because I have been involved in social services did I know what terms to use, and how to search, for help. They had no clue. Never thought they would have to ever look for it, either. It was completely outside of their experiential lives. I had previously cared for my elderly grandmother and had waded through these waters before, as well as working in the social services world. So terms were familiar and google did it’s thing, and I connected. But how many others have no clue where to even begin?

I began with this post saying how I was clinging…I am. To my sanity. Today is the end of homeschooling for me. Senior grades are due. A phase in my life is over. My youngest child will graduate later this month. That’s 25 years of the homeschooling lifestyle I will no longer have. And it is a mixed bag of emotions for me. And I dealt with my dad. And tomorrow, we have to euthanize our 15-year-old dog who is snoring right now at my feet. It seems like life and death are circling around me and it makes me agitated. I need a good laugh. I need a good night out with friends, who will make me smile. I need a good hug from a granddaughter or grandson. I need to smell a newborn and hold a wiggling baby, to ensure myself that life indeed goes on. I’d love to cuddle a puppy, you know?

Mr. Chet has been my buddy for the past 15 years. I remember the day we picked him out of his litter; and the day we brought him home, six weeks later. He’s never been a simple dog to own, but most terrier breeds are not simple. Miniature Schnauzers can be particularly stubborn and constantly take the lead of their own mindset, rarely listening to their owners. They are trainable, but you have to really work at it. And they are funny, too. Chet has provided many hours of laughter. He will cuddle when I ask him, but he is content off by himself, on a soft surface of some sort. That photo of him is when he was sitting on top of the back of our couch, in the sun, on a blanket. He always chose his spots, regardless of the dog beds available. He is also a runaway! He has kept us on our toes for 15 years. He is also not the smartest dog in the bunch. But it has become increasingly obvious that he no longer enjoys a quality of life. He sleeps constantly and enjoys very little. He is always lost, wandering around the house. He has little pep, exhibiting interest in mostly breakfast and little else. And so we are preparing to say goodbye to our little buddy…and my heart is breaking. Death is just so final with our animals. Thanks be to God we have eternity to look forward to.

With all the aging and dying in my life right now, my advice would be to get all the snuggles you can with whom/what you love. If your furry friend wants a snuggle, let them. If your son wants to give you a hug, take it. If a friend needs a long chat, chat. If your mom needs you to help her out, help her out. Time is marching on, whether we realize it or not and our days are numbered. And the quality of our days definitely wanes as we age. So be good to those you love. Hold on to them; enjoy the unexpected moments of their company, and bask in your shared love and relationship. God knows how things will work out, each day, for the good of us all. Cling to love like it is a cliff, connecting you to this world. It is all we really have. And we ought not to throw that away, like old books at garage sales.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.               1 Cor 13:13

“…whenever you face trials…”

The weeks seem to race past us. Days become a blur. And every once in awhile, we stop, look around, and get confused. What day is it? What was I going to get accomplished today? Some days I am so tired and I cannot figure out why. I think stress is taking its toll.

I know I am not the best when it comes to managing issues. I prefer to ignore them until I have to deal with them. Putting your head in the sand truly helps no one – especially yourself. We always hear about people being afraid of something and then when they experience that fearful thing, comment something like, “It wasn’t all that bad. I don’t know what I was afraid of.” And truthfully, you sleep better once you tackle that thing you are avoiding.

For me, there are just so many plates I am juggling right now. And the pots are boiling over. And I dropped the ball…again. Sometimes it is just more than one person can focus on. I feel like I should just fall down in a blob of crying messiness. But somehow, when I think I will collapse, I just feel empty. Like a great silence. I can feel my heart racing. I know my blood pressure is raised because I can feel it in my ears and at the top of my head. And yet, I feel still and silent. And that sort of scares me.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Inside my heart, and sometimes actually in my right mind, I know this verse. I know the Lord is with me, and what I face is NOTHING compared to those 3 hours spent on the Cross for me. NOTHING is compared to that sacrifice. And so I started thinking of other promises from God, as I could hear my heart beating in my ears:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

“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

Just reading these verses calms my heartbeat and restores a lovely pattern of inhaling and exhaling that is not one of stress. And as I calm down, once more I recall one of my favorite Psalms:
“When hard pressed, I cried to the LORD; he brought me into a spacious place.
The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” Psalm 118: 5-6
It is hard to stress too much, when we truly believe in the promises God has given us in his Word, and through our Traditions. God has placed Himself here for us. We can visit Him in
our hearts and minds, and we can join others in rejoicing when we attend Church as a community of believers. It is so nice to know that there is a place I can go where I am welcome and I can pray with others. We can also seek asylum in the friendships we develop around us. We can share our stressors and sometimes just talking about them really helps.
Sometimes we are just called to juggle things for awhile. The Lord is setting the pieces in place and when it is time, everything will settle in. I know that. I do. Reminding myself of that is the hard part. Reminding myself that the Lord is in charge, and not mere mortal man, gives me great comfort. It is a practice I need to hone! LOL!  And as I look at facts, figures, and my calendar, I sometimes let the issues of mortals cloud my peace; they interrupt my sense of the holy. And that is a man-made construct, of which I am guilty. I need to embrace that emptiness and that silence I find when I stop to contemplate my stressors, because what I have come to see is that the silence is the peace of God and the faith of God in my life. He is allowing me to calm my heart rate and my breathing, and grasp the fact that He has all of this. Truly all of it. I write this to remind myself. And if I can help give others hope and a sense of security by sharing this crazy journey, that is an extra blessing.

“God did not make death…”

So, I have a 14-year-old cat. Her name is Rosie. She is my sweetie pie. She is my super-cuddler-purring machine! Every night, we snuggle as we fall asleep (hubby loves it! Ha-Ha!). Our last vet nick-named her, “Scaredy-Cat” and actually put that on her chart. No one ever sees her. We have a very close friend, who did NOT know, even after having spent the night at our house (friend of our middle son since childhood) that we even had a cat. Which I find hilarious. My daughter-in-law teases me, when I send her photos as proof-of-life, that I borrow the neighbor’s cat! LOL! But, even though she is not too visible, she is my anchor…if I am stressed, somehow she knows and will not stop rubbing on my legs until I hold her. She is just a great cat – to me. But now, not so much. She is barfing. A lot. And between her barfing and our 15-year-old dog’s peeing in the house, I am “up to here” with it!

Today I spoke with a vet, and I researched online about cats who throw up. Apparently, I am a bad cat owner. I thought keeping the same food all the time was the right thing to do. But I was wrong. Cats need a lot of protein variety in their diets. In other words, you need to change-up their food about every 3 months; especially indoor cats. I have been feeding her the same Blue Buffalo Indoor Cat Food for years! Ever since Blue Buffalo came out. Before that, it was Iams or Science Diet. Lately, she has been eating my house plant leaves and then barfing. I just found out that it is my fault. The photo above is of the new Kittie Grass I am growing for her, as well. And I changed up the cheap treats I give her, with ingredients I cannot spell or say, for a more natural, trout/salmon treat. I am prayerful this will clear up her issues, as she is healthy otherwise. Unlike my 15-year-old dog, who has declined so much this past year, even more the past 6 months, that I have an appointment entitled, “Quality of Life Consultation” with our vet next week. I think his quality is so poor, that I am considering euthanizing him. And it breaks my heart.

I feel badly, because “variety is the spice of life” and all of that, for my kitty. I have been a negligent owner, only because I did not realize what I was doing wrong. Now that I have been chastised and corrected, I mean to make good on learning my lesson. Rosie, who looks so much like the cat above (although it is not her) deserves my best for her. It is part of being a responsible pet owner, just as knowing when to euthanize our pets. For someone who is pro-life, the very discussion of euthanizing seems anathema to my core beliefs, and it makes me question so many things.

Have you investigated euthanizing an animal? Vets believe that we call it “putting to sleep” because that is basically what they do. They lull the animal into a deep, relaxed sleep through chemicals injected into their veins, and the heart just slowly stops. It takes just a few seconds. There is no thrashing around (at least in my experience) and no pain. They simply slow their breathing and they are gone. It truly is quick and painless…for the animal. My question is this: In a society that believes in the death penalty, why can’t we euthanize criminals like this? Why are there so many instances wherein the felon struggles and suffers and takes so long to die? And these are hard questions, because I do not believe in the death penalty – at all. But if our society insists on it, why can it not be like we provide for our animals? At the very least? I prefer not at all, but that is not what our culture wants.

Part of choosing whether or not my dog has reached the end of his life makes me feel like I am playing God. Who am I to decide his lifespan? And ironically enough, I am about to “take custody” of my 87-year-old mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Many in our society believe I should be able to choose her time and place, as well. Whereas I am looking to give her love, security and safety, and palliative care in her last days…and they will be as many as God deigns to give her; not me. But my dog? Is it for my convenience?

Well, when we discuss convenience, is it not more convenient to end the lives of babies we did not expect to be pregnant with, the elderly who require our care, and those who have committed crimes against others and are being held indefinitely in state institutions? How about those children who are born with disabilities? Are they not better off if we end their lives as infants? What about those who cannot, through no fault of their own, contribute to society? Do we end their lives, as well? What about those who have mental defects? Those who are addicted to drugs and only exist to get high? What about their quality of life? What about people who age out and become solely dependent on Social Security? Do we end them, as well, so we have that money in our slush funds? Who makes these choices? Their caregivers? The government? Us? Who is qualified to decide whose quality of life is not worth the air they breathe or the space they inhabit, or the food they ingest?

I am struggling with all of this, as I contemplate my choices over the next few days. Yes, I ran out and got new cat food and am now growing cat grass on my kitchen counter…but for my dog? There truly is nothing I can do for him, other than to shelter and feed him. But even that is getting rough, because of the myriad of issues he has. Can we extrapolate these questions onto people? I can’t. I am having a hard enough time with my dog. I could never, knowingly, end the life of another human being. And trust me, it is a huge issue for me, especially as an NRA, gun-owning, 2nd Amendment supporter. I think if a loved one was threatened, I could lethally defend us. But for me, the ultimate question still is: ALL life is precious, right?

My all-time favorite Pope, John Paul II, stated in Paragraph 56 of Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), an encyclical letter on various threats to human life, issued on March 25, 1995:

“This is the context in which to place the problem of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God’s plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is “to redress the disorder caused by the offense.”(46) Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfills the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people’s safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behavior and be rehabilitated.(47)

It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

‘If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.'”(46) Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2266

Now, a lot of people did not like Pope John Paul II, but I adored him. He was the pope when I came into my faith, and he embodied it for me. He was the head of the Roman Catholic Church, and in his lifetime, he touched millions of lives. He forgave the man who shot him. He visited more countries than any other pope. He was loved by teenagers and young adults all over the world. And he stated, as I paraphrase, that if a society was just, then the death penalty was justified. But he also said that someone had to demonstrate to him which society that was. It is certainly not the USA. And a quote from Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) is: “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he has created all things that they might exist … God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it” (Wis 1:13-14; 2:23-24). The Pope quoted the Book of Wisdom to further enhance his support of all human life.

And that is where I am at today, contemplating the sacred value of life. All life. I am not a believer in creating “children” out of our pets. I am not a “pet parent,” as some new commercials are saying (PetsMart or PetCo…one of those places). I am a pet “owner.” Period. And being a responsible pet owner, I have to evaluate the quality of life of the pets under my care. I have seen farmers sadly have to end the life of one of their cows, because she had a hard delivery of her calf, or just got sick. And some of these dairymen know those cows by their herd number (there are too many to name them) and they mourn that cow. And some of these guys have herds with literally 5,000 cows in them. But they know each and every one of their cows. How much more for the dog I brought home as a new puppy 15 years ago? The dog who slept on my feet for at least 10 years? The dog who follows me everywhere..and I mean EVERY-WHERE!!! Do I owe him a long life? Yes, I do. Do I owe him the best environment I can provide? Yes, I do. Do I owe him a painless, and quietly loving death? Yes, I do. But he is not my child; not my mom; not my grandma. He is my pet. I love him, yes. But I realize the difference in the sanctity of human life.

“No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11)

Will I see my dog in heaven? I don’t know, but I am hopeful. We have had so many dogs and cats over the years we have been married, as well as the time I spent as a girl. I am hopeful they will populate the joyous surroundings in heaven. What I am far more concerned with is whether I will see my miscarried babies, my grandparents and parents, brothers, sisters, and friends. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9) And so I pray for all of life; the life God created for us. It will be perfect and make perfect sense, once we stand with humanity in the “beatific vision” of God on His Throne. I like to think our pets will be there, welcoming us, too. Until that time, I will do my best by my pets. Even more so for my family and friends, knowing that all of life is precious.

“All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you.”

“Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, and hath not sat in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the Law of the Lord and in His Law will he exercise himself day and night.” Psalm 1:1-2

As many of you now realize, I began reading the Psalms in earnest during Lent. I have never approached the Psalms in an organized, nor directed, manner. And it quite literally has changed my life. I purchased a Psalter so that I can immerse myself in them daily. The Psalter contains all the Psalms, as well as some directed prayers you recite before and after you read the Psalms. I have to say that I am overwhelmed by the graces that have befallen me by immersing myself in Scripture over Lent. I have learned more than I ever expected. About myself, about my faith, and about how I want to conduct my life. It is probably one of the most profound Lents I have ever had. And I feel so blessed by this experience, I want to shout about it from the rooftops. Well, at my age, I will shout about it from my desk and on this laptop. I did learn something! Ha-Ha-Ha!

“Knowing well my own ignorance, I fall down before Thee and pray, begging Thy help, O Lord, direct my mind, and make my heart steadfast, that I grow not weary because of the words that my lips read, but that I be gladdened with the understanding of what is read and myself prepared for the doing of the good works which I learn, and I say. Enlightened by good deeds, may I become a citizen of the land which is at Thy right hand, with all of Thine elect….”

The above is just a portion of the prayers uttered before contemplating on the Psalms for that day. Each group of Psalms for the day is called a Kathisma and you read one per day, followed by prayers and silence afterwards. There are bits and pieces of the last prayer that seem to stay with me: ..“Have mercy on me, who am darkened by sinful thoughts, and lift up my mind which is choked by the thorns of laziness and the tares of recalcitrance…Remember O Lord, in Thy mercy, my parents and all my relatives, and brethren, and friends and neighbors…have mercy on me and save me, a sinner, for Thou art good and lovest mankind. Amen.”

I love delving into these words that hold so much promise for our peace of mind. Monks in various orders, Catholic and Orthodox, recite these Psalms daily, along with all the prayers. It comforts me to know there is praying going on, for our benefit, around the entire world. And that there are those dedicated to just that, storming the gates of heaven on behalf of all of us. And I love that I can add my voice to that continuous song of prayer. Even if I pray at a different time each day, there is someone else, somewhere in the world, echoing the same words. And that is so awesome to me.

Some people prefer to go off on their own, using their own words and sentiments when they pray. Believe me, I storm heaven on my own, too. Sometimes I even rage against the things I see or hear about. But I love coming “home” to the peace and calm of prayers that have been uttered for thousands of years, now. The stories contained in the Psalms are not different from the experiences I have had, in this modern age. And that is what struck me the most. Humanity has not really evolved all that much. Our issues are pretty much the same. Yes, we have technology. Yes, we have different forms of payments and all that sort of modernity. Yes, we have weapons of mass destruction. We have grown in what tools we have at our fingertips, but our “humanity,” our “human nature,” that part is pretty much the same. David weeps when friends die. The community wails when the Temple is destroyed. There is moaning over friendships gone bad and betrayals. There is joy in love and marriage, family and children. There is joy in crops and rain and plenty, just as there is fear in times of want and war. It is all contained in 150 Psalms. And I was able to read through them, twice, during Lent. In just 40 short days, I was transported and transformed. I understand Scripture so much better, reading the Psalms.

I was watching this movie with my son last night called “13 Hours” about the debacle in Benghazi. It is a heart-wrenching and stressful movie that leaves you stripped and wounded, crying along with the characters in the story. What is worse, is it is all true. And at the end, they show you the actual people who were involved. “All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells are within you.” That quote is from the character, “Boon” and is from the scene above. And it was said more than once in the movie. It made me stop and think…this morning I am still pondering that quote. When you are under attack and there is seemingly no respite coming, no one is coming to your defense, you can feel very, very alone. And when Boon said that, he was contemplating not surviving. And when I think of it, I think of David, who wrote so much of what he felt, in the Psalms. He shared how much he suffered, and how much he rejoiced, in all those verses. I think Boon would have found solace in the Psalms, sitting on that rooftop, waiting for the next assault on the compound.

“Oppose, Lord, those who oppose me; war upon those who make war upon me. Take up the shield and buckler; rise up in my defense. Brandish lance and battle ax against my pursuers. Say to my heart, “I am your salvation.” Let those who seek my life be put to shame and disgrace. Let those who plot evil against me be turned back and confounded. Make them like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them on….let ruin overtake them unawares; let the snare they have set catch them; let them fall into the pit they have dug…”  Psalm 35: 1-8

There is God everywhere. The thought of heaven and hell is our constant struggle. The words spoken by Boon are what we all struggle with. I am so very blessed I have been able to dive, head first, into the Psalms to find encouragement and solace. And reading them has made the rest of the Scriptures jump into life and make so much sense, especially the New Testament and things the Lord said and did. In light of the Psalms, so much makes sense to me.

The Psalter has been with us for thousands of years. We also have a full set of the Psalms in our Bibles. I had so much fun this Lent, highlighting Psalms that struck me, and making notes. I kept, and am still keeping, an illustrated journal with Psalms in it that are important to me, along with comments and colorful stickers and other fun things. Trust me, it is a work in progress because I am not artsy at all (ask my artsy daughters-in-law or friends who know me well). But I have found that reading, and re-reading these words brings me comfort and I continue to learn. Perhaps delving into one book (which, for an avid reader like me, sounds really weird) for the rest of my life will cause me to become a better woman. “O Lord, direct my mind, and make my heart steadfast, that I grow not weary because of the words that my lips read, but that I be gladdened with the understanding of what is read and myself prepared for the doing of the good works which I learn, and I say.”

My advice? Words of wisdom? Give it a try. You may be surprised at the treasure that lays there, just waiting for you to discover. And you may find grace upon grace waiting for you, as you ponder the words of God and His servant, David. And if you have an urge to journal or make this experience an even deeper one, try that, too. My husband about came unglued when I drew in my Bible…I just highlighted and made some notes in the very tiny margins. So I ordered a journaling Bible, like the one below. In my opinion, this is the modern age of the Illuminated Psalter. We can each be like the Monks who used to copy their illuminated manuscripts by hand, all the while praying what they wrote and drew on their manuscripts. We can illumine our own experiences as we delve into these words, which have illuminated the world for centuries. I encourage you to try this, to read the Bible and especially the Psalms, every day. It will make your world sparkle. Promise.

“…I don’t have to worry about you anymore…”

With Facebook, if you are not familiar with it, you are given prompts each day as you log on to your account, to view posts from that same date in years gone by. They will show you things you have posted on that same date, each year you have had a Facebook account. It is kind of cool. And today I was reminded of some blog posts I had put on Facebook. One was from just two years ago and it was about me and my dad, communicating on a different level. I remarked that we were communicating as peers, and not in that authoritative/subordinate thing we get into with parents. And I was rejoicing. Because it was so very different.

I actually remember dancing with my dad like this. We were on vacation, I think we were up in Northern California, near to Lake Shasta. We were staying at this lodge/hotel place and each evening, we got fancy for dinner (well, it was the 1950s and that is how you did dinner in those days. Fast food had not been invented, yet. I have a story about that, too!). And the orchestra played that wonderful song, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” by Maurice Chevalier, and my dad asked me to dance with him. It makes me cry to think about now. What a precious memory. I believe we have photos somewhere from that vacation. My dad is the same number of years older than me, that I am from my oldest son. And so I measure things with him, to my relationship with my son. I can clearly recall my son and I at this stage, too. Soon, he will be at the same place with his daughter. It’s one of those “circle of life” moments where disparate things gel into a linear relationship and you can clearly see how connected they are.

Ahhh…the 1970s. Gotta love those pants. Yeah; that happened. And something happened with me and my dad. We argued – a lot. I spent a lot of my teen years on restriction for some broken rule or another. I totally get that phase. I cut my long, long straight blonde hair into a Dorothy Hamill haircut. And entered college. When your world explodes because your knowledge is exploding, relationships at home explode. It seems like pretty much all of my friends had explosions here and there with their parents. My parents were “too old school” and too “out of touch,” and being British, just weird. And funnily enough my youngest son recently told me that he and his brothers all think my husband and I are “old school parents.” I sort of took that as a compliment. Ha-Ha. I don’t think that was the reaction he had expected!

Me and my Dorothy Hamill wedge haircut exploded into the world. And my dad was often left out, shaking his head at my choices and decisions. Somehow, in amongst all that exploding that was going on, I kept finding myself at Church in some form or another. I went to the Mormon Church, I explored Judaism, I loved Zoroastrianism. (Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. It was founded by the Prophet Zoroaster in ancient Iran approximately 3500 years ago). I drove my parents nuts when I left my law/medical leaning education for Anthropology. They stopped supporting that exploration because they could not see how it would do anything for a career for me. I compromised by majoring in Forensic Anthropology and Physiology, with a minor in Biblical Archeology. That way, I was still in science (to make my dad happy) and yet I could study history in a concrete way. It made, and still does make, for interesting conversations. I can even recall arguing with my grandpa (my dad’s dad) about Scottish Rite Masonic influences in society, the evils of smoking, and his problem with unions. And my dad always stayed out of those! Ha-Ha! Smart guy! I did cause some concern when I entered the Catholic Church in my late 20s. I think he still has doubts about where my faith is. But regardless of where I stand or where he stands, I still share with him my faith. I share the Psalms with him, and many of the Scriptures that bring me peace, hoping he can grab onto some of that, too. I had sent him an email a few weeks ago, with all these quotes from the Scriptures for him. I thought if he printed it out, he could look at it and find comfort. I did not realize then, how poorly his health had become and that he no longer uses his computer, or even reads. So now, I share verbally with him, when I can.

These day, however, conversations with my dad are never predictable. He has Parkinson’s Dementia, or Lewy Body Dementia, or Parkinson’s with Lewy Body Disease. Whatever way you slice it, my dad is fading away. And very quickly. In many LBD (Lewy Body Disease) patients, their ability to process information and be cognizant in a conversation becomes greatly hampered, until there is no true conversing going on. They suffer hallucinations and become easily paranoid. They can also become increasingly angry and violent. And because of all of that, I am mourning my dad already. He is still with us, but his decline is becoming so very rapid. He is 90 years old. And he has admitted during his lucid moments, that he is just tired. And it makes me sad. The man I danced with can barely walk with his walker. Sometimes there is humor in that, because he did fall last week and no one saw him laying in his driveway. He could not get up but happened to have his camera with him. So, being the creative guy he is, he laid there taking photos of ants and dirt and other bugs. (He loves Macro-photography). He remembered what had happened and related it to me, all the while laughing about it. It was one of our good conversations.

And today I am psyching up to give him a call. Because with this disease, we just don’t know how he will answer the phone. Last week he did not want to talk at all…he was in an angry phase. And a day before that, we were laughing at his walker episode in the driveway. And I have to prepare for those bad days. I pray for good ones, but I prepare for the bad ones. I have also come to realize that quality of life is truly a concern. With all the dementia styles in our extended family, I have come to see that quite often, if our loved ones knew how they were behaving, they would be mortified. And so I pray for them to find peace. To find calm. To find gentle. And to feel the love we have for them. And I find myself expecting the man in the photo below, whenever I speak to him. But I need to drill it into myself, that is not who answers the phone. Today, I am sad about that. Life is going on and moving past us. I recall a conversation between my dad and his dad. We were walking into a party to celebrate my grandparent’s 60th wedding anniversary. I was carrying my oldest son on my hip as a baby. My grandpa said to my dad, “Well, son, I guess you’re old enough now that I don’t have to worry about you anymore.” We all laughed as my dad said, “Gee, thanks, Dad. You do realize I am 60 years old, right?” And here I am, ready to chat to my 90 year old dad, and I am 60. There’s that “circle of life” thingy again…cue the music from the Lion King…I’m going to call my dad, now. Love you, Daddy. I do. Already missing you…and missing the “us” we didn’t get to have.

 

“I am a sojourner…”

It was a loo-oo-oo-ng weekend. Hubby flew out of state to see his mom in the middle of the week, and I was here, trying to motivate our youngest, who is suffering with an extreme case of senioritis, and I was doing that among a myriad of other goings-on. And in the middle of all my personal chaos, I was blessed to have lunch with a newly-made friend. I really enjoy her company. We went to this restaurant that has been around forever. It is decorated in typical-tourist-Alaska style with rocks and bears and mining tools. But it is just such a fun place to hang around. The servers are genuine people. The menu is simple fare and I had the best BLT I have had in ages. It was a double-decker and the fries were to die for. They even left us an entire pot of coffee! What more could two gabbing women ask for?? Ha-Ha! And we were there for 3 and a half, gloriously uninterrupted, hours on a Saturday afternoon. We gabbed, we shared, we laughed; I really enjoyed myself. Oh, and we ate, too! LOL!

The hubby dragged himself in late this afternoon, after the airlines lost his luggage, and then found it again, and after he stopped at the auto supply store to get oil…and then he put oil in our son’s car…he was so tired. And tomorrow at some ungodly hour, which I will be sleeping through, he jets off again for a week of work away from home. With no respite in-between. We knew he’d be squeezing in his visit to his mom, but did not realize how tired he would be.

We are on the precipice of great change in our lives. Our parents are aging and are all at points where their health is not good – at all. We are making huge changes and altering many lives in just a few weeks. And helping to support family members facing their own issues. It seems like we are just waiting for the first domino to fall…and then the rest will follow suit.

We bought a house. Which my middle son told me was the first thing on our list. I guess it is a list. I had not thought of it that way. I read an article today about making lists in our lives to encourage our growth in faith. We need to add things to do, to make time to do all the important things. Things like praying. And reading Scripture. And actually going to church. We are all in different places in our journey to our forevers. My steps are just that – my steps. You may be leaps and bounds ahead of where I would like to be, or perhaps I can turn back and see you, trudging along behind me, making your way.

“I am a sojourner in the land; do not hide your commandments from me.”    Psalm 119:19 

This quote from Psalms stuck with me because I think it describes what we are going through. It is like we are all moving towards that goal – eternity – and many of us are much closer than others. Many of us have taken direct routes, while others of us have a very convoluted journey. Our family is a mixed bag of believers, non-believers; those who practice their faith and those who tolerate faith in their lives. And as a family, it feels like we are making decisions and checking things off our lists, making the pathway a little clearer. And I think that for the first time in my life, I am feeling the journey.

We wake to that alarm, we drink our coffee, we head out into the world. It is the daily grind. We get into traffic and make our way along. But every so often, something happens that makes you draw a quick breath and stop. And in that pause, you can feel the movement, the journey, right beneath your feet. Or within the pumping of the blood through your veins. Or in each breath you subsequently draw in. And in that next moment, the world is different. We sense it; we know it; but some of us refuse to recognize it in any real, and tangible, way. And when people refuse to acknowledge these pivotal moments, they react in sometimes odd ways.

Quite often, when we sense change coming, we react in anger, directed towards where all that movement is coming from. Sometimes people lash out at those they love, because they fear the changes, the movement, the momentum towards whatever it is they sense is coming.

And when we are dealing with our aging family members who are suffering disease, and all the effects on their bodies, minds, and souls, we can witness moments of lashing out and anger, which is brought on, I believe, through frustration. We have all seen images of little old ladies sitting around tables looking ready for a date, and none of them are speaking – they are staring off into their minds and their pasts. And sometimes you see others in nursing homes or in hospitals, who are yelling and angry at the world. We all react differently to changes in our world, our lives, our bodies, and our minds. It is part of our journey. We bought a house, to bring my mom home with us for the last section of her journey. And we’re all a little agitated. It has been over 40 years since my mom and I lived under the same roof. The hubby and son have claimed part of the 3rd garage as their “space.” Do not blame them, at all. And mom, due to her aging and suffering with Alzheimer’s, doesn’t do change well.

Tonight, as I sat in Church, I prayed for my entire family. My blood family, and my extended family. We fondly refer to extended family members as the “married-ins.” Ha-Ha. I am a “married in” to my husband’s large family, as he is to my much smaller, but fractured family. And I prayed for my friends. My long time friends, and my new friends. I prayed for my sons and their families, and my youngest son (the senior-itis boy!!) as he comes to the close of his high school experience and embarks on his career. Because this journey we are all on, well, we come together once in awhile and we share the road together. And sometimes we need to rely on family and friends to help us navigate this path we are on. It’s when we lean on each other.  And so I prayed for us all.

“Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.” Psalm 71:9

“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” Psalm 71:18

There is much we can learn from our older generation. They need not be placed into “holding cells” or “old-people prison” or even “gilded cages.”  My mom said to my sister one time, something to the effect that, “It’s nice where I live, but it is still a prison.” And I really don’t want anyone to feel that way. Not ever. Life is to be lived joyously, peacefully, and with love, until our last breath. And ideally, surrounded by family and friends.

Tomorrow will be another busy day; the week will be full. And slowly but surely, we will be checking more things off our lists. The hubby can come home later in the week and not have to leave again for a couple of weeks; he can relax at home for awhile. I can start packing us up to move (*The thrill is gone…* I am channeling my inner BB King). My youngest son can get closer to graduation – it all wraps up in a couple of weeks! We can get in tune with this journey we are all on and the feelings we have, as we take these next steps; steps taken together as a family.

“But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15