“…and blessed shall you be…”

So, we are all moved in and we are totally out of our old house. Now I just have to clean it and return the keys. It was a great house to get us into our new adventure here in the Last Frontier. It wasn’t too remote (there were apartments across the street) and yet it was not in a large town. There are 30,000 living in the main town and surrounding areas. The town we moved to? About 9,000. Ha-Ha. When we last visited the greater Los Angeles area, we left Long Beach Airport and drove onto the 405 Freeway, where it is melding with the Garden Grove Freeway. We realized we had seen more people on that freeway than lived in the town we lived in. Now I realize there were more rental cars in that parking lot than in the entire town we live in. And I love it.

How often have we heard, “I don’t go to Church because so-and-so did this-and-such to me.” Or, “I have my faith in God; I don’t need a Church.” I have written blog posts on this before. No man is an island. We need one another. For better or worse. And our world is becoming more and more fractured. It makes me so very sad.

What do these things have in common? People. Numbers of people. Living styles. Remote, quieter life style and city/concrete jungle life. Neither is perfect. Many people have left the countryside to move to the city for a better life, better job, better opportunities. Not as many have escaped all that to live in more remote areas. Regardless of where we live, we do not live there without neighbors. They may be close enough to hand us a tissue when we sneeze, or they may be miles away. But nonetheless, we have neighbors.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. …” Deuteronomy 28: 1-68

What can we do to be good neighbors, regardless of where our neighbors are? Regardless of who our neighbors are? There are so many of us who purport to be Christians, but how “Christ-like” are we, really? Ghandi did not like Christians; he liked Christ but commented at how terribly judgmental Christians could be. And many are also very exclusionary. We pulled our oldest son from public school mid-way through 2nd grade and chose to homeschool him. There were some people who would not let our son play with their children because he had once attended public school – and these were very rigid “traditional” Catholics. They snubbed us, as adults, too, because we “mixed”with the world. (Funny, ironic, story? Their boys were the ones selling alcohol to all the minor homeschool kids behind their parents’ rigid backs. Karma). My point is that it is silliness to limit yourself when it comes to “neighbors.” I have grown exponentially in the past year, by stepping outside my comfort zone and embracing all sorts of people. And my life is so much richer for it. So much richer. I have made some friends that have enriched my world so very much and I feel very, very blessed. Even in this little corner of the world.

I have refrained from posting lately because I have been so very busy, but also reflective. There have been news stories that have caught my interest, things happening with friends and family, and the busy-ness of settling into a new home in a new community. Enough that at the end of the day, I fall into bed, exhausted. And that leaves little time for blogging. Instead of unpacking another box or doing another chore this weekend, we took off at the invitation from a group of people we have come to enjoy so very much (we are starting to see them more and more often and it has been so much fun) to enjoy some wilderness time. We drove 72 miles north of where we live, feeling like we were driving on top of the world. It was beautiful in every direction, and rarely did we see another building. We drove on paved roads for most of the way, but then we hit the dirt roads (more roads are unpaved here than paved) in my grandma car. Ha-Ha! And the drive did not disappoint! We got to cross this gorgeous bridge and see some amazing sites. We hung out with a great group of people. We were able to have a “sit around the campsite” chat with our local Senator (seriously…our Senator) and discuss the state of our state. How wonderful is that??? Even though we were miles and miles and miles away from anything, we were with neighbors. We communicated. We discussed. We challenged one another. We bonded. It is what people do with each other, when they allow themselves to be neighborly.

As we drove into the sunset (the above photo was taken through my dirty windshield about 7:30pm) and contemplated all these things, we realized that we cannot remain separate. We cannot say that we will only associate with people who are like us, or who think like we do, or who reflect our best selves back onto others. We need to embrace the heart of the person we are with, regardless of the trappings of who they are or how they are perceived. God calls us to this very thing – to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” And “neighbor” is every, single person, we are not. Everyone other than ourselves is our neighbor. And there is a spark of God in every, single person out there.

Is this an easy thing? Most certainly it is not. Most of us cannot stand someone because of a myriad of reasons important to us (at the time we chose to not be neighborly). Our neighborhoods, our towns, our schools, our states, our country – all of them are unneighborly in some form or another. But it all starts with me. Since this is my last move and I have dubbed this house my “casket” house (I do not want to move again – ever) I am planning to embed myself in this community, in this neighborhood. I will endeavor to know my physical neighbors, as well as those I gather with, in all our shared glory and ugliness. I cannot do it without the Grace of God. If only each of us would endeavor to try this. Just think of what we could accomplish!?!? If everyone would participate with their next-door neighbors, in their communities, we could change the entire world. If everyone who usually waits in the wings for other people to take care of things would just pick up that rake and do it themselves, our lives and our world would be transformed. And if you translate that rake to our vote – yeah; the “Silent Majority” needs to reawaken and make this happen! We can change this world…starting at home.

God bless each of us, and as we approach the anniversary of our country, God Bless America.

 

 

“Therefore, do not worry…”

I awoke in full panic mode. I was having a hard time breathing, my heart was pounding, and I was sweating. “How are we going to do this?” This is the third night in our new home. It is an amazing house. The situation of the property is incredible. I feel like I am in a park. Our dog is having a hard time adjusting to eating and going potty. She is intimated, I think, by all the wildlife around her. We have no fencing – just an acre of green – trees, wild roses, and all sorts of birds – a frog hopped across my foot as I got out of my car last night. When I took the dog out for her morning poop, she squatted and looked all around her, eventually poo-ing in a circle. I think she was worried a moose would pop out of the wooded area in the back. It was hysterical to watch. And our cat? She is just all messed up. Meowing all through the night, off and on, wandering all over. She loves to watch the wildlife outside the windows. I just wish she would let me sleep. I am exhausted. And so panicking seems on par. Ha-Ha!

We have been praying for a place to put down roots, where we never have to leave, and where we could gracefully grow old together. A place where we had room to entertain our family and friends, where my husband could “putter” and where I could just relax in nature. And we never thought, after all the issues we have had financially because of poor economic health in our nation, that we could buy a house, again. We really thought we would rent indefinitely. And we also thought the American Dream was a dead idea, whose day had passed. But somehow we qualified. Somehow, the lenders had faith in us and our ability to care for this property. We attended a course offered through our state housing authority and that qualified us for all sorts of programs, and it also informed us about the process of buying a home. The laws have changed since 2008! Not only have we lived in 3 states since that time, but the world of home buying changed a lot. Far more protection for the buyers! Yay! And there is a lot of grant money to be had out there. (Go check it out!).

As I ponder the view from my window – sorry for the poor quality – I know that because we have prayed for this, and because so many people have approved this move, we are going to be okay. Somehow we will make this work. I panic every month, wanting to be sure our bills are all paid and it has finally paid off – stellar credit and our dream home. So why worry? “I keep waiting for that other shoe to drop” is what I keep telling our realtor. He laughs and says I need to stop and just enjoy our home. I guess he is right. Maybe once I get past all these darn boxes, I will feel better. There are just so many of them!! LOL!

My kids (keep laughing, Kathleen and Bryce) have given me such a hard time, as have my friends (I am so grateful, Tina) and even my brother (thanks, Mark) for saving boxes. Not just any box, mind you; the boxes all the things I own came in. Like coffee makers, the computer, our phones, a rice cooker, etc. I keep them all, just in case I need to return them, or to use when we move. (“Mom, you have a Nokia phone box? They don’t even make phones anymore!!!”). The kicker is that when we came across these boxes, we had already packed the item, or it was 2-3 versions ago (notoriously go through coffee makers!!). And so I have vowed to finally get rid of them all, because this is my last move. Ever. I have resolved that this is my dream home, and I am calling it my casket house. I will be taken out of here in a casket…but not with boxes.

I am learning to purge things from my life I have hung on to, for some weird reasons, and just let them go. I am not sure why I have some of the stuff I do have, and why I kept what I did. Kind of makes me laugh. And a bright side is that when I was setting up our trash service, the gal told me about how they recycle all the cardboard and paper and bubble wrap right next to the dump. She said, “Why pay to drop it off when you can get paid to drop it off?” Sounds good to me – even more incentive to get rid of boxes I have held on to.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns—and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his lifespan?

And why do you worry about clothes? Consider how the lilies of the field grow: They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans pursue all these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6: 25-34

And so I am trying to let it all go and let God handle my anxiety. Because I do trust Him. When I try to take things back into my own hands is when the panic appears. So I take a deep breath and I unpack another box, adding it to our recycling pile. We can do this. We are settling in, making this our home, and praising God we have this little corner of the world for our own.

 

 

“She laughs without fear of the future.”

I haven’t posted in while. Life sort of gets in the way of my musing. I need to be elsewhere, than on my computer. But today, well, today I felt like sharing thoughts. I have been participating in a bible study on Proverbs. This past weekend, my husband joined me in listening to Fr. Josiah as he spoke about “the perfect wife.” I did not realize the title of the talk until we started it, and we both chuckled. But the talk itself was not just about a father’s instructions to his son on finding the perfect wife, but rather about the character traits we all need to strive for. It was a good talk and it seemed over so quickly.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” Proverbs 31: 25

There are more ways than we think of demonstrating a good, moral character. We can look for all these attributes in others, or we can strive to have them ourselves, to mirror those things we wish others had. “When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instruction with kindness.” (Proverbs 31:26) As we explored this chapter, which is the final chapter of Proverbs, we learned so very much about ourselves. And I was struck by some pretty amazing thoughts!

I have caused myself to rethink how I see other people, and the effect I allow them to have on my life. There are people who I have strived hard to be like. People whose opinions mattered to me. People I looked up to. And as I have studied these sayings about the perfect wife, I realize that many of these people are just play-acting roles they have assumed. They did not truly embody the character traits I thought they had. They were pretending, or “going through the motions” of being something or someone, but when I pondered many of them, thinking of them particularly in light of the character traits I strive to have, I realized they spoke of these traits, but did not own them.

Metanoia – the change in one’s way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion.

When someone says they have embraced their faith, there is an expected change. They alter how they view life, how they treat people, and how they live. Granted, some people will never fundamentally change, but a great deal about how they are and how they treat others undergoes a profound change. And sometimes, it does not. At all. They parade, they act, they pose. And, when you come up against someone like this, for me at least, I want to make them a huge sign that says, “WWJD” and flash it in their faces.
When our metanoia only shows itself at church, it is not a change of heart or soul. I attended a conference many years ago that was supposed to be a “charismatic” conference. I had a little exposure to charismatics throughout my life and I thought it would be fun to attend. It was visually pretty mind-boggling. I have never been one of those who outwardly expresses themselves in church with “hallelujahs” and “praise the Lords” with shouts and raised arms. I am a quiet church attendee. I am pretty traditional in how I like my church services, which is why I think I have gravitated eastward for so many years. Anyway, at this conference, people were being prayed over and being “slain in the spirit.” (Overcome by spiritual emotion causing fainting and other reactions). When it came to me, three people stood around me (making a box with their bodies and I was very uncomfortable) and the fourth person stood in front and prayed over me, and then pushed me with the palm of his hand on my forehead, expecting me to faint. Instead, I yelled, “Ouch! Why did you hit me?” They all looked at me and said, “Next, please.” I felt like I had missed out on something amazing. I had no life-changing moment; no metanoia. In another instance, when I was at a pre-sanctified liturgy during Lent more than 10 years ago, as the priest passed over me, carrying the Body and Blood of our Lord, and as his vestments passed over me, I felt an electrical charge that went straight to my heart. Much later (as in months had passed) this same priest and I were chatting and he brought up that exact moment – because he had felt it, too. That was confirmation enough for me! God was present. And my heart melted. I have never forgotten that moment and it still brings me up short, that God would allow me to personally experience His presence in such a way. It changed me. And it brought me closer to God than anything I had experienced up until that point.

1 Timothy 11-16

“Command and teach these things.  Let no one look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in your speech, conduct, love, faithfulness, and purity. Until I come, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift you have, given to you and confirmed by prophetic words when the elders laid hands on you. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that everyone will see your progress. Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.”

When we accept the faith that is in our life, either through early baptism and confirmation (as in the eastern and Orthodox churches) or we come to it later in life as a discovery (being “born again” in Protestant churches) we are called to be examples to those around us of Christian living. When we give poor example, we damage our own reputations, yes; but we damage the Church as a body and its members as a whole.

The profound thing I realized is that there are people around me who have shunned organized religion of pretty much every sort, but who are more Christian and Christ-like in so many way than those shouting it from the street corners (Matthew 6:5). And what I realized is that no one has told them they are living a Christian life; that they embody so many of the character traits we look for in the “perfect wife.” And how sad is that? They are dealing with people who purport to be Christians. I know that “we are not perfect, just forgiven,” but c’mon people! We are held to a higher standard! And there are those who somehow think less of themselves because they do not “go to church” in light of these church-goers (always comparing themselves to them) and yet have far better characters, are far more trustworthy, and who will defend your life to the end of theirs.

And so this weekend, I came to see people in light of what they do in relation to others, rather than who or what they say they are. And I was profoundly moved by people who don’t even realize how good they are; and conversely I was profoundly disappointed by some who insist on acting like they are such good Christians of character. And so, once again, my children are teaching me. I have commented in other posts about my son chastising me about judging how some people look, without even getting to know them. That was about 15 years ago. And I have profoundly changed and I know I am a better person for it. I just wish some people knew what great people they are and did not measure themselves in light of the words of others, who profess how good they are!

“…burst out in songs of thanksgiving…”

SOOOO much going on!! We are in escrow on a new house. Always seems to be a few bumps in the road. Trying to be organized and diligent. But sometimes my stomach just cannot handle the stresses assailing us right now. And today, it is not happy – my stomach that is.

Yesterday, our youngest graduated from High School. We homeschool but use a system here that is amazing, and is called IDEA. They put on a very nice graduation, combining three districts, which means we had 110 graduates on the stage. Some of these students had to FLY in to be here. We have a large state. Coming from a public school background myself, I know that 110 students is not a large number; I think we had 300+ in my class. But they do something really cool – they have the parents award the students their diplomas (the fake ones) and each student gets to say a little something if they want to. Then the family poses for photos. This was done at our performing arts center downtown. On a stage. With 110 students. Yeah. It was over 2 hours. The speeches were short and sweet; the musical performances were amazing; the student’s receiving their diplomas was …. long. Even the Master of Ceremonies (the Dean) was ready to get that show on the road! LOL! My stomach had been upset as we were rushing out of the house to get there in time for rehearsal (they do it before the ceremony) and to find a parking spot. I still get lost going downtown, much to my family’s amusement. I had a map the school provided with me, so that helped, but I am still not used to where I am going. Once we parked, all my nerves settled. I wasn’t even that nervous going up on the stage. As I went up, I reminded myself the hard part was over. We completed 12 years of schooling and he was done! All that was left was a hug and handing him that fake diploma…and photos. LOL. But it wreaked havoc on my system…the nerves, then eating out and far too much, and now this escrow hiccup this morning…my tummy is letting me know enough is enough. And I need to listen. Sometimes too much stress is NOT healthy.

“The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Psalm 28:7

“So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you!” Hebrews 10:35

“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.” Psalm 55:22

I found these quotes in a lovely article on the Proverbs 31 site by Linda Evans Shepherd, the author of, “The Stress Cure.” She has a blog, too. And her thoughts were great. And then, as I read in my Proverbs for today, “A house is built by wisdom.” (Proverbs 24:3) and then I read…“If you fall under pressure, your strength is too small.” (Proverbs 24:10). And these verses spoke to me. And to my stomach. I keep trying to rely on myself. And with so many things up in the air right now in our lives, I am letting the evil one whisper in my ear. And I need to shut that down and focus on God’s promises to us all.

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1Corinthians 10:13).

That quote is where we get the adage, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” And I know I am tempted to give in to the negative, which is what my stomach is trying to remind me of. I cannot rejoice in my blessings if I am constantly focusing on the minor things going awry in my life. The way out that the Lord gives me is my faith. And to trust in those around me, working for my good. Rushing to appointments and getting lost in traffic, or not being able to get a parking spot, those all things common to everyone. And the Lord did not let me down and I believe that is where my peace came from. As soon as I pulled into that parking spot yesterday, my soul was at rest. Today, as my stomach roiled against me and I had to fight the urge to actually throw up, I was able to calm myself by reaching for my faith. And for me, it is currently the Book of Proverbs, and my Bible Journaling. And guess what? The Lord did not let me down, again. He is always there to buoy us against the “wickedness and snares of the devil”….

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle,
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil;
may God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God, cast into hell
Satan, and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

I am not alone. The angels and the saints are doing celestial battles for me. I have prayer warriors all around me, that I can call on to pray for me. And when I focus on my many blessings, I realize how foolish I am to get myself all worked up about things. I certainly have far more blessings than trials. And it is almost turning my back on God when I allow my stresses to override my sense of well-being and blessings. That, my friends, is our stupid free will inserting itself into our lives. It is a blessing, to freely think for myself, but my head often gets in-between me and my faith. I need to reign it in and rely more on my inner heart, or the nous, the place where God resides within me, to lead the way.

“Mind is invisibly engaged in battle with the mind––the demon’s mind with our mind. And for this reason it is needful for us to cry out of the depths at each moment to Christ, that He will drive away from us the demon’s mind and give us the prize of victory, as He loves men.”  Hesychius of Jerusalem, Writings from the Philokalia On the Prayer of the Heart, p 289

And so I am declaring myself to be a “stress-free” zone! I am choosing to focus on the Word of God for me, and not that other guy…the bad one who only seeks to destroy. The future is God’s…the end of the story is that God wins. I need to remind myself of that and just relax in His promises for me, for all of us who believe. Won’t you join me?

“What’s next?”

My youngest son dreams fire fighting. He belongs to the Fire Explorers. He is now serving on a volunteer department, gaining more certifications and moving towards his goal of becoming a fire fighter. He used to want to be a pilot (and belonged to CAP, the Civil Air Patrol), but somewhere along the way he discovered search and rescue, and that, in turn, led to fire fighting. He loves it. He loves everything about it. He has gone on his own, studying and testing, and earning certifications through FEMA, above and beyond his class requirements. We are blessed here to have a specialty school for high school students to take courses that interest them, and help to prepare them to enter the working world. They have hospitality training, and a beauty school; they have culinary arts and auto shop; they have welding and computer programming. Do you want to become a travel agent? A TV journalist? A policeman? A seamstress? A plumber? Aircraft mechanic? You can gain certifications and skill sets that prepare you to get a good job, right after graduation from high school. We were thrilled when he was accepted into their Fire Science program. By going there, he was able to get his EMT 1 certification, and in 2 more days, his Fire Fighter, Search & Rescue certification. It has been such a blessing.

Last night we had the annual Family Night at Fire Explorers, where they demonstrate what the kids have learned, showing us their new skill sets, and they pass out awards. My son won two awards this year and we were so proud. He won, “Most Enthusiastic Explorer” and, “Class Clown.” He is a joyful person, and is always making people laugh. And as I said, he lives, eats, and breathes fire fighting. He truly loves the life and culture of first-responders. He is always volunteering for ride-alongs and will drop everything to volunteer at a fire event. He loves this so much and it makes my heart swell to see him so happy. We have definitely encouraged it. He does not, however, plan to pursue any schooling past high school. And you know what? I am perfectly okay with that. I didn’t think I would be, but I truly am.

As we have homeschooled our sons, and then placed them in high school programs, and watched the older ones attend college, we have learned a lot. Our schooling experience has spanned more than 27 years, and has had many expressions – public, private, and homeschooling. Parenting does not come with books (well, the pundits and experts write books, but very few of us in the trenches have the leisurely time to read them) and we learn as we go along. It’s funny how your dreams and expectations for your children change as you get to know them as individuals. I was raised to pursue college; I was enrolled in “Courses for the college bound” in high school. My brother majored in sports and girls, and lasted 2 semesters at a junior college. But he has been a business owner and is very successful in life. I lasted 10 years, off and on, at a local university. But neither of us completed our studies (I could not major long enough in any one area…I love learning!!). I am a housewife and homeschooling mom who blogs. My husband is degreed and is working on further certifications even now, in his late 50s. My older son has 2 AA’s and uses neither of them, but rather, found a career as an electrician and only just completed his 5-year apprenticeship program. Literally a week ago, he passed the state exams and is now a certified electrician! Our middle son went to a 4-year college and graduated with high honors. But he does not use that degree in his life…he is a 9-1-1 dispatcher, paying off college loans and raising a family. My point? Not everyone needs college or university. I am totally fine with who my sons are as men and have become, as breadwinners and citizens. I am a very proud mother!!

I really don’t agree with how our schools have morphed over the years. Kids get very little recess time and we have a preponderance of ADD and ADHD….I know there is a correlation. And we removed music and band, choir and art. We took away shop class and cooking class. We replaced it all with Common-Core-aligned academics that are producing students who cannot pass basic English to attend college. And they can’t change a tire or fix a meal. Nor have they been taught basic civics, in order to take their place, responsibly as voters, or even as members of our military or government.

As in the above photo, I have this in an old milk bottle, on the shelf above my kitchen sink. Whenever I touch it, I think lovingly of my grandma and her mom, my great-grandma. My youngest son asked me, when I touched it the other day, what it was. I have had it my whole life. And I have had it displayed my entire marriage. And he is just now, at 18 years old, asking me what it is. I thought he knew. It surprised me. I had to take it out of the milk bottle and explain what I meant when I said, “It is a sock-darner.” His reply? “Huh?”  I had to explain that when our socks got holes in them, we repaired the holes – we “darned” them. We did not throw socks away. He was shocked. And it made me think of all the things we have lost along the way.

I posted in another blog about all my stuff and how my kids will not want it. I also inherited my grandparents’ keepsakes. Like the sock-darner. I will have to explain what some of these items are because the arts of home-making and keeping a house (as in basic repairs) have been lost. In home economics in school I learned basic stitches, so I could hand-sew buttons and darn socks. Ha-Ha.  I learned how to do some basic repairs in that class, “in case our husbands were not around.” My brother did shop class and developed a love for engines and the smell of gasoline he still has. My sons were taught some basics by my husband, around the house and with our vehicles. They grew up, for the most part, on dairy farms and were riding tractors and working in milking barns by the time they were 6 and 7 years old. They worked on tractors and tossed hay, fed cows and cleaned barns. It was a blessed way to raise boys. The past few weekends my youngest son has learned to replace his brakes and to change his oil, and to check for all the fluid levels in his car. But so many of our kids know nothing about these basic skills. My dad can barely make a cup of tea and burn some toast. He never had to learn the “womanly arts.” His mom or his two wives did/do all that for him. I don’t think he has ever vacuumed or washed clothes or windows. But he can replace our garbage disposal and garage door. He can fix the A/C in the house and in the car. And he still remembers doing that, at 90 years old. I taught my sons to cook and do laundry, as well as how to clean a house and wash the windows. I did not want them to leave that to their wives/girlfriends, or to have to hire someone to do it for them, when they were adults. I wanted them to be well-rounded men. In part, I think I was a success. But their skill levels in laundry are still not that good…even as married men! Ha-Ha.

As my grandchildren prepare to enter the school system, I am taking pause to think about the direction in which education is going. Who will become our mechanics and plumbers? Who will be able to put a man on the moon? Who will discover the cure for diseases plaguing us now? Who? With our alignment with Common Core standards, we are eliminating so many things that help kids think. They are now providing reading material that is aligned with the Common Core testing. Most of it is not fiction, it is technical. It is not about fantasy adventures where there are swords and damsels in distress, or where heroes are facing giants and lands are discovered. It is about how things work. It is basic linguistic patterning. It is not the language of artistic expression; poetry or some of our sagas and myths. There are plenty of facts (many of which do NOT match the facts I was taught) to remember and stories of recent events (which don’t jive with what I recall). I have been researching Common Core and to tell you the truth, there is good in it. But the vast majority of it, the way in which the information is disseminated, and the testing procedures, are all bad. Unfortunately, our SATs and ACTs, as well as college entrance requirements, are all CC aligned, too.

So what is next? Where do we direct our children? Personally, I loved college. But I also know not everyone is wired that way. Some kids needs to be physically active and do things with their hands and brute strength. Some adults prefer to look at their jobs as jobs, and not careers. As a way of providing the life they want to live, not the career they want to have. Some people want to be that famous scientist or engineer that figures out how to run cars without gasoline, or to reach the moon and colonize it. Are we providing the tools necessary to our young children, in order for them to realize these dreams? I would opine that, in our current state of schooling in America, we are not. We have lost our focus on what learning should be; what education should be. I am privileged to have been able to homeschool our children. We have gone back and forth for their high school with private school and homeschooling. We are blessed to live in a state that supports homeschooling 100% and then some. We have a state that has these specialty schools that teach kids the skills they need to seek immediate employment upon graduation. But not everyone is so blessed. We need to embrace, actively, making our school system better. Throwing money at the problem does not fix it. I think we all need to seriously look at it and answer the question, “What’s next?”

“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.

“Because of your little faith.”

It’s like banging my head on the wall..why do I insist on going my own way? It always, always, is much harder. Ugh. I started out my day taking a couple of phone calls, and then diving into a headache-inducing paperwork snafu and dealing with all sorts of other annoying tidbits (in and of themselves not huge, but together, my own mountain). But I did not start out in prayer, nor in grounding myself in the Word of God. I tried to just carry on and “git-er-done” all on my own. The result? Headache, stress, rushing around trying to accomplish a myriad of small tasks, and then rushing out the door and collapsing in stress in my car.

Some days I just cannot get it together. And then I realized that those are the days I think I can accomplish everything by myself. I don’t seek prayers from people; I don’t actually ask for help; and I never even think to open my Bible or pray. How is it we can rely so heavily on our faith, and then forget to use it??

Last night I attended a talk from a retired police officer about the legal use of force. He was speaking to a group of women who all belong to this wonderful organization for women shooters. (https://thewellarmedwoman.com) Last night, I listened as this officer talked to us about armed intruders. He was saying that when we challenge an intruder with phrases like, “Stop. Don’t move a muscle or I will shoot you” we have to command them, not meekly ask them. And he also said we need lots of hours with our weapons, making sure they are in perfect condition and ready to fire; that we spend hours upon hours at the range, getting comfortable with our weapons, and that we develop muscle memory with our weapon. Then he suggested we wear them (as our conceal carry permits allow) and go about our lives, with a smile on our faces. We are aware of our surroundings, we are armed and know how to protect ourselves, and we can enjoy life – and he said, “Smile.” And it made me think.

I have been working my weapon – my faith. I have become familiar with it, developing my “muscle memory.” I have taken care of it. And I command it when I speak of it, to intruders. Right? Well, it seems to me that when I need to depend on the stores I have built up inside of me, I fall flat. I totally revert to panic mode. Which, in the case of an intruder intending to commit bodily harm, would not bode well for a successful outcome, for me. Reacting, through muscle memory, is how our faith should work. If I were to be cast on an island, by myself, what would I do? I would not have my bible or my study to do; my journals would not be with me…what would I depend on?

There are many stories and many people diverge greatly on their acceptance of these stories, but for an example, the Apostle John (and let’s not argue if it is him, John the Elder, etc) is exiled to the Island of Patmos. Patmos means “my killing” and it is believed to be a sterile island in the Aegean Sea. It was common practice for the Romans to banish from their lands people who disagreed with them. We also know they were very fond of crucifixion as a form of punishment. The story goes that while on the Island of Patmos, St. John penned the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelations. It is agreed that this was around 95AD. On that island of banishment, John did not wallow at being on a sterile island (not much grew there; very little flora or fauna) but instead, He listened to God and he wrote the inspired words of God, and shared it with the world. The book of Revelation. Wow. Me? I more than likely would have died.

“When they came to the crowd a man approached, knelt down before him,
and said, “Lord, have pity on my son, for he is a lunatic and suffers severely; often he falls into fire, and often into water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Jesus said in reply, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him here to me.” Jesus rebuked him and the demon came out of him, and from that hour the boy was cured. Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17: 14-20).

And today, in the light of my dismal trust and poor faith yesterday, I realize that I do have faith. I do. Because I realized that I was wrong in trusting only in myself. I sought prayer from friends and many offered more in the way of help, as well. I performed a task that I did not wish to do, but was able to do it with a thought and prayer of thanksgiving. In my gratitude journal I wrote, “I am releasing my wants and melding them to the wants and needs of my family and the desires for me that God has in store for me.” That is the start of great faith…trusting in the small things. Because truly, my tasks for the day were small things. There were many of them, but they were small. And God is blessing us, over and over again. Truly blessing us. Sometimes we do not see the blessing, because it is clouded by our wants and desires. I know that I need to subsume my desires and wants, and allow God to direct my steps and my future. Because without Him, I wander, I lose faith, and I panic. How silly of me. He is always here, waiting for me. Always.