“Let me sit with you awhile…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year

 

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Slaying our dragons…one day at a time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“I love you every day, not just on Valentine’s Day..”

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So, yeah, it’s Valentine’s Day. I don’t really put a lot of value on some of these “Hallmark Holidays.” Throughout history, we have taken something holy or sacred, and turned it into a twisted and spun holiday that truly has no relation to the original celebration. There are so many things I could think of that ring of consumerism or commercialization. Chocolate covered cherries are something I really dislike. I love marachino cherries in drinks; I even love to chomp on them. But the chocolate covered ones? They are just awful. My husband got me a large box of them when we were first married. Once. LOL  We joke about it now. There are so many varieties of chocolate devoted to this particular holiday, they are even too numerous to mention! Then, there are those darn peeps, now sold on every holiday. They used to just be for Easter, which was bad enough, but now they are all year long! Which makes my husband, a Peeps devotee, very happy!

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The reason for Valentine’s Day goes back to the story of Saint Valentine, who risked his life insisting on performing Christian marriages, which were ILLEGAL at the time, under the Emperor Claudius of Rome. Valentine continued and was arrested. He was beaten and tortured and released. Once again, he returned to performing Christian marriages. He was arrested again. This time they scheduled his death. As he was waiting in prison, he communicated with a young woman he had been counseling (and reportedly cured of blindness. And some stories say she was the daughter of his jailor; other stories that it was the daughter of Claudius himself) and signed a note to her, allegedly with “from your Valentine.” And that is where we get the tradition of Valentine cards and notes from. He was soon beheaded on February 14, 269 for his crime of insisting on Christian marriages, and not renouncing his faith in Christ. The color red is associated with his holiday because the color red in the Church is the color of martyrdom. And a red heart seems appropriate because he was beheaded for celebrating Christian marriage. In a way, it is a fitting holiday to celebrate love. In one story, the girl he cured planted a pink, flowering almond tree outside the Flaminian gate where he was martyred (and the gate’s name was later changed to the Valentine Gate) and it still blooms pink flowers; another reason for flowers to be associated with his feast day. Below is a photo of how the gate looks now. It is now called the Portal del Popopola – the “door of the people.” (I don’t see the tree but apparently it is safe and still blooms…perhaps they moved it. Another one of those pesky traditions we cannot verify).

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I don’t know why we take these wonderful stories of our faith and make them so different. Christmas and Easter are so far removed from reality. The sad part is, these holiday (see that word? Holy-day??) celebrations could enrich our lives and not the pocketbooks of retails giants like Hallmark Cards and Hershey’s Chocolate! And so many people get angry because they say that the Church took a valid pagan holiday and stole the date for their own use. Uhm, well, yeah. In some cases, they did that. Why not? If that became the practice of the people, why keep something outdated on the books? Gee? Does this sound like how people want to remove Christopher Columbus and replace him with Indigenous People Day? What is the difference? Well, it’s who holds the calendar and who holds the strings of the historians (the victors write history, don’t they?? Ha-Ha), and who writes the books.

One of the most exciting things about being a history nut, and college-educated anthropology student, is that I have been able to string things together. It’s like standing outside of the timeline and watching things progress. Ever see one of those timelines in a classroom, along the tops of the walls, wrapping its way around from the formation of the earth to present-day events? That is what studying history is like. Anthropology is the study of peoples as they are associated with timely events…it’s like being able to touch history. And so much of what we know, and who we are, is interwoven with our historical story. And each generation takes this precious history and messes with it, to match our current cultural miasma. We can always strive to find the original, and learn to appreciate where we have come from, and what the origins of what we celebrate, really are. And that’s why I love history and anthropology.

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So my rant for the day is to stop the silliness. Tell those you love that you love them everyday. Don’t wait for the brightly colored and packaged peeps to arrive in the store, or for the retail world with all their decorations entice us into buying things representing the love we have for one another – things we don’t really need. Tell each other you love one another. Show how you love one another by doing kindnesses for each other. Open the door for someone. Let someone ahead of you merge onto the highway. Make the bed. Pour another cup of coffee. Empty the dishwasher. Throw in a load of laundry. Make their favorite meal. Write a love letter. Put little notes into the suitcase of a traveling spouse. Write a note and stick it inside your child’s lunchbox. Make something for the person you love, that comes from your heart. Do something that demonstrates how you feel. You can do it without going into debt or buying more things you do not really need. So celebrate our holidays, with a look back to what they really are, where they came from, and who we really are. Celebrate with full knowledge, and enjoy these special days on our calendars even more!!

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**This is dedicated to my husband of 32 years and the love of my life for 34 years. You are my life and I love you everyday, not just on Valentine’s Day.**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Today the Virgin is on her way to the cave where she will give birth to the Eternal Word of God in an ineffable manner. Rejoice, therefore, O universe, when you hear this news, and glorify with the angels and the shepherds Him who shall appear as a newborn Babe, being God from all eternity.”

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

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

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

 

“Be still…”

Mirror Lake

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

This quote, by John Lubbock, spoke to me. We have had friends visiting from the “lower 48” this week and I know experiencing some pristine nature is never a waste of time. I have watched them visibly relax. I have seen the wonder on their faces and their joy burst forth when coming face-to-face with bears at the Wildlife Preserve, with watching the salmon jump as they climb to their spawning grounds at our Hatchery. I love sharing the blessing of where we live with people who do not get to experience it as often as we do. This lifestyle is certainly not for everyone, and I would not expect others to embrace where I live just because I do. I know it took me more than 40 years, once I first imagined this place, to actually live here. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7). It is amazing to me how close to God you can feel, immersed in nature.

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I jokingly asked our visitors if they needed some time with asphalt and smog, with all this “nature overload.” And we chatted about how tired they are because of processing all that they are seeing, hearing, breathing, and tasting. It takes a lot out of you to travel to an environment that is so foreign to your daily routine. As we meandered along our coastline and mountains, we all remarked about how brave the early explorers were. We were imagining the native peoples making their home here, and the early explorers and then miners, making their way through these near-impenetrable mountains. There are places here that have never experienced the footfall of man. How remarkable that we live here, in among all the stupendous magnificence of a God who loves us.

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Occasionally nature needs our help. In this state, we encourage natural activities and assist in raising the live birth numbers of many of our indigenous species. Most people who come here to sports fish would be sorely disappointed if nature was the only provider! Our Fish and Game Department is doing themselves proud with how they are helping our salmon spawn successfully.  There were approximately 6.5 million fish released into the waters of Alaska in 2016. Pretty impressive. We recently learned that an entire herd of Wood Bison, over 130 of them, were released successfully from our Wildlife Conservation Center. Wow! I love walking through our hatcheries, learning the stories of the many fish we have here in Alaska. At the Sealife Center in Seward, they work so hard to rehab the different animals back into the wild. In amongst all this nature, thriving here, you certainly feel humbled.

Aurora August 2016

One of the things that people always want to see is the Aurora Borealis, or the “Northern Lights” when they visit us. In the summertime, that is pretty hard because it doesn’t really get dark enough. Last night we got notices through our news and weather sites that the Aurora possibility was a +6, which is high. We stayed up until 1:30am, and even got up again at 3:30am, but it was either too light or too cloudy where we are. The photo above was taken north of us last night. “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” (Hebrews 9:24). When you see the magnificence in the heavens, where the stars seem to dance, you certainly feel small, humbled, and in awe.

The experience of nature, up close and personal, away from the noise, smells, and interference of thousands of people, can ease your suffering and your pain. It makes your spiritual connection strengthen. I know for me, when I go to Church and can watch the snow dancing on the windows, and the candles are burning brightly, I can feel God. Learning to be still and seek His presence can be difficult in the midst of asphalt, smog, freeways, and social insanity, but it can be done. I found God in the middle of Southern California’s rush hour lifestyle. But I was constantly seeking my peace elsewhere. My prayer is that more and more can experience God in the stillness of His creation. It is truly magnificent, humbling, and breaks open those walls we place around ourselves when we live in a crazy, crowded world. Prayer seems to come naturally, in nature’s wonderland.

Be Still

“…Hallowed be Thy name…”

FatherSonHands

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

Dadson hunting

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

Fly Fishing Float Tube

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

OurFather.meme.

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

incensor.pantocrator

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

Vanilla beans.milkshake