“…wait patiently for Him to act…”

May their memories be eternal. The bombing of Churches in Egypt and the Middle East on Palm Sunday makes reflections on my Lenten journey seem so superfluous; silly in some ways; and almost disrespectful in others. It is certainly sobering and makes most of us stop and take into account what we are doing and what is important to us, in our daily lives.

This past week has been pretty stressful, personally, dealing with the health of my parents and my mother-in-law, as well as trying to find housing solutions. I don’t know about you, but purposely going into debt scares me. Taking on a home loan after not having one for a few years is pretty intimidating. The bankers have been wonderful to deal with, and apparently we are a good “risk” for them, but still, the idea of a lot of debt at my age is a little scary. And then to see these images of death and bloodshed on Palm Sunday, it made me draw up short and just stop the nonsense for a few minutes. The least we can do is pray for the lives lost and their families. It is just so horrific. The shooting of 60 Tomahawk missiles into Syria set me on edge to begin with; I do not want World War III. I don’t. I am a mother of a veteran. One son is enough, trust me.

When my dad was talking to me from the hospital ICU, he sounded so far away and so very vulnerable. My dad has always prided himself on his physical strength. His handshake could always crush another person’s hand, and he always shook your hand in a strong way; his hugs could steal your breath away. Even in his 70s. But now, at 90, with Parkinson’s and Dementia stealing much of his daily life from him, he was still able to tell me how amazed everyone at the hospital was with his overall strength. And he took much comfort in that. And pride. And he always joked that he never exercised, not since his 20s, and he never understood the craze. He did power walking and rode a bicycle, but nothing more. And he’s always been so very strong. It is hard for the strong to allow themselves to become weak; to allow others to care for them is hard; to acknowledge their weakness is even more difficult.

I believe that we are seeing a time in our world where the strengths we have come to rely upon are being challenged, in a world-wide, political realm, but also personally. And this is Holy Week, too. God has timing that is beyond our comprehension and beyond our expectations. I know that the people at the parish church in Tanta had no idea that Palm Sunday was their last day on earth. They had gone to Church to celebrate Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, knowing that in the next 3 days He would be condemned to death….”Crucify Him” the crowds would chant after yelling “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” a mere three days earlier. And these Coptic Christians, who are now martyrs for the faith, were chanting, “Hosanna” as their lives were taken. 43 lives taken and 100s injured in an act of terrorism against innocent Christians. Our world is careening out of control in the sense that things are not as they were, and I wonder where we are headed. My dad, personally, is having to surrender control over his life and well-being. He has to allow others to care for him. He has to trust others will have his best interests at heart. Who do we trust to do that for us on a local, national, and international level? Who has my best interest at heart?

I have learned over this Lenten journey that God is in control. Always. We see life taken away and we wonder why; we question things like this bombing in Egypt; we wonder where God is in all of this. But I honestly believe His hand is in it all. Every moment of it. Sometimes the souls He brings home to Him, He wants with Him in Paradise. We mourn the lives lost, yes, because of the horror of how they were taken and the loss we experience when those we love are taken. But I try to remember the promises God has made. It is hard on those of us still here – those He has taken are still singing “Hosanna in the highest,” only with Heaven’s choir. We are angry at the violent way in which they were taken. But mostly we grieve for ourselves. Because we are still here. Learning to trust God in all things? That, my friend, is the journey. Always trusting. Always.

God is looking at the entire timeline. We are standing in our own little section of eternity. (Teeny-tiny little space we each occupy during our lifetimes). He sees eternity from its inception until He comes again and makes all things whole. I place my trust in His wisdom and love for me. I let my frustration and fear, sadness and expectations, completely go. Once you allow God to rule in all areas – truly all of them – you are free. It is a constant struggle to release our control and hand it to God. A daily struggle. But the rewards are eternal. If we think about the control we exert on our environment on a daily basis, handing all of that over to God is intimidating and frightening. We argue over who has control of the TV remote; who is driving which car; whose choice it is for the meal we will eat or where we go that day; even which house to live in or what Church we attend. Handing over complete control to God in a culture of “control freaks” is an intimidating task, and one that is impossible without prayer and complete trust in God. It’s something we all need to focus on, moment by moment. Trust, and allow God to “take the wheel.” (from Carrie Underwood’s song, “Take the Wheel”). During Holy week, we need to focus on our journey, and walk with Christ on His journey this week, humbly asking Him to give us hearts to see the way.

I pray that our Holy Week be ever fruitful and we each allow God to “make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 2:5-6) God is in control and He truly has our best interests at heart. We cannot allow ourselves to overly trust in human choices and decisions. Things go awry daily. Missiles are shot at the wrong target; people say stupid things; poor choices are made. In amongst all of that, God is silently, quietly, waiting for us all to listen to Him.

Blessed Holy Week. For those lives lost in these bombings – our Coptic Christian brothers and sisters – may their memories be eternal.

Spring has sprung… I think.

ItsSpringMinions

 

Well, it supposedly happened.  Spring sprung.  Up here, near to the Arctic Circle, things happen a little slower.  But truly, our winter was so very mild, in comparison to friends on the East Coast of the USA, in the “lower 48,” as they call it.  We are all happy to see longer days and more sunshine. I find it so humorous that because we now are getting longer days, that people assume it’s acceptable to whip out their shorts and flip-flops.  I did have to wear sunglasses, because the sun was so bright, but it was only 10-degrees outside.  Still, I saw a man wearing his shorts and flip-flops as he ran into the store.  Determined that it was Spring!  Ha-Ha!

ItsSpring.Nope

We were told to not get too excited with the sunshine, and that the weather pattern is changing, again.  Two weeks ago we all got blizzard warnings on our phones, warning of 15″ – 17″ of snow overnight.  We barely got a covering of frost.  So people don’t trust the TV weather people too much. Over the next 10 days, we are supposed to see a change from our 20s and sunshine to 40s, clouds, and rain.  Oh bother – just when I wanted to take down my Christmas lights! Ha-Ha!  They are some days not frozen to the roof, but most days they have been.  It’s interesting, living in the Last Frontier… weather is certainly never dull.

LakeMountains.AK

I am blessed to live in one of those places where honestly, I think God stood on the 7th Day and said, “It is good.”  The views here are truly breath-taking. The sun moves in a cycle that we can actually watch.  It is so different than anywhere else, it is hard to explain. I can watch the trail of the sun as it rises on the east side of my house, is over the hills to the south around noon or so, and goes down to the west of us.  It is never over my house, regardless of the time of year, nor is it ever in our front yard.  Ever.  Which, growing up in SoCal with the sun over your head all day, is a little disconcerting.  We can actually watch the moon move across the skies, too.  It is pretty amazing.  Up here, we can see the curvature of the earth.  What a blessing.

In this environment, it is not a good thing to be unhealthy or out of shape.  In fact, for people who are heavy, there are very few places to buy winter gear.  I guess the manufacturers just assume fat people (a) don’t live here, or (b) don’t get cold.  It cracks me up.  I love Amazon Prime!  So many of us live with Amazon because the shopping selection for some things is not the same as the Lower 48.  And with winter gear for us “fluffy” people, that is the case.  And I also have a hard time finding jeans.  Just jeans. I mean, come on!  All of this was starting to really annoy me.  When we lived in WA, this feeling was started.  Not because I could not find fat-lady clothes there, but because I wanted to be out and about, moving in the beauty that surrounded me. And I tried and totally blew out a knee.  The doctor told me I needed to loose weight before he could recommend knee surgery.  Then I had heart palpitations.  Went to the ER and then was sent to a cardiologist.  All sorts of expensive tests were run.  I am, and seem to always be, healthy as a horse…. I am just overweight.  The cardiologist told me I would die of complications from being overweight before my heart gave out on me.  And those experiences began an internal nagging.  One I am finally listening to.

Minion.EOSMy family and I were introduced to Essential Oils. I cannot fully express to you what a change that has wrought for all of us.  My son now uses a special blend on his forehead when he does school.  It is really helping him.  My husband had a bad shoulder, he is now able to hold his grandchildren.  I was having recurring chest colds and bronchitis… and I am now cough-free.  We diffuse them in our home, we apply them to our skin, we ingest them with carrier oils, we drink a drop or two in our water.  I even cook with them (the basil oil made amazing spaghetti sauce).  They have become an integral part of our lives.  And through the exposure to EO’s we have been introduced to a more natural, healthy way of living.  We are slowly replacing cleaning products with natural ones.  We are now using natural deodorants (that truly work) and I am using a natural face cream.  Slowly but surely we are detoxing our bodies and our home. And it feels so good.

Iworkout

We have finally made the ultimate step.  Our family has changed from one that reads, to one that now works out.  We joined a family health club.  I have worked out twice and I can honestly say I am excited to keep doing this.  I was not at all intimidated because the staff was so very nice.  Even though I am clinically obese (sounds horrid, doesn’t it?) I wore my sweats and a t-shirt and tried all the machines. I found several that I really liked. I could feel my spine stretching and it was awesome.  To be honest, I feel like I am waking my body up from permanent couch potato status.  And after a couple of times of working out that induced sweat, I am a little achy.  Okay, it hurts.  “But it’ a good hurt,” right? Ha-Ha.  Who are we kidding? It flat out hurts.  But because it does, I am feeling; I am getting in touch with my body after a 30-year lag.  It took me that long to get this way, so I know it will take time and effort to improve.  The secret for me to want to keep going back is that I am doing it with my entire family, including my married son and his wife.  She and I work out together and quite honestly we have laughed so much, it has made the pain and sweat not so bad.  For example, on our first attempt at working out using an automated leg press machine: “You want me to put these legs up there, in that machine?”  And then we tried.  Oh my goodness, we laughed so hard.  A very nice gentleman was across the way and was laughing so much his head was red.  He walked over and kindly showed us how to move the seat, so getting my legs up there was actually possible! Leg presses used to be so different in the 1970s when I last used them! Ha-Ha!  My married son met my husband and our 16-year old at the club this morning at 5:00 am.  They all worked out together.  And my son actually started school by 8:00 am.  You have no idea what a victory that is (try homeschooling a night-owl teen boy and getting him up and moving before 10:00 am!!).

In addition to all of that, we are trying to eat better.  We are making better choices with our food.  We are adding more smoothies.  We are eating fewer carbs and more protein and vegetables.  We feel better for it.  Stimulating our bodies to move, adding in better nutrition, helping to stay healthy with oils, and preparing for Pascha – it all fits in with our Lenten journey.  For our family, this Lent has been life-changing.  We have not attended an over-abundance of Pre-Sanctified Liturgies.  We have not added many extra hours of prayer.  We have not fasted as strictly as we have in the past.  But we have gone through a reformation that we are mostly not even aware of.  As I type, my shoulders ache, but I am in touch of where that ache comes from.  I am diffusing Citrus Blend and the air is alive with scent, and it gladdens my heart.  I am reading a stimulating book entitled, “The Oola Life” and it is spurring me on to get my 7 F’s of Oola in order (check it out online under Oola Life or on Facebook).  Simple ways to get your life aligned in 7 areas that affect us all.  And Fitness and Faith, Family and Friends are right in there.  And it seems to fit.

LupineSpringAnd so we wait, here in the North, for the Springtime to actually bloom.  This year, we are actively preparing for the warmer weather by getting ourselves and our house in order.  We are actively waiting for Holy Week. I cannot believe it is just two weeks away! So many eggs to prepare, bread to bake, and baskets to get ready! Ha-Ha!  But I am smiling. I am feeling so good about how we are looking forward to the Resurrection of Our Lord, and the promise of Eternity in Christ.  We are first preparing our hearts, then our bodies and minds, and finally our homes.  It will be so wonderful to have an open window again – which reminds me that much Spring Cleaning awaits me!

Prayers for a holy and happy, healthy and uplifting remainder of Lent.  And for a gorgeous Spring!

This year will be epic!

Lately, it seems as though there is less and less respect, respect about a great many things.

I don’t want to glamorize or give more air time or credence to the new porno movie coming out today, but that is one example of no respect.  The man has no respect for the womanhood, or humanity, of the woman.  I remember how privileged it felt to share in the Divine process of procreation.  Becoming a mother is the one time you cooperate fully in the procreative process with God. God creates all life and He created a life in me..my children. How awesome is that?  This new round of Hollywood madness (and now literary madness as well) has cheapened the physical relationship between a man and a woman. Unfortunately, due to this “success” in the book world, there is now a lot more of this style of writing.  In all genres, and it still has no respect, most especially for women and for the union of man and wife.

I just read an article about Tabernacles being desecrated.  So much so that the local Bishop has ordered all of them in his area closed.  No more adoration.  No more keeping the light on because we know Jesus is home, and we can walk in and chat with Him.  We can even drive by and know He is present.  No more serenity and peace, just being in the same room with Him in a chapel.  Once again, because no one has respect.  I don’t mind if you do not believe in what I believe in. I do not mind that you even dislike what I believe in.  But I offer you the respect of your beliefs and I just want the same in return. I’m not here to shove my beliefs or opinions down your throat.  I just want to practice my faith.  There is no need to destroy the property of a church, or desecrate the Tabernacles within one.  You can voice your opinions in so many other ways, that would perhaps be even more fruitful and cause more people to stop and think.  Even those of other faiths decry the desecration of another church, be it in their belief system or not.  Radical actions by a radical few do nothing to bring others to their point of view.  Please stop.

There are also people out there who share so much, we sort of wish they would not.  Sharing things that should be kept within their family, or their faith family, at best.  Far too much blatant reality and sharing, from my point of view.  Which brings us to blogging.  Some people share far too much on blogs. I have been guilty a time or two myself, and have tried to rectify that trend in my writing.  I feel that when you hope to share your faith and when you hope to bring others over to what you believe, you put your best foot forward.  You don’t disrespect fellow worshippers with poor descriptions of events, sharing your dislike of what happened and continues to be a point of irritation for you.  That does not make anyone want to join you on your journey.  It turns people off, and turns them away.

In our faith tradition in the east, we have lots of opportunity for worship.  We have (in most parishes) evening Vespers, morning prayers, and we have Divine Liturgy. In most eastern parishes, there is one Divine Liturgy a weekend, because we want all our faith family together, worshipping at the same time. In lots of churches, there are so many services offered, you would never have to see the same people twice.  Nor hear the same music or chant twice.  Never have to scurry for the favorite pew seat, because it changes so often.  (We all have people we know who sit in particular places all the time. And heaven forbid someone should come and take their spot in Church…knowingly or unknowingly. I move around all the time, just to keep people on their toes).  We have so many opportunities to live our life of faith, with our community, that we should be so very grateful.  And there are plenty of times when we can worship as a family outside of formal worship, as well as with friends outside of Church time itself.  But we also need to attend and respect the times we are together.

For our tradition, a feast is always prepared with a fast.  And there are readings galore for every feast.  If you attend regularly and read outside of Church, no Saint’s feast day or Holy Day should ever catch you by surprise.  We always lead up to it with readings and fasting.  There are many days we fast in our tradition, and many days that we celebrate with fervor, for long periods of time. We believe a feast begins at sunset the day before.  So we start, for say, Easter Sunday, in the afternoon of Saturday.  We come together in the evening and we stay together until the sun rises and we share our first taste of meat together.  In fact, for the three days until Easter, called the Triduum in the West, we are rarely apart.  Lots of people plan vacation days from work for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Saturday night prior to Easter Sunday, and then a day of rest for Easter itself.  Many of our friends also take the following week, Bright Week, off work to recuperate and enjoy Easter.  In the Melkite tradition, it is my favorite time of year.  The Lenten evening services are incredible and I have felt God so closely during those moments of total prostration and prayer, enveloped by the sound of my priest’s voice and the cloud of incense over all of us.  The Presanctified Liturgy is, for me, like a moment of Heaven on Earth.  Very special moments for me.  Getting into the habit of spending time in the presence of God can change your outlook on time, itself.

In the eastern Churches, we believe that the moment you step into the Church you have left the world of Chronos (looking at your watch) and into the world of God, Kyros.  It is in Kyros that we loose ourselves in the worship of God and time as we know it ceases to exist.  We flow through the worship services, surrounded by chant and incense, and are quite often amazed at how much Chronos passed us by while in the Temple with God.  If you are current on the readings leading to these longer services, and you understand the whys and wherefores of the Liturgy itself, Chronos has little to no affect on you.  If you drag the world in with you, constantly worrying about what is going on outside, fussing over worldly details, Kyros will become lengthy and bothersome, and in fact, you won’t really have entered into an authentic experience of Kyros.  You will loose the essence of God’s time and be stuck in the world. Of course, sometimes the world intrudes (diapers need changing, little ones need comfort, or you just have to use the restroom!!) and they cannot be helped.  I recall a father of many, behind me in the pew one Sunday, handling a variety of upset kids.  Criers, fussers, generally cranky kids.  And I turned around at one point and saw him cradling a baby, eyes closed, swaying to the movement of the chant, reciting the prayers right along with the priest. His face was one of utter contentment.  He was in Kyros, while dealing with the world’s problems in the person of a crying baby.  It can be done, but it requires a determination sometimes to shut the world out.

This viewpoint is not respected by lots of people.  They view church as some sort of hour-long drive through where they can get their sacraments and get out, to get on with life.  They complain about lengthy services, about times, about requirements of participation.  My thoughts are, keep shopping.  There is bound to be a church that will cater to your whims and wishes.  Which is not very Christ-like! However, God only asks us to worship Him for an hour a week.  Anything we do over and above that is gravy to our souls.  One lousy hour.  Okay, on a feast day, it may be 3-4 hours.  It is truly not much when you look at the many hours we waste in traffic or in lines for things like coffee.  It comes down to your devotion and your priorities.  And you can complain, yes.  Feel free.  God listens to our joys as well as our sorrows.  But respect the faith that you are sharing.  Don’t turn people off or away by not respecting the very place you turn to for your “God time.”  Perhaps investigate the workings of the Liturgy itself and try to get into the movements of what is happening each week. You would be amazed at what you thought, versus what is.  And if your life just does not have this sort of time available in it, there are places that are faster, simpler, cleaner.  I just find it a shame someone would miss out on the beauty of worship that is relatively unchanged for 2,000 years in favor of a few extra minutes of Chronos.  Giving up the Kyros moments with God?  Not me.  I’m so excited for Great Lent and all the Lenten devotions.  I respect the chosen faith, that for me, fulfills my needs so much more than I can ever properly share.  A Church that has prepared for me for millennia; a Church who knows I need these times to keep my life on track.  I am so blessed, and as I said, so excited for Great Lent.

This year will be epic.

“…My own personal flurry…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomb of Jesus Christ Jerusalem