“We’re all just walking each other home.”

It has been quite the Friday. And it’s just 1:00pm!! LOL! This week has been full of things that I have faced and conquered. Today was no different. And I know that the Lord is working on me. Wow. I sort of feel spoiled and special. And yet, I feel badly that I am one of His “problem children” that He has to help me so very often.

“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, you keep my head high.” (Psalm 3:4)

“Know that the Lord works wonders for the faithful; the Lord hears when I cry out.” (Psalm 4:4)

“The Lord has heard my weeping, the Lord heard my prayer; the Lord takes up my plea.” (Psalm 6:10-11)

“A shield before me is God, who saves the honest heart.” (Psalm 7:11)

“O Lord, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth.” (Psalm 8:10)

How can you not feel the protection, care, and love from God when reading the Psalms? There are so many words contained in the Holy Scriptures that give my heart peace and make me feel safe. And I find myself reading these words again and again, seeing them differently each time I read them. These words hold a special meaning each time, too. I see something differently, through the eyes of faith. What a blessing.

What has been amazing to me is that, as I highlight and make notes in my Bible. I use different colors each time I go through the Holy Scriptures and I even notate the dates I read different portions, so I can see where my head was at. And now that I am going through this Lenten Study, I can see how much I have grown and how I can dig deeper into God’s Word for me. It is truly a blessing. And please do not be troubled by me writing and highlighting in my Bible. I know for many that seems sacrilegious, but it is not. I have Bibles that are precious and have no mark upon them. And then I have “study” Bibles that I write in, in order to edify my experiences. I hope that helps, in case you panicked. Ha-Ha!

In my Gratitude Journal today, the prompt was to address, and pray about, a habit you need to break. And I think that if I was not keeping up with this study and trying to immerse myself in God’s Word every day, I would not have been able to write as easily as I did, nor would I have so easily recognized the habit that needed addressing. Because God speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures, we can easily be shown where we stand in light of those very Words. And boy oh boy…bad habits are something we know we have; facing them can be a completely different thing. Most especially if we want to truly be rid of them! And today, I found solace in being able to quickly identify and seek prayerful help for my bad habit that I would like to correct. Laziness. I said it. I am basically a lazy, slothful person. Now, when I say that, I am referring to housekeeping. Ugh. I really dislike keeping a house. I  much prefer research and reading and writing. But that can be selfish, too. I need to get out of my own way and be proactive at being a better housewife. And amazingly enough, it was quick and easy for me to identify! I knew it the moment I read the prompt.

The Scriptures can guide us in everything we seek from them. Even my laziness when it comes to housework. How could I not want to cure myself of this horrible habit? And so, to prayer I turned. And today, my prayer was, “Grant me the presence of mind thwart my worst self in favor of my better self. Help me to throw off this sense of ennui that has enveloped me. Have mercy on me and help me to work towards my own Theosis. Help me, Lord, help me. Amen.”

It amazes me how things are becoming clearer and clearer. After my study, I was directed to read the story of St. Mary of Egypt. I highly recommend it. Her feast day is this Sunday, in the Eastern Churches. I learned so much about facing our faults and being humble, by reading her story. She is a beacon in this crazy world, of a woman who acknowledged her sin before God (and the Blessed Mother). She chose to deprive herself of all the comforts of life and live her days, alone, in the desert, subsisting on herbs for more than 47 years to atone for her sinful lifestyle. Alone. And naked, after her clothing literally dissolved off her body through years of living outdoors in the desert. I feel so humbled by her life. We have all become so soft. and she is quite an example for us to learn from. If you have not read her story, there are several short versions you can locate online. It will be worth your time, effort, and prayerful reading.

“Praise be to God in His angels and His saints”!

I continue to hold you all in my heart, constantly praying for all of us; and I humbly ask for your prayers, as well. Great Lent is growing to a close and my prayer is that we have all journeyed towards “home” in our faith; that we have made steps in our own, personal, Theosis.

I saw a great quote today, “We’re all just walking each other home.” (Ram Dass). I am enjoying this journey so very much and the fact that so many of us are making this same journey, together. Blessed Lent.

 

 

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world…”

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I am sort of all over the place today. My hubby is off on a business trip again. He is gone 2 weeks of every month. Lately he has chosen to take them back-to-back so he has more of a steady time at home. The house felt sort of empty this morning. Getting old is weird. Hormones are all over the place. Squirrel. My hair is gray. I am trying new products to tame the frizzes. I tried the method where you wash just with conditioner. Not pretty. Tried for a week and could not stand it. Discovered my hair needs keratin. Who knew? Conditioning today. We got 18″ of snow the past 3 days. We are using either our wood stove or floor heating and it makes the air so dry. And my hair flies all over the place. Lovely when you add wool scarves and sweaters. Not. See? All over the place.

I just reconnected with a friend from High School. She and I were so close, for so long. I am not sure why we stopped being in touch. Perhaps me getting married and having kids and she was seriously in school and having a career…and we moved away from one another, too. But it is so good to get connected via Facebook, and to relaunch our relationship. I was so excited!! It gave me a spring in my step today.

So I blow dried my hair and it is still so fly-away-ish. Had to re-apply the leave-in conditioner. We will see how this formulation works for me. Gray hair is so picky.

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

My hubby and I have been dealing with issues regarding our parish and the practicing of the faith we have come to love (and were so well instructed in, by an amazing priest and many friends – priests and monks among them). And it has caused a little friction. Nothing like damaging to our relationship, but in our 34 years together, our faith journey has always been a joint one. Perhaps friction is not the right term. It’s more like there was a pea in our mattress and we just were not comfortable. We always walked together in faith. Our journey has amused many, and confused even more! And over the past 6 months or so, we have sorted of marched to a different drummer. And that is never good. I was always cautioned to not marry outside of my faith practices because people who are “un-equally yoked” do not work out. And I experienced it once, in a long term relationship. I was even engaged to him. He was Jewish. (Reform, not Orthodox, or it probably would never have happened in the first place). But eventually, especially after having developed such an amazing relationship with his rabbi and knowing I was firmly a Christian woman, his cultural adherence to many Jewish traditions, and me not fitting in well with his family, caused me to call things off. He was a great person and I did not wish him ill. I just realized we could never work. His rabbi and I remained friends, up until his death, often meeting for coffee and chats, long after my relationship had waned. I knew I needed a good, strong, Christian man in my life and was wise enough to call the wedding off. And when I met my husband, he lit up my life. And the more I got to know him, the more I wanted his faith. I wanted that relationship he had with God. I used to watch him pray, and while kneeling next to him, prayed that I could be like that. He has been good for me. I often tell him that he saved me from my worst self. He dragged me into a more pious life and I loved it. Over the past 6 or more months, that has waned. And I admitted to him that I miss it. At this same time, my husband realized our relationship with our faith practices needed to change. We spoke and realized we felt the same way about things. About some pretty important things. Whew. A good talk is sometimes all you need to realign your northern star – in my case, that is my piety and sense of faith permeating everything; my relationship to Christ and His Church.

 

prayer-family

I have taught my kids that it is better to be that lone person, standing for what is right, rather than going with the majority. I believe that to be so in pretty much everything. You can apply it to your chosen career – be the best you can be at whatever it is you do, even if you are not a part of the crowd. In politics, for me, I rarely follow what the majority is calling for. I am conservative – socially, financially, spiritually, and pro life. Period. It permeates even the voting booth. In my faith, I prefer historically connected, profound, and deeply rooted worship. Throw in beeswax candles and icons, and I am there! I was raised next door to Russians, whose parents immigrated from Russia. They had such an interesting spin on life. From the father of the family, I learned to fence, using rapiers from the Royal Court in Russia. I learned to drink Russian tea made in a Samovar. And I learned about Russian tales and foods, traditions and history. I fell in love with Russia, reading everything I could find on it. The old, the traditional, the historically connected has always grabbed me. As an adult, I found myself learning all about my faith at a secular university, funnily enough. I converted to Catholicism as an adult. Coincidentally, about this time, I met my husband. (When I was dating my Jewish boyfriend, I was Geneva Presbyterian – until I converted to Catholicism at age 27). Over our 32 years of marriage, as we have journeyed through a very “orthodox” Catholic life, we discovered the Eastern Catholic Church. It was then that I truly began to breathe with both lungs. I was hooked. We moved over to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which is culturally Arabic, but Byzantine/Greek in worship style. My husband became a Deacon, after attending the Melkite seminary. We made life-long friends we dearly miss, during this time period. I literally fell in love with Church. I was there 2-4 days every week. I helped with our homeless kitchen and soon found myself transporting donated food weekly in my suburban, dragging my homeschooled kids with me. I loved working in the kitchen with all the Arab ladies. We had so much fun. And they taught me Arabic traditions, histories, foods, clothing styles, and how they raised their kids and the many faith traditions they held precious. When we moved to Alaska, we discovered there was no Melkite Church up here. We have been adapting. Our youngest son found a youth group he loves, at the local Roman Catholic parish. We support him in attending their “young men’s bible studies” and trips, and youth group every week. (He is well-known in the local parish and usually brings up the gifts on Sundays at Mass. He’s quite the popular teenager. We joke that he knows more people in Alaska than any of the rest of us does). We attend there as a family and it has been good. It is not our beloved Eastern tradition, but it is Church.

Kneeling Prayer.Orthodox Church

 

 

We’ve adapted to this culture up here. (It’s cold and white everywhere these days, because we have so much snow!!) We have become sort of bland. Ha-Ha! And I got pulled away from the practice of what I love, into a rather generic sort of Christian expression. Even in these posts, I was more inclusive, even of the photos I would use to illustrate my posts. I have stopped explaining about my faith practices, letting people just assume I am a generic “Christian” woman. Which I am, but I realized that I have been compromising myself. It is not all of who I truly am. I cannot please the public; I cannot continue to “pose” as something I am not. And I was caving into the pressures I had warned my kids about all these years. I was not being true to who I really am. I am an Eastern-rite Catholic woman. I love the smell of incense. I love the Divine Liturgy. I love chant. Not Gregorian, but old world, eastern chant. I love icons. I love being in a church where you can scent the incense from a previous Liturgy, and light the beeswax candles and be transported to a holier place; a place of oneness with God. It eases my soul. And even if I am “all over the place” and a tad bit scatterbrained today, I am also more at ease because I have realized these things about myself. And it comforts me.

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I realize that many of you do not worship this way, nor understand why people would. Our democratic ideals have permeated our styles of worship, and that is okay, if it sits well with you. I have always been a history-oriented person. I majored in Anthropology and minored in Biblical Archeology. History – church – faith. It has alway been a part of who I am. When I walked the parapets of a castle in Wales as a 16-year-old, I felt those walls speak to me. I would run my hands down them, marveling at how ancient they were and how connected to that antiquity I felt. I was walking the lands of my ancestors and I felt truly at home and very welcome, in among all the artifacts and tapestries, old walls and artwork. Walking through Churches and Cathedrals while we visited England, I constantly had a backache because I spent the entire time bent over, looking at all the engravings on the stones. I took so many rubbings. I felt rooted. I could really breathe at some of these places. It is the same for me in the way I choose to worship. I love tradition and the fact that I can historically trace my Church back to the Apostles. We have songs that are so old, there is no written record of them, just references to them by the Church Fathers, talking about how old they were back in the Apostolic days. Those of us who are Melkite like to tease our Roman/Latin Rite friends that we had St. Peter before they did, because he established the Church in the east before he meandered his way to Rome (wink-wink). And so I have decided that I am not going to hide who I am any longer. I am not going to water things down. I am not going to represent an American Jesus for the palpability of my newer friends. (And those in my business world). I believe in Jesus Christ and I do that in communion with them. However, I also believe in the traditions that brought Protestantism its lifeblood. We had the traditions long before they were put into a book – the Bible – the same one we all read, before all those pesky books were removed out of it. And we were an oral people – sharing our faith and our traditions with others through the practices passed on to us from the Apostles themselves. This is not a haughty or conceited viewpoint, nor is it meant to put people off. But it is the Church I choose to worship in; it is the tradition which gives my lungs breath. It is part of who I am.

apostolic-tradition

[By the way, my hair feels amazing right now. The blow drying has cooled and it feels like silk. Still gray, but not so much frizziness. Maybe this stuff is working!?!?! Keratin – who knew??]

And so my friends, from here on out, I will be sharing honestly about who I am. I will share through an Eastern lens, through the faith I practice. I am ecumenical because I believe we all hold the same God in our hearts, but I won’t apologize or hide that I prefer icons and a Jesus prayer, Divine Liturgy and incense, the iconostasis and beeswax candles, confession in front of an Icon of Christ the Pantocrator, and cantors with no musical accompaniment, to pretty much all the rest of it. It just fits me and I will no longer apologize nor hide it from you. It is part of what makes me, me. And it is part of who I am when I communicate with all of you, on this blog. I hope you will continue to read, if you do. I am still who I am! It’s just me going back to the me I was a few years ago.

May the Lord grant you many blessed years.

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“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass…”

Symbolism is so much a part of what we do and how we live. We I am scrambling to be sure we have our “spirit wear” all ready for the homecoming game tomorrow. It’s important to show team spirit by wearing our school colors! We clang cow bells painted the right colors and are sure to sit in the booster section, where we can yell without embarrassing our other children! Ha-ha! But we cannot wear colors that are from our opposing team, because that doesn’t show support to our players and cheerleaders. We have to have all the right symbols.

Football

I was recently in a discussion about wearing our wedding rings on the right or left hand. In the west, people wear them on their left hands. People in Eastern European cultures (and Russian Orthodox and other Orthodox Churches) all wear them on the right hand. But in America, it confuses the average person if you wear your wedding set on the right hand with people thinking you are divorced or widowed. The symbol isn’t right; it does not fit into their notion of how things should be. It can unsettle people, seeing the wrong image in the wrong place.

There are logos and symbols all around us. If you give most people quizzes on company logo recognition, they can name many corporations just by seeing their logos. That means their marketing team has been doing their jobs and doing them well!

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There are some images that people enjoy and some that make people uncomfortable. Some images can evoke such strong emotions. If you see something that reminds you of your childhood, it can bring back happy memories, or bring you to tears. Other images are quickly forgotten and we don’t give them another thought.

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When many Christians see a crucifix, the image of Christ hanging the cross, they get very uncomfortable. I have had people say that it is like looking at photos of a murder scene over and over again. I can see that. I can feel that sort of emotion. For most Catholics, the crucifix reminds them of the mercy of God and of His great sacrifice for us. It evokes feelings of safety and comfort. There is a prayer called the Anima Christi that is often prayed while gazing at a crucifix:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Permit me not to be separated from Thee
From the malignant enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That with thy Saints I may praise Thee
Forever and ever
Amen

It makes looking at that particular symbol not as gruesome as some would think. There are other symbols and ways of representing the Cross of Christ. And I have been pondering these symbols recently. It is easy to have a symbol mean something to you, but when others look upon it, they see something very differently. There are all kinds of crosses out there, and each means something to the culture they are associated with. For many of us in western society, these crosses confuse us, because they are not what we are used to seeing, when we associate them with our faith. This is a wall hanging I have in my home:

images. wall crosses.

I like it because it shows all different ways of looking at crosses. It’s made of metal and 3D. It has engendered many conversations. And some Christians do not have any crosses in their homes, nor do they display paintings or statues. Very few have icons. We are probably the odd-man-out but we have all of it. We have statues, paintings, crosses from all over the world, and icons. We have lots of icons. We have very little secular art, actually.

I have been pondering symbols in other ways, as well. Permanence is something that is not common in the corporate world, although many older companies are very recognized just by their logos!

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Each of these logos is very familiar and we all have an opinion about each of them. One of them is not a logo per se, but a symbol. There is a difference. A symbol is a representation, a pictogram, whereas a logo is a trademarked corporate identity that may contain a symbol. Like Apple’s logo with it’s iconic symbol of an apple with a bite out of it, and symbol of our homeland, the American flag.

The cross, of course, cuts through all the corporate hype and is not owned by one corporation or church. It is a universal symbol. For many it evokes comfort and peace, and for others it is a sign of divisiveness. For me, it symbolizes a part of who I am and what I believe. And my faith does not waiver, it does not fade, it does not change. I am a Christian woman. Where I choose to worship, the style of how I worship, may change. Those are externals. But my belief does not change or waiver. So the symbol of my faith, the cross, does not waiver. Which is why I am considering getting a tattoo of a cross for myself, for my birthday. It’s not really for anyone else. It is something that would remind me, each time I look at it, what I believe. But which representation, for me, do I choose? It’s had me up nights, because inking is permanent. Which is why it has also taken me this long to even consider it. And I have pondered this whole issue of logos and symbols, recognition and the emotions they evoke. And I am thinking and praying, and searching my heart. Who knows? Maybe it will be a new purse. I’ll let you know.

Tattoo

 

“…stand your ground courageously…”

Fried Chicken

Today I am dealing with more stomach issues. I hate when nothing seems to be helping. And then I realized that I made and ate fried chicken in celebration of National Fried Chicken Day. The family loved it. I guess my tummy did not. I am working on a smaller and smaller range of foods that do not upset my stomach. Earlier this year, I went through a great book called, “The Holistic Christian Woman” (you can get it at Ancient Faith publishers) by Cynthia Damaskos, and throughout this book, I looked closely at my lifestyle and my food choices. And how we treat ourselves; this “Temple of God” that we have been gifted, relates to so many things. We dove right in with “First Things First” and this quote:

“…giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  2 Peter 5:1-8

This was the springboard for this book, this look into ourselves. And into how we treat our bodies, our minds, our souls. And I discovered other ways of looking at food. And then the study ended, and I fell back into old habits. Boy oh boy – the lure of the familiar and the less-challenging!

Tummy ache

However, I have been struggling through something painful and consuming. My body, my system, is telling me that these same old pathways, the wide/easy ways, no longer work for me. Every time I decide to partake of the familiar, I realize my body is just saying “no”!! I really cannot do fast food. I will pay for days with stomach upset. And I really need to eat simply and clean. I need to avoid the “dirty dozen” of veggies/fruits and eat more of the “clean fifteen” instead. I need to avoid fatty recipes. Don’t get me wrong, fats are not bad. It’s which types of fats you use and how you use them. I prefer coconut oil and almond oil, occasionally adding pure olive oil or organic butter. I have to steer away from commercial-grade, generic “vegetable” oil, because it is just not worth it. And is why I am in such pain today. You see, I used generic vegetable oil to fry that chicken, because I did not want to “waste” my olive or almond oil. And so now I am paying for that decision in a very painful way.

I am a miserable failure when it comes to staying with something new, in most cases. I have committed, however, to using as pure ingredients as I can – I use Young Living Essential Oils and their entire product line – only. I have been able to lead a much simpler, cleaner life since being introduced to them a year ago. I have slowly but surely cleaned out from under my sink in the kitchen and bathrooms, replacing all the chemicals there for simpler cleaners made of simple, holistic ingredients (Young Living has an amazing line of products for your homes). I am amazed at how much better they are than all the different products I thought I needed to keep a clean house. I also use their Vitality Oils line in my cooking. It is amazing what one drop of Basil Essential Oil will do to a pot of spaghetti sauce made from scratch, using only fresh ingredients! I use simpler recipes, most of the time, and try to avoid the old standards. I juice when I think of it. (Love my juicer!!) I make my Bullet-proof coffee almost daily (1 cup of coffee, 1 tablespoon each of organic local honey, coconut oil, and organic butter – add them all together in your NutriBullet blender). It is yummy, believe it or not!! I do oil pulling (a teaspoon of coconut oil on a spoon – put it into your mouth and allow the oil to melt. Swish it in your mouth like mouthwash for 10 minutes. Spit into trash – not sink!) and my gums are happier and my teeth whiter. I will occasionally even brush my teeth with coconut oil. I have added supplements to my diet. Again, I use exclusively Young Living products. Their Ninjxa Red is an amazing antioxidant drink – 4 ounces daily. I also add other products to promote good health like Super B (vitamins) and Mindwise, which is full of all the supplements to keep our minds sharp. So many things.

Supplments

But then I eat foods I know do not support this lifestyle and I feel very, very ill. It is starting to scare me because when I deviate, thinking I can eat like I did at 20 years old, I react almost immediately and it makes me so ill. Today is a day of feeling frightened at how sick I feel after eating 2 dinners, two days in a row, that are not good for me. My body is in revolt. And I cannot help but think of cancer. My maternal grandmother died of stomach cancer…her polyps just took over. My mom had breast cancer and my brother had testicular and bladder cancer. So there is cancer in my family. And I am brought back to my Holistic Christian Woman book. Again. Such a treasure. From the last chapter entitled, “Self Control: – “Self control: it’s something we’re sure we don’t have enough of; we’re convinced the person next to us had more of it; and we wish we could buy it in a bottle.” And this quote from St. Thalassios the Libyan, “If you wish to be in control of your soul and body, forestall the passions by rooting out their causes.” And then she says, ” Let me put all this in a good news-bad news formula: the bad news is, we’re going to tempted and fail. The good news is, when we fall we can get back up. The best news is: God will forgive us, will never leave us, and if we want Him to, He will faithfully work with us! God is with us!” In order to get to the root of our problems, like my problems, the first step in exercising self-control is to examine ourselves. We journaled through this book and I learned so much. Today I am re-reading my journal. The author moves into areas we can control, through examining ourselves. One of the biggies is eating! Duh! Seems so simple, but is so hard because of the emotions tied to it. We need to control snacking and portion control. We need to work at stress management. For me, I get stressed when I don’t feel well and I don’t feel well when I allow my food choices to lapse from my better judgement. I am working on forgiving myself for these lapses in judgement, because I am doing so well in so many other areas. St. John Climacus says, “Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly, the angel who guards you will honor your patience.” [Truly, this book is worth your time and effort reading. It is a life-changing, life-altering, necessary read. The author is also on Facebook, as is this book. Please check it out!!]

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And that is where I am at today…fighting the fear, learning from more poor choices, and getting back up and persevering through this. God is not done with me quite yet. And I am determined to overcome this…success takes work. Doggedly pursuing things. “Self-control does not fall from the sky; rather, it is something that through grace we work with God to exercise.”  Elder Ieronymos of Aegina reminds us, “The evil one cannot comprehend the joy we receive from the spiritual life; for this reason he is jealous of us, he envies us and sets traps for us, and we become grieved and we fall. We must struggle, because without struggles we do not obtain virtues.” And we need faith to persevere and push through days when all we want to do is pull the covers over our heads. And so I turn, once again, to “think-pray-act.” Prayer, conferencing with my God. God is with us!

Icon screen praying

Stop having a love affair with the couch….ouch!!!

Palmer June 2016

One of the best things about living in a large state that is sparsely populated is that you get to meet some of the most interesting people, and see some amazing sights. This is a photo of a small town in Alaska by the name of Palmer. This was taken facing east, from the Pavilion in their downtown area. Downtown area. Full of traffic. Yeah, right! This is still something I am getting used to – a different definition of “downtown.” The wind was blowing (typical for that area) and we were attending their Master Gardener’s Annual Spring Plant Sale. My hubby and I had a date for the afternoon. We had so much fun talking to the gardeners and learning about what plants grow in what zones (how different it is from our last home in WA state, or before that in sunny SoCal).  One character was named Rex and he commented that his wife is the brains, he just lifts heavy stuff! I liked him immediately and after talking to him, we got two red raspberries for our yard, and one for our son’s yard. I love fresh berries!  We also purchased an Alaskan Tundra Honeyberry plant. If you love blueberries, you will love honeyberries!

Alaskan Tundra Honey Berry Plant

It is so interesting to learn new ways of doing old things, like planting, and harvesting. It is also great to stretch your taste buds now and then. I have come to adore Halibut. I can honestly say that cold water fish are a delicacy I had never really known, until I sampled fresh, Alaskan fish. I have developed a love of Halibut, even though I find the fish themselves to be gross. And it does not help they are bottom-feeders and have both eyes on one side of their heads. Ugh. But man oh man, when my daughter-in-law batters and fries that with some broccoli and cauliflower (also battered and fried) with her home-made honey-mustard sauce (I don’t like honey mustard anything, but I adore her sauce) and we sit down to feast with a locally brewed craft beer, it doesn’t get much better than that! Alaskan summers at their best! Thank goodness for fishing charters because at $30/lb in the stores, you don’t want to waste a morsel!

Fried Halibut

Another of my favorite things about summers in Alaska is the wildlife and the fishing (my hubby could fish daily, if he could figure out how to make it work!!! Ha-Ha). We have had black bears stroll down our block; we’ve already seen a mamma moose have a calf at the local Lowe’s parking lot; and the long days of sunshine. The wildlife, yes, is amazing, but so are the many gorgeous views of green everywhere! There is simply no better place, in my mind, than Alaska in the summertime. It is stunning. Flowers and wild berries, trees of so many shades of green. And if you have a hankering for water, well, we have over 1 million lakes! There is water everywhere! We live across the street from a creek and less than a mile from a river, and less than 5 miles from two lakes. The area below is less than 10 minutes from my house.

Eagle River Nature Center

I can get in my car and drive 10 minutes, and just 10 miles, up the road and gaze at this. I am blessed beyond my wildest dreams to call this place home. And I readily share it. This year, we are expecting quite a few guests, some of whom will be back-to-back. The furniture stores seriously have these sales around Memorial Day where they promote “guest sleeping options” with sales on blow-up mattresses, futons, fold-out couches, Murphy beds, bunk beds…you name it. So many people have Alaska on their bucket list and I am more than happy to show them around our beautiful state. Below is a photo of the local Reindeer Farm. You can go there and pet them, feed them, and look at all the babies. It is such fun! I firmly believe everyone should visit here at least once in their lifetimes. You will not regret it. Promise!

Reindeer Farm.2016

There are upsides to a small community; there are downsides. This state is the largest in the union (sorry Texas) and has one of the smallest populations. We are rated 47th in population, while being #1 in size. And that is good, but also hard. We have hamlets (villages) of people across the state, but many are accessible only by plane or boat. My son recently worked on an island for two weeks, accessible by boat or plane. They flew in, but their food/supplies had to be barged in. The island is inhabited by seagulls, sea lions, and puffins. No people. That is not uncommon in a state like Alaska. The fact of the matter is that it is a hard place to live in. It is nothing like the home we had in WA – on the 14th green of a golf course. In CA, we lived in a variety of places, even on farms. But there was no wild. But it was hard to find true wilderness in such a heavily populated state. There was no real weather danger, either. There were stores 10 minutes away. We have stores within 10 minutes here as well, but oftentimes the weather is too severe to get to them. This life is not for everyone. I get that. I still love it.

monkimage

The same thing goes for how we choose to worship. My daughter-in-law described it to a neighbor by saying that we preferred a more “European” sort of Church. I guess that is true. But it is a little more than that. We love our Melkite faith. It is a different expression of Christianity. It is a much smaller community than say Roman Catholic or Pentecostal Christians. We are fewer in number and the form of worship is so very old and has not changed, nor adapted to more modern ideas of worship, making it as not well spread or known as others. (It is also historically an Arabic Church, from the Middle East). But the essence of it, and the root of it, is rich and full of our beloved Scriptures. In the early years of the Church, only the Holy Men of the Church could even read. To read was not something the common man could do. And that is one of the reasons the Icons in the Church became integral to people’s faith. They told stories of scenes from the Bible, and shared the lives of the Saints who went before us. And I love to share it with others. We have icons all over our home, and at times, it makes people uncomfortable because it is so different. It is like some of the road blocks I experience when sharing Essential Oils with people. They smell good, yes they do. However, their origins are ancient and the use of them is older than recorded history. But it makes some people uncomfortable, because it is different and people think it is a fad, or the latest thing. And it requires you to think differently about common practices in our homes and in our lives.

young-living-eos

When you have a treasure, you want to hoard it. Protect it. Savor it. Like Rumplestiltskin and his golden thread. But there comes a time when you have to open the doors and share. There are so many instances when the small communities we all belong to become warped and sick, and doors need to be opened, the air refreshed and new blood needs to be allowed in. And then there are times when you need to move on, to experience a new treasure; opening your minds, hearts, and souls to something that is “other” to your norm. Like making a bucket list of places to see. And for me, I am wanting to share. My home, my faith, my oils, my life. Is it scary to share? It is!

dog on sofa closeup_26205

I’ve been challenged lately to stop having a love affair with my couch. Now, realistically, I’m not in love with my couch. It’s okay, but not my dream couch. But I love being at home. I do. I have been a stay-at-home mom for most of my 31+ years of marriage. I have also homeschooled all our kids (our oldest son is 30). I am at home a lot. And I like it there. I got comfortable being at home. I am, by nature, gregarious. But as I have aged and been at home, I have discovered I like being alone a lot, too. More and more I enjoy the quiet of living in a more rural environment with the sounds of the winds in the trees all I can hear. Or being inside on a blustery, and very snowy day, with just the crackling of our wood stove to listen to. And to share what I want to share with others, well, that means I have to leave my house. I have to operate outside of my comfort zone. I also have to step outside of the small community I have developed for myself and stretch my social skills muscles. And it makes me uncomfortable…

get uncomfortable

There are groups that I need to get away from and out of, and that is also taxing. I am developing new contacts and learning to turn on those social muscles more. But I have to tell you, living where I do, it is sooooooooo easy to become isolated. So easy to see no one except my family on a daily basis. However, there is so much I want to share with others. I want to share this state with friends who have never ventured this far. I want to share my faith with those who have questions, or perhaps do not understand my Byzantine mindset. We are growing our vegetables from seeds in a raised bed garden! I would love to share that journey with people. And I very much want to share my healthier lifestyle since I have discovered Essential Oils and the many products I use, based on Essential Oils and the science behind them. I live pretty much a chemical-free life in what I use to clean my home, my dishes, my clothing, my teeth, my face, my body, my hair…all because of Essential Oils. Why would I not want to share all of this? Because it makes both me, and the person I am sharing it with, uncomfortable. Look, I don’t want to make money off anyone. I truly do not. So for the oils part, I just want to share how it has impacted my life for the better and how I have incorporated them into every aspect of my life. As for my faith, that, too, makes many people uncomfortable. I do not want to take your faith from you, nor do I expect you to “come over” to my way of thinking. It is just fun to share information and history and styles of worship. It’s fun to share new ways of doing old things…even eating freshly grown vegetables out of your own garden. The lotion you use – I make my own, using Essential Oils! Would you like to learn how? It’s time…I need to start…

comfort zone

Would you care to join me?

 

 

 

“…She uses prayer.”

“Oola – a life that is balanced and growing in all the key areas of health and well-being. It can be a noun or a verb. It can be a definition or a feeling. It can be as complex as a life growing and balanced in fitness, finance, family, field, faith, friends, and fun (the 7 F’s of Oola), or as simple as a sunset, a quiet book on the beach, or a special moment with a child. It is a place we all shoot for in life. The feeling we experience as we celebrate our successes along the way. In short, Oola is cool.”

Glenallen drive2

That is from the Chapter One intro to a book I adore, entitled, “Oola, Find Balance in an Unbalanced World” by Dave Braun and Troy Amdahl. They are pretty amazing. There is a Facebook page, a website. They do personal coaching. They are on the top best sellers’ lists and have gone international. If you want to do yourself a favor, get this book. Get in touch with the Oola lifestyle and you will not be sorry. I would say that it would enhance your life. It has mine. You can purchase the book on Amazon and on their website and they are always having specials. (If you click on any of the statement above, it will take you to their website; I think).

I love my faith and I love my family, and my life. But sometimes we get out of whack. Sometimes one area or another becomes heavier than normal and it can throw you completely for a spin. It happens regularly and some would say, “That’s just a part of life.” And they would be right. But for some people, it is hard to bounce back and find that balance again. Our world is a pretty demanding place. Finding our little section of the world and making it all work can sometimes be beyond our abilities, alone. And so we reach out. We also, at times, have to let go. And that is what I am dealing with – letting go of some things and people, and embracing through reaching out, a new life.

I know that community is something we need. We cannot live as an island (“No man is an island, entire of itself.” John Donne). We need people to make us human. There are those who shun humanity in search of a higher plane of existence with God – hermits of various denominations. They are called to that purpose. Those who choose to enter monasteries and live a life of silent service and prayer to God – they pray for each of us, believers or not. And, “We can be sure that there is no such thing as a superfluous or useless prayer. No prayer is lost,” (Sept. 12, 2012; Pope Benedict). I do believe that we cannot worship in a vaccum, either. Some people say they have faith and do not need to go to Church. But few of those people live a life of faith, of prayer and sacrifice to others. “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:38-40.

Having said all of that, my faith was rocked. Not my faith in God! Thanks be to God! My faith in others. In being treated honestly, and fairly. And after listening to an awesome podcast/video yesterday, it sort of hit home for me. I listened to Victoria Pavlatos and she has a Facebook page. She posted a podcast/video entitled, “Life in the Fishbowl.” She is the wife of an Orthodox priest and together they have 9 children. (She is an amazing photographer and her business is Tori Ava Photography – check out her website. She is amazing! There should be an imbedded link on the next word). She commented about what it was like to be the wife of a priest and how the scrutiny is pretty tough. She lives with constant comments about her children’s attire, their behavior, and expectations by their parishioners. I wish she lived closer to me!! Her words touched my heart so much. She asked that their community pray for her husband and for her family, before they judge them. Because when you are in front of anyone, be it a corporation, a group, a club, or the Church, everyone looks to you. And at you. And at your family members. We are not perfected, yet. We just chose to serve our communities in a very visible way. And some people are nastily vocal when we do not live up to their expectations of us. And some will say, “You chose that. It is part of the position.” Again, that is also true. However, you can still be wounded and hurt and sometimes it is enough to cause you to pause. And sometimes it is even enough to want to be done with the whole thing, and to walk away and let go of all of it.

I have often heard that the Church is not for the well, that it is a hospital for the sick.

St.John C hospital

We all seek to reach that wonderful state of oneness with God we call, “Theosis,” in the east. It is when your heart is full of God and you feel the world fall away. That state is something to work towards, and each time we fall and get back up, seeking forgiveness, we are that much closer to God. Every once in awhile we are thunderstruck at the actions or words of others, in their judgement of us and we cannot seem to get past it. It is not that I have not forgiven people; I truly have. But I also know how they think, their processes, and I know what they think. Especially of me. And so I come to a point of not wanting to bang my head against that same wall, over and over again.

russian orthodox church 03

When I walk into an Eastern Church, I am literally dumbstruck. Speech becomes impossible and I always whisper, if I even say a word. The incredible artwork, the incense, the icons, the candles…it overwhelms your senses. If you have never been in one, it will seem overwhelming and beyond comprehension. Sometimes it is almost impossible to imagine attending services there, because it seems so foreign. For the western mentality, and what we are used to in our architecture, it is vastly different. But I find immense peace inside an Eastern Church. I love just standing before an icon, lighting a wonderfully-scented beeswax candle, and offering up prayers. The “smells and bells” get me every time. I could go into the whys of icons versus statues, but that is a history lesson for another time. Let me just say, my personal space where I type this has a very large (and I mean about 2 feet tall; okay, I measured – 27″) statue of St. Rita, my patron saint above me, on the top of my desk. There are smaller statues for each of our children, of their patron saints, on the top of our bookcases. But behind me, there are numerous icons (one for each of our children and some festal icons, too). I appreciate both. So I wanted that to be clear. However, after migrating east, I do not think I could return to the western style of worship. Which leaves me in a conundrum of where to go. For now? I am not going, at all.

prayer

For now, through spiritual direction, I am praying. I am reading. I am meditating. I am receiving spiritual direction online in a formal program. My faith life is not dead. But right now, it is not communal or corporate, either, and I miss that. I am working through what I am going to do, and I am still uncertain. And that is where “Oola” has helped me greatly. I need, I survive, with balance in my life. When one thing is out of line, it can throw everything else off. I have learned that there are these areas in our lives that we need to place a laser focus on and they are called the 7 Areas of the Oola Life. And I am focusing on them, as best I can. They are, “Faith, family, friends, fitness, finance, field, and fun.” And as I focus on an area, it tends to highlight another area and I work over there for a bit. It is like learning to juggle 7 plates in the air (read the Oola book!!) and I am getting better at choosing not only my plates, but how I stand when I am balancing.

beautiful woman

For me, prayer is essential. Without prayers, our souls slowly die off, in the sense that we lose our connection to God. It hampers our ability to give to others. And through prayers, and others reaching out to me, I have found an alternate expression of my love and faith and have been stretching a little bit. It has bent over, and weighed in on, and affected, both “field” and “finance,” enhanced with some wonderful new, “friends.” And all of those things run into “family” and I am now having to deal with “fun”! Through these new experiences, I have had so many hours of laughter and fun. This weekend, I am taking a road trip over some pretty high mountains, with a friend. I am ridiculously excited. And we have 6+ hours to gab to our hearts’ content (without our husbands sighing at us and being bored). The top photo is actually the road we will be driving! Gorgeous! Through my friendships developing, along with field (career) and finance, my fitness is once again coming to the forefront. I am working, once again, on being fit and healthy. For me, but for my family, finance, field, friendship, and fun! It is all interconnected. How cool is that? So very Oola. I must say that my dad’s quote from 40+ years ago comes to my mind, “Out of adversity comes opportunity.” I was adversely affected and it caused my attention to change focus, and opportunities are arising. I am blessed.

Climacus prayer

I will continue to seek Theosis and a greater union with my God. I will ceaselessly pray. I will contemplate where I belong in this huge world in which we reside. But I am doing it with a freer heart, and one that is becoming more and more “balanced, in an unbalanced world.”  God has blessed me; thank you, Lord. And, thank you, Oola Guys!

oola quote

” but up to seventy times seven…”

Forgiveness – Matthew 18:21-22
Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

For those of us who are Eastern Rite Catholics, yesterday was Cheesefare Sunday, because it is the last time we eat any dairy and today is called Clean Monday – the first day of the full “Great Fast.” Every year, Lent is prefaced by Meatfare (two weeks ago) and Cheesefare, but more importantly, we also refer to this past Sunday as, “Forgiveness Sunday.” Traditionally, on this day, we are asked by our priest to forgive him any sins he may have committed against us, and we repeat, aloud, “I forgive you.” The clergy on the altar seek forgiveness from one another. In some eastern traditions, this act of seeking and giving forgiveness is expressed in a more formalized, and public, way with a line developing wherein each parishioner personally meets with the priest and other clergy, then joining the line, until each parishioner asks and gives forgiveness to every other parishioner. It can take hours if the parish is large enough.

It was celebrated in our parish, the long way, yesterday. I did not attend Church. I am so hurt in my heart, that I just could not stand to have the hypocrisy of some people played out in front of my face, when I know they gossip disparagingly about my family and I behind our backs. Gossip is alive and well in my life. I was fearful I would say something that would make the situation far worse. For me, and for them.

north_door_of_iconostasis_v-2The icon above depicts the Temptation in the Garden and the Expulsion from Eden and the Shame of Adam and Eve. This icon is used on Forgiveness Sunday to remind us of the Original Sin of Adam. And we are supposed to contemplate our sin, in light of God’s justice in removing Adam and Eve from His Presence. We believe that when we sin, we take a step away, or remove ourselves from, the Presence of God. Depending upon the sin, that step can be minute, or it can create a chasm between us and God. God is consistently standing with open arms, waiting on us to seek Him out, in repentance. In the Eastern Rites, and in the Roman Catholic Church, we go to Confession (or Reconciliation). The Church asks us to go to Confession at least once before we celebrate Pascha, or Easter, and the Resurrection of Christ.

Since last week, I have been thinking long and hard about all of this. I felt that removing myself from this would be better for all of us. I have nothing to prove to anyone, nor do I think my presence should have a definitive affect on others, one way or the other. I have wronged people, I am sure, and need to seek forgiveness from them. But I do not need to do so in a public forum. Do I have anger and frustration in my heart? You bet I do. Do I need to let it go? Oh my, yes I do. And how am I to do that? Therein lies the heart of my moments spent musing over this.

I have been doing this study, which I referenced in my last post, and I quoted from it about the boulders we have in our lives that we need to move out of the way. I have lots of boulders that I need shifted. And I am working on them. I do not think I would have served anyone any good by being at Church. God is working on me. Hard. In the eastern rites, we have no “obligation” to attend religious services. In the Latin Church, there is the pain of mortal sin if you purposely avoid Mass. For us in the eastern Churches, we feel no pain of “mortal” sin; we do not delineate sin in that way. We view sin a little differently and it does not entail whether or not we go to Church. The philosophy behind it is that when you love someone, you want to be with them, above everything else. You will do whatever it takes to be with them. And if you love God, you will do whatever it takes to be there, with Him, at Church. Sin is seen as a step away from God – does your choice put you closer to God, or further away from Him? Does staying home from Church cause you to be further from God or closer to God? For me, I felt that being at Church would be a “near occasion of sin” for me, and for others. And so I stayed away, purposefully.

Today, well, today is Clean Monday. Today we begin the Great Fast in earnest. And today I did something I have never done – I juiced! We bought a juicer and today was its first run. I am now drinking it over ice and I must say, it is pretty darn tasty! With this study I am doing entitled, “The Holistic Christian Woman,” we are also altering our dietary intake and trying to purge our bodies of the stuff that impedes good health. So I thought I would coordinate that with the start of Great Lent. I made my son a smoothie today. It feels good to focus on our health and is such a great way to share Clean Monday and the start of Great Lent.

juicing

Back to why I started this post – forgiveness. It is a rough thing and a touchy thing. To truly forgive someone, you remove the hurt and take it out of your timeline, if you will. You live as if the hurt was never a part of your life. And if the pain is too much, you just give it to God. He has a better way to handle our hurts than we do. He died for our hurts. He hung on that Cross for three hours, taking on the hurts of the entire world. Just for me. Just for you. And He said, as He was being crucified, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).  

Quiet

Do I forgive? Oh, I sincerely do. I really, truly forgive anyone who has ever wronged me. It is as though those things, those words, were never said. And I am completely at peace with that. Do others forgive me? In the same way? Perhaps; perhaps not. But all I can do is seek that forgiveness; how they forgive is between them and God. Forgiving is freeing. I still retain the memories of the hurt, but the pain is somehow removed because I truly let it go. But it does not mean I am stupid. I am not going to consistently, regularly, bang my head against that same wall. Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. I am adult enough to realize that repeating errors is just wasting my time. And it is honestly okay to just walk away….

Nonsense

So I will continue to embark on this Lenten journey. I am focusing on becoming healthier in many ways – emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I do forgive others and I pray for their forgiveness, as well. I read a great blog today by Joel L. Miller enttitled, “The Trouble with me – and  – Jesus Christianity” on Ancient Faith blogs. He talks about the story of the blind men each touching an elephant and describing it to one another. One touches a leg and describes the elephant like a tree trunk; one touched the trunk and described a snake…you get the idea. It is the same with Church, with our faith – if we only see our own interpretation of Jesus, we may only know Him as a tree trunk or a snake. We will not see the entirety of our faith. We cannot be Christians in a vacuum or as islands. Salvation comes in community. We celebrate our faith, we share our faith, we grow in our faith in the presence of other Christians. We listen to the preaching of our priests and deacons; we listen to the Fathers of the Church, who guide us in “orthodox” or “right thinking.” We cannot do this alone. We cannot seek salvation alone. Yes, our faith is between us and our Savior. But the Apostles sought one another and lived in community. We, too, should seek other Christians. So to not attend Church is not the best approach to growing in our faith. However, sometimes removing ourselves from situations that are not life-giving, nor healthy, is the best we can do for everyone. I’m not advocating avoiding communities that help us build and grow in our faith. But I am advocating an intelligent perspective on, as St. John Chrysostom said above, “Let us always guard our tongue; not that it should be silent, but that it should speak at the proper time.” And I believe removing ourselves and spending time alone is a healthy thing to do.

Alone time

This year’s Lenten journey should be amazing. I am working hard on listening more and talking less. On watching less TV and reading more. On making better choices in so many areas. I am working on becoming more fit in my physical, emotional, and spiritual self. This time, set aside each year, is given to us to reflect, repent, and start again. I feel blessed. Working to prepare myself in order to really welcome Christ with Palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna in the Highest.” See you on the other side…

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Procession_in_the_Streets_of_Jerusalem_(Le_cortège_dans_les_rues_de_Jérusalem)_-_James_Tissot

“… a tempest of doubting thoughts…”

Russian Mary Mother of God Icon

“Having within a tempest of doubting thoughts, and wanting to give my children to drink of eternal life, I weep. Thus, having remembered Thy most rich mercies, I sing to Thy Son with hope and with a contrite heart: Alleluia.” (From the Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children; Kontakion 4)

The Akathist To the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children, is probably my favorite form of prayer when I think of my sons, and now, my grandchildren, too (My daughters-in-law are prayed for as well, because I think of them as my children, too).  As parents, we are called to lead our children to a life of Christian prayer, service, and sacrifice. To put “other” before “self” and to enjoy the companionship of other believers, being a part of a community. To enjoy serving. To enjoy and celebrate a simple life; one that encompasses prayer to God and being a part of a church community. To enjoy praying with and celebrating within a community. And to push ourselves outside of that community “comfort zone” into serving our communities at large. The thought of having faith and being a part of organized religion often frightens people away. “I know what I believe; I don’t need some organized religion telling me what to believe and how to behave.”  That is such an American, democratic view of faith, also laid upon views about life in general. And I know it has caused umpteen disruptions of relationships, of churches, and of our Christian faith in particular. It is one of the reasons I am awakened in the night, being asked by God for renewed faith and renewed prayer.

An Akathist, for those of my friends who’ve never heard the term, is just another way of saying a Novena, or set of prayers (although it is not done like a Novena – over 9 days – but is more like a formal prayer used regularly).  This particular Akathist is concerned with raising our children, from a mother’s point of view. (I also love the Akathist to Our Guardian Angels). Within this Akathist, Kontakion 8 says, “Where will my children, wandering in the greatly perilous and stormy valley of the world, receive joy and consolation if not in Thee, O Most Pure One? Travel with them and teach them the true path, that they may cry to God: Alleluia.” This sentiment is on the mind of all parents, when their children venture more and more away from their homes and establish their own homes. (Ikon 9) “Deliver my children from association with falsely-theorizing orators, who speak lies about Thine all-powerful intercession, and look upon me, faithfully singing…” These prayers keep coming to my mind in all hours of the night. And I pray for my children, and my grandchildren. This world can be a fast, ugly, sinful place. We can easily lose sight of what really matters. (Ikos 10) “Surround my children with indestructible walls, O Heavenly Queen, that under Thy blessed protection, they may accomplish a multitude of good deeds, and that with them, I may cry to Thee…”

Sons shoes

I am at the point of seeing my nest empty. It makes me sigh with relief in so many ways, but it also makes me sad. I’m definitely tired. Raising three sons so far apart is like having 3 singletons, as they say. And as I near 60, I am looking forward to married life without kids underfoot, as we have never had that. But I love teens (as weird as that may sound) and I am going to miss our last son being here, most especially because he is the last (and also a great joy in my life). And I have reflected on what we have done, as parents, to set our sons on the path to God. In this great book by Peter Kreeft (Everything You Wanted to Know About Heaven but Were Afraid to Ask – available on Amazon), he talks about standing at the Throne of God. When God asks us what we have done with the souls He entrusted to us, I hope to be able to answer, “Lord, I set them on the path to You.” Because, truly, as a parent, that is all I can do. I cannot shove faith down the throat of my sons. They have to discover what it is they believe, as men, and how they choose to go about their lives. Will they share God with their kids? Perhaps not. And that is something I have to live with, which is also why I diligently pray for not just my children, but my grandchildren, too. I don’t think we are ever done being a parent. I just had a chat with my dad, reminding him that his dad (my grandpa) told him at 50 years of age, “Well, son, I guess you’re old enough for me to not have to worry about you anymore.” But I don’t think Grandpa ever did stop worrying. I don’t think I ever will, either. My dad, at almost 90, still worries about us!

Near the end of the Akathist is a prayer, “A Prayerful Sighing of Parents for Their Children” and I try to pray this each week for my children and grandchildren.

motherofgod.nurtererof children

 

“LORD Jesus Christ, Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of Thy Most Pure Mother, hearken unto me, Thine unworthy servant (name), O Lord, govern in mercy my children, Thy servants (names). Have mercy on them and save them, for Thy name’s sake.O Lord, forgive them all their transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, that they may be perfected before Thee. O Lord, set them on the true path of Thy commandments and enlighten their minds with the Light of Christ unto salvation of their souls and the healing of their bodies.
Bless them, O Lord, at home, at school, in their journeys and in every place of Thy dominion. Preserve and shelter them, O Lord, from flying bullets, arrows, the sword, poison and fire, from mortal wounds and sudden death. Guard them, O Lord, from all visible and invisible enemies, and from all danger, evil and misfortune.
Heal them O Lord, from all sickness, deliver them from every impurity, and lighten their spiritual sufferings. Grant them, O Lord, the grace of Thy Holy Spirit and a long life; grant them health and chastity in all piety and love, and to live in accord with all their neighbors, near and far.
Multiply and strengthen them, O Lord, in mental ability and bodily strength, given to them by Thee. Bless them to lead a pious life and, if it is pleasing to Thee, grant them married life and honorable childbearing.
For Thy name’s sake, O Lord, give me, Thy sinful and unworthy servant, a parental blessing for my children and Thy servants, both in this present time, morning, noon and night, and also in Thine eternal, almighty and all-powerful Kingdom.
Amen.

O God, Maker of all creation, Thou hast made me worthy to be the mother of a family, and through Thy goodness hast bestowed children upon me; and so I dare to say: these children are Thine, for Thou hast given them being, hast infused them with an immortal soul, and hast raised them to life through baptism.
And in accordance with Thy will Thou has adopted them and received them into the bosom of Thy Church. Send down to me Thy gracious help in raising my children, for the glory of Thy name. Bestow on me patience and strength to do Thy will.
Teach me to plant in their hearts the root of true wisdom-the fear of the Lord-that all their lives they may tremble at Thy words. Open to them the understanding of Thy law. Until the end of their days let them act with the sense that Thou art everywhere present.
Plant in their hearts loathing for every transgression, that they may be pure in their signs. O Righteous Judge, who punishes children for the sins, but sprinkle them with the dew of Thy grace.
O Heavenly Father, order the fate of my children according to Thy blessings, do not deprive them in this life of their daily bread, send down to them in due time all that is necessary for the acquisition of blessings in eternity.
Be merciful to them, when they sin before Thee; look not upon the sins of their youth and ignorance; chastise them and have mercy on them, but turn not Thy face away from them. Turn not Thy face from the in the day of their tribulation, that they may not fall into temptations beyond their strength.
Cover them with Thy mercy, that Thine Angel may walk with them and preserve them. Abandon not my children, O Lord, and give them that which is profitable for salvation.
Amen.”

I shared this in its entirety because it is weighing heavily on my heart. I feel some mighty changes coming and I am praying I am prepared for them. I strengthen my heart and soul through praying, but sometimes we have a lesson we need to learn. I am ready. I know God has my best interests at heart, and I trust completely in Him. I also place my children within the mantle of the Blessed Theotokos, Mother of God, and continually ask her intercession on behalf of my children and grandchildren. I know this world is changing rapidly. People are becoming less and less concerned with their spiritual well-being and more concerned with the house they live in, the purse they carry, and what kind of car they drive. It makes me so sad, and frightened. My grandmother once told me that she was sorry for the world she left to me. She was born in 1903. She said that because of living through the depression, and a couple of horrible world wars, parents made the mistake of not wanting their children to suffer as they had, so they made life too easy for them. She told me that she had sheltered my dad in some ways, by always being on his side and praising him too much. She often thought he had an inordinate view of himself. And I believe that trend has continued. Kids nowadays get a trophy just for signing up to play a sport – not for actually trying or winning. Everyone is special and a hero. It is a disordered view of life and has created a generation of entitled young adults and teens. And it is getting worse every day.

A friend and I had a chat about recently about prepping.  You know, bunkers, laying up stores, ammo, water, a shelter. We reminisced about drills in school when we were young over the Cold War and Russia “dropping the bomb on us.” Now it seems more likely to come from a  much closer source and it is rather frightening. But how do we live our lives, knowing some of this? Her husband wants to go very prepper with  shelter, ammo, etc. whereas she prefers the approach of the movie, “The War Room.” I believe in an intelligent, happy medium. But I am not stupid, either. I know God has things in store for me, whether I am prepared or not. God is not done with His world, yet. To that end, I think it behooves us all to be smart. Learn something about living “off the grid” (Hey, earthquakes are real – they are something facing lots of us regularly; tornadoes are real; terrorism is real; our economy tanking is a very real possibility) and we all need to know how to take care of ourselves. One of the scariest things happened to me years ago when we took school kids on a tour of a dairy farm, “Where does the ice cream come out?” “Euwww…cows poop?” “That’s not milk; those cows are peeing out of their bellies.” “Yes, I know where milk comes from; it comes from the grocery store.” Although it might seem funny, are we prepared, as city dwellers, to take care of ourselves independent of the local market? Do we know where to get drinkable water in an emergency? Do we keep supplies in our garage? Car? Basements? Can we kill food for our families? Do we keep the Bible and family prayer ropes and icons where we can get to them in an emergency? Are we constantly storming heaven with our prayers?

(Ikos 9) “Raise my children to reject the deceitful teachings of the teachers of unbelief; raise my children to not accept the spirit of the sons of the adversary; raise my children to run from the world and the delusions of the world; raise my children to turn away from evil and to do good; raise my children to love their enemies and to pray for them; raise my children to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.” And the following Kontakion 10, “Desiring to save the world, Thy Son came from heaven to call, not the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. For the sake of this, pray to Thy Son that having been saved through Thee, my children may call to God: Alleluia.”

And so I pray. I pray unceasingly (Ikos 5 – Having seen my diligent supplication rising like incense to Thy glory, turn not Thy face away from my children, though they turn away from Thee, but all the more, hear the cry of my lips, singing to Thee…”). No prayers are ever wasted; no time spent seeking the counsel of God is ever wasted. And I know of no other use of my time to be as wisely spent.  In all honesty, seek God in all things, but especially as an intercessor for those you love. Our Lord made us parents because He trusted us to care for these souls. We need to redouble our efforts, even when our children are grown, have spouses, and children of their own.

To God be the glory. He is Born. Glorify Him.

IconNativity

“To everything there is a season…”

Christmas Ornaments

Well, we did it. We put our tree up. Normally, it’s up on Black Friday. This year, I was feeling sort of bah-hum-bug-ish and did’t feel motivated to decorate. But now, I am glad we did. Sometimes we need to force ourselves to do things we may not want to, and we may even like how things turn out.

Saturday, my husband and I had a date. We went to this “door buster” sale that said it started at 7:00am. I was up and showering at 6:30, while my husband enjoyed some coffee. Off we went, expecting crowds, and me with wet hair, in the snow. We arrived to a pretty much empty lot. I was worried I got the dates wrong, checked my phone and my coupons, but I was right. We entered and remarked to the many employees, who were wearing their ugly Christmas sweaters, that we were lucky no one else arrived early. They had been expecting crowds, too. And for those of you who are men and can relate, my husband was able to relax with so few people around; shopping is not his thing. We try to spend at least one day each Christmas, just the two of us, shopping for the family. I refer to it as our Mr. and Mrs. Claus day. Last year we videod a message for our grandchildren who live out of state, while we shopped. It’s usually a good time and Saturday was no exception. We felt blessed. We had hot coffee, coupons, there were indeed “door buster” sales, and there were no crowds! And the bonus? We were home, unloaded, and sipping more coffee by 10:30am – done with our annual Christmas shopping and watching a huge snow storm!! (Which ended up lasting all of about 1 hour!) Whoot-whoot!

Christmas sales. jpg

It’s nice to set a goal, get moving, and accomplish something. And it’s nice when things sort of come together. I am working at being healthier in my approach to expectations. I know that God expects me to always do my best, especially when it comes to my faith and family. But sometimes my expectations are pretty out of whack with reality. It leads to depression and disappointment. Up here, we have so few hours of daylight during the winter, that depression is a reality. They have “happy lights” they sell at all the local stores. But one of the best things about winter and Christmas and decorating, is the lights. We have this tradition of lighting the inside, as well as the outside, of our homes – and by lighting, I mean a lot of lights!! We try to get the outside up before the first snow/freeze and the interior ones usually stay up until almost Easter or Pascha. And this year we have lots of interior lights, which just makes me smile. Most are mixed colors, some are red, and our tree is all white. So I am glad my family pressed me into decorating. It does feel good.

I am also an avid Christmas song person. My cell phone even has a Christmas ring tone. I love some of the songs that an a cappella group, Pentatonix, does. They have done an amazing job of “Mary, did you know?” If you want a treat, google them! They are worth it. We played Christmas songs off our various iPods and phones while we hung lights and decorated our tree. It was good. To add to the environment, it was snowing like crazy. Perfect!

window.tree.snow

One of the most wonderful things about being Byzantine is that through our Vespers and other prayers, as well as our Liturgical songs, we are never left surprised by the holiday or feast day approaching. The Nativity Fast is one of those things that helps us prepare for the Christ Child. I think that sharing this with others make the season so much more alive. We often skip the prep and go straight to the event. But the journey is the most important part. A pastor spoke at a funeral and the gist of what he said was when you see the dates on the death announcement, remember our lives are lived in the dash marks (like 1945-1995). And how do we fill that space? For each holiday, each season, how do we fill our days? My expectations, as I said above, make movement sometimes difficult. We freeze out of fear of doing it wrong. Within the gentle movement of the liturgical year, we are brought forward for each feast. More than likely, we fast prior to the feast. It is the Church’s way of preparing us. We sacrifice our stomach’s demands, the demands of self, and bring our reality into line, focusing on the feast. Like dragging my feet about decorating, I realized I was becoming a reluctant participant in this glorious preparation of the Nativity Feast (aka Christmas Day) because I am worried about doing it wrong. What if I neglect prayers? Proper fasting? What about all the gifts for all our family and friends? When do we see whom? What do I serve for dinner? Who goes to which home, which day/night? So many things to juggle around these high-pressure holidays.

Nativity icon

We are all called … very few come. There are some amazing things about the Nativity of Christ that get lost in all the red and green, lights and tinsel, gifts and cooking. “Today the Virgin is on her way to the cave where she will give birth to the Eternal Word of God in an ineffable manner. Rejoice, therefore, O universe, when you hear this news, and glorify with the angels and the shepherds Him who shall appear as a newborn Babe, being God from all eternity.” (Kontakion of the Preparation). We’re missing the point of all this stress, all this hoopla. And I am as guilty as the next stressed-out parent! Historically, in the quiet of the desert, the Theotokos (Mother of God) was making her way, on a donkey, escorted by Joseph, her espoused husband to the land of Joseph’s birth, Bethlehem. I do not think they were concerned with anything other than finding shelter so She could give birth to the Son of God.

desert.bethlehem

How can I help myself, my friends, my family prepare for the celebration of the Birth of Christ? It is hard when many we are close to do not attend Church, and Christmas is all about Santa Claus, not even St. Nicholas. Some children I am very close to do not even know who Jesus is, let alone that Christmas is when we celebrate His birthday. And I had an “ah-ha” moment. The “ah-ha” was this: keep it simple! For Thanksgiving, I reverted to paper – plates, napkins, tablecloth, utensils, etc. I had people bring dishes to share. I simplified everything and we had a wonderful day. But since that is a secular holiday, how do we infuse Christ into this, a Holy Day, a Feast Day celebration? I am thinking, that in addition to simple, we need to share what we believe. We need to invite people to come to services at our churches with us. We need to send cards that reflect what we believe. Our priest has been talking to us (repeatedly) about Christmas cards. His point was that text messages and emails are nothing but steam, or smoke, or keystrokes. But a card? A card you can hold in your hand? A card with a personal note is like letting someone know you thought of them; that they were important enough for you to spend the time and effort to think of them, and bring them in, with you, to this joyous holiday, to that cave as we share this journey through the desert to Bethlehem.

Christmasdinner

Around our communities, our friends, our families, our tables we should share who we are and what we believe. We need to put our actions where our faith is. Too often we cave to the media’s interpretation of who we are, what our country is like, what Christmas is all about. Schools are telling teachers, parents, and students that they can no longer say “Merry Christmas” but must refrain. No mention even of Santa Claus. There will be no Christmas vacation; it’s now Winter Break. Happy Holidays, so we don’t offend anyone. Instead, let’s be the Christ Child, simple, quiet, unassuming, yet firmly who we are. Let’s invite others to share our faith walk. Let’s simplify Christmas in the gift giving and instead “do” for others. Make dates, have dinners together, park days, hikes. Shovel a neighbor’s driveway; help elderly people by singing Christmas Carols to them. Call old friends. Mend fences that need to be mended. Be present. Be loving. Above all, put self last and other first. Forgive without expectation. Love expecting no love in return. Give until you have nothing left to give. Often, even if we are reluctant to participate, or feel afraid of failing, we need to commit to being a part of this world we live in. But instead of being of the world, be in the world, but be a person of God. Sometimes, in this life, we are the only Jesus people will ever know. I know that I am reconfirming my determination to take deep breaths, reaffirm my determination to love others, and to positively share this faith I proclaim. I am going to be present when the Christ Child comes to us, and I am going to invite everyone to share in His Birthday.

“Today the virgin, gives birth to the incomprehensible One;
and the earth offers a cave to the unapproachable One;
Angels and shepherds glorify Him;
the Wisemen journey with a star;
since for our sakes is born the ETERNAL GOD, as a little Child.”

Christ is Born

Golden moments stolen out of time…

baby-feet8

This month, my 5-week preemie turns 30. I am blown away. When I concentrate on solely that one life, I am filled with memories, like a kaleidoscope of short films. My pregnancy was a difficult one and I was hospitalized for most of it.  Once the doctor sent me home, still on bed rest, I waited. It didn’t take long; just 5 days and my water broke. My husband was so funny, prepping in that new-father sort of way. He laid large, black, yard-sized trash bags on the seat of our car, with a towel on top of that – just in case. Our drive was uneventful, but about 30 minutes in traffic, with me sitting on plastic trash bags!  When I arrived at the OB’s office, they tested me and said that yes, my water had broken and to walk down to labor and delivery. I took a few steps outside the office door and grabbed onto the railing and went to the floor – my first real contraction! After he was born, I shared with my husband how tired I was. I asked him the time and he said, “It’s 4:30.” I replied, “Wow! 4:30 in the morning! No wonder I am so tired.” He corrected me, “It’s only 4:30 in the afternoon – you were only in labor 4 hours!”  Ha-Ha.  Felt like forever; I was taken, for 4 hours, out of time; I had experienced kairos. And so began our life as a family, 30 years ago. I just cannot believe that little boy is now a married dad himself. So much has happened. But every so often, time stands still and we are given moments of insight and memory. This morning, when I gazed at the foggy trees in our yard, I was swept back in time to a precious moment with my newborn son, and it seemed like I was there. I could smell him and feel the weight of him in my arms. And my heart was swollen with renewed love for him.

Hand on baby's back

I was thinking on this today and was brought up short when it hit me – this is exactly how Church is sometimes. Chronos versus Kairos! Our firstborn seemed to love being in Church. He would pay attention and was quiet when we needed him to be. Our middle son was so funny as a baby/toddler, because the moment we would enter the Church, he would get drowsy. He always slept on the pew, through the entire Mass. I was worried he would never participate in the Mass, that he would not know what was happening. One early morning on the freeway traveling to Church, he started saying the entire Eucharistic Prayer I, in Latin, from the back row of the van. He was about 4 years old, I think. I guess I was worried for nothing! Our youngest regularly slept on the floor under the first row in Church, while I sat in the second row with the other deacon’s wives. He would awaken in time for the end of Liturgy, happy as a clam. I was worried he had no concept of being in Church, but when he began serving on the altar, he required very little instruction. He’d been mystically as present as his older siblings, absorbing the things of God, even in sleep.

Orthordox Church.interior

The Church offers us “other” when we attend Divine Liturgy. An opportunity to leave chronos behind – the worries and pressures of our lives, our day, our hours. We enter fully into kairos – the moment, the perfect experience of God. The ancient Greeks gave us these words for time – chronos and kairos. We still use chronos, when we measure the passage of time, in words like chronology, anachronism – when we do we speak in seconds, minutes, hours, years, centuries. Chronos is quantitative, whereas kairos is qualitative. Kairos is something apart from chronos. It specifically speaks to moments; to the perfect moment, the right moment, the opportune moment. It is when the world stops and takes a breath and life is changed. Forever. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, in Ecclesiastes, “to everything there is a time” and kairos is this moment in time; it refers to the perfect moment of God. In Church, we are transported into the moment of worship with our Supreme Being, surrounded by the Heavenly Hosts. This is from the Anaphora of the Eucharistic Canon:

“For all these things we give thanks to Thee, and to Thine only-begotten Son and to Thy Holy Spirit; for all things of which we know and of which we know not, whether manifest or unseen; and we thank Thee for this liturgy which Thou hast found worthy to accept at our hands, though there stand by Thee thousands of archangels and hosts of angels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, six-winged, many eyed, who soar aloft, borne on their pinions, singing the triumphant hymn, shouting, proclaiming and saying:

Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord of Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

I love that our Liturgy reflects the action of the angels and that while we enter into the sanctuary that is Church and the Divine Liturgy, the angels are surrounding us, constantly singing to Our Lord, in Divine Worship. And I love to lose myself in Liturgy. I’ve had people experience a Divine Liturgy for the first time and one of their reactions is usually to the length of the service. (And the singing and the incense…) And for me, it passes in a moment. As the mother of young children, it can take much longer. Getting children to experience kairos only happens when we expose them to it on a regular basis. It’s hard to expect infants, let alone adults who have never been to a Divine Liturgy, to not have questions or get antsy because of the foreignness of it all. Babies are just short adults; we need to be present to their senses in how we share our worship. It can be confusing for all of us and we ought to encourage the experience of kairos for others. So many adults are annoyed by the noises and wiggles of infants in Church. Personally, I rejoice with the angels, because those children are our future.

St. Nikolai

There is a beauty to experiencing kairos. Chronos ages us. Chronos makes us tired. Chronos gave me gray hair! In mythology, Chronos was always depicted as evil, or as Father TIme and an old, decrepit man walking with a cane, barely escaping the Grim Reaper. Kairos is always young, handsome, and full of love and happiness. Kairos brings joy to people. Kairos lives in the perfect moment. Our souls soar in kairos, when we give ourselves over to the experience of God in His Liturgy. And God gives us glimpses of those perfect moments, moments of kairos, throughout our lives. It is just hard to recognize them sometimes. As I typed this, I remembered the first time I felt my firstborn son move in my womb. I recall placing my hand over him and reveling in the gift of life. I cried with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, that I was allowed this divine gift of life. And that moment was a kairos moment. Time, as chronos, stopped for me, as I felt my child wiggle in my womb. 

Miracle baby toes

So I pray for more perfect moments in my life. I pray that I can stop, be still, and experience more perfect, sublime moments. God moments. Time loses its hold when we step into karios and live with God. The angels are singing, miracles are happening, and life will never be the same. The world holds its breath in kairos. Eternity is glimpsed. The miracles all around us are a part of the complete experience of God. We can find those kairos moments, and we want to treasure them. God gives us kairos to raise us up, for those perfect moments, moments we forget time itself and live fully in that golden moment.

Trust me, moments come and moments go. Some are hard to get past and cause us intense misery. Those are the moments when we live in chronos, hoping beyond hope that they are over and done with. With a moment of kairos, we are transported outside of our own timeline and we come truly alive – for the sole moment. I related in a previous post how I cried at the Phantom of the Opera – that is a kairos moment. I completely let the angst of the traffic, of feeling harried, fall away in that moment of bliss. That moment of bliss erased all the other chronos I’d spent getting there. Those are golden moments. Golden moments that are not repeatable, nor should they want to be. We relish them because of their uniqueness. Spending time, outside of chronos, in the presence of God, refreshes us and quite often brings us to our knees. We are separate, we are apart. We are alone, and yet with the choirs of angels, worshipping God.

BVM Laundry

When I look at my dirty laundry, I long for those moments of kairos.  And yet I know that if I dedicate myself to the task at hand, even washing clothes can be golden moments, if we use them to pray and offer our labor for the good of those who need it. And I can often lose myself in menial tasks, being transported in memory to those moments that spur me on, that guide me in my chronological march through life. Kairos is our gift from God, but it is also His invitation, to seek Him out.

Kneeling Prayer.Orthodox Church