“blessed is she who believed…”

It seems like almost daily I find challenges coming at me. And with this Lenten journey I am on, I find that the Lord loves coincidences to teach me. He uses these sublime instances to show me that He is in charge and, indeed, is present. I have said before that I sometimes need 2×4’s to get me to notice things. And sometimes that is because I need to just stop. To just be. To just rest in the moment. Sometimes a deep breath can go a long way in settling your mind.

I am of the age where my parents are not doing so well. Neither is my mother-in-law. I have friends with cancer. I have friends with hearing aids! I even have discussions on….shh…bladder issues. (You know…Depends, etc).  My friend from High School and I were laughing about how our conversations have changed in the past 40+ years of our friendship…we used to talk about boys and our periods and PE class, who got a car, what was happening on Friday night, how so-and-so broke up but she has a hickey, who asked us out, what new record album we got…no longer. Our conversations often take on dark subjects – friends who have died; our own battles with illnesses; parents dying or ill; troubles with our children, and even troubles with our grandchildren. And we talk about the weather. Who does that? Ha-Ha! We do! She is in sunny Southern California and is seeing Spring; whereas I am in Alaska and we just got 10″ or so of snow over the past couple of days. It’s so funny when we think about it.

And as I face this uncertain future, clinging to what was makes absolutely no sense. It is done and over with. How we proceed from today is what is important. And each time I sink into a depressive afternoon, or become sort of despondent, I find myself re-connecting to God through this directed Lenten Study. And I feel blessed all over again. I skipped all my reading and journaling yesterday, as I was caught up in the drama with family. And I do not mean that in a snarky way…as all those sayings about drama go. No, I mean it sincerely. It is a time of dramatic decisions and changes for me. Not silliness or craziness, but actually really dramatic things. Moving. Buying a house. Making decisions for my mom. Taking on huge responsibilities in caring for ill family members, all the while launching our youngest son out of high school and into the world. And some days, I let it overwhelm me. So today, I chose to catch up and do two days of my Lenten Study in one. And the Lord does not disappoint! The reading for yesterday in the New Testament was Luke 1:26-56, also known as the Annunciation. What verses got to me?Of course, this is referring to the Blessed Mother, the Theotokos, the “Mother of my Lord (Luke 1:43). The Virgin Mary. And I am in no way comparing myself to her. I am, however, clinging to the promises from God, to all of us. And reading this made my heart sing, and leap with joy. Because God keeps all His promises. All of them. We are the ones who bounce to His lap and then also run in the opposite direction, like a child at play. And each time I allow myself to wallow or get cranky (and let’s be honest, have my little temper tantrums that things are not going right and my day might totally suck) the Lord allows me to once again cling to His promises. To climb into His lap, as it were, and find comfort and support. Just like children do to their parents.

This prayer was always one of my favorite prayers. I would imagine myself nestled safely within the heart of Christ, peeking out from behind His Wounds. Now don’t get all creepy on me…it’s not morbid or icky, or bloody and stinky in the sense of His humanity…it is more spiritual and holy; more esoteric and applicable to our growth in faith. The fact that Christ was Wounded for me, and just me, makes my heart swell with love for Him. He suffered for each one of us. Personally. His promise to protect those who love Him makes me feel safe. In my directed reading of the Psalms today, I read “Lord, what are mortals that you notice them; human beings, that you take thought of them? They are but a breath; their days are like a passing shadow.” (Ps 144:3-4) And then I read, “May there be no breach in the walls, no exile, no outcry in our streets.” (Ps 144:14). And then, “The Lord supports all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.” (Ps 145:14). And my comfort level just increased. The Lord allows me to peek out at the world, protected by His wounds for me, and allows “no breach in the walls” of my soul. And in 1Corinthians 11 I read, “If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgement; but since we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.” (1Cor 11:31-32) And so I take these moments of doubt as the discipline of the Lord. Because He allows me to witness firsthand my weakness and lack of fortitude without my faith. I journaled today that “I feel growth in my heart and a sense of peace in letting go and getting out of God’s way – He needs room to make these things happen (for me). Having total trust is also quite freeing.” I feel so blessed that I am tried and grow each and every day during Lent. It has become quite the journey for me. I am so blessed. Sometimes we need to re-open wounds or weak spots, in order to allow them to heal and become stronger.

There is a process of repairing pottery in Japan called “kintsugi.” What they do is repair broken pottery with a lacquer that contains gold, or silver, or often platinum. What this does is treat the breaking as part of the history of the object and in a way, honoring that brokenness with a beautiful repair job, often making it more glorious than the original pottery. And if we think about it, I do believe that God allows our brokenness to become a thing of beauty, if we but allow Him to repair it. The Japanese philosophy of “wabi-sabi” is an embracing of the flawed or imperfect. It is incorporated into the philosophy of “mushin,” which means a sort of mindlessness, but is more of a detachment from the moment and acceptance of constantly changing conditions (Most who practice Japanese martial arts use this technique). “The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware, too, is subject.” (Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics).

I know the Lord will see through all our flaws, our cracks, our meltdowns, and repair us with something finer than gold – He repairs us with His complete love. All we have to do is accept it.

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“And just like that…”

It’s so interesting how our minds work. I had a horrible nightmare last night..well, technically it was extremely early this morning…and woke to my 15-year-old dog barfing his guts out at the foot of my bed (luckily into his dog bed itself). To tell the truth, it was almost worse than the nightmare. Reality can do that to you, every once in a while. Your mind has you reeling and you’re breaking out in a cold sweat, thinking life is pretty bad, and then your dog throws up at your feet. And this morning, it was so very dark. It was black as night, which is why I was so confused.  It’s just week one of Daylight Savings Time – I really dislike the time change – and I am exhausted. Not only that, it is pitch black at 6:30am. So I had to find my way to a light to see what I was dealing with. Meanwhile, I was sweating over my nightmare and not fully aware of what was happening. And to be honest yet again, I think dealing with a sick dog is preferable to my dream, in many ways. In this particular case, once I was fully awake, I would much rather deal with my sick dog.

You see, in my dreams, I lost one of my sons. He snapped; he became someone he never was, nor anyone I had raised him to be. He exhibited behavior I had never expected of him. I was begging him. I was yelling at him. I was losing him and there was nothing I could do to stop his decisions. In my dream, I was cowering in my closet, crying and inconsolable. I think losing a child to poor choices is probably the worst thing I can imagine. I know people who have children who have struggled with addictions and who have served time in prison, or who have been admitted to rehab over and over again. I have seen families split apart who have not returned to a cohesive unit. And I have seen the pain in a parent’s eyes over their lost children.

And I cannot help but think of the world, and our country, right now. It feels like we are turning our backs on God. We have walked away from the basics of our faith. We have allowed the world in, so much so, that we have forgotten God. We have chosen to live life as we choose, away from His Word for us.

In the Ladder of Divine Ascent (the Icon depicted above) St.John Climacus exhorts us to pay attention. If you look at the icon you can see how decisions are affecting the eternity of those climbing. There are many ways in which we can see how, as a culture, we have chosen the world over its creator. The creation has become the master of the creator. It is usurped and upside down. And it can only lead to disaster. It can lead to each of us falling off the “Ladder of Divine Ascent,” our own pathway to heaven.

I read an article today by a young woman who was raised by her German grandmother. Her grandmother warned her that war was coming to us. As a young girl, her grandmother had tried to warn her own family in Germany, prior to World War 1, of an upcoming war, but none of them listened to her. So she fled to America via Ellis Island. She saw the “writing on the wall” (Daniel 5).  And she raised her children and grandchildren to be aware of the world – the history, culture, and markers that signal disaster is coming. And she believes we are, once again, headed for international disaster. Quite often, I feel that God needs a 2×4 to get my attention; I see these markers and yet I disdain them and blow them off. This dream, which was making me extremely upset, was stopped by my dog, before I could take the imagery further. Why did I dream about my son like that? I think it is because I realized his entire school experience, the sum total of all my years of schooling my children, is due to our homeschool by May 1st. The final grades for his last year of homeschooling. And that is so very close. As in 6 weeks close. As in my entire brood will have graduated from High School and be making their way into the world. And it scares me. For a variety of reasons. My babies are all adults. All of them. And here I sit.

You know, God experienced the “empty nest” syndrome, too. He had to expel Adam and Even from the Garden of Eden. As a parent, we sometimes have to make those tough calls. Of course, God knew that He was setting mankind on the pathway back to Him. He granted us free will, which allows us to follow or reject Him. Our children have free will. Eve was easily tempted by an apple, because of her free will, and the demonic presence whispering in her ear. She then infected Adam with the need to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, the one plant the Lord asked them to not eat. Isn’t that how it goes? What we are told we cannot have, we want all the more??  God gives us ample opportunities to choose Him. He allows us the opportunity to experience what the world has to offer. He allows us to feel sated by the world. To our “in the moment” minds; to our “if it feels good do it” mentality; to our “it will be fine, you will see” logic, we choose the pathway that is easier, wider, simpler. Being a follower of God, of Christ, is the single, most difficult thing I have ever chosen to do. But I cannot deny the pull of my heart; that emptiness that no amount of anything in this world fills, but God. The fear of my son making poor choices for his life? Isn’t that the fear all parents share? Most especially our God? He saw how our poor choices mounted, again and again. And He sent us His Son, to lead us each to salvation. Each of us. I can worry all I want about my kids; in fact, I always will. I may have sleepless nights until my eternal sleep, worrying about my children and grandchildren. Because as a parent, we never, ever stop worrying.

Once again, God has directed us to Him through the gift of Lent. He never stops worrying about us. I will never stop worrying about my family, or my friends. It’s part of who I am, as a woman, and as a mother. Each year, we are given a wonderful opportunity to re-direct our lives away from this crazy, inviting, world and direct ourselves towards God. We have this chance for more prayer, for reflection, for a metanoia of the heart, mind and soul. So even if this world is careening out of control, we firmly stand on the Rock, the Church. We have our faith to ground us, prepare us, to set a wall around our hearts. We don’t know when things will occur. And we need to always stay prepared. God has our best interests at heart as the Creator of all of us. He will never stop welcoming us Home to Him. And that one thing helps me sleep at night, and helps keep most nightmares at bay.

I know my kids are growing up and moving on. I know it. It’s just hard to deal with it some days. But facing these fears, in the light of day, and the Light of Christ, gives me strength. And just like that….

“..your Father, who sees what is hidden…”

“Sacrifice and offering you do not want; but ears open to obedience you gave me. Holocausts and sin-offerings you do not require; so I said, “Here I am; your commands for me are written in the scroll. To do your will is my delight; my God, your law is in my heart.”” That is from Psalm 40, verses 7-9 in my New American Bible (2007).

As I read this during my prayer time today, I realized that I am a wanderer. We all are. Like someone roaming in the desert, as the Jewish people did for 40 years (there’s that number 40 again) searching for the Promised Land. We all try and fill ourselves with things of this world, thinking we will be satisfied. But nothing, absolutely nothing, can fill that hole in our souls like God. And today, as I prayed and read and journaled, I realized something profound. All God asks of us is an ear to listen to His commands for our lives. He just asks us to listen. Just listen.

As we raise our children, we begin young (hopefully) to teach them how to sit still. I can still hear myself admonishing my sons, “Would you just sit still and listen???” And hopefully they come to learn how to enjoy moments of stillness and silence. I have a very close friend who is a teacher. She had been teaching older kids for a few years and decided to return to teaching kindergarten. One of our first conversations after her change of grade levels this year was pretty funny. She kept telling me how exhausted she was and then she said, “Oh my goodness!! It’s like herding cats!!” And I just laughed. I know what it is like when I have just two of my grandchildren (both under 5) over here, and I try to get them to sit with me for a bit of quiet time. Ha-Ha! Not gonna happen. (Unless they happen to want to cuddle, then I just bask in the moment). Recently my oldest grandchild and I had a slight disagreement when he informed me that I had been “breaking the rules” when I wore my shoes inside their house. Long story short, I explained why I had mine on; however, I wanted him to just listen to me and he would not stop telling me I was in trouble and a rule-breaker. I held up my hand (signaling “stop”) and told him to just think on what I had been telling him for a moment (my reasons for having my shoes on). He kept trying to speak, and I kept holding up my hand. I’m sure you can just imagine the scene in your head – a grandma and a 5-year-old having a lively discussion! The expression on his face was hilarious, as his mind juggled “thinking” and “being quiet,” at the same time. Eventually he realized that at that moment, that it was okay we had our shoes on. And I also shared with him that I was glad he understood there were rules in his home, and that he needed to obey, as do we all. And that I was proud of him for finally listening, and being quiet.

Don’t we all struggle with being silent and listening, while learning at the same time? My youngest son loves to plug in and listen to his music while he studies, with those darn earplugs in his ears. It is so loud that I can hear it when I am in the room with him. He would wear them 24/7 if he could!  I just cannot read or learn that way. But for him, it somehow settles his mind so he can think. And sometimes things that “distract” us can actually be instructive, and bring us closer to what it is we need to hear. The world and all its chaos can be that thing that brings us closer to God. It has for me. I was able to see it as an entirety, and not as separate things. I chose to unplug from much of the noise around me.

The book of Matthew today was our Scripture reading and it was so perfect. Matthew 6: 16-18: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father, who is hidden; and your Father, who sees what is hidden, will repay you.”

We often want others to know and acknowledge our efforts at fasting and keeping other traditions in our faith life. As silly as it may seem, this can be seen in other aspects of our lives, as well. For example, who doesn’t want everyone in the world to see and acknowledge our new driver’s license? Or to share accomplishments like passing a course we were taking or graduation from schools? “Did you see what I did?” We want others to acknowledge us; to be proud of us. And that can be a distraction. The Lord asks us to work at our holiness with Him, and in secret. No one needs to know how we are changing, spiritually, or exactly what it is we are working on (“I gave up coffee for Lent and it is killing me” or “I gave up TV this Lent – what is happening on Chicago Fire?” “I spent three hours at Vespers last night; I am so tired!!” or worse, “I didn’t see you at Stations this week; why weren’t you there?”). Quite often our Spiritual Fathers or our Priest/Pastor may give us spiritual instruction – that is for our edification only. We need to do the work to become closer to God, but do it in quiet solitude. We should not complain that we can’t join friends for drinks, or food, and good times during Lent, either. A wise clerical friend of mine (you know who you are!!) once told me that we are also bound by the “laws of hospitality.” If a friend invites you over for dinner, or shows up at your home with foods that are not compliant with the fast, do you eat them? Or do you complain that you are fasting and cannot enjoy a meal with them? My wise friend insists that, no, we need to enjoy the hospitality of others, extending to them the art of friendship. The Lord will see what is hidden, in our hearts, and will know our mindsets. It does not mean, however, that we party every night and just say, “I’m keeping the law of hospitality,” either. We need to make our best effort to keep the Fast in our own way each Lent; but nonetheless, we can still be hospitable and kind to others. We smile, we wash our faces and “anoint our hair” even though we are fasting and spending more time in prayer than what may be our normal routine. “..your Father, who sees what is hidden…”

And I have found that, this Lent in particular, I am enjoying the separation from distractions even more than I thought I would. I never could study like my son, in headphones or with noise. I did my best studying at a library, surrounded by books and quiet. At my quiet time in the mornings, I am so excited to read more and learn more, that I have no other distractions! Now, don’t get me wrong – I approach it sort of backwards! Usually, I get up and have my coffee, catch up on social media (I am only checking in once a day, if I can limit it to that) and then I have a second cup of coffee while I enjoy the daily press briefings from Sean Spicer. I know it is weird, but it gets my day going and I love how he does his press briefings!! By that time, my son has left to catch the bus and I make my way to my office, in silence, TV off/social media put away for the day. I am ready to truly start my day. It is profoundly effective for me to shut myself away in the stillness of my home. And I am also discovering I would much rather do this every day than go back and forth on social media. I realized that I am not missing a whole lot. And I may just continue to use my phone as a phone, and not have social media run/control my life. I miss some things, yes, but I sure am gaining an awful lot, too. Detoxing from anything is hard, and this is no exception.

And today, as I entered my little office and opened the drapes for the morning sunshine to sweep over my desk, and when I saw the Psalms and the Scripture from Matthew, I was so happy. I realize that this Lent, I am happy. Honestly happy, with a slight tendency to giggle and enjoy my days. I am not wearing “sackcloth and ashes,” and I am prayerfully aware that I am in a good mood. I am in week 2 of Lent and I can feel that my life is being redirected in a good way! I love that I am once again tying myself to my spiritual roots and it is invigorating me. It is making me come alive. One other thing that has begun to really help with this is our weather. I find it so interesting that the Church, in all its wisdom, ordained that we have Lent when we do….as we are emerging from the cloister of those many dark and wintry days, as we are beginning to “see the light.” We have had some extremely cold days – it was -10 again this morning – but the sunshine has been spectacular. The icicles on our house are shrinking (as my son happily pointed out to me today – I am challenging him to not knock them off so we can see how long they get) as the days alternate between sunny and sunny/windy. But for me, this is the first winter when the glorious days of sun have really affected me. I happily pop my vitamin D every day, but seeing the sun itself is glorious. (It also shows all the places I need to clean. Which goes hand-in-hand with my “40 bags in 40 days” cleaning spree! God is so good!). I am not over-sharing, I hope, with this Lenten experience, because there is just oh, so  much more, that I am learning and discovering. But I also share to inspire! I know my Lord sees what is hidden, and that just makes my joy even bigger!

So for me and my experience this year, I’m all about digging in to this Lent. I am loving it so much! Reading, learning, quietly praying, and always giving gratitude for my many blessings. Let us all clean our homes and our hearts, and prepare for the upcoming rough days of Holy Week, when we somberly walk with our Lord through to His tortuous death. But let us also be ready to open the windows, let the spring sun shine in through our clean windows, and celebrate His Glorious Resurrection!

 

“…you were bought with a price…”

 

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“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1Corinthians 6: 19-20

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Guess where I am at today? Yeah; I am there. It seems like there is a push in our culture to expose us to uber-sexuality. It is everywhere. It is temptation surrounding us. And it is pervasive. The evil one is sitting back and laughing. The movies, the TV shows, song lyrics…and those are the legitimate sources of temptation. I just found out there is an alternate universe of YouTube that is dedicated to pornography (Red something or other). And it is free. There is Snap Chat where kids can sext each other and the image disappears after a few seconds. Except nothing disappears. And our children can find porn so easily. I read an article today that said 97% of all young men before the age of 18 have watched pornography. And it is not like trying to find a centerfold in a Playboy magazine. No. This is hard cord porn. There are images and videos of “rough sex,” and even group sex. Children as young as 11 and 12 are becoming addicted. And they are becoming reclusive and disordered. There was a court case this week against a father, accusing him of sexual abuse. A secondary charge of bestiality was dropped because there was no “penetration.” And that, as sick as it is, unfortunately, is now in our legal system and can set precedent for other cases of child abuse. Pornography and the culture surrounding it is all out there, easily obtained. And it is killing our country’s cultural base, and our families, which are the foundation of our culture. It is creating this disordered sense of what family is supposed to be, our sexuality, and all of our interpersonal relationships. And it is scaring me. And it should be scaring you.

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I am not sure how to combat this epidemic. I do know that I need to change myself, before I can help anyone else change. Do I watch porn? No. Do I read porn? No. Do I allow it in my home? No. Is it here? Probably. Because we allow sexual innuendo and jokes, and poor vocabulary, to sneak into our home and our lives. We slowly allow the level of purity and modesty to sink. It is like the story of the frogs in hot water. You place them in a pot on your stove in warm, tepid water. You slowly increase the heat until the frogs are boiling to death, and they are happy all the way, because they do not notice the water getting increasingly hot. Do we laugh at impure jokes? Do we allow movies rated “R” for sex or violence into our homes? We allowed a movie in that we still regret – the “F” word was used more than 300 times during that movie. That’s more than 1 time/minute. That is ridiculous. It is in the trash. I have to stop this from invading our home. I need to judge myself and see where I am lacking, in that I am allowing this cultural deviation to have a place in our home and family. It is part of the actions that I need to take; that each of us needs to take in order to combat this evil pervading our country, one person and one family at a time.

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What I find so interesting, is that this whole issue was noticed by me, over the past few days, coming from several sources – commercials about this new 50 Shades movie, comments on a couple of ProLife pages on FB, and news reports, even comments from people I know. And the timing is so much the Lord’s. Because this weekend is MeatFare Sunday. This weekend we enter into the preparation for Great Lent. This weekend we turn our focus inward, onto how we are preparing for the sacrifice God made for every one of us. A sacrifice that He would make, even if each of us were the sole person on earth. He would die for my sins alone. He would die for your sins, alone. He is that magnificent of a Creator. He values His creation above all things. He desperately wants each of us to belong solely to Him. Not this world. Not the evil that tempts us in this world. Not the wrong that is trying to invade our righteousness, our holiness, our future of eternity in the presence of God. Because sin separates us from God.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. And this is the verdict: The Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness more than light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever practices the truth comes into the Light, so that it may be clearly seen that what he has done has been accomplished in God.”” John 3:16-21

If we read part of that in light of pornography and evil, we can see how clearly God is talking to us. When John says, “The Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness more than light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” Pornography seeps into the world in darkness – behind closed doors. There are have been studies showing that kids can spend hours in their rooms, on their computers. These computers are tools that can help them with their schoolwork, yes, and can be invaluable tools for education. But think of the study that said 97% of boys before 18 have watched pornography. Where? How? Have you checked their laptops? Do you allow computers, Play Stations and the X-Box in their rooms? Did you know they have internet capabilities? I did not realize they are like having another WiFi Hot Spot. Have you scanned their phones or looked at the photos on them? Do you have their log in codes for the internet or their phones? Do you understand the apps they have on their computers and phones – what they can and cannot do on those apps? Do you have all their passwords? They are sometimes alone, in their rooms, with temptation swirling all around them. We trust our kids to become the people we set the example for them to aspire to be. We instruct them. We pray with them, and for them. We go to Church with them. We send them to Youth Group. We monitor their “dating” practices. We know their friends. Some of us homeschool, in order to keep an extra eye on our kids. But are we with them every moment? Is what we are doing enough? The evil one is laughing, because it is NOT enough. Don’t fool yourself. It is NOT enough.

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As we enter this preparation period for Great Lent, we are asked to focus more on our prayer life. Yes, we fast from certain foods; the list for Melkite Greek Catholics is quite lengthy and strict. Many Catholics and Orthodox give up chocolate or coffee. Some give up Facebook or the internet. But for me, fasting is a exercise in self control that I should be trying to do every week; it is not enough of a sacrifice for me (it doesn’t “hurt” enough to be memorable, if that makes sense). We should be fasting from meats on Wednesdays and Fridays all year long (in the Eastern Churches, we do). What works for me is to add something; to intensify the good, wholesome, faith-filled and inspiring things in my life. Doing so helps drown out all this evil and all these ungodly influences. Paying attention to what influences you can even include how you present yourself to others – too much make-up, or even flashy or revealing clothing. Because ungodly attire is a distraction to everyone and it can come from both males and females. How do others perceive you just from how you look when they see you? What is the first impression you give off to others? Are you a wholesome and Godly young person (or older person) or are you projecting the world and its influences? Are you trying too hard to be a part of the world? Try doing more in the religious and faith-filled part of your life. Go to Church more often. Sit in the presence of God in the Tabernacle, where He waits for us. Spend more time praying. Add volunteering with those who are less fortunate. Donate your time, and the money you save fasting, to those who are in need, to those who are suffering. Dedicate a portion of each day to silent prayer. Read stimulating, religious works by some of the Church Fathers. (The Ladder of Divine Assent by John Climacus and Our Thoughts Determine our Lives by Elder Thaddeus are two of my favorites). Stimulate your mind and your heart with thoughts and prayers of God. Divest yourself of the things of this world that make you less than what God calls you to be. Stop allowing the world and its bright and shiny temptations to skewer your relationship with God. Go to confession. Find a mentor or Spiritual Father you can chat with. Have coffee with your Youth Pastor or confessor. Make Godly relationships a priority, while pulling away from those who would do your soul, your eternity, harm. The evil one is laughing…let’s shut him up.

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Take this time of Lent to get yourself right with God. Work on your relationship with your parents, siblings, children, and friends – but most importantly, with God. Cement the Godly and be rid of the evil. Christ endured beatings and belittling for us. God, Himself, hung on that cross for 3 agonizing hours – just for you; just for me. Do not throw His sacrifice back in His face.

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But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

“Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no…”

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Blogging is interesting. Like I had said before, it is sort of like leaving a diary open on a table, and random strangers stopping by to read a page or two. When you use different blogging platforms, they offer you differing types of feedback. I actually know the exact number of people who follow this blog, and how many actually read each post on it. Sometimes it is just 1 or 2 people. And often one of them is me, because I go out and come in through a different portal, so I can see how it looks to someone stopping by to read a page or two. I can thereby make corrections or edits, so the viewing is easier.

But mostly, I come back to my blog to chat, really, and rant about things that bother me, or in some cases, things that please me. Today I am dealing with the continued fallout from a stressful weekend, where we were on edge worrying over the health of my mother-in-law, who had taken ill quite suddenly. She is not healthy yet, but at least they are making progress. (Please pray for her continued health and recovery). It is amazing to me how quickly our lives can turn. “On a dime,” as they say. We saw some interesting things this weekend, and spent some time with family and some good friends. All in all, it was a good way for us to end the week, and for my husband to prepare to travel today (although his 6:30am flight was cancelled and rescheduled until 3:00pm because of weather)! We spent our Sunday evening after Mass, enjoying our books until we fell asleep.

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Most of us who put pen to paper, so to speak, understand that what we put out there is forever the world’s. What we write can someday matter, a lot, to someone who needs to read those words, right then. That particular pairing, I leave to God. If what I go through and how my mind works can somehow touch others, that is a blessing. I love reading so very much, and read constantly. But I don’t think I am a fictional writer. I just write what I am thinking about. “Musings of a mom”…like the title of my blog says.

Most of my time is pondering the eternal truths laid before us through lifetimes of days and moments, and through the internalization of the Word of God in our lives; our faith. Sometimes I veer over into politics, but I try to stay away. It is just too inflammatory. Faith can be, too, and I know that, but my faith is everything to me, and so I share that more readily.

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And words can sting, but they can also heal. Recently, there was an instance where perhaps too many words were used, and some people felt betrayed. Words can betray a confidence, or spill a secret we thought was safe. Words can slice through our confidence with one phrase. And words can give us the confidence we need to accomplish the impossible. Words are precious and priceless and sacred. Too many people abuse words. To someone who treasures them, it hurts so much when words are used to destroy and harm, and pull down others, instead of building and creating and reassuring.

Lyrics in songs can be horrific. It’s so funny because from one generation to the next, words become (and can mean) something else. Words used in common language today would have shocked my grandmother. My great-grandmother would have had a coronary. But I am now supposed to be non-plussed with some of the vocabulary choices used regularly by teens and adults. (Words I tried once upon a time, but discovered that soap was not something I enjoyed tasting). I inwardly cringe and am offended, but try to not show it. But I am. The “March on DC” used words and images that 30 years ago would have been labeled pornography and the offenders would have been arrested. Movies that are now rated R should be rated X and labeled pornography (think 50 Shades). Musical lyrics should have those warning labels all over them, but rarely do.

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This weekend our deacon gave an insightful homily about words. The Scripture reading was Matthew 5:37 – “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no. Anything more is from the evil one.” And it got me thinking about words. There are so very many ways to say things. But I truly prefer simple and direct. Why beat around the bush and use prose like Shakespeare, when using small sentences like Dr. Suess will suffice? Especially if the meaning is still as clear? And truth is far more simple. When we speak truth, we don’t have to remember how we say things, because truth never changes. Eternal truths are the same. They never change. Presentation may change (i.e. Protestant, Catholic, etc) but the truth there is the same.

Rhetoric is the persuasive use of speaking or writing with the use of figures of speech and other devices meant to sway a reader. And sometimes, to me, that is what my blogging is about, I suppose. However, I think difference is highly underrated. I appreciate a differing viewpoint and enjoy learning about the whys and wherefores the speaker came to them. Perhaps I can be persuaded to change my view! It happened when I became Catholic, after having been raised Protestant. Those eternal truths reached out for me and took hold, and within the arms of Holy Mother Church, I had my moment with God, with Jesus, and I knew I was home. So words and truths can be effective and life changing. They can also effect our eternity.

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And so today I pondered words and how they effect our lives in the here and now, but also how they can last through eternity. I would like to challenge myself and any others who actually read this, to think about each word they utter. Do we want that word to be held for eternity? Was it said in love? Was it said to defame or harm others? Was it said to raise up another and buttress them in times of need? Was it said, seeking redemption from He who created eternity? Was that word edifying for you and those around you? God knows your heart and He knows how we truly feel. Sometimes words are all we have to ensure there is a safe wall around us, keeping others away. And sometimes words are what we use to bring others to us, out of our loneliness and neediness. Words have such unlimited power. We need to be careful and respect each word we utter, letting our “yes mean yes and our no mean no.”

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“…He predestined us to adoption…”

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A few days ago, we attended a funeral for our friends’ child, who passed away last week. His story is a sad, but beautiful, one. And their celebration of his life, and how he had enlarged their hearts, is so emotional. The homily was beautiful.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:3-14)

The priest talked to us about being “adopted sons of God” and afterwards we chatted. He told me that historically, during Christ’s lifetime, an adoption was done for adults, in order to secure inheritance. If a couple had no children, they would adopt an adult and that adult would become their heir. The adopted child had, in fact, far more rights than a child born to the family. And an adopted child could not be “set aside,” as some parents do to their own “flesh and blood” child. And so in Scripture, calling someone your adopted son held far more meaning than just giving them your last name. They became your heirs…heirs to your kingdom. And that is what happened to each of us, when we were baptized into the family of God. We became His adopted sons and daughters, and He cannot set us aside. In the book of Isaiah – 49th chapter, where he says “Before I was born, the Lord called me.” (verse 1) he also says, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” (verses 15 & 16) The writer is speaking about Israel and its people. However, we can easily see where the New Testament writers incorporate this sentiment into their preaching in the days of Christ, in order that we would know His deep love for us.

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In the concrete world in which we live, there is so much chatter about abortion. And as a woman who dearly wanted a large family, and has lost too many infants to miscarriage, I know the ache so many women feel who cannot bear their own child. I know that my heart is large enough to take other women’s babies, and love them as my own. I have fostered babies. And I have adopted outside of my race, but very much in my heart. My youngest child came to us within a few hours of being born. I even was able to breastfeed for a little while (until hunger took over supply!). That child is no different to the two I successfully birthed, or the seven I lost along the way. My heart knew there was room for someone who needed our family. And we readily took that baby, with no forethought or foreboding, just with excitement and love. We opened our hearts, our arms, and our lives and 18 years later, I can honestly say I am more in love than the moment I first laid eyes on that 4-hour-old newborn.

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The thought of losing a child pretty much drops me to my knees. Knowing someday, I will pass from this life, I am comforted by the fact that my sons are a loving family, even without their dad or me. They bonded ridiculously well and do not see color or difference in one another. Praise be to God. So all this hoopla about abortion and the right to choose really gets to me. Choose what? To kill your unborn child? There is no empirical evidence that in this day and age of scientific discovery and finesse, that the mother’s life would ever be in enough danger that you would have to kill her unborn child, in order for her to survive. Please, find me a case where that was true. A doctor who is trying to save a life will not take another one to do it. And there is no need. As for rape or incest, why kill the innocent product (child) and add to the pain? Why take a life because you were violated? I have had the pleasure of knowing a woman who was brutally raped. She became pregnant. And through the grace of God and a great family, she raised that baby. What an incredibly loved child it is, too. She does not cringe when gazing at her child; she beams with pride. That child is now a college graduate and is doing amazing things. And to think others told her to “get rid of it.” Thankfully, God also had her heart and her ear, and she chose life for that baby.

Adoption is hungered for all over this country. And adoptive families are somehow so very blessed in this life. We have learned to stretch in ways we never knew we could. Adopting outside your race, or to adopt a child with disabilities, invites comments and stares, and unsolicited advice. It also involves challenges that families who do not adopt or foster ever really understand. We decided to roll with it and have had some humorous encounters, which were meant to somehow shame us or something. But the Lord put this child in our lives because we needed to see with new eyes, I think. We needed to know that love has no skin color, no disability. Love just is.

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I had to write this because there has been so much anger out there, thrown at us on a daily basis. The rioting is beyond ridiculous. To think that you have to parade around in hats and costumes representing female body parts, in order to express your rights, is unfathomable to me. Is there no modesty or shame? Sometime their vocabulary truly insults and embarrasses me. And what they don’t realize, it is embarrassing them, too. The mindset that says my body trumps someone else’s, who is so vulnerable, blows my mind. I have lived through Roe V Wade and I have seen the fallout. My senior year in High School, it became law. And the change in our culture has been incredible. And not in a good way. My freshman year in college, I had student health coverage (back then, as soon as you were 18 you had to get your own insurance). I went to the heath center for a sinus infection and walked out with birth control pills and a diaphragm, just in case I wanted “extra protection.” I survived free love, and sex-drugs-and rock & roll, and lived to tell about it, with my brain cells intact (thanks be to God). And with no diseases or accidents along the way (accidents as in driving when I should not have been). I have lived with roommates who had so many abortions I lost count. I have seen friends get pregnant and chose to keep their babies. I have friends who got pregnant and gave their children up for adoption. And I have friends, like me, who have lost babies due to miscarriage. Life is just so very fragile. But in every single case, it was a child. Not a lump of cells. It was not a puppy. It was not a goldfish. It was a baby. One of my roommates kept her pregnancy sonograms for each abortion and I would hear her cry at night. She knew they were babies.

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“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:13-16

As I looked at the little urn at our friend’s child’s funeral, I kept thinking about what the priest said about being the “adopted sons of God,” and I felt a surge of love in my heart. It was for all the children rescued and adopted. It was for this family, who selflessly took in this little boy and loved him so very well, even on the day of his funeral. It was for our family and how we have grown as people because the Lord brought a special child into our lives. No child needs to die. Not one. Yes, we would have had millions more children in our world; just in the USA alone we average more than 1.2 million abortions a year. And it would have stretched our communities and our homes. But no child is unwanted. No child is not worth that increased burden on our culture. Our homes ache for these babies. Our culture is darker because we have killed them. But God will forgive us. He always forgives those who seek His forgiveness. Our country can turn this trend around. We can be healed as a people.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5: 21-24

I ask all of you, if I have wronged you in any way, please forgive me. Let’s work on loving first, and judging second. Let’s work on dealing with those who upset us, in love and prayer and acceptance. There’s a saying that goes, “Treat other people with politeness, even those who are rude to you, not because they are nice, but because you are.” If we all did this, our world would be a much kinder place. Kindness will win, in the end. In the meantime, try to spread it. Pray for those who are in situations where they are considering abortion…let them know we, the people around them, are here for them. Donate time, treasure, and your talents to the pro life movement. Offer to work at a life center, or to hold babies in the NICU, born with no one to love them. Become a foster parent, and take in those drug babies who will be placed in forever homes soon, or work with foster agencies to help families who do foster. Every little thing we can do will help save a life. If we show that we mean we are pro life and not just pro birth, the world will change. God will change it, through us.

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Respect for life from a natural conception to a natural death.

 

 

“You shall rise before the gray headed…”

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Many of you who have read, or have been reading, my blog understand that I have elderly parents. Of course, I could never say that directly to them, because they would vehemently deny it! My mom (87) has Alzheimer’s and is now suffering with basal cell cancer at the site of her 40-year-old mastectomy. She is a trooper, that is for sure. With her new cancer showing up, the doctor offered to make it “look better” in the sense of presentation. He offered some options and one of them was to remove skin from mom’s cheek to place over the site. Her response? “You’re not taking skin off my face!” Ha-Ha. When she was initially diagnosed with cancer all those 40+ years ago, she told me, “This is not what is going to take me out.” And she meant it. She doggedly took her radiation treatments, even if they made her weak and ill. And she soldiered through them. My dad had recently declared his marital independence at the same time (his timing was not the best) and she was left with just me there, to pick up the pieces. (My younger brother had recently gotten married and I was the sole child left at home). Some of those days were particularly rough. Some were filled with laughter – trying on prosthesis after prosthesis for her mastectomy often left us breathless and crying with laughter. Coincidentally, I just happened to work at a department store in their lingerie department at the time, and had actually been trained in fitting them. We used to have one on our counter, and we used it as a pin cushion. I never looked at it the same after my mom’s surgery.

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My dad called me this morning…with his current list of ailments. Mostly he is concerned with the affects of aging. Dementia, slurred speech, dropping things. He’s 90 years old. We discussed his continued driving. Boy, did his dad hate it when he had his license taken away at 80 years old. But I don’t think my dad sees it as that “line in the sand” issue of once he crosses it, lights out! But he does realize he is old school. I teased him that he can barely boil water to steep a teabag. He’s always had the women in his life take care of him – since birth. And he realizes his days of contributing to this world are winding down. He feels superfluous and I can understand that. We laughed that I am 60 years old and we were chatting about some of my adventures from childhood and high school, where he swore I would be the death of him! We also discussed how our society reacts to older people. As someone who has allowed her gray hair to just be there, without hiding, I can attest to this. It amazes me how people treat you when they see your gray hair. (Not to mention a tattoo!! Oh my word!!)

“You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:32

Listen to your father who begot you, And do not despise your mother when she is old. Proverbs 23:22

You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:14

A gray head is a crown of glory; It is found in the way of righteousness. Proverbs 16:31

The glory of young men is their strength, And the honor of old men is their gray hair. Proverbs 20:29″

There are so many verses in Scripture where we are admonished to honor our parents and our elderly who reside among us. Unfortunately, very few people do. We house the elderly in nursing homes, basically feeding them and giving them a roof until they die. I wish we could return to the days where extended families lived together, tripping over one another as they grew older together. I was blessed in that I spent a lot of my free time in the presence of my paternal grandparents. As a child, I spent weekends there on a regular basis. As a teenager, I would drive out just to visit them, eating dinner or taking a swim in their pool and chatting. As a college student, I would go and stay weekends with my grandparents. They were my friends, not just my grandparents. My grandma came to live with us in the last days of her life, and my children knew her, and loved her very much. We were all together as she passed away. It was a quiet and lovely death, as I held her hand. She knew she was loved and treasured.

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And today these things made me think. Someone we know was just diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, out of the blue. Time is constantly ticking and our quality of life can be limited, severely, by things outside of our control or influence. As we age, our health become precarious, at best. My biggest fear is falling in all this snow and ice. I am scared to death I will break something. As I have quoted many times, a priest friend of ours once said, “We are not guaranteed our next breath.” And it is becoming more and more a stark realization. I am getting to the age where my parents and my friend’s parents are dying. We are going to become the oldest generation living. (Well, there are always a few, wonderful, exceptions!). But overall, we are moving towards the wall every, single, person we know hits. Death. [A weird, bright spot (squirrel!) is that our new president is 70 years old. My dad and I marveled at how full his days must be. And the mantle of responsibility many young people would never want, let alone a successful businessman who could, very easily, have retired and taken life very easy for the rest of his days. But I don’t think he’s wired like that! Ha-Ha!]

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As so, after conversing with pretty much my entire family today, I am reminded that life is, indeed, so very short. I am intimidated about the world ahead of me, with family and friends passing away. I am tremulous in my heart at having to face these things, in the not-too-distant future. But I also know My God has my back. He knows when I need His strength, when I just cannot take another thing. He also knows who He needs to place in my life, to assist me through these rough times. In the same vein, He also knows who He needs to remove from my life, in order to help me maintain my peace. And I am very okay with that. Life is fleeting and drama is highly over-rated. I am content to be at home, enjoying the snowfall, and seeing my kids and grandchildren grow and mature around me. Occasionally I love a nice cup of coffee in a cafe with a friend. I enjoy some alone time with my best friend – my husband – and preferably not in a ditch (sorry, had to tease you). Life is pretty good. Fleeting and shorter than it was, but I know how Blessed I am.

My prayer for you is that you can come to understand that life is personal. I need to stop reading all this political and social stuff. I need to pick up my laundry and cook my meals. I need to ensure my family is cared for, and that each one knows my heart and how very much I adore them. I need to work on bolstering all these long-standing, but long-distance, friendships I treasure. We all need to take care of our own, private, little orbits of life. Just think of the peace we could share if all our own worlds were in order!

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