“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

So, I did it again. LOL. I got another tattoo. At my age, with my grandma, crepe-y skin. It hurt. And it bled more than my other one. This one has colors. LOL. But it is still small. It’s on my wrist, just like my other one. I’m a tatted-up grandma. Cracks me up, just to say it, let alone be it!! LOL!  I find it so interesting how people look at you when they see tattoos. I know, because I was like that, too. Immediately judging a book by its very colorful cover. It is such a shallow view of life. Truly, it is. I had one of the best conversations on God, the Crusades, and modern faith with the man who tattooed my first one, a year ago. How people choose to decorate themselves is up to them. Some have different colors of hair, or hairstyles, each time I see them. There are those who pierce themselves (which just looks painful to me!!). Others have long, fake, fingernails in a variety of shades. Women wear all sorts of make-up. Then there is jewelry and clothing, the car you drive, the house you live in, the job you have, the church you go to. It is all adornment of some sort or another. Look at Matthew 6: 25-24 below:

Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto [a]the measure of his life?  And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:  yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?  Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?  For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

The Lord cautions us not to worry about our clothing (or any adornment) or the food on our tables, but rather, be concerned, firstly, about His kingdom and His righteousness. And don’t worry about “the morrow,” because today has all its own evils. My tattoo is an “omage”, if you will, to my family. I got a “Forget-Me-Not” flower surrounded by 4 hearts and a little swirling going on, all the size of about a quarter. The Forget-Me-Not is the state flower of Alaska. It is also the flower for Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Both of my parents suffer from them. Our nuclear family consisted of mom and dad, my brother and me. So I got the 4 hearts for us. As my brother and I were chatting the other day, he said when he and I start going dementia on our families, and people comment on it, we can say, “It’s just normal in our family.” And we laughed. As I got tattooed yesterday, I died a little bit inside. Because that is the truth of it. We are losing our parents and more than likely, our families will lose us, too.

As I woke up this morning and saw this tattoo – after removing the bandage I wore all night – I noticed all the blue. LOL. I am not really a blue person. I tend more to greens and reds, and lately, purple. The swirling and hearts are purple. But wow, that is a lot of blue. There is even yellow in the center. LOL. Yellow. Yeah; not my color. And as I thought about seeing it all the time, I realized that it may make me uncomfortable, but Alzheimer’s and Dementia are not comfortable, at all. When my oldest son got a tattoo of the “crown of thorns” around his bicep, I cringed. It was ugly. His comment to me was, “Well, Mom, the crown of thorns was ugly. It is supposed to be ugly. If Jesus could wear it on His head and live through it, I can wear it on my bicep and remember that sacrifice.” Now, he wants to morph it into some sort of Celtic thing with his Spartan helmet for his unit in the Army. He sacrificed much for our country and he will be incorporating that crown of thorns into it. I get that. But when I first saw that gorgeous young man of mine with an inked arm, I actually cried. Because I had grown that baby in my womb and the Lord and I labored over making the perfect skin…and he inked it. LOL. I was not a happy mama! And now I have one more tattoo than he does! He was having a ball, giving me alleluia for getting a second one last night! The stinker.

We memorialize things in this world, to remind us of important events and feelings. The Islamists get this and they regularly destroy statues and memorials to history, because they want to erase it from our memories. “Out of sight, out of mind.” People in the South are tearing down memorials to the Confederacy. It seems stupid to me. The Confederacy is alive and well in all its descendants, as is all of our shared Christian history. Tearing down a memorial won’t erase those memories. For me, I have tattoos to remind me; to give me comfort. They are not for anyone else. They may assault the senses of others; they may cause others to look at me differently or perceive who I am differently…that is okay. If my new ink bothers you and you cannot see past it to see me, I am sorry. Perhaps we were not meant to be close friends, after all.

And I wept, thinking about how my parents will be forgotten themselves, as they, too, forget. Neither of them wants a gravesite. Neither wants any sort of memorial service, either. Both asked to be cremated. My dad is donating his body to a medical school in Texas and when they are done with it, they return the cremated remains to the family; my mom is donating her brain to the Alzheimer’s Association and once they remove it they will cremate the rest and return it to her family (me). So I will have no memorial to visit for my parents. And if I somehow am lucky enough to be gifted with Alzheimers and/or dementia, when my family sees my tattoos on my wrist, I hope they will remember the struggles my parents had, and I had with them, and be gentle and kind to me. That they will see my tattoo of the Cross of Jerusalem and remember how fervently I loved God and fought for my faith – to keep it and witness it to them. My personal “Crusade,” fought and lost and won, for them and for me. That when they see this little flower all wrinkled upon my body, they will recall I waited until I was 61 years old to get it, and that I got it for my parents and for them, too. So none of us will forget each other, as we wade into the uncertain future.

“Memory eternal…”

Joe smiling

This is my father-in-law, Joe. He passed into his eternal rest four years ago today. As Eastern Catholics, when we recall someone or remark upon their deaths, we say to others, “Memory Eternal.” One wonderful explanation comes from Scripture itself. As we read in St. Luke’s Gospel, the thief asked: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”  And in answer, in satisfaction of his wish, his wish to be remembered, the Lord witnesses: “I say to you, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.”  In other words, “to be remembered” by the Lord is the same thing as “to be in Paradise.”  “To be in Paradise” is to be in eternal memory and, consequently, to have eternal existence and therefore an eternal memory of God. (Orthodox Christianity.net). I love that explanation. But there are many others, too.

This is also posted on Orthodox Christianity.net: “The Jewish equivalent of “memory eternal” would be zikhrono/ah li-vrakha (“may his/her memory be unto blessing”). Heretics, apostates or evil doers are never mentioned by name after they are gone. If they are referred to, a mock name is used instead (I guess that explains why some call Our Lord “Yoshke”). Also, on Purim when the Scroll of Esther is read, noise is made to blot out the name of Haman, the enemy of Israel. With us, this happens when the Synodikon is read on Orthodoxy Sunday: people call out Memory Eternal thrice to acclaim Saints and righteous Emperors and thrice Anathema for heretics and enemies of the Church. When one really wanted to punish an enemy, they would kill everyone in his household, so that nobody would perpetrate his memory/pray for him. Cf. 1 Samuel 25:22 “So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.”

That explanation is a little extreme, but I love the ties to our Jewish roots in theology. And more is found in other scripture references, too.  Proverbs 10:7 “The name of the righteous is used in blessings, but the name of the wicked will rot.” Psalm 112:6 “Surely he shall not be moved for ever: the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.”  And from the book of Isaiah (Iz 49:13-15) “Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.”Joe BryceIn the Eastern Churches, we don’t have a funeral “Mass.” We have a memorial service. And this is the last portion of that service:

The Dismissal

Priest: “Glory to You, O God, our hope, glory to You. May Christ our true God, who rose from the dead and as immortal King has authority over the living and the dead, have mercy on us and save us, through the intercessions of his spotless and holy Mother; of the holy, glorious, and praiseworthy Apostles; of our venerable and God‑bearing Fathers; of the holy and glorious forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; of his holy and righteous friend Lazaros, who lay in the grave four days; and of all the saints; establish the soul of His servant Joseph, departed from us, in the dwelling place of the saints; give rest to him in the bosom of Abraham and number him among the righteous.

People: Amen.

Priest: May your memory be eternal, dear brother, for you are worthy of blessedness and everlasting memory.”

I love how we are asking for a place among all the saints, a place of rest among the righteous. We are remembering the person who walked among us, and we are asking that God “remember” him, too. On that same site, Orthodox Christian.net, this is said,

To remember – to have memory of in the western world is to THINK and RECALL an individual.

To remember – to have memory of in the Eastern Church it is to RE-MEMBER – to pull that person, that part of the body, and RE-MEMBER – REJOIN that body part back into the Body of Christ.

So to say, Memory Eternal is saying “May he/she FOREVER be a MEMBER – A PART OF THE BODY OF CHRIST.”

And I truly ask that whenever I say, “Memory Eternal.” May that person forever be with us. We have the Church in 3 states – the Church Militant, here on earth, the Church Triumphant in Heaven, and the Church Suffering or Waiting (that would be those in Purgatory, should you accept that teaching). But we are all One Body in Christ. It is why we feel we can confidently ask the Saints to pray for us – they are part of the Body of Christ in the Church Triumphant. And we can continue to pray for those who have gone before us, asking for their memories to be eternal, for them to reside with God in Paradise.

Joe Kyle Ron

And this leads to what I’ve been musing over. What would I like to be remembered for? My kindness to others? My temper? My sarcastic wit? My smile? My faith and love of God? I pray my children, and those who know me well, would have an amalgam of memories of me, that would form the whole person, imperfect as I am, for them to cling to after I am gone. But am I also that thief, hanging next to Our Lord, asking to be remembered? Well, yes I am. I have committed sins. I  have great need of forgiveness and repentance.

I read a great blog today by Father Barnabas Powell over on Ancient Faith Blogs entitled, “We deceive ourselves – Faith Encouraged.” In it he says,

“If I am so blind to my need for forgiveness and repentance, I will continue to be at the mercy of my passions. I will continue to be ruled by my spiritual poverty and I will miss the healing power of the spiritual medicine offered to me by God in Christ. But, if I come to myself, as the Prodigal did when he was working feeding the hogs on a farm, and he remembered that the servants in his father’s house were well fed and cared for, I will begin the admittedly difficult journey back to the Father’s House.”

He goes on to say: “Once I see that I am only lying to myself and escape this delusion through honest confession, I am finally free to see myself as I really am: A person who needs God’s mercy and grace. How powerful the trick of the evil one is when he cons me into believing that God won’t accept me because of my mistakes! I allow shame and pride to build a wall of delusion between me and the very love that will set me free. God already knows me better than I know myself. He sees all my weaknesses and mistakes and He loves me still. He, like the Prodigal’s father, stands at the end of the road every day looking for me to return home to His warm embrace. He does not shame me. I shame myself by foolishly wallowing in my ego!”

And he then says, “Today, are you willing to abandon the lie that you are OK? Are you willing to look into your own heart, without shame, and be honest in your need for God’s mercy and grace? Are you finally willing to travel the Lenten wisdom of prayer, fasting, and repentance to see your loving Father throw His arms around your neck and welcome you home and forgive all? Such spiritual treasures await the honest and humble man. All the love and forgiveness you will ever need is as close as your willingness to abandon the delusion of your own heart and embrace the invitation to be Orthodox on Purpose!”

I take great comfort in that. I know that God forgives me and when it is my time to “be remembered” among the saints, I can take my place. But I need to be honest about who I am, and that this constant journey is a process of picking myself up and starting over – and over again. It is not being intimated into admitting I am far from perfect and that God has so much left to do in me; it is an acceptance of my true sinful self and a reconciliation with the real me and God. I also need to remember that we are not guaranteed our next breath. Am I ready to be remembered right now? Am I in that place that gives me comfort, knowing if today is my last, that I am ready for eternal remembrance? My father-in-law was a good man. He worked so hard and he loved his family fiercely. He and I butt heads quite a lot. I wish I was the woman I am today, back when he was breathing his last. I think we would have liked one another more (I think he would have enjoyed me more). His death came so rapidly that most of us were truly unprepared for it. It is a blessing in that he did not suffer for too long, but he did suffer. His entire family suffered along with him. The last moments he and I shared were awkward and deeply sad, but I can sincerely add my prayers to everyone who says, “Memory Eternal,” and I can beg for his repose among the righteous. God knows my heart and he knows the relationship I shared with Joe. Joe and I loved one another, in sometimes an argumentative way, but we wanted the same thing for our family. Disagreements in families are commonplace. But I also know that saying, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” is a wise saying. Time is not something we can count on – there is a finality to this life. Let us all strive to forgive one another and treat one another with loving kindness always and foremost.

Memory eternal, Joe; memory eternal. “…give rest to him in the bosom of Abraham and number him among the righteous.”

Joe Mary

“To everything there is a season…”

Blessed SeraphimI was reminded again this week of the fact that life passes away.  We lost an old friend of ours and at the Divine Liturgy last night, we all prayed for the repose of his soul. And I found myself weeping…just weeping over the loss of a friend, yes, but the loss for his wife and children, and grandchildren.  They will never have him again in their life.  And it overwhelmed me.

Earlier in the day I was working on arranging for my mom to come and visit us. It is a 5-hour plane ride (non-stop, thank goodness) and I have to plan far in advance, to be sure all the arrangements are made, because my mom has Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  She gets confused very easily, and being in an airport will overwhelm her.  My step-sister, who has become my friend over the past few years, lives very near my mom and does so much for her.  We were discussing how odd it is to make the same sort of arrangements for her, that we make for an unescorted minor flying across the country.  I will be doing the same thing very soon for my 15-year-old son, who will be attending summer camp on the east coast.  Every detail has to be looked at and gone over.  It is frightening, actually, to have my mom (and soon my son) flying pretty far, all alone.  But she needs to see her great-grandchildren, her grandchildren, and her children. We are family and we need to stay connected.  With Alzheimer’s and Dementia, time becomes the important factor in all of this, because one day soon she will not know any of us.  Another one of those life-cycles exerting itself.

Yesterday was also the first birthday of my oldest granddaughter.  What a joy she is in our lives.  And she was so very happy with her little cupcake yesterday – as she was wearing a goodly portion of it!! The joy on her face was enough to bring tears to your eyes.  I thank all the brainiacs out there who invented video and Face Time and Skype; it makes us feel so close to each other and not the 1000s of miles apart that we really are. Knowing that I will be seeing her, and her soon-to-be-born little sister, made it all the more poignant.  Today, I was on the phone with my sister-in-law who shared she is expecting baby #10 in October, and I was just marveling at the gift of life all around me.  My friend who recently died was the father of 14 children, and grandfather to something like 5 or 7 children (I have actually lost count!).

handsLife is just such a blessing.  And it is a cycle.  Old and new.  Comings and goings. Cycling, always cycling through. All the tripe sayings they have out there are somehow showing themselves to all have a grain of truth in them.  Dontcha hate that? Ha-Ha.  “To everything there is a season,” as it says in the book of Ecclesiastes.  And as I age and head closer and closer towards my final destination, I am finding that there are, indeed, seasons.

My friend who passed was from the season in our lives when we were all having babies.  We were homeschooling our kids; we attended Church together; we shared parenting and marriage, financial and other woes with each other.  We supported one another through those rough phases all young marrieds go through, in addition to some wonderful bottles of wine and steaks cooked to perfection.  I have such clear memories of summer days spent under the stars, contemplating our lives.  Wonderful memories filled with so much laughter.

My grandma used to tell me, “Well, you can’t put old heads on young shoulders.” I used to laugh at her many adages, and trust me, she had volumes and volumes of them!  But she was right. There are things I can see from where I am standing, that I cannot really communicate to my children’s generation.  Many times it is because they just don’t want to hear it from me, but mostly it is because they know what they are doing for them is right (haven’t we all been there??).  And I acknowledge that and I respect that, very much.  It was not often afforded to my husband and myself and so I want to be sure my kids know I respect their choices; I just wish I could give them some of my wisdom. But I also know the deepest wisdom is gained through living life, not being given some adages to ponder.  We have to live for those tripe sayings to mean something.  As St. Seraphim said above, we are given choices.  We can choose to be of this world and outside of God, or we can choose for Whom our heart hungers, which is God, the God of life.  Everything eventually passes away.

I saw a funny meme today about books:

Read something goodIt is one of my guilty pleasures – I would rather be reading than pretty much anything else. (Especially if I can drink a nice glass of wine or nibble on something chocolate at the same time! Heaven!).  I often think that for me, loosing my sight would be the most horrible thing. Because of missing the faces of my loved ones, yes, but I would no longer be able to lose myself in a book.  And what we read, what we contemplate, becomes a portion of who we are.  I love paranormal books and stories of good versus evil.  Love all the witches and spells, potions and demons and the heroes that defeat them. Always makes me feel good.  I have often mused why I love this genre so much, when I was always reading historical novels in my younger years.  And I realized that for me, it is my way of getting in the fight.  It is my way of confronting the evil in the world, and always choosing to be a “good guy.”  Why is that? Because I know, deep in my bones, that this world does truly pass away and only God remains….everything passes away.

Some day, all that will be left of me will be a pile of bones in a grave, and the legacy of genetics and memories I leave for my family. I pray that their lives will have been better because I was a part of them. I pray that everyone I touched was left with a positive feeling in their hearts when they think of me.  I know there are those who I hurt in my wild and rambunctious days.  I cannot go back and undo what I have already done.

byiO4laAnd this saying keeps me focused on what is ahead.  This cycle of life we are living keeps moving. We choose to participate or sit it out. What a waste to spend life angry, sitting on the sidelines pouting.  Or mourning those who have gone before us, while missing the blessings of new life in front of us.  Perhaps it is because I am older and life is a little quieter, but I am seeing God’s hand in so many more things than I ever have before. I know He is present and active in my life and the lives around me.  And when I start seeing these things over and over again, I feel so blessed.  To know something so clearly is so peaceful, and it brings such contentedness. I may not control it all; I may need to still buckle up and gird my loins – all of that may still hold true.  But I also know that “God’s got this.”  How totally cool is that??

Miracle baby toesBlessings to all my fellow miracles out there, who touch the miracle of life each day, by living and choosing life through the Grace of God.  And my continued to prayers for those who perhaps are not as certain of God’s presence in your life, or the love He has for you – I’m becoming certain enough for both of us.

 

“…weep for your children…”

The Holy Family

Holy Family IconI am thinking about family today.  Two years ago today (2012) my father-in-law (memory eternal) passed away, with my husband and middle son sitting at his side.  It was a very sad event for all of us, because he was relatively young and the disease of cancer took him so very quickly.  It was important to my eldest son and his wife that they be there, to introduce their newborn son to his great-grandpa, even if it was on his deathbed.  It was a transcendent moment in so many ways. I remember about 28 years ago when my son, around the same age, was sitting with his great-grandfather as he lay dying.  And it was repeated a generation later.  We mourn the loss of my father-in-law today; my husband most especially.  But my sons feel the loss deeply, as their grandpa was such a big part of their childhood and growing up.  We have so many wonderful memories spent together as a family.  Memory eternal, Joe.

In today’s reading, Christ speaks to the women who are following Him on his way to the Cross.  “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me; weep instead for your children, for indeed the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.'” (Luke 29:28-30)  Today, as I was contemplating our family and our losses, when I read this, I also mourned all the children we have lost to miscarriage (there are seven in all). As I lamented the loss of my babies, I also feel blessed for not having a lot of children. That sounds odd, but being barren for most of my marriage has given me a heart for other women who cannot have children; a heart for those who have lost children in miscarriage as I have; a heart to adopt (which we did); and a heart for those mothers who lose their children later in life, and who go before their parents (disease, accident, war).  It is difficult to comfort a mother who grieves the loss of a child.

Today online there has been much chatter about Ukraine and Russia.  What is going to happen?  Who is going to do what? The Russians moved troops?  And I could not help but think of the grieving families in Ukraine, but also in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, Africa, and in South America.  There are so many “hot spots” around the world right now ( if I missed one, apologies).  We mothers never stop being mothers, regardless of the age or independence of our children.  And I worry for all those who must put on a uniform and bear arms against others.  I do not want mothers to grieve over the loss of children to war, or any other cause.  Is it truly the time when we will be happy we have never had a child, as Christ predicted?  A friend sent me a link today to a Catholic organization (or movement or group…not sure how to categorize it) dedicated to just that, the “final battle.”  And I thought, “Wow.  Has it come to this?  Are we really preparing for that last war?”

Great Lent is just about upon us.  For me, Lent is a time when I come into a more simple, basic relationship with God. And for me, that works best when I strip away things that keep me from focusing my attention on God.  During Lent, I work extra-hard on taking down those things that place a sort of blockade between me and God.  The Church has us focus on food during Lent – why? Some far better bloggers than I am have tackled that today.  What I took from them is that food is our original passion:  Adam and that darn apple.  What we choose to consume feeds a baser desire within us.  Food and eating is an intimate act for a person.  We have desires for food and quite often we are unable to separate our desires for satisfaction in our lives for satisfaction with eating habits. I am overweight, and for me, that means I have issues somewhere within myself that cause me to turn to food, when I should turn to something else, like prayer.  So for me, Lent is an opportunity to tame a disordered part of my life and bring it into order.  I try to really fast.  This year my husband and I are digging in our heels and being stubborn.  Last night he chose to not get dessert for the family while at the grocery store.  A small, fasting-led, victory over our base-passions.  (We will take all the victories we can get!).

Abbot NazariusDuring Lent, we are also asked to participate more fully in the life of the Church.  We will be dedicating ourselves to attending as many prayer-evenings, parish functions, and community get-togethers as we can.  We are also dedicated to simplifying the technology in our lives.  Not as much TV, computers, music, iPods, and iPhones.  We will be substituting spiritual reading in place of technology; or just being together, quietly, as a family.

And with all of this paring-down, cutting-back, and increased periods of quiet, I will think of those I miss of our family. I will pray for all our family members who are no longer with us; I will pray for my babies, already in heaven and waiting for me. I will pray for all those lost because of war, famine, and other disasters around the globe.  And in the quiet, I will pray that this is not the “final war” that is spoken of in whispers.  I will pray that my daughters-in-law will not weep for their children, nor I for mine.  I pray that God will grant the world a respite from all the ugliness that is encompassing it.  And when I see those first buds of spring flowers poke their heads over our snow-covered yard, I will once again smile.  Spring itself seems like it is God’s promise of tomorrow.  Perhaps all the quiet, the simple fare eaten, the time spent in prayer and reading, will lead me to a greater love for God and His desires in my life, because I think I can hear Him much easier in a quieter, simpler, less-cluttered life.

BlessingEasterBaskets.RussiaAnd this year, for the first time, I am organizing and really planning our family Easter Basket.  The tradition of a family basket is shown in the artwork above; a Russian village is waiting for their baskets to be blessed. We will be preparing the foods and other items to go into our basket and I am so very excited – I ordered and received our basket cover! (It is so pretty – thank you Matushka Anita, for making it for me). I am looking forward to the preparation and assembly of our basket.  And, rather than argue about what each person does, what they eat or don’t eat, I am focusing on my own spiritual renewal and re-commitment to my faith during Lent, and the plans for a joyous Easter celebration.  Perhaps there will come a day when I weep for my children, or my grandchildren:  I pray that it is not in my lifetime.  For me, now, there is much to look forward to, and this time of Lent is preparing us for our future, our moment of Spring and sunshine, flowers blooming and birds chirping, and a nice roast cooking for dinner!

Cheesefare WeekHappy Wednesday of Cheese Fare week.

Memories eternal to Joe and Frank, our fathers who left us for their blessed repose.

Truly remembering….

duckThis weekend was wonderful in so many ways.  We traveled two hours south on Saturday to see a glacier and walk in a “Sealife” rescue center. Being able to watch our youngest son as he discovered new things was such a joy.  It was compounded by being able to watch our grandson experience a new aspect of life on this planet, too.  His over-riding joy at seeing the “fish-fish-fish” was so heart-warming.  Seeing a glacier up close brought to mind how insignificant we are.  My oldest son said he contemplated the amount of glacier-melt it took to create these rivers we saw – “Imagine the little bit of water a melting ice cube produces,” he said, “and then imagine the amount of ice in a melting glacier it takes to create these rivers.”  It is pretty astounding to think about. The drive was delicious to a former SoCal gal…all that green in the mountains, capped by snow-covered peaks, and the glorious sunshine…it was a perfect day spent with loved ones.

Weekend2Sunday’s Divine Liturgy was so enjoyable, too.  The visiting priest welcomed us and instituted some traditions we are familiar with, and welcomed doing again. I love standing next to the Deacon or Priest as the Gospel is read, receiving a blessing afterwards. It just warms my heart to be up close and personal to the Word of God.  The children seemed to really enjoy it, as well.  My husband was asked to serve on the altar and we are thrilled he can once again wear vestments.  There are legalities to work out, but the gist is that this parish welcomed us, no questions asked, no hoops to jump through.  What a stark difference to our last experience.  It has helped to mitigate some of the trials we have been going through.  We feel blessed to have found this parish and look forward to the years ahead, serving this community.

Memorial Day 2013Yesterday was Memorial Day.  This is traditionally the first real Bar-b-Que day in America. Most American kids see it as the first hint that summer is fast approaching. Up here, the kids are already out of school for the summer, so it is very much the first summer holiday.  Traditionally, we always paused to remember our heroes, those who have served or are serving our Country, and then we’d play.  But yesterday was the very first time I was privileged to share the holiday with a veteran.  And he happens to be my son, so it took on a myriad of emotions for us all.  We went on base to the Military Cemetery.  There were so many graves, so many flags, and lots and lots of people.  The setting was gorgeous, with the majestic mountains in the background, beautiful blue skies, a wonderfully gentle breeze to keep us cool in that blazing sunshine.  We walked among the grave stones and our son was somber, quiet, contemplative.  We kept a respectful distance from he and his small family.  They came to a section where they remembered the father of a friend and brought flowers to his gravestone.  We then had to return to the main gate to gain access to the Memorials for my son’s unit.  We were finally granted access (do not even get me started on how poorly we treat our vets) and went to visit the memorial dedicated to the men lost in Iraq.  It was an incredible moment for both my husband and myself, and our 14-year old son.  As we wandered through the grave sites at the cemetery, I began to feel the weight of the sacrifice these soldiers had made for me…from World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the recent wars.  I felt so unworthy and so insignificant.  When we arrived at the Memorial, and when I saw how deeply affected my son was, it caused so many emotions to well up within me.  First of all, as a mother, regardless of the age of your child, you want to help them and make their sadness go away.  I cannot do that for him and it makes me feel so very impotent.  It is also a very personal thing for him and I was privileged he allowed us to share those moments with him.  Standing there, reading their names and their ages, I again experienced my insignificance and that I felt like I had not done enough, or even anything, for them.  I also felt love for these young men who gave their very lives for our safety and well-being. I felt motherly towards them and offered prayers for them and their families.  I felt very unworthy, actually, to be there with my son, because it was truly something very private for him…and it changed forever, Memorial Day, for me.

We read things in news blurbs online; we occasionally see something on the TV news somewhere, mentioning the military still serving our Country and protecting our freedom, in Afghanistan.  We rarely hear about it, though, and very few of our children understand it.  We, in this country, have re-written history from a date and occurrence to memorize, to moments of political victory. The perspective of history has quickly undergone a profound change.  Our children do not understand why there was a WWII or a Vietnam, let alone the recent events in the Middle East; it makes me so sad.  And if my son had not been involved, I would be equally ignorant.

There are so many “first-person” video games out there, glamorizing death.  There are battles fought and won; lives are “re-generated” and players come back again and again, which is far from reality.  Sadly to say, many young men join the military today wanting to see if it is like these games they play; they have no real clue what war entails.  And I have been up close to war before, during Vietnam particularly, but never a direct family member, let alone my son. I learned a lot this weekend.  We had this amazing experience at the SeaLife Center, we saw a glacier, we worshiped at God’s altar, and we walked among the buried Veterans on Memorial Day.  What an array of experiences in three days!

On Sunday in Father’s homily, he talked to us about the Love of God and how God is touching us always…in little ways.  When a mother caresses her child; when we hear the laughter of our children; when we fall in love; when we have those inexplicable moments of faith…all these touches are the Love of God…His love for us.  As I saw all those grave stones, all those flags and felt the insignificance of my contribution to this world, I also felt God’s peace.  These warriors gave their all for me and I never really appreciated it before.  Raising all sons, we have a collection of war movies, action flicks, who-dun-its…and as I thought about a lot of them, it sort of made me mad. It is almost like taking and profaning the deaths of these soldiers.  It is so hard to explain fully how I felt.  These soldiers died protecting me, allowing me to sleep in safety each and every night.  Having someone act that out somehow seems shameful.  There were so many posts in all the social media sites over the weekend, each one trying to be more patriotic and touching than the last one posted.  And they all fell short, so short, of what I witnessed at that Cemetery.  The reality of the sacrifice they made for me really touched me.

After we visited the Memorial, we went home and my husband and I both cried for our son and how this has had such a ripple effect on him, his life, and his family.  We felt so proud of what he went through and what he lost for our safety.  And I respect him so very much more.  I believe this country can never do enough for our veterans.  We don’t do enough as it is.  These men and women will never be the same after their experiences and their families will not either.  The only peace I have is that God has all these souls in His Hand.  His love touched all of them and all their families.  And yesterday, they touched us in a very personal way. We later got back together with my son and his wife’s extended family and enjoyed a wonderful afternoon of some amazing burgers and beans, salads and pies.  I hope that every Memorial Day is spent truly remembering those we miss, those who are no longer Bar-B-Queuing with us on this Holiday, and that we can then move on to making new memories of a day spent with family and friends…smiling, laughing, and burning some meat.  I know I will never forget Memorial Day 2013.

“I’ve come to say goodbye….”

elder epiphanios2Today, my stepdad is being laid to rest.  Memory Eternal, Frank.  He has been such a dynamic part of our family, affecting my own nuclear family, but also our family-at-large and our friends, as well.  He certainly will be remembered for his approach to life, his stories, and his desire to make us all have fun and to smile.  I smile when I think of him, even now.  I am not able to travel to his Funeral Mass or Burial and as I am writing this, it happening right now, in a different state.  I know God will give comfort to my mom and his family, as well as my brother (a pallbearer) and my son and his wife, who are also there.  The love my stepdad and my mom shared, they shared with all of us.  I truly believe that when you experience that “great love story” you cannot help but spread it around.  And that love between two people who are dedicated to one another, well, it rubs off on the rest of us and it is a beautiful thing to experience.  It is the joy of family, and friends who are so close to us, they become family, as well.  So, thank you, Frank, for loving us all as you did; we are blessed.

The love my stepdad shared is love we can all experience, and its being there does not diminish the love others have for us, or love we bear others, but only enhances it.  I do not believe that by mentioning this one relationship, others I share are diminished.  Like Elder Epiphanios says, “the initial flame remains unaffected; it doesn’t lessen at all.”  And I think that is something that makes the love God has for me even more real.  It is hard to philosophize on something so esoteric as our faith, without some sort of reality we can look to.  Quite often, we place religious fervor in a side category, or something that is reserved for Sundays, and the rest of the week, it is put on hold.  I used to be amazed at how fervently you would see people praying in Church, and how ardently they would fight a mere 20 minutes later to get out of the parking lot.  Or run to the hall to grab the best donuts (and the most donuts) while in line, without a thought to those behind you in that same line. For me, I am finding that I need to break down those walls that have set up these artificial compartments in my life, and allow it all to freely flow.  My faith should imbue all aspects of my life. One part should be enhanced by the other.  I heard someone recently say that “religion is religion and work is work,” meaning that they do not bring their faith into what they do for a living. In this particular case, it was an actor.  (I honestly do not remember which one said it; I only recall how disappointed I was in the comment).  And because this person compartmentalizes what they do for a living, they justify filming inappropriate movies for a Christian, apart from the “person” they are.  That, for me, is indicative of how our culture has fallen.

Elder Pasios

When people believe that they have been slighted because of your expression of admiration or love for others, that is their own insecurity speaking and perhaps not an accurate reflection of the true state of “relationship” with you.  Pride of place is something that has been a struggle for mankind since its creation.  God walked freely in the Garden with Adam and Eve; pride led them out of the Garden, where they hid in shame from their Creator.  The Apostles argued over who was the greater among them: “An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his sideand said to them, ‘Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.'” Luke 9:46-48.  In another verse He also chastises them: “James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.”  And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.”  But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:36-45).

Remember in Junior High when we used to fold notebook paper into those triangles, with notes written inside, and pass them to friends?  I had this one boy who wanted me to “be his girlfriend.”  He used to throw me these notes over the fence on my way to school.  Inside was always the same thing, “Will you be my girlfriend?”  I was 12 at the time and he was 14! An older man!  And this other boy also liked me at the same time, but he was far more direct…he threw his St. Christopher medal at me and told me to put it on! He was jealous this other boy was giving me notes!  When I look back on those things, I laugh.  We lived for years on dairy farms, and we used to get a kick out of the cows, juggling to stand at the highest point on the pile of manure.  It is not for the view!  They were trying to see who would be first in the herd.  It is the same with people. Petty jealousies do not build relationships; it tears them apart.  Not everyone hears the same message, even though the same words are said.  The Apostles James and John are emblematic of that very issue. These two men had walked with Our Lord and sat with Him, hearing from Him the lessons of the Kingdom to come.  And yet, here they are, juggling for “first place.”  Not everyone will be saved; not everyone can be “number one” in life.  But equality is something we can all aspire to share.  Equality before the Lord; equality in our love for one another. There is no “grade” of love, like there is with meat or eggs or any other food stuff.  “Grade A” eggs! “Grade A” beef!  Therefore, I opt to pray for those who feel slighted, and feel less “place” than others in my life.  If there is no opportunity to interact on a real level (minus social media) quite often the relationship withers on its own; others are bound by blood-ties and remain, even if somewhat strained.  The relationship with God is something we experience in our hearts and we can feel His presence, if we allow ourselves the quiet and calm time to commune with Him.  We owe God that quiet time and it is through that time with Him that we grow closer and more in-tune with His plans for our lives.

St. Nikolai

It is through constantly renewing and experiencing our relationships, that they are strengthened.  The same is true with our experience of God; our relationship with Him.  “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13).  I know that I ought to allow the strength of Christ to flow through me, erasing those artificial compartments, allowing all my relationships to feel His love, His strength.  Perhaps if those in my life who feel slighted were to feel this love of Christ through me, they would no longer feel slighted. It is something I am convicted to work on and work through.  It is part of this incredible Lenten journey we are all on.  The Lord allows these things to be brought to our attention, for our illumination and efforts at corrections.  What a merciful Lord we adore! “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

My stepdad, Frank, is being buried from Bl. Kateri Tekawitha parish and this is a quote from Bl. Kateri’s apparition shortly after her death: “I’ve come to say good-bye; I’m on my way to heaven.”

Memory eternal, Frank, and I am so blessed to have had you love my mom, me, and my family. Here is a Byzantine prayer for the dead, in honor of Frank:

“Eternal memory. Eternal memory. Grant to your servant, O Lord, blessed repose and eternal memory. Amen.”

Lastly, the prayer of the Roman Catholic Church, where Frank is being buried from:

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.