“K.I.S.S.”

My little corner of the world is in a state of flux. There is just so much going on. Little things, yes, but add them together and it’s much, much bigger! And I am trying to not be overwhelmed by all the myriad of little detail-y things that bog you down and make you crazy.

 

 

I am flying to CA to visit with my son and his family, in time for my granddaughter’s birthday, to visit a friend, and to retrieve my mom. She will be moving home with me. And my sister and brother-in-law are flying home with us, to get her settled in. I am flying in to Las Vegas, because it was cheaper, and I had a 2-hour drive anyway. And as my son pointed out, the desert is much kinder than downtown LA traffic. Yes; yes it is. So many arrangements to make, in just those few items I mentioned. It boggles the mind.

I spent a day cleaning a house a friend is trying to move out of, and then I spent time with another friend (and I so enjoyed our chatting) and after that, I was off to water aerobics with my daughter-in-law, leaving our spouses to babysit and cook dinner. Yeah. Not complicated at all. The next morning, I was up early, grabbing coffee and heading off to babysit so my grandson could get his kindergarten immunizations. Quality time with my granddaughter! On the way home I realized I was exhausted. Ha-Ha.

I read this interesting article about women and their hair. The photo of above is of a famous moment in the celebrity, Brittany Spears’, life. She shaved her long hair off. I mean shaved it off. Yes, in her life she was screaming for help. But sometimes cutting our hair means we are ready to get down to business and make some huge changes in our life. Cutting our hair signals that we are ready to begin. I cut my hair off. Funnily enough the hubby did not notice. LOL. But for me, I decided to embrace my increasingly curly hair and my new practice of air-drying it to allow it to curl. So I layered it. And it curled. Yay! Still makes me laugh that my husband did not notice the layers. Oh well. At least it is not purple. Yet.

You see, in my exhausted mind yesterday, I had been chewing on the fact that I am going to be extremely busy in the next few weeks. My sister-in-law and 9 of her children (and hubby) are driving their motorhome up and staying for 6 days…the day after they leave, I leave for CA. And that is in just days…it is almost August 1st. And my life will not be ever calming down, or be the same. Ever. So, why not make hair care easier? In the article I read, it mentioned that women who cut their hair (when it seems a drastic change to them) are trying to control something because so many other things are out of their control. I totally get that.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[?

 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:25-34

This verse always, always gives me comfort. Yes, there are so many variables, and things I cannot control. Some days there are more than other days. Sometimes things are looming ahead of us and we are so aware of it. Other times, things just happen on their own, taking us by surprise. One of my favorite hymns is “Seek ye first” –

Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness;
And all these things shall be added unto you.
Allelu, alleluia.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia,
Allelu, alleluia.

Man shall not live by bread alone,
But by every word
That proceeds out from the mouth of God.
Allelu, alleluia.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia,
Allelu, alleluia.

Ask, and it shall be given unto you;
Seek, and ye shall find.
Knock, and the door shall be opened unto you.
Allelu, alleluia.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia,
Allelu, alleluia.

And I am clinging to the words of Scripture in Matthew and those expressed in this hymn. And now, well, now I am off to try and work these newly-freed curls I have into some sort of style. You know how it is when you get a haircut and the stylist does it one way, and then you have to go home and try to make it do the same thing on your own? Yeah; I am there today. I wish I could call her up and ask her to come do my hair at home! Ha-Ha! But making a simple change to take back some control is very freeing. I just hope it looks okay!!

 

I’ve got this…and so do you.

 

I saw that – God.

For some weird reason, I get daily comments on my blog that are moved to the Spam folder, that are in Russian, French, and some other languages that use a different alphabet – some are Arabic and others Asian. I am not sure why I attract them, but some of them are pornographic and solicitous. Life continually amazes me. I have no clue what draws them to this particular blog. Misinformation? Misrepresentation? Am I not clear as to what I believe? Do they think I will actually click on their comments?? Seriously???

Today I saw firsthand how erroneous information can spread. And boy, did it spread quickly. When people were informed that fake news had struck a Facebook group, they simply refused to read the facts of the story and were actually upset that the story was exposed as fake news! The vitriol was incredible. And yes, it was a Christian FB group. There are still posts going back and forth, some denying it is fake information and still others are refusing to back down at their condemnation of someone based on false information. What is going on???

Somewhere down this road/timeline of life, we have forgotten manners. We have forgotten to say “please” and “thank you” to others. We use profane language like any other adjective. We don’t look shocked when someone posts graphic photos of people online for the world to gawk at. We accept perversity as normal and do not hold people accountable to much of anything. There seems to be a lack of a standard – a line drawn in the sand that no one should cross. There are few absolutes – just a lot of gray, allowing lots of wiggle room in life.

I saw a funny meme once about how the 10 Commandments were not suggestions! They were COMMANDMENTS! The Law of God, given to Moses, on the Mountain, written by the Hand of God. Not something to edit or play around with. The Big 10 Do’s and Don’ts for mankind. How are we doing? Well, not so good. Have you actually read the 10 Commandments recently? Let’s…

The Book of Exodus is pretty clear on what is and is not a commandment. Over the centuries, we have shortened them. But let’s look at Exodus (From Bible Gateway):

Exodus 20:2-17 New International Version (NIV)

 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

 “You shall have no other gods before me.

 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit adultery.

 “You shall not steal.

 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Well, as a country, we are doing poorly. We do all sorts of things that could be construed as wrong in the eyes of these Commandments and the first error is removing the Commandments from the public square. They are not around in public to remind us how to behave. But worse than that, they are not taught in the home. I know that is using a broad brushstroke, but have you seen the public square?

Yes, those were taken today at the G20 Summit. *Sigh* It makes me sick and sad, all at the same time. I get protesting – I grew up in the 60s (and survived). But civil unrest is one thing. Evil and killing and just destruction – that serves no purpose, other than to promote Satan’s agenda. Sorry, but I am drawing some lines in the sand today. There is good. There is evil. It is black and white. And we need to start calling what is evil just that – evil. We need to start standing up for what is right, to stop this horrifically fast cultural slide down into chaos and mayhem.

To say you are part of something and then say you do not speak on behalf of that organization, and are expressing your own opinion, is acceptable, in some cases. But not from clergy. Not from our nuns and monks. Not from world leaders. Not from those who purport to speak on behalf of millions, or worse, on behalf of the Church founded by Christ, Himself. It is not okay as a person of authority to go off on tangents of your own, citing it as personal opinion when you represent “Church” to so many people. Nor is it cool to mislead millions of people who came out to participate and vote in all these national elections. You need to do what you said you would do, when running for office. And for clergy, you need to keep your vows. Period. I think we need to check those 10 Commandments a little more often. Just 10 simple rules to live by. Just 10.

“She laughs without fear of the future.”

I haven’t posted in while. Life sort of gets in the way of my musing. I need to be elsewhere, than on my computer. But today, well, today I felt like sharing thoughts. I have been participating in a bible study on Proverbs. This past weekend, my husband joined me in listening to Fr. Josiah as he spoke about “the perfect wife.” I did not realize the title of the talk until we started it, and we both chuckled. But the talk itself was not just about a father’s instructions to his son on finding the perfect wife, but rather about the character traits we all need to strive for. It was a good talk and it seemed over so quickly.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” Proverbs 31: 25

There are more ways than we think of demonstrating a good, moral character. We can look for all these attributes in others, or we can strive to have them ourselves, to mirror those things we wish others had. “When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instruction with kindness.” (Proverbs 31:26) As we explored this chapter, which is the final chapter of Proverbs, we learned so very much about ourselves. And I was struck by some pretty amazing thoughts!

I have caused myself to rethink how I see other people, and the effect I allow them to have on my life. There are people who I have strived hard to be like. People whose opinions mattered to me. People I looked up to. And as I have studied these sayings about the perfect wife, I realize that many of these people are just play-acting roles they have assumed. They did not truly embody the character traits I thought they had. They were pretending, or “going through the motions” of being something or someone, but when I pondered many of them, thinking of them particularly in light of the character traits I strive to have, I realized they spoke of these traits, but did not own them.

Metanoia – the change in one’s way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion.

When someone says they have embraced their faith, there is an expected change. They alter how they view life, how they treat people, and how they live. Granted, some people will never fundamentally change, but a great deal about how they are and how they treat others undergoes a profound change. And sometimes, it does not. At all. They parade, they act, they pose. And, when you come up against someone like this, for me at least, I want to make them a huge sign that says, “WWJD” and flash it in their faces.
When our metanoia only shows itself at church, it is not a change of heart or soul. I attended a conference many years ago that was supposed to be a “charismatic” conference. I had a little exposure to charismatics throughout my life and I thought it would be fun to attend. It was visually pretty mind-boggling. I have never been one of those who outwardly expresses themselves in church with “hallelujahs” and “praise the Lords” with shouts and raised arms. I am a quiet church attendee. I am pretty traditional in how I like my church services, which is why I think I have gravitated eastward for so many years. Anyway, at this conference, people were being prayed over and being “slain in the spirit.” (Overcome by spiritual emotion causing fainting and other reactions). When it came to me, three people stood around me (making a box with their bodies and I was very uncomfortable) and the fourth person stood in front and prayed over me, and then pushed me with the palm of his hand on my forehead, expecting me to faint. Instead, I yelled, “Ouch! Why did you hit me?” They all looked at me and said, “Next, please.” I felt like I had missed out on something amazing. I had no life-changing moment; no metanoia. In another instance, when I was at a pre-sanctified liturgy during Lent more than 10 years ago, as the priest passed over me, carrying the Body and Blood of our Lord, and as his vestments passed over me, I felt an electrical charge that went straight to my heart. Much later (as in months had passed) this same priest and I were chatting and he brought up that exact moment – because he had felt it, too. That was confirmation enough for me! God was present. And my heart melted. I have never forgotten that moment and it still brings me up short, that God would allow me to personally experience His presence in such a way. It changed me. And it brought me closer to God than anything I had experienced up until that point.

1 Timothy 11-16

“Command and teach these things.  Let no one look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in your speech, conduct, love, faithfulness, and purity. Until I come, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift you have, given to you and confirmed by prophetic words when the elders laid hands on you. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that everyone will see your progress. Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.”

When we accept the faith that is in our life, either through early baptism and confirmation (as in the eastern and Orthodox churches) or we come to it later in life as a discovery (being “born again” in Protestant churches) we are called to be examples to those around us of Christian living. When we give poor example, we damage our own reputations, yes; but we damage the Church as a body and its members as a whole.

The profound thing I realized is that there are people around me who have shunned organized religion of pretty much every sort, but who are more Christian and Christ-like in so many way than those shouting it from the street corners (Matthew 6:5). And what I realized is that no one has told them they are living a Christian life; that they embody so many of the character traits we look for in the “perfect wife.” And how sad is that? They are dealing with people who purport to be Christians. I know that “we are not perfect, just forgiven,” but c’mon people! We are held to a higher standard! And there are those who somehow think less of themselves because they do not “go to church” in light of these church-goers (always comparing themselves to them) and yet have far better characters, are far more trustworthy, and who will defend your life to the end of theirs.

And so this weekend, I came to see people in light of what they do in relation to others, rather than who or what they say they are. And I was profoundly moved by people who don’t even realize how good they are; and conversely I was profoundly disappointed by some who insist on acting like they are such good Christians of character. And so, once again, my children are teaching me. I have commented in other posts about my son chastising me about judging how some people look, without even getting to know them. That was about 15 years ago. And I have profoundly changed and I know I am a better person for it. I just wish some people knew what great people they are and did not measure themselves in light of the words of others, who profess how good they are!

“…whenever you face trials…”

The weeks seem to race past us. Days become a blur. And every once in awhile, we stop, look around, and get confused. What day is it? What was I going to get accomplished today? Some days I am so tired and I cannot figure out why. I think stress is taking its toll.

I know I am not the best when it comes to managing issues. I prefer to ignore them until I have to deal with them. Putting your head in the sand truly helps no one – especially yourself. We always hear about people being afraid of something and then when they experience that fearful thing, comment something like, “It wasn’t all that bad. I don’t know what I was afraid of.” And truthfully, you sleep better once you tackle that thing you are avoiding.

For me, there are just so many plates I am juggling right now. And the pots are boiling over. And I dropped the ball…again. Sometimes it is just more than one person can focus on. I feel like I should just fall down in a blob of crying messiness. But somehow, when I think I will collapse, I just feel empty. Like a great silence. I can feel my heart racing. I know my blood pressure is raised because I can feel it in my ears and at the top of my head. And yet, I feel still and silent. And that sort of scares me.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Inside my heart, and sometimes actually in my right mind, I know this verse. I know the Lord is with me, and what I face is NOTHING compared to those 3 hours spent on the Cross for me. NOTHING is compared to that sacrifice. And so I started thinking of other promises from God, as I could hear my heart beating in my ears:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

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

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

Just reading these verses calms my heartbeat and restores a lovely pattern of inhaling and exhaling that is not one of stress. And as I calm down, once more I recall one of my favorite Psalms:
“When hard pressed, I cried to the LORD; he brought me into a spacious place.
The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” Psalm 118: 5-6
It is hard to stress too much, when we truly believe in the promises God has given us in his Word, and through our Traditions. God has placed Himself here for us. We can visit Him in
our hearts and minds, and we can join others in rejoicing when we attend Church as a community of believers. It is so nice to know that there is a place I can go where I am welcome and I can pray with others. We can also seek asylum in the friendships we develop around us. We can share our stressors and sometimes just talking about them really helps.
Sometimes we are just called to juggle things for awhile. The Lord is setting the pieces in place and when it is time, everything will settle in. I know that. I do. Reminding myself of that is the hard part. Reminding myself that the Lord is in charge, and not mere mortal man, gives me great comfort. It is a practice I need to hone! LOL!  And as I look at facts, figures, and my calendar, I sometimes let the issues of mortals cloud my peace; they interrupt my sense of the holy. And that is a man-made construct, of which I am guilty. I need to embrace that emptiness and that silence I find when I stop to contemplate my stressors, because what I have come to see is that the silence is the peace of God and the faith of God in my life. He is allowing me to calm my heart rate and my breathing, and grasp the fact that He has all of this. Truly all of it. I write this to remind myself. And if I can help give others hope and a sense of security by sharing this crazy journey, that is an extra blessing.

“and they did not believe the women…”

Ever feel like your brain is going to explode? Yeah; me, too. I know it is Easter Monday, or the Monday of Bright Week, as those of us in the Eastern/Orthodox churches like to call it. I read a post I had written a couple of years ago about Easter Sunday and being sick. One of the things I said was that no matter what I had done or not done, Easter still happened. Christ rose from the dead regardless of my input. He did that for me. And I need to rest in that. Today’s reading in Scripture for my Gratitude Journal was Luke 23:50 – 24:12 and the statement that jumped out at me was:

“But this tale seemed to them to be nonsense, and they did not believe the women.”

This is when the women went to the tomb and the angel appeared to them. They left and met Christ along the way, worshipping at His feet. He told them to tell the Disciples. And they did as He asked, only the Disciples did not believe them. After this, Peter runs off to find the tomb empty, himself, and he then went off by himself, wondering at what had come to pass.” How often do we take what people say with a “grain of salt,” not really accepting what they tell us as truth? And Peter, who did not believe the women, missed the fact that they had spoken to the Risen Christ in person…he just chose not to believe their nonsensical tale. How sad for him. I wonder how history would have differed if they had believed the women.

We are house-hunting. I cannot tell you the angst this has brought to our lives. Our lender is being amazing; our realtor is a man of much patience. It is not with them that the angst is originating! It is in finding our “unicorn” house. What is that, you may ask? Well it is a new colloquialism used today. Anything that you are searching for, and is rare, is a “unicorn.” “Things only sell for what the market will bear” is a marketing strategy. Sometimes manufacturers purposely advertise things they will only make a few of, knowing they will become popular and they can charge a lot more for them, because of their rarity. When I was pregnant with my eldest son, I wanted a little “Cabbage Patch” doll for his crib. We innocently bought one and laid it in his crib, walking past it and looking in the room, practicing what it would be like when he was actually here! We did not realize that particular year, Cabbage Patch dolls were the “it” gift for Christmas; the “unicorn” of 1985. To make it even funnier, we got ours at the local grocery store, and for a reasonable price, too!  We did not know we had a “unicorn” in our son’s crib!! (We named him Ernst Wolfgang…so we could get that urge to use a very German name out of our systems! LOL!).

And so we are now hunting the elusive “unicorn” house that has to meet so many criteria, I wonder if it does truly exist. The housing industry does not have enough new builds in our area to meet demand, and so housing costs, in general, can be a little high. Re-sales are down and so the market is a little tight right now. The closer we get to the main city here, the “bang for the buck” really goes down. That is pretty much the same thing all over. The further you have to drive from town and necessities, you find one of two things: (1) lower priced homes on much larger lots, some including actually acreage; or (2) mansions with fenced and gated property, with large price tags, too! And when I first met our realtor, I was telling him I wanted that unique living experience only to be had here and before I could finish my description, he took it over and described what I wanted perfectly. It was pretty funny. Makes me wonder why they don’t build housing developments with log cabin designs, with all the homes on lakes!! LOL!

And I laugh when I think of my dilemma. I mean, for most people, buying a home is pretty awesome. Are these available homes what I dreamed they would be? No, they are not. Are they where I pictured myself growing old (er) and living? Not really. But I am no spring chicken, and if anyone has ever lived remotely, you get that issue. I live through Amazon as it is! And to get that cabin in the woods, we would have to live about 45 minutes or more, on a good day, away from town and our kids and grandkids. We also have to deal with winter driving and blowing snow and closed highways. So that is out. We are re-adjusting our dreams a little bit.

Most people do not accept what they are told…okay, many who think about things do not accept all they are told…okay, well, there are those who do not accept everything they are told and look for their own answers. Maybe it is more rare than I think, but I certainly question things. And today, working on this housing thing, and reading the Scriptures, I chose to stop and ponder. Just think about things. St. Peter went off by himself to think about all that had happened. Later on in his story, he leads the entire Christian community and thanks to him and the inspiration from the Holy Spirit, we have our Church today. So questioning things is not a bad thing. But learning to accept truths that are immutable can be hard. Most especially when you disagree with what is being shared. As I began reading my new Psalter today, the very first reading stopped me cold:

“Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, and hath not sat in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law will he exercise himself day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the waterside, that will bring forth his fruit in due season; his leaf also shall not fall, and all whatsoever he doeth, it shall prosper.”

That is the first Psalm that David wrote. The first one! This lets us know that our choices to follow the Law of the Lord is eternally important. This Lent, I chose to give everything over to God and allow His will to work in my life. And I worry about buying a house?!? About finding the perfect place to live? About the place I will bring my mom? The style of house? The view? Setting? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Oh my goodness!  I need to relax in the promises of the Lord, and work on allowing myself to be “planted by the waterside…and all whatsoever he doeth, it shall prosper.” God totally has all of this. I am stressing for no good reason. I am going to take some deep breaths, spend some quiet time with my family just enjoying being together, and I am going to allow God to work in all of this. All of it.

Happy and blessed Bright Week, my friends!

“The struggle ends when gratitude begins.” (N.D. Walsch)

Today I am learning to focus first, and most importantly, on my many blessings in this life, and to express my gratitude to God. The image above is the actual style of the Gratitude Journal I am using ( you can get it from http://www.maydesigns.com/m/gratitude) and I really love it. It is simple, colorful, and is for 40 days…the perfect Lenten tool.  If you are thinking of journaling at all, please check them out. They have all sorts of simple, and so pretty, journal ideas and styles. They were inexpensive and I love how you can customize your designs (inside/outside/monogram, etc). I get nothing for recommending them; a friend recommended them to me and I am so happy with the product I received, I thought I would share them with my readers. (It is an integral part of the Lenten study I am participating in with http://www.orthodoxmom.com). These journals will become, for me, a legacy of my journey this Lent, and each year that I can participate in this. What a blessing this has become for me! If you wish to, you can join us!! Lent is not over, yet!

As I progress through my journaling, most especially my “gratitude” journal, I am brought up short again and again at how disfigured my thinking has been. Disordered. The priorities so very skewed. I keep thinking about all the things that weigh me down. There are many – we all have them! Sometimes we cannot sleep because we worry so very much. Or if we do sleep, we don’t sleep well or deeply. We do not sleep to where we awake restored, or refreshed, bounding out of bed and ready to conquer this day.

My husband is an engineer. His specific training is mechanical, although he works as an energy engineer. When he is faced with a problem, especially something to do with his work or job, he does not stop thinking about it until he solves it. This can take days or weeks. And at times, I can tell he is not really “present,” but is working on his issue. He’s woken in the night with a solution once or twice. Over the past 32+ years of being with him, I am in awe about how dogged he is in seeking a solution for issues. But sometimes his mind works against him, in that he cannot “let it go” in order to rest. He will approach any problem this way! Even how we were going to construct our raised bed gardens last Spring kept him from sleeping well! Some of us just cannot rest until we have the answers we seek. But I am learning and discovering a better way.

Now that I am doing a directed Lenten study program, and I am slowly walking through the Psalms and the Scriptures in light of Lent, I am seeing how much there is to be grateful for. There is always, always, something we can be thankful for, even in the midst of turmoil. The problem with me is that I have been putting the problem, the issues, before everything else. I haven’t been able to see all the blessings, because the troubles have blocked my vision; my heart. And it has left me depressed and not aware of the glory that surrounds me in the simplicity of my days.

It is hard to explain how much peace I am finding as I journal my gratitude, my desires, and read the Psalms and Scriptures. Sometimes I cannot see how they are related, but when I step back and ponder the readings, things start to click. Today I read, “Wait a little, and the wicked will be no more; look for them and they will not be there. But the poor will possess the land; will delight in great prosperity.” (Psalm 37:10-11) and then I read, “Better the poverty of the just than the great wealth of the wicked.” (Psalm 37:16)  And then, “The mouths of the just utter wisdom; their tongues speak what is right. God’s teaching is in their hearts; their steps do not falter (Psalm 37:30-31).  And one more that said, “Observe the honest, mark the upright; those at peace with God have a future, but all sinners will be destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off.” (Psalm 37: 37-38).

I think God is letting me know through the Psalmists that I am to struggle to find the right path; the path that God destined for me. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart”. (Jeremiah 29:11-13) God blesses us as we work towards Him and His plan for our lives. And I truly believe that we can alter how we approach this working out of our salvation; that we can grow and become more than we currently are.

What I think I have been doing wrong, is that I have been so concerned with keeping the rule of the fast in the past, of being holier than I am the rest of the year, of making sure I attended all the right celebrations and prayers at Church, that I was missing all the blessings I received from God through my fasting and prayers! By looking to my gratitude first, I can plainly see the blessings I have, and continually pray for the things that I feel I need to pray for, and about. But when you put gratitude first, your prayers, your days, and your nights, become very different.

And my prayer for this Lenten journey I am on is to continue to seek the positive in my life and to be grateful, first. To seek God and His blessings on my life, and to rest in His promises. And my prayer is that each of you who reads this will discover that gratitude can lead us to a much happier, and closer, walk with God…during Lent and each day of our lives. Think of all the wonderful blessings the Lord is showering down upon each of us, this very day. Each day we can rest in the many blessings from God, and each day we can work on lessening the concerns and the fears, trusting in God alone. I am praying for a better night’s sleep for everyone. And every day when we rise, refreshed from our night of peace and rest, may our day be a better day, where we are accomplishing the things that are laid before us, in a spirit of Gratitude. So thankful!

“…grant me to see my own sins…”

The readings at Mass last night were some of my favorites. They reminded us that God wants us to trust Him. That worrying cannot add a day to our lives. (Matthew 6:26). Our priest spoke about his early days, as a new driver. He was so concerned with staying in his lane, he would focus on the lines, often missing what was around him, and even what was in front of him.

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From this example, I readily laughed at all the times I, too, get so concerned about lines, that I am missing what is around me. Every year, I endeavor to keep all the rules of the Great Fast – during Great Lent. One great quote I love is an exchange between two people. One asked the other, “How do you plan to keep the fast?” And the other replied, “By paying attention to what is on my own plate.” Sometimes I get so concerned over thoughts like, “Am I doing this right?” “Am I fasting enough?” “Did I remember my prayers?” “Are my kids doing it right/enough/with the right attitude?” And somewhere in there, I am forgetting that I need to prepare my heart.

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Matthew 5:21-23

The Book of Matthew exhorts us to leave those Pharisaical ideals and be simpler. How can you fast and do prayers and make prostrations, when you are in a long-standing fight with your brother? Your friend? Your boss at work?

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This Great Lent, which for those of us who practice in the Eastern Catholic/Orthodox Churches, began today with “Clean Monday,” I am trying to pursue different sorts of Lenten practices. I am going to get rid of behaviors that are not good for me, and I am going to foment those that help me. The lines I follow will probably not look like your lines, as in Father’s story last night about driving.

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Up here in Alaska, the lines in the roads are pretty much blurred, at best. We have snow. Then we have ice on top of snow, with some more snow on top of that, just to make driving more interesting. Last night we had some thawing, along with some amazing road plowing, and we could see the roads, and the lines. About 7:00am today, it started with icy-fog and crystals floating around. By 8:00 am, we had falling snow. It wasn’t even swirling; just falling straight down. It has been doing that for the past 4 hours. We have at least another inch or so on top of that morning ice fog. The lines are gone, again. So we make our own lines; our own lanes. And so it goes until Spring Thaw (which is looking more and more like May). You learn to ad-lib and be flexible while driving. And I am taking this analogy about snow driving without lines to my approach to Lent. I will be flexible and learning to adapt to new ways of looking at it; looking to my own plate, so to speak.

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I have had priests and spiritual fathers caution me over the years to try adding something, rather than giving something up. Yes, we should curtail our diets and definitely fully fast on specific days the Church requires, but generally, we should work at adding things to our lives that we normally leave out or ignore. How often do we spend time in silence, perhaps reading a book by one of the Early Church Fathers? How often do we sit in silent prayer, perhaps praying the Rosary or the Jesus Prayer? Have you read through the Psalms and made notes? One Orthodox writer I love suggests keeping a journal of everything we are grateful for. And also one on our readings of the Psalms and other spiritual works each Lent. It helps to journal, to see how we grow. Each year we can give up chocolate or sugar or coffee…we can abstain from foods, but what about behaviors? In the words above, there are ideas of things we can abstain from during Lent.

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But what can we add, to make Lent more meaningful? Have we forgiven those who have wronged us? Have we sought forgiveness from those we have wronged? Do we repent for the evil in our lives and what we have done to add to it? Do we abstain from harmful music or movies or books? How can we develop a culture of true, Christian love for one another when we read “50 Shades of Gray” or go to those types of movies? How does a book like that generate so many sales? And it is just the first in a series. People laud it as a love story. Really? (The book sold 29 million print and 15 million digital copies in 2012. It topped the 2012 best-seller lists in the categories adult fiction and romance). What sort of love are we sharing with others? I’ve often blogged about that hole in our hearts that only God can fill. I believe this example shows us where people lack spirituality in their lives. For those of us who identify as Christians, how are we presenting ourselves to others? Do you know that today, you may be the only “Christ” people see – perhaps ever? Especially during Lent, we need to turn inward and focus on our personal relationship to our Spirituality and our core beliefs, so we can present ourselves to others.

“Ever the lawyer, Tertullian the apologist subscribed to the view that the best defense is a good offense. His treatises To the Gentiles and Apology directly attacked pagan beliefs and practices as superstitious and immoral, and argued that the Christian life as taught in Scripture and practiced in the church was morally superior. He imagined pagans looking at Christians and saying, “Look . . . how they love one another (for they themselves [pagans] hate one another); and how they are ready to die for each other (for they themselves are readier to kill each other).” (Tertullian, as quoted on the website, Christianhistoryinstitute.org)

Can you imagine if people knew we were Christian just by watching us? How we drive? How we shop? How we live in our homes? How we treat others in the workplace? In our families? And all the other interactions we have daily? How can we make Lent a time for us to reconnect to our base in our faith?

This year, for the first time in many years, I am going to participate with the Roman Church and try to attend some Lenten offerings at our local parish. I haven’t see the “Stations of the Cross” or prayed those prayers in decades, literally. I haven’t participated in a lot of things over the past few decades. I dearly, dearly miss our Liturgy of the PreSanctified Gifts. And I dearly miss our prostrations during the Prayer of St. Ephraim. I carry that prayer with me always. Our Eastern practices offer us so many opportunities to reflect and repent. Almost daily services, like Vespers, where we can pray the prayers of the Church with others who are working on their own salvation. Salvation is not an event; it is a process. And one that the Church offers us to work on over and over again. We are blessed with the words of the early Saints and Martyrs; those closer to the time when Christ walked the earth; simpler ages. I love the stories of St. Ephraim, the Syrian. And the writings and prayers he left us are priceless. “Lord and Master of my life…” is just a magical way to address God in prayer.

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I will always pray that prayer. This year, I will revisit some other prayers I have long ago treasured. It is beautiful to know our Church is truly universal and we can gain from all her rites and prayers, songs and chants, and places of worship. This year, I am praying for enlightenment and a different approach to life that will stay with me. And perhaps I will find my own lines in the snow. And perhaps I will look up and see what is right in front of me, keeping my eyes on my own plate and not the plate of others. I think that is a good start, here on Clean Monday.