“…and I am now standing at your gates, Jerusalem.”

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Every once in awhile (I am not a theologian, so don’t know the exact occurrence) the eastern and western worlds join together for Lent. Today marks Ash Wednesday, when the western Christians join the eastern Christians and Orthodox, who began Lent on Monday. And it is so joyful to walk together during this season of preparation and a cleansing of our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies as we prepare to walk with Christ to Calvary and weep, and then celebrate with Him His Divine, and glorious, Resurrection.

This year I am doing a new Lenten Study and I am so excited. (It is by http://www.orthodoxmom.com and I highly recommend her blog and her Facebook page, too). I am not in the least artsy, as those who know me well will attest to. But this year, I am keeping a notebook and journals. One is a journal about the Psalms, and another is called the “Gratitude Journal.” And each day’s assignment offers us a time to reflect upon our readings and the things we are grateful for (it is a directed reflection). The first three days have been staggering for me, to say the least. The author of the study has carefully weaved our Scripture readings together and I have already learned so much in such a short time (which is why I was compelled to post).

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Lent is a time when we reflect, we pray, and we fast. And through these processes, we hope to come to a better place in our walk with Christ. It is a time when we try to still that chaos that is the world, and spend time in quiet reflection and prayer. In the Scriptures (Matthew 17:19-21), Christ admonishes the Apostles for their lack of faith in trying to exorcise demons:

“Then the disciples came to Jesus privately, and said, “Why weren’t we able to cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your unbelief. For most certainly I tell you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. But this kind doesn’t go out except by prayer and fasting.”

There are times when simple faith is not enough to move the mountains we face, nor exorcise the demons in our lives. We need to pray – and fast. And that is an integral part of Lent. We deny ourselves all this instant gratification. Of course there are many who also admonish that if you Fast from food, but gossip or slander someone, how are you a good Christian? How is that fasting from the demons inside us all? Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Envy, Anger, Pride, and Sloth are characterized as the 7 Deadly Sins. What can we do to eradicate them from our lives? How can we lessen the impact they have upon our souls? The Roman Catholic Church teaches us the Capital Virtues, which counteract each of these sins. They are: Chastity, Generosity, Temperance, Brotherly Love, Meekness, Humility, Diligence. How do we get these virtues? We pray. We starve the enemy of our flesh by denying it the thing it wants. Sloth and Gluttony, I have said many times, sit on either shoulder for me. How do I starve them? I set an alarm clock, I make a list, and I tackle my daily duties with zealous abandon, fighting sloth! This year, I took Facebook off my phone. I am trying to distance myself from social media. It can become a crutch and every bit a sickness, like an addiction. It sucks your time and adds to your sloth. What can you be accomplishing if you spend hours on a computer, reading things that are not necessary, nor edifying, but gauged to our interests so they suck us in? What desire am I feeding? How many sites do I need to go to? How many ways can I distract myself from my life? And how can I combat that? I sometimes have to help my lesser self (or that bad demon on my shoulder) to become my better self (the angel on the other shoulder) by denying myself – on purpose. Gluttony? Well, fasting sure helps with that. We are returning to Whole30 and who knew there was a Whole30 support group for those to use during Lent? So excited to find that! We have to work with what we know to be true about ourselves, in order to help ourselves. It’s why I took Facebook off my phone, along with lots of apps and groups. I make it harder for myself to get to it – like putting that bag of Oreos on top of the fridge, behind the cookbooks, making it harder for me to indulge myself. And to be honest, this year for Lent, there are no cookies in the house to begin with. I know Gluttony all too well. It is one of the many demons I constantly and consistently struggle with. And it is one of the ones I desire most to conquer this Lenten fasting period. I need to control my desire for food and replace it for a desire that will benefit my soul.

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Lent is our eternal struggle condensed into just 40 days. But the Church, in her wisdom, gives us this time every year. We are not expected to become Saints overnight. I love that about my faith. I try, sincerely, to make the right choices day in and day out. Some days I get it pretty good and can lay my head on my pillow with a clear conscious. Some nights, not so much. “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” is often recited as I finally get to sleep.

During my reading for this Lent, I read an article about forgiveness. In the Eastern and Orthodox Churches, we begin Lent on Forgiveness Sunday. On this day (the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday) we actually make lines around the Church and each parishioner approaches each other parishioner, asking for and giving, forgiveness. I can honestly say that the first time I participated in this, I wept as I made my way around the Church. How humbling and how beautiful. But when we think about forgiveness, what is it? In this article by Metropolitan Anthony of Sorozh (+2003)  in the Orthodox Heritage Vol 05, Issue 2, February 2007, he says, “Forgiveness begins at the moment when, realizing the frailty of others as I realize mine, the need of others for help, for mercy, and for protection, I am prepared together with them to bear the burden of their weakness, their frailty or their sinfulness. Forgiveness begins at the moment when I take it upon myself to put up with others, without waiting for them to change, to put up with them as they are in order to make lighter their burden and to make it possible for them to eventually change.” He goes on later to say, “Every one of us, side by side with them, have people who are difficult to bear, who are a cause of suffering, of misery or of anger; we can undo this anger and outgrow this misery if we make our task, the task of our life, our business, to carry their burden together with them, to be the person who, wounded and offended, and rejected, will turn to God and say, ‘Lord, forgive, because I bear no grudge, I want to become and remain solid with this person in his frailty and his sinfulness. I will not stand in judgement against him, and I am not yet capable of doing this. You do this for me: do not endorse my judgement, do not endorse the condemnation I rashly have pronounced, do not stand by me in my anger. Stand by the person who has done wrong, because he, because she needs help, forgiveness and healing, for that very reason.'” forgiveness

And so we begin Lent by learning to forgive. Truly forgive. This quote above stunned me into silence. It caused me to rethink what I know about forgiving others. Our Psalm readings were full of the forgiveness from God. And I realized I was actually excited about Lent, and that I was preparing for this Lent to be one of change for me. I was getting a notebook and making dividers; I even got stickers and colored pens! I bought a new journal and yesterday, I began writing things about the Psalms. And I was happy – happy about a task of cleaning my heart and soul and becoming more in tune with God. Because I know I can only become better through this process. As I eagerly began to read the Psalms, I read, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ And now I am standing within your gates, Jerusalem.” (Pslam 123). And reading that, I smiled. I had been looking forward to this journey, and now I was on the doorstep. And we are all fully into Lent, as of today.

I am apprehensive (as change is always hard) and exultant at the prospect at becoming a better me. God is not done with me, yet. And I know He is not done with any of us, either. Thanks be to God for this opportunity. Blessed and Holy Lent, everyone.

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“…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.

“…nor any other created thing…”

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I am seeing more and more addictions, of many types. And I read something yesterday that brought it home. It was in a novel by Victoria Dannon and the character replies to a demon that he is not an addict and this demon, who is trying to extract payment on a debt says to him, as he laughs at him, that basically, he does not care what you are addicted to, addiction is addiction, whether it is to alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping, plastic surgery…you get the idea. And the demon laughs as the man realizes that his addiction is just that, an addiction. He actually had no idea he was living his life around his addiction. In the storyline, his particular poison was horse racing. And he was willing to risk even his life, to continue betting.

I have seen comments from addicts who say they are not addicted to a particular thing (alcohol, drugs, porn) but rather are running from, or trying to turn off from, life. And that, to me, is sad. We are repressing our inner thoughts by an activity. I know many of us have developed an addictive relationship to social media…Facebook is worth billions of dollars. How? They do not give me a product, but they allow me to communicate with people I would not normally see. I joined to stay in touch with my kids all over the world (literally) and some friends who had moved away. It has become a life-line to many relationships and I have made wonderful friends through Facebook. But what is social media costing us all? Have you actually looked around at restaurants recently? Everyone is on their phones! People are not communicating with that warm body sitting next to them. They are preferring that alternate reality of social media. People text to break up. Don’t even bother to see the person in real life, real time, but send a text. People declare they are “in a relationship” and yet they never see one another. It is totally online. It is just one of the ways we are losing our humanity to technology.

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There are many other addictions and some of them are far more costly. Do we surround ourselves with stuff to cushion us from the world? What is it about accumulating each thing we collect? I have seen women who have more shoes than I thought possible. I have seen men with tools that take over their garages so they cannot park in them. I have seen women collect cooking utensils – how many strainers do we need? (Okay, I have 3…) But why do we spend money on all this stuff, until we are busting out of our homes, when we complain about being broke? How can we spend on stuff and have no savings? How can we wear all those shoes? Ugh. How much make-up or plastic surgery does one woman need? How many cars are enough for some men? Collecting is one thing, whereas hoarding is quite another. And many of these addictions/obsessions are shielding us from a host of other things.

It is not the stuff itself that people need. It reminds me of a scene from a cartoon movie my kids used to watch (they watched it so much I knew the dialogue by heart!) where this bug cannot stop heading into one of those zappers that has a bright light to attract them. One character says, “Don’t go into the light” and the other responds, “But it’s so beautiful!” And that bug is then zapped. We always laugh at that and have used that line (“But it is so beautiful”) often to express our concern for people who go toward something that is not good for them. In the movie, “Percy Jackson, The Lightning Thief” they find themselves in Las Vegas at this “Lotus” hotel. They lose days in this hotel, because there are no windows or clocks (typical for casinos) and they are fed these Lotus Flowers, which drug them. They finally snap out of it and leave. How many days have I gone through, not remembering what I accomplish? Do I numb my mind with thoughtless activities like cruising social  media or watching endless TV programs or movies? Do I thoughtlessly eat? Do I mindlessly read junk? How do we “snap out of it”????

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We are an inherently spiritual being. Each of us. We are created in the image and likeness of our Creator. We long for that intimate love relationship with the God of all Creation. And we all have this “God Hole” that we try to fill with things. Sometimes the world is a cruel place and humans are cruel to one another, creating individuals who are damaged and seek relief through drugs, alcohol, overeating, shopping, and other behaviors. All the while, people are trying to fill this gaping hole inside each of us. You cannot own enough shoes to fill that. You cannot buy enough leggings or tools or toys for yourself or your children, and expect to find fulfillment and contentment. You cannot drink enough alcohol to fill this wound, this hole, that only God can fill. And it saddens me greatly. Because I am just as guilty as many, in that I acquire things and have behaviors that are not, arguably, the things and behaviors of a Godly woman, wife, and mother. Because quite often, I lack the fortitude to persevere in my faith walk. It is much easier to plop on the couch with a cup of coffee and an Oreo in my hand, and check Facebook, than it is to accomplish something meaningful, like prayer. Or comforting a friend or loved one. Or doing the duties I have acquired from my station in life – a housewife and homeschooling mother. Being lazy is much easier than being accomplished, but the rewards are definitely not the same.

I read an article this morning about why millennials don’t go to Church and how the American Church is losing people faster than they are gaining them. The article spoke to all the ways the American Church could act, to attract these young people. And as I read the article, several things struck me. It was not about any of the mainstream Churches in America. It certainly was not about the Eastern Catholic or Orthodox Churches. Much of what they were proposing Churches do, most of the mainstream Churches offer already. One of the complaints is that the American Churches need to adapt to the world around them. I took great offense at that. I love my Church specifically because it has NOT changed. I see lots of young people in there every week. I am seeing more women dress more modestly and even wear veils. They prefer that their faith remains steadfast, strong, and unchangeable. It offers them comfort in a crazy world. It helps them fight their addictions by remaining the same – unmovable, unchangeable, and steadfast. “And on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18 This is where millennials, and whoever is hurting in this world, needs to come to be filled with God. It is a place for the broken, the hurting, the sinners.

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It is not easy to fight addictions. At all. There are attractions, tempting us almost 24/7 into sin and deviant behavior. We make almost hourly choices towards good or towards evil. And with Great Lent soon upon us, it is the perfect time to slow down and focus on these many addictions, and to seek God’s Grace to help us fight them. To help us overcome them by filling our empty lives and hearts with Him, instead of stuff.

One great suggestion given to me was to do the “40 bags over 40 days” purging project. Definitely doing that this year. The timing is perfect for our family. Another suggestion I saw was to spend 1 day per week with no electricity in the evenings. Instead you light candles and read, pray, play games together. But nothing you do can be supplied by electricity. The author of the blog about it noticed some immediate benefits.

(Here is the link to the article:

http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jennifer-fulwiler/8-reasons-to-turn-out-the-lights-during-lent#.WK3C5oWG7FI.facebook)

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Here in the wintry north, sunset comes early. But I still think this could be a valuable Lenten aid, in that it quiets our lives. It calms us down. It helps set a mood, a tone, in our home of quiet reflection. As one who reads by Kindle at night, going to bed without reading will be weird, but maybe it is time I took a break from that habit. We would have to turn off our phones (agh! We’d have to talk to one another!). And there would be no TV or computer. My son does his Spanish totally online, so I would have to be sure he’s on top of his lessons before we unplug! My Instant Pot dinners would have to be completed on time. No late night laundry panics. We would just sit in the candle light and be together as a family. I think this may assist us with some of our addictive behaviors.

Please consider slowing down and coming more into the Presence of God. Rededicate yourself to becoming closer to He Who created the world. Closer to He Who commands the seas and sets the sun on its rounds every day; Who holds the stars in His hands. He is so much greater than anything we try to substitute for Him.

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Kneeling Prayer.Orthodox Church

 

 

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

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

apostolic-tradition

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

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

May the Lord grant you many blessed years.

christ_pantocrator_church_of_the_holy_sepulchre

 

 

 

 

“…do it alone, person-to-person.”

Saint_Innocent_Orthodox_Cathedral_Anchorage_Alaska

This is Saint Innocent’s, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Anchorage. There have been some amazing stories about the influences here in Alaska from the Russian Orthodox Church. There are gorgeous onion domes all over this state. We just celebrated the wonderful, “Seward’s Folly” anniversary in March. The United States paid Russia $7.2 million in 1868.

Holy Assumption_Kenai_Church

The oldest Orthodox Church is Holy Assumption in Kenai, pictured above. It was built in 1840. I love that! And it is still in use today. We have so much to thank the Russian Missionaries for, here in Alaska. The combined Orthodox and Native cultures are such a blessing here. I love learning new things and have thought of learning a native language…just not sure which one I would choose, as there are over 20 of them to learn!

Alaskan Native Map

Our Alaskan heritage is rich, in both culture, foods, and also in faith. There are so many differing faiths in such a relatively un-populated state. There are more than 36 denominations of Christian churches in Alaska, which include the Orthodox. But there is no list that contains other faiths, such as Jewish or Muslim. The variation is amazing, considering this state only has about 600,000 year-round residents in 663,300 square miles. The population density, if it were to be placed in Manhattan, would have 14 people living there. Ha-Ha! Conversely, if Alaska had the same population density of Manhattan, then there would be 40,843,544,807 people in Alaska. Or approximately 5.8 times the current population of the entire world. It is fascinating to me that a state as large as Alaska, with as few people as we have, expresses itself so diversely. We have the top three most diverse high schools in the entire NATION. It is really interesting.

StAndrewsEagleRiver

Why bring this up? Well, we have started attending (fairly regularly) a parish, pictured above, very close to home. And yesterday, as I looked around the Church, I noticed this diversity. It was not only in race, but in gender and age, too. There were several families with handicapped children of various ages. There was this one couple where the husband struggled with his wife’s wheelchair, commenting to us, “Thank goodness the way back to the car is downhill!” One of the men helping to organize the upcoming Mass asked our son to assist in bringing up the gifts (something he’s been asked to do more than once before). And as they walked in with the gifts, I noted the diversity of those walking up. Two boys, two girls. One hispanic, one black, one white, one native. How cool was that?

And so we worship as a family…all of us gathered under that roof. We knelt as one body, in worship of Our Lord. The Russian Missionaries came to this land, not able to communicate with the native peoples living here, and yet they brought many to the Church. Our local parish offers us anonymity and yet allows us to share and be a part of something larger than ourselves. We come together, sharing a common faith, sharing at a common table. We come so very damaged, in search of the Divine Physician. Our souls ache with all the disparity and violence in this life, seeking a commonality with like-minded believers. We struggle, each of us, with our personal salvation. Each of us, when it comes right down to that last breath, have a personal salvation we need to work out. Each of us approaches our Lord a little differently, and He is there for each of us, in our differences and in our likenesses. But He encourages us to seek one another, to share in our life of faith. He encourages community, because “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” (John Donne).

Racial hands prayer

When we chose to adopt outside of our race, we knew many on both sides of the issue would have problems with it. Most who did, had the problems because they were (1) unfamiliar with interracial adoption, or (2) had never interacted with someone of another race on such an intimate level before, or (3) were afraid it would not last and the child would be rejected because of the interracial communion within a family, or even (4) could not imagine one race wanting a child of a different race. Of course, for us, it was all unfounded. I love the son of my heart like I love my sons of my flesh. I forget he is of another race, because he is just my son. He shared that all this “Black Lives Matter” thing is messing with his mojo. He said people are afraid to talk to him, thinking he’ll get upset or something. And he says it is hurting the mixing of races, which is something he has never had a problem with until recently. He also told me, “Mom, we really are not different races. We are just the human race. The rest is just dressing.” We talked about how under the skin, we all look the same. All our parts are in the same place; surgeons don’t learn different procedures for different races. So why is there still so much separation? Anger? Hatred? Distrust?

Mother Theresa

It’s funny that the organizations that purport to want racial equality are the very ones who are inciting unrest and violence. They are not fomenting peace when it is so desperately needed. They are not protecting the “least of these,” but rather further the disintegration of the society they are supposedly trying to save. When the Russian missionaries came to Alaska, they did not wait for someone to tell them what to do. They saw a need and they fulfilled it. Mother Theresa was like that. She did not wait for the government to act. She took children off the streets and cared for them. She took people no one else would touch, and washed their wounds and fed them, giving them her undivided love and attention. She did not care who they were, what their creed was, or where they came from. She cared for everyone equally. The communities that are the most downtrodden have the most violence. There is the most unrest where there is the least work. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” was a saying derived from Scripture: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idle lips are his mouthpiece. An evil man sows strife; gossip separates the best of friends.  Wickedness loves company—and leads others into sin.” Proverbs 16:27-29. Perhaps we need to encourage all that brain power that goes into organizing protests, into organizing their communities. Perhaps organizing clean ups or job fairs or child care options. Helping each other out of the conditions they are in, and making them better. Mother Theresa established her missions in the poorest areas of the world, and started by just picking up a broom.

Broom

We all need to stop pointing fingers, as I sort of was above, and put our shoulders to the wheel, as they say, and doggedly pursue peace and love throughout our communities. We cannot wait for leadership to show the way. We need to reach out, quite literally, to the people who live next door. I ashamedly met my next door neighbors this weekend. We have lived next to them for over three years, but quite honestly never see them. They had a garage sale and we went over, introduced ourselves, and purchased a couple of goodies from them. What a shame we wasted all this time, because we enjoyed them so much. It’s wasted because they are putting their house up for sale, and will soon thereafter move away. What could we have had, these past three years, had we met them sooner? We had an amazing soup kitchen, homeless program at our old parish. We were told it could not be done. So many in our own church told us it could not be done. It has been going on every week for over 10 years now, reaching out to the people who live around that little mission church, feeding them, bringing them in from the rain, counseling them, and being a presence in that very poor neighborhood.  It has to happen, one person at a time, one prayer at a time, one choice at a time. We cannot wait for directions on how to do this, we all just need to reach out…one soul at a time. Person-to-person.

one person at a time

“…than to your children about God.”

TalktoGod

This has been a hard one for me. Because I love God so much and I love my faith. I adore the smell of incense and the sound of the bells on the altar. I love the beautiful vestments of our eastern priests. I love the beautiful Holy Doors and the entire flow and process of the Divine Liturgy. The beautifully ornate Holy Books as they are processed in by the Deacon remind me that God is coming into His Temple through His word. The prayers take me closer to God in my heart. I adore beeswax candles and the peace I find praying in Church before the Holy Icons. I feel so blessed to be in the presence of God in His Temple and to receive Him, unworthy as I am. And I want my children to feel all these things like I do. I want their hearts to swell with love of God and be thinking of all His commandments when they are out and about in this world, making decisions, making choices.

mushroomsteak

However, as much as I enjoy these things, it is like getting my son to eat mushrooms. It is just not going to happen. I have dressed them up in so many ways, but he will not eat them. He finds them in all sorts of dishes and will set them aside and pick them out, choosing not to eat them. And I adore mushrooms. I love them sautéed in garlic and butter and dripping all over my medium-rare steak. My son loves siracha sauce. I can barely tolerate pepper on things. He slathers it on sliced ham, along with spicy mustard and siracha salad dressing, peppers, onions, and pepper-jack cheese – on one sandwich – rolled in thin flour tortillas (he prefers it to bread). Ugh. Our tastes are very different. Therein lies a problem many of us face with our kids – we are not them and they are not us, and many years separate the experiences we had as kids with what our kids experience now. How do we communicate this to them, without having them separate it off to the side of their plate, refusing to absorb it?

Mothernurterer

Recently, I have had some interesting conversations with friends about our teens. Having teens with friends at the same time is such a bonding experience! There is so much out there, influencing them in ways we do not like. The media onslaught makes those of us who talk normal seem like crazies. The new normal is so easily presented and eaten up by our teens. We fight against the slick marketing of evil in our culture. But when we try to prohibit experiences and places with our kids, we are seen as the bad guy. Well, I personally think that is okay. I do not mind being the bad guy. I am not my son’s friend; I am his mother. I am the one who has been given the gift of having him as my son, but also the responsibility of raising him to be a responsible adult, and a good man.

Oneofakind

My son is unique. All of our children are unique. I am in love with the young man he is becoming, as I fell in love with our older kids, too.  Sure, when you are handed that little newborn, the floodgates open. Perhaps not at that moment, but there comes a moment with all new moms where we realize how shocking it is that we can love another being as much as we do our children. It is different that the love we have for our husbands. It is supposed to be different. There are many expressions of love and we owe it to ourselves to experience all of them. And as our kids arrive at these glorious years of being a teenager, life takes a little detour. Those wonderfully secure moments we had when they were starting to be the same height as us (for me, that doesn’t take long, as my kids tell me that I am “vertically challenged”) and could carry on a meaningful conversation, are upended and become more rare as puberty takes over. It is hard to raise men. Because their instinct is to be manly. They (especially when they become taller than you) want to imitate their dads or older brothers, or other male role models, and “take care of you.” For us, because my husband travels two or more weeks each month, and we homeschool, my youngest son is alone with me for at least 1/2 a month, each month. Just the two of us, arguing over history or learning about the environment, or groaning together over Algebra. We have a unique environment and at times, it gets overwhelming. We discuss issues that are poignant and more and more, are revealing glimpses of the inner man he is becoming. We have developed our own, unique way to communicate. And I am starting to fall in love with this young man, as a young man, and not as my baby or young son. He has matured so much over the past few weeks, it sort of scares me.

Chastity

And yeah; that conversation. We are all called to be chaste to our state in life. All of us. If we are single, we are to remain celibate. If we are married, we are called to be chaste to our marital vows, which means to remain pure to our spouse. Chaste means purity and virtue as it refers to a personal, physical relationship with another person. And it is important that we have these talks with our teens. Chastity to our state in life is an important concept. One that is not popular with our culture’s insistence upon “if it feels good, do it” mentality. But if our teens want to be treated like the adults they feel they are becoming, then we need to do that. We need to share with them our views on why we believe they should remain chaste. We can share our life experiences and show them, demonstrate to them, why we believe in this concept of chastity to one’s state in life. We can share the “Theology of the Body” with them (as they do at the Youth Group he attends). But once again, I return to the mushrooms: he can opt to push them to the side of his place and not eat them. The sole responsibility I have towards my son is to point him to God. There are all sorts of other things like shelter, food, education, and sharing with him the tools to survive this life. We are trying to help him become the leader he will need to be when he is the man of his own family. How he will need to be the force of morality and rules for his own children. How he will need to exemplify the virtues he wants to see in his children. And sometimes, be the man the woman who will one day be his wife, needs him to be for her salvation, too. But the true responsibility I have is to point him to a God-centered life, regardless of how he earns his income. We pray just for him to be a good and Godly man; we pray for that for all of our children.

Goodman

Sometimes we fail at showing our kids what it is to live a God-centered life because we, too, push God to the side of the plate sometimes. We do not live an anointed life in the sense of a “domestic church.” We allow those things that are inherently evil slowly seep into our world, our lives, and we become “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1Cor13) It is our job to accompany our children as they become adults so that, as they mature and realize the love of God and want to keep His commandments, it will be a process that is welcomed, and not forced onto them.  “When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1Cor13)

1Cor13

My older son laughs because he totally gets Algebra now. My youngest is suffering through getting the concepts down. They are at different places in their lives. My oldest is married, has two children and just bought his first home. He is making adult decisions, based on adult experiences. My youngest feels manly, but is still a boy in so many ways. And we are discussing adult things because he is at the point in his life where he can choose – he can choose something that will ensure a wonderful future, or he can choose things that will hamper his growth into a Godly man. So many choices to make about so many things. He’s pondering career, college, playing football, and going to youth group events, snow boarding when he can, hanging with friends and seeing that special young woman in his life. Decisions that are marked more and more by adult issues and less and less about legos and playtime. It is a confusing time for most kids.

How am I the right parent for him at the right time? Well, I can only be me. I can only share my faith and my love of God. Like I said to him recently, “When you love someone you want to be with them all the time. For example, when you love God, you want to have Him with you all the time.” Of course, his mind is a little more focused on a certain girl right now, so he sort of nodded and said, “Yeah. I get that.”  And I also shared that if we love someone, we should respect them and follow their requests for us, in our lives, like God’s and his parents. And then I left it up to him.

My mantra? “Keep Calm. God’s got this.” And I’m always praying for all of my kids.

God's Got This

 

“…Not to act is to act.”


Who you raise

I have one child left at home; a teenager. I have two other children who are married with children of their own. It is wonderful, this process of raising children. It is time consuming and fraught with all sorts of pitfalls and triumphs. I have gray hairs and I tell my kids, “This gray hair was from that time you…” Or I will tell them, “Thanks for that; I just felt 5 more gray hairs pop out!” It is never dull, having kids around (and grandkids)!

This week I learned quite a lot about perceptions and facts. Quite often they are arrayed so far apart, “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12). I ridiculously responded online to a story last night about legislation and Planned Parenthood in our schools. I say ridiculously, because I keep banging my head against the same wall, hoping for a different outcome. I am 100% Pro-Life; it is my proverbial line in the sand. I do not support Planned Parenthood in anything they do, present as truth, or say. My comment was jumped upon so heartily by those who support PP in the schools, as well as abortion rights. (Same outcome!! LOL!). They accused me of being a liar by standing against PP and all it represents. I commented that opposing viewpoints are obviously not welcomed in the public forum, therefore negating that it is, indeed, a public forum. You can only comment if you agree with a very vociferous minority. We recently had the caucus votes here and resoundingly, Ben Carson won. It shocked the local pundits and politicians. No one expected it. And when legislation was brought in to ban PP from our schools, the commentators were in shock then, too. It amazes me how people think that this radical-left-winged world is populated by the liberal majority. It is not. It is populated by a silent, conservative, majority.

Notvotingisbeingsilent

By not exercising our right to vote, we are giving credence to evil. We are allowing evil to reign in our culture. By not voicing our conservative viewpoints everywhere we can, we are abdicating our culture to those who choose to speak up. We are making normal seem abnormal. “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.'” (St. Anthony the Great).  And that truly has been happening lately. Our election process should be evident of that. We cannot say “normal” things anymore or we are considered to be lying or crazy.

voting

And it hit me so hard last night. I have one child left at home, to prepare to enter into this insanity we call our culture. And I only have 1 year left – the last year of high school is almost here. Pretty soon, my youngest will be a voting, wage-earning, adult member of society. Did I do this right? Is my child prepared? Ready? Mature enough? Did I lead my child to God? To truth? To eternity?

pointedtoyou

Each era has its challenges when raising children. Each era believes it is critical at that time. But right now, man, is it hard to be a parent. I’ve been dealing with electronics lately. We changed our cell provider. I cannot believe how ridiculously complex it has been. Our son got my old iPhone and he is so happy because he finally has a “smart” phone. He was teased about his old, out-dated, flip phone we affectionately called his “dumb” phone. But it amazes me how self-worth is determined by our phones, our purses, our cars, our computers. I know it has always been this thing of comparing ourselves to others, always looking at that greener grass, but recently, it seems like it has trickled down so much so that a friend’s 6-year-old granddaughter has an iPhone6+. Did you get that? She is 6 years old. An iPhone6+ costs well over $600 to buy outright. Sometimes more. But the fact that parents see no problem in her having one blows me away. She also has an iPad and her own MacBook computer. She is 6 years old. At six, I was into Barbie dolls and playgrounds. I got my first phonograph, that played both 45s and 33s, when I was six. I had all the Disney songs, on brightly colored vinyls (I still have them) and I played them and listened while I played with dolls. My friend’s granddaughter goes to a private school, has a tutor, and takes private lessons in a host of areas. I know I keep saying it, but she is just 6 years old. I hope I am around when she is 26. It will be interesting. And that is the new norm. My oh my. And we wonder why politics are a mess!!

Buckets

While I agree with this in spirit, I do not agree with this movement of “everyone gets a trophy.” Our kids need to experience rejection. They need to know what it is to lose. They need to know what it is to fail. Because if they do not know those things intimately when they go out into the world, they are going to be crushed. Our current administration, from the federal level down to the local level, supports a theory of entitlement. This feeling of entitlement is making its way down to 6-year-olds who think they need an iPhone. It is insanity. We need to be sure our children are loved and grounded. We need to ensure they are educated so they can be whatever it is they choose to become. We need to be sure they have the tools to survive in this mad, mad, world.

ElderPaisios

And this brings me back around to my original comments, because to me, to be silent, to not act…those are things a responsible parent just cannot do. We are called to always speak for and to our children. We are called to admonish them. We are called to instruct them. We are called to always defend them. And we are called to act…on their behalf, yes. But we are also called to act in the public forum, to ensure a future for them. I have one year left with my youngest child still living at home. We are working on all sorts of life skills. We are working on laundry and cooking, on yard work, and woodwork. We are also working on bill-paying and account balancing. And we are working on what it means to be an active member of our society. To not participate or not vote means we are condoning evil and allowing it to take over our culture. We are trying to live as role models, so our children can see how to act when evil knocks on their doors.

rolemodel

I know cell phones, in their essence, are not critical to this lifetime, but inherently, the technology sure is. My grandkids know, at just 2 years old, how to swipe sideways on a phone to find photos and movies, texts and their favorite links. At just 2 years old. My 2-year-old grand daughter knows how to change the movie on an iPad that is slung from the back of the driver’s seat in the car, with HER TOES. And although I am proud she figured it out, it is kind of frightening at the same time. I’m just not sure where all this is leading us. Facebook friends around the world we have never met in person. Church via website so we can stay home in jammies. Having a girlfriend you rarely see in person but spend hours a day “face-timing” or “instant messaging” or texting. Making up and breaking up via text messages. Finding out important life-events via Facebook or text. Not even a phone call. We are becoming removed from the reality that things like abortion are not removing cells…they are killing an unborn child. Not a bunch of cells. We eat foods that are killing us because they are convenient.

“Six lanes, tail lights
Red ants marching into the night
Disappear to the left and right again
Another supper from a sack
A 99-cent heart attack..”

Those lyrics are from a great song by Tim McGraw entitled, “Where the Green Grass Grows.” The song came out, believe it or not, in 1997. It is now 2016 and it has only gotten worse. So, to wrap this up, I have struggled with inaction and being silent. It just is not the way the Lord calls us to be. “The late Blessed John XXIII wrote, “Every believer, in this, our world, must be a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying ferment in the dough: He will be so to the degree that, in his innermost being, he lives in communion with God. In fact, there can be no peace among men if there is no peace in each one of them.” (Catholic Online).

Lightoftheworld

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matt. 5: 13 – 16) 

So my challenge, to myself and others, is to go out there and be the salt of the earth; be the light that is no longer hidden under a bushel basket. Be responsible for this world we are handing to our children and grandchildren. Do not assume others will take care of it for you; that others will vote the right candidate in or enact the right legislation. Have you looked at Washington lately? How has all that inaction worked out for you? We need to fix this craziness before it truly becomes the norm. We need to work for a world we want our children and grandchildren to be loved in, where they are safe, where they can flourish.

BenCarsonGodQuote