“…break off and have a cup of tea.”

God is so good. I am loving my journaling experience so much, and I am filled with hope, and joy. I am so beat-up tired, but I am happy. Exultant, even. I am so over moving. I truly hate packing stuff and shoving it into a box. I really do. I am, however, looking forward to our new home and putting down some roots. It feels good.

And then my day got going. And I had a fairly enjoyable time, enjoying breakfast with my kids and grandkids, getting some stuff we needed at the store, gas in my car, and resting up a bit (it was Sunday). And then we headed over to our son’s home, where he is installing a fence.

Sunday was a feast day – the celebration where the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit. I mean, I can sort of relate to how the Apostles must have felt. They had followed this Man who filled them with joy and awe. He was healing people and speaking truths they had never pondered. He was doing and saying things that normal men could not do. Who was He? Was He truly God Incarnate? Their lives were up-ended and completely changed. And then He was crucified. It was a horrific death. And the politics were crazy at the time, too. They ran; they hid; they were afraid. He promised He would return, and He did! He showed up in their midst with the holes in His hands to prove it was Him. But then He said He had to “go home” to the Father. And they were, once again, afraid. He also promised to send them the “Holy Spirit,” Who would fill them with love and be with them always. And we celebrated this on Sunday – the Descent of the Holy Spirit onto the Apostles – Pentecost – 40 days after Christ rose to be with His Father, our God. And we believe the Holy Spirit is still with us, protecting us and enervating our lives. We keep this sense of the holy within us. We celebrate how the Holy Spirit resides in all peoples, across the world. Some believe that can only happen if you accept Christ as your personal Savior. Others say only 144,000 will be saved. (Had that argument a time or two). Still others say that only if you are baptized in their church, are you “saved” and going to heaven. Yeah; I have other things to say on that.

People teach their children by their words and their actions. And if you keep them at home to school them, you are their sole example of life. That is it. I know many homeschoolers who isolate their children from the world, thinking it will somehow save them from being affected by it. I have known homeschooled kids who also snuck off every free moment to do drugs and have wanton sex with many partners, while teens, and while being perceived as “innocent” and “precious darlings” by their naive parents. Boy, were they surprised (and frankly, so was I about some of them!!). And I have known many publicly schooled children who were far better saints. I believe it has something to do with how you model life for them. How you are in front of your children, when no one else is there. Those precious, teachable moments. Those moments cling far more than an English paper they were forced to write, prayers they had to memorize, or keeping your kids away from other children who are being raised differently than you are raising yours. We chose to homeschool for the academics, and the faith followed. But we never isolated our kids. For most of their pre-teen years, we had no network TV. However, they played baseball, soccer, ice hockey, and even rugby. Our kids were always in this world, but we taught them to not be of this world. And I saw character in my kids yesterday, and I was proud of them.

I was, however, profoundly disappointed in myself yesterday. I was angry. I was not carrying a palm branch for peace to anyone. I was not an example of the Holy Spirit to anyone. I was a mother bear and I was going to bat for my kids. And my kids have kids. They are adults. They are married. LOL. It doesn’t matter one iota. Someone has been attacking my family and I was protecting them. Trust me. Do not harm my family. Ever. But I am disappointed that I allowed my protectiveness for my family to over-ride my faith. I know Jesus lost His temper many times. And He was totally justified. I am not sure I was. I did not model a decorous, peace-loving, quiet hearted, Christian woman. Rather, I was a shouting, angry, protective mother. Not good. My heart was racing and I as so very, very angry. It has taken about a year to build up, with my kids being insulted and spoken down to; having their dreams shattered at the hands of people who say they are one thing, but act totally the opposite; and having people do little things to place yet another pea in the mattress of my kids’ lives. And when I received a call with an hysterical, sobbing, daughter-in-law on the phone, I reacted. We raced to their sides. (We discovered my new car has a lot of “pick up and go”!!) We defended our family. And their legal rights. And their character. And we tried to shelter the little children from all of it.

The truly sad thing is that these people did not shelter their kids, at all. And they affected my grandchildren. Ugh. I get angry just reliving the moments. And I missed going to Church, trying to calm everyone (and myself) down; trying for a compromise with people who don’t understand the concept of what that truly means; and trying to help my own kids feel like they were not bad people, after having their very character called into question. It devolved so badly, it will now be in the hands of their attorney. (They already consulted with their attorney and KNOW they have all the rights and these other people have no leg to stand on. And yet, refuse to accept the legality of it. Raspberry bushes and fences – disrespectful people and little children run astray. It could be a soap opera. And now we start the next phase. So so sad!). And my grandson, last night, asking his dad if he was all those things the neighbors accused him of being. Broke our hearts.

And so, how do I find peace? How do I relate to the Holy Spirit in this conflict? I was told many years ago, by a priest, that sometimes we are called to be elsewhere, doing other things, and not be attending Church, and, that at those moments, we are BEING Church. Like when you want to be a part of the Liturgy, celebrating Easter (this totally happened to us) and have a VERY FUSSY BABY, that will not be calmed by anything other than a nice stroll in the sunshine, outside of the Church building. And your priest calmly telling you that at that moment, pacing with your baby, you were doing exactly what God called you to do, and that is BEING CHURCH. Not attending, and barely even taking anything in, but BEING what it means to be called, “Christian.” And through my anger yesterday, I knew I was off the rails a little bit. My presentation lacked. But the message was the same. (Stop spouting things at people, being a hypocrite and not living the same things you pretend you are. Stop accusing and manipulating your children; stop acting out like a child yourself. Take personal responsibility for raising good, Christian kids, like you say you are.). I said many things that were truth, but they perhaps were lost in the presentation, and for that I sought forgiveness. Not what I said, but how I delivered it. And in the end, I felt the hand of God on our family. The Spirit was there. (Perhaps in overabundance of fervor and zest, but there!).

We all learned something about ourselves yesterday. We truly, truly love one another. We will be there in a pinch. When the chips are down, we know we have one another’s back. We are blood – by birth or choice – and we are united. In all of it. And for that little test, I am supremely grateful. Our family is strengthened and was proofed in fire, so to speak. Thanks be to God.

I also learned that sometimes my sense of family, and my protective instincts, get the better of me. And I need to work on that. There are so many wise Church Fathers who exhort us to let the things of this world pass us by. And I forgot it all yesterday. Which means I have so far to go in my growth as a good, solid, Christian woman. And for that, I will redouble my efforts at finding that sweet spot between being in this world, and becoming a part of it. The Saints really had that down – our recent, modern day martyrs for the faith in the Middle East and elsewhere have exhibited it, far better than most of us, up until experiencing even death for their faith. I fell remarkably short.

Father Vasile Tudora posted on the Orthodox Christian Network. In an article about Depression, he wrote:

“So what to do? In an interview I recently read, the Archimandrite Sophrony Sacharov, of blessed memory, at that time a younger monk, was asked by a visiting priest: “Fr. Sophrony, how will we be saved?” Fr. Sophrony prepared him a cup of tea, gave it to him, and told him, “Stand on the edge of the abyss of despair and when you feel that it is beyond your strength, break off and have a cup of tea.” Obviously this was a very odd answer, and the young priest was definitely confused. So off he went to St. Silouan the Athonite, who lived not far from there, and told him everything, asking for advice. Long story short, next day, St. Silouan came to the cell of Fr. Sophrony and the two started a conversation about salvation. The beautiful fruit of their conversation was an unforgettable phrase that I would like to also offer as the answer to our conversation today about depression: “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.”

At first glance, St. Silouan’s take on salvation is not less strange that Fr. Sophrony’s initial answer, but it actually makes great sense. In traditional Christianity, the difficulties of life, the hardships are assumed as part of our fallen existence. Our bodies and our minds suffer the torments, but this is nothing but a temporary stage. The ascetic Fathers considered them as tests on par with the athletic exercises, very useful in practicing and improving the powers of the soul like patience, kindness, hope, faith and so forth. We keep our mind in hell when we consciously assume the pain of living in a fallen world, when we learn from this passing agony to avoid the even greater torture of an eternity without Christ. But there is hope in this suffering because Christ himself has suffered them first and has opened for us a way out of despair, a way out of pain, a way out of death. Christ is the well of life, the bread of eternity, and the only Man we need.

So as Christians we keep our minds in hell and we despair not, but courageously give glory to God in all things, even in pain, hoping, always hoping, in our Savior, the only One who can take us out of the brink of despair and set us for a new life in Him. In Him we put our hope, in Him we find our purpose, and on Him we set our goal.”

And today, I take solace in loosing my temper, in being a poor example. Because today, at 4:30 am, awaking from a fitful sleep, I realized that the great work of my salvation is far from over. It is still a work in progress. I did not accept Christ into my life as a one-time experience and was then perfected. He snuck into my heart, little by little, embedding Himself in the nous of my existence. And He exhorts me, even in my sleep, to reach for better. To keep getting up again, retrying my salvation in light of this world, and to learn to be thankful each time I do misstep and fall, because He is there, helping me back up. And the Holy Spirit is in me, whispering for me to rise up out of my bed and deal with the things that flutter in my heart, causing me unrest; causing me to rise with the bleak rainfall and see the green that is growing around me, the world that is blooming after a harsh winter, giving me courage to keep trying. Hope. It is still there, and I am smiling again today.

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“…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

“… a tempest of doubting thoughts…”

Russian Mary Mother of God Icon

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

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

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

Sons shoes

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

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

motherofgod.nurtererof children

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IconNativity

“…existing forever and always the same”

Unknown,_Iran,_mid-16th_Century_-_The_Rothschild_Small_Silk_Medallion_Carpet_-_Google_Art_ProjectThis is a photograph of a 16-th century Persian (modern-day Iran) tapestry.  Tapestries are incredible things.  If you have ever attempted any sort of work with thread and fabric (no, buttons do not count) you will be amazed at the skill involved in creating tapestries.  The Medieval Period saw a rise in tapestries and most castles had them hanging on their walls, depicting events from the lives of those living in these castles, or perhaps a heraldic tapestry explaining their genealogy and symbols of their families; some were religious, depicting scenes from Scripture; many were mythic, depicting scenes from famous myths.  I love tapestries.  I attempted crewel work, needlepoint, and cross-stitching, so I know how working with a needle and fabric can become obsessive, and how it is also tedious at times, but it also can be filled with moments of grace and peace.  The outcome is almost always worth all the moments spent creating it.  Well, for my works, never look on the back of them! They are a mess of knots.  True artists who created these amazing tapestries did so with no knots showing – front or back!

200px-PazyrykfullThis is the most famous tapestry still in existence, in that it was woven in the 5th century and is the oldest surviving tapestry in the world.  Even with it being so ancient, the colors and patterns are still visible and portions retain their vibrancy 1500 years later. I gaze at it and wonder who crafted it, what they wanted it to be used for, and a little about their lives.  “I love all things old..” I have a plaque with the complete saying on my kitchen wall…and I do appreciate things historical and ancient.  My college major was anthropology, so my heart has always rested in history, most especially physical history.

As I have been pondering things this week, I have been thinking about my Church, my faith, and my fellow sojourners on our way to our ultimate goal – eternity with our Creator.  And I have come to realize that our faith is a master-tapestry, created by Our Lord.  When we take a step back, or away, from the things we hold close, we sometimes are given a chance to view them differently.  Tapestries typically look better  the further you stand away from them, although quite often to appreciate their fine details, you have to alternate between closely viewing them, and then taking a step back.  For me, I found myself engaged in repartee with others on the internet, and in my personal life, and this repartee was sort of tearing away at my peace.  I found myself hurting at the words of others. So I have tried to take a step back, or away, from these conversations.  I have been praying about it, ruminating on it, and I have sought advice about this and one of the answers today made me realize how much of a “tapestry” life truly is.  All these threads, weaving together (and not meant in the eastern, Asiatic, or Eastern Indian philosophical sense) to create a pretty incredible tapestry we think of as Christianity. The vibrancy and life all around us, before us, and after us is being captured by God in an amazing array of humanity, and human expression.

I find it so interesting that those who profess to have this belief in Christ Jesus, and Him Crucified, are so ready to verbally crucify their fellow Christians for not saying, acting, or believing exactly as they do.  We do not represent the Body of Christ, His Church, well when we cut down our fellow Christians.  Christ told us to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35) and when He told us, His followers that, He meant it.  And how did Christ love us?  He allowed Himself to be sacrificed on a cross – for my short-sightedness, for my sinful nature, for my acts that contradict the teachings of Christ.  He did that for me – more than 2,000 years ago He did that for ME.  And He did that for each of us, whether we choose to follow Him or not; whether we opt to be truly Christian, He laid down His life for each of us.  We do not repay or acknowledge that sacrifice when we argue over whose method of worship is more authentic, who has the better translation or who has the most authentic liturgy.  We pride ourselves on being authentically “apostolic” Churches of Christ.  But how are we mirroring the teachings of the Apostles when we belittle our fellow believers?  How do we show that the teachings of Christ and His Apostles has reached our hearts when we belittle and disregard, out of hand, the opinions of others?  As I have posted online before, “My heart hurts.”  I am so very disappointed in some people who purport to have this incredible education and insight and yet use acerbic language to lash out at others and in very mean ways, put to shame opposing viewpoints. And so many of us pay lip service to the plight of Christians around the world, being persecuted for the selfsame faith we all proclaim.  How does that reflect the Word of Christ, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me“? (Matthew 25:31-46).

I have been blessed with a pretty amazing journey to get to where I am.  Life has had many ups and downs, and many interesting, if erroneous, side trips.  But as I look back on all of it, I can see God’s hand, gently guiding me to where I am now.  And because I was taught to see the “big picture” through the study of anthropology, history, and cultures, I feel blessed to be given glimpses of these “larger pictures” now and then.  And recently I became aware of how divergent our Church truly is; how “universal” is such a true statement.  When Christ instructed the Apostles to “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19) the Apostles actually did what they were told!  They went to “all nations!”  In the world at the time, the Apostles reached amazing geographical goals.  They covered an amazing amount of territory for the time in which they lived and traveled.  Any of us would be hard pressed to equal some of their journeys, even with all the conveniences of today.  The countries they visited included India, Japan and China (some dispute whether or not St. Thomas made it to China, but recent developments suggest he did), the entire Middle East, and portions of Europe, including Spain (St. John).  Wherever these Apostles went, they established Christ’s Church on earth.  We Melkites jokingly tell our Latin Rite friends that we had St. Peter before Rome did, as he established the Church in the Middle East (Antioch) first!  He traveled extensively and he preached to the people in the ways they could understand (which is a simple way to explain the differences between the Church of Antioch – where the term Christian was first used – and of Rome).  Each of these Churches reflected the cultures the Apostles came across.  And these churches are still alive today! All of them!  We have many Churches in communion with Rome, who recognize and acknowledge the Pope as the “first among equals.”

We in the East love Vatican II.  We were allowed our Liturgies in the vernacular and are still encouraged to worship as we were handed down the faith, from the Apostles and Church Fathers.  Most of us in the East use the Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil.  There are other variants that are equally as beautiful.  We have a friend who is a priest of the Syro-Malabar Rite and the liturgy he celebrates is pretty amazing; different from what I am used to, but equal and amazing in its own right (or rite!).  Each of the 22 or so Churches (or rites, as some prefer to call them) in “communion” with Rome have their own Divine Liturgies, with 7 of them (including Rome) having their own Patriarch, and all professing the same Christian faith.  But each Church is different.  And that is part of the tapestry of our faith.

I love being Byzantine and I have become enamored of my Byzantine traditions and the teachings of the early Church Fathers.  I loved learning Arabic at our Melkite parish, and learning to cook some amazing Arabic dishes.  In fact, for our potluck at Church this weekend I will be bringing majedra (spelled many ways) – a wonderful dish of lentils, rice, and onions I was taught by my Arabic friends in California.  And recently I have discovered the foods of yet other cultures (Ukrainian and Polish) and love pyrogies (so many ways to spell that!!) and other delicacies that I wish I had known much sooner!  (The languages may have to wait a bit! LOL!)  I have dipped my toes into many teachings of the Orthodox and thoroughly love so many Orthodox saints.  St. John of Kronstadt is my all-time favorite and he is Russian and decidedly not Roman Catholic.  His wisdom crosses imaginary “boundaries” of culture, tradition, and religion and he shares Truth in any language; a Christian Truth.  I was raised in an English immigrant household, who sort of swayed into Protestantism.  In college and my early 20s, I dated quite seriously a Jewish man and spent two years exploring Judaism (drove the Rabi crazy!!). As a 20-something adult, I chose to become Catholic.  From there, some 20 years later, my journey brought me to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. And because of a geographical move almost 6 months ago, now I attend a mostly Polish/Ukrainian/Ruthenian/Byzantine Parish.  My experiences in life are a tapestry in and of themselves.

cropped-church.jpgThe photo above is one of my favorites.  It is the ceiling of a Russian Orthodox Church.  It exemplifies the tapestry of faith.  Every square inch is covered in iconic expressions of our faith.  I find it comforting and inviting.  And this is what I am trying, poorly, to convey.  We need to welcome an extra thread to our growing tapestry.  There is definitely right and wrong; there are absolutes.  I am not arguing that we forgo holding fast to the teachings of Christ Crucified.  I am not saying that we allow for heresies to flourish without objecting strenuously to them, and defending Truth when no one else will.  What I am trying to convey is a spirit of tapestry; a spirit of love and welcoming to those we come into contact with who may have questions, who may have thoughts divergent from our own.  We cannot pretend to be missionaries in our own backyard when we speak angrily or nastily to those we come into contact with, who even attend Church with us.  I agree that the Church is a hospital for the sick, but it certainly is not a place were the patients attack one another.  It is a place where we all seek healing and love and safety.  In order to illustrate my emotions on this, I will share my favorite part of the Divine Liturgy, the prayers of the Anaphora:

It is proper and right to sing to You, bless You, praise You, thank You and worship You in all places of Your dominion; for You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same; You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. You brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell, You raised us up again. You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your kingdom to come. For all these things we thank You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit; for all things that we know and do not know, for blessings seen and unseen that have been bestowed upon us. We also thank You for this liturgy which You are pleased to accept from our hands, even though You are surrounded by thousands of Archangels and tens of thousands of Angels, by the Cherubim and Seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, soaring with their wings, singing the victory hymn, proclaiming, crying out, and saying:  Holy, holy, holy, Lord Sabaoth, heaven and earth are filled with Your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna to God in the highest.”

When we, as a people of Christ, recite these and many of the other prayers of the Divine Liturgy, let us also pray with the intention to live our lives as Christians who believe what we pray.  We believe that there are a myriad of angels around the altar, we proclaim His coming, we acknowledge that He picked us up when we fell, created us out of nothing.  With tongues we proclaim the love of God; let us also with our tongues praise and pray for our fellow Christians, regardless of which tones they sing, what translations they use, which “rite” or Church they belong to.  Let us truly weave the tapestry of “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”

Cross sunlight rocks

“…sweet consolation…”

Having a rough day today. My teenager was away at camp for 10 days and I guess he missed us because he chose to share the bug he picked up at camp with me! I am sick and it is making me cranky! This morning, there were 3 magpies in our front yard – two on the lawn and one in a tree – having a very loud argument. For those of you who are familiar with these large, loud birds, you know what I mean.  Even our cat, who is nick-named, “Scaredy-cat,” was angry with these birds. Her back was arched and she was hissing at them, as she watched them from the front window!  I woefully needed coffee to get my head to function and to help me wake up! Ha-Ha!  Not a fun way to be woken up when you have a lousy head cold. I am trying to get better soon, because I am flying 5+ hours to California to see my new grand daughter, and to visit “memory homes” with my mom.  It makes me sad, just prepping for the trip.  Sad because I will have to leave my son, his wife, and their new baby and sad because I will have to leave my mom and I am not sure how many visits with her I have left.

I have been struck with the cycle of life recently.  Our deacon had a stroke this past week.  Last weekend, he was his smiling self and then he was not.  And yesterday, a dear friend of ours’ daughter had their first grand child.  Just talking with her today was so much fun.  I was lucky in that we already have two grandchildren and our third is on her way, so I knew the overwhelming sense of love my friend would experience.  And she did not disappoint! The pure joy in her voice was incredible to share.  I also spoke with a sibling about my mom and her encroaching Alzheimer’s and how we’re all going to handle it.  It just seems that life is constantly cycling through and I was never in a place to really notice it until now.  I guess seeing as how I am a “senior” citizen and all, I notice this tenuous life cycle we have here on earth, while preparing for our eternity in heaven.

Little thingsIt is such a joy to share all these things that happen in life with those we love, those we meet, and those we may not even know.  The little joys are incredible.  As I watch my son and his little family, I see so many moments I had with him as a boy.  Times of joy that I hold closely in my heart.  There are smells and sounds, visions and memories that I will have always in my heart, that warm me and fill me with joy on days when loud birds wake me and I am sneezing, sleepy, and cranky! The joy of an ever-expanding family through the marriages of our children, the births of our grandchildren, and even the deaths of parents….we are cycling through life and it seems like it is getting faster and faster, and more and more frightening, the older I get!  Thanks be to God for my family, friends, and my faith. I am blessed.

And when I am stressed or angry, or feel out of sorts, there are memories and sights and sounds and smells that reinvigorate me, that I hold deep inside of me and are a part of my living faith.  I have such fond memories of many, many, midnight Liturgies of Pasca, swinging the lamps in preparation for the big entry; of meat dishes and their smells and tastes after the long fast of Lent; of songs and scents we only experience at different holidays.  I love being Byzantine and having dishes which are served on one day a year, using recipes passed down from mother to daughter over centuries of Christianity; recipes that have not changed in thousands of years.  I love feeling connected to Our Lord, His Apostles, and the early Church, knowing we use the same incense, the same tones and songs, the same words of the Gospel, that they experienced, too.

Someone asked me on Sunday what drew me to become Byzantine.  One particular memory, which I have shared in posts before, was listening to our Deacon intone “Sophia, Orthoi” while processing in with the Gospel Book.  It took me back in time to the Apostolic Church and the connection was so real, I did not want to ever lose it.  The sounds of the tones used, the smell of the incense, the way in which the Parish participated, took me back in time and I loved feeling that.  The Holy Icons, the Holy Fans, the words of the liturgy, the vestments worn by the priests and deacons…they all brought me into communion with our Lord and our faith.  I love history and tradition, so anything connecting back to the Apostles is wonderful in my eyes.  I love the unbroken tradition and the historical connection through text, song and scents, textiles and foods.  It’s pretty comforting for me; it grounds me.

St. NikolaiAnd as this week has demonstrated to me once again, we are cycling through life’s experiences at a rapid clip.  My emotions and my health are all over the map. Some days are incredible; some not so much – like today.  Times are tough right now, but our blessings are inordinate. And as each thing comes to me, I earnestly try to thank God for these experiences, to seek His guidance, and to wait on Him and His will for my life.

St. Anthony of Optina.2The highlight of my trip south will be the baptism of our grand daughter.  Although there will be lots of people and families baptizing their children, I am so thrilled to be there for this sacrament for her, and for her parents.  The changes our family has been through over the past year of weddings, births, and deaths…our emotions are pretty fraught with tension.  I will be saying goodbye to my son and his little family, and the ability to hold (and smell – I love baby smells!!) my little grand daughter.  I will be bidding my mom goodbye and I am not sure if more visits are in store for us or not.  My heart is so torn.  But through all these cycles of life, I thank you, God, for reminding me of these blessings and the love I have been privileged to share.

Russian baptism

“…He’s trying to change your heart.”

God is changing your heart

Very introspective today.  Life is just not going smoothly.  And it is not just for us; many of our friends and contemporaries are suffering in many ways, as well.  Today there was a bloodless coup in Egypt.  I have no idea where that situation is going.  Meanwhile we have Syria, who allowed the anarchists to behead a Catholic priest along with two others.  And for whatever reason (something I just do not understand) our country is backing those rebels.  There is unrest here in the USA over our economy, the healthcare plan being forced upon us, and the issues of choice versus pro life.  On and on it goes.  There seems to be no relief in sight.  Recently, I read this little piece online from an Orthodox blogger who stated that as they were incensing their house, their daughter explained to her mom why she avoided the TV set.  She said, “Because of that evil man sitting on top of it.”  The mom agreed that indeed, Satan enters our homes through the TV in oh so many ways.

Don't compare

We are pushed to compare ourselves to those around us. Even though I used the above graphic in my last blog post, it keeps coming up.  People say they are better people of faith because they do this or that, or they do not do this or that.  We need to look to Christ, the reason we proclaim a life of faith in the first place.  The Lord Himself proclaimed to us that He did not come to bring peace; He did not come to unite, but rather to divide. (“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  Matthew 10:34).

And boy oh boy, do we have divisions!!  There are eastern-rite Christians; there are Latin Rite Christians.  There are Protestants, and Jewish, and Islamic believers.  There are Budhists and Zoarastrians.  There are Republicans and Democrats.  There are also Tea Party members who claim neither political party.  There are law-abiders, and law-breakers.  We have earners and takers in financial realms.  We have givers and takers across all areas of division.  We have that theory of 10% in everything.  What theory?  It says that in almost every organization – schools, companies, cultures, churches, families, groups of friends…that about 10% of that particular group does all the work.  All the work to keep the group intact and functional.  In our country, that 10% is very wealthy, with 90% doing the direct labor, or no labor at all.  There are those in our churches and parishes who are always around, doing everything.  They clean the hall, they mow the lawn, they work in the kitchen, sweep the sanctuary, attend and perhaps even plan, all the events.  Those 10% are the people who always vote; who help out in local politics, who volunteer at organizations across the country.

All of this brings me to the above graphic of comparison…we need to stop comparing and start appreciating.  I understand that some things people do or are involved in are not appreciated (people who bomb to make a point; people who kill or steal, or otherwise harm others…the list is long).  I understand that some belief systems will, and do, clash.  Islam and Christianity have been clashing for centuries and will continue to do so.  The haves and have nots will continue to clash.  Bread lines may start again and those who have may need to assist those who have not.  Witness Egypt today where millions took to the streets to clash with their government.  I understand and know that we cannot appreciate everything; conflict is inevitable.  I am guilty of conflict myself, when my baser instincts take over my better self.  And I seek forgiveness for that all the time.  That being said, I am also pensive and introspective today about all this conflict.  I am digging deeper to try and find that sweet spot of peace I once held so closely. I am clinging to the edge of a chasm of despair.  But the despair is not one of faith; I know God has my back.  It’s all this around me, crashing down on me.  I know that to give in is to admit defeat.  But once in awhile, even the steadfast need a break.

DidacheGod has my back and I know the struggles I have are all from my choices and decisions in life, but are all allowed through Him and His will for my life.  I also think that my grasp is beginning to weaken, and that rope I am clinging to is running out of space to cling.  And still my heart sings when I pray.  When I hear my grandson’s joyous and infectious giggles or when I see the twinkle in my grand daughter’s eye, or when I feel the life of my grand-daughter-in-utero wiggle, I weep with joy.  God has blessed us with an incredible family and incredible life.  It has come down to about as basic a life as it can get. The only way things could be less would be to be homeless.  And when you get down to the nitty-gritty, the basics of life; when the only direction you can go is up, perspective is an interesting component of life.  I look up – the only direction left to me – and I see God.  He is smiling.  He is waiting.  He is there.  For some unfathomable reason at this time in my life, we are all waiting, almost holding our collective breath.  We are waiting for that break, for that one thing to happen that will change all of this.

Breathe todayAs our pastor used to tell us, “You are not guaranteed your next breath.”  Oh Abouna, how right you are!  So today, even though it feels like Chicken Little is running around yelling about the sky falling, I am breathing.  So I am blessed.  And today, even though I swept and mopped floors, the most exciting thing I have accomplished all day, is that I was allowed to breathe.  So I will count my blessings and hang on for another day, breathing one moment to the next, waiting with My Lord, for things to fall into place, just as He has planned for me.  (Inhale) Jesus son of God, (exhale) have mercy on me, a sinner.

Gods plan

“He’s the one you’re following.”

Dostoevsky

“A proud man, at the time when other people are speaking of any other person’s virtues, is wickedly afraid lest this person should be superior to him in virtues, and should eclipse him, for the proud man considers himself above all, and does not think it possible to find similar or higher virtues in others. The rivalry of others is a great misfortune to him.”
(St John of Kronstadt)  This quote of St. John was posted on the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross’ Facebook page earlier, and it’s been eating away at me.  Dostoevsky’s quote seems to go along with this quote from St. John, too.

I have struggled most of my life with trying to win the approval of others.  I always feel like I fall very short because their scales, their method of measurement, are so very different than mine.  I have tried to approach things with their perspective, but just cannot seem to do so.  At various times in my life, I was far removed from religion.  I certainly did not practice the Christian virtues in any way.  In those times, I was more in step with those who judged me, because their perspective seems more in tune with worldly values and accomplishments.  When I chose a different lifestyle and chose to become a different person in my life, it became apparent we lived very disparate lives.  As I have aged, and hopefully matured, I realize that comparisons are rather silly. I can never be those who look at me; those who judge me….they are on the outside of the person I am and they are pursuing their own desires, their own answer to the same questions we all have: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?”  “What is life for?”  “Is there a greater power guiding all this? “Is there a God?” And I recently have been able to reflect, and to let it all go.  I am no longer comparing myself to others who seem to be exceeding their own expectations.  I am no longer in the same race; I took a step back and stepped out of it!  And that is a humongous difference and a huge weight off my shoulders. I can honestly say that since I have become more in tune with the peace of God in my heart, deeply felt within me, I have given up participating in their race.  I run my own race; my personal race to eternity.

Don't compare

We keep the goals we are after in front of us, always, to spur us on in our journey.  For example, we are relocating near our oldest son.  I keep a photo montage on our refrigerator of his family and my visit with them in January.  When I get down or disgruntled with how this move is progressing, I go and look at my grandson, at my son and his family.  It keeps me focused on where we are going and why!  Our mantle had family pictures on it.  As we decorated for Christmas, I packed them away.  Once Christmas was over and that was packed up, my mantle was bare.  So I relocated our Icon corner to front and center on our mantle.  For me, it keeps my eye on the prize.  And quite honestly, the noise, the clutter, the chaos that others bring to my life through their judgements and their opinions, are fading away.  They no longer concern me, guide me, or inform me, because I realized that it is just…opinion. Using their methods of judging me, I will never measure up.  I will never be the perfect daughter, sister, mother, friend.  But I can be the perfect Child of God, because God loves me no matter what, and uses no scale to measure me against other Christians.  The only measuring I am concerned with is how God perceives me, how God wants me to be.  And I believe that if I can mirror the message of Christ effectively, all these other scales and issues will fall by the wayside, because Christ’s message is of perfect love for others.  (“This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12)  He gave His life for me, and for each of us who heed His message.  He did not come to save everyone, because many, many people choose not to heed His message.  For those who opt to live their lives for the moment, for the fullest enjoyment that this life can offer, that is what they can find – here.  I pray that when they meet Christ at their death, their repentance is sincere and they choose wisely; they choose eternity with Christ.

ON Forgiveness

“As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)I know that many of my extended family and some of our friends feel that since we have become Melkite Greek Catholic and have embraced an eastern viewpoint on theology, that we sort of “went off the deep end.”  Still others appreciate the insight, the “breath of fresh air” we share with them, breathing through our eastern, Byzantine lung.  Still others do not accept what we share or what I share here, because it is old, and it is Catholic or Byzantine, or Orthodox.  They do not accept the authenticity!  All of that makes me sad.  Christ came 2,000+ years ago and the “deposit of faith” is so immense, there is room for all these wonderful things to be shared.  There is also room in the House of God for many viewpoints.  Christ’s message of forgiveness should reach to other points of view, but quite often, in matters of faith, it does not. Today I am sharing that I have been illuminated in a profound way, that what I am being shown is making me a better person and I believe that light can be shared with others, and they, in turn, will be lit with this Divine Knowledge, and changed; changed for the better.  This is not said out of pride, out of some haughty place where I think I am correct and feel sorry for everyone who does not think like I do.  Far, far from it.  I have been told over and over again, by a protagonist in my life, “I know I am right; prove me wrong and we can discuss it. Until you do, you need to accept that I am right.”  And for them, it is for every subject you can broach with them.  Every subject.  That is a very difficult position to deal with, because with their own personal scale, I can never be right.  Empirically or emotionally!  And so I am choosing to step away from the argument, the contest, or whatever it is supposed to be and I am allowing myself the Peace, the Grace of God to comfort me.  I acknowledge my own ineptitude, my own weakness, my own lacking in certain areas, and I opt to forge ahead, as poor a specimen as I am.  I choose to allow the Grace of Christ to inform my conscious, to form my spirituality, and to be the sole judge of who I am. I let go of the rest of it.  Whew….such a relief.  I truly cannot express how incredibly freeing this viewpoint is.  I feel like I can choose for me and mine and there are no repercussions, because my sole judge is God.   I leave you with these thoughts, expressed so well, by St. John of Kronstadt:


“Our soul, as a spiritual, active being, cannot remain idle; it either does good or evil, one of the two; either wheat grows in it or tares. But as every good comes from God, and as the means of obtaining every good from God is prayer, those who pray fervently, sincerely, from the depths of their hearts, obtain from the Lord grace to do good, and, before all, the grace of faith; whilst, those who do not pray, naturally remain without these spiritual gifts, voluntarily depriving themselves of them by their own negligence and spiritual coldness; and as the wheat of good thoughts, inclinations, intentions, and works grows in the hearts of those who labor and pray fervently to the Lord, so in the hearts of those who do not pray, the tares of every evil grow, smothering the small amount of good that has remained in them from the grace of baptism, chrism, and subsequent penitence and communion.
Therefore, we must most carefully look after the field of our heart, lest the tares of evil, slothfulness, luxuriousness, self-indulgence, unbelief, avarice, envy, hatred, and others, should grow within it; we must daily weed the field of our heart–at least, at morning and evening prayers, and refresh it by salutary sighs, as by healthful winds, and water it with abundant tears, as by early and late rain. Besides this, we must by every means implant in the field of our heart the seeds of the virtues, faith, hope in God, and love for God and our neighbor, fertilize it by prayer, patience, good works, and not for a single hour remain in complete idleness and inactivity, for in times of idleness and inactivity the enemy zealously sows his tares. “While men slept, the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way.” We must also remember that it is impossible to do good works without efforts. Since our voluntary falling into sin the kingdom of God cannot be taken otherwise than by “violence, and the violent take it by force.” Why is it that only the narrow way and narrow gate lead to life? Who makes the way of the chosen narrow? The world oppresses the chosen, the devil oppresses them, the flesh oppresses them; it is these that make our way to the kingdom of heaven narrow.”

180px-Ioann_of_KronstadtSt. John of Kronstadt, Russia