“…the kindness I sought…”

Today is one of those days when this saying came springing itself into my mind. Some days, all we can do is pray. Have you ever had the feeling that you are standing next to a damn that is about to give way? Or near a complex set of dominoes someone made into a design, and they are about to all tumble? Or rocks, just starting their landslide, which you know you need to get out of the way from?  I am feeling that pressure more and more as each day passes by. When will it start? When will that little pebble holding the damn have enough pressure to give way, and the wall of water will come raging down the ravine in my life?

This past winter, the state of California saw more water than it has in years. The deserts are gloriously green. The pastures are blooming. But the damns are not doing so well. Apparently, every 100 years or so, California gets an abundance of water. And this was that year, according to some pundits commenting on it. I recall growing up in California and we always had enough water. I have memories of Saturday mornings with the smell of fresh cut lawns, the sounds of mowers in the distance, and the sounds of the sprinklers all popping up and spreading moisture over those hungry, grassy, front yards, coming though open windows – with no screens. Ah, the joy of those mornings. (Until the 70s when we learned about rationing gas, and water. Not sure why they coincided, but they did). And now the damns that have needed upgrading and repair are desperately trying to hold back this “100 years” of water.

I can hardly wait until Spring is well and truly here. I long for these mountain vistas and having our windows open; the smells and sounds of springtime in a mountainous region pouring into our stuffing, winterized houses! And trust me, living where I do, Spring and the joy it brings is a real thing! And it is Holy Week, meaning Easter/Pascha is sneaking right up on us. And in the back of my mind, I struggle with this impending doom; a sense that all the dominoes are about ready to fall.

And so on a day like today, I am trying to surround myself in prayer. Because “I called to the Lord with my mouth; praise was upon my tongue….But God did hear and listened to my voice in prayer. Blessed be God, who did not refuse me the kindness I sought in prayer.” Psalm 66:17-20 And I also read today, “Blessed be the Lord day by day; God, our salvation, who carries us.” Psalm 68:20  I know the Lord holds my heart in His hands. That God has what is best for me always in His heart. I trust God completely. And so to ease this sense of things beginning to happen (that will pick up the pace a tad bit) I cling to these Psalms, and to the Scriptures. Today, I read about the Washing of the Disciples’ Feet in the book of John, Chapter 13, verses 1-17. In this reading, I grasped onto some sentences that I had not noticed before: “Not all of you are clean” and “Amen, Amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master…” and the one that really stood out for me was, “I have given you a model to follow.”

This model is not just one of service to others, which it is mostly used to illustrate. For me, I saw it as a total way of going through life. We truly need to serve others; no slave is greater than his master. But we also need, at least to me, to see this model for more than just Thursday’s service during Holy Week. I need to work on following the model Christ has left for me – in all things. And so when I am stressed and worried over dominoes crashing in my life, or that damn breaking and my life being flooded in so many ways, I must always, always, look to Christ as my model.

Christ accepted, willing, the Cup from His Father. He knew what was coming; the pain, the heartbreak of being betrayed. He willingly accepted His Father’s Will for His life. That is the model He gave us to follow. And so, with the things in my life seeming so insignificant in light of Christ’s sacrifice for me, the very least I can do is to model my life on his example and to accept the Cup offered to me. And God will get me through it. All of it. Because He promised me that He would never leave me, ever.

“blessed is she who believed…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Action is worth nothing without prayer…”

Oh man oh man oh man….today I was assaulted with so many things that are near and dear to my heart. My mom, most of all. Alzheimer’s is just such a weird disease. It robs the person of their sense of self, in the moment. They have this vast memory for their distant past, but do not recall if they have eaten or showered recently. It robs you of meaningful conversations. I did not realize how dependent upon my mom I still am. I mean, I have been married for 32 years. I have not lived with my mom in about 40 years. We have lived in different states for much of my marriage. But the weird thing is that I have always known she was “there.” And that she was there for me. If I needed her, she would part the Red Sea herself to be at my side. My mom is tiny but she is a force of nature. A long time ago, many, many years ago, when we were living in the Los Angeles area, I liked a boy. His name was Armando. I was besotted. Totally. My first love. He used to walk me home and we’d sit on the front steps and just talk. I was 12 or 13. We never even held hands! Back then if you liked someone, you would dedicate songs to them on the local radio. When Armando dedicated a song to me, I thought I was in heaven! Well, this other girl in our school liked him, too. About this same time, I was playing flag football in our neighborhood with my brother and some buddies, and both of my knees “gave out on me.” Now remember, this was back when there were dress codes. Girls were not allowed to wear pants. Only dresses. And they had to be a specific length. No mini skits allowed. Anyway, I was taken to the hospital after our football game and was immediately casted on both legs, from my ankles to my hips. Both legs. Both of them. In dresses. At a desk or bench. Can you imagine? I was given a waiver to wear my gym shorts underneath. How nice of them. I also was on crutches. (Did I ever mention that I also had glasses and braces? Gee, not too much of a standout, was I??? And at the age when you want to melt into the scenery, too). As I made my way to the back gate, to meet my mom for a ride home after school one afternoon, this other girl decided she and her friends would beat me up. (Because I guess she would get rid of the competition and what guy doesn’t like you beating other girls up for him???). My mom arrived and saw a pile of girls beating someone. Not knowing I was at the bottom of that pile, my little 4’11” mom jumped in and started yanking girls off by their hair, yelling at them. At this time, a teacher came up to assist her. Imagine her surprise at finding me at the bottom, all bloody and bruised and in need of another hospital visit? The point is my mom had no idea it was me. She just knew someone needed help and she dove in. Armando and I didn’t have a chance after that. He was embarrassed and my parents had enough of LA and we put our house up for sale and moved to Orange County. (That same girl sent her little brother and his buddies after my brother a day or so later. It was just too much for my parents to deal with, so we moved away). But I will never forget my mom diving on top of all those girls (there were apparently 11 of them) and yanking them off a kid, not even knowing it was me, with her bare hands and her loud voice! She is a mama bear. And I love her for that. And I miss it. And now we are planning and arranging to have her come to live with us. It makes me sad. She will be here, but our conversations will be shallow. But I am banking on lots of hugs and her many comments, especially, “I love you, honey” from her. At least I will have HER. And I can’t think of a better way to show her how much I appreciate her having my back all these years, than by having hers, now, as she struggles with Alzheimer’s.

alzheimers-fight

And then today there was a post, chiding pro lifers who protest and pray outside abortion clinics. Basically, a man was saying that pro lifers need to come inside the clinics (like PP lets us inside them) and offer to support that mom, to pay her needs, and to adopt that child. Well, I responded, “Been there. Done that. A lot of us do. On a regular basis.” It made me angry. And the mother bear that I get from my mom came out in me. I desperately want to take in these babies. I would love to have them lined up in cribs in my home. But it is not feasible. (And I am now too old, per system requirements!!) We have done away with orphanages in this country. Instead, we have social services. Being a foster parent opened my eyes to all of that horrific-ness. I know social workers are over stressed with so many clients that they cannot do right by them all. I know the system is woefully inadequate. But I do not believe throwing money at it will help. We need to re-think how we do this. What’s wrong with lovingly operated orphanages where women could come to get prenatal care and even give birth, and then leave their babies so they could be adopted? I’d volunteer to help there. There has to be a way to reach more women who choose life for their children, but cannot parent them. I know so many families who would lovingly take a child to raise as their own. *sigh* Rant over.

nofoottoosmall

And today my hubby was subjected to so much turbulence on his flight to Juneau, he said it was the worst he’s ever experienced. I asked if he got sick and his reply was, “No. I was too scared. But I prayed a lot.” Isn’t that awesome? Me? I would have puked all over everyone. I barely fly in normal, clear weather. Yesterday, my oldest son showed me photos of where he’d been working, way up in the Arctic Circle. And then he showed me the  plane he flew home in. Absolutely not. Oh my word. So small. I need big, ginormous planes to feel safe. And my daughter-in-law’s parents are stuck and cannot get back up here, due to a storm hitting Seattle. My poor Seattle, to get 6″-12″ of snow in a day or two has closed them down. Their hilly streets are no match for that much snow. I do miss living there, but don’t miss the crazy driving on those hilly streets. One night I was at a stoplight in the pouring rain, so afraid of sliding down the hill as I tried to push my gas pedal, that in my head I kept hearing Cape Canaveral count downs…”Minus 60 seconds to launch…!!” I was that leaned back in my seat! I was shaking. Don’t miss that driving at all. And today we have sunshine but 10 degrees. Hoar frost all over everything, which makes the world sparkle. I love cold temps after the snow.

frostyroad

And a friend was complaining that today was being “such a Monday.” I totally get that. Like I said, I was assaulted by so many things that were hitting my heart today. And some days are like that. Things fly at you from so many directions. My granddaughters, who live in SoCal, apparently discovered permanent markers that were hidden away. While mom and dad slept they painted the house, and themselves. The photos I received this morning were hilarious. I know I should not laugh, but that particular son of mine caused me to have poison control on speed dial. Life was so eventful with that particular child. And so it made me laugh that his daughters are following in his footsteps, complete with that little glimmer in their eyes. And it was another little crisis coming at me, as I scrambled for recipes using my essential oils, to help them clean that up (it’s lemon oil to the rescue, in case that ever comes up!). One of my friends is dealing with ill health of one of their pets. Another just had twin granddaughters. His daughter was a surrogate for his other daughter, who has had breast cancer and is unable to have children. I little miracle that made me smile today. After saying that, I won’t even go into the Super Bowl and that miasma of issues! But just to say that Mondays can sometimes undo us. And it can be joyous and laughter-filled, or total chaos. Sometimes those are just Mondays. When our children were small and we lived fairly quietly and isolated on a farm off a dirt road, I realized that Mondays were awful because it was fallout from busy weekends when we went into town and mingled with people. Soccer matches, or Church events, grocery shopping or visiting with friends. It was outside our normal pattern, and the day afterwards the kids were “out of sorts” and it made my Mondays stink. Truly. And as we get older, we get into habits. My mom remembers to eat because she does the same thing every morning – she walks to the cafe for coffee and chatter. Otherwise, if she just sat in her apartment, she would just sit. And forget to eat. And when her routine is disrupted, it can take a day or two for her to feel herself again. We are all like that. And right now, in our world, our lives are disrupted. It is not only Monday, it is pretty much becoming daily. Chaos and noise, busy-ness and business. We were not meant for this much humanity, rubbing up against one another constantly.

commuters

Sometimes we need to unplug and just be quiet. No TV, no phones, no radios, no videos or video games. I can joyfully spend hours at home in silence, getting on with my day. My head can create enough turbulence in me just being me, and coming to terms with life. And with tensions so high in so many areas and for so many reasons, I like to dial it back a hair and just veg. Just be at home. Or perhaps coffee with a friend to chat. Or maybe stopping into a church for quiet prayer and reflection. “Holy Silence” is something I have learned along the way and I love embracing silence, being in communion with God. I can offer up all my toil for His use and His good ends. Offering our work for the Work of God and His Kingdom is a wonderfully humbling way to approach our days.

silence-mothertheresa
“Silence is the door-keeper of the interior life.” (281) The Way by St. Josemaria Escriva

I love to think that doing little things, in silence, that benefit my family or my job, can be given to God and help to build my interior life with Him. On Mondays, when it all seems to go sideways, from the horrid commute (“Nothing’s wrong on the road today, it’s just Monday” – a quote on our local roadway page) to the craziness of our kids, and the failures we accomplish along the way…we can opt to reflect and to silently ask God for help and direction and peace.

“Action is worth nothing without prayer: prayer grows in value with sacrifice.” (81) The Way, by St. Josemaria Escriva.

“You say that you don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and once you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!’ rest assured that you have begun to do so.” (90) The Way, by St. Josemaria Escriva

womaninprayer

“You shall rise before the gray headed…”

hands

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

mastectomy-prosthesis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

beat-rubbish-road-rage-42inaf-clipart

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

dont-panic

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

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

peace-i-leave-with-you

Forget-me-not…

alzheimers-brain-puzzle

My mom has “stage 3” Alzheimer’s disease. It is not static; it is progressing. And so, I had a long chat with my sister yesterday. I call her my sister, but she is officially my “step sister.” And that seems just weird to call her that. We are sisters in our hearts. And she does not have a sister from her parents, and neither do I – it works out perfectly. We met when we were both in our 20s. Our parents fell in love and began living together, and after much pressure from us kids, were eventually married. My mom’s husband, aka my other dad, passed away just three years ago, from a very short and ugly bout of cancer. And it seems like he’s been gone forever. He will always leave a hole in our lives. To my children, he was their grandpa, not their grandma’s husband. He always made sure to let each of us know how much he loved us. And we all returned that love. He was an incredible man. And he loved my mother so very much. She knows he is gone. She kisses his framed photo each morning upon rising, and each evening at bedtime. My sister reminds her so very much of him. And she loves my sister as her own; even loving all of her husband’s grown children as her own. And her grandchildren through him, too. My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a couple of years before my stepdad became ill. But at his death, it became obvious we could not let her live by herself. So, we moved her to a retirement home just after my stepdad passed away. My brother could not take her, and I live thousands of miles away. She is so attached emotionally to my sister, and we gratefully found a place just 5 minutes from her house, in sunny Southern California.

purpletreeleaves

Today, we came to the conclusion that where my mom is living is no longer working. We’ve skirted this issue for months now. Not only is she beginning to require more care, and this facility is not a memory care facility, but she is also no longer happy there. She knows she is not with her family. (She calls it her “prison.” She says it’s a beautiful one, but it is still a prison). She is missing the interaction with her kids and grandkids, and even the great-grandchildren she has. And we came to the almost inevitable conclusion that we need to move her up here, to be with me (I am the oldest and sort of expected this to happen – eventually). But, to actually live with me. And now my stomach is in knots. We are almost an empty nest, and I just turned 60 years old. My mom is 87 and healthier than I am (other than this horrific disease)! I. Am. Scared.

forgetmenot

God never gives us more than we can handle. I know this. I do. He also has a great sense of humor and irony. Do you see that flower up there? The Forget-Me-Not? It is the flower of the Alzheimer’s movement, as is the color purple. I recently got my first tattoo (don’t be too shocked) and it is purple. I love purple. I reside in Alaska. Do you know what the Alaskan state flower is? Yep – the Forget-Me-Not. See? God is smiling at me and my panic.

“…but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God.” 1 Timothy 5:4

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” Exodus 20:12

Even to your old age I will be the same, And even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you.” Isaiah 46:4

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Timothy 5:8

On and on go the admonishments to care for one another. The admonishment is not just to our own flesh and blood – “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” (Galatians 6:10). We need to be taken outside of ourselves and our own needs, to care for the “least of these.” (Matthew 25:10). And I am being called in a very personal way, to care for my mom. And still, I am scared.

empty-nest

It’s rather ironic that we just celebrated our youngest son’s 18th birthday and are talking almost daily about his future and college and becoming an adult…yada yada yada…and then I talk to my sister. I jokingly offered to let my mom live with her. She said that she and her husband are actually thinking of retirement and selling their big house…maybe even living in a motorhome for awhile. They love having an empty nest. Ha-Ha. Further irony? We downsized when we relocated here. We gave away and sold everything and put what we could squeeze into a 25-foot u-haul trailer to live here. My husband and I were recently discussing our dreams of a camper/trailer we could haul all over the state, going from fishing hole to fishing hole, in our old age. Sans kids. Possibly allowing grandchildren! Ha-Ha.

I am flummoxed. There is just so much to consider, becoming the caregiver of an elderly relative. We did that for my paternal grandmother. We still had all our kids at home. She lived with us during her final stages of life, which ended up being just a few months. The house we owned was large enough to accommodate her and her hospital bed, as well as all the other equipment and space she needed. We met an amazing hospice staff and they came and went at all hours of the day and night. But it was such a blessing to share in that with my grandma. I treasured those last months and moments with her. I was glad to do it. I loved her dearly, and still I miss her. She made us laugh all the time. She was like a second mother to me. My mom and I have always had a rather contentious relationship, because I am somewhat like her, but also like my dad. I infuriate and frustrate her because of how much I am like my dad, her ex-husband. I moved out the moment I was 18 and only moved home when I was around 20-21, coincidentally right when my brother moved out to get married, and my dad left. I was there with her through her divorce and subsequent bout of breast cancer. But that was more than 40 years ago now. We held each other many days and nights, mourning the loss of our family unit, and her health. It was a devastating time for both of us. My mom is not a quitter. During those months of radiation and chemo, she announced, “This is not what will take me out.” And she meant it. She fought cancer with everything she was. She asked the American Cancer Society to leave our house one afternoon, disappearing into the back of the house. She called me back to her and said, “Please ask them to leave. If I listen to how depressing they are, this disease will kill me. And I have no intention of dying. Get rid of them!” And I did!  She is cognizant that she has Alzheimer’s. She hates it. When she is lucid and we can talk about it, she bemoans the fact that she knows she forgets things and people. She thinks others will think she is stupid, because she cannot remember them or events. We re-assure her that she is not stupid. We just repeat things so she can grasp onto them. But nowadays, that ability to grasp new things is passing her by. And her ability to remember all of the people in her family is also passing her by.

sadfaceAlzheimer’s is one of the worst diseases I know. My mom is a healthy woman. She isn’t on medication, except for the Alzheimer meds, which are no longer effective. She has only gone to doctors for illnesses, like her cancer or when she hurt her shoulder and needed surgery. She rarely even catches a cold. But this disease is ravaging her mind. And it hurts to see. If my mom knew she was like she is, she would hate it. She was always so put together. Her outfits always matched. She still wears matching jewelry, even if it is the same couple of pieces every day. She always wears make up (which I don’t even do) and her hair is always done just so. She used to iron her denim pants. (She never calls them jeans). My mom is a proper, little, British woman. And her life in New Zealand and her years as a young woman are now where she is living, mentally, most of the time. And it makes me so very sad. She remembers the 60s and 70s…she recalls outfits and events from the 1950s. But she does not remember some of the people she knows and loves. And that is hard. And I am scared of having the responsibility for her. Total responsibility. It is almost like thinking of having another baby in a couple of months, at my age.I just had a grandchild! My fifth. That I can do. But this? It intimidates me.

alzheimerssign

And every time I forget something, I wonder if I am getting this disease. Each time life gets confusing, or when I try to recall something and can only conjure a white wall in my mind, I am fearful. Will this be my fate? My dad is now 90 and has dementia. Because it is a type and function of Alzheimer’s disease, and it is on both sides of my genetic tree, will this be me in 20 years? My mom is only 27 years older than I am. Am I headed in this direction, too? How will I care for my mom if I start slipping away? Will my husband, or my sons, be burdened with all of my family? Will I become that which I fear in my mom? That is a terrifying thought.

But back to my panic and my faith. Back to my current reality. I know that the Lord will watch over us. I know that He intends for us to bond, as a family. Caring for my mom takes me way outside of my comfort zone, but perhaps it is where I need to go. One of my friends, and a leader in my company, said in a live feed yesterday, that whatever it is we are fearful of, is probably what we need to tackle next. And I am deeply fearful of taking care of my mom. My entire world will be turned upside down. We will have to move. Seriously. Like in the next few months move. And packing up this house and relocating again – I am seriously tired of moving. Horribly tired of moving. I don’t know how many moves I have left in me. It’s that bad. We’ve been here for almost 5 years, so I guess it’s time! Ha-Ha-Ha. But this move is so very different. This is a necessity for my mom. For her last years. I am not ready to say goodbye to my parents, to my mom. It frightens me because it is sort of like a final curtain; a devastating ending. I know it is inevitable. I know time marches on and we all come to an end. But having it thrust into your face, into your little cocoon, that is a different experience. I love my mom. Sometimes I need my mom. But she is no longer capable of being my mom, in the sense of me relying on her. And I know, that in her lucid moments, being dependent on me is not something she is comfortable with. Getting in a nurse to assist her is not something she will like, but having me bathe her or dress her would make her even more uncomfortable, although I have done it in the past. The first time I saw what her mastectomy honestly was, and when I had to assist her with her bandages, I broke down (literally fell onto the floor) and just cried. She was standing there, wet and naked in the bathtub/shower, trying to comfort me! My mom is an amazing woman, truly she is. Difficult? Yes. But I will treasure those moments when my mom held me while I was sick. When she held me as I wept. When she comforted ME – over the loss of her breasts and her health and her marriage. My mom has done so much for me, just being her, in all that she is. And I am so not ready for this last stage. Being with my mom, as her caregiver, is almost as frightening to me as losing her, once and for all.

alzheimers-fight

 

The Long Goodbye….memories made and lost…

Kodiak Sunrise

Sometimes life gets away from you. Time is stolen in the moments of the day. And suddenly, months have passed and you wonder where it went. We cannot ever recover the moments we allow to slide past us. Life has a starting point, and it has an ending point. It’s how we spend the time in-between those moments that count. Each morning, as in the gorgeous sunrise above, we are given a new beginning, a fresh start, a new opportunity. Deep breaths…

alzheimerswords

Recently, with my mom suffering from Alzheimer’s (which is a form of dementia and has no cure and worsens over time) my sister and I had a rough “Alzheimer’s day.” Quite often, she will call and we will have a gab fest that lasts for a couple of hours. We laugh, we share, we usually cry together. I was blessed with this woman coming into my life as an adult, when our parents chose to marry. She is my stepsister, but I love her like she’s been my sister all of my life. She has been such a blessing for my mom. And for me. When my stepdad died a couple of years ago, she stepped in as the primary caregiver for our mom. She lives 5 minutes from the retirement community my mom lives in. I live thousands of miles away (more than 5 hours by plane!) and my sole brother lives about an hour away. She and I are the main decision-makers for my mom’s living and health concerns. And this week we had a particularly rough day, which has led me to think, non-stop, about where we go from here.

Pistons

Alzheimer’s can best be explained like this: “Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.” There are many forms of dementia, and Alzheimer’s is just one of them: Huntington’s Disease, Stroke, Dementia with Lewy Bodies (Robin Williams had this type), Traumatic Brain Injury, Down Syndrome, Frontotemporal, etc. There are so many types of dementia. With Alzheimer’s there are several things happening, all at the same time. A neurologist once said it is like the pistons firing in an engine. Sometimes they all fire in the correct sequence, and the engine runs smoothly; sometimes they mis-fire and we have sluggish momentum; sometimes different pistons fire in random order, changing the order moment to moment. And the engine stalls. That is the frustrating thing with Alzheimer’s – the person can be chewing your head off and turn around and say, “And how is your day, sweetheart?” All without skipping a beat. We can have blow-outs and fights and then sit down to a beautiful meal together. My mom has always had what we all have called a “sharp tongue.” Even as a young girl, I was often on the receiving, hard end, of her barbed comments. As I grew into my teen years, it got worse, because I became adept at slinging them right back at her, to protect myself. And she slowly, with the love and help of my stepdad, developed a filter. Her comments were fewer and less sharp as she aged. And we were all hopeful she would become this lovely, sweet old lady. And then my stepdad died. I cannot tell you the difference his death has made in our family. He was a source of joy and laughter, stories that made your side ache with the laughing, and constant love. He never differentiated between his kids – the ones he made, and the ones he gained through marriage. He was a second dad, given to me as an adult, and someone I adored. For my kids, he was just grandpa. And, to his family, he was a walking saint! He loved my mom so much, he somehow made her a better person. And we did not realize the extent to which he ran interference with our mom. Now that he is gone, her filter has gone, too. Along with the development of this horrid disease, she is grieving the loss of the love of her life. And she is not able to handle her life and how things have gone, very well at all. And she is so alone. At night, she kisses the photo of my stepdad goodnight, repeating it with a good morning kiss when she wakes in the morning. She usually cries over his death at least once a day. She is so alone.

Older women

My sister and I shared, in our conversation the other day, that we both hoped our birth parents would somehow get remarried. I think it is the fantasy of all children of divorce, regardless of their age when the divorce happens. It is natural to want your family to be together; your parents to be married to each other. But we also love how my mom and her mom are friends. They bonded over the love for the same man. And they see one another, do lunch, shop; I think it’s great. But my mom is lonely. She is angry. She does not want to live in a retirement home. She wants to be with her husband. She said she really hates her life. She lives in a beautiful place and has people to hang out with. But because she has met them since this disease took over her life, she does not really know them. She often forgets who is who. It is beyond her capacity to make friends any longer. Companions, yes; friends, no. And she gets angry – a lot. (Have I mentioned that before???) So far, we have been able to keep her where she is, but not for much longer. Alzheimer’s is winning. It is taking my mom away from us, replacing her with this angry, confused, person who is not handling things, and is just not a happy person, deep down.

And my heart hurts. Because I am going to have to stand up to this formidable woman – even if she is only 4’11” on a good day. And trust me, she is formidable, even at 87 years of age. And I hate that I am going to have to take her freedom from her. I am going to have to take away her choices. Because she is no longer capable of making sound choices. She does not remember so many, many common things we all take for granted. Even how to use her phone message machine, a stove, an iron for her clothes, even how to do laundry. There are so many things she is forgetting. And every moment is a “crap shoot” in that we don’t know which pistons will be firing, and which will not fire ever again.

And that brings me back to that “moment” thing. You know, we are not guaranteed our next breath. No one is immune. Everyone dies. There are no immortals (even though in my paranormal literature there are all sorts of them). Our lifetimes are finite. We are given just this one shot at it. And each moment is a singular occurrence in our lives. Each moment, each breath, is unique and sole, and each one departs, leaving us better or worse for that experience. With Alzheimer’s, those precious, lucid, loving moments become fewer and fewer.

clocks

Every moment I have on this earth can never be repeated. My memories are mine. There are things I have – objects – that mean something to me because they are associated with a memory that is precious to me. For example, I used to collect tea sets – cups/saucers/dessert plates. I have them in boxes. Yes, that is box with an “es” at the end. I have lots of them. Each and every one is precious to me because it was part of a family member’s collection, or I found it on an antique hunt one weekend, or came upon a set unexpectedly, or it was even a gift. But I have all sons (boys!!!). None of them particularly care about dainty, little tea sets. It is sort of a girlie thing to collect. What am I going to do with them? My plan is to gift my daughters-in-law, granddaughters, and special friends with them, with an attached story of where it came from and why it is special to me. And I will get around to it…ha-ha! I will. And I was thinking of all my mom’s things. When I take her choices away from her and place her in a memory home, it is basically reducing her home down to a room. What do we bring with her? What do we do with what we don’t bring? What is important to her, to her wellbeing and contentedness, her sense of safety and “home” when we do relocate her? Will any of us appreciate her things the way she has? We will understand why she has what she does?  What are the things she is particularly attached to? In addition, I also ask myself, should I bring my mom home with me? With my husband and son? Is that fair to them? To me? To her? Is it doable? And so I cry…I am looking at my tea cups and remembering my grandma and my mom…God, how many wasted moments have there been when I could have said, “I love you” and given them hugs?

Antique tea sets

What memories am I making today that will resonate tomorrow? How am I sharing myself with those who mean the most to me? Because this could happen to me someday, and I want my family to have really known me. What did I do today that will make a difference on my tomorrow? Am I doing all I can do for myself, my family, my friends? “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns — and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his lifespan?” (Matthew 6:25-26)  I try to trust, to not worry, because it does not add to my life…not a single hour. I try to face things as soon as I realize they are weighing on me, as I have found reality is usually much easier than what we conjure up in our minds. (And stress can be eased by just dealing with things head-on, facing our fears). But I do worry about my mom, and her limited, and getting narrower by the moment, future. I know she doesn’t worry about anything, because thinking like that no longer happens. Her pistons don’t fire like that. She doesn’t concern herself about anything but the moment she is currently living in…and the next moment is a guess. Some of the beauty (in a really warped way) of Alzheimer’s is the ability to only concern yourself with the here and now. It is also something that makes dealing with this disease so difficult. They call it the “long goodbye.” I’ve quoted it before. And I have used it before in blog posts. But as this disease progresses, I see the reality of it; I am living the reality of it. My mom rarely remembers when I call her. She thinks I don’t. That is fine. I know she won’t remember our chats after 4 or 5 minutes. “How is your day, sweetheart?” is said over and over in our conversations. The more often that sentence crops up, I know the conversation is over and I usually just say goodbye. This week, she was happy and getting ready for dinner (she’s old school and changes her outfit for dinner every day) when we were chatting on the phone. I had sent her flowers for Mother’s Day and she was joyful and happy, and grateful. The next day was hell day. Alzheimer’s won another round. Her pistons were firing all over the place. Unfortunately, those sorts of Alzheimer days wipe away the good days, because they are getting to be more and more severe. And so, it’s back to decision-making. A deep sigh, lots of tears, and research on my computer for places, benefits available, options for tomorrow. Lots of prayers about these upcoming choices and decisions. I know in my heart there are not many more tomorrows. I just wish I was 17 again wearing that red dress we both loved, and we were dressing for my graduation party from high school, and that I had taken that moment to tell her how much I loved her, when she would have really heard me, and remembered.

cab066148658377a39f399dfde2d7c68

 

“Behold, I am making all things new…”

handsAnd He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:5)

I had a nice chat with my mom today. She is 83 and lives in a retirement facility in Southern California.  I always get, “It’s so pretty here. The sky is so blue and not a cloud in the sky! It’s going to be a gorgeous day today.”  I am loosing my mom a little more each day; she has Alzheimer’s and the progression is inevitable.  Sometimes we have a fruitful conversation and we don’t repeat for, perhaps, 10 minutes.  And then it’s back to, “It’s so pretty here. The sky is so blue…”  Today she kept saying, “It doesn’t matter where you go, you pay a price for where you live” at every opportunity she could wedge it in.  She gets on kicks like that and we just have to talk it all the way out, so she can move on.  She told me at least three times that she was getting dressed for lunch.  And, “Well, I could have it worse. It’s a pretty nice place. But of course, you pay a price for where you live, you know.”  Ha-Ha.  I love her so much.  At least she is happy and seems content.  Gradually, as with all Alzheimer patients, you just stop thinking about what you forget and it eventually becomes lost in a haze forever.  Even now, as my mom is at lunch with her friends, she does not recall we spoke today. It is a horrible disease.

And as God is good and would do something for my happiness, I no sooner hung up with my mom than my daughter-in-law came by for a drop-in visit with my grandchildren.  It made my day.  And as I sat holding my 4-month-old grand daughter, I reveled in the marvelous relationship building with both her and my daughter-in-law. (Actually, I am blessed with two amazing women who married my sons.  They could not have found better mates! I feel like I now have two daughters, but more importantly, two friends).  And as I held my grand daughter and watched her giggles, drools, and smiles, I fell in love all over again. I thought of the wonderful thread of lives, all the generations, in fruition in my grand daughter.  “And I make all things new.”  God re-energizes our family each time it grows and expands.  And each time I am presented with a grandchild, my heart expands again, re-energizing me and filling me with love.

I told my mom this morning that I think I was born to be a grandmother.  This particular time of my life, right now, and in the coming years, are my best.  I love some of the early years when my boys were young and we lived on a dairy farm.  Those days are precious to me, and I look on them as my “good old days.”  It was carefree in a way I haven’t had since.  All that taken into consideration, I think I have grown to be a better person over the years and am disposed to my grandchildren much better because of the times gone by.  Of course, I still have a 15-year-old at home, so I am also still raising a young man, and that helps me relate to my older sons and their wives in a way I never thought I would have.  It is a difference and it’s like we’re becoming friends, and I love it!

“For everything there is a season…” Ecclesiastes 3 has so much wisdom to share.  We all have times in our lives where certain things are appropriate.  We grow to fill the time we occupy.  For example, one of my mom’s favorite sayings is, “Children are for the young.”  I didn’t fully appreciate that until I grew into my late 50s. And now I have patience and time for children, but even more so, I have boundless patience and time for my grandchildren.  I know I am blessed!

“…a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
(Ecc 3: 2)

Tulips in snowIn our lives, the cycles move…and they don’t stop because we would like them to.  They keep on moving; that clock keeps ticking.  I like to explain it as a “generational shift.”  One day you look around your life and realize you are now your mother; she is now your grandmother, and your children are now you.  Your place and perspective have changed; you moved up a rung.  And it feels odd sometimes, because you feel like a teenager in your head, but when you look in the mirror, the gray hair and wrinkles remind you that you so are not.  (Even if you still secretly feel like you’re still “cool” and can rock it! Ha-Ha!!).

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;” (Ecc 3:11-12)

As I struggle through Great Lent this week, I keep my eye focused on the prize: my eternity. God and His Church gives me this time every year to stop and re-focus my energies and my daily life onto my eternity.  It is a time for reflection, for prayer, for penance, and for almsgiving.  For me, almsgiving has always been something more of the heart than of the wallet.  Some of the most satisfying days I have ever enjoyed were shopping at the local food bank and buying food to make for our homeless and needy population, who surrounded our parish in SoCal.  I would go to the local foodbank and fill my suburban to the brim and load up my two boys still at home, and off we would head to the parish.  I would set them up with a table and chairs to do their schoolwork (homeschooling mom here) and then I would head to the kitchen. I loved the afternoons of chopping, slicing, and dicing with the other ladies of our parish.  We had such a great time.  And that type of almsgiving, to me, is just so satisfying.  We were making a difference in our community.  I miss those days.  And during Lent, the people who came to be fed knew we fasted, and they loved how we made fasting food that tasted good!  They often stayed to listen to Evening Prayers (Vespers) we had after we had cleaned up.  The candles, the incense, drew them in and gave them a respite from the ugliness out there.

We can all struggle through Lent, or we can be joyous about it, while we struggle. Remember the admonishment in Scripture?  Matthew 6: 16-18 tells us:  “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

What screws us upWe are all called to make something of this time of fasting.  I have been shown so many wonderful things.  I have seen my blessings in the lives of the family we have gathered around us, and those we hold dear in our hearts who live far away.  I have been blessed with friends; some who I have loved for decades, and some new ones, too.  I have been taken to a land that has gotten under my skin and a place that I don’t see me ever leaving. I am not even anxious to vacation away from it, as there is still so much to see and experience.  My faith has been widened to allow for “other” and “different” to be accepted and even welcomed.  This Pascha will be my first one celebrating with Slavonic traditions and I am so excited!  The baskets, the covers, the red eggs…I am really looking forward to it and am loving all the prep for it!  One thing that is hitting me very strongly this Lent, and it is a great truth I am learning, well worth the “look-see” time of the fast, is this:

St Nikon of OptinaI am here, I am still me.  My zip code is really different than last Lent.  My entire life is upside down.  The view is drastically changed, as well as the environment I find myself in.  I left all that was familiar, and so many relationships.  I miss my friends, but I have also been taught the value of friendship and who are my true friends.  As my mom said today, “It doesn’t matter where you go, you pay a price for where you live.”  She is so right-on (‘Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom.’ Job 32:7) but I should not be surprised. Lots of people in my mom’s life chose to ignore her for her intelligence (she was usually eclipsed by someone else around her) but she always had wise things to say, if you but sat and listened to her.  Her tongue was sharp, as was her mother’s before her, but once she aged, she imparted more wisdom than vinegar!  And now I find myself listening to her today and thinking on her wise words to me.  She misses me because I am so far away, but she understands my need to go.  She left New Zealand to come to America with my dad; she knows what it is like to leave all you know for the unknown, and how to make a life where you are, still retaining who you are, while remaining open to new things.

For this Lent, one of the biggest lessons to me is that things are not what I had in my head; I am where I am and guess what? I brought baggage with me.  And now I am being shown all these blessings and learning the baggage is far less important to me, as I have opened myself to growth.  I am finding a peace that I never realized I lacked.  God is good, so good, if we just sit still and allow His presence to be the most important thing in our lives, allowing Him room to do His great work in us. I am still learning and I am more than halfway “home.”

“Behold, I am making all things new.”  (Rev 21:5)

Blessed Lent.

KeepCalm.Pascha

“I’ve come to say goodbye….”

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

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

Elder Pasios

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

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

St. Nikolai

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…the Beloved of all…”

Memory eternal…my stepdad looked up at my mom, while she was gently speaking to him, and breathed his last, yesterday afternoon.  This illness was as sweeping as it was brief.  We are all thankful he suffered very little and was peaceful until the end.  My mom and his other family members are now struggling with all the details that come in the wake of the death of a loved one.  I pray for peace, some moments of laughter, and the comfort from grief shared by family and friends.

Couple.memories

I mentioned in a previous post the prayers wherein we ask God to assist us in the various surprises that come our way; thanks be to God I have faith so that when these little occurrences are thrown my way, I can deal with them. I honestly do not know how people can go through life without a strong faith; a belief in something stronger than themselves, and a reason for existing. I am not referring here to the death of my stepdad, but rather, the other things that come along and throw a kink into your life.  I was prepared for his passing, and I prayed for a peaceful death, surrounded by those he loved.  And it was….many family members, as well as many friends, were surrounding his bed yesterday.  It was a blessing.  Following a different vein, I believe, as I have stated before, that God is laughing at me and my plans, and I am down here, feverishly signalling a “time out!!!”  It is a compliment, I suppose, that God believes I can handle just about anything, and all those things He is throwing at me in rapid succession.  I must say that it pretty much hamstrings me at times.  My grandmother (Memory Eternal) used to laughingly say to my husband and myself that she didn’t think we’d have to wait in any sort of line, nor endure any sort of “purgatory” time, because so many things were always happening to us. We had so much to deal with in our lives on a daily basis, that she said we would be on the fast track to heaven – no waiting at all – we would pass “go” and collect our reward!  I hope she is right, because some days, I feel weighed down by some of the things rushing at me.

God has made so many promises through his Old Testament Prophets, His time preaching directly on this earth, and through His Apostles and Disciples, and I take claim to each and every one of them.  I was told by a Protestant friend once that we waste so much of our faith by not claiming God’s help in our lives, and His many promises to be with us until the “end of the age.” (Mathew 28:20)  And although I may feverishly be signalling “time out,” I am also reaching out…to God in prayer.  I am quieting my heart and listening for his quiet whisper.  Yesterday I quoted some scripture where God promises us a “way out” of our troubles, a path we can choose, that will help us with everything that comes our way.  I choose the path God gives me, and I lay all my cares at the foot of His Throne.

Comfort my heart

I believe that most days, especially these reflective days of Lent, are given to us to reach out to God; to know and acknowledge our inability to do this alone.  As Elder Thaddeus told me in his book, God does not need our prayers; He wants our prayers. He is waiting for us to call on Him to help us.  Someone close to me told me that they had survived many of life’s trials with no one to help them, no Church community had come to their aid; they were inferring that they were fine and they were okay with making it on their own. They also told me that they had “heard it all before” and did not really appreciate the quotes I use in my blog from the Church Fathers.  Because they had “heard it all before.”  I have been thinking about that.  This person is a Protestant, a Protestant who has “heard it all before.”  I find that along my journey to heaven (where I am praying I will eternally reside) I am continually surprised by a new aspect of the truth, laid out for me.  These truths, of course, are eternal ones and have not changed since Our Lord presented them to His Church more than 2,000 years ago.  The Disciples, who learned at the knee of a Master, have shared these with us in writing.  Their disciples, in turn, have also shared these insights and bits of wisdom with us.  Don’t you also believe that with a slight turn of phrase, or different wording or emphasis, that something very old can become new again?  I know that I can sit through a boring lecture on anthropological linguistics (which, trust me, I did on many occasions) and not pick up a thing.  Or I can be engaged by a professor who loves language and shares with us how one word can be traced from the arctic regions of the Siberian outback, clear down to a remote Indian tribe residing at the tip of South America, further sharing each stop and mutation that word made along its 1000-year journey!  Quite often, when I have discovered someone from antiquity, who has made my faith new, I share it.  I have recently found so many Saints I did not know existed, and they have changed and rejuvenated my faith, without changing the truths they are sharing, just the way they are expressed.  I love that about a faith that can trace its lineage back to a specific Apostle, or Christ, Himself.  Yes, there have been stops along the way, but the Word was not mutated on its journey, and yet it has arrived, for me, 2,000 years later, intact through the words of a Saint.

One of my favorites I more recently discovered is St. John of Kronstadt. I only wish I could have lived in Russia in his lifetime.  It seems like every time I begin to read something that intrigues me, someone is quoting St. John.  He is used as a stepping-off point for so many wonderful posts, blogs, or articles.  And I love his wisdom and his turn of phrase. He has made my faith jump with refreshed vigor.  What is sad for me is that so many people reject his words simply because they are old, they are not in the Bible, and they are not Protestant or Roman Catholic.  The universality of our faith is lost on so many of my contemporaries and so very many people are loosing out on an important dimension to the words of Christ, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

I was told an interesting story by a priest (who later became a good friend) who happened to be bi-ritual. He was from India and he was Syro-Malabar, and Roman Catholic.  He was dispensed to say the Liturgy in either form and was assigned to a Roman Catholic parish we attended; he was an incredible confessor.  At dinner one evening in our home, he told us about the history of the Syro-Malabar Church, now in communion with the Catholic Church.  I do not remember the exact dates, and perhaps will get some of this brief synopsis incorrect, but the gist of the story went like this: St. Thomas the Apostle traveled to India and established the Church there, converting and baptizing as He went.  Those Christians were called, “Thomas Christians” in his honor.  The native Indian population had already erected places of worship to their gods and St. Thomas had the new Church simply occupy these buildings, already in place.  The content of the liturgy itself became driven by the local language and customs of the people, while following the typical format of liturgies around the world. The consecration has been kept intact exactly as St. Thomas had shared with the people of India.  Many years later (perhaps hundreds), some explorers from Portugal came to India, with their armies and their Roman Catholic priests.  They found only “pagan” temples (these original temples the Church had occupied) and the priests instructed the armies to demolish them all.  This was done, even though the Syro-Malabar priests were telling the Portuguese Roman priests that they, too, worshiped Christ and were a part of His Church, through St. Thomas the Apostle.  Well, the Portuguese did not acknowledge this and many, many years passed before their rite was formally back into allegiance with Rome.  (With much anguish and pain to this Church community along the way). This story illustrates the fact that the 12 Apostles took their instructions from Our Lord very seriously and they traveled the world, baptizing and establishing the Church, all over the world.  They also recognized and brought in the local languages and customs of the people they converted.  And this is why there are so many rites in communion with Rome.  (The apostles, however, did not establish the other sects that sprung up around the world, most of which came to be centuries after their deaths).  These are the Churches in communion with Rome still today. There are many Orthodox Churches as well, and we all long for the day when we can worship together.  As I have stated many, many times, I am drawn to the east, and most especially into the simplicity of Orthodoxy.  St. John of Kronstadt was a Russian Orthodox priest and his writings and his quotes are for me, as a Byzantine Catholic, resonating deeply with me, as I stand alongside my Orthodox friends.

My prayers today are for an increase in overt faith for me, in the clear practicing of the things I am learning from the Saints and Church Fathers who have preserved these innate truths for us over the centuries.  Elder Thaddeus, a Serbian Orthodox Monk, has so much to show me and share with me, although I am not Orthodox.  Many in our Byzantine community read all we can from the Church Fathers in Orthodoxy and we apply these lessons to our lives every day.  We believe in the true universality of Christianity and we are open to learning from those who have gone before us, either within the umbrella of the Catholic Church, or from our Orthodox brethren.

St. John of Kronstadt.7

I also pray for my friends and family who stand outside and peer into this life of faith, this struggle, this meandering path I am on to my eternal rest.  I pray that they will continue to support me, to love me, and to accept me.  Quite often I am rebuked and told that I am off on a spiritual tangent and I need to stop; I need to be more like they are.  And this grieves me.  It grieves me because I feel, for the first time in a very long time,  I can honestly say God is working in my life. My children have told me recently, that they, too can feel God working in our lives.  We all feel like we need to just stand back and watch God make it happen!  We all can feel His presence pulling us along; He is with our family as we make some hard decisions, as we face new obstacles.  He is our path, He is our salvation, and He comfortably rests in His Church.  And that is where I choose to be, where I derive my comfort, and where I will continue to always be.  And it is where our family resides.

Holy Gifts up close

“…when things unforeseen occur…”

Cross sunlight rocks

“Thou hast raised me from bed and sleep, O Lord; enlighten my mind and heart, and open my lips, that I may praise Thee, O Holy Trinity: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God. For the sake of the Mother of God, have mercy upon us.  Grant unto me, my Lord, that with peace in mind I may face all that this new day is to bring. Grant unto me grace to surrender myself completely to Thy holy will. Instruct and prepare me in all things for every hour of this day. Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, do Thou teach me to accept them calmly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfill Thy holy will. Govern Thou my thoughts and feelings in all I do and say. When things unforeseen occur, let me not forget that all cometh down from Thee. Teach me to behave sincerely and reasonable toward every member of my family and all other human beings, that I may not cause confusion and sorrow to anyone. Bestow upon me, my Lord, strength to endure the fatigue of the day and to bear my share in all its passing events. Guide Thou my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to suffer, to forgive, and to love. Amen.” (A small portion of the Orthodox set of Morning Prayers).

I remember a cute saying that goes something like, “If you want God to have a good laugh, just tell Him your plans.”  And I try to keep that foremost in my mind as I plan, not just the day, but when we are planning our future.  I have had so many conversations with parents recently who have shared that their children are still dependent on them, in so many ways, even though they are perhaps married themselves.  With the new Obamacare, children can remain on their parents’ health insurance until they are 26 years old.  Some of our friends have children who have their own lives, are married, and live in other states, but whose cell phone is still paid by the parents, because they have a “family” plan and it’s cheaper for everyone.  Still other children, married and on their own, have their car insurance or portions of their rent, covered by their parents.  I even have friends my age, whose parents still send them the occasional infusion of cash, because for lots of us, we live pretty close to the “edge.” The cost of living is climbing at a pace that many young people, just out on their own, cannot afford to live without some assistance.  This has happened with our sons in differing degrees, and I do not begrudge them a cent, and feel happy that we can help them as they establish their independence.  It just seems like it is becoming the norm, as much as living with your parents when you are first out of college or newlyweds.  “Back in the day” people did not leave the family home – they enlarged it to encompass their children’s spouses and the grandchildren.  Large families, all living together, were the norm.

Today, I am re-arranging my head and my processing of our future, because we had grandiose plans (that’s God you hear laughing) to relocate to another state, thousands of miles north of us.  We have been purging and taking down the quantity our “things” to try and fit onto a 14-foot trailer.  I have been giving things away and selling some things. Nonetheless, it has been a process of purging.  It’s been feeling good to have less, but “icky” at the same time.  We are still relocating, and still relocating to the same place, but God has given us more to deal with than we originally had on our plates.  And each day I pray that I can successfully deal with whatever God places in my life, and it has been no exception over the past few days.

I always try to picture things in my mind, ahead of time.  There seems to be a certain order to life….birth – life – death.  Sometimes we make assumptions about the order of things.  One assumption is that we will live with our own, nuclear, families and we will see our extended families from time to time (aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, etc).  Quite a few years ago, when all three of our sons still lived at home, my paternal grandmother became unable to live on her own.  I had been her custodial caregiver for years and was accustomed to running over to her place on a moment’s notice.  The time eventually came in her life when she could not longer care for herself, and she came to live with us.  God had blessed us with a home in the same town, that was large enough to house all of us, with a bedroom and bathroom for my grandma on the first floor.  It was good for my children to live with an elderly person, and to see their great-grandmother on a daily basis, in her time of need, and at her most vulnerable.  Up until then, my grandma had been a “force of nature” in all our lives.  My sons stepped up and were wonderful.  (My middle son still has nightmares about cleaning her dentures, but that is for another post! LOL!)  We all gathered around her as she passed from this life to the next, and it was a beautiful thing; something we shared as a family and have never forgotten.  And now we are going to relocate, and at the same time, incorporate an aging parent into the mix.

Bringing an aging parent to live with you is something most of us never had expected to do.  This morning, I was drawn to re-read the Scripture verses about worrying (Matthew 6:25-34): “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?  And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  These verses give me comfort; I will not worry about the million-and-one details about how we are going to pull all of this off (my parent lives in a different state; we have to sell their house, their car, their things and then get them up to us) but instead think of the blessings this will bring our family.

Once again, my children will be a light to an aging relative. We still have a teenager at home and my oldest son and his family will be living very close to us.  They will bring energy and love into the house, where an aging parent of mine can siphon-off some of that, to keep them aware and enjoying life.  My grandchildren will get to know their great-grandparent.  In this day and age, how many children know their great-grandparents?  I was blessed to know and love my paternal grandmother’s parents…they were a joy in my life that I feel so very grateful to have had.  My grandchildren will be able to learn to love someone like me, but also someone older than myself, who also is part of our family.  My plans have altered a little bit, but I am looking at the blessing of having an elder member of our family present every day, not just on holidays.  My daughter-in-law and I had plans to sight-see this summer and now it will be even more important, as we also take my parent along with us, to introduce us all to our new homeland. She and I also chatted about sharing this responsibility together, and I am blessed that she is looking forward to it!!

hands

I am putting a positive spin on this, because I am also feeling a tad bit overwhelmed.  You see, this parent of mine also suffers from Alzheimer’s, so there is quite a lot of this tandem-future of ours, that is a little cloudy right now (no pun intended).  The overwhelming experience of loosing a beloved spouse affects any person’s mental well-being, but most especially someone with Alzheimer’s.  The importance of assisting my parent, as their surroundings are going to change several times, until a familiar room is created with memories on tabletops and walls, to ensure there is some place they can call their own.  My heart is breaking with love and tenderness, because God has blessed us with this disease in the sense that there is no anger or hostility, but instead a kinder, gentler personality has emerged, with a quiet and peacful resignation (some Alzheimer patients are angry and difficult to be around).  For me, growing up with this particular parent was not an easy thing; I moved out the week after I graduated from high school and we do much better living apart.  Coming together could have been cataclysmic, but God has seen this coming (I believe) for years, and has been preparing us both for a future together.

This Lent has turned out to be quite a Lent for me.  I have been struggling with keeping peaceful thoughts and emptying my mind, as well as dealing with relocating so drastically, and the impending death of a dearly loved stepfather.  Now the implications of taking in my parent after so many years of living separately….added to the fact that this parent of mine dislikes “weather” and prefers the calm, sunny, days of Southern California!  There is a huge pile on my proverbial plate, but God is good. He does not give us more than we can handle (yes, that’s me, looking up to God and signalling a time out!!) and He also promised us that He would be with us always (Matthew 28:20 “…And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”).  So I choose to cling to those promises and seek His assistance, as we face an uncertain, but never dull, future.  Easter Sunday should be quite interesting; I wonder where I will be and what God will have in store for me.  Stay tuned.

after the rain