“…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.

“We’re all just walking each other home.”

It has been quite the Friday. And it’s just 1:00pm!! LOL! This week has been full of things that I have faced and conquered. Today was no different. And I know that the Lord is working on me. Wow. I sort of feel spoiled and special. And yet, I feel badly that I am one of His “problem children” that He has to help me so very often.

“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, you keep my head high.” (Psalm 3:4)

“Know that the Lord works wonders for the faithful; the Lord hears when I cry out.” (Psalm 4:4)

“The Lord has heard my weeping, the Lord heard my prayer; the Lord takes up my plea.” (Psalm 6:10-11)

“A shield before me is God, who saves the honest heart.” (Psalm 7:11)

“O Lord, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth.” (Psalm 8:10)

How can you not feel the protection, care, and love from God when reading the Psalms? There are so many words contained in the Holy Scriptures that give my heart peace and make me feel safe. And I find myself reading these words again and again, seeing them differently each time I read them. These words hold a special meaning each time, too. I see something differently, through the eyes of faith. What a blessing.

What has been amazing to me is that, as I highlight and make notes in my Bible. I use different colors each time I go through the Holy Scriptures and I even notate the dates I read different portions, so I can see where my head was at. And now that I am going through this Lenten Study, I can see how much I have grown and how I can dig deeper into God’s Word for me. It is truly a blessing. And please do not be troubled by me writing and highlighting in my Bible. I know for many that seems sacrilegious, but it is not. I have Bibles that are precious and have no mark upon them. And then I have “study” Bibles that I write in, in order to edify my experiences. I hope that helps, in case you panicked. Ha-Ha!

In my Gratitude Journal today, the prompt was to address, and pray about, a habit you need to break. And I think that if I was not keeping up with this study and trying to immerse myself in God’s Word every day, I would not have been able to write as easily as I did, nor would I have so easily recognized the habit that needed addressing. Because God speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures, we can easily be shown where we stand in light of those very Words. And boy oh boy…bad habits are something we know we have; facing them can be a completely different thing. Most especially if we want to truly be rid of them! And today, I found solace in being able to quickly identify and seek prayerful help for my bad habit that I would like to correct. Laziness. I said it. I am basically a lazy, slothful person. Now, when I say that, I am referring to housekeeping. Ugh. I really dislike keeping a house. I  much prefer research and reading and writing. But that can be selfish, too. I need to get out of my own way and be proactive at being a better housewife. And amazingly enough, it was quick and easy for me to identify! I knew it the moment I read the prompt.

The Scriptures can guide us in everything we seek from them. Even my laziness when it comes to housework. How could I not want to cure myself of this horrible habit? And so, to prayer I turned. And today, my prayer was, “Grant me the presence of mind thwart my worst self in favor of my better self. Help me to throw off this sense of ennui that has enveloped me. Have mercy on me and help me to work towards my own Theosis. Help me, Lord, help me. Amen.”

It amazes me how things are becoming clearer and clearer. After my study, I was directed to read the story of St. Mary of Egypt. I highly recommend it. Her feast day is this Sunday, in the Eastern Churches. I learned so much about facing our faults and being humble, by reading her story. She is a beacon in this crazy world, of a woman who acknowledged her sin before God (and the Blessed Mother). She chose to deprive herself of all the comforts of life and live her days, alone, in the desert, subsisting on herbs for more than 47 years to atone for her sinful lifestyle. Alone. And naked, after her clothing literally dissolved off her body through years of living outdoors in the desert. I feel so humbled by her life. We have all become so soft. and she is quite an example for us to learn from. If you have not read her story, there are several short versions you can locate online. It will be worth your time, effort, and prayerful reading.

“Praise be to God in His angels and His saints”!

I continue to hold you all in my heart, constantly praying for all of us; and I humbly ask for your prayers, as well. Great Lent is growing to a close and my prayer is that we have all journeyed towards “home” in our faith; that we have made steps in our own, personal, Theosis.

I saw a great quote today, “We’re all just walking each other home.” (Ram Dass). I am enjoying this journey so very much and the fact that so many of us are making this same journey, together. Blessed Lent.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…cleanse me from my unknown faults…”

Today I am feeling lighter. Even though it’s Great Lent and we are more reflective, I am thrilled at our progress with the “40 Bags in 40 Days” project. The idea is to take any sized bag and start purging things to give to the needy. Today I did our two bathrooms. I mean, how many types of hair conditioner or deodorant do we really need? How many hair brushes or hand towels? I got a bag of stuff to throw away, and a bag of things to give away, from those two rooms. [I will not give my cast-off products that are expired or just not very good to the needy or homeless. To me, that seems insulting on top of already needing help. When I do gift bags to the needy/homeless, I purchase new products in travel-sizes]. Yesterday, my husband and I spent about an hour and we purged our bedroom. We did our dresser and night stands, and our closet. I haven’t gotten under the bed, yet, but that is coming up. (Our home is very tiny and we use every place imaginable to store things, including under our beds)!  We got 5 bags of clothing to give away. We laughed that we have only lived in Alaska for 4 years and we got rid of things from living in CA and WA that we thought we would wear up here. Ha-Ha. We had no idea.

Our world is so crammed full of noise, chaos, and so much stuff. We are overfed, over-dressed, and over-stimulated. Paring down can do your psyche so much good. It is as if a burden is lifted. Turning off the TV and spending the day without that noise is pretty incredible. One of the things we are trying is to spend 1 evening per week with no electricity. What a lack of artificial light and stimulation does to the mind! You can think. You can relax and settle into the calmness of an evening with family or friends. You can play board games or craft (my goal is to someday master knitting/crocheting). And as you slow down, you can relax and get a better night’s rest.

And after reflecting on today’s readings, and keeping up with our Lenten practices, it makes me humble and a little quieter. “…cleanse me from my unknown faults..” (Psalm 19:15) truly struck me because I think I know myself, but perhaps there are cracks and crevices in my soul that I have hidden from myself. But nothing is hidden from God. Cleaning out our things, slowing down and stopping the use of electricity for just one evening a week, journaling on all of these things, has caused me to stop and reflect on who I am, who I purport to be, and what sort of witness I am for God. “Who may go up to the mountains of the Lord? Who can stand in His Holy Place? The clean of hand and pure of heart, who are not devoted to idols, who have not sworn falsely…” (Psalm 24:3-4).

I thank God the Church provides us with this time each and every year to re-orient our lives towards to God. It also gives me the chance to really dig into WHO I am. And with pretty much everyone I know, there is always room for improvement. I read some quotes today that really hit me. St. Paisios the Athonite said, “With fasting, man reveals his choices” and St. Basil the Great said, “By fasting it is possible both to be delivered from future evils and to enjoy the good things to come. We fell into disease through sin; let us receive healing through repentance, which is not fruitful without fasting.” And with the processes we put in place this Lent, we are learning where our choices truly lie, and how we have the time this Great Lent to rectify the diseases we received through sin. One great remark was made that actually made me stop and think. “Fasting has been in practice for the people of God since the Old Testament. It was the first law, the only law given to Adam and Eve.” Ponder that for a moment. It was the only law given to them; they rejected it and were expelled from the garden. Just that one thing. St. Tikhom of Zadonsk says, “Let thy mind fast from vain thoughts; let thy memory fast from remembering evil; let thy will fast from evil desire; let thine ears fast from vile songs and slanderous whispers; let thy tongue fast from slander, condemnation, blasphemy, falsehood, deception, foul language, and every idle and rotten word; let thy hands fast from killing and stealing another’s goods; let thy legs fast from going to evil deeds. Turn away from evil and do good.”

May the Lord bless your Great Lent and help you to choose to become the person you truly want to be. Don’t be afraid to hit your knees and allow the Lord to quietly come to you, as you reflect on His words for your life. I am looking forward each morning to the time I spend in quiet reflection on the words of God and His saints. I am being filled with the things that the Lord truly wants us to fill up on, while lessening the hold this insane world has on me. Fasting from so many things, including foods, is lightening my soul and gladdening my heart. Blessed Lent, my friends; Blessed Lent.

“…grant me to see my own sins…”

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

pharisees

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

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

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

truefasting

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

comingtoastreetnearyou

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

thingstofastfrom

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

5thingsforlent

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

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

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

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

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

“…if you live in the fear of man…”

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So so much in my head…swimming around. We have so much on our plates, but that is cool. It keeps us moving and motivated! Ha-Ha! We attended a class on house buying. Those of you who know us also know we’ve owned homes before. What’s cool is that if you have not owned in the past three years, you are considered a “first time home buyer.” Which is so very cool. And in Alaska, they have so many loan products for you, waiting to assist you in buying a home here. Our second night is tonight, so my brain will probably explode. Again. So much information!!

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And in addition, we have decisions coming up that are important, life-changing ones. We are preparing to care for my mom, who has Alzheimer’s. So we are looking into a larger residence, in preparation to have her live with us. We need to decide where the best place will be for us to live. We have so many factors to take into consideration. And when you have a huge decision to make, what do you do? Well, you start by taking a deep breath and praying about it. And I mean seriously praying, in light of Gospel principles…

“Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope…”

Lord, We come before You and place our deepest and heartfelt desires at Your feet. We have a decision to make and we want it to be in Your best interest, according to Your will and plans for our life. We pray for guidance for the best choices in life, through all the blessings You bestow, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

When I prepare to make a huge decision that will affect not only me, but my entire family, I completely place it in God’s hands. I am just not qualified to make these decisions, based on solely my own judgement. And isn’t it really what our faith is? We trust in the Lord to guide our steps. Every step we take is either a step towards God, or a step away from Him. And I want to walk in the path He has selected for me, for my best welfare. Quite often, in the face of a heavy decision, we are faced with a multitude of choices, among a multitude of opinions and advice. It is often hard to single out the Word of God for us.

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When you are placing yourself in God’s hands, these large decisions, even if there is a multitudinous cacophony around you, can be realized in the quiet peace of being in the presence of God. I liken it to being in a crowd and feeling alone. Most of us know what that is like. Even though we are in a crowded room, we often feel alone, even lonely. And sometimes, we are able to block out all the other sounds, but our own hearts; our own breaths. That is what it is like, coming into the presence of our Creator. But truly, we are always in the presence of God. And when we listen for the stillness amongst the chaos, we can find His peace, and His answer to our prayers. I have quite often heard that if it is from God, it will happen; it will flow; it will be easy, simple. Most decisions that are fraught with chaos are those we make, taking full responsibility for them, without input from God.

I was asked recently how I handle these decisions and the stress. I can tell you this past Christmas was one of our worst. We were lonely. We did not celebrate; not really. It was pretty in that it was a white Christmas and our parish had some wonderful ice sculptures and Nativity pieces, and our older children and grandchildren tended Mass with us (the kids were the highlight of the evening!!). But we were missing something. I realized that we were missing the Godly element in Christmas. And it makes it sort of hollow and empty. It’s not for us to receive gifts, it is for us to receive the Christ Child in our hearts and in our lives. And this missing element caused a lot of unknown-origin-stress, so much so that I had severe heart palpatations that lasted for 5 days. It was un-nerving in the sense that it wore me out and it was painful – my chest began to ache. I had been diagnosed with this a few years ago, and it is not life-threatening, but it is bothersome. But it was my stress, coming out in my body. Not good, my friends, not good. But why? Because I was doing things without God, without sincere, deep prayer. I also did not fast this year. Bad, bad, bad. Fasting precedes feasting – the one is hollow without the other. And so to answer my friend, I told her that I needed to pray and when I found peace, I knew God was in the answer, and not man; not me. Joyce Meyer, an evangelist and author, wrote an entire article entitled, “Following Peace to Make the Right Decisions (here is the link: http://www.joycemeyer,org) and in her article she says:

“Colossians 3:15 clearly tells us how. It says, And let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts [deciding and settling with finality all questions that arise in your minds]…. “If you follow God’s leadership, you will have peace, joy and righteousness.” If you follow God’s leadership, you will have peace, joy, righteousness, and you’ll bear good fruit. What you won’t be is confused and frustrated. God never leads us to busy ourselves so much that we’re stressed out all the time and have no joy. And He won’t try to confuse your mind—that’s the enemy’s job. To find where your peace lies, simply ask yourself: Is there a scripture that applies to my situation? What does the Word say I should do? For example, if there’s something you want to buy but you don’t have enough in your bank account to buy it, it’s probably best to wait because God doesn’t want us to be in debt (see Romans 13:8). Many times, God’s Word sounds a lot like common sense. I encourage you to let the peace in your heart decide with finality every question that arises in your mind.”

And I believe that; I truly do. She also talks about seeking guidance from friends: “The Bible does say there’s safety in a multitude of counselors (see Proverbs 11:14). But you could ask 10 different people about your situation and end up with 10 different answers. One thing you should ask yourself is, Am I seeking wise counsel? A lot of times, we end up asking people who don’t even know what they’re doing. Or they may have a selfish motive. Keep this in mind: True counseling leads you to God; it doesn’t try to run your life.”

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And so we will take in all this information we are being given about home buying. We will listen to those with wisdom and a Godly outlook. We will listen and pay attention to those who have done this and come out ahead. We will listen to the experts in the field, but also place a mantle of Godly wisdom and prayer over the whole thing. We cannot expect to be guardians of more if we are not wise guardians of what we have now. We cannot expect God’s blessing on our decisions if we do not seek His wisdom in choosing. We cannot expect an easy life, either. My grandma used to say that my husband and I were going straight to heaven because of all the things that seem to happen to us. And in a way, I loved that she said that. Each time you try to approach life in the arms of God, the evil one tries to interfere and take you down. Evil is lurking just outside our line of sight, waiting to help take us down. And so we need to be wise in the ways of God, and simple. The more complex and chaotic, the easier it is for evil to enter into the mix. God comes in the quiet and stillness of our hearts and true Peace is ours, and our decisions are blessed, when He enters into the picture. The name of the game is to persevere in faith towards God, not towards man and the many obstacles placed in our way by the wiles of this world.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

As Joyce Meyer says in her article:  “If you feel something strongly in your heart, you’ve prayed about it and it goes along with Scripture, then follow your heart. If you feel led to make a decision that others don’t like, you shouldn’t have to give an unreasonable amount of explanation for what you feel led to do. Maybe you don’t know why—you just sense that’s just what you’re supposed to do. God has a plan, and you are part of that plan, but you won’t live it if you live with the fear of man. What do you think God is saying to you? What are you sensing from God? Ultimately, you need to take responsibility for making the decision that brings peace to your heart. If you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. But being true to what God has put on your heart is the key to your happiness.”

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“…Do not let your hearts be troubled…”

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Oh do we have snow! Not as much as they have been warning us about (although it’s not over, yet) but everything is white. You see the world in whites and grays in this winter wonderland. The light from the sun weaves its ambient presence among us and the world is much more quiet and serene. Even the local dump is pretty, covered in beautiful layers of snowy goodness! As we wander into the last days of this incredibly wild year, I have pondered what my next days will be filled with. I am not good with “resolutions” and even the word sounds so final. I rarely keep them. I intend to, which is the main thing, but my follow-through for an entire year is usually weak. And since I know that about myself, and am “of an age” where I can readily express that with no embarrassment, I do! Ha-Ha!

2017

I do wish everyone a blessed and happy New Year. I pray that 2017 is a year of profound peace and prosperity, in whatever ways mean that to you. For me, I am seeking a return to what I somehow laid aside. I am anxious for inner peace – moreover, an inner contentment. It has somehow escaped me and I spend many nights tossing and turning, many days exhausted from a lack of good sleep, and an overall feeling of impending doom. That is no way to go through life. I am working on my health and my supplements! I know I need more vitamin D! I am working on that. We had a very successful experience trying the Whole30 elimination diet and we did so for 49 days, until Thanksgiving. Since then, we have both seen our overall health tank. The old aches and pains are back, some new ones cropped up, and we have an overall feeling of just plain, well, “yuck.” So in 3 days we will back at this Whole30 experience. You can google it, if you are unaware of what it is, and you can also look back at some earlier posts, when I explained in more detail what we are up to.

This year, we met a lot of new people and I can honestly say, our lives are the better for it. Our perspectives have broadened, and we have found areas that we want to grow in. It is wonderful, too, to find a group of like-minded individuals. While many of them have younger families, we have found a group where we are among our peers. And we both love being with people our age and life experiences. It is fun. And so in the coming year, we hope to strengthen these relationships, make many of these people close friends, and grow and learn many new skills. Living where we do, we are deeply intrenched in the seasons of the earth. Right now, in deep winter, we are all hunkered down and only occasionally getting together. I cannot wait for spring and summer – more opportunities to mingle, lots of new things to experience, and more people to get to know. And, we get to try our hand at a better garden this year!

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One of the things I have learned this past year is that social media, while it can be a good thing, can suck you dry. It can pull you in, because perhaps you are lonely. It can take over your day. You can be so caught up in checking Facebook and emails, tweets and pins, that you forget to be present to those around you. You forget to live this life in the here and now. I do believe our computers aid us (I am typing this on my gorgeous, and purple, MacBook) but I also think that the ease with which they purport to make our lives, also complicates them. I can’t recall the last time I went days without checking things on either my computer or my phone. I deleted a bunch of apps off my phone the last few days. I decided it was just too much. Facebook Messenger was insane. Ugh. My phone beeps and tweets and sings to me all day long. Even when I turn off my notifications, something beeps at me. And I came to the realization that I sit far too long, looking at the activities of other people, and not having enough of my own. How silly is that?

So I am trying to keep a sort of “resolution,” in that I have deleted apps from both my phone and computer, and I am simplifying. I mean, for instance, I am down to 1 Angry Bird app. Period. And I am down to 1 solitaire game across all media platforms.  That is progress my friends! I am seriously thinking of deleting my aquarium app, as I have 6 tanks and if I don’t feed those darn fish…well, you know. (Gross). But seriously. I am 60 years old. And I play Angry Birds. What is up with that?? I feed make-believe fish in make-believe aquariums. I think I knew I was going off the rails when I started breeding sharks in amongst the angel fish. I mean, how sick is that?? And what am I NOT doing whilst feeding imaginary fish and  defeating imaginary pigs? I am not praying. I am not reading. I am not becoming a better me. Does Angry Birds help me get closer to God? Uhm, no. I think He is probably shaking His head at my silliness.

We are all called to be His children. We are all called to share the Word of God with those around us. We are all called to help our fellow man. Angry Birds does not do any of that. I spent an afternoon canning with some new friends this fall. In a very out-of-the-way place (where there was not even navigation in my car or phone reception, and yes, I got momentarily lost as I journeyed home) with some wonderful new people in my life. The conversation was great. We shared stories and we laughed. The skills acquired were really a re-introduction to canning, as I had not done it in years. But the skills shared, the wisdom in that cabin, has stayed with me. And I hunger for more of the same. These were some real people and I felt so welcome and so “at home.” We shared, with one another, the gist of who we are in the simple tasks of washing black currants, and boiling water, of making coffee, and slicing and blanching carrots. What a simple joy that afternoon was. And it profoundly struck me. That is what I want more of.

Do you know I have only been shopping in our one, large mall here 1 time? Guess what? I have no desire to go there. At all. I’ve never been a shopper, and I am really growing to hate crowds of people. But you know what I am anxious for? What I want to do? What I am excited for? Getting together to cook and  make some scrumptious recipes with some of my new friends. We’ve been teasing each other with recipes! I am looking forward to some shooting lessons. I desperately want to feel more confident in my basic skills in regards to being prepared for our next “snowmaggedon” or our new volcanic eruption, or the next big earthquake. Learning to freeze foods; learning to dehydrate foods. Canning, in all its glory. Planting a well-thought-out garden. These things excite me.

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As we age, our dreams change. I no longer foresee a house in a development, or master-planned community. I envision a place with space around it. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s home; it doesn’t have to please anyone else. But I would like it to to be simple, serene, and away from the “maddening crowd.” I dream of a log cabin, although I am aware of how much adjusting and upkeep they require. I don’t need my own lake or river, but it would be nice to have one close by so my dear husband can grab his fishing gear and walk down to the water, and relax while challenging the salmon. I would love to have space so he can hunt if he wants to, without having to drive miles upon miles to do it. And I want a space where others feel welcome and want to come and hang out. Even if it is simply for some card games and coffee. I would like my forever home. Because I am so very tired of moving. I want my roots in this land to go deep. I want a home where my grandkids will someday say, “Remember grandma and grandpa’s house in the woods where we got to fish and run around?” I want to make those memories with my grandchildren, and with my children, and my husband. I want inner serenity. I want peace and contentment. I certainly don’t want millions of dollars and all that it requires to take care of it. I want to be safe and comfortable, in a space where I can host others, and share some peace and laughter with them.

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

And so for 2017, I wish for you the same. The peace the world cannot offer; the peace of Christ. I wish for all of us, to have fear leave us and for contentment to find us. I pray the world will calm down and we can each find this peace in our own little corner of it. For some, it will be an apartment in the middle of a vast city, driving to and from on complicated highways and byways. For others, it will be on farms and rural homes. Still others in suburban hideaways, where they can escape the madness of their commutes. But at least once a week, I pray we can all find our way to kneel before the One Who created us, to give thanks, to be humbled, and to enjoin with Him Who gave us life and breath, and hearts to love. “Our thoughts determine our lives” (Elder Thaddeus) is something I try to live by. If we all have thoughts of peace and we share them, peace will emanate from us and fill those around us. One way to find peace is to seek the quiet and serenity wherever, and whenever, we can. For me, I think I will slowly unplug from the rat race. I may still play a round or two of Angry Birds, but I am trying to rein that in, too. I know that waking early, spending some time reading the Word of God and having a chat with Him, starts my day off right. I also love to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee, and a little time with my husband before he is off to his day. These good habits that ground us are often hard to come by, and hard won. But they give us peace and prepare us as we enter into the work the Lord has given us for this day. And for me, I will take these “resolutions” and tackle each day, one at a time, as I resolve to find peace, contentment, and work on all these new things and new people in our lives. “…Do not let your hearts be troubled…”

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God’s blessings on you and yours as we wade into this new year – 2017.