“Open your mouth for the mute…”

I am constantly amazed how people can say one thing, purport to be one thing, and yet are completely different. When the “real’ person comes out, it can be so shocking. We have been experiencing this over the past few years, over and over again. I just wish people would be exactly who they are. I know so many people who change their faces, even their voices, depending on their audience – they have a work self, a homebody, a person for their spouse, and another type for their friends. That must get confusing. I have always been the same, regardless of my audience. I suppose that can be good, or bad.

I’ve always been told to put on clean underwear in case you’re in an accident. So I do. (My mom should be proud I still do that! I almost hear her when I am dressing! LOL!)  I can wear clothing appropriate for situations. And as I have gotten older, I choose comfort over style most of the time. But that does not mean I change the person I am, nor the values I believe in. It just means I dress appropriately for the occasion.

There are people in our larger faith community who dress a certain way, wear their hair a certain way, and always wear a symbol of faith on their person. For them, it symbolizes their modesty and simplicity, and their beliefs. (My sons referred to it as my “Little House on the Prairie” days! LOL!) However, many of these same Christian families do not allow their children to interact with “public school children,” nor do they allow them to play sports on public league teams, or have friends outside of their strict faith circle.  Some do not allow their children to interact with anyone who does not attend their same church. But we are exhorted in the scriptures to live in this world and to deal with others. We cannot learn, being hidden away. “My child, if sinners entice you, turn your back on them!” (Proverbs 1:10)  It is biblically, and scripturally, incorrect. We are not called to be separated from our neighbors, but rather we are called to participate and be the “light” and the “salt” in this world.  The godly are called to be as bold as lions (Proverbs 28:1) There are so many instances where we are asked by Our Lord to involve ourselves in our communities and neighborhoods, for the good of everyone.

We are not instructed to alienate or shame, either. When parents are teaching their elementary-aged children to speak to adults/neighbors like the “Inquisition,” there is a problem. Pre-teen children should not be telling their neighbor adults that they are going to hell because they do not attend a particular church. That is learned at home. When adults act like they reside on a higher plane because of their religious beliefs, they are not being Christ to others, or when they act superior because of their careers and income levels, they are not being Christ to others. When they wear crosses on their chests or the back windows of their cars, but yell, shout, and belittle their neighbors, they are being a false witness to the faith. When they don’t like something their neighbors are doing, and threaten law suits, or offer monetary rewards to make it go away, they are being dishonest and are actually being a briber. And that is not a Christian act. At all.

When we act a certain way in front of our children, we are teaching them. They watch our bodily actions and they listen to our words, and they pay attention to how we treat others. And unfortunately, quite often the adage, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” ends up falling far short. Children are great imitators. They will act and speak just like their parents. If you want to know everything there is to know about a family, talk to their 10-12 year-old. You will know it all. So people ought not to fool themselves into thinking they are making a certain impression in a community. Their false-face is there for all to see. And when they parade through their parishes, the hypocrisy is unnerving.

“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)

The Lord asks us, so many times, to care for others. For those who cannot care for themselves. I have thought about this a lot lately. What does it mean that someone cannot care for themselves? Quite often we look to the easy example of the poor, the handicapped, the elderly, and the pre-born baby. But as I thought of this, caring for ourselves can often be beyond some of us. We simply don’t know how. And caring for myself means I make sure I have food and shelter; I help myself become more skilled at what I do; I work constantly to grow in wisdom and love. But what if I can’t really do that? What if I am hurting inside and cannot help myself? What if I have never been taught the love of Christ and His forgiveness, and all I am exposed to and see is my neighbor? What if I am one of those who cannot care for myself, one of the needy? What if my neighbor, who says they are a wonderful homeschooling, Catholic, Christian family, is my only exposure to those things? Then my neighbor becomes my school. I learn from watching you, and from interacting with you, just as your children do. What it is to be those things, I learn from watching you. And when you belittle others and exclude the neighbors because they don’t “measure” properly, what sort of example are you? You are a false one. And you are causing people to stumble. Some of those people are your own children. And I am angry. I admit it. I am royally, beyond the pale, mad.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)

I am angry because you are being this poor example to my children and grandchildren. You are turning them away from Church. You are turning them away from learning to be good neighbors. They are becoming exclusionary because it is safer that way. When they let you in, or allow you to come closer, you hurt them, again. They are not excluding your children, because this was not caused by them, but they are no longer happy to see them walk up the driveway. They no longer really want your children teaching and interacting with their children. Why? Your children tell them everything you say in your home. They know how you really feel. They share freely what your opinion of my children and grandchildren really is. And this is just wrong. So very wrong. And you are hurting others. You are hurting my family.

When we will be honest with one another? When will we learn to grow and become better people? Just because you want things to be a certain way, does not make them that way. What is, well, it just is. Some things we can affect a change on; others we have to accept. Wisdom is knowing the difference. Temper tantrums, in front of the children and the entire cul-de-sac, cannot change what is. Shame on you. Shame.

I am struggling to not go barging in to situations that are not about me. Being a parent does not stop when they leave your roof. You are always going to be protective of your kids. When my oldest son went into the Army, in my mind, all I could see was my 5-week preemie. In my head, he was not well over 6-feet tall, but barely old enough to be born. And even though my kids are all adults now, I still worry about them. And when others array themselves against them, this mom goes all “shield maiden” on them! (I love the Viking stories and lore surrounding Shield Maidens. They were so awesome!). It is also like being a mother-bear…watch out!

The Christian in me longs for peace. I long to be able to share with these people the error of their ways, in a godly, Christian way. But I have been the victim of these sorts of Christians for more than 25 years. And it pretty much follows a pattern. It is ugly, it is predictable and I am thankful beyond thankful that I was able to extricate myself and my family from that environment and be more of a presence in this world. But I never lost my faith, nor my values, nor myself. Dante says, “The darkest places of hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in a time of crisis.” He is telling us we are not to abandon the world when it needs us the most. We need to insert ourselves into everyday life, as Christians, bearing a true witness of the love of God. If we are to be that “light” and “salt” in this world, we cannot bear false witness. We will lead others to hell. Proverbs instructs us to be people of character, above bribes, and to be honest in dealing with everyone. It is laced all through the Book. Because, “If the godly give in to the wicked, it’s like polluting a fountain or muddying a spring.” (Proverbs 25:26)  We cannot become like the world. And we cannot sit back and allow evil to muddy our springs. Sometimes we have to speak up…or in my case, vent!

“So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

And how are we doing? Have we truly accepted the Word of God for our own lives, thereby being an honest witness of a believer? Is this posturing? Make believe? Are we charlatans? Or are we modern-day Pharisees, praying on the street corner for all to see??

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:5)

I am done venting. I am retiring to my chair where I can drink a cup of tea, and cuddle with my cat, enjoying our spring mix of rain and snow. And I will pray for these people, to be honestly who they are, to be kind before all else, as well as to be a Godly witness and not a false one.

I feel like I went off the rails a little bit in this post. Maybe I did. But sometimes I just want to shout it from the rooftops: ENOUGH! STOP!  And so, proverbially speaking, I have done that. Back to normal, now!

“…but a kind word cheers it up.”

Boy, did this speak to me today. It was raining this morning. Dismal. Gray. Yucky sort of dark morning. A coffee morning, for sure. And I know that Spring has supposedly arrived. We laugh up here because there are MOUNDS of snow all over town, which probably won’t melt down until June or July. There is a mound on the side of an old firehouse, just down the street from me. Spring. Ha! It is still too cold to plant your starters or flowers. Some people have braved hanging baskets already. Not me. We are moving in a few weeks, so I am waiting to see what gorgeous perennials pop up in my yard. I am told there is a rose hedge and daffodils, and a few tulips. Cannot wait to see that. But today is gloomy. They say you need to get through the rain, to have the sunshine. “May showers bring June flowers”?? Ha-Ha.

And as I sat and drank my coffee in the dripping-rain-sounding, very gray and dismal morning, I turned on the TV. Big. Mistake. I have been consciously keeping it off. And today I dove back in. Stupid me. I changed what I watch, considerably. I watch mostly the Hallmark channel, or specific shows I record. And I recently began a series on DVD my son got me hooked on, but that we watch together (Ok, we binge-watch it!). But for the most part, the TV is off during the day. I like it that way. Over the past year, I also changed where I get my news. I switched it to an all-news channel that has no pundits who try to tell me what I just heard, or opine and/or yell at viewers. I am tired of the vitriol. The channel I watch reports from all over the world and in under 1 hour, I am up-to-date. And in that 1-hour today, the darkness crept in. A lot of it.

“The woman named Folly is brash. She is ignorant and doesn’t know it….she calls out to men going by, “Come in with me,” she says….But little do they know that the dead are there. Her guests are in the depths of the grave.” Proverbs 9:13-18

And I realized that by watching and listening to all this horrific news, because that is the majority of it, I was allowing the darkness to have a hold over me. I was depressed and sad. So I left the room and dove back into the Proverbs. And the above quote is what struck me. Hard. And then I remembered what St. Porphyrios said at the top of this post: “Do not fight to expel the darkness from the chamber of your soul. Open a tiny aperture for light to enter, and the darkness will disappear.”

As Rick Mallory, the photographer and blogger captured in the above photograph, Spring is a mixture of snow, rain, and burgeoning flowers. They are trying to erupt from their winter slumber, reaching towards the elusive sunshine. And that is an apt description for us all. We need to be constantly reaching for the light, to dispel the darkness. And I am desperately clinging, some days more than others, to the promises of my faith; the light in my life. And this light I hold within often struggles with the images and sounds of this world, which tries to drag us down. As a social experiment, I dismissed most newsfeed from my life. I took news apps and social media apps off of my iPhone. (I did keep the Angry Birds and Bejeweled games. My grandkids love playing Angry Birds with me on my phone). I changed up my wallpapers and now have spring flowers all over my laptop and iPhone, both, on all screens. I dismissed notifications from my life. I get text messages and notices of emails, but other than that, my phone is a phone. (What a concept, huh???). The freedom has helped my electronics operate a lot more efficiently (Facebook kills battery life, as do lots of platforms. Now they are gone, my phone can easily last 24 hours..unless I am at those Birds or Jewels!!). And the result? My happiness level got increasingly better. I was suffering from fewer sleepless nights. I was stressing far less. Do I advocate the ostrich method of burying your head in the sand? I don’t. Part of learning from scripture is to take what we have learned and directly apply it to our lives. Proverbs exhorts us to be present in the marketplace and to be involved. So I intend to keep staying current, but I think saturating yourself in it, day in and day out, takes a toll on your psyche and soul. I opted out and when I dipped my toe back into the media water, I immediately felt a difference.

So I think I will stay out of that mess. For now. Maybe forever. I much prefer the walk pictured above, which is 10 miles from my front door. I much prefer hearing the water waft past me, the eagles who fly above, and the salmon spawning, to media and newsfeed chaos. Life is so short. We never walk this way again. I continue to pray for the country, to listen when necessary, but focus on my walk with God, and my husband, and my family. If you can unplug, I highly recommend it. I recall that when I was a teenager, my dad would hand me a dime when I went out with my friends, to ensure I could call home if I needed to. On a pay phone. No cell phones. I didn’t talk to people 24/7, with tweeting my every move or logging into a social platform all day long. I could go weeks without seeing friends and we were still friends! (Imagine that!). Friends I still have 40-or more years later. We invested quality time developing relationships, in person, not online. We got news when we got news…maybe nightly at the dinner hour? Radio in the car? But not like it is now. Summer is coming and I cannot wait to be outdoors. I will have my essential oil recipe for mosquitos (which works so well!!), my Kindle will be charged, and I will be ready to accompany my husband as he chases those salmon, at whichever river he chooses to conquer. And as I got up from this screen to let the dog outside, I saw that the sun had raised her head high above the sky, dispelling the darkness. What a joy seeing that was! I wish for you some of the same.

“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” Proverbs 12:25

“…whenever you face trials…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“..it is not yet prayer.”

Have you ever been told that you need to provide more quiet time, so your child does not get “over stimulated”?  Mondays were always the worst day of the week for me. Especially when our kids were younger. Mondays were the day after the weekends. And every Monday morning I have ever had with my kids was always “melt down Monday.” My kids were done. They needed sleep, quiet, time outdoors just digging in the dirt, and this momma needed some quiet time, too. Our house always looked the worse for the wear on Mondays. And I realized it was because our weekends were spent running all over the place, basically just checking in at home to sleep, change clothes, and run out and “do” until we collapsed on Sunday nights.

Well, this grandma is overstimulated. I am raw today. This weekend was insanely busy for us. We went to a meeting with lots of new people on Friday evening, a banquet that we volunteered to help with on Saturday, breakfast with our kids/grandkids Sunday morning (followed by a new Disney movie, so we were there until after 2pm), preparing for the husband’s business trip today (laundry, etc), Church Sunday evening, and dinner was late after Church last night – 9:30pm. My poor husband had an early flight out this morning – 4:30am. Ugh. He is tired! And I am strung out and raw. Sometimes, even though I do love being with people, I prefer being at home. Quietly at home. With my husband and a good book, a nice fire crackling in the wood stove, and my dog sitting next to me. Maybe a glass of Scotch next to me, or a cup of tea, or both! Ha-Ha!

Today’s journaling exercise for Lent was to list 30 interesting things about yourself. It was so hard. And I realized some things. I prefer being at home. Pretty much a homebody. I prefer the company of my husband, most of all, and our family and close friends. I don’t need to go out and party or do a lot. In my younger days, I was in a sorority. I worked at a TGIF restaurant, waitressing and bartending – talk about a lot of people! I have partied until I am not really interested in that anymore. I have had the days of kid’s sports and that commitment, keeping us running all week long. And I adore seeing mountains with snow on them over the beach any day of the week (sorry, Mary!! Ha-Ha!). I realized I am a cold climate person. And I have come to learn that I like silence. I really, really, do. I prefer it to music or noise, of any kind, at all. Who would have thought? (Not my parents when I was 16!!).

Our reading today was about how we pray. And I learned some things about myself. I realize that I love the Lenten season above any other season. I love these protracted times of reflection and lessons, of reading Scripture and learning how to pray more often and more fruitfully. I love learning how to be more simple, more quiet, more reflective, more in tune with God. Some quotes by St. Theophan the Recluse really touched my heart today, in a profound way. “Prayer itself is the piercing of our hearts by pious feelings towards God, one after another – feelings of humility, submission, gratitude, doxology, forgiveness, heart-felt prostration, brokenness, conformity to the Will of God, etc.” “When these feelings are present, our praying is prayer, and when they are absent, it is not yet prayer.” And it spoke to me about the quality of my prayer life. Do I prepare my space, my mind, my heart, before I pray? Do I jump back up and rejoin the world once I have completed my prayers? Do I allow those wonderful feelings to follow me out into my day? One of his suggestions was to “focus your thoughts, casting off from them all earthly activities and objects. Then call to mind the One to Whom you are praying, Who He is and who you are, as you begin this prayerful petition to Him.” How often do we center ourselves, detaching our minds from the world, and wholely giving ourselves over to this connection with God? I have spent many years, in many different ways, trying to accomplish this feat. And often I have come up against a sort of roadblock to what I feel is a successful time of prayer. And St. Theophan said this, “..stop, do not read further, but stand with attention and feeling in that place, and use the prayer in that place and the feelings engendered by it to feed your soul.” And I felt that I had learned something valuable. Quite often we read scripture and we only retain a word or two, perhaps a phrase, but the entire reading is off, floating out of our minds. Or when we read the words of philosophers or the Church Fathers, we retain such a small bit of it, and we feel like we have failed. But today I learned that it is not a failure, but it is precisely what I was intended to receive from that exercise. My soul was touched and I felt buoyed by reading that tract of writing, from whomever, and was able to retain what was pertinent to me and my soul.

As I read the Psalms today, a verse here and there struck me. For example, “…God is on my side. God, I praise your promise; in You I trust, I do not fear. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 56:10-12) and then “My soul rests in God alone, from Whom comes my salvation. God alone is my rock and salvation, my secure height; I shall never fall.” (Psalm 62:2-3). And I was touched, in light of my experiences and our current political climate, by this: “..they bless with their mouths, but they inwardly curse.” (Psalm 62:5) . And that last is just a portion of a phrase.

I was able to take these moments from Scripture and feel them in my heart. I stopped and recorded them, so as to keep them close to me. I believe St. Theophan was right when he said, “All praying leaves prayer in the soul – continual prayer in this manner gives it root, and patience in this work establishes a prayerful spirit. May God grant this to you by the prayers of our All-pure Lady, the Theotokos.”

Sometimes our resolve to live peacefully gets dashed upon the rocks of reality. My weekend totally invaded my space, and used up any of the “social” energy I had within me. Don’t misunderstand; I totally enjoyed my time out and spent much of it laughing (especially at the cross-eyed and mounted Mountain Lion they were trying to auction off) with friends. But, I wore my psyche out. And, more than usual, I was looking forward to my prayer time today. As our Sunday wound down, things got worse and worse. Our drive-through experience at 9:00pm on a Sunday night? Well, we waited 20 minutes in a line we were stuck in; our food finally arrived and off we went only to spill the drink in my new car as we pulled into our driveway, and the bags broke as we exited the car, with burgers flying into the snow…even the last bag split as we made our way inside. It was an exhausting end to a very “peopley” weekend. Thanks be to God for silence, quiet, and prayer time to rejuvenate my mind and soul. And as we laid our heads upon our pillows, we both apologized for the misplaced anger we had towards one another, and just rested. I recited the Jesus Prayer over and over, as I drifted off. And I knew my husband would be tiredly flying off to his commitments across the state, and I would be blessed to spend my morning with God, in prayer. My husband has blessed my soul in so many ways, but chiefly among them, is the ability to be at home. Thanks be to God for these priceless moments and opportunities to pray, for generosity of faith of my husband, and for this wonderful season of Lent, lately realized as my favorite time of the year.

Blessed Lent

“…and He shall sustain you;”

For it is not an enemy that reviled me—that I could bear—
Not a foe who viewed me with contempt,
from that I could hide.
But it was you, my other self,
my comrade and friend,
You, whose company I enjoyed,
at whose side I walked
in the house of God.

That is from Psalm 55:13-15. And it was just a small portion of my readings today. But this series of comments from the Psalmist really hit me. It is the lament of a betrayal by someone the writer was intimately friends with. I think that those who we walk in a common faith with, have a certain place in our hearts that is special, and reserved for them in a special way. We tend to trust those we pray with, those we “walk in procession in the house of God,” in a special way. And when those people turn out not to be what they presented themselves as, that presents a special ache in our hearts. However, the Psalmist also says, “God will never allow the righteous to stumble.”(Psalm 55:23)

I took great comfort from this. It is not a matter of one winning and one losing. It is, rather, a protection for both. Because as I read this, I came to see that through my continued prayers and time spent with just God, and His Word, I have been able to control my anger more and more. I journaled about the fact that I am not normally an angry person. I do get frustrated, and that can lead quite easily to anger. But when I have felt betrayal, I have reacted in anger, out of a deep, deep hurt. But God does not allow us to stumble. He will protect us from our worst selves. And he has done that for me. Even when I have felt that betrayal from those closest to me, I have been truly able to let it go. I have quite literally felt the anger, and the pressure of that emotion on my body, leave me. I felt lighter, and so much peace. Our journaling prompt today was to think on how we let our anger go. And I honestly have been able to let things go so much easier, relying on the mercy of God and His Providence over my life, rather than those old patterns of knee-jerk reactions. God has been kind to me. And my continuing growth through this process can only lead to even better outcomes. I love this quote by Saint Seraphim, “Acquire a peaceful spirit and thousands around you will be saved.”

I read this article today about the 5-Second Rule for making decisions and choices…which is not about picking food up off the floor before the germs invade. Rather, it is giving yourself a 5-second delay/review period before making a decision, saying something, reacting in some way to input you are receiving. And after that 5-seconds, you are to do something, say something, react, and be physical in your reaction. That 5-second break is sometimes all we need to stop ourselves from making a poor decision. And it is sometimes the small review period we need to make the right decision. Sadie Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, spoke to how using this is helping her navigate growing up in a world where poor choices are rampant and much easier to make. She was pretty articulate in how this method has helped her be a better person, and make better choices. Well for me, I did not realize that I had actually started doing that, too. In those 5 Seconds, I have been silently saying the Jesus Prayer, when these things happen to me. And it is working! I am finding myself becoming more patient, quieter, and much happier.

“God will never allow the righteous to stumble.” If I truly want God to be in charge of my life, He will not allow me to stumble. All He asks is that we listen. Just listen. There was this popular country song entitled, “Jesus, take the wheel,” wherein the woman is lamenting her life and crying…she was driving home to visit her parents for Christmas and it was snowing, her small baby sleeping in the back seat. She was not paying attention and hit a sheet of ice, coming to rest in a snow bank. And that’s when she asked Jesus to “take the wheel,” because she was regretting the “road she was on” and asked Him to just “take the wheel, take it from me.” And I am thankful I did not need to careen off the road on a sheet of ice (well, okay, the hubby and I recently experienced life in a snowbank, after trying to stop suddenly on an icy road, so I know how she feels) but it did not take that sort of 2 x 4 to my head to make me stop the road I was on. Instead, the Church gave me Great Lent. It caused me to stop, to think, to pray, to re-evaluate, to re-order my priorities. We are so blessed we are given this “annual review period” to get our lives back on track.

Continued prayers and blessings for an amazing Lent this year.

“…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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…our way of keeping discomfort at bay…”

“This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD.” Jeremiah 17:5

You know, I try to just “let go and let God.” And when I do, I can breathe. I can relax. When I take back that wheel, I have sleepless nights and an upset stomach. Take last night for example. I could not relax and sleep and finally went to bed about 11:30pm. I was up again at 2:30am, sick to my stomach and in total panic mode. I’d taken a shower earlier in the evening and my face reacted all weird in that I had gotten way over-heated and my face was on fire, and a tad bit swollen. It was like a hot flash on steroids. So when I had the panic attack, I figured it was all related. I know my hormones are not done with me, yet. But I also know that we have been eating junk and it affects my entire system. I need to return to my Whole30 attentiveness! I had expressed my concerns to my husband a day or so earlier, and he had calmly assured me that things were good and to just relax. Ha-Ha. I used to be so cavalier and not a worry-wort. I am not sure when that changed. Maybe when the mantle of responsibility felt firmly ensconced on my motherhood shoulders? Maybe recently when I realized my baby is graduating high school in May and everything has to be completed and turned in for the entire year by then…and I am woefully late on the grades/samples due already? Whenever it was, it is firmly on my shoulders and some days, it weighs so heavily.

“It’s important to recognize that fear does not only manifest itself as heart-pounding, sweat-producing anxiety. There is a quiet fear that can equally dominate our lives. That quiet fear manifests itself as procrastination. Behind every procrastination is an excuse and behind every excuse is a fear we’re not facing. Indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say that procrastination is our defense against fear, our way of keeping discomfort at bay.” This quote is from an article in Forbes entitled, “Living Fearlessly by Facing Our Fears by Brett Steenbarger.

And you know what? Procrastination has been my mantra lately. “Maybe if I ignore this thing, it will resolve itself or just go away.” Ha-Ha. Never happens. In fact, I have found that facing these things that frighten or intimidate me often give me much-needed peace.

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Getting our affairs in order is something we all need to do. We all need to get organized and have a handle on things. All things. I have boxes I have not opened, nor looked inside, since I boxed them up almost 4 years ago. I know that some of them are still closed because this house is just too small to accommodate my “collections,” but I also know I could probably purge. My office is piles. Literally piles. And that is not my normal operating style. I was known, in the workplace, as the supreme organizer who could take someone’s chaos and bring them order and a smooth workflow. But it’s like that old saying, “The Shoemaker’s son has no shoes.”

I had written awhile ago that I had been in a funk but that I thought I was coming out of it. I think that is true, to an extent. I have worked on a few things – today I cleaned and am sanitizing my dishwasher! How often does that get done? (Uhmm…rarely to never). I cleaned up dog-hair-zombie-dust-bunnies. The dog hair thing really sends me over the edge. Since I now have totally groomed dogs, who are basically naked, I can get on top of the shedding. Ugh. But I desperately need to dive in and purge, organize, and clean my house. And why do I procrastinate? Why do I operate like I have to wait until we’re at “ground zero” or “critical mass” before I tackle these projects? To be honest, I am not sure. But I think it something about that quote from the Forbes article. In that article, he talked about successful people:

“In his book Crisis? Let’s Beat It!, Michael Virardi discusses the results of a study he conducted with 101 successful business people. He found that the vast majority (over 90%) engaged in two behaviors: 1) they made lists to prioritize their work and 2) they spent time each day and week preparing for the next day and week. In other words, the successful businesspeople were anti-procrastinators. They developed routines for facing the future…”

And then he wrote, “Emilia Lahti, writing about Hypponen’s text, argues that facing what we most fear builds our character and gives us strength. In so doing, we expand our mental and emotional reserves and find a second wind of motivation.” (same Forbes article).

Today, I faced those stupid things that woke me at 2:30am. I do feel energized, and far more relaxed. So now, I think I will tackle the actual dust in my house, and maybe conquer some more things on my list. The list that I need to make for today, and for tomorrow. And that is a list that I need to start checking things off of…for my own sanity, and to get ahead of the things I have allowed to slide. It does not reflect well on me, nor my family. I will get a handle on all of it; honest.

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I think our end-goal is to acknowledge and conquer the things of this world that are placed before us, rather than allow them to conquer us. Fear makes us almost immobile at times. Procrastination is not the cure for what is causing us to put things off. Right now, I am slowly coming to terms with that. And with the fact that our lives are finite. We are only given a certain amount of time on this earth, and I firmly believe we only get this one shot at it. So to waste time is to squander something we can never get back. Yes, there are days when we need to unplug, staying in our jammies, and just vegging out for a day. Everyone needs to recharge their batteries. But that should not be our daily “grind.” We need to be useful and productive. The Lord expects us to give this world our best. His best? He gave His life on the Cross. The least…very least….I can do is be attentive to the obligations in this life that I have taken on. Those obligations are my choices in life, and the resulting responsibility I have towards myself and others. It is the very least. And to that, I can add caring for my neighbors (near and far) and a renewed fervor and love of God that I have let slide. Lent is fast approaching. We had best get prepared for that, as well. I am writing my list. Are you?

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