“…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.

“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!

“What’s next?”

My youngest son dreams fire fighting. He belongs to the Fire Explorers. He is now serving on a volunteer department, gaining more certifications and moving towards his goal of becoming a fire fighter. He used to want to be a pilot (and belonged to CAP, the Civil Air Patrol), but somewhere along the way he discovered search and rescue, and that, in turn, led to fire fighting. He loves it. He loves everything about it. He has gone on his own, studying and testing, and earning certifications through FEMA, above and beyond his class requirements. We are blessed here to have a specialty school for high school students to take courses that interest them, and help to prepare them to enter the working world. They have hospitality training, and a beauty school; they have culinary arts and auto shop; they have welding and computer programming. Do you want to become a travel agent? A TV journalist? A policeman? A seamstress? A plumber? Aircraft mechanic? You can gain certifications and skill sets that prepare you to get a good job, right after graduation from high school. We were thrilled when he was accepted into their Fire Science program. By going there, he was able to get his EMT 1 certification, and in 2 more days, his Fire Fighter, Search & Rescue certification. It has been such a blessing.

Last night we had the annual Family Night at Fire Explorers, where they demonstrate what the kids have learned, showing us their new skill sets, and they pass out awards. My son won two awards this year and we were so proud. He won, “Most Enthusiastic Explorer” and, “Class Clown.” He is a joyful person, and is always making people laugh. And as I said, he lives, eats, and breathes fire fighting. He truly loves the life and culture of first-responders. He is always volunteering for ride-alongs and will drop everything to volunteer at a fire event. He loves this so much and it makes my heart swell to see him so happy. We have definitely encouraged it. He does not, however, plan to pursue any schooling past high school. And you know what? I am perfectly okay with that. I didn’t think I would be, but I truly am.

As we have homeschooled our sons, and then placed them in high school programs, and watched the older ones attend college, we have learned a lot. Our schooling experience has spanned more than 27 years, and has had many expressions – public, private, and homeschooling. Parenting does not come with books (well, the pundits and experts write books, but very few of us in the trenches have the leisurely time to read them) and we learn as we go along. It’s funny how your dreams and expectations for your children change as you get to know them as individuals. I was raised to pursue college; I was enrolled in “Courses for the college bound” in high school. My brother majored in sports and girls, and lasted 2 semesters at a junior college. But he has been a business owner and is very successful in life. I lasted 10 years, off and on, at a local university. But neither of us completed our studies (I could not major long enough in any one area…I love learning!!). I am a housewife and homeschooling mom who blogs. My husband is degreed and is working on further certifications even now, in his late 50s. My older son has 2 AA’s and uses neither of them, but rather, found a career as an electrician and only just completed his 5-year apprenticeship program. Literally a week ago, he passed the state exams and is now a certified electrician! Our middle son went to a 4-year college and graduated with high honors. But he does not use that degree in his life…he is a 9-1-1 dispatcher, paying off college loans and raising a family. My point? Not everyone needs college or university. I am totally fine with who my sons are as men and have become, as breadwinners and citizens. I am a very proud mother!!

I really don’t agree with how our schools have morphed over the years. Kids get very little recess time and we have a preponderance of ADD and ADHD….I know there is a correlation. And we removed music and band, choir and art. We took away shop class and cooking class. We replaced it all with Common-Core-aligned academics that are producing students who cannot pass basic English to attend college. And they can’t change a tire or fix a meal. Nor have they been taught basic civics, in order to take their place, responsibly as voters, or even as members of our military or government.

As in the above photo, I have this in an old milk bottle, on the shelf above my kitchen sink. Whenever I touch it, I think lovingly of my grandma and her mom, my great-grandma. My youngest son asked me, when I touched it the other day, what it was. I have had it my whole life. And I have had it displayed my entire marriage. And he is just now, at 18 years old, asking me what it is. I thought he knew. It surprised me. I had to take it out of the milk bottle and explain what I meant when I said, “It is a sock-darner.” His reply? “Huh?”  I had to explain that when our socks got holes in them, we repaired the holes – we “darned” them. We did not throw socks away. He was shocked. And it made me think of all the things we have lost along the way.

I posted in another blog about all my stuff and how my kids will not want it. I also inherited my grandparents’ keepsakes. Like the sock-darner. I will have to explain what some of these items are because the arts of home-making and keeping a house (as in basic repairs) have been lost. In home economics in school I learned basic stitches, so I could hand-sew buttons and darn socks. Ha-Ha.  I learned how to do some basic repairs in that class, “in case our husbands were not around.” My brother did shop class and developed a love for engines and the smell of gasoline he still has. My sons were taught some basics by my husband, around the house and with our vehicles. They grew up, for the most part, on dairy farms and were riding tractors and working in milking barns by the time they were 6 and 7 years old. They worked on tractors and tossed hay, fed cows and cleaned barns. It was a blessed way to raise boys. The past few weekends my youngest son has learned to replace his brakes and to change his oil, and to check for all the fluid levels in his car. But so many of our kids know nothing about these basic skills. My dad can barely make a cup of tea and burn some toast. He never had to learn the “womanly arts.” His mom or his two wives did/do all that for him. I don’t think he has ever vacuumed or washed clothes or windows. But he can replace our garbage disposal and garage door. He can fix the A/C in the house and in the car. And he still remembers doing that, at 90 years old. I taught my sons to cook and do laundry, as well as how to clean a house and wash the windows. I did not want them to leave that to their wives/girlfriends, or to have to hire someone to do it for them, when they were adults. I wanted them to be well-rounded men. In part, I think I was a success. But their skill levels in laundry are still not that good…even as married men! Ha-Ha.

As my grandchildren prepare to enter the school system, I am taking pause to think about the direction in which education is going. Who will become our mechanics and plumbers? Who will be able to put a man on the moon? Who will discover the cure for diseases plaguing us now? Who? With our alignment with Common Core standards, we are eliminating so many things that help kids think. They are now providing reading material that is aligned with the Common Core testing. Most of it is not fiction, it is technical. It is not about fantasy adventures where there are swords and damsels in distress, or where heroes are facing giants and lands are discovered. It is about how things work. It is basic linguistic patterning. It is not the language of artistic expression; poetry or some of our sagas and myths. There are plenty of facts (many of which do NOT match the facts I was taught) to remember and stories of recent events (which don’t jive with what I recall). I have been researching Common Core and to tell you the truth, there is good in it. But the vast majority of it, the way in which the information is disseminated, and the testing procedures, are all bad. Unfortunately, our SATs and ACTs, as well as college entrance requirements, are all CC aligned, too.

So what is next? Where do we direct our children? Personally, I loved college. But I also know not everyone is wired that way. Some kids needs to be physically active and do things with their hands and brute strength. Some adults prefer to look at their jobs as jobs, and not careers. As a way of providing the life they want to live, not the career they want to have. Some people want to be that famous scientist or engineer that figures out how to run cars without gasoline, or to reach the moon and colonize it. Are we providing the tools necessary to our young children, in order for them to realize these dreams? I would opine that, in our current state of schooling in America, we are not. We have lost our focus on what learning should be; what education should be. I am privileged to have been able to homeschool our children. We have gone back and forth for their high school with private school and homeschooling. We are blessed to live in a state that supports homeschooling 100% and then some. We have a state that has these specialty schools that teach kids the skills they need to seek immediate employment upon graduation. But not everyone is so blessed. We need to embrace, actively, making our school system better. Throwing money at the problem does not fix it. I think we all need to seriously look at it and answer the question, “What’s next?”

“…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.

“blessed is she who believed…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And just like that…”

It’s so interesting how our minds work. I had a horrible nightmare last night..well, technically it was extremely early this morning…and woke to my 15-year-old dog barfing his guts out at the foot of my bed (luckily into his dog bed itself). To tell the truth, it was almost worse than the nightmare. Reality can do that to you, every once in a while. Your mind has you reeling and you’re breaking out in a cold sweat, thinking life is pretty bad, and then your dog throws up at your feet. And this morning, it was so very dark. It was black as night, which is why I was so confused.  It’s just week one of Daylight Savings Time – I really dislike the time change – and I am exhausted. Not only that, it is pitch black at 6:30am. So I had to find my way to a light to see what I was dealing with. Meanwhile, I was sweating over my nightmare and not fully aware of what was happening. And to be honest yet again, I think dealing with a sick dog is preferable to my dream, in many ways. In this particular case, once I was fully awake, I would much rather deal with my sick dog.

You see, in my dreams, I lost one of my sons. He snapped; he became someone he never was, nor anyone I had raised him to be. He exhibited behavior I had never expected of him. I was begging him. I was yelling at him. I was losing him and there was nothing I could do to stop his decisions. In my dream, I was cowering in my closet, crying and inconsolable. I think losing a child to poor choices is probably the worst thing I can imagine. I know people who have children who have struggled with addictions and who have served time in prison, or who have been admitted to rehab over and over again. I have seen families split apart who have not returned to a cohesive unit. And I have seen the pain in a parent’s eyes over their lost children.

And I cannot help but think of the world, and our country, right now. It feels like we are turning our backs on God. We have walked away from the basics of our faith. We have allowed the world in, so much so, that we have forgotten God. We have chosen to live life as we choose, away from His Word for us.

In the Ladder of Divine Ascent (the Icon depicted above) St.John Climacus exhorts us to pay attention. If you look at the icon you can see how decisions are affecting the eternity of those climbing. There are many ways in which we can see how, as a culture, we have chosen the world over its creator. The creation has become the master of the creator. It is usurped and upside down. And it can only lead to disaster. It can lead to each of us falling off the “Ladder of Divine Ascent,” our own pathway to heaven.

I read an article today by a young woman who was raised by her German grandmother. Her grandmother warned her that war was coming to us. As a young girl, her grandmother had tried to warn her own family in Germany, prior to World War 1, of an upcoming war, but none of them listened to her. So she fled to America via Ellis Island. She saw the “writing on the wall” (Daniel 5).  And she raised her children and grandchildren to be aware of the world – the history, culture, and markers that signal disaster is coming. And she believes we are, once again, headed for international disaster. Quite often, I feel that God needs a 2×4 to get my attention; I see these markers and yet I disdain them and blow them off. This dream, which was making me extremely upset, was stopped by my dog, before I could take the imagery further. Why did I dream about my son like that? I think it is because I realized his entire school experience, the sum total of all my years of schooling my children, is due to our homeschool by May 1st. The final grades for his last year of homeschooling. And that is so very close. As in 6 weeks close. As in my entire brood will have graduated from High School and be making their way into the world. And it scares me. For a variety of reasons. My babies are all adults. All of them. And here I sit.

You know, God experienced the “empty nest” syndrome, too. He had to expel Adam and Even from the Garden of Eden. As a parent, we sometimes have to make those tough calls. Of course, God knew that He was setting mankind on the pathway back to Him. He granted us free will, which allows us to follow or reject Him. Our children have free will. Eve was easily tempted by an apple, because of her free will, and the demonic presence whispering in her ear. She then infected Adam with the need to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, the one plant the Lord asked them to not eat. Isn’t that how it goes? What we are told we cannot have, we want all the more??  God gives us ample opportunities to choose Him. He allows us the opportunity to experience what the world has to offer. He allows us to feel sated by the world. To our “in the moment” minds; to our “if it feels good do it” mentality; to our “it will be fine, you will see” logic, we choose the pathway that is easier, wider, simpler. Being a follower of God, of Christ, is the single, most difficult thing I have ever chosen to do. But I cannot deny the pull of my heart; that emptiness that no amount of anything in this world fills, but God. The fear of my son making poor choices for his life? Isn’t that the fear all parents share? Most especially our God? He saw how our poor choices mounted, again and again. And He sent us His Son, to lead us each to salvation. Each of us. I can worry all I want about my kids; in fact, I always will. I may have sleepless nights until my eternal sleep, worrying about my children and grandchildren. Because as a parent, we never, ever stop worrying.

Once again, God has directed us to Him through the gift of Lent. He never stops worrying about us. I will never stop worrying about my family, or my friends. It’s part of who I am, as a woman, and as a mother. Each year, we are given a wonderful opportunity to re-direct our lives away from this crazy, inviting, world and direct ourselves towards God. We have this chance for more prayer, for reflection, for a metanoia of the heart, mind and soul. So even if this world is careening out of control, we firmly stand on the Rock, the Church. We have our faith to ground us, prepare us, to set a wall around our hearts. We don’t know when things will occur. And we need to always stay prepared. God has our best interests at heart as the Creator of all of us. He will never stop welcoming us Home to Him. And that one thing helps me sleep at night, and helps keep most nightmares at bay.

I know my kids are growing up and moving on. I know it. It’s just hard to deal with it some days. But facing these fears, in the light of day, and the Light of Christ, gives me strength. And just like that….

“…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.

Slaying our dragons…one day at a time.

lifeishard-godisgood

There are so many times I just *sigh* and think, “God is good.” And there are those days when I think, “Life is just so hard.” Luckily, I believe God has got this in balance. He balances our days and give us hope for those days to come.

Don’t get me wrong, I am no saint. I am not holier, nor more sinful, than the next mom driving to the grocery store. I am just me. And somedays I feel the joy in my heart of God – He resides there and I know it; I sing as I drive to the grocery store. I sing as I load the dishwasher. I sing as I carry another load to the washing machine. Why? Well, the alternative would be that I have no money to buy food; no one to buy food for. Or perhaps I have no dishes to unload because I have no family to eat with, or a place to eat my meals, or plates to eat them on. I have to wash the clothing, because I have clothing. So many blessings in amongst the sighs of life’s trials.

Today I was reminded that Lent is almost here. I read a post I had written a few years ago on this date and it brought me up short. I have nowhere near the spiritual experience going on now that I had then. And I am a little sad about that. But I also know I am surrounded by blessings. And there are many things I can do, in order to get more out of Lent.

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I posted this on my Facebook page today. I had a friend respond that she is not Catholic but it still sounds like a good idea. And I realized that so many people approach our seasons without any preparation. We see things in the stores and say, “Oh. Look at all the green. Saint Patrick’s Day is coming.” Or we see all the cute Easter decor and realize that Easter and Spring are right around the corner. I will tell you, that living in a snow state that is seeing a ton of snowfall and cold temps (today it was -5 this morning!) it is hard to even wrap your mind around the fact that Spring is coming. My Merry Christmas sign is frozen in place and we cannot even see the top of the flag part. So to see Spring in the stores and cute Easter eggs on display, it is hard to prepare for that, let alone Lent. For me, this approach of purging every day for 40 days is perfectly timed. I am busting out of our little house. We all need to purge (meaning the three of us who live here). So for me, giving up my clutter and over-abundance in clothing and, well, all our stuff, is a wonderful idea.

In the light of the Church’s seasons, we always fast before we feast. And if you have not experienced that, I feel bad for you. It changes everything – especially how you look at holidays. It’s like always attending banquets and formal events, you get inured to it. They mean nothing. It’s one of the reasons I hated “Kindergarten Graduation.” Or formal graduation from Elementary/Primary school, another for Junior High/Middle school, and then finally, High School. So many kids think HS graduation is no biggie. Half of them don’t show up. For college, barely 25% participate in walking for that diploma. It becomes something not worth the effort. If you do not understand the affluence you experience daily, you will come to stop appreciating it.

fasting-stjohnchrysostom

Fasting from food, without a change of heart, is worthless – it’s just a diet. Instead of giving up chocolate, give up yelling at your mom or dad. Instead of spending money at McDonald’s, drop those dollars in the collection box at a homeless shelter. Instead of being envious of someone and disliking them for their success, why not have a coffee with them and get to know them? Instead of hating someone who disagrees with you (and there are so many issues we can disagree about) perhaps spend some time with them, exchanging ideas about something else. I have many dear friends who I disagree about politics with, but who are close to my heart and very loved. I have so many friends who are Protestant, or Orthodox, or Jewish, or many other styles/types of worship traditions, and we meld together beautifully. It’s like this amazing, colorful tapestry.

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One year many years ago, when we first discovered the eastern Churches, specifically the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, we experienced true fasting for the first time. I have never eaten so much tofu in my life. I have never been so sick of salads, ever. Melkites are sticklers for the rules of fasting; however, our priests and Bishop would always tell us, “Do what you can do. And each time we have a fasting period, try adding something else you can do.” They never expected us to keep the full fast, as most monastics do. (The full fast is no meat, dairy, wine, or olive oil for all 40+ days of Great Lent). But we tried the full fast that first year, and it was when all our kids still lived at home. The kids protested when they saw tofu again, and cringed at that next salad or bean dish.But we persevered for the entirety of Great Lent. (And below is a favorite fasting recipe of mine, that I enjoy year-round. It is called Majedra. You can add meat to it when you are not fasting. Google the recipe. Divine!).

majedra

In the Melkite tradition, Easter is celebrated on Holy Saturday, starting at about 10pm and lasting until well after 2:00am. There are prayers, singing, processions, and all sorts of tears and laughter. And the incense? Oh my word! We used to have to open the side doors and let that Holy Smoke out! Ha-Ha-Ha! A good Melkite Easter Vigil and Liturgy is something I wish everyone could experience. It is a sensory experience I will forever treasure. Each year, one of our parishioners would make a deal with a local hamburger place (In and Out Burger) and would leave Liturgy just before the end, to pick up a stack of burgers for our Priest. And when those arrived, we could smell them over all the incense in that Church. Because we had fasted every, single, day of the 40 days of Great Lent; not a morsel of meat crossed our lips; not a sip of wine; not a drop of Olive Oil. And not one bit of dairy. But after the Liturgy, we all paraded to the Hall and boy oh boy, did we Feast! I have never experienced such an incredible thing in my life. Our youngest was asleep on the floor that first time, but our older sons were devouring everything meat they could. Our pastor used to say, “This is the one feast day when no vegetables are allowed!” Ha-Ha.

feasting-words

We had denied ourselves and it made the eating and feasting, and sharing with one another, such an amazing experience. It heightened our experience of Easter. We wept with Christ as He denied His very life for us. And we celebrated when He rose again, and showed each of us the Paradise that awaits us, all of us who believe. Each time the Church requests we Fast, we try to comply, because it makes the Feast afterwards incredible. It makes that “Holy Day” aka “Holiday” that much richer. Christmas is an incredible experience when you have fasted from before Thanksgiving, which is called the Apostle’s Fast, for those 40 days before celebrating the Birth of Christ. (Most American pastors allow feasting on Thanksgiving Day, here in the States).

So, to deny yourself allows you to appreciate what you have. What you have gathered to yourself. When we have over-indulged and allowed ourselves to be gluttonous about life, we do not appreciate the intricacies, or the inherent but tiny blessings in all aspects of our lives. Trust me, to live with a leaner closet and sparser walls, fewer items in your pantry, and a clean or orderly home and garage, does much to help you appreciate what is contained within it. For me this Great Lent, I am going to focus on a learner life. In all aspects of it. I have already begun by containing my social networking presence. I have left groups and stopped watching things like programs that do not enhance the best of me, but rather feed the worst that is in me. I have stopped communicating with lots of people who do nothing more than make my blood boil. I now pray for them instead. But I no longer expose myself to them. Sometimes things, situations, and people do not enhance our lives. They do not make us better people. They feed the worst that is in us and in order to be our best selves, we sometimes have to cut people, situations, and things out of our lives.

cartoon-dragon-slayed-by-knight

We all have our dragons that need to be slain. When my husband and I started Whole30, we both had Sugar Dragons that needed slaying. Some people have issues with alcohol, and some will say that is also a Sugar Dragon. Carbohydrates are also like sugar for some metabolisms. And some of us have dragons that interfere with our healthy interactions with others. We have issues that are perhaps mental or psychological. We all have things that need to be plucked from our lives, in order for us to live a better life. And Great Lent is offered by the Church every year, as a time for us to focus on our dragons. This year, orderliness and cleanliness, less clutter and junk in my life, is going to be my focus. How lean can I make my life? How can I be simpler? It has such huge ramifications. And right now, I am going to start by bringing a large, black, plastic bag into my room and tackling my dresser. It is a start. I will pick up my sword daily, starting again, for these 40+ days, to slay the clutter/gluttony dragon that is part of my life. I thank God He gives us this time every year, to rededicate ourselves to becoming better at this thing we call life, preparing us for eternity with the God who created even the stars.

“Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars; the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing.” Isaiah 40:26

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“…you were bought with a price…”

 

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“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1Corinthians 6: 19-20

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faith-words

Guess where I am at today? Yeah; I am there. It seems like there is a push in our culture to expose us to uber-sexuality. It is everywhere. It is temptation surrounding us. And it is pervasive. The evil one is sitting back and laughing. The movies, the TV shows, song lyrics…and those are the legitimate sources of temptation. I just found out there is an alternate universe of YouTube that is dedicated to pornography (Red something or other). And it is free. There is Snap Chat where kids can sext each other and the image disappears after a few seconds. Except nothing disappears. And our children can find porn so easily. I read an article today that said 97% of all young men before the age of 18 have watched pornography. And it is not like trying to find a centerfold in a Playboy magazine. No. This is hard cord porn. There are images and videos of “rough sex,” and even group sex. Children as young as 11 and 12 are becoming addicted. And they are becoming reclusive and disordered. There was a court case this week against a father, accusing him of sexual abuse. A secondary charge of bestiality was dropped because there was no “penetration.” And that, as sick as it is, unfortunately, is now in our legal system and can set precedent for other cases of child abuse. Pornography and the culture surrounding it is all out there, easily obtained. And it is killing our country’s cultural base, and our families, which are the foundation of our culture. It is creating this disordered sense of what family is supposed to be, our sexuality, and all of our interpersonal relationships. And it is scaring me. And it should be scaring you.

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I am not sure how to combat this epidemic. I do know that I need to change myself, before I can help anyone else change. Do I watch porn? No. Do I read porn? No. Do I allow it in my home? No. Is it here? Probably. Because we allow sexual innuendo and jokes, and poor vocabulary, to sneak into our home and our lives. We slowly allow the level of purity and modesty to sink. It is like the story of the frogs in hot water. You place them in a pot on your stove in warm, tepid water. You slowly increase the heat until the frogs are boiling to death, and they are happy all the way, because they do not notice the water getting increasingly hot. Do we laugh at impure jokes? Do we allow movies rated “R” for sex or violence into our homes? We allowed a movie in that we still regret – the “F” word was used more than 300 times during that movie. That’s more than 1 time/minute. That is ridiculous. It is in the trash. I have to stop this from invading our home. I need to judge myself and see where I am lacking, in that I am allowing this cultural deviation to have a place in our home and family. It is part of the actions that I need to take; that each of us needs to take in order to combat this evil pervading our country, one person and one family at a time.

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What I find so interesting, is that this whole issue was noticed by me, over the past few days, coming from several sources – commercials about this new 50 Shades movie, comments on a couple of ProLife pages on FB, and news reports, even comments from people I know. And the timing is so much the Lord’s. Because this weekend is MeatFare Sunday. This weekend we enter into the preparation for Great Lent. This weekend we turn our focus inward, onto how we are preparing for the sacrifice God made for every one of us. A sacrifice that He would make, even if each of us were the sole person on earth. He would die for my sins alone. He would die for your sins, alone. He is that magnificent of a Creator. He values His creation above all things. He desperately wants each of us to belong solely to Him. Not this world. Not the evil that tempts us in this world. Not the wrong that is trying to invade our righteousness, our holiness, our future of eternity in the presence of God. Because sin separates us from God.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. And this is the verdict: The Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness more than light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever practices the truth comes into the Light, so that it may be clearly seen that what he has done has been accomplished in God.”” John 3:16-21

If we read part of that in light of pornography and evil, we can see how clearly God is talking to us. When John says, “The Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness more than light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” Pornography seeps into the world in darkness – behind closed doors. There are have been studies showing that kids can spend hours in their rooms, on their computers. These computers are tools that can help them with their schoolwork, yes, and can be invaluable tools for education. But think of the study that said 97% of boys before 18 have watched pornography. Where? How? Have you checked their laptops? Do you allow computers, Play Stations and the X-Box in their rooms? Did you know they have internet capabilities? I did not realize they are like having another WiFi Hot Spot. Have you scanned their phones or looked at the photos on them? Do you have their log in codes for the internet or their phones? Do you understand the apps they have on their computers and phones – what they can and cannot do on those apps? Do you have all their passwords? They are sometimes alone, in their rooms, with temptation swirling all around them. We trust our kids to become the people we set the example for them to aspire to be. We instruct them. We pray with them, and for them. We go to Church with them. We send them to Youth Group. We monitor their “dating” practices. We know their friends. Some of us homeschool, in order to keep an extra eye on our kids. But are we with them every moment? Is what we are doing enough? The evil one is laughing, because it is NOT enough. Don’t fool yourself. It is NOT enough.

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As we enter this preparation period for Great Lent, we are asked to focus more on our prayer life. Yes, we fast from certain foods; the list for Melkite Greek Catholics is quite lengthy and strict. Many Catholics and Orthodox give up chocolate or coffee. Some give up Facebook or the internet. But for me, fasting is a exercise in self control that I should be trying to do every week; it is not enough of a sacrifice for me (it doesn’t “hurt” enough to be memorable, if that makes sense). We should be fasting from meats on Wednesdays and Fridays all year long (in the Eastern Churches, we do). What works for me is to add something; to intensify the good, wholesome, faith-filled and inspiring things in my life. Doing so helps drown out all this evil and all these ungodly influences. Paying attention to what influences you can even include how you present yourself to others – too much make-up, or even flashy or revealing clothing. Because ungodly attire is a distraction to everyone and it can come from both males and females. How do others perceive you just from how you look when they see you? What is the first impression you give off to others? Are you a wholesome and Godly young person (or older person) or are you projecting the world and its influences? Are you trying too hard to be a part of the world? Try doing more in the religious and faith-filled part of your life. Go to Church more often. Sit in the presence of God in the Tabernacle, where He waits for us. Spend more time praying. Add volunteering with those who are less fortunate. Donate your time, and the money you save fasting, to those who are in need, to those who are suffering. Dedicate a portion of each day to silent prayer. Read stimulating, religious works by some of the Church Fathers. (The Ladder of Divine Assent by John Climacus and Our Thoughts Determine our Lives by Elder Thaddeus are two of my favorites). Stimulate your mind and your heart with thoughts and prayers of God. Divest yourself of the things of this world that make you less than what God calls you to be. Stop allowing the world and its bright and shiny temptations to skewer your relationship with God. Go to confession. Find a mentor or Spiritual Father you can chat with. Have coffee with your Youth Pastor or confessor. Make Godly relationships a priority, while pulling away from those who would do your soul, your eternity, harm. The evil one is laughing…let’s shut him up.

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Take this time of Lent to get yourself right with God. Work on your relationship with your parents, siblings, children, and friends – but most importantly, with God. Cement the Godly and be rid of the evil. Christ endured beatings and belittling for us. God, Himself, hung on that cross for 3 agonizing hours – just for you; just for me. Do not throw His sacrifice back in His face.

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But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

“…He predestined us to adoption…”

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A few days ago, we attended a funeral for our friends’ child, who passed away last week. His story is a sad, but beautiful, one. And their celebration of his life, and how he had enlarged their hearts, is so emotional. The homily was beautiful.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:3-14)

The priest talked to us about being “adopted sons of God” and afterwards we chatted. He told me that historically, during Christ’s lifetime, an adoption was done for adults, in order to secure inheritance. If a couple had no children, they would adopt an adult and that adult would become their heir. The adopted child had, in fact, far more rights than a child born to the family. And an adopted child could not be “set aside,” as some parents do to their own “flesh and blood” child. And so in Scripture, calling someone your adopted son held far more meaning than just giving them your last name. They became your heirs…heirs to your kingdom. And that is what happened to each of us, when we were baptized into the family of God. We became His adopted sons and daughters, and He cannot set us aside. In the book of Isaiah – 49th chapter, where he says “Before I was born, the Lord called me.” (verse 1) he also says, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” (verses 15 & 16) The writer is speaking about Israel and its people. However, we can easily see where the New Testament writers incorporate this sentiment into their preaching in the days of Christ, in order that we would know His deep love for us.

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In the concrete world in which we live, there is so much chatter about abortion. And as a woman who dearly wanted a large family, and has lost too many infants to miscarriage, I know the ache so many women feel who cannot bear their own child. I know that my heart is large enough to take other women’s babies, and love them as my own. I have fostered babies. And I have adopted outside of my race, but very much in my heart. My youngest child came to us within a few hours of being born. I even was able to breastfeed for a little while (until hunger took over supply!). That child is no different to the two I successfully birthed, or the seven I lost along the way. My heart knew there was room for someone who needed our family. And we readily took that baby, with no forethought or foreboding, just with excitement and love. We opened our hearts, our arms, and our lives and 18 years later, I can honestly say I am more in love than the moment I first laid eyes on that 4-hour-old newborn.

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The thought of losing a child pretty much drops me to my knees. Knowing someday, I will pass from this life, I am comforted by the fact that my sons are a loving family, even without their dad or me. They bonded ridiculously well and do not see color or difference in one another. Praise be to God. So all this hoopla about abortion and the right to choose really gets to me. Choose what? To kill your unborn child? There is no empirical evidence that in this day and age of scientific discovery and finesse, that the mother’s life would ever be in enough danger that you would have to kill her unborn child, in order for her to survive. Please, find me a case where that was true. A doctor who is trying to save a life will not take another one to do it. And there is no need. As for rape or incest, why kill the innocent product (child) and add to the pain? Why take a life because you were violated? I have had the pleasure of knowing a woman who was brutally raped. She became pregnant. And through the grace of God and a great family, she raised that baby. What an incredibly loved child it is, too. She does not cringe when gazing at her child; she beams with pride. That child is now a college graduate and is doing amazing things. And to think others told her to “get rid of it.” Thankfully, God also had her heart and her ear, and she chose life for that baby.

Adoption is hungered for all over this country. And adoptive families are somehow so very blessed in this life. We have learned to stretch in ways we never knew we could. Adopting outside your race, or to adopt a child with disabilities, invites comments and stares, and unsolicited advice. It also involves challenges that families who do not adopt or foster ever really understand. We decided to roll with it and have had some humorous encounters, which were meant to somehow shame us or something. But the Lord put this child in our lives because we needed to see with new eyes, I think. We needed to know that love has no skin color, no disability. Love just is.

lovejustis

I had to write this because there has been so much anger out there, thrown at us on a daily basis. The rioting is beyond ridiculous. To think that you have to parade around in hats and costumes representing female body parts, in order to express your rights, is unfathomable to me. Is there no modesty or shame? Sometime their vocabulary truly insults and embarrasses me. And what they don’t realize, it is embarrassing them, too. The mindset that says my body trumps someone else’s, who is so vulnerable, blows my mind. I have lived through Roe V Wade and I have seen the fallout. My senior year in High School, it became law. And the change in our culture has been incredible. And not in a good way. My freshman year in college, I had student health coverage (back then, as soon as you were 18 you had to get your own insurance). I went to the heath center for a sinus infection and walked out with birth control pills and a diaphragm, just in case I wanted “extra protection.” I survived free love, and sex-drugs-and rock & roll, and lived to tell about it, with my brain cells intact (thanks be to God). And with no diseases or accidents along the way (accidents as in driving when I should not have been). I have lived with roommates who had so many abortions I lost count. I have seen friends get pregnant and chose to keep their babies. I have friends who got pregnant and gave their children up for adoption. And I have friends, like me, who have lost babies due to miscarriage. Life is just so very fragile. But in every single case, it was a child. Not a lump of cells. It was not a puppy. It was not a goldfish. It was a baby. One of my roommates kept her pregnancy sonograms for each abortion and I would hear her cry at night. She knew they were babies.

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“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:13-16

As I looked at the little urn at our friend’s child’s funeral, I kept thinking about what the priest said about being the “adopted sons of God,” and I felt a surge of love in my heart. It was for all the children rescued and adopted. It was for this family, who selflessly took in this little boy and loved him so very well, even on the day of his funeral. It was for our family and how we have grown as people because the Lord brought a special child into our lives. No child needs to die. Not one. Yes, we would have had millions more children in our world; just in the USA alone we average more than 1.2 million abortions a year. And it would have stretched our communities and our homes. But no child is unwanted. No child is not worth that increased burden on our culture. Our homes ache for these babies. Our culture is darker because we have killed them. But God will forgive us. He always forgives those who seek His forgiveness. Our country can turn this trend around. We can be healed as a people.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5: 21-24

I ask all of you, if I have wronged you in any way, please forgive me. Let’s work on loving first, and judging second. Let’s work on dealing with those who upset us, in love and prayer and acceptance. There’s a saying that goes, “Treat other people with politeness, even those who are rude to you, not because they are nice, but because you are.” If we all did this, our world would be a much kinder place. Kindness will win, in the end. In the meantime, try to spread it. Pray for those who are in situations where they are considering abortion…let them know we, the people around them, are here for them. Donate time, treasure, and your talents to the pro life movement. Offer to work at a life center, or to hold babies in the NICU, born with no one to love them. Become a foster parent, and take in those drug babies who will be placed in forever homes soon, or work with foster agencies to help families who do foster. Every little thing we can do will help save a life. If we show that we mean we are pro life and not just pro birth, the world will change. God will change it, through us.

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Respect for life from a natural conception to a natural death.