“…burst out in songs of thanksgiving…”

SOOOO much going on!! We are in escrow on a new house. Always seems to be a few bumps in the road. Trying to be organized and diligent. But sometimes my stomach just cannot handle the stresses assailing us right now. And today, it is not happy – my stomach that is.

Yesterday, our youngest graduated from High School. We homeschool but use a system here that is amazing, and is called IDEA. They put on a very nice graduation, combining three districts, which means we had 110 graduates on the stage. Some of these students had to FLY in to be here. We have a large state. Coming from a public school background myself, I know that 110 students is not a large number; I think we had 300+ in my class. But they do something really cool – they have the parents award the students their diplomas (the fake ones) and each student gets to say a little something if they want to. Then the family poses for photos. This was done at our performing arts center downtown. On a stage. With 110 students. Yeah. It was over 2 hours. The speeches were short and sweet; the musical performances were amazing; the student’s receiving their diplomas was …. long. Even the Master of Ceremonies (the Dean) was ready to get that show on the road! LOL! My stomach had been upset as we were rushing out of the house to get there in time for rehearsal (they do it before the ceremony) and to find a parking spot. I still get lost going downtown, much to my family’s amusement. I had a map the school provided with me, so that helped, but I am still not used to where I am going. Once we parked, all my nerves settled. I wasn’t even that nervous going up on the stage. As I went up, I reminded myself the hard part was over. We completed 12 years of schooling and he was done! All that was left was a hug and handing him that fake diploma…and photos. LOL. But it wreaked havoc on my system…the nerves, then eating out and far too much, and now this escrow hiccup this morning…my tummy is letting me know enough is enough. And I need to listen. Sometimes too much stress is NOT healthy.

“The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Psalm 28:7

“So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you!” Hebrews 10:35

“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.” Psalm 55:22

I found these quotes in a lovely article on the Proverbs 31 site by Linda Evans Shepherd, the author of, “The Stress Cure.” She has a blog, too. And her thoughts were great. And then, as I read in my Proverbs for today, “A house is built by wisdom.” (Proverbs 24:3) and then I read…“If you fall under pressure, your strength is too small.” (Proverbs 24:10). And these verses spoke to me. And to my stomach. I keep trying to rely on myself. And with so many things up in the air right now in our lives, I am letting the evil one whisper in my ear. And I need to shut that down and focus on God’s promises to us all.

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1Corinthians 10:13).

That quote is where we get the adage, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” And I know I am tempted to give in to the negative, which is what my stomach is trying to remind me of. I cannot rejoice in my blessings if I am constantly focusing on the minor things going awry in my life. The way out that the Lord gives me is my faith. And to trust in those around me, working for my good. Rushing to appointments and getting lost in traffic, or not being able to get a parking spot, those all things common to everyone. And the Lord did not let me down and I believe that is where my peace came from. As soon as I pulled into that parking spot yesterday, my soul was at rest. Today, as my stomach roiled against me and I had to fight the urge to actually throw up, I was able to calm myself by reaching for my faith. And for me, it is currently the Book of Proverbs, and my Bible Journaling. And guess what? The Lord did not let me down, again. He is always there to buoy us against the “wickedness and snares of the devil”….

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle,
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil;
may God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God, cast into hell
Satan, and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

I am not alone. The angels and the saints are doing celestial battles for me. I have prayer warriors all around me, that I can call on to pray for me. And when I focus on my many blessings, I realize how foolish I am to get myself all worked up about things. I certainly have far more blessings than trials. And it is almost turning my back on God when I allow my stresses to override my sense of well-being and blessings. That, my friends, is our stupid free will inserting itself into our lives. It is a blessing, to freely think for myself, but my head often gets in-between me and my faith. I need to reign it in and rely more on my inner heart, or the nous, the place where God resides within me, to lead the way.

“Mind is invisibly engaged in battle with the mind––the demon’s mind with our mind. And for this reason it is needful for us to cry out of the depths at each moment to Christ, that He will drive away from us the demon’s mind and give us the prize of victory, as He loves men.”  Hesychius of Jerusalem, Writings from the Philokalia On the Prayer of the Heart, p 289

And so I am declaring myself to be a “stress-free” zone! I am choosing to focus on the Word of God for me, and not that other guy…the bad one who only seeks to destroy. The future is God’s…the end of the story is that God wins. I need to remind myself of that and just relax in His promises for me, for all of us who believe. Won’t you join me?

“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

“Let your heart hold fast my words…”

 

I am finding such joy in Bible journaling. I have lifted the lid off this whole cultural thing I had no idea was out there. I am paying attention to craft store sales. I am hoarding craft coupons from Michael’s. I am hoarding pencils and gelato pens. I am in love with Washi tape. Washi tape you ask? Oh my goodness…yes.

It’s this amazing, colorful, fun tape that I discovered when I chose to do a journaling planner for my daily life. And it has flowed so smoothly and simply into journaling in my Bible. And far from feeling like I am writing where I am not supposed to, I purposely bought a Journaling Bible! It is okay to color in my Bible! LOL! And I am having so much fun. I am not artsy, at all, but I drew a lamp. A lamp sounds so simple, but for someone whose stick figures look decrepit, I was so excited! LOL!

That photo above is from my journaling bible and it is one of the simplest pages I have done. I am no artist, but I wanted to share something with you. When I was in both high school and college, and would take notes in a class, I would find my mind wandering. Did you ever own Pee-Chee folders? They were yellow and had athletes and other things on them. I had one for each class, I think. They looked like the ones below. And I colored on them when I was bored. My notes from classes had doodles all over them. I remember this thing where everyone would make random, cross-section lines all over paper and then color in shapes where the lines crossed, making mosaic-style designs. I have always been a doodler. I would practice my imagined married name, or imagine names of future children I would have and doodle all over my notebooks and class notes with imaginative scripts and designs. But I also learned the material I was taking notes on, and recalled entire pages of notes in my mind, because I could envision my doodles!

The difference now is that it is an approved activity for us adults! There are coloring books all over the place. And they cover almost every subject. Don’t believe me? Go on Amazon and do a search. Google it. There are even colored pencils and special markers that don’t bleed through and are acid-free so your grandchildren will be able to look at your doodles 50 years from now. Ha-Ha! It is a big business, doodling. But why are we doodling? I am not sure what the social scientists would say, except that perhaps it comes from a need to do something with our hands. We are always “watching.” We passively take in information on our phones, computers, iPads. We write very little. Maybe our signatures on a random check, or when we use our ATM/credit cards at check-out and sign for our purchases? That’s pretty much it. So, I think doodling and coloring is helping us fulfill a need we are missing out on by using computers and other machines to communicate. And perhaps being prolific in journaling is also answering a need to express ourselves, using our own hands and fingers, and creating something we find pleasing to the eye.

About a thousand years ago, we had “Illuminated Manuscripts” like the one above. And nowadays, we have coloring books, journals, and journaling Bibles. It has taken my study of my faith to a new level. I am recalling more, and in more detail, what I am studying, because I am choosing a portion and illuminating it in the Bible, itself. I am enhancing the message the Scriptures had for me that day, and saving it to savor more later.

“When you lie down, you need not be afraid. When you rest, your sleep will be sweet.” Proverbs 3:24

“Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commands that you may live.” Proverbs 4:4

“Turn neither to right nor to left; keep your foot far from evil.” Proverbs 4:27

“So now, my sons, listen to me. Never stray from what I am about to say…” Proverbs 5:7

I could, quite literally, go on and on. Because I am recalling these verses. I am illustrating them, highlighting them, coloring them, saying them, and remembering them for days, even weeks, later. God is so good to me. He brings me avenue after avenue to make His Word come alive for me. And He brought me to a study for Lent that changed my life and now I am doing a study on Proverbs that is so incredible, I find it hard to express what is happening in my head and my heart. But I know that keeping the Word of God alive in our hearts helps us to keep the Word of God alive in the marketplace.

As I listened to Fr. Josiah this morning, discussing the next section of Proverbs in our study, I was struck with how important studying scripture truly is. He talked about how Solomon wrote these Proverbs for his sons, so that they would become wonderful leaders, after him. He was imparting his knowledge so they could successfully lead a kingdom. But we are all called to be involved in our world. We cannot simply pray and hide within a safety zone of only like-thinkers and believers. We are all called to be light and salt in this world. “My son, should sinners entice you, turn your back on them!” (Proverbs 1:10). Fr. Josiah quoted Dante, who said, “The darkest of places in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis.” We cannot be inactive in our times. We need to be in the marketplace…the places people inhabit, where we do business and raise our children. We cannot be the leaven if we don’t have wisdom and knowledge to impart to those who desperately need our help. For me, I think of our public arena of politics and political action, of having our voices heard at the highest levels of our federal government, and even at the lowest levels of local burough politics. “The price of apathy in public affairs is to be ruled by wicked men.” (Plato). The majority of moral America stepped aside and allowed the government we have to happen. “If the godly give in to the wicked, it’s like polluting a fountain or muddying a spring.” (Proverbs 25:26) And I learned this, and more, delving into the Bible. And through my journaling, I have come to see the importance of keeping the voice of Wisdom out in the open, not hidden away in the darkness. “Wisdom shouts in the streets; She cries out in the public square.”(Proverbs 1:20) “The woman named Folly…sits in her doorway… She calls out to men going by… ‘Come with me,’ she urges the simple….Stolen water is refreshing; food eaten in secret tastes the best!” (Proverbs 10:13-17).

And so today, I am encouraged to keep journaling in my Bible. To keep learning, and holding fast to the commands of God (Proverbs 4:4) and I am working at putting one foot in front of the other, keeping far from evil (Proverbs 4:27). I am also going to think at least twice before I use the term, “proverbial,” again. Because now I realize it is meant to reflect the Wisdom contained in the Book of Proverbs, and not just conventional wisdom; although in our modern terminology, that is just what it is. I choose to adhere to the Wisdom imparted to us all, in this amazing book, the Book of Proverbs.

I hope this has encouraged you to at least delve more deeply into the Scriptures, and maybe even doodle a little bit! Happy Journaling, my friends!!