The pain of memories…

So some days there are moments when your head just explodes. Sometimes it is a result of not enough caffeine (rare in my house) or not enough sleep (becoming the norm), and sometimes it is fall-out from interacting with others. For me, it has been a combination of moving (the physicality of it all, in addition to the emotional stress of relocating) and of trying to restore order and normalcy to our life habits, in addition to the preparation for my mom to come and live with us. So much change!!

My true pain came from a FaceTime session with my ailing mom. I realized how much this stupid disease is stealing from us all. She had no idea who my grandchildren were, nor did she truly understand what she was seeing. I took her on a tour of our new home, and showed her the room she would be living in, as well as her bathroom. Her comment was, “Well, at least I don’t have to go outside in the snow to go pee.” And we chuckled at it. (She has some odd, but common, misconceptions about life in the “Last Frontier”).  And then, as I walked from the bathroom, around a corner, to the living room, she asked me, “Are you ever going to move to a bigger house?” She was back to the house we just moved from, in her mind. It took about 3 minutes. And when my sister and I reminded her that she could not stay where she is, she said, “I’m not leaving here until I die.” And she was adamant about it. My sister and I exchanged looks, knowing this will be such a hard transition for her – for all of us, really.

But what prepares us for this process? Not much, really. I have not taken a course on caring for aging parents (I probably should look into that). I know my mom will probably become a toddler again, in some ways. It hurts my heart for her and her dignity. And dreams we all had of growing old and sharing our children and grandchildren. I am hoping that being around my grandchildren will energize her (or wear her out! Ha-Ha!).

And I am confused, as well, by all this information I keep seeing about why the preponderance of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is so rampant in the USA – some link it to our diets, some to our sedentary life style, or processed foods, or the mercury in all those old vaccinations we were forced to get in the 40s and 50s and 60s. There are now so many dementia patients who are only in the their 40s! And it is not in Europe or elsewhere as pronounced as it is in America. I question standard medical practice and embrace much that is considered alternative. Why? Well, I grew up around medicine and I know they play at it. I have seen doctors create solutions on the fly, going against normal procedures on a whim, and having it work out better than what they would have achieved, had they not been creative. I have seen chemical mistakes turn into cures. My brother broke his hand – crushed his fingers – on a Saturday afternoon when he was, I believe, 14 or 15. He was one of the star running backs at our high school. Did my dad rush him to the local ER? No. He drove him about an hour away, after having called his friends (no cell phones in those days) who met him at the hospital where they all had faculties, and they experimented and came up with a casting system (it was replaced several times during the season) that would allow him to pass the referee’s requirements thereby keeping the season intact. Did my parents pay for that? They did not. Did my brother get excellent medical attention? You bet he did. But medicine and research of his incident was used as the payment. He was their guinea pig. My point? Science can be flexible. There are thousands of stories of doctors and staff using their families as guinea pigs. So I know there is stuff going on out there, for this horrid disease. I also KNOW that big pharma has a hand in all of this. Why cure Alzheimer’s and dementia when there is money to be made off the victims? Why cure many of these horrible diseases when healthy patients don’t need to see their doctor or take their medications as often or as long? When did medicine become pharmacy instead of prevention?? When did dietary and exercise advice become a prescription or a surgical procedure? When did doctors stop treating the person and just focus on the symptom?? It makes my head spin.

After my frustrating FaceTime with my mom, with my head exploding, I laid down on my bed. I diffused lavender essential oil on my dresser. I cuddled with my cat. I cried for my mom. I cried for my kids and grandchildren, too. I have a parent with Alzheimer’s, which means it is more likely I may get it, too. My dad has Parkinson’s Dementia. (I am not sure about my possibility for Parkinson’s, but it is out there). But it seems like the medication he is taking keeps him more with us than when he was first diagnosed. (Shocking result, to be honest. I seriously doubt our pharmaceutical world). He is having more Parkinson’s symptoms and less of the dementia, although he had to stop driving. He has a hard time even walking some days. His speech today was slurred, but as we spoke longer, his voice got steadier and we had a great conversation. I cried. I know my parents are leaving me. And I realized how lonely that can leave you, even with a spouse, children, and siblings left behind with you. And I cried for my future. How long do I have with my husband and children, and grandchildren? Moving exhausts you; it truly does. I am pretty spent. And the future is just so cloudy, surrounded by lots of tears.

I will rise up. I know I will. My exhaustion brings on melancholy and thinking. Ha-Ha. Maybe I just need that cup of tea and a break! I know my world will continue through my sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. And I know I have lots of time to spend with them, making memories for them to hold after I am gone. Right now, I am still facing a garage full of boxes. Many of them contain my memories. So I will bask in those wonderful memories, as well as embrace what is before me. I will also prepare for my future. My hubby and I realize we need to return to our Whole30 eating regime and add back in some supplements for our future health. We need to stop being lazy in food and meal prep, as well as getting ourselves healthier. Mindwise is back on the menu for me!

I still may have to escape to the mountains for some much needed respite. And believe me, I know that sounds funny, coming from someone who lives in Alaska, in a town of just 8,845 people! But the mountains do call to you! Almost as much as all this green growing all around me gives me peace, the mountains give me stability. I know I am tired. And I know I am blessed. I also know summer is coming. The sun will help. So does God. 

 

 

“…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.

“…but the greatest of these is love.”

Clinging, clinging, clinging. The world is all about loss today. It seems like things happen in 3’s, as they say, so I am holding on.

It amazes me how we ignore the needs of some portions of our community. And that is not a judgmental statement. Not at all. Unless you are exposed to the need, quite often we don’t know it even exists. I am not all that familiar with things outside of my experiential life. There are some things I know about that seem random, but it is because somewhere along the line I was exposed to it. And I learned. But we all go along in life, noting what we need to note to survive our days, and pretty much ignoring the rest of it. Because of time.

My major in college was Anthropology. We study what was, about a culture, and what is. We study the remains of older cultures through Archeology. And if we are blunt about it, archeologists are the world’s dumpster-divers. We dig through trash left behind by cultures that faded away, or moved on. Today, dumpster diving is sadly a way of life for many of our indigent and poor. But something else that is happening is that we are becoming a throw-away society. A transient population. Ever moved? Trust me when I say, I have. Too many times that I am almost embarrassed by it. But with moving, you learn to get rid of stuff. We had an enormous garage sale prior to relocating. I sold literally boxes of paperback books (it turned out the buyer owned a used book store! LOL!) and all sorts of outdated toys and tools, and a myriad of other supplies I no longer needed; oh, and furnishings; tons of “furnishings” (love that broad-base descriptor). It amazes me what people will and will not buy. We are moving again. This weekend we made our first dump run and a run to the Salvation Army. We are, once again, purging. We realize we need less of this stuff we have somehow accumulated. Heck, I have boxes I have not unpacked from our last move, four years ago! LOL! And furniture we have never used, and it looks like we won’t need it again, that has been in our shed for 4 years, too! And we have to get rid of our “stuff.”

But what about the other, more precious things, we have in our lives? We warehouse people. We find it too hard to care for them, so we warehouse them. They call them “nursing homes,” or “memory care facilities,” or “senior centers,” and “long term care facilities.” There is pretty much a name for whatever/whomever we are housing. But when you try to keep family members home with you, what help is there? It is hard to come by. Most medical professionals don’t even know what is out there. How sad. You have to work in some branch of social services to appreciate what is out there, that can assist you. We don’t have to experience loss several times when it comes to our elderly or infirm (the first loss is when you separate them from you by warehousing them; the second loss is when they pass away). But it amazes me how few people acknowledge the needs of our elderly population. We are now living longer. There is going to be a shortage of professionals to deal with our senior population, and we are going to see, increasingly, situations where multiple generations are once again living together. We need to stop and think about how we are educating our children, and what they are being taught. Compassion? Caring attitude? Serving attitude? Do they know how to put others first?

Today is the Feast Day of St. Joseph the Worker. My husband took him as his patron when he was ordained, and this icon was magically placed on the cake I had made for him, by an amazing baker. It was created from rice paper and edible inks. I still marvel at it. What a talent. St. Joseph is such an incredible role model for us all. He epitomized the ideals of selfless service. He married the Theotokos, Mother of God, knowing She was carrying the Son of God. And he put his life into the service of Mary and Jesus. He was a background saint…not much detail is known of him. But he taught his Son, Jesus, the skill of a master carpenter. Jesus worked until he was 30 years old, as a carpenter. He took care of the needs of his community, quietly working with wood. In those days, the skill set to work in wood was special. Things were made to last, to be passed on from one generation to the next. It was not Ikea furniture. And Joseph excelled at it.

Today, I was recently informed, we have the generation of kids who register at Ikea and Target. They are mobile and they are not particularly drawn to the old, the antique. It has to be something pretty special for today’s young adults to appreciate it. We have become this “throw-away,” transient, people. Look at me! I have moved so many times in my life, it is ridiculous. This next house? I am fondly calling it my “casket” house – because that is how I want to move out of it – in my casket. I am done moving. I am tired of the transience in my life. I want to stick to a place and stay there.

My parents, my mother-in-law, are all aging. They require care. They require someone to take care of them in their home. And they require a lot of care. Coordinating that, organizing that, and implementing a plan is taxing on those left to care for our elderly. Today I spent hours on the phone and internet trying to coordinate, from clear across the country, care for my dad. Only because I have been involved in social services did I know what terms to use, and how to search, for help. They had no clue. Never thought they would have to ever look for it, either. It was completely outside of their experiential lives. I had previously cared for my elderly grandmother and had waded through these waters before, as well as working in the social services world. So terms were familiar and google did it’s thing, and I connected. But how many others have no clue where to even begin?

I began with this post saying how I was clinging…I am. To my sanity. Today is the end of homeschooling for me. Senior grades are due. A phase in my life is over. My youngest child will graduate later this month. That’s 25 years of the homeschooling lifestyle I will no longer have. And it is a mixed bag of emotions for me. And I dealt with my dad. And tomorrow, we have to euthanize our 15-year-old dog who is snoring right now at my feet. It seems like life and death are circling around me and it makes me agitated. I need a good laugh. I need a good night out with friends, who will make me smile. I need a good hug from a granddaughter or grandson. I need to smell a newborn and hold a wiggling baby, to ensure myself that life indeed goes on. I’d love to cuddle a puppy, you know?

Mr. Chet has been my buddy for the past 15 years. I remember the day we picked him out of his litter; and the day we brought him home, six weeks later. He’s never been a simple dog to own, but most terrier breeds are not simple. Miniature Schnauzers can be particularly stubborn and constantly take the lead of their own mindset, rarely listening to their owners. They are trainable, but you have to really work at it. And they are funny, too. Chet has provided many hours of laughter. He will cuddle when I ask him, but he is content off by himself, on a soft surface of some sort. That photo of him is when he was sitting on top of the back of our couch, in the sun, on a blanket. He always chose his spots, regardless of the dog beds available. He is also a runaway! He has kept us on our toes for 15 years. He is also not the smartest dog in the bunch. But it has become increasingly obvious that he no longer enjoys a quality of life. He sleeps constantly and enjoys very little. He is always lost, wandering around the house. He has little pep, exhibiting interest in mostly breakfast and little else. And so we are preparing to say goodbye to our little buddy…and my heart is breaking. Death is just so final with our animals. Thanks be to God we have eternity to look forward to.

With all the aging and dying in my life right now, my advice would be to get all the snuggles you can with whom/what you love. If your furry friend wants a snuggle, let them. If your son wants to give you a hug, take it. If a friend needs a long chat, chat. If your mom needs you to help her out, help her out. Time is marching on, whether we realize it or not and our days are numbered. And the quality of our days definitely wanes as we age. So be good to those you love. Hold on to them; enjoy the unexpected moments of their company, and bask in your shared love and relationship. God knows how things will work out, each day, for the good of us all. Cling to love like it is a cliff, connecting you to this world. It is all we really have. And we ought not to throw that away, like old books at garage sales.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.               1 Cor 13:13

“I am a sojourner…”

It was a loo-oo-oo-ng weekend. Hubby flew out of state to see his mom in the middle of the week, and I was here, trying to motivate our youngest, who is suffering with an extreme case of senioritis, and I was doing that among a myriad of other goings-on. And in the middle of all my personal chaos, I was blessed to have lunch with a newly-made friend. I really enjoy her company. We went to this restaurant that has been around forever. It is decorated in typical-tourist-Alaska style with rocks and bears and mining tools. But it is just such a fun place to hang around. The servers are genuine people. The menu is simple fare and I had the best BLT I have had in ages. It was a double-decker and the fries were to die for. They even left us an entire pot of coffee! What more could two gabbing women ask for?? Ha-Ha! And we were there for 3 and a half, gloriously uninterrupted, hours on a Saturday afternoon. We gabbed, we shared, we laughed; I really enjoyed myself. Oh, and we ate, too! LOL!

The hubby dragged himself in late this afternoon, after the airlines lost his luggage, and then found it again, and after he stopped at the auto supply store to get oil…and then he put oil in our son’s car…he was so tired. And tomorrow at some ungodly hour, which I will be sleeping through, he jets off again for a week of work away from home. With no respite in-between. We knew he’d be squeezing in his visit to his mom, but did not realize how tired he would be.

We are on the precipice of great change in our lives. Our parents are aging and are all at points where their health is not good – at all. We are making huge changes and altering many lives in just a few weeks. And helping to support family members facing their own issues. It seems like we are just waiting for the first domino to fall…and then the rest will follow suit.

We bought a house. Which my middle son told me was the first thing on our list. I guess it is a list. I had not thought of it that way. I read an article today about making lists in our lives to encourage our growth in faith. We need to add things to do, to make time to do all the important things. Things like praying. And reading Scripture. And actually going to church. We are all in different places in our journey to our forevers. My steps are just that – my steps. You may be leaps and bounds ahead of where I would like to be, or perhaps I can turn back and see you, trudging along behind me, making your way.

“I am a sojourner in the land; do not hide your commandments from me.”    Psalm 119:19 

This quote from Psalms stuck with me because I think it describes what we are going through. It is like we are all moving towards that goal – eternity – and many of us are much closer than others. Many of us have taken direct routes, while others of us have a very convoluted journey. Our family is a mixed bag of believers, non-believers; those who practice their faith and those who tolerate faith in their lives. And as a family, it feels like we are making decisions and checking things off our lists, making the pathway a little clearer. And I think that for the first time in my life, I am feeling the journey.

We wake to that alarm, we drink our coffee, we head out into the world. It is the daily grind. We get into traffic and make our way along. But every so often, something happens that makes you draw a quick breath and stop. And in that pause, you can feel the movement, the journey, right beneath your feet. Or within the pumping of the blood through your veins. Or in each breath you subsequently draw in. And in that next moment, the world is different. We sense it; we know it; but some of us refuse to recognize it in any real, and tangible, way. And when people refuse to acknowledge these pivotal moments, they react in sometimes odd ways.

Quite often, when we sense change coming, we react in anger, directed towards where all that movement is coming from. Sometimes people lash out at those they love, because they fear the changes, the movement, the momentum towards whatever it is they sense is coming.

And when we are dealing with our aging family members who are suffering disease, and all the effects on their bodies, minds, and souls, we can witness moments of lashing out and anger, which is brought on, I believe, through frustration. We have all seen images of little old ladies sitting around tables looking ready for a date, and none of them are speaking – they are staring off into their minds and their pasts. And sometimes you see others in nursing homes or in hospitals, who are yelling and angry at the world. We all react differently to changes in our world, our lives, our bodies, and our minds. It is part of our journey. We bought a house, to bring my mom home with us for the last section of her journey. And we’re all a little agitated. It has been over 40 years since my mom and I lived under the same roof. The hubby and son have claimed part of the 3rd garage as their “space.” Do not blame them, at all. And mom, due to her aging and suffering with Alzheimer’s, doesn’t do change well.

Tonight, as I sat in Church, I prayed for my entire family. My blood family, and my extended family. We fondly refer to extended family members as the “married-ins.” Ha-Ha. I am a “married in” to my husband’s large family, as he is to my much smaller, but fractured family. And I prayed for my friends. My long time friends, and my new friends. I prayed for my sons and their families, and my youngest son (the senior-itis boy!!) as he comes to the close of his high school experience and embarks on his career. Because this journey we are all on, well, we come together once in awhile and we share the road together. And sometimes we need to rely on family and friends to help us navigate this path we are on. It’s when we lean on each other.  And so I prayed for us all.

“Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.” Psalm 71:9

“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” Psalm 71:18

There is much we can learn from our older generation. They need not be placed into “holding cells” or “old-people prison” or even “gilded cages.”  My mom said to my sister one time, something to the effect that, “It’s nice where I live, but it is still a prison.” And I really don’t want anyone to feel that way. Not ever. Life is to be lived joyously, peacefully, and with love, until our last breath. And ideally, surrounded by family and friends.

Tomorrow will be another busy day; the week will be full. And slowly but surely, we will be checking more things off our lists. The hubby can come home later in the week and not have to leave again for a couple of weeks; he can relax at home for awhile. I can start packing us up to move (*The thrill is gone…* I am channeling my inner BB King). My youngest son can get closer to graduation – it all wraps up in a couple of weeks! We can get in tune with this journey we are all on and the feelings we have, as we take these next steps; steps taken together as a family.

“But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15

And so I muse… comings and goings…

“He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.'”            Job 1:21

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”    Ecclesiastes 3:1

I have been musing over many things lately. The Lord’s providence in my life, for sure. I see blessings all around me. And I see the empty places, as well. Sometimes we wonder why we “end up” where we are. I have had some interesting conversations recently with a disparate group of people; some friends, some acquaintances. And I have come to realize that the “empty places” in our lives are sometimes there for our blessing. Even if we notice them and they become bothersome or we become sad for the noticing. 

cartoon-lady-closet

I often see people struggling with their “things” – and our “things” can be literally junk we pay to keep in storage. I had a friend who had a storage unit for all her “seasonal decor” because she was over-the-top at decorating and had no basement space to store her decorations for every holiday. So she paid for a storage unit, where she kept each season’s/holiday’s decorations. She always had her house perfectly decorated for every holiday, often using a professional to assist her. But I never got over the fact that she spent money on a storage unit to keep all that stuff. I have friends who are constantly “cleaning out” or “organizing.”  I completely get that. When we left our large home and downsized in California, and then when we left California for Washington, we got rid of a lot of extra furniture, and decor.  We simply had no place to put it. When we finally relocated up to Alaska in a 30-foot U-Haul truck, I downsized in a large way. We live very simply, but I am constantly getting “the urge to purge”!  Our things, or attachment to them, can weigh us down in so many ways. I love that saying, “You can’t take it with you” and the quote from Job at the beginning of this post sort of brings that out – “Naked I cam from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there.” Our things are here to assist us, to make life easier, and to bring us joy.  Have you ever walked into a museum and been brought to a hushed silence in awe of what you are seeing? Oh, I have.  On several occasions.  A memorable one was a trip to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles for an exhibit of Icons and Illuminated Manuscripts from Saint Catherine’s in the Sinai Desert. I could not even speak, but just whisper in the presence of some of these original icons, holy artifacts, and manuscripts. That is a case of storing things for a purpose!

Illuminate manuscript

The Lord allows us to experience the fruits of creation throughout our lives. Being in the presence of those who are creative, for me, is overwhelming at times. I am not very good at things “artistic” and am in awe of artists. I have wept at ballets, especially when my very gifted daughter-in-law danced in a production in college. I have wept at plays and operas. Once the “Phantom of the Opera” began and Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman sang, I started weeping and did not stop until it was over. What an experience to see them in person, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles! So, so blessed. We are given people and things to make life especially joyful and to bless us in a special way.  But there are times for all these things, for all these people, and all these experiences.  And there is also time for simple, quiet, and unadorned. “For everything there is a season.” 

Take people out of your life

I have come to the conclusion that sometimes we hang on to people, and have them in a sort of “storage unit” just in case. It is not fair to ourselves, nor them. Because of social media, the word, “friend,” has been highly – ridiculously – over used. There are, in fact, very few friends in our lives. We have acquaintances by the score through social media sites like Facebook, but how many friends?  I mean, real, honest, “lay-their-life-down-for-you,” friends?

No one at funeral

Why do we place such emphasis on Social Media? Is it really necessary in our lives? It has come to replace real-life interaction, in so many cases. I have seen wedding invitations only on Facebook. Birth, graduation, divorce announcements, only on Facebook. Communicating with friends, only on Facebook. So many not commenting at all, just watching everything on Facebook (how creepy is that?). The ability to be that much removed from someone gives people a lot of leeway in their communicating. Some people revel in the anonymity of Twitter and Facebook and Snap Chat. They are removed from directly interacting with people, allowing them to say some of the most outrageous and hurtful things. And it’s one of the profound ways I have seen my “Christian” friends behave very, very un-Christ-like. How easy it is to cut people down and be cruel, without having to look them in the face and see the hurt you cause them. In addition, the milieu itself is completely artificial. It is not real life. Just like reality TV is not real. (Cannot believe how many people don’t get that whole premise). We are playing to our worst selves, by allowing this computer I am using and the screen I see to be the sole way we know one another, or communicate. And do not even get me started on cell phones, especially “smart phones.” It’s one of the ways we disconnect from people, even in a crowded room. I am guilty of this and is one of the myriad of reasons for my musing, and posting, today.

High Tea

One of my most-favored places for communicating is a local coffee house. Not Starbucks, because those are more for the computer-using workaholic/college student. No, I mean a real coffee house, or tea shop. I love high tea. (If you’ve never gone to a real, British High Tea, try it sometime. It is delicious and wonderful and one of my most treasured memories with my dearly departed Grandma). These days, I love choosing a delicious scone and trying a new brew concoction, and then sitting down with a close friend and gabbing away the hours. I have friends I have moved away from and we have reminisced that those are the times we miss the most – coffee around my kitchen table, often with bread baking in the oven (especially when we lived on dairy farms!). I have realized that people and things are put in our paths for our enlightenment, our joy, our appreciation, by a gracious God, Who loves us. 

I cannot save everything I have ever owned, and everyone cannot stay my friend. Perhaps we don’t share the same activities, the same lives, any longer. It is okay to say goodbye to a friendship, just like that comfy sweater or favorite pair of jeans. Some relationships are formed out of camaraderie and convenience. When either support is removed, the friendship falls apart. And it is okay to lose a relationship that way, most especially if it was based on things like soccer schedules and living next door, or carpooling and church attendance. When we move on, we take aspects of these people and things with us. We have grown because of them, and hopefully learned from them. We move on. 

cartoon-coffee-cup-clip-art-196859

When I was younger, my grandmother gifted me with her tea cup collection. God bless her. Each cup had a story, and I remember them distinctly. I have been blessed with sons. Sons do not care about tea cups. What am I going to do with these tea cups? I chose to gift them, a couple at a time, to people who mean something to me. Sharing my Grandmother’s tea cups became a way I could leave a part of myself with others who have shared my life. And each tea cup I give away, I write down the story my Grandma told me about that cup. I cannot keep all these cups and saucers. There are so many of them, as in literally dozens of them. Some of them appeal to me and I will probably hold onto them longer, but some are not my particular “cup of tea” and so I can gift them a bit easier. I am planning on each grand daughter, and daughter-in-law, receiving tea cup sets. Some have cookie plates with them, that are for enjoying high tea. But I am slowly gifting them all away, as I know I cannot take them with me (as in the quote from Job above). The same holds true for friends. It is okay to give them up, to let them go. Each person, each thing, has a time in our lives. It is difficult sometimes to let people go; we mourn that particular relationship and we miss the person. But it is healthier to allow the relationship to wither on its own, and allow God to work in our lives by allowing new people into it.

And I am feeling more and more confident that as I age (and hopefully mature) and my circles tighten and shrink, that it is okay. It is also okay to become quieter. Sometimes keeping silent in the face of harsh words, whether spoken or written, is the “better part of valor.” (To paraphrase Shakespeare). Discretion, being that better portion, can be said to be silence in many instances. We can be discrete in how we handle ourselves insofar as friendships, both the making and letting go. As I was perusing my “friends” on social media, I came to see that the ones I hold especially dear are not a part of the social media frenzy, and it is not how we communicate. Several on there I also communicate with through emails, and shockingly enough, actual conversations. My closest friends will stay my friends whether or not I post my status on Facebook for that day. So as I ease into my 60s, I am seeing that my life can quiet down, can be even more simplified through the purging of social media outlets, as well as too many “things” in my life. Simplicity is something I think God appreciates. A simple, direct approach to life is actually freeing. Keeping your schedule simple, your “appointments” simple is also a way to be more in touch with God. Less time with others is more of an opportunity to spend in quiet contemplation. Do not get me wrong, I will still go to museums, plays, concerts when I can. I will attend school plays and productions for my grandchildren when I can. I will continue to dine with friends, and meet for a “cuppa” at the local coffee house. I am not locking myself away. But I am being more discrete in more aspects of my life. Sometimes all this “stuff” out there just gets to be too much.

sit with you lord

“…and will bring you into your own land.”

“For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.” (Ezekiel 36)

0804-ss-glacier-1A year ago today we arrived in Alaska.  We were beat up.  It had been a long and arduous journey to arrive in one piece.  We chose to leave the “lower 48” for many reasons.  I loved living in Washington.  A trip to a local farm to buy pumpkins by the pound was one of our best times in Washington.  I loved wandering Pike’s Market and getting fresh flowers and a cup of coffee from the original Starbucks, as well as the deals on local cheeses and vegetables.  I came to love the season of fall in Washington.  One of our most memorable Thanksgivings was spent with dear friends and family just north of Seattle. Living in Washington was a preparatory move and very good for us.

wet pumpkinsBut we had decisions to make about our living and work situation and we missed, terribly, our children and grandson who lived in Alaska.  Our middle son was in the midst of getting married and setting up his household, not knowing where he would live, and encouraged us to get away and live closer to his big brother.  So, we packed up 30 years of marriage and memories into a 20+ foot U-Haul truck, loaded our pets and suitcases in our car, and off we went, into a very uncertain future.

Alaska.dirt roadI learned to drive on ice – on “all weather” tires, no less.  The AlCan Highway is truly an experience I will never forget – nor will I ever repeat it.  Our journey to Alaska was one that was charged with so many emotions.  The physical part of the journey was harrowing and nerve-wracking, and extremely tiring. I remember at one point asking our then-14-year-old if he thought we would see Alaska over the next mountain…all I got from him was a grunt.  (He was thrilled with the trip because he played his x-box non-stop!  I don’t think he looked outside unless I told him to).  Our U-Haul truck was full and heavy and ungainly on those snowy and icy roads.  Watching behind me as the snow and ice gathered on the windshield of the truck and Ed reaching out the window – while driving – to try and clear it! Scared me to death, but we were so afraid to pull over and stop because the terrain was erratic and we were not sure if we were on the road or off the road. These crazy truck drivers would zoom past our little caravan with no warning and nary a peek in our direction – talk about “ice road truckers”!!!! They would spray snow and ice all over us. I was shocked at how fast they drove on those harrowing roads. Learning later on that the roads are not even paved did nothing to enhance my memories!  Up and down, up and down, and around and around some pretty incredible curves on those mountains;  I am just glad it is done! I even bought myself a sticker that is on our refrigerator, “I survived the AlCan“! Ha! And I did.

Alaska2.2012When we crossed the Alaskan border, I cried.  We finally arrived!  We were in constant cell contact with our daughter-in-law most of the journey and we arranged to meet her and our little grandson for a burger before we followed her to our new home.  We were so thrilled to see a familiar face!  It also cemented for us why we made this amazing journey.  When we drove into town, seeing that Welcome sign that said we were home, I was never so excited to be “home” in my life.  Our little house, settled into its quiet corner of Alaska.  I think there are two stoplights here.  Two.  I love that I am far enough out of town to have the peace and quiet, and close enough to drive into it as often as needed.

I have learned so much about living in a snow state since moving here.  Things I never even thought of, growing up in SoCal.  And I have so many blessed memories packed into this last year, I am blown away.  While we have been here, we have seen the most incredible sights. This state is incredibly beautiful and still very wild.  We have had eagles in the trees in our yard.  We have had a moose lazily make its way through our yard, eating the leaves off the trees. The vistas here are simply breath-taking.  Every time we go out of our little house, we want to take photographs! We still feel like we are tourists. I am sure it will take years to feel like real Alaskans.

Alaska.sunSome of the amazing things we experienced over this past year only deepen our gratitude to God, as well as help us realize how blessed we are.  Our middle son welcomed his first child, a daughter, into the world in May.  What a blessing her arrival was!  I was thrilled to visit them in SoCal for her baptism and to spend some time with my mom. An incredible summer spent watching Andrew get in his glider and orientation flights with CAP.  And in October, our oldest son welcomed his second child, also a daughter, into the world.  We were actually here and were able to see her, hold her, and cry all over ourselves on the day of her birth.  What an amazing experience.  We’ve been here to celebrate holidays and birthdays with our oldest son and his growing family, which is something we have not been privileged to do in more than eight years.  We had Christmas with our grandchildren.  We have walked on glaciers.  We have seen the ocean, waterfalls, mountains, fields and fields of green, and gorgeous blue skies.  We have seen the wildlife here, just roaming freely.  It is truly amazing and I love it!

20140315--Dean-Biggins--U-S--Fish-and-Wildlife-Service-We left everything familiar behind us.  We left access to the “lower 48.”  We left friends of decades behind us.  We left adobe and tile roofs and they have been replaced with siding and downspouts that grow the most amazing icicles!  We’ve learned to shovel snow instead of dirt.  It is a simple life.  It is a quiet life.  We left the maze of freeways and highways and toll roads for a state that has no interstates and only 3 highways.  We have driven through some crazy snow storms, sliding all over the road, and barely able to see where we are going.  But we made it just fine.  My oldest son commented that I needed boots higher than my ankle for those “snow drifts” I may have to wade through. My return comment to him was, “I am the grandma. I have sons who will shovel or plow those out of my way for me.  I do not need high boots.”  He laughed when I reminded him that he was one of my sons! Ha-Ha!

water-cascading-from-a-bull-mooses-antlersWe have been exposed to one of the best homeschooling experiences I have ever had.  I have now homeschooled and/or had someone in school in three states and I can honestly say this is the best place to educate your child, hands down.  Over 60% of the state homeschools because of environment and location.  Because of that the materials and resources available to families is amazing.  In addition to receiving a top-notch education, our son has been reunited with a family we’ve been friends with for over 20 years, and their children.  It has been wonderful. He has been able to continue with his CAP involvement and is growing into an exceptional young man. He is making friends through CAP, through our parish community, and through our friends and outreach opportunities in homeschooling.  For our youngest son, this move was a blessing. He is looking forward to more hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and other outdoors experiences here.  Alaska is a place where you are constantly outside, exploring this wonderful place.

St. Nicholas of MyraAnd we found a new church home, as well.  We have struggled with our new parish because it is so unlike anything we’ve experienced as Melkite Greek Catholics.  We are changing, and our parish is undergoing major changes, but I tell you, we have been more welcomed here than in any of the churches we visited while in Washington.  And I am making some wonderful friends. I am learning all about new cultures (as I detailed in my Easter basket prep saga) and learning to appreciate new and different ways of doing things (even at my age, I can still be taught!!).  I have had to turn inward more and more, because I don’t have friends who drop in for tea or who I can pick up the phone and gab with. It’s hard when you have had intense friendships for so long, to not have your friends around you. But I know this is where God brought us, and He brought us here for a reason. I feel so blessed to be here.

  “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”- Anatole France

I truly believe God brought us through so many changes, out of a place that was not feeding our spirits, and into a land that is hard and tough and requires us to change not only who we are, but how we see who we are, in order to make us better people. There is a philosophy I have touched on many times in my posts on this blog and it is called, “Theosis.”  Many people mistake this for man thinking he can become God.  But rather, it is the process through which man becomes like God.  We aspire to all those qualities that God has, and we try to incorporate them into who we are.  We become as He is.  Each day we take steps towards our final destination. Each day we are faced with choices that make us more like God, or our choices take us further away from Him.  I have imagined the days when Adam and Eve strolled through the Garden, deep in conversation with God.  But they were tempted by the Serpent and they chose to eat of the Tree of Life.  Once they were equal with God, He cast them out of the Garden: “And then God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3: 22-24)  So it is not for us to become the same as God, nor is it for us to become a God.  But rather, it is for us to strive to be like Him in all things.  And I know I am in this place because it gives me a simplicity of life.  An approach that is simple and sincere, saved from much that used to distract me from pursuing the best of the person God wants me to be.  Each day is a step in the direction I choose for it to be.  And moving so far away; moving to a place that is incredibly beautiful but at the same time harsh in many ways, is proving to be the place where I can be tested and formed and made in the likeness of Him who sent me here.  It all began one year ago today, as I unloaded that first box. God is good and we are so blessed with this new life.

alaska.2012

 

“…which one to embrace…”

Sleep is becoming a rare commodity. I just cannot seem to shut down my mind for long.  We move this Saturday!  Today is my husband’s last day at work.  Things have been pending for months, so for it to all of a sudden be down to days, it is a little daunting.  Packing and purging are such a drudgery…everything aches. My head pounds as I have to sift through all these things we have accumulated, constantly asking myself if we need this or just want this particular item; can I throw it away or give it away and not need it or miss it later on?  It is interesting when you get down to some of the basics in life, how truly little you honestly do need.  I read this great Homily by Abbot Nicolas of Holy Resurrection Monastery today.  He gave it on Bright Monday and in it he addressed the issue of the western notion of “giving up” things during Lent and other times of fasting and abstinence.  And it struck me that I am slowly developing this attitude that while I am certainly giving up certain items that I have had for awhile in my life and in the life of my family, I am finding that instead of it being a sacrifice, it is more of getting into alignment with the person God is calling me to be.  Abbot Nicolas tells us that we are all called to these mystical experiences not just inside the Liturgy, but inside the life of all Christians.  We are becoming a part of the Trinity itself.  He further states, “Our vocation as mystics challenges us to be ascetics, to purge away everything in our nature that doesn’t support our deepest desire to be united to God. It is this ascetical dimension to our mysticism that makes the Byzantine “sense of mystery” so intensely practical.”  And this is where my purging to move has had not just a practical use (trust me, it all has to fit into a 20-foot truck) but also a spiritual, or mystical use.  When we pare away the dross of our lives and become a simpler, humbler people, we notice God working in our lives much easier.  There is so much noise and chaos in the world, and we surround ourselves with things that we hope bring us peace and quiet.  Sort of like wrapping a baby in swaddling – keeping them content and warm and baffled against the inputs of the world.  It is hard to go from a newborn, used to the quiet warmth of the womb, into the bright and noisy world.

Blessed Seraphim

Abbot Nicolas reminded me that we must live the Liturgy in our daily lives.  We must make room for God each and every day.  There is this great Facebook page that is called MonkRock and their motto is: You don’t have to be a monk to live like one!  I love that entire concept.  (They have a great web site called http://www.monkrock.com and offer lots of wonderful things for sale…support them if you can).  Abbot Nicolas said this about it, “There’s no competition here (shouldn’t be anyway!) between ceremony and charity, between social justice and moral living on one hand and sacramental ritual on the other. These are all stages on the same road, or movements in the same dance. Our Temple must be cleansed so we can worship. Our legs must be healed so we can walk into heaven on our own two feet. The Saints have power to work miracles, but not because there’s anything wrong with nature! Miracles show us what nature is already in process of becoming in the continuous and never-ending process of creation leading ultimately to the “New Heaven and the New Earth” of the Eschaton.”  For me, cleaning out my temple has had a practical side – I have pared down our things to just the barest of necessities.  There are so many things which can place artificial barriers between us and those we love, especially God.

I have a son who has attention deficit disorder.  I was initially poo-pooing the whole ADD thing in pop psychology and have fought for my son to not bear labels he can never be rid of, so I approach his disorder in a natural way and ordering our little world goes a long way in dealing with his ADD. Being a teenager brings its own set of issues, and throwing ADD and homeschooling into the mix creates a miasma of circumstantial issues.  Everything in its place and a place for everything has been my motto for all of our children.  With this child in particular, it has had a huge impact.  It is as simple as no Legos on the table when he is doing math.  He will rebuild that Lego creation over and over again, even if just in his mind, and get very few math problems accomplished.  This process of our move has proved extremely agitating for him. His new pet saying is, “My world has been turned upside down and I can’t find anything!!!” usually said dramatically with both hands on his head.  He stood in the door of his room, after his dresser was given away and said to me, “Mom, I just don’t know what to touch first.  Will you help me?” Music to a mother’s ear! Ha-Ha!  And so we tackled his room, piece by piece, and inch by inch.

Gods planI am like my son with his ADD when it comes to God.  So much gets in the way and my path is not clear at times; I often stand there, with both of my hands on my head, too. The world offers us noise and chaos…that is what the lord of this world does to distract us from the path we need to take.  We all have a certain amount, or tendency towards, ADD when it comes to our relationship with God.  How many of us are exhausted at Liturgy some days and can barely hide a yawn, but after Liturgy rush off to hike in the local hills?  How many things do we place between ourselves and an honest relationship with Our Lord?  Abbot Nicolas encouraged us to see that there is no real separation between Liturgy and life, but rather these are all stages on the same road, or movements in the same dance. And as I look about me, there is less and less of the stuff of this world to get between me and living my faith in my daily life.  And as I have been purging my things I have also been purging the stuff getting in the way of my spiritual life.  When I honestly look at most of the things I am packing, I could really drive off in my car with my family, our pets, and the clothes on our backs and I could start over with nothing at all.  I would miss the memorabilia I have collected over the years, but the important things in my life would be with me…my family and my faith.  My pathway towards eternity would certainly have less clutter to wade through!!  All this clutter is both worldly clutter insofar as noisiness, stuff, and bother, but it is also the clutter in my heart and mind that I must process through…a simpler mindset is a simpler path towards God and is a part of my process of Theosis.

Kaliningrad Oblast Russia