“…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

“..struggling towards…”

My house is a mess, a chaotic mess.  We are moving in a couple of weeks and I am seriously purging and packing.  I opened it up to our homeschool group online and a young woman, just starting out, came by to look at our things.  When I say my house is chaotic, you have to watch where you walk.  There are plastic crates stacked in the living room; my dining room is my packing table.  There are items from my cupboards in the kitchen all over the countertops.  There are piles of “things to keep” and “things to get rid of,” as well as piles of “just throw away.” I can barely function.  And this sweet young lady, carrying her 1-year-old boy, says nothing of the mess.  We walk into the kitchen so she can peruse the dishware and her first comment to me was, “Oh, I love your icons.”  And I looked over at our mantle across in the family room area, the only place left that has not felt the packing chaos, and it was a place of serenity.  There is the Blessed Theotokos, holding the Christ Child, looking down at us. There is Christ, Pantocrator, gently showing us his book of Scriptures and gently beckoning us closer; the many saints and Holy Day icons…we have at least 25 icons on our mantle.

Mantle with icons I realized that this little nest of Our Lord, the Theotokos, the Saints…they are a bastion of sanity in life.  I was drawn to just look at them, standing there in the midst of packing crates and packing paper, tape, and kitchen stuff!  And I sighed deeply and just smiled.  “ And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:4)  I smiled because I was helping someone, and witnessing my faith at the same time; it felt wonderful.  My husband has been worried that I was being forced to leave so many “things” behind and that, after 30 years, we would be moving with less than I brought to this marriage.  I actually smiled and laughed at that, because I am finally at the point in life where I don’t want the stuff.  I don’t want to have to worry about things because I want to spend my time with my family, not cleaning and dusting a big house full of things.  I want small, simple, and humble…freedom from the burden of things.  Christ exhorts us in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And I really feel like I am getting there, closer to where I want my heart to be – surrounded by my family.

As I was going through things today, I was contemplating a dish and realized I didn’t actually need it but that I liked it; I also realized that God is asking me to give it up.  I looked at the icons and realized the Heavenly Hosts are around us all the time.  They are watching us, interceding for us, and praying for us.  They encourage me through the words of others, and through their presence in the Church Triumphant, to make the right choices when faced with decisions.  The greatest gift God gave us is the gift of sharing His life.  We have been made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 PT 1:4) and when we live a life of faith, this relationship is deepened, furthering the process of our divination or theosis.  This movement continues through our life and death and will not be complete until the resurrection of all mankind on the last day.  Then our risen bodies as well as our spirits will share in the resurrection life and partake in glory, “We know we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 Jn 3:2) [God with Us publications, “What Eastern Christians Believe”].  I am certainly not a finished product, but a work in progress.  Today I learned that this process of theosis begun in me is sparked now and then through the words and actions of others.  Just bringing my attention back to the icons on our mantle took the drudgery aspect out of purging, packing, and moving, and brought me back to the reasons we are doing this – a new life. And it was so very easy to put that dish I was contemplating into the “give away” pile.

Russian baptismGod has given me this incredible gift of faith and even though many would find me to be middle-aged, or even old (agh!!), I feel like I am just beginning to live what I believe with no compromise.  I spoke with a man on the phone today who is a devout Catholic, husband, and father who is suffering through a divorce he does not want.  He was lamenting how easy it is for most people to set aside their beliefs and choose the culture over those beliefs.  I agreed with him and tried to offer him some comfort.  But there is not much I can say, other than to agree with him.   It is much easier to accept what we don’t believe, when their is societal pressure to do so.  That is witnessed by the divorce rate, abortion rate, unmarried parenthood the norm; so may examples to cite.  And it is a one of the prime motivators in why we are choosing to move.  We are going toward family, but it is also an opportunity to do with less, to live simply, and to become the people we really want to be.  My husband is free to choose a completely different career.  We are also choosing to shape our daily lives in a different way; time is going to be spent enjoying our family and not so focused on working.  We are also going to worship in a more family-oriented way.  God has been giving us chance after chance, and we are taking this one and choosing the path that God is offering us.  A step in faith, to be sure, but it is not out of fear, but with that same joy I felt when I looked up at the icons on our mantle; a joy deeply felt that God is with us, and with the cloud of witnesses there to comfort me.  And I know this is right.

Blessed Seraphim

“…always be kind, gracious, and wise…”

St. John of Kronstadt.8

Details, details…they are what bog me down.  We are planning to relocate north of us, about 2600 or so miles, within the next couple of weeks.  I look at all the things I have gathered into the living room and I think, “This is not gonna fit on a 14-foot trailer.”  What do I get rid of?  What do I ship up separately?  Are we going to “be” moved or are we moving ourselves up?  When exactly do we pull out of this driveway and onto the road?  Will my husband get the job he wants?  Will they realize the treasure he is and hire him? Soon?  So many details.

I get this great blog in my email and it is called, “Hands of Mary/Heart of Martha” through the Smart Martha web site.  Today the article I honed in on right away was called, “Cleaning out your closet?” and it had some wonderful wardrobe hints from the “minimalist” movement.  Their suggestion was to take your wardrobe down to 10 items.  Well, looking at what I have and what I NEED, versus perhaps what I have and what I WANT…I know I could cut down on so many things.  This suggestion is one that has caused me to ponder…and blog.

There are so many “things” we cling to in our lives.  Exemplary as it may be to prune and purge our things, there are some things we just cannot let go of.  I have been dragging a couple of things with me since my childhood and I am not sure if I could ever get rid of them.  My dad once told me that clinging to things is selfish in a way, because perhaps if you gave it away, someone else would have the joy or practicality of owning it.  His comment has stayed with me, and it has helped me to let go of things.  In addition, when you look to some items, they may mean something to you, but no one in your immediate family will want them, once you have gone.  What else do we cling to?  A lot of misconceptions!

When I have mentioned our move to people, they immediately think we will be living in igloos and wearing muck-lucks.  They do not understand that the modern world has stretched to cover the entire North-American continent.  There are housing developments, shopping centers, movie theaters, and heaters!  It is also not snowing all year, neither is it dark all year.  And yes, there are more animals than people, but not reindeer.  What other misconceptions do we cling to?  Well, for me, in my blogging life, I have had to fight many misconceptions. The biggest one I know of, although have not addressed until now, is that the “Immaculate Conception” refers to Mary not having marital relations with Joseph, to conceive Christ.  Not so.  Oh, that happened, Mary did conceive Christ without “knowing” Joseph, but that is not what the “Immaculate Conception” refers to.  That “misconception” has spawned numerous jokes and sayings down through the centuries, but it is completely incorrect.  It refers, instead, to the conception of Mary, the Theotokos (Mother of God) and the fact that she was conceived without the stain of sin, or the results of the sin of Adam.  Christ chose His Mother before time (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God;  all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1: 1-6) and He chose a perfect vessel to carry Him into this imperfect world. I heard a priest once explain the Immaculate Conception by saying, “When you have the perfect rose, you want the perfect vase to place it in.  How much more so for the Son of God to be born of the most perfect womb?”

There are so many misconceptions that we have all come to accept through the years as truth, without bothering to uncover the veracity of the very things we say we believe in.  The misconceptions I have run across have caused division between countries, friends, and within families.  There are also misconceptions about faith, that abound in cultural mythology.  Being an anthropology major in college, I was given the privilege of being taught to look beyond what we see, and what we assume we see.  Very often, beneath the surface of what we surmise, is a very different reality.  We see that throughout history, the uninitiated saw practices they did not understand and made assumptions about them. From those assumptions spread rumor, which became misconceptions, and in time, beliefs.  In a study done years ago, well-meaning health professionals traveled to countries unfamiliar with modern medicine.  They presented some very primitive peoples with all the items they would need to ensure a lower birth rate – birth control pills, condoms, and other items.  They gave presentations and instructions to these peoples.  When these same professionals returned years later, the population had maintained their same growth patterns.  Some anthropologists were invited to participate and what they found was the science being imposed on these peoples was so foreign to their practices, they instead had set up altars and placed the items on them, thinking that by praying to them they would not conceive children.  The anthropologists brought in natural family planning experts who explained the Billings Method, using farming terminology.  The people took to it very easily and childbirth rates were not as progressive.  The scientists were very ready to tell the world these people were far too primitive to understand modern science; from the outside looking in, perhaps they were, through assumption.  But in reality, they were a farming people; their culture revolved around the cycles of the moon and planting seasons.  They were highly intelligent and a very evolved culture, but our modernity dismissed them out-of-hand.   The opposite was true and the scientists learned a valuable lesson – they had to remember their audience and to teach and share with the idea of the receiver in mind.  This has a twist to it, as well.  Quite often, because we have heard something from someone, we make assumptions and we also assume the information as our own “fact.”  This study showed scientists – and we can extrapolate from this experience, they show all of us – that we cannot assume our words and instructions have been received in the way in which they were intended.  We need to be sure what we are sharing is heard by the head, and the heart.  The Word of God is immutable; it is eternal.  We can be taught by, and we can learn by, investing the time and the prayer in pursuing those eternal truths left to us by our Lord, through His Church, the Church Fathers, and all those traditions formed over the centuries – either a big “T” tradition or a small “t” one.

My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding—indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2: 1-5

Colossians

When we enter into dialogue with those who patently disagree with our viewpoint, sometimes it is difficult to express ourselves to them clearly, because not only are we fighting opinions, we are fighting opinions based on misconceptions.  I have experienced this exact thing over the past few months of my blogging history.  And this Lent has been a time of vigorous discourse, as well as intense learning, laced with emotional turmoil.  In other words, “What a Lent!”  The fruits of suffering, however, are a more intense relationship with our Lord.  We know the steps we are taking are through His guidance and that He is leading our journey.

Isaiah 41-10 As we come closer and closer to the end of Lent and I ponder all that has taken place to date, I am in awe of my God.  I have been shown that silence is a blessing; that Our Lord waits on us and is always there for us; and that when there are those who disagree with us and prefer to live in their misconceptions, that we need to, and are called to, pray for them and to love them in all things.

A man who is wrathful with us is a sick man; we must apply a plaster to his heart – love; we must treat him kindly, speak to him gently, lovingly. And if there is not deeply-rooted malice against us within him, but only a temporary fit of anger, you will see how his heart, or his malice, will melt away through your kindness and love – how good will conquer evil. A Christian must always be kind, gracious, and wise in order to conquer evil by good.”
—St. John of Kronstadt, “My Life in Christ”.

St. John of Kronstadt.Icon

“…against beasts in the form of men…”

loose interpretation

Well, the big push to sort of “corner” or “corral” my stuff is upon me.  A very dear friend, and the godmother to our youngest son, is flying in tomorrow to spend the weekend with us before we relocate “outta” here.  And right now, as I explained to her, there is not a single room that is neat and tidy.  There is nothing on the walls any longer, but what was once there is stacked against them.  The bed she will be using is stacked with things off the dresser and the wall, as well as all the linens that go with that bed.  I have been trying to get a handle on how much “stuff” I really have, so I know what will fit and what has to either go or be shipped.  And I really have cut down on things, but there is still a lot around.  And I am one of those people who can deal with clutter for a time, but then it gets to me and I scour the place spotless.  My youngest son, while always dealing with his ADD tendencies, leaves part of himself all over the house.  During the best of times, this may be lego-creations here and there; airplanes of one type or another laying around; a stray book or art project here and there.  He just sort of forgets where he sticks things.  And he then walks away.  His new jacket for rain and snow has been missing for about two months (take note of which months it has been missing…yes, that would be the ones with rain and snow) and he found it two days ago…underneath his scouting pack for ice camping, stuffed into the back of his closet.  It is amazing what you uncover when you start packing and tossing things.  And sometimes when my nose is right in it, I ignore the chaos or step around it.  Today, I am determined to corral the chaos!

Now I am sure that reading thus far, you are thinking this is a post about moving woes and the woes of the mom of a 14-year-old son who leaves his things all over the place.  But no, it’s not; but it is illustrative of something on my mind.  Thinking about all the chaos and how close I am to the chaos, made me think of authority figures and people who are “in charge.”  This could be corporate presidents or CEOs, pastors of large (big box or densely packed) churches, mothers of homes with lots of kids and/or things to organize.  And I thought of how we view our Church, our faith.  We view it from where we stand.  We stand inside our parishes and look at the icons on the walls, the altar at the front, and those standing with us.  It is from our little, community perspective, tucked away someplace in the USA.  And many of us view our faith from an even tinier perspective…specifically about how we feel and how we interpret our belief system.  Some of us have developed these perspectives without the benefit of a spiritual father to guide us, and have come up with personal interpretations we heartily defend.  When I quoted Cokie Roberts in a previous post about her wanting the Cardinal to be sure to “represent” the American Church to the Conclave, I was sort of thinking along these lines.  She is seeing a Church of billions of believers, from her spot on the pew; from her American perspective.  The Pope, on the other hand, he is seeing things on a global scale, which is a completely different scale.  And the issues facing our Church are global, not American.  Christ told his Apostles to go out and baptize “all” the nations; he did not tell them to stay in Jerusalem and mourn their loss of Him.  All nations is not American; it is also not purely a Roman perspective, either.  And it is certainly not from my pew.  The Church is for ALL people, of ALL nations.  Abbot Tryphon wrote today about the Orthodox churches accepting newcomers and not being cultural or private clubs. Some ethnic Byzantine parishes are most definitely private clubs; their emphasis is not in welcoming newcomers, but rather ensuring nothing changes from the “old country” and their traditional ways.  And to a newcomer, especially one raised in the Latin, or “western” mindset, it can be a little daunting.

My point is, however, that I can easily see how these disagreements about so many things happen.  When we look at things from a global perspective, more often than not, we can see where something would make sense.  For example, when I stand on the landing of my staircase, I can see where the boxes need to go and what needs to go inside what, but when I am standing amongst them all, I just want to throw my hands up in despair of making sense of the mess.  And sometimes our disagreements about faith are just like that – we are in the middle of the mess and cannot see with the same perspective as the person we are disagreeing with. I told someone recently that their perspective was limited and that although they felt well-informed about things, as well as having “heard it all before,” they had not been privileged to be introduced to other perspectives and/or a spiritual guide of some sort; they were the ones off on their own tangent.  Therefore, from where I was sitting, their statements were limited in their scope and they could not (would not) see my point of view.  It’s like former smokers and converts – they can be so annoying in their enthusiasm for their new-found freedom from an annoying habit or new knowledge, that they thrust it upon you all the time.  I am, unfortunately, though the years, both!  I think I tend to be annoying in that way, because I am discovering all sorts of new things, and I have been where that other person once was.  I feel that I have grown and learned, and I am pursuing, actively, my salvation, and they have not been blessed to be introduced to the eastern philosophies or theology – and I know I have just dipped my toe into it all and that much more awaits me. This new-found enthusiasm and my blogging about it,  is creating great friction between us.  Now, however, rather than respond in kind (or my normal behavioral pattern), I took a page from Elder Thaddeus and took a step back and just breathed deeply and prayed for them.  In one of the posts I authored, I said that we do not have to interact with those who hurt us; I still believe that.  In a post this morning on Facebook, there was this:  ‘I guard you in advance against beasts in the form of men, whom you must not only not receive, but if it is possible not even meet, but only pray for them, if perchance they may repent. . .’  St. Ignatius of Antioch. One of my friends responded to this post with this: “Wow. I always assumed we had to be hospitable to everyone, regardless of what they believed or how they lived. I’m glad to know that we can just pray for them from afar and not get into any conflict with them.” (LB).

I think that perhaps dealing with things that are personal and hurtful by looking at them from afar, even if they are people, is “putting on Christ” (Galatians 3:27 and also used as the Pascal refrain in Eastern rites and in the Orthodox Church).  Christ knew what He was doing when He sent his Apostles out into the world.  He wanted the world to know Him and He was fully God, so He knew what obstacles there would be, and are, in sharing His Word with the world.  Oftentimes sharing the faith does not go well.  In the Bible, Christ told us: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law–a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.'” (Matthew 10:34-36).  And for most of us, it is not a surprise.  I know of a few families who are totally intact in their relationships and in their faith; all their children practice and all their grandchildren are also being raised in the faith.  But those types of families are rare.  The world tugs us all in many directions and the pull is very difficult to fight. We can “forearm” our children and then we can just pray and be there for them in their struggles; the same holds for friends and other family members.

The interesting thing for me is that I am being pulled back into a more devout mindset and outlook, and a far more eastern-perspective.  I find it refreshing, rejuvenating for my faith-life, and peaceful.  My journey, however, has engendered others to look at me in askance, not understanding where I am going, nor why.  And so, rather than “attack” in a way of defending myself, I am letting the air out of my own balloon and emitting a long sigh…and then I am praying to God for them.  Elder Thaddeus showed me a glimpse of the peace that awaits me and I cannot wait to get it back by re-focusing myself.  I know that God wishes for us all to find Him, and we cannot look to our brothers to do it for us; each of us must journey on our own.  But as we look over at our brother’s journey and their personal struggles in life, I am hoping we can all take a more “universal”, “holistic,” or “global” look at where they are coming from – when we “put on Christ,” and not be angry nor judgmental, but rather more prayerful for them and on their behalf.  Sometimes avoiding the conflict is actually winning the battle!  Perhaps all we can do is plant the seeds and allow the Holy Spirit to do all the work.  It may not be something we see in our lifetimes, nor may it be a fruit we get to enjoy on this earth, but that eternal happiness is worth the planting and worth the step back, deep breath, and prayer.

“We all have to die, beloved brethren, and it will be hard for us if, while we are in this world, we do not love each other, if we are not reconciled to our enemies, whom we have offended, and if one has grieved another, if we do not forgive him. Then we will not have eternal blessedness in that world, and the heavenly Father will not forgive our sins.
(St. Peter of Cetinje, Letter to Radulovichs, 1805)
St Peter of Cetinje 1805

“…when things unforeseen occur…”

Cross sunlight rocks

“Thou hast raised me from bed and sleep, O Lord; enlighten my mind and heart, and open my lips, that I may praise Thee, O Holy Trinity: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God. For the sake of the Mother of God, have mercy upon us.  Grant unto me, my Lord, that with peace in mind I may face all that this new day is to bring. Grant unto me grace to surrender myself completely to Thy holy will. Instruct and prepare me in all things for every hour of this day. Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, do Thou teach me to accept them calmly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfill Thy holy will. Govern Thou my thoughts and feelings in all I do and say. When things unforeseen occur, let me not forget that all cometh down from Thee. Teach me to behave sincerely and reasonable toward every member of my family and all other human beings, that I may not cause confusion and sorrow to anyone. Bestow upon me, my Lord, strength to endure the fatigue of the day and to bear my share in all its passing events. Guide Thou my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to suffer, to forgive, and to love. Amen.” (A small portion of the Orthodox set of Morning Prayers).

I remember a cute saying that goes something like, “If you want God to have a good laugh, just tell Him your plans.”  And I try to keep that foremost in my mind as I plan, not just the day, but when we are planning our future.  I have had so many conversations with parents recently who have shared that their children are still dependent on them, in so many ways, even though they are perhaps married themselves.  With the new Obamacare, children can remain on their parents’ health insurance until they are 26 years old.  Some of our friends have children who have their own lives, are married, and live in other states, but whose cell phone is still paid by the parents, because they have a “family” plan and it’s cheaper for everyone.  Still other children, married and on their own, have their car insurance or portions of their rent, covered by their parents.  I even have friends my age, whose parents still send them the occasional infusion of cash, because for lots of us, we live pretty close to the “edge.” The cost of living is climbing at a pace that many young people, just out on their own, cannot afford to live without some assistance.  This has happened with our sons in differing degrees, and I do not begrudge them a cent, and feel happy that we can help them as they establish their independence.  It just seems like it is becoming the norm, as much as living with your parents when you are first out of college or newlyweds.  “Back in the day” people did not leave the family home – they enlarged it to encompass their children’s spouses and the grandchildren.  Large families, all living together, were the norm.

Today, I am re-arranging my head and my processing of our future, because we had grandiose plans (that’s God you hear laughing) to relocate to another state, thousands of miles north of us.  We have been purging and taking down the quantity our “things” to try and fit onto a 14-foot trailer.  I have been giving things away and selling some things. Nonetheless, it has been a process of purging.  It’s been feeling good to have less, but “icky” at the same time.  We are still relocating, and still relocating to the same place, but God has given us more to deal with than we originally had on our plates.  And each day I pray that I can successfully deal with whatever God places in my life, and it has been no exception over the past few days.

I always try to picture things in my mind, ahead of time.  There seems to be a certain order to life….birth – life – death.  Sometimes we make assumptions about the order of things.  One assumption is that we will live with our own, nuclear, families and we will see our extended families from time to time (aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, etc).  Quite a few years ago, when all three of our sons still lived at home, my paternal grandmother became unable to live on her own.  I had been her custodial caregiver for years and was accustomed to running over to her place on a moment’s notice.  The time eventually came in her life when she could not longer care for herself, and she came to live with us.  God had blessed us with a home in the same town, that was large enough to house all of us, with a bedroom and bathroom for my grandma on the first floor.  It was good for my children to live with an elderly person, and to see their great-grandmother on a daily basis, in her time of need, and at her most vulnerable.  Up until then, my grandma had been a “force of nature” in all our lives.  My sons stepped up and were wonderful.  (My middle son still has nightmares about cleaning her dentures, but that is for another post! LOL!)  We all gathered around her as she passed from this life to the next, and it was a beautiful thing; something we shared as a family and have never forgotten.  And now we are going to relocate, and at the same time, incorporate an aging parent into the mix.

Bringing an aging parent to live with you is something most of us never had expected to do.  This morning, I was drawn to re-read the Scripture verses about worrying (Matthew 6:25-34): “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?  And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  These verses give me comfort; I will not worry about the million-and-one details about how we are going to pull all of this off (my parent lives in a different state; we have to sell their house, their car, their things and then get them up to us) but instead think of the blessings this will bring our family.

Once again, my children will be a light to an aging relative. We still have a teenager at home and my oldest son and his family will be living very close to us.  They will bring energy and love into the house, where an aging parent of mine can siphon-off some of that, to keep them aware and enjoying life.  My grandchildren will get to know their great-grandparent.  In this day and age, how many children know their great-grandparents?  I was blessed to know and love my paternal grandmother’s parents…they were a joy in my life that I feel so very grateful to have had.  My grandchildren will be able to learn to love someone like me, but also someone older than myself, who also is part of our family.  My plans have altered a little bit, but I am looking at the blessing of having an elder member of our family present every day, not just on holidays.  My daughter-in-law and I had plans to sight-see this summer and now it will be even more important, as we also take my parent along with us, to introduce us all to our new homeland. She and I also chatted about sharing this responsibility together, and I am blessed that she is looking forward to it!!

hands

I am putting a positive spin on this, because I am also feeling a tad bit overwhelmed.  You see, this parent of mine also suffers from Alzheimer’s, so there is quite a lot of this tandem-future of ours, that is a little cloudy right now (no pun intended).  The overwhelming experience of loosing a beloved spouse affects any person’s mental well-being, but most especially someone with Alzheimer’s.  The importance of assisting my parent, as their surroundings are going to change several times, until a familiar room is created with memories on tabletops and walls, to ensure there is some place they can call their own.  My heart is breaking with love and tenderness, because God has blessed us with this disease in the sense that there is no anger or hostility, but instead a kinder, gentler personality has emerged, with a quiet and peacful resignation (some Alzheimer patients are angry and difficult to be around).  For me, growing up with this particular parent was not an easy thing; I moved out the week after I graduated from high school and we do much better living apart.  Coming together could have been cataclysmic, but God has seen this coming (I believe) for years, and has been preparing us both for a future together.

This Lent has turned out to be quite a Lent for me.  I have been struggling with keeping peaceful thoughts and emptying my mind, as well as dealing with relocating so drastically, and the impending death of a dearly loved stepfather.  Now the implications of taking in my parent after so many years of living separately….added to the fact that this parent of mine dislikes “weather” and prefers the calm, sunny, days of Southern California!  There is a huge pile on my proverbial plate, but God is good. He does not give us more than we can handle (yes, that’s me, looking up to God and signalling a time out!!) and He also promised us that He would be with us always (Matthew 28:20 “…And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”).  So I choose to cling to those promises and seek His assistance, as we face an uncertain, but never dull, future.  Easter Sunday should be quite interesting; I wonder where I will be and what God will have in store for me.  Stay tuned.

after the rain

“….Get rid of it.”

Alaska Highway through Canada

As I try to keep my mind clear of thoughts that bring me less than peace, I am struggling with the immense task of purging thirty years of a life together.  We are planning a major move in the next few weeks and we are taking all that we have and translating that onto a 14-foot trailer.  I keep looking at things and thinking, “Do I need this? Is it replaceable?”  And when you think about it, just about anything is “replaceable.”  But when it comes to some of the big-ticket items like mattresses, couches, flat screen TVs and the like, it is hard to just let it go for a fraction of what we paid for it, knowing we have to spend as much (if not more) to buy it again once we relocate.  We are driving our car (selling the husband’s car) and towing a rented 14-foot trailer (we were going to just buy one and sell it once we get there, but my husband would feel better with a U-Haul trailer.  For me, if the trailer and/or car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, whose trailer it is does not really matter – stuck in the middle of nowhere is still stuck in the middle of nowhere!!).  The car will be crammed with our 14-year old son, two dogs, a very frightened cat, and all our stuff…in the car, on top of the car, and behind the car.  The 2600+ mile drive, thankfully, will be in relatively warm weather, but the mileage alone is a little daunting.  The inside of the car – well, that will be interesting.  On our drive up to WA from CA, we had one less dog.  This second dog is wonderful, but much larger – an English Springer Spaniel.  Our car already smells like wet dog most of the time (she goes with us everywhere) and I really need to get it cleaned.  It’s one of the tasks we did regularly, living in a southern climate.  But up here, in the Pacific Northwest, cleaning your car seems ludicrous, with all the rain we get.  But man oh man, the inside is what needs cleaning!! Anyway, this journey and the process of getting us on the road is filling my days and my nights. I had two really good nights of sleep this week and was able to shove all these negative thoughts away, but last night it just did not happen.  I took melatonin; I took vitamin D; I drank warm milk and also took two aspirin; I feverishly prayed and asked Elder Thaddeus to intercede for me – nothing helped. I kept trying to load this trailer with my Christmas decorations, my grandma’s china, and all our photos, icons, and other wall art.  Then I panicked about getting the dining and bedroom furniture on the trailer, not to mention all my pots, pans, mixers, daily dishes, towels, sheets, clothes, legos and micro-machines, hockey sticks, skates, bikes, and well, you get the idea.  It is a challenge to undertake thinking peaceful and loving thoughts while you plan to move so many, many miles away.

And so I was thinking about what finding mental and emotional peace and tranquility is all about.  Certainly, most of us are familiar with Scriptural references about men and their “things.”  I know that it is just stuff and I know that somehow, someway, we will be loaded up and our journey will be upon us, and before you know it we will be living in a different state and I’ll be casually grocery shopping.  It’s getting me from here to there that is causing me sleepless nights!  And as I try to catch myself dipping into remorseful thinking and patterns I am trying to shake off, I keep reminding myself that I can choose to change; I can choose to be happier, less care-worn. I can opt to not allow these things to weigh me down and affect everything around me.  Yes, I can choose to do that.  But right now, I am a little frozen…I cannot seem to just do it.  It’s the unknown that curdles my stomach and sets my teeth on edge and reality is, truly, much less frightening. Getting myself into production mode is what stalls me and gets my mind to whirling away.

This morning I realized that I was saying something Elder Thaddeus quoted the Church Fathers as having said, “If a thought is not a peaceful or good thought, it is from Satan. Get rid of it.”  And because of that, my heart-rate is slowing and my unease is calming down a little bit.  I find that I can motivate myself to dive into some of these tasks that are required of me, so we can get everything to fit on that little trailer, or in our roof-top carrier.  And pretty much everything is replaceable.  And I extrapolated from that saying, stretching it just a little bit, to say, “If that thing you are pondering, that item that you need to either pack or toss is not good, or a necessity, get rid of it.”  Not that things are from Satan!  A silly extra set of pots and pans my grandmother left for me are not inherently evil, but I need to let go of the extra “stuff” in my life to live more simply and more directly with God….God should be all that I need. If I was really good at this, maybe we could use a smaller trailer, but I think that purging down 30 years into 14 feet is pretty darn good!!  And I am at peace with working all this out in my mind, trying to maintain the peace I felt at our original decision and to not allow all these details to bog me down.  Like I said, part of the stress is the getting us from here to there….once there, life will be sweet yet again.  And there is a huge lesson in that, as well.

Our lives are made up of the twists and turns in our journey.  It is not so much the end point that matters (well, except that we intend to end in Heaven and Sanctification with God) but how we approach it and the way in which we choose to get there; the goal is Heaven. Period.  The twists and turns created by the choices I have been given, and the decisions I have made when faced with those choices, those determine the outcome of my journey towards God.  Even packing up a house and moving it 2600+ miles can be a religious exercise, if given to God, and if we allow it to be. It can be an incredible opportunity to choose to grow stronger in humility and obedience; stronger in faith and love, if we offer all of it to God.  If we offer the work of each day to Our Lord in a spirit of humility and obedience, we dignify the work of man, and God accepts our efforts, resulting in peace and love flooding our hearts.  So I choose to allow these sleepless nights, these moments of mental packing and panicking, let me grow in my spiritual life; to mature my love for God.  He is teaching me.  Just the other day, our oldest son said, “Mom, God is working and I can feel it.”  What an incredible thing for our son to say.  God is, indeed, working in our lives, and I can feel it, too.

alaska.2012