“…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 and all sorts of outdated toys and tools, and a myriad of other supplies I no longer needed; oh, and furnishings; tons of “furnishings” (love that broad-base descriptor).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

“…if you live in the fear of man…”

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So so much in my head…swimming around. We have so much on our plates, but that is cool. It keeps us moving and motivated! Ha-Ha! We attended a class on house buying. Those of you who know us also know we’ve owned homes before. What’s cool is that if you have not owned in the past three years, you are considered a “first time home buyer.” Which is so very cool. And in Alaska, they have so many loan products for you, waiting to assist you in buying a home here. Our second night is tonight, so my brain will probably explode. Again. So much information!!

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And in addition, we have decisions coming up that are important, life-changing ones. We are preparing to care for my mom, who has Alzheimer’s. So we are looking into a larger residence, in preparation to have her live with us. We need to decide where the best place will be for us to live. We have so many factors to take into consideration. And when you have a huge decision to make, what do you do? Well, you start by taking a deep breath and praying about it. And I mean seriously praying, in light of Gospel principles…

“Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope…”

Lord, We come before You and place our deepest and heartfelt desires at Your feet. We have a decision to make and we want it to be in Your best interest, according to Your will and plans for our life. We pray for guidance for the best choices in life, through all the blessings You bestow, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

When I prepare to make a huge decision that will affect not only me, but my entire family, I completely place it in God’s hands. I am just not qualified to make these decisions, based on solely my own judgement. And isn’t it really what our faith is? We trust in the Lord to guide our steps. Every step we take is either a step towards God, or a step away from Him. And I want to walk in the path He has selected for me, for my best welfare. Quite often, in the face of a heavy decision, we are faced with a multitude of choices, among a multitude of opinions and advice. It is often hard to single out the Word of God for us.

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When you are placing yourself in God’s hands, these large decisions, even if there is a multitudinous cacophony around you, can be realized in the quiet peace of being in the presence of God. I liken it to being in a crowd and feeling alone. Most of us know what that is like. Even though we are in a crowded room, we often feel alone, even lonely. And sometimes, we are able to block out all the other sounds, but our own hearts; our own breaths. That is what it is like, coming into the presence of our Creator. But truly, we are always in the presence of God. And when we listen for the stillness amongst the chaos, we can find His peace, and His answer to our prayers. I have quite often heard that if it is from God, it will happen; it will flow; it will be easy, simple. Most decisions that are fraught with chaos are those we make, taking full responsibility for them, without input from God.

I was asked recently how I handle these decisions and the stress. I can tell you this past Christmas was one of our worst. We were lonely. We did not celebrate; not really. It was pretty in that it was a white Christmas and our parish had some wonderful ice sculptures and Nativity pieces, and our older children and grandchildren tended Mass with us (the kids were the highlight of the evening!!). But we were missing something. I realized that we were missing the Godly element in Christmas. And it makes it sort of hollow and empty. It’s not for us to receive gifts, it is for us to receive the Christ Child in our hearts and in our lives. And this missing element caused a lot of unknown-origin-stress, so much so that I had severe heart palpatations that lasted for 5 days. It was un-nerving in the sense that it wore me out and it was painful – my chest began to ache. I had been diagnosed with this a few years ago, and it is not life-threatening, but it is bothersome. But it was my stress, coming out in my body. Not good, my friends, not good. But why? Because I was doing things without God, without sincere, deep prayer. I also did not fast this year. Bad, bad, bad. Fasting precedes feasting – the one is hollow without the other. And so to answer my friend, I told her that I needed to pray and when I found peace, I knew God was in the answer, and not man; not me. Joyce Meyer, an evangelist and author, wrote an entire article entitled, “Following Peace to Make the Right Decisions (here is the link: http://www.joycemeyer,org) and in her article she says:

“Colossians 3:15 clearly tells us how. It says, And let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts [deciding and settling with finality all questions that arise in your minds]…. “If you follow God’s leadership, you will have peace, joy and righteousness.” If you follow God’s leadership, you will have peace, joy, righteousness, and you’ll bear good fruit. What you won’t be is confused and frustrated. God never leads us to busy ourselves so much that we’re stressed out all the time and have no joy. And He won’t try to confuse your mind—that’s the enemy’s job. To find where your peace lies, simply ask yourself: Is there a scripture that applies to my situation? What does the Word say I should do? For example, if there’s something you want to buy but you don’t have enough in your bank account to buy it, it’s probably best to wait because God doesn’t want us to be in debt (see Romans 13:8). Many times, God’s Word sounds a lot like common sense. I encourage you to let the peace in your heart decide with finality every question that arises in your mind.”

And I believe that; I truly do. She also talks about seeking guidance from friends: “The Bible does say there’s safety in a multitude of counselors (see Proverbs 11:14). But you could ask 10 different people about your situation and end up with 10 different answers. One thing you should ask yourself is, Am I seeking wise counsel? A lot of times, we end up asking people who don’t even know what they’re doing. Or they may have a selfish motive. Keep this in mind: True counseling leads you to God; it doesn’t try to run your life.”

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And so we will take in all this information we are being given about home buying. We will listen to those with wisdom and a Godly outlook. We will listen and pay attention to those who have done this and come out ahead. We will listen to the experts in the field, but also place a mantle of Godly wisdom and prayer over the whole thing. We cannot expect to be guardians of more if we are not wise guardians of what we have now. We cannot expect God’s blessing on our decisions if we do not seek His wisdom in choosing. We cannot expect an easy life, either. My grandma used to say that my husband and I were going straight to heaven because of all the things that seem to happen to us. And in a way, I loved that she said that. Each time you try to approach life in the arms of God, the evil one tries to interfere and take you down. Evil is lurking just outside our line of sight, waiting to help take us down. And so we need to be wise in the ways of God, and simple. The more complex and chaotic, the easier it is for evil to enter into the mix. God comes in the quiet and stillness of our hearts and true Peace is ours, and our decisions are blessed, when He enters into the picture. The name of the game is to persevere in faith towards God, not towards man and the many obstacles placed in our way by the wiles of this world.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

As Joyce Meyer says in her article:  “If you feel something strongly in your heart, you’ve prayed about it and it goes along with Scripture, then follow your heart. If you feel led to make a decision that others don’t like, you shouldn’t have to give an unreasonable amount of explanation for what you feel led to do. Maybe you don’t know why—you just sense that’s just what you’re supposed to do. God has a plan, and you are part of that plan, but you won’t live it if you live with the fear of man. What do you think God is saying to you? What are you sensing from God? Ultimately, you need to take responsibility for making the decision that brings peace to your heart. If you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. But being true to what God has put on your heart is the key to your happiness.”

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“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Aurora.1Sometimes the world can seem so vast. There is so much that we are not truly familiar with. And yet, we make judgement calls about the world all the time. Judges, meting out justice from the bench, are supposed to be using their knowledge of the law, and making a judgement based on the law. They are not supposed to make their own laws, but rather uphold the ones we have on the books. They spend years learning laws, learning ways to defend the law, or the person accused of breaking the law. Some people are called to be prosecutors, some defenders. It is a pretty black/white thing, taken in its pristine form. But, as with much of life, there seems to be ambiguity inherent with our law system. And opinion; one cannot forget opinion. Trust me; I have one, which is why I blog. I share my opinion, my thoughts, with those of you who are interested enough to actually read them.

Today I was confronted with attitude. From several different sources. I love that I was blessed to haphazardly find my way to Anthropology from my start as a pre-law major, morphing into history, and finally finding archeology. I learned to have a broader perspective about things, and I also learned to appreciate differences. To actually look for, and explore differences. I try to not accept things on the basis of the cover. I was accused of judging young ladies one of my sons was dating, simply by their clothing, tattoos, and wildly colored hair. And I admitted that I was prejudiced – in my head, a “normal” girl didn’t present herself that way. I was so wrong. I also have learned that there are so many things that are not truly known to me, or by me. The world is, quite honestly, more complex and varied than we think. There is such a variety in the way in which we approach things. There is such a variety in how God presents His world to us.

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I was raised and lived in pretty much a 100-square mile area in Southern California. I know traffic. I know smog. I know crowds. I know the beach, the mountains, the desert. I can tell you how to get somewhere and the relative amount of time it will take you to get there. Malls – I know all the good malls in Southern California. I know where to get deals on pretty much anything. The good towns, the places to avoid, the amusement park deals. Parades and major league sports venues. SoCal is full of all of that, and more. I just never realized there was something more out there. I mean, who knew what seasons really were? I never understood the whole Fall/Autumn thing until we lived in Washington. Oh my goodness. Fall is glorious in the Pacific Northwest. I also found out I could plant and grow, successfully, my own tulips. I had no idea there were so many types of tulips. I did not get gourds (why do we carve pumpkins and devour pumpkin pies??) until I lived where they grow them. I never liked asparagus, either, until I could buy it fresh, for less than $1 a bunch and cook it in so many ways (I mean, garlic and butter pretty much makes shoe leather edible). Another experience was living in a snow state. It is a wet state (parts are considered rain forest) but it is also a snow state. I learned to drive roads that are almost verticle on all-weather tires in ice, and also learned to maneuver around all sorts of road construction in pretty awful weather. I LOVED it! And then we decided to have the adventure of a lifetime (while we were still young enough to do it successfully) and relocate out of the contiguous United States, to the very far north. I can honestly say it has lived up to my expectations, and outdone them in so very many ways. This land is something that I never expected, and something I will take the rest of my life learning about and appreciating.

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One of the things I have learned is that I DO NOT KNOW EVERYTHING. (Hope those close to me, who know me well, didn’t just have mini-strokes, or heart attacks at that declaration!). And I love to experience new things. I am so interested in everything. I try to expose my mind to new things all the time. I try to not be closed off or to place walls between myself and new discoveries, knowing there is just a vast amount of knowledge I do not have. I’d like to chip away at acquiring more, the rest of my life. I want to constantly embrace new things and fill my mind, and my soul, with all the things I can learn. I am trying to leave words that hamper this desire out of my vocabulary (never, can’t, won’t, no). And I am working on not pre-juding people, situations, or even places and/or experiences.

I get frustrated when people say things like, “I would never…” or “I can never do…” when they have never ventured, never tried, never gone there (insofar as experiences). It is like a judge, who has the law before him, making a decision based on an opinion gained by reading the newspaper. We may think we have all the information we need, we may have dipped our toes in the water, but the ocean is not the beach. Saying all that, I KNOW I could never jump out of a plane. I can barely manage flying in one, let alone stepping out of one. My son used to do it for a living and told me, years afterwards, that he hated jumping, but got a kick out of landing, successfully. Adrenaline rush, etc. Not me. I am a scaredy-pants, just like my elusive cat, Rosie. So I do understand not taking certain risks, or do life-endangering antics, for the kick of it. And I do not judge those who are able to entertain those ideas, and even to act upon them. So, for the sake of my musings here, I am discounting that section of participants.

From the Book of Wisdom 7:21-25 (Douay-Rheims):

“And all such things as are hid and not foreseen, I have learned: for wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me. For in her is the spirit of understanding: holy, one, manifold, subtile, eloquent, active, undefiled, sure, sweet, loving that which is good, quick, which nothing hindereth, beneficent, gentle, kind, steadfast, assured, secure, having all power, overseeing all things, and containing all spirits, intelligible, pure, subtile. For wisdom is more active than all active things: and reacheth everywhere by reason of her purity. For she is a vapour of the power of God, and a certain pure emanation of the glory of the almighty God: and therefore no defiled thing cometh into her.”

I believe we all need to learn as much as we can. I don’t want to just grow older. I am praying that I also grow in wisdom. We need to make bucket lists and check those awesome experiences off, as we do them! I think we need to be brave, to embrace those roads less traveled and to not fear the new, the untried, the unfamiliar. Yes, there is danger around every corner. Sometimes there are no guarantees.

Looking back

I am the biggest chicken insofar as trying much that is new. I have the same clothes I have worn for the past ten years. I re-read the same books, over again, two or three times. I listen to music I listened to in high school. But about three years ago, as I was speeding down this very deserted highway (in a foreign country no less) at around 75 mph, on all-weather tires, on about a foot of ice and snow, I thought, “What are we doing?” My husband was trying to follow me, as I saw him through my rearview mirror, reaching out to manually wipe the accumulating ice and snow off his windshield. He was doing whatever he needed to do to stay wtih me. How blessed was I? Of course, he was also yelling into our walkie-talkie, telling me to “Slow down, woman!”  Ha-Ha. Good times. I doubt quite often the choices we have made. We plunge into things, thinking we’ve corned the market on all the possibilities. We try to really think things through, but inevitably, something comes out of left field that we had never expected. We got snow the week after we moved here – in June! I discovered icicles on my house and fell in love with them. (Now I totally understand icicles on Christmas trees, and those Christmas lights for your house that mimic real icicles!). What a bonus! I learned how to take out laundry in sub-zero temps. I can now cook moose and it tastes good! I can manage a sweater as my only cover in 20-degree weather. I have learned to make Ukrainian dishes for the different feast days. Me?! I am British, as in pot roasts and pots of tea! Ha-Ha!! I learned how to make Pascha cheese, in panty hose, in my shower (trust me – it really works!). But I am learning, still. I am experiencing new things. Still. I am trying to remove “no, can’t never” from my vocabulary. I am trying to not prejudge something I have no honest, direct, knowledge of. Please, let’s keep one another in prayer over the pursuit of Wisdom. Over the experience of the new, the unknown. The Lord has given this immense land to discover, filled with unknown adventures and a myriad of different people, traditions, and faiths. Let us approach these differences with an eye to this immense knowledge, and wisdom, of God. And let us at least try, one step at a time…

Babysteps

“…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

 

“…I am with you…”

It’s been so long since I’ve blogged.  I apologize to those who actually read these!  Ha-Ha!  Thank you for hanging in there with me.

These past months have been, to say the least, difficult.  There have been days (like today) when I am on the verge of tears so often, I almost just want to sit and cry and be done with it. Instead of giving in to a sort of despondency, instead I sat and prayed this evening, seeking the Lord’s guidance in our lives, in my life.  And I would formulate words, but then nothing would come from inside my head; words just would not come to my conscious mind. However, it felt like something was already there, just waiting for me.  And now I sit here, and I am smiling.  I felt such a peace, a serenity, and a presence of God.  I know He works for our best and has nothing but our souls in mind as He works all the little miracles we barely notice day-to-day.  He is working towards our eternity and we can barely see past the end of our nose!

Blessed SeraphimI had a wonderful conversation with a fellow parishioner this weekend.  It was so nice, sitting knee-to-knee and looking at one another, and really connecting.  And one of the things that came up was that I have learned so much over the past 4 years.  For one thing, I have learned that the world calls us and calls us to a certain standard and we compare ourselves all the time to the people sitting next to us.  But we miss the point.  God is also calling to us.  He is calling us to an eternity.  Not the latest purse or smart phone, house or car, but eternity.  We can choose to listen to the noise and chaos and all the emotions that come from that, or we can opt to close ourselves to it.  I have learned to let go; to let go of money, homes, the things we fill our homes with, and certain people and situations I filled my life with.

The other day, I could not sleep.  It’s been happening a lot lately. I read novels until at least midnight but am awake by 5 or 6 am.  It is finally dark in the mornings up here, as the days are gradually getting shorter.  I always walk to the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee.  When we lived in SoCal, we got a Keurig coffee brewer.  It’s one of those coffee machines where you put in a little plastic “pod” and brew one cup at a time.  I love coffee, I should explain right off the bat. And I mean I love the taste of it. I love coffee candy; chocolate-covered coffee beans; coffee ice cream; coffee-flavored coffee cake! So for me, the sensual pleasure of brewing my single cup of coffee was pure bliss.  We relocated to the Seattle area and I learned so much about coffee. There is literally a coffee kiosk on almost every corner.  And I learned about roasting the beans and where to buy beans from and how the soil composition and elevation, temperature and rainfall all affect the beans. I went to the first Starbucks next to Pike’s Market, stood in ridiculous lines to have a cup from that particular location (with a dear friend who was visiting from SoCal), just to say I had done that!  I have tasted some amazing coffee from some amazing roasting companies. At one point I was having coffee delivered to my home on a monthly basis.  And then our Keurig broke.  We bought a regular, old, coffee brewer; the type that brews an entire pot at a time.  Nothing too fancy, but it is bright red, which is my salute to interior design!  I digress; I got up this morning and started to make a pot of coffee; it was about 6:00am.  As I grabbed for the can of Folger’s Columbian Brew, I got the giggles.  Folger’s?  Really?  In a huge pot, no less?  Where had I sunk to?  Ha-Ha!

A_small_cup_of_coffee

The thing is, once it was brewed and I tasted that first cup of coffee, I sighed with joy. It tastes wonderful.  And I followed it up today with a pot of decaf from a grocery-store, plain wrap can.  No brand name, at all.  And I enjoyed that, too.  I have learned so much from these moves. I do not need labels; I do not need much at all.

I was able to sit down this afternoon and pay our bills.  Next month, that may not be something I can do as readily.  But we have made it this far with prayers and help from friends and family.  We have had to ask for assistance from time to time.  We have had to tell people, “Thanks for inviting our family, but it is just beyond our budget right now.”  Things like that are very, very humbling.  But they are also freeing.  No, I don’t have much.  If thieves broke into my home, they would fine keepsakes and things that mean something to me, but not riches!  And people who know we are struggling have been incredibly generous, without making us feel bad, or less about ourselves.  It has been uplifting, for our hearts, heads, and souls.

We have been blessed beyond measure with family close by, a home that we love (small and humble as it is, we have found it really fits us so much better than any home we’ve lived in), and a parish community that is welcoming and filling some holes we had in our lives.  We are making new friends and establishing ourselves in a new community.  Our son is being blessed in friends, organizations he belongs to, and an incredibly amazing schooling experience he is about to begin.  We are blessed in ways we never imagined or expected – hoped for, of course, but they are unexpected because they keep cropping up and showing us the Presence of God in our lives in places we did not expect.

So I could choose to panic and worry, and not sleep. I could be crabby or hide away in my house, bemoaning our situation.  But I cannot help but smile; I have such a deep sense of contentment and peace.  We have no source of income in the ways of this world, but we are becoming enriched in ways that count, in ways that matter.  God is showing me that He is preparing my eternity and that I am to hold tight to His promises and His guidance for me and my family. He is faithful to us; we are the ones who wander off, on our divergent paths.  We are the ones who lack the patience to allow God to work in our lives, in His time!

I think I will go heat up (E-gads! Yes, in a microwave!!) a cup of decaf and settle on the loveseat with my two doggies, and enjoy an evening of quiet.  I am blessed; I am very much at peace, and still smiling!  And the Lord walks with me.

Isaiah 41-10

“…nothing will be impossible…”

salt Mark 9-50“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Matthew 5:13

We moved, as most of you (my friends and family) know.  For those of you who do not know, we up and moved 3,000+ miles from pretty much all we knew and came to the “Last Frontier” and are endeavoring to make a new life for ourselves.  At our ages, it has been a hard decision and for the most part, difficult.  We have run into so many roadblocks, it seems pretty amazing we can still smile.  Don’t get me wrong, we are blessed in ways beyond measure.  We have our faith and our family and a roof over our heads.  And I know I am blessed in more ways than many people I know.  God is good.

All that being said, it does not mean there has not been, nor does it mean it does not continue to be, a struggle.  All change is a struggle.  But if salt looses its saltiness, it is no longer good for anything and must be thrown out.  Our lives were like that.  They needed to change! And speaking of change, I giggled as I typed that because I was thinking of something my mom told me once, “Always hold on to your clothes, because eventually everything comes back into style.”  She isn’t far off.  I now wear what we called “peddle pushers” or “clam diggers” when I was a kid.  I grew up in the 50s and 60s and we also had all the “flower power” styles going on and lots and lots of them are back (I love my longer “broom” skirts for instance).  Hair styles – long, short, colored, permed.  Been done.  Make up…the Egyptians had the “kohl-eye” thing down centuries ago. Story telling, marriage, family, society…it is in a cycle that repeats itself over and over again.

Basically, it is we who have to adjust to change.  It is not change that is unusual.  There is a series of history books that make an interesting statement in how they are put together.  There is all history prior to the Birth of Christ in one book, and then there is history that has occurred since the Birth of Christ in a separate book.  And history since the Birth of Christ changed; man and his experience on this earth, changed.  God changed us by giving us His only Son.  How we act and react to that singular event in the history of mankind determines how we live our lives, and how we adapt to and take part in, change.

Personally, I am frustrated some days. I wish things were like they were when we lived in our first dairy house.  Our boys were small.  Life was very simple and very quiet.  Well, with young boys, as quiet as that can be, while living on a farm.  It is hard to believe we have been married almost 30 years.  Time has just flown past and quite often I have a hard time grasping really where I am. I just had another birthday.  I am getting to the point where I am fine actually skipping them.  We can just celebrate those other milestone dates and forget the ones in between!  But then I see the faces of my sons, my grandchildren, and I know I am blessed to be where I am.  I have had days recently where I just stood next to my husband, with my forehead resting on his chest.  Standing there, wishing things were a little different, frustrated because they are not, but also so blessed at where we are.  Life is such a confusing mix some days.

When you relocate in such a drastic way, it can be hard because you have nothing familiar.  No friends around for my son, no familiar clerk at the grocery store, streets whose names I forget and driving down I tend to get lost in, and new things everywhere. Your senses get assaulted.  Oftentimes, I look around and because I am in a new city, I am totally confused at where I am, and I actually feel carsick.  My natural points of reference aren’t there (in Southern Cal, the mountains are in the north and the beach is in the south!  The mountains are in the east, and the beach is in the west!).  But still, I know that for some reason, I am where I am meant to be. So I ask directions and find my way.  Our Lord is the beacon that guides through our confusion, bringing us home.

The professional community or the working world here is also very different; it is NOTHING like it is elsewhere. And when you are older and have been taught to do business a certain way, climbing out of that pattern of behavior is very hard to do.  And it is frustrating to step out of our comfort zones to try and make things work, to get work!  I feel bad for my husband and he is pretty much getting to the end of his rope, too.  It is weird, because our lives are so blessed in all things but working.  We wonder where we need to make further changes and what Our Lord is asking for us to do. We search for those changes we still need to make, to have our lives ironed out.

Changing to Holy Silence is hard in a world of distraction, but we both feel called to centering ourselves and also digging in and making this work.  We know the Lord wanted us to come here.  We both prayed about it and talked about it and took our time making this decision, and nowhere along the road did we feel we were making the wrong choice.  Until we actually got on the road.  We have hit so many roadblocks to reach where we are (do not even mention Canada to me) and yet, we can still smile and know we are still blessed. I see my family, that little smile on the face of my grandson, and hear his voice yell, “Gaga-Gaga-Gaga” (his name for me) and I know I am where I am supposed to be.  Continuing this process of change, well, it may make us stretch in ways we never knew we could, but we are already blessed far more than we would have been, had we stayed put and let the world change around us.

We react differently because the world irrevocably changed 2,000+ years ago, when Christ walked, lived, preached, and died among us.  He changed the world.  I can work hard to change just little, old me.  If I work to be still and listen to His Word for my life, I can move mountains.  (He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20).  It is now that we have to dig in and put our “backs into it” in order to be successful and move some mountains in our lives.  Change is not for the meek or the weak at heart; it is necessary, though.  Christ changed the world; I just need to work on being the best me that He wants me to be, wherever I am.

mustard seed mustard seeds