“…and blessed shall you be…”

So, we are all moved in and we are totally out of our old house. Now I just have to clean it and return the keys. It was a great house to get us into our new adventure here in the Last Frontier. It wasn’t too remote (there were apartments across the street) and yet it was not in a large town. There are 30,000 living in the main town and surrounding areas. The town we moved to? About 9,000. Ha-Ha. When we last visited the greater Los Angeles area, we left Long Beach Airport and drove onto the 405 Freeway, where it is melding with the Garden Grove Freeway. We realized we had seen more people on that freeway than lived in the town we lived in. Now I realize there were more rental cars in that parking lot than in the entire town we live in. And I love it.

How often have we heard, “I don’t go to Church because so-and-so did this-and-such to me.” Or, “I have my faith in God; I don’t need a Church.” I have written blog posts on this before. No man is an island. We need one another. For better or worse. And our world is becoming more and more fractured. It makes me so very sad.

What do these things have in common? People. Numbers of people. Living styles. Remote, quieter life style and city/concrete jungle life. Neither is perfect. Many people have left the countryside to move to the city for a better life, better job, better opportunities. Not as many have escaped all that to live in more remote areas. Regardless of where we live, we do not live there without neighbors. They may be close enough to hand us a tissue when we sneeze, or they may be miles away. But nonetheless, we have neighbors.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. …” Deuteronomy 28: 1-68

What can we do to be good neighbors, regardless of where our neighbors are? Regardless of who our neighbors are? There are so many of us who purport to be Christians, but how “Christ-like” are we, really? Ghandi did not like Christians; he liked Christ but commented at how terribly judgmental Christians could be. And many are also very exclusionary. We pulled our oldest son from public school mid-way through 2nd grade and chose to homeschool him. There were some people who would not let our son play with their children because he had once attended public school – and these were very rigid “traditional” Catholics. They snubbed us, as adults, too, because we “mixed”with the world. (Funny, ironic, story? Their boys were the ones selling alcohol to all the minor homeschool kids behind their parents’ rigid backs. Karma). My point is that it is silliness to limit yourself when it comes to “neighbors.” I have grown exponentially in the past year, by stepping outside my comfort zone and embracing all sorts of people. And my life is so much richer for it. So much richer. I have made some friends that have enriched my world so very much and I feel very, very blessed. Even in this little corner of the world.

I have refrained from posting lately because I have been so very busy, but also reflective. There have been news stories that have caught my interest, things happening with friends and family, and the busy-ness of settling into a new home in a new community. Enough that at the end of the day, I fall into bed, exhausted. And that leaves little time for blogging. Instead of unpacking another box or doing another chore this weekend, we took off at the invitation from a group of people we have come to enjoy so very much (we are starting to see them more and more often and it has been so much fun) to enjoy some wilderness time. We drove 72 miles north of where we live, feeling like we were driving on top of the world. It was beautiful in every direction, and rarely did we see another building. We drove on paved roads for most of the way, but then we hit the dirt roads (more roads are unpaved here than paved) in my grandma car. Ha-Ha! And the drive did not disappoint! We got to cross this gorgeous bridge and see some amazing sites. We hung out with a great group of people. We were able to have a “sit around the campsite” chat with our local Senator (seriously…our Senator) and discuss the state of our state. How wonderful is that??? Even though we were miles and miles and miles away from anything, we were with neighbors. We communicated. We discussed. We challenged one another. We bonded. It is what people do with each other, when they allow themselves to be neighborly.

As we drove into the sunset (the above photo was taken through my dirty windshield about 7:30pm) and contemplated all these things, we realized that we cannot remain separate. We cannot say that we will only associate with people who are like us, or who think like we do, or who reflect our best selves back onto others. We need to embrace the heart of the person we are with, regardless of the trappings of who they are or how they are perceived. God calls us to this very thing – to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” And “neighbor” is every, single person, we are not. Everyone other than ourselves is our neighbor. And there is a spark of God in every, single person out there.

Is this an easy thing? Most certainly it is not. Most of us cannot stand someone because of a myriad of reasons important to us (at the time we chose to not be neighborly). Our neighborhoods, our towns, our schools, our states, our country – all of them are unneighborly in some form or another. But it all starts with me. Since this is my last move and I have dubbed this house my “casket” house (I do not want to move again – ever) I am planning to embed myself in this community, in this neighborhood. I will endeavor to know my physical neighbors, as well as those I gather with, in all our shared glory and ugliness. I cannot do it without the Grace of God. If only each of us would endeavor to try this. Just think of what we could accomplish!?!? If everyone would participate with their next-door neighbors, in their communities, we could change the entire world. If everyone who usually waits in the wings for other people to take care of things would just pick up that rake and do it themselves, our lives and our world would be transformed. And if you translate that rake to our vote – yeah; the “Silent Majority” needs to reawaken and make this happen! We can change this world…starting at home.

God bless each of us, and as we approach the anniversary of our country, God Bless America.

 

 

The pain of memories…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

“…break off and have a cup of tea.”

God is so good. I am loving my journaling experience so much, and I am filled with hope, and joy. I am so beat-up tired, but I am happy. Exultant, even. I am so over moving. I truly hate packing stuff and shoving it into a box. I really do. I am, however, looking forward to our new home and putting down some roots. It feels good.

And then my day got going. And I had a fairly enjoyable time, enjoying breakfast with my kids and grandkids, getting some stuff we needed at the store, gas in my car, and resting up a bit (it was Sunday). And then we headed over to our son’s home, where he is installing a fence.

Sunday was a feast day – the celebration where the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit. I mean, I can sort of relate to how the Apostles must have felt. They had followed this Man who filled them with joy and awe. He was healing people and speaking truths they had never pondered. He was doing and saying things that normal men could not do. Who was He? Was He truly God Incarnate? Their lives were up-ended and completely changed. And then He was crucified. It was a horrific death. And the politics were crazy at the time, too. They ran; they hid; they were afraid. He promised He would return, and He did! He showed up in their midst with the holes in His hands to prove it was Him. But then He said He had to “go home” to the Father. And they were, once again, afraid. He also promised to send them the “Holy Spirit,” Who would fill them with love and be with them always. And we celebrated this on Sunday – the Descent of the Holy Spirit onto the Apostles – Pentecost – 40 days after Christ rose to be with His Father, our God. And we believe the Holy Spirit is still with us, protecting us and enervating our lives. We keep this sense of the holy within us. We celebrate how the Holy Spirit resides in all peoples, across the world. Some believe that can only happen if you accept Christ as your personal Savior. Others say only 144,000 will be saved. (Had that argument a time or two). Still others say that only if you are baptized in their church, are you “saved” and going to heaven. Yeah; I have other things to say on that.

People teach their children by their words and their actions. And if you keep them at home to school them, you are their sole example of life. That is it. I know many homeschoolers who isolate their children from the world, thinking it will somehow save them from being affected by it. I have known homeschooled kids who also snuck off every free moment to do drugs and have wanton sex with many partners, while teens, and while being perceived as “innocent” and “precious darlings” by their naive parents. Boy, were they surprised (and frankly, so was I about some of them!!). And I have known many publicly schooled children who were far better saints. I believe it has something to do with how you model life for them. How you are in front of your children, when no one else is there. Those precious, teachable moments. Those moments cling far more than an English paper they were forced to write, prayers they had to memorize, or keeping your kids away from other children who are being raised differently than you are raising yours. We chose to homeschool for the academics, and the faith followed. But we never isolated our kids. For most of their pre-teen years, we had no network TV. However, they played baseball, soccer, ice hockey, and even rugby. Our kids were always in this world, but we taught them to not be of this world. And I saw character in my kids yesterday, and I was proud of them.

I was, however, profoundly disappointed in myself yesterday. I was angry. I was not carrying a palm branch for peace to anyone. I was not an example of the Holy Spirit to anyone. I was a mother bear and I was going to bat for my kids. And my kids have kids. They are adults. They are married. LOL. It doesn’t matter one iota. Someone has been attacking my family and I was protecting them. Trust me. Do not harm my family. Ever. But I am disappointed that I allowed my protectiveness for my family to over-ride my faith. I know Jesus lost His temper many times. And He was totally justified. I am not sure I was. I did not model a decorous, peace-loving, quiet hearted, Christian woman. Rather, I was a shouting, angry, protective mother. Not good. My heart was racing and I as so very, very angry. It has taken about a year to build up, with my kids being insulted and spoken down to; having their dreams shattered at the hands of people who say they are one thing, but act totally the opposite; and having people do little things to place yet another pea in the mattress of my kids’ lives. And when I received a call with an hysterical, sobbing, daughter-in-law on the phone, I reacted. We raced to their sides. (We discovered my new car has a lot of “pick up and go”!!) We defended our family. And their legal rights. And their character. And we tried to shelter the little children from all of it.

The truly sad thing is that these people did not shelter their kids, at all. And they affected my grandchildren. Ugh. I get angry just reliving the moments. And I missed going to Church, trying to calm everyone (and myself) down; trying for a compromise with people who don’t understand the concept of what that truly means; and trying to help my own kids feel like they were not bad people, after having their very character called into question. It devolved so badly, it will now be in the hands of their attorney. (They already consulted with their attorney and KNOW they have all the rights and these other people have no leg to stand on. And yet, refuse to accept the legality of it. Raspberry bushes and fences – disrespectful people and little children run astray. It could be a soap opera. And now we start the next phase. So so sad!). And my grandson, last night, asking his dad if he was all those things the neighbors accused him of being. Broke our hearts.

And so, how do I find peace? How do I relate to the Holy Spirit in this conflict? I was told many years ago, by a priest, that sometimes we are called to be elsewhere, doing other things, and not be attending Church, and, that at those moments, we are BEING Church. Like when you want to be a part of the Liturgy, celebrating Easter (this totally happened to us) and have a VERY FUSSY BABY, that will not be calmed by anything other than a nice stroll in the sunshine, outside of the Church building. And your priest calmly telling you that at that moment, pacing with your baby, you were doing exactly what God called you to do, and that is BEING CHURCH. Not attending, and barely even taking anything in, but BEING what it means to be called, “Christian.” And through my anger yesterday, I knew I was off the rails a little bit. My presentation lacked. But the message was the same. (Stop spouting things at people, being a hypocrite and not living the same things you pretend you are. Stop accusing and manipulating your children; stop acting out like a child yourself. Take personal responsibility for raising good, Christian kids, like you say you are.). I said many things that were truth, but they perhaps were lost in the presentation, and for that I sought forgiveness. Not what I said, but how I delivered it. And in the end, I felt the hand of God on our family. The Spirit was there. (Perhaps in overabundance of fervor and zest, but there!).

We all learned something about ourselves yesterday. We truly, truly love one another. We will be there in a pinch. When the chips are down, we know we have one another’s back. We are blood – by birth or choice – and we are united. In all of it. And for that little test, I am supremely grateful. Our family is strengthened and was proofed in fire, so to speak. Thanks be to God.

I also learned that sometimes my sense of family, and my protective instincts, get the better of me. And I need to work on that. There are so many wise Church Fathers who exhort us to let the things of this world pass us by. And I forgot it all yesterday. Which means I have so far to go in my growth as a good, solid, Christian woman. And for that, I will redouble my efforts at finding that sweet spot between being in this world, and becoming a part of it. The Saints really had that down – our recent, modern day martyrs for the faith in the Middle East and elsewhere have exhibited it, far better than most of us, up until experiencing even death for their faith. I fell remarkably short.

Father Vasile Tudora posted on the Orthodox Christian Network. In an article about Depression, he wrote:

“So what to do? In an interview I recently read, the Archimandrite Sophrony Sacharov, of blessed memory, at that time a younger monk, was asked by a visiting priest: “Fr. Sophrony, how will we be saved?” Fr. Sophrony prepared him a cup of tea, gave it to him, and told him, “Stand on the edge of the abyss of despair and when you feel that it is beyond your strength, break off and have a cup of tea.” Obviously this was a very odd answer, and the young priest was definitely confused. So off he went to St. Silouan the Athonite, who lived not far from there, and told him everything, asking for advice. Long story short, next day, St. Silouan came to the cell of Fr. Sophrony and the two started a conversation about salvation. The beautiful fruit of their conversation was an unforgettable phrase that I would like to also offer as the answer to our conversation today about depression: “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.”

At first glance, St. Silouan’s take on salvation is not less strange that Fr. Sophrony’s initial answer, but it actually makes great sense. In traditional Christianity, the difficulties of life, the hardships are assumed as part of our fallen existence. Our bodies and our minds suffer the torments, but this is nothing but a temporary stage. The ascetic Fathers considered them as tests on par with the athletic exercises, very useful in practicing and improving the powers of the soul like patience, kindness, hope, faith and so forth. We keep our mind in hell when we consciously assume the pain of living in a fallen world, when we learn from this passing agony to avoid the even greater torture of an eternity without Christ. But there is hope in this suffering because Christ himself has suffered them first and has opened for us a way out of despair, a way out of pain, a way out of death. Christ is the well of life, the bread of eternity, and the only Man we need.

So as Christians we keep our minds in hell and we despair not, but courageously give glory to God in all things, even in pain, hoping, always hoping, in our Savior, the only One who can take us out of the brink of despair and set us for a new life in Him. In Him we put our hope, in Him we find our purpose, and on Him we set our goal.”

And today, I take solace in loosing my temper, in being a poor example. Because today, at 4:30 am, awaking from a fitful sleep, I realized that the great work of my salvation is far from over. It is still a work in progress. I did not accept Christ into my life as a one-time experience and was then perfected. He snuck into my heart, little by little, embedding Himself in the nous of my existence. And He exhorts me, even in my sleep, to reach for better. To keep getting up again, retrying my salvation in light of this world, and to learn to be thankful each time I do misstep and fall, because He is there, helping me back up. And the Holy Spirit is in me, whispering for me to rise up out of my bed and deal with the things that flutter in my heart, causing me unrest; causing me to rise with the bleak rainfall and see the green that is growing around me, the world that is blooming after a harsh winter, giving me courage to keep trying. Hope. It is still there, and I am smiling again today.

“She laughs without fear of the future.”

I haven’t posted in while. Life sort of gets in the way of my musing. I need to be elsewhere, than on my computer. But today, well, today I felt like sharing thoughts. I have been participating in a bible study on Proverbs. This past weekend, my husband joined me in listening to Fr. Josiah as he spoke about “the perfect wife.” I did not realize the title of the talk until we started it, and we both chuckled. But the talk itself was not just about a father’s instructions to his son on finding the perfect wife, but rather about the character traits we all need to strive for. It was a good talk and it seemed over so quickly.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” Proverbs 31: 25

There are more ways than we think of demonstrating a good, moral character. We can look for all these attributes in others, or we can strive to have them ourselves, to mirror those things we wish others had. “When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instruction with kindness.” (Proverbs 31:26) As we explored this chapter, which is the final chapter of Proverbs, we learned so very much about ourselves. And I was struck by some pretty amazing thoughts!

I have caused myself to rethink how I see other people, and the effect I allow them to have on my life. There are people who I have strived hard to be like. People whose opinions mattered to me. People I looked up to. And as I have studied these sayings about the perfect wife, I realize that many of these people are just play-acting roles they have assumed. They did not truly embody the character traits I thought they had. They were pretending, or “going through the motions” of being something or someone, but when I pondered many of them, thinking of them particularly in light of the character traits I strive to have, I realized they spoke of these traits, but did not own them.

Metanoia – the change in one’s way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion.

When someone says they have embraced their faith, there is an expected change. They alter how they view life, how they treat people, and how they live. Granted, some people will never fundamentally change, but a great deal about how they are and how they treat others undergoes a profound change. And sometimes, it does not. At all. They parade, they act, they pose. And, when you come up against someone like this, for me at least, I want to make them a huge sign that says, “WWJD” and flash it in their faces.
When our metanoia only shows itself at church, it is not a change of heart or soul. I attended a conference many years ago that was supposed to be a “charismatic” conference. I had a little exposure to charismatics throughout my life and I thought it would be fun to attend. It was visually pretty mind-boggling. I have never been one of those who outwardly expresses themselves in church with “hallelujahs” and “praise the Lords” with shouts and raised arms. I am a quiet church attendee. I am pretty traditional in how I like my church services, which is why I think I have gravitated eastward for so many years. Anyway, at this conference, people were being prayed over and being “slain in the spirit.” (Overcome by spiritual emotion causing fainting and other reactions). When it came to me, three people stood around me (making a box with their bodies and I was very uncomfortable) and the fourth person stood in front and prayed over me, and then pushed me with the palm of his hand on my forehead, expecting me to faint. Instead, I yelled, “Ouch! Why did you hit me?” They all looked at me and said, “Next, please.” I felt like I had missed out on something amazing. I had no life-changing moment; no metanoia. In another instance, when I was at a pre-sanctified liturgy during Lent more than 10 years ago, as the priest passed over me, carrying the Body and Blood of our Lord, and as his vestments passed over me, I felt an electrical charge that went straight to my heart. Much later (as in months had passed) this same priest and I were chatting and he brought up that exact moment – because he had felt it, too. That was confirmation enough for me! God was present. And my heart melted. I have never forgotten that moment and it still brings me up short, that God would allow me to personally experience His presence in such a way. It changed me. And it brought me closer to God than anything I had experienced up until that point.

1 Timothy 11-16

“Command and teach these things.  Let no one look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in your speech, conduct, love, faithfulness, and purity. Until I come, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift you have, given to you and confirmed by prophetic words when the elders laid hands on you. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that everyone will see your progress. Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.”

When we accept the faith that is in our life, either through early baptism and confirmation (as in the eastern and Orthodox churches) or we come to it later in life as a discovery (being “born again” in Protestant churches) we are called to be examples to those around us of Christian living. When we give poor example, we damage our own reputations, yes; but we damage the Church as a body and its members as a whole.

The profound thing I realized is that there are people around me who have shunned organized religion of pretty much every sort, but who are more Christian and Christ-like in so many way than those shouting it from the street corners (Matthew 6:5). And what I realized is that no one has told them they are living a Christian life; that they embody so many of the character traits we look for in the “perfect wife.” And how sad is that? They are dealing with people who purport to be Christians. I know that “we are not perfect, just forgiven,” but c’mon people! We are held to a higher standard! And there are those who somehow think less of themselves because they do not “go to church” in light of these church-goers (always comparing themselves to them) and yet have far better characters, are far more trustworthy, and who will defend your life to the end of theirs.

And so this weekend, I came to see people in light of what they do in relation to others, rather than who or what they say they are. And I was profoundly moved by people who don’t even realize how good they are; and conversely I was profoundly disappointed by some who insist on acting like they are such good Christians of character. And so, once again, my children are teaching me. I have commented in other posts about my son chastising me about judging how some people look, without even getting to know them. That was about 15 years ago. And I have profoundly changed and I know I am a better person for it. I just wish some people knew what great people they are and did not measure themselves in light of the words of others, who profess how good they are!

“…burst out in songs of thanksgiving…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Open your mouth for the mute…”

I am constantly amazed how people can say one thing, purport to be one thing, and yet are completely different. When the “real’ person comes out, it can be so shocking. We have been experiencing this over the past few years, over and over again. I just wish people would be exactly who they are. I know so many people who change their faces, even their voices, depending on their audience – they have a work self, a homebody, a person for their spouse, and another type for their friends. That must get confusing. I have always been the same, regardless of my audience. I suppose that can be good, or bad.

I’ve always been told to put on clean underwear in case you’re in an accident. So I do. (My mom should be proud I still do that! I almost hear her when I am dressing! LOL!)  I can wear clothing appropriate for situations. And as I have gotten older, I choose comfort over style most of the time. But that does not mean I change the person I am, nor the values I believe in. It just means I dress appropriately for the occasion.

There are people in our larger faith community who dress a certain way, wear their hair a certain way, and always wear a symbol of faith on their person. For them, it symbolizes their modesty and simplicity, and their beliefs. (My sons referred to it as my “Little House on the Prairie” days! LOL!) However, many of these same Christian families do not allow their children to interact with “public school children,” nor do they allow them to play sports on public league teams, or have friends outside of their strict faith circle.  Some do not allow their children to interact with anyone who does not attend their same church. But we are exhorted in the scriptures to live in this world and to deal with others. We cannot learn, being hidden away. “My child, if sinners entice you, turn your back on them!” (Proverbs 1:10)  It is biblically, and scripturally, incorrect. We are not called to be separated from our neighbors, but rather we are called to participate and be the “light” and the “salt” in this world.  The godly are called to be as bold as lions (Proverbs 28:1) There are so many instances where we are asked by Our Lord to involve ourselves in our communities and neighborhoods, for the good of everyone.

We are not instructed to alienate or shame, either. When parents are teaching their elementary-aged children to speak to adults/neighbors like the “Inquisition,” there is a problem. Pre-teen children should not be telling their neighbor adults that they are going to hell because they do not attend a particular church. That is learned at home. When adults act like they reside on a higher plane because of their religious beliefs, they are not being Christ to others, or when they act superior because of their careers and income levels, they are not being Christ to others. When they wear crosses on their chests or the back windows of their cars, but yell, shout, and belittle their neighbors, they are being a false witness to the faith. When they don’t like something their neighbors are doing, and threaten law suits, or offer monetary rewards to make it go away, they are being dishonest and are actually being a briber. And that is not a Christian act. At all.

When we act a certain way in front of our children, we are teaching them. They watch our bodily actions and they listen to our words, and they pay attention to how we treat others. And unfortunately, quite often the adage, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” ends up falling far short. Children are great imitators. They will act and speak just like their parents. If you want to know everything there is to know about a family, talk to their 10-12 year-old. You will know it all. So people ought not to fool themselves into thinking they are making a certain impression in a community. Their false-face is there for all to see. And when they parade through their parishes, the hypocrisy is unnerving.

“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)

The Lord asks us, so many times, to care for others. For those who cannot care for themselves. I have thought about this a lot lately. What does it mean that someone cannot care for themselves? Quite often we look to the easy example of the poor, the handicapped, the elderly, and the pre-born baby. But as I thought of this, caring for ourselves can often be beyond some of us. We simply don’t know how. And caring for myself means I make sure I have food and shelter; I help myself become more skilled at what I do; I work constantly to grow in wisdom and love. But what if I can’t really do that? What if I am hurting inside and cannot help myself? What if I have never been taught the love of Christ and His forgiveness, and all I am exposed to and see is my neighbor? What if I am one of those who cannot care for myself, one of the needy? What if my neighbor, who says they are a wonderful homeschooling, Catholic, Christian family, is my only exposure to those things? Then my neighbor becomes my school. I learn from watching you, and from interacting with you, just as your children do. What it is to be those things, I learn from watching you. And when you belittle others and exclude the neighbors because they don’t “measure” properly, what sort of example are you? You are a false one. And you are causing people to stumble. Some of those people are your own children. And I am angry. I admit it. I am royally, beyond the pale, mad.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)

I am angry because you are being this poor example to my children and grandchildren. You are turning them away from Church. You are turning them away from learning to be good neighbors. They are becoming exclusionary because it is safer that way. When they let you in, or allow you to come closer, you hurt them, again. They are not excluding your children, because this was not caused by them, but they are no longer happy to see them walk up the driveway. They no longer really want your children teaching and interacting with their children. Why? Your children tell them everything you say in your home. They know how you really feel. They share freely what your opinion of my children and grandchildren really is. And this is just wrong. So very wrong. And you are hurting others. You are hurting my family.

When we will be honest with one another? When will we learn to grow and become better people? Just because you want things to be a certain way, does not make them that way. What is, well, it just is. Some things we can affect a change on; others we have to accept. Wisdom is knowing the difference. Temper tantrums, in front of the children and the entire cul-de-sac, cannot change what is. Shame on you. Shame.

I am struggling to not go barging in to situations that are not about me. Being a parent does not stop when they leave your roof. You are always going to be protective of your kids. When my oldest son went into the Army, in my mind, all I could see was my 5-week preemie. In my head, he was not well over 6-feet tall, but barely old enough to be born. And even though my kids are all adults now, I still worry about them. And when others array themselves against them, this mom goes all “shield maiden” on them! (I love the Viking stories and lore surrounding Shield Maidens. They were so awesome!). It is also like being a mother-bear…watch out!

The Christian in me longs for peace. I long to be able to share with these people the error of their ways, in a godly, Christian way. But I have been the victim of these sorts of Christians for more than 25 years. And it pretty much follows a pattern. It is ugly, it is predictable and I am thankful beyond thankful that I was able to extricate myself and my family from that environment and be more of a presence in this world. But I never lost my faith, nor my values, nor myself. Dante says, “The darkest places of hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in a time of crisis.” He is telling us we are not to abandon the world when it needs us the most. We need to insert ourselves into everyday life, as Christians, bearing a true witness of the love of God. If we are to be that “light” and “salt” in this world, we cannot bear false witness. We will lead others to hell. Proverbs instructs us to be people of character, above bribes, and to be honest in dealing with everyone. It is laced all through the Book. Because, “If the godly give in to the wicked, it’s like polluting a fountain or muddying a spring.” (Proverbs 25:26)  We cannot become like the world. And we cannot sit back and allow evil to muddy our springs. Sometimes we have to speak up…or in my case, vent!

“So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

And how are we doing? Have we truly accepted the Word of God for our own lives, thereby being an honest witness of a believer? Is this posturing? Make believe? Are we charlatans? Or are we modern-day Pharisees, praying on the street corner for all to see??

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:5)

I am done venting. I am retiring to my chair where I can drink a cup of tea, and cuddle with my cat, enjoying our spring mix of rain and snow. And I will pray for these people, to be honestly who they are, to be kind before all else, as well as to be a Godly witness and not a false one.

I feel like I went off the rails a little bit in this post. Maybe I did. But sometimes I just want to shout it from the rooftops: ENOUGH! STOP!  And so, proverbially speaking, I have done that. Back to normal, now!

“What’s next?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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