“Serving up memories since….”

We are chipping away at “settling in” to the new house. Yesterday, my daughter-in-law put up a vinyl sign I bought on Amazon for my kitchen. She bought me one for my laundry room, too.

I have not really embraced the idea of these vinyls up until now. They seem more like stickers to me. LOL. But I really like how they turned out. The laundry room one makes me giggle every time I see it. And it is sort of me, making my mark on our new home. “Settling in” is a process. It’s not an event, so for me, there is no deadline associated with it. But I am getting antsy about our garage, because it is a morass of boxes…stacks of them. And there are items I am keeping but don’t need to see all the time. We have shelves and shelves in the garage. So we can take things out of boxes and put them on the shelves, where we can use them. I am leaning so towards getting rid of more stuff! LOL! I have heard the adage, “If it is in a box or cupboard and you have not used it in 6 months, get rid of it.” And I like that. The exception up here are seasonal things like snow boots and snow shovels, versus camp chairs and bar-b-que items. They change out by season and sometimes winter is 6+ months and more. Unfortunately, summer never is. LOL.

I’m not sure what happened to summer. Things are already closing up. I spoke with our favorite nursery people yesterday and they were selling everything at 50% off, giving us instructions on how to plant what we chose, and how to winterize it once it was planted. Winterize. I am not ready for that, yet. My mom is due up here the last week of August and I am fearful it will already be cold.

I had a long talk with my dad yesterday (he’s on the left, pictured above with my brother about 3 years ago) and he is 90 years old. He also has Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s with dementia, as well as issues with severe trigeminal nerve pain. He is on tons of medications; last count it was 14 medications daily. And it is all hard for him. He has not been a medication person for most of his life, and prides himself on his intellectual prowess. He knows he is losing it. He is aware he is not as nimble as he was. He gets the Parkinson’s thing. But he hates that his driver’s license was taken away, and he thinks, somehow, they own a new car he was not told about. And he is generally, well, pissed off. He is not taking this aging thing gracefully, at all. He does not want to “winterize.” I told him he was 90 and it was okay to relax a little. His response was, “You may as well bury me now, then.” LOL. Growing up his daughter has been interesting, to say the least. Definitely never smooth sailing. And how do you prepare for a winter in your life like that? My brother and I were joking that we are sort of screwed. Our mom has Alzheimer’s, too. So my brother said, “When we start acting all weird with dementia, we can just blow it off and say, ‘Nah, it’s normal in our family.'”  Sadly enough, and funnily enough, it is true. And he and I also have cancer in our family. So how do you prepare for your own winter? What boxes do you need to go through? What can you do without, because you don’t really use it?

Dealing with stuff is not fun. There is “stuff” everywhere in life. Right now, I am dealing with a garage full of stuff that we somehow needed and had to box up and move with us. And after living in our new home for a month, I know there are things I normally use that I cannot find, especially in the kitchen. Household tools I am used to relying on to get the job done. Stupid things like spatulas I like or a particular bowl I prefer to use. Alzheimer’s and dementia are like that. You go to reach for the familiar and it is not there. Instead, there is a blank space; a hole. And it throws you off. A lot. Some people react in anger. Some get quiet and just repeat sentences over and over, trying to reconcile that empty space. And even others refuse to admit there is anything wrong with them, and that it is the problem with everyone around them. Denial. I have been in denial for a month that I need to get into all those boxes out there…that bowl or spatula are somewhere! And how do I make my mark on this house, this life, before there are too many missing pieces and I can no longer function? If you think I haven’t thought of that, you don’t know me well, I guess. I am always thinking of the “what ifs” in life, in addition to all the “what happens when…”

Am I scared? Sort of. But I seriously don’t have the luxury of time to sit and reflect on it too much, other than the occasional blog post or conversation. I am preparing to have my mom move in with me, because she is experiencing too many holes and she can no longer be alone. Caregivers apparently wear out and need help at some point, too. Right now, it is full speed ahead. We are diving into the boxes today. We are trying to get this organization all done so we can rest easier, and welcome my mom to her forever home. Because neither of us plans on ever moving again. Ever. Scared? I don’t have time to worry about it. Too many details to attend to. My dad told me he worries for me, that I will be overwhelmed with caring for my mom, and that he prays for me. I like that. At least he is cognizant enough to say it and to spend the mental effort sharing that with me. Mom is just resigned to living with her daughter. LOL. Me? I am organizing now, so I can enjoy my time with her later.

I am also looking forward to the future. I am flying to spend time with my son and his family. I have a grand daughter I need to meet and cuddle with. I have friends to catch up with. And I have my mom to pack up and fly back with. My sister and brother-in-law are coming with us, so I have some tourist-hosting to look forward to. There are so many positives. God is good. I am blessed. I have a new hair-do I am still fiddling with, and today I will find that stupid spatula and I will conquer the chaos in the garage. The rest will follow in kind. Feeling optimistic and full of love and hope in tomorrow. Winterize? I’ll work on it.

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Sensory and informational overload, God and a fern…

I know, another photo of the beauty up here. But I can’t help it! This weekend we were privileged to tour a national park and it was so amazing. The couple we shared it with made the weekend even better. But, sometimes I get overwhelmed with input. You know how sometimes you can just get sensory and mental overload? I got that. My brain was blurring what I was seeing. Too much nature over too long of a time. LOL. It sounds awful, doesn’t it? That I saw too much beauty and my brain shut down? Sadly enough, it did. Perhaps if I lived in a completely different area, it would seem different or fresh. But it quickly became “more of the same.” Yes, it is stunning and amazing and beautiful. But when you drive in a bus for 8 hours in a national park, your brain starts to rebel a little bit. I had to fight to not take a nap!

Have you ever felt overloaded with information? I know that my kids have complained about it while studying for exams, and I recall the feeling in college, too. You actually look forward to the test, in some perverse way, to spout all that information you have been cramming inside your head, just to get some relief. When you study for the test, cramming just gives that information temporary residence. Once you take the test and spew it all out, most of us retain very little of it. And I was worried about that this weekend. I was seeing so much beauty and nature, I was concerned I would not (a) appreciate it to its fullest, or (b) retain my memories.

Sometimes when we are around something too much, we forget the beauty and the incredible part it plays in our lives. Sometimes we even forget we live among beautiful things, because we have had it all our lives. I’m going out on a limb here, but sometimes it reminds me of former smokers or drinkers, who love to talk about how life is better now, while you sip that glass of wine. Or, worse yet, converts. To whatever it is you already belong to, a convert’s joy and fervor almost drives you away. Ha-Ha. Unfortunately, I am a former smoker and a convert. So I have been teased and teased again for my excitement and fervor.

This weekend, I met some people traveling by cruise ship, who were bussed and took the train to where we were visiting. We had a nice chat. One lady was from Los Angeles and the other had retired to Tennessee. They meet at this hotel each year and go on cruises together, with this national park as their starting point. Their perspective on the state I live in was interesting. They love looking at it, but “could never live here.” Too much sun in summer, and not enough in winter. Although they did say they loved the long, summer days and mild temperatures, the winters scared them.

And I found myself listening in my head to all the things I had heard and seen this weekend, and some thoughts came to me. It made me sad that others loved where I lived, but “could never live here.” How often do we become lax and cynical about our faith, because it has always been there? For those of us who are new and discovering our faith (I’ve been learning and discovering for over 30 years now) we seem to notice all the little details and nuances, because we are learning. When it becomes old hat or repetitive, we need to take a look inside. Just like I was dismissing all the grandeur around me this weekend. I had to mentally slap myself in order to amp up my excitement and joy over what I was experiencing. I also knew I was cramming a lot of information into my little brain, and I desperately did not want to lose any of it. I quickly did a photo album on my FB page, to share with others, and I am posting photos here, as well as thinking about all of it. I am hoping it will stick!!

Some of us are suited to small, intimate gatherings and crowds just don’t cut it for us. We can relate one-on-one, but could never speak in front of a crowd. Sometimes we get what is called “over stimulated” and cannot wait for quieter, simpler interactions. I spent 8 hours on a tour bus peopled with complete strangers, with a wide range of personalities and excitement levels, not to mention traditions, cultures, and even languages. It was a good experience for me, but I could not wait to get back to the quiet of our little car and just the 4 of us in our party. I felt so full of voices and sounds and sights…I needed quiet. So off to our hotel rooms we went, to rest up before dinner. We had some down time and then enjoyed a patio dinner before rushing inside to avoid the rainstorm! What a memorable trip with some really fun traveling companions!

Do you ever attend Church at a new place? Like when you are on vacation? And you don’t fit in, or you stand out, because you are different? We stopped at this little town on our way home and went to the most amazing little place, the “Roadhouse.” What a great experience we had. It is a family-style restaurant and hostel for people who are going to scale the large mountain we had just visited. The place is not fancy in any way. And I loved it. They had chairs and benches, lots of old photos and flags, telling the stories of people who had scaled the mountain, and those who had lost their lives attempting their climb. I enjoyed the best Mushroom/Swiss Quiche I have ever tasted. They are not afraid of mushrooms! And we all tasted some raspberry/rhubarb wine that was divine. I even brought home some hand-made cinnamon rolls we had for breakfast this morning. It is a place I will gladly return to again. But did I fit in? Not really. In some ways, yes I did. But one of the funny things is that I truly didn’t care. I just took it all in and found enjoyment where I was. We ran into people we know, whose daughter lives in a small town in Northern California, where dairies are around every turn in the road, and we know people in common. How random and how perfect for our weekend!

How often do we become “sensory blind” and not notice what is around us? How often do we miss little joys like a fantastic mushroom quiche served in a building that has been there since the 1800s? How often do we miss the nuances of life because we have become inured to them and don’t notice?

This can happen in our faith life, too. Every once in awhile I have an amazing experience where God physically and emotionally touches me, and makes me know He is truly here with me, in person. But for the majority of time, I trust. I have faith that He is here. I don’t worry about finding Him at each liturgy I attend. Some people look and if they do not see Him or “feel” Him, they leave. They want an “authentic” experience each and every weekend. And sometimes looking so hard overloads their input….like I experienced this weekend at the national park. We have to be conscious of our surroundings at all times, looking for the gentle whisper of God everywhere. I experienced that this weekend, imbuing myself with nature and the grandeur in which I live, learning to appreciate this all over again. Each and every time we pray, we read Scripture, or we attend Liturgy, we need to renew ourselves and our faith. And quite often, we will find something unexpected, like a fern growing so far north…

“Therefore, do not worry…”

I awoke in full panic mode. I was having a hard time breathing, my heart was pounding, and I was sweating. “How are we going to do this?” This is the third night in our new home. It is an amazing house. The situation of the property is incredible. I feel like I am in a park. Our dog is having a hard time adjusting to eating and going potty. She is intimated, I think, by all the wildlife around her. We have no fencing – just an acre of green – trees, wild roses, and all sorts of birds – a frog hopped across my foot as I got out of my car last night. When I took the dog out for her morning poop, she squatted and looked all around her, eventually poo-ing in a circle. I think she was worried a moose would pop out of the wooded area in the back. It was hysterical to watch. And our cat? She is just all messed up. Meowing all through the night, off and on, wandering all over. She loves to watch the wildlife outside the windows. I just wish she would let me sleep. I am exhausted. And so panicking seems on par. Ha-Ha!

We have been praying for a place to put down roots, where we never have to leave, and where we could gracefully grow old together. A place where we had room to entertain our family and friends, where my husband could “putter” and where I could just relax in nature. And we never thought, after all the issues we have had financially because of poor economic health in our nation, that we could buy a house, again. We really thought we would rent indefinitely. And we also thought the American Dream was a dead idea, whose day had passed. But somehow we qualified. Somehow, the lenders had faith in us and our ability to care for this property. We attended a course offered through our state housing authority and that qualified us for all sorts of programs, and it also informed us about the process of buying a home. The laws have changed since 2008! Not only have we lived in 3 states since that time, but the world of home buying changed a lot. Far more protection for the buyers! Yay! And there is a lot of grant money to be had out there. (Go check it out!).

As I ponder the view from my window – sorry for the poor quality – I know that because we have prayed for this, and because so many people have approved this move, we are going to be okay. Somehow we will make this work. I panic every month, wanting to be sure our bills are all paid and it has finally paid off – stellar credit and our dream home. So why worry? “I keep waiting for that other shoe to drop” is what I keep telling our realtor. He laughs and says I need to stop and just enjoy our home. I guess he is right. Maybe once I get past all these darn boxes, I will feel better. There are just so many of them!! LOL!

My kids (keep laughing, Kathleen and Bryce) have given me such a hard time, as have my friends (I am so grateful, Tina) and even my brother (thanks, Mark) for saving boxes. Not just any box, mind you; the boxes all the things I own came in. Like coffee makers, the computer, our phones, a rice cooker, etc. I keep them all, just in case I need to return them, or to use when we move. (“Mom, you have a Nokia phone box? They don’t even make phones anymore!!!”). The kicker is that when we came across these boxes, we had already packed the item, or it was 2-3 versions ago (notoriously go through coffee makers!!). And so I have vowed to finally get rid of them all, because this is my last move. Ever. I have resolved that this is my dream home, and I am calling it my casket house. I will be taken out of here in a casket…but not with boxes.

I am learning to purge things from my life I have hung on to, for some weird reasons, and just let them go. I am not sure why I have some of the stuff I do have, and why I kept what I did. Kind of makes me laugh. And a bright side is that when I was setting up our trash service, the gal told me about how they recycle all the cardboard and paper and bubble wrap right next to the dump. She said, “Why pay to drop it off when you can get paid to drop it off?” Sounds good to me – even more incentive to get rid of boxes I have held on to.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns—and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his lifespan?

And why do you worry about clothes? Consider how the lilies of the field grow: They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans pursue all these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6: 25-34

And so I am trying to let it all go and let God handle my anxiety. Because I do trust Him. When I try to take things back into my own hands is when the panic appears. So I take a deep breath and I unpack another box, adding it to our recycling pile. We can do this. We are settling in, making this our home, and praising God we have this little corner of the world for our own.

 

 

“…break off and have a cup of tea.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…but a kind word cheers it up.”

Boy, did this speak to me today. It was raining this morning. Dismal. Gray. Yucky sort of dark morning. A coffee morning, for sure. And I know that Spring has supposedly arrived. We laugh up here because there are MOUNDS of snow all over town, which probably won’t melt down until June or July. There is a mound on the side of an old firehouse, just down the street from me. Spring. Ha! It is still too cold to plant your starters or flowers. Some people have braved hanging baskets already. Not me. We are moving in a few weeks, so I am waiting to see what gorgeous perennials pop up in my yard. I am told there is a rose hedge and daffodils, and a few tulips. Cannot wait to see that. But today is gloomy. They say you need to get through the rain, to have the sunshine. “May showers bring June flowers”?? Ha-Ha.

And as I sat and drank my coffee in the dripping-rain-sounding, very gray and dismal morning, I turned on the TV. Big. Mistake. I have been consciously keeping it off. And today I dove back in. Stupid me. I changed what I watch, considerably. I watch mostly the Hallmark channel, or specific shows I record. And I recently began a series on DVD my son got me hooked on, but that we watch together (Ok, we binge-watch it!). But for the most part, the TV is off during the day. I like it that way. Over the past year, I also changed where I get my news. I switched it to an all-news channel that has no pundits who try to tell me what I just heard, or opine and/or yell at viewers. I am tired of the vitriol. The channel I watch reports from all over the world and in under 1 hour, I am up-to-date. And in that 1-hour today, the darkness crept in. A lot of it.

“The woman named Folly is brash. She is ignorant and doesn’t know it….she calls out to men going by, “Come in with me,” she says….But little do they know that the dead are there. Her guests are in the depths of the grave.” Proverbs 9:13-18

And I realized that by watching and listening to all this horrific news, because that is the majority of it, I was allowing the darkness to have a hold over me. I was depressed and sad. So I left the room and dove back into the Proverbs. And the above quote is what struck me. Hard. And then I remembered what St. Porphyrios said at the top of this post: “Do not fight to expel the darkness from the chamber of your soul. Open a tiny aperture for light to enter, and the darkness will disappear.”

As Rick Mallory, the photographer and blogger captured in the above photograph, Spring is a mixture of snow, rain, and burgeoning flowers. They are trying to erupt from their winter slumber, reaching towards the elusive sunshine. And that is an apt description for us all. We need to be constantly reaching for the light, to dispel the darkness. And I am desperately clinging, some days more than others, to the promises of my faith; the light in my life. And this light I hold within often struggles with the images and sounds of this world, which tries to drag us down. As a social experiment, I dismissed most newsfeed from my life. I took news apps and social media apps off of my iPhone. (I did keep the Angry Birds and Bejeweled games. My grandkids love playing Angry Birds with me on my phone). I changed up my wallpapers and now have spring flowers all over my laptop and iPhone, both, on all screens. I dismissed notifications from my life. I get text messages and notices of emails, but other than that, my phone is a phone. (What a concept, huh???). The freedom has helped my electronics operate a lot more efficiently (Facebook kills battery life, as do lots of platforms. Now they are gone, my phone can easily last 24 hours..unless I am at those Birds or Jewels!!). And the result? My happiness level got increasingly better. I was suffering from fewer sleepless nights. I was stressing far less. Do I advocate the ostrich method of burying your head in the sand? I don’t. Part of learning from scripture is to take what we have learned and directly apply it to our lives. Proverbs exhorts us to be present in the marketplace and to be involved. So I intend to keep staying current, but I think saturating yourself in it, day in and day out, takes a toll on your psyche and soul. I opted out and when I dipped my toe back into the media water, I immediately felt a difference.

So I think I will stay out of that mess. For now. Maybe forever. I much prefer the walk pictured above, which is 10 miles from my front door. I much prefer hearing the water waft past me, the eagles who fly above, and the salmon spawning, to media and newsfeed chaos. Life is so short. We never walk this way again. I continue to pray for the country, to listen when necessary, but focus on my walk with God, and my husband, and my family. If you can unplug, I highly recommend it. I recall that when I was a teenager, my dad would hand me a dime when I went out with my friends, to ensure I could call home if I needed to. On a pay phone. No cell phones. I didn’t talk to people 24/7, with tweeting my every move or logging into a social platform all day long. I could go weeks without seeing friends and we were still friends! (Imagine that!). Friends I still have 40-or more years later. We invested quality time developing relationships, in person, not online. We got news when we got news…maybe nightly at the dinner hour? Radio in the car? But not like it is now. Summer is coming and I cannot wait to be outdoors. I will have my essential oil recipe for mosquitos (which works so well!!), my Kindle will be charged, and I will be ready to accompany my husband as he chases those salmon, at whichever river he chooses to conquer. And as I got up from this screen to let the dog outside, I saw that the sun had raised her head high above the sky, dispelling the darkness. What a joy seeing that was! I wish for you some of the same.

“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” Proverbs 12:25

“Let your heart hold fast my words…”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“God did not make death…”

So, I have a 14-year-old cat. Her name is Rosie. She is my sweetie pie. She is my super-cuddler-purring machine! Every night, we snuggle as we fall asleep (hubby loves it! Ha-Ha!). Our last vet nick-named her, “Scaredy-Cat” and actually put that on her chart. No one ever sees her. We have a very close friend, who did NOT know, even after having spent the night at our house (friend of our middle son since childhood) that we even had a cat. Which I find hilarious. My daughter-in-law teases me, when I send her photos as proof-of-life, that I borrow the neighbor’s cat! LOL! But, even though she is not too visible, she is my anchor…if I am stressed, somehow she knows and will not stop rubbing on my legs until I hold her. She is just a great cat – to me. But now, not so much. She is barfing. A lot. And between her barfing and our 15-year-old dog’s peeing in the house, I am “up to here” with it!

Today I spoke with a vet, and I researched online about cats who throw up. Apparently, I am a bad cat owner. I thought keeping the same food all the time was the right thing to do. But I was wrong. Cats need a lot of protein variety in their diets. In other words, you need to change-up their food about every 3 months; especially indoor cats. I have been feeding her the same Blue Buffalo Indoor Cat Food for years! Ever since Blue Buffalo came out. Before that, it was Iams or Science Diet. Lately, she has been eating my house plant leaves and then barfing. I just found out that it is my fault. The photo above is of the new Kittie Grass I am growing for her, as well. And I changed up the cheap treats I give her, with ingredients I cannot spell or say, for a more natural, trout/salmon treat. I am prayerful this will clear up her issues, as she is healthy otherwise. Unlike my 15-year-old dog, who has declined so much this past year, even more the past 6 months, that I have an appointment entitled, “Quality of Life Consultation” with our vet next week. I think his quality is so poor, that I am considering euthanizing him. And it breaks my heart.

I feel badly, because “variety is the spice of life” and all of that, for my kitty. I have been a negligent owner, only because I did not realize what I was doing wrong. Now that I have been chastised and corrected, I mean to make good on learning my lesson. Rosie, who looks so much like the cat above (although it is not her) deserves my best for her. It is part of being a responsible pet owner, just as knowing when to euthanize our pets. For someone who is pro-life, the very discussion of euthanizing seems anathema to my core beliefs, and it makes me question so many things.

Have you investigated euthanizing an animal? Vets believe that we call it “putting to sleep” because that is basically what they do. They lull the animal into a deep, relaxed sleep through chemicals injected into their veins, and the heart just slowly stops. It takes just a few seconds. There is no thrashing around (at least in my experience) and no pain. They simply slow their breathing and they are gone. It truly is quick and painless…for the animal. My question is this: In a society that believes in the death penalty, why can’t we euthanize criminals like this? Why are there so many instances wherein the felon struggles and suffers and takes so long to die? And these are hard questions, because I do not believe in the death penalty – at all. But if our society insists on it, why can it not be like we provide for our animals? At the very least? I prefer not at all, but that is not what our culture wants.

Part of choosing whether or not my dog has reached the end of his life makes me feel like I am playing God. Who am I to decide his lifespan? And ironically enough, I am about to “take custody” of my 87-year-old mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Many in our society believe I should be able to choose her time and place, as well. Whereas I am looking to give her love, security and safety, and palliative care in her last days…and they will be as many as God deigns to give her; not me. But my dog? Is it for my convenience?

Well, when we discuss convenience, is it not more convenient to end the lives of babies we did not expect to be pregnant with, the elderly who require our care, and those who have committed crimes against others and are being held indefinitely in state institutions? How about those children who are born with disabilities? Are they not better off if we end their lives as infants? What about those who cannot, through no fault of their own, contribute to society? Do we end their lives, as well? What about those who have mental defects? Those who are addicted to drugs and only exist to get high? What about their quality of life? What about people who age out and become solely dependent on Social Security? Do we end them, as well, so we have that money in our slush funds? Who makes these choices? Their caregivers? The government? Us? Who is qualified to decide whose quality of life is not worth the air they breathe or the space they inhabit, or the food they ingest?

I am struggling with all of this, as I contemplate my choices over the next few days. Yes, I ran out and got new cat food and am now growing cat grass on my kitchen counter…but for my dog? There truly is nothing I can do for him, other than to shelter and feed him. But even that is getting rough, because of the myriad of issues he has. Can we extrapolate these questions onto people? I can’t. I am having a hard enough time with my dog. I could never, knowingly, end the life of another human being. And trust me, it is a huge issue for me, especially as an NRA, gun-owning, 2nd Amendment supporter. I think if a loved one was threatened, I could lethally defend us. But for me, the ultimate question still is: ALL life is precious, right?

My all-time favorite Pope, John Paul II, stated in Paragraph 56 of Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), an encyclical letter on various threats to human life, issued on March 25, 1995:

“This is the context in which to place the problem of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God’s plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is “to redress the disorder caused by the offense.”(46) Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfills the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people’s safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behavior and be rehabilitated.(47)

It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

‘If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.'”(46) Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2266

Now, a lot of people did not like Pope John Paul II, but I adored him. He was the pope when I came into my faith, and he embodied it for me. He was the head of the Roman Catholic Church, and in his lifetime, he touched millions of lives. He forgave the man who shot him. He visited more countries than any other pope. He was loved by teenagers and young adults all over the world. And he stated, as I paraphrase, that if a society was just, then the death penalty was justified. But he also said that someone had to demonstrate to him which society that was. It is certainly not the USA. And a quote from Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) is: “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he has created all things that they might exist … God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it” (Wis 1:13-14; 2:23-24). The Pope quoted the Book of Wisdom to further enhance his support of all human life.

And that is where I am at today, contemplating the sacred value of life. All life. I am not a believer in creating “children” out of our pets. I am not a “pet parent,” as some new commercials are saying (PetsMart or PetCo…one of those places). I am a pet “owner.” Period. And being a responsible pet owner, I have to evaluate the quality of life of the pets under my care. I have seen farmers sadly have to end the life of one of their cows, because she had a hard delivery of her calf, or just got sick. And some of these dairymen know those cows by their herd number (there are too many to name them) and they mourn that cow. And some of these guys have herds with literally 5,000 cows in them. But they know each and every one of their cows. How much more for the dog I brought home as a new puppy 15 years ago? The dog who slept on my feet for at least 10 years? The dog who follows me everywhere..and I mean EVERY-WHERE!!! Do I owe him a long life? Yes, I do. Do I owe him the best environment I can provide? Yes, I do. Do I owe him a painless, and quietly loving death? Yes, I do. But he is not my child; not my mom; not my grandma. He is my pet. I love him, yes. But I realize the difference in the sanctity of human life.

“No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11)

Will I see my dog in heaven? I don’t know, but I am hopeful. We have had so many dogs and cats over the years we have been married, as well as the time I spent as a girl. I am hopeful they will populate the joyous surroundings in heaven. What I am far more concerned with is whether I will see my miscarried babies, my grandparents and parents, brothers, sisters, and friends. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9) And so I pray for all of life; the life God created for us. It will be perfect and make perfect sense, once we stand with humanity in the “beatific vision” of God on His Throne. I like to think our pets will be there, welcoming us, too. Until that time, I will do my best by my pets. Even more so for my family and friends, knowing that all of life is precious.