“…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.

“..your Father, who sees what is hidden…”

“Sacrifice and offering you do not want; but ears open to obedience you gave me. Holocausts and sin-offerings you do not require; so I said, “Here I am; your commands for me are written in the scroll. To do your will is my delight; my God, your law is in my heart.”” That is from Psalm 40, verses 7-9 in my New American Bible (2007).

As I read this during my prayer time today, I realized that I am a wanderer. We all are. Like someone roaming in the desert, as the Jewish people did for 40 years (there’s that number 40 again) searching for the Promised Land. We all try and fill ourselves with things of this world, thinking we will be satisfied. But nothing, absolutely nothing, can fill that hole in our souls like God. And today, as I prayed and read and journaled, I realized something profound. All God asks of us is an ear to listen to His commands for our lives. He just asks us to listen. Just listen.

As we raise our children, we begin young (hopefully) to teach them how to sit still. I can still hear myself admonishing my sons, “Would you just sit still and listen???” And hopefully they come to learn how to enjoy moments of stillness and silence. I have a very close friend who is a teacher. She had been teaching older kids for a few years and decided to return to teaching kindergarten. One of our first conversations after her change of grade levels this year was pretty funny. She kept telling me how exhausted she was and then she said, “Oh my goodness!! It’s like herding cats!!” And I just laughed. I know what it is like when I have just two of my grandchildren (both under 5) over here, and I try to get them to sit with me for a bit of quiet time. Ha-Ha! Not gonna happen. (Unless they happen to want to cuddle, then I just bask in the moment). Recently my oldest grandchild and I had a slight disagreement when he informed me that I had been “breaking the rules” when I wore my shoes inside their house. Long story short, I explained why I had mine on; however, I wanted him to just listen to me and he would not stop telling me I was in trouble and a rule-breaker. I held up my hand (signaling “stop”) and told him to just think on what I had been telling him for a moment (my reasons for having my shoes on). He kept trying to speak, and I kept holding up my hand. I’m sure you can just imagine the scene in your head – a grandma and a 5-year-old having a lively discussion! The expression on his face was hilarious, as his mind juggled “thinking” and “being quiet,” at the same time. Eventually he realized that at that moment, that it was okay we had our shoes on. And I also shared with him that I was glad he understood there were rules in his home, and that he needed to obey, as do we all. And that I was proud of him for finally listening, and being quiet.

Don’t we all struggle with being silent and listening, while learning at the same time? My youngest son loves to plug in and listen to his music while he studies, with those darn earplugs in his ears. It is so loud that I can hear it when I am in the room with him. He would wear them 24/7 if he could!  I just cannot read or learn that way. But for him, it somehow settles his mind so he can think. And sometimes things that “distract” us can actually be instructive, and bring us closer to what it is we need to hear. The world and all its chaos can be that thing that brings us closer to God. It has for me. I was able to see it as an entirety, and not as separate things. I chose to unplug from much of the noise around me.

The book of Matthew today was our Scripture reading and it was so perfect. Matthew 6: 16-18: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father, who is hidden; and your Father, who sees what is hidden, will repay you.”

We often want others to know and acknowledge our efforts at fasting and keeping other traditions in our faith life. As silly as it may seem, this can be seen in other aspects of our lives, as well. For example, who doesn’t want everyone in the world to see and acknowledge our new driver’s license? Or to share accomplishments like passing a course we were taking or graduation from schools? “Did you see what I did?” We want others to acknowledge us; to be proud of us. And that can be a distraction. The Lord asks us to work at our holiness with Him, and in secret. No one needs to know how we are changing, spiritually, or exactly what it is we are working on (“I gave up coffee for Lent and it is killing me” or “I gave up TV this Lent – what is happening on Chicago Fire?” “I spent three hours at Vespers last night; I am so tired!!” or worse, “I didn’t see you at Stations this week; why weren’t you there?”). Quite often our Spiritual Fathers or our Priest/Pastor may give us spiritual instruction – that is for our edification only. We need to do the work to become closer to God, but do it in quiet solitude. We should not complain that we can’t join friends for drinks, or food, and good times during Lent, either. A wise clerical friend of mine (you know who you are!!) once told me that we are also bound by the “laws of hospitality.” If a friend invites you over for dinner, or shows up at your home with foods that are not compliant with the fast, do you eat them? Or do you complain that you are fasting and cannot enjoy a meal with them? My wise friend insists that, no, we need to enjoy the hospitality of others, extending to them the art of friendship. The Lord will see what is hidden, in our hearts, and will know our mindsets. It does not mean, however, that we party every night and just say, “I’m keeping the law of hospitality,” either. We need to make our best effort to keep the Fast in our own way each Lent; but nonetheless, we can still be hospitable and kind to others. We smile, we wash our faces and “anoint our hair” even though we are fasting and spending more time in prayer than what may be our normal routine. “..your Father, who sees what is hidden…”

And I have found that, this Lent in particular, I am enjoying the separation from distractions even more than I thought I would. I never could study like my son, in headphones or with noise. I did my best studying at a library, surrounded by books and quiet. At my quiet time in the mornings, I am so excited to read more and learn more, that I have no other distractions! Now, don’t get me wrong – I approach it sort of backwards! Usually, I get up and have my coffee, catch up on social media (I am only checking in once a day, if I can limit it to that) and then I have a second cup of coffee while I enjoy the daily press briefings from Sean Spicer. I know it is weird, but it gets my day going and I love how he does his press briefings!! By that time, my son has left to catch the bus and I make my way to my office, in silence, TV off/social media put away for the day. I am ready to truly start my day. It is profoundly effective for me to shut myself away in the stillness of my home. And I am also discovering I would much rather do this every day than go back and forth on social media. I realized that I am not missing a whole lot. And I may just continue to use my phone as a phone, and not have social media run/control my life. I miss some things, yes, but I sure am gaining an awful lot, too. Detoxing from anything is hard, and this is no exception.

And today, as I entered my little office and opened the drapes for the morning sunshine to sweep over my desk, and when I saw the Psalms and the Scripture from Matthew, I was so happy. I realize that this Lent, I am happy. Honestly happy, with a slight tendency to giggle and enjoy my days. I am not wearing “sackcloth and ashes,” and I am prayerfully aware that I am in a good mood. I am in week 2 of Lent and I can feel that my life is being redirected in a good way! I love that I am once again tying myself to my spiritual roots and it is invigorating me. It is making me come alive. One other thing that has begun to really help with this is our weather. I find it so interesting that the Church, in all its wisdom, ordained that we have Lent when we do….as we are emerging from the cloister of those many dark and wintry days, as we are beginning to “see the light.” We have had some extremely cold days – it was -10 again this morning – but the sunshine has been spectacular. The icicles on our house are shrinking (as my son happily pointed out to me today – I am challenging him to not knock them off so we can see how long they get) as the days alternate between sunny and sunny/windy. But for me, this is the first winter when the glorious days of sun have really affected me. I happily pop my vitamin D every day, but seeing the sun itself is glorious. (It also shows all the places I need to clean. Which goes hand-in-hand with my “40 bags in 40 days” cleaning spree! God is so good!). I am not over-sharing, I hope, with this Lenten experience, because there is just oh, so  much more, that I am learning and discovering. But I also share to inspire! I know my Lord sees what is hidden, and that just makes my joy even bigger!

So for me and my experience this year, I’m all about digging in to this Lent. I am loving it so much! Reading, learning, quietly praying, and always giving gratitude for my many blessings. Let us all clean our homes and our hearts, and prepare for the upcoming rough days of Holy Week, when we somberly walk with our Lord through to His tortuous death. But let us also be ready to open the windows, let the spring sun shine in through our clean windows, and celebrate His Glorious Resurrection!

 

“…handle what we are given…”

miniature-schnauzer-3

Today has been a rough day. Today I had to take two dogs to the groomers. The one pictured above is Chet. He is 15 years old now. He is stubborn. He runs away. He has dementia. Today he took off, in falling snow, running away from me. I was finally able to step on his dragging lead and stop him…in snow up to my knees. I was not a happy mamma. And then he planted his behind and refused to move. So I dragged his butt so far, until he was under the snow and gave up and walked. He had yanked so hard against me, he lifted two of my fingernails. Ugh. I wasn’t going to pick him up, because he was soaking wet. I had on ankle boots and leggings – the snow was up to my knees, still falling, and I was soaked. Our other dog (God bless her) was running around, having a ball. She was teasing Chet and me, loving being in the snow, having her leash on, knowing she was going for a ride. She is over 10, but was acting like a puppy. Poca is our sweetheart. She is such a “velcro” dog – she wants to be with you and would never run away. (That’s her below). Not like Mr. Chet – Mr. Independent; Mr. Stubborn; Mr. Goes-His-Own-Way. He’s been that way since we got him at 6-weeks old. Runs away the first chance he gets. He’s done it so many times and it’s always at the most inconvenient time. Like today. I tried not to be too mad, because he has doggie dementia and a bad hip, but he sure seemed fine as I was trying to corral him today!

poca

So we get to the groomer’s, after slipping and sliding through town. I go to get the dogs out of the back seat and notice that Mr. Chet had not moved, and he had pooped in my new car. He pooped in my car. I was beyond frustrated. And wet. The groomer, bless her, had cleaner for me, so I could clean up the mess and remove the odor. In my new car. Ugh. You’d think it was a Monday. Ha-Ha. But no, just a snowy, cold day in Alaska!

whatwecanhandle

And so I called my husband. And he laughed. And and it made me laugh. And then we spoke about his mom, who is ill and was rushed to the hospital early this morning. My anger dissipated in my concern for her, and for her children, and our children. She has been an integral part of our lives for so long, that in perspective, my morning was stupid to worry about, let alone get so angry about. (Although dog poop in my car is something I can get angry about, right???).

I have been thinking so much about how invested in this world I have become. There are memes galore about wasting our time online. About forging relationships that are not real, but seem to be, because we are not out and about, investing in personal relationships. Even if you are out in the world, working every day, how well do you invest in your co-workers and people you see every day? I saw a sign a preschool posted, asking parents who were picking up their kids, to not have their phones with them. And it hit me. We all grab our phones, looking at the latest post or text, over being present to the people we are with. Some people are creating phone “stations” where guests and family alike are asked to deposit their phones when they walk in their homes. I am leaning that way.

I have been influenced by the sites I have allowed in my life and the things I give great importance to. Each day, I get my coffee and eagerly await the morning press briefing from the White House. Why is that? I don’t even check the weather! LOL! I check statuses and notices on Facebook and voila! Two hours have passed. That is insane. I read news bits after news bits. I see videos and sound bites. Are they making me a better person? Are they edifying my life? Are they helping me to achieve my daily and lifetime goals?

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be obvious to everyone. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things. Whatever you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, put these things into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4: 4-9

One of the things I believe is a catalyst to the further downfall of our society are “reality shows.” I know so many people who cannot get enough. Who tape them and binge watch  them for hours on end. Who comment on reality star’s Facebook pages like they are personal friends. Who share their status’ like it is their own information or status. Who somehow relate and feel attached to these people. Most of us could never emulate the life styles of these mega-rich stars who are rich just because they are famous…and famous because they are rich. It’s so weird. I have some friends who discuss actors and actresses who appear on soap operas and care about who plays the role and who they are replacing and it is a life-or-death event. I just don’t get that. But I see it influencing people around me. I see people forming relationships with famous people, or people they have met online on some forum, or gaming site, and feel like (and treat it like) it is a real relationship. And when you look around, they don’t have very many actual friends they do things with. Or friends they call and chat up about life. Or friends they go to the movies or dinner with. No; their friends are all online.

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Lent is fast approaching and I am attempting to do something for myself that is so very difficult. I am going to attempt a Facebook fast. I am already getting rid of groups and news in my feed. I have blocked people who make me worse, and not the best I can be. I am endeavoring to listen to better things than what I have. I love the local Christian Radio station here called Air1. They have such great music. I am going to try to listen to that more. I am trying to adjust my online experience to one that makes me a better person. I need to stop being a slave to automation. I need to be more present to my home, taking care of it and my family, and I need to read more and watch less. We all get to a point where we realize we are sinking and not being the person we could be and that is one of those “man in the mirror moments.”

I’m gonna make a change, for once in my life
It’s gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right…

As I turn up the collar on my favorite winter coat
This wind is blowin’ my mind
I see the kids in the street, with not enough to eat
Who am I, to be blind? Pretending not to see their needs
A summer’s disregard, a broken bottle top
And a one man’s soul
They follow each other on the wind ya’ know
’Cause they got nowhere to go
That’s why I want you to know

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
(If you wanna make the world a better place)
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
(Take a look at yourself, and then make a change)
(Na na na, na na na, na na, na nah)

I’ve been a victim of a selfish kind of love
It’s time that I realize
That there are some with no home, not a nickel
to loan
Could it be really me, pretending that they’re
not alone?

A willow deeply scarred, somebody’s broken heart
And a washed-out dream
(Washed-out dream)
They follow the pattern on the wind, ya’ see
’Cause they got no place to be
That’s why I’m starting with me
(Starting with me!)

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
(Ooh!)
I’m asking him to change his ways
(Ooh!)
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
(If you wanna make the world a better place)
Take a look at yourself and then make a change
(Take a look at yourself and then make a change)

Those are the lyrics to the song by Michael Jackson – the Man in the Mirror. And I really feel like right now, in our world, we could all take the time to reflect on the “man in the mirror” and “make that change.” I know I need to hit the brakes before I become someone I would not like to be friends with…someone who disregards what she knows is right, what is true, what is God’s plan for me, rather than the world’s. Satan is working overtime right now, trying to destroy us all. It’s the game plan and we witless idiots are following it like it’s tattooed on our foreheads.

“For the time will come when men will not tolerate sound doctrine, but with itching ears they will gather around themselves teachers to suit their own desires. So they will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” 2Timothy 4:3-4

And so I would like to challenge those who read this to think about changing the direction in which they are going. Perhaps just change the way they are going, to the goal they have. My ultimate goal is to be in Paradise with the Creator of the Universe. Between then and now, my goal is to edify God and myself, by being the best person I can be, to those I bang into every day. And to that end, I need to make changes. Those changes are to what I see, watch, listen to, what I read, and those I associate with. Man, is it going to be tough. Because it is so much easier to be lazy and simple and follow the lemmings over the side of the cliff.

From Wikipedia, we find the history of the saying, “They way to hell is paved with good intentions. And it is this: The saying is thought to have originated with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote (c. 1150), “L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés ou désirs” (hell is full of good wishes or desires). An earlier saying occurs in Virgil’s Aeneid: “facilis descensus Averno (the descent to hell is easy)”. In any respect, we know that it is far simpler to be bad/evil than it is to be good. I know being a Christian is far more challenging than being a hooligan, protesting and rioting in the streets. So we are called to transform ourselves from our lowest common denominator to our best selves. We are not guaranteed our next breath, as Fr. Justin Rose is fond of saying. And we are not. Little things get in our way and make us lesser beings…the peas in our mattress of life. We allow the setbacks to be stumbling blocks. We come to expect less of ourselves. And every, single year, the Church, in her Wisdom, gives us the period of Lent to reflect and reform ourselves. We have this 40+ day period to stop, reflect, and reform ourselves into the people God calls us to be. And I met the “man in the mirror” today and I know I need to change.

lentwords

“An empty place in her heart…”

candles-church

I think I have been in some sort of a deep freeze. My house is a total disaster. My laundry has piled up. I think I stopped “House-wifing” for some reason. I stopped pursuing things. It happened in like, September? Nah…maybe August. Not sure. Sort of a malaise came over me. I can attribute it to several things. I don’t choose to elaborate too much, but things that were steady and a regular part of my life, no longer are. People who I thought were my friends, no longer are. My son and his family are in CA and I miss them terribly. They had a new baby in November and I desperately want to hold her and just bask in all that newborn scent and sound. It is hard seeing photos and videos when I want to hold those babies and hug my kids. My youngest son is now a senior in High School and all these years of homeschooling are coming to a rapid close – he graduates in May. What will my days be like now? I started homeschooling in 1992! My eldest son took a job far away in August, right around my 60th birthday, and I desperately missed him. And I think I sunk into a depressed state. I am married to the most wonderful man. He has not said much. He’s scrambled for clean clothes when he’s traveling. He reaches across the piles when we are getting things off the table. He doesn’t complain when dishes pile up. He doesn’t mention the dust bunnies that have become Tasmanian devils. My office? Oh my word. A complete disaster.

emptyplaceinherheart

What I have gone through is almost the opposite of the above, however, the sentiment is true. Instead of clean, I disappear into words. I read. A lot. As in hours a day. But I think, through lots of great vitamin D, some prayer, and talking with the right people, I am emerging. Not like a butterfly – I am still basically me. And I don’t think I’m fully with it, yet. But I can acknowledge there’s been a cloud in my life, and I can start to see the sun peeking through. It is almost as if I have been grieving. Not someone who has passed away, but grieving the loss of the familiar, the commonplace in my life, and some relationships in my life.

“The five stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief.”

When things in your life drastically change, you need to allow yourself to adjust. And I think that’s what I have been doing. When one door closes, we need to be able to see that next one opening for us. And sometimes, at least for me, that other door is hard to find. My hubby and I talked about it and we ventured out into a different area of our community – we stretched outside of our comfort zone. And guess what? We’re meeting new people and stepping into a new world. And we are making friends. Some that we have an inkling about, that we may stay close to for years to come. They may not know that, yet, but we’re thinking we may have found people we can invest time in, and become friends. The fun part is that they are not normally where we would find friends, and that makes it even better.

friends-dinner

Today I chose to start taking back my house. I babysat my grandkids and when my granddaughter started to draw art in the dust on my TV stand, I realized it was time. So I cleaned my kitchen and dining room; I put things away; I started a load of laundry; and I made plans for tomorrow’s clean up process. It’s time to awaken from this slumber or malaise and reclaim my place. It’s time to move on and start this last half of my journey. I say “last half” because, well, I’m no spring chicken, but I am hoping for another 30 years or so. At least. So that would be the last 1/3, but half sounds so much better! Ha-Ha!

go-and-do

The Lord is always there. Patiently waiting for us to look up from whatever it is we have allowed ourselves to be distracted by (I have more than 700 books on my Kindle Paperwhite. Yeah. I get distracted). And I also think that our minds work, even when we are not purposely thinking about something. I have been working out things in my mind, deep in my heart, these past few months, in order to move forward. I have resettled my dreams and realigned my wants and desires. Change can be organic and simple, or it can be painful and bruising. I think this has been a bruising, painful sort, so much so that I retreated into myself and my books, ignoring the everyday, mundane aspects of life. My poor family.

In life, we are given a very few friends. We are given many, many acquaintances. Sometimes we confuse the two. We lean on people who are not prepared, or equipped, for us to depend upon. We make assumptions that sometimes we should not make. I have blogged about this before, but I truly have about 6 people (not including my family) who I know would come and hold my hand as I take my last breath. And that is truly a blessed life. We just don’t connect in our hearts with too many people. We have activities that we do in common, we go to places in common, we may even have similar basic beliefs. And all those things provide us with opportunities to develop comrades-in-arms. They give us a framework within which we can grow and become who God meant us to be. However, very few of those comrades are connected to our hearts and souls. Very few. Often, when we let people in, we assume they will treasure our efforts to share; that they will value what we offer them – which is our inner self. But so few people are prepared for that sort of commitment. In our fast-paced, automatic world, deep and lasting friendships are becoming more and more rare. So I cling to the ones I have had for decades; I treasure them and hold them dear in my heart. I reach out to new ones, and someday they, too, may take a place in my heart. I am always open to God’s blessings in my life. But I also have learned, and am still learning, that people come and they go. And they do not always have my best interest at heart.

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.” George Washington

Proverbs 16:28 “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.”

truefriends

So today I begin anew. I may fail again tomorrow. But I know that I am somehow awake today, whereas I don’t think I have been awake much recently. And through getting all this out on my blog, it makes it real; concrete. Sometimes God allows us to sink a bit; to flounder a little; to seek Him more when we “come out of  it.” He also placed some amazing people in my life that can reel me back in, with saying very little. And that means more than they will probably realize. And there are those who, when I ask them to pray for me, I know they are. Thanks be to God for the many blessings in my life. I leave you with this – I totally “mommed” out today. I made hot muffins for my son for breakfast, before he had to catch the bus to school. And that is a great start!!!

muffins

 

“You shall rise before the gray headed…”

hands

Many of you who have read, or have been reading, my blog understand that I have elderly parents. Of course, I could never say that directly to them, because they would vehemently deny it! My mom (87) has Alzheimer’s and is now suffering with basal cell cancer at the site of her 40-year-old mastectomy. She is a trooper, that is for sure. With her new cancer showing up, the doctor offered to make it “look better” in the sense of presentation. He offered some options and one of them was to remove skin from mom’s cheek to place over the site. Her response? “You’re not taking skin off my face!” Ha-Ha. When she was initially diagnosed with cancer all those 40+ years ago, she told me, “This is not what is going to take me out.” And she meant it. She doggedly took her radiation treatments, even if they made her weak and ill. And she soldiered through them. My dad had recently declared his marital independence at the same time (his timing was not the best) and she was left with just me there, to pick up the pieces. (My younger brother had recently gotten married and I was the sole child left at home). Some of those days were particularly rough. Some were filled with laughter – trying on prosthesis after prosthesis for her mastectomy often left us breathless and crying with laughter. Coincidentally, I just happened to work at a department store in their lingerie department at the time, and had actually been trained in fitting them. We used to have one on our counter, and we used it as a pin cushion. I never looked at it the same after my mom’s surgery.

mastectomy-prosthesis

My dad called me this morning…with his current list of ailments. Mostly he is concerned with the affects of aging. Dementia, slurred speech, dropping things. He’s 90 years old. We discussed his continued driving. Boy, did his dad hate it when he had his license taken away at 80 years old. But I don’t think my dad sees it as that “line in the sand” issue of once he crosses it, lights out! But he does realize he is old school. I teased him that he can barely boil water to steep a teabag. He’s always had the women in his life take care of him – since birth. And he realizes his days of contributing to this world are winding down. He feels superfluous and I can understand that. We laughed that I am 60 years old and we were chatting about some of my adventures from childhood and high school, where he swore I would be the death of him! We also discussed how our society reacts to older people. As someone who has allowed her gray hair to just be there, without hiding, I can attest to this. It amazes me how people treat you when they see your gray hair. (Not to mention a tattoo!! Oh my word!!)

“You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:32

Listen to your father who begot you, And do not despise your mother when she is old. Proverbs 23:22

You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:14

A gray head is a crown of glory; It is found in the way of righteousness. Proverbs 16:31

The glory of young men is their strength, And the honor of old men is their gray hair. Proverbs 20:29″

There are so many verses in Scripture where we are admonished to honor our parents and our elderly who reside among us. Unfortunately, very few people do. We house the elderly in nursing homes, basically feeding them and giving them a roof until they die. I wish we could return to the days where extended families lived together, tripping over one another as they grew older together. I was blessed in that I spent a lot of my free time in the presence of my paternal grandparents. As a child, I spent weekends there on a regular basis. As a teenager, I would drive out just to visit them, eating dinner or taking a swim in their pool and chatting. As a college student, I would go and stay weekends with my grandparents. They were my friends, not just my grandparents. My grandma came to live with us in the last days of her life, and my children knew her, and loved her very much. We were all together as she passed away. It was a quiet and lovely death, as I held her hand. She knew she was loved and treasured.

beat-rubbish-road-rage-42inaf-clipart

And today these things made me think. Someone we know was just diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, out of the blue. Time is constantly ticking and our quality of life can be limited, severely, by things outside of our control or influence. As we age, our health become precarious, at best. My biggest fear is falling in all this snow and ice. I am scared to death I will break something. As I have quoted many times, a priest friend of ours once said, “We are not guaranteed our next breath.” And it is becoming more and more a stark realization. I am getting to the age where my parents and my friend’s parents are dying. We are going to become the oldest generation living. (Well, there are always a few, wonderful, exceptions!). But overall, we are moving towards the wall every, single, person we know hits. Death. [A weird, bright spot (squirrel!) is that our new president is 70 years old. My dad and I marveled at how full his days must be. And the mantle of responsibility many young people would never want, let alone a successful businessman who could, very easily, have retired and taken life very easy for the rest of his days. But I don’t think he’s wired like that! Ha-Ha!]

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As so, after conversing with pretty much my entire family today, I am reminded that life is, indeed, so very short. I am intimidated about the world ahead of me, with family and friends passing away. I am tremulous in my heart at having to face these things, in the not-too-distant future. But I also know My God has my back. He knows when I need His strength, when I just cannot take another thing. He also knows who He needs to place in my life, to assist me through these rough times. In the same vein, He also knows who He needs to remove from my life, in order to help me maintain my peace. And I am very okay with that. Life is fleeting and drama is highly over-rated. I am content to be at home, enjoying the snowfall, and seeing my kids and grandchildren grow and mature around me. Occasionally I love a nice cup of coffee in a cafe with a friend. I enjoy some alone time with my best friend – my husband – and preferably not in a ditch (sorry, had to tease you). Life is pretty good. Fleeting and shorter than it was, but I know how Blessed I am.

My prayer for you is that you can come to understand that life is personal. I need to stop reading all this political and social stuff. I need to pick up my laundry and cook my meals. I need to ensure my family is cared for, and that each one knows my heart and how very much I adore them. I need to work on bolstering all these long-standing, but long-distance, friendships I treasure. We all need to take care of our own, private, little orbits of life. Just think of the peace we could share if all our own worlds were in order!

peace-i-leave-with-you