“…on the path unwinding…”

The world is spinning and we are all hanging on, while it tumbles in space. And every once in awhile, it seems like there is a “hitch in the get along” and things go askew. We all have those days where we want to just crawl back into bed and hit the rewind button. I had several of those days recently. Thankfully, not back-to-back, or I would be nutsy….certifiable.

 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

I was talking with my hubby, who has also been very stressed out lately, and I told him that if he continues to carry everyone’s burdens on his shoulders, he will be crushed with the weight of it. He said he knew that, but then asked me, “How do you stop caring?” And he is right. We both tend to worry too much about things and people and situations we really don’t control. We take on the burdens of others because it is just part of our nature. And sometimes it can weigh you down. A lot. And those are the days we want to stay in bed, hiding under the blankets, and just not deal with it.

As we age, we forget everyone else is aging, too. Sometimes it hits you when a friend’s kid all of a sudden is older and doing adult things, and you still think of them as a little child. Those years when my kids were young seemed to drag, but as they hit high school, life began to race by us. And somehow I related to my parents and other family members the same way – I forgot that as we aged, they aged, too. After speaking with my mom this morning, I was relating how my youngest son’s girlfriend’s grandma is my age. Ha-Ha. And my mom said she remembers turning my age 20+ years ago. And I stopped and realized she is 87 years old. I remember my great-grandma being 87. I remember my great-grandpa, at 90, saying he was just flat-out tired and dying a few days later. My dad (his grandson) is pushing 91 years old. My dad has Parkinson’s dementia, Alzheimer’s, and a host of other ailments. My step-sister (stepmom’s daughter) and I had a two hour discussion about our parents (they have been married more than 35 years now) and how their aging is not going well. I remember babysitting her when she was in junior high school. People thought her younger sister was my daughter. And now we are discussing our parents’ death wishes and we realized they probably won’t last the year. When did all this happen? When did she become a grandma, too?? I am used to the fact that I am older, but when did everyone else get older?

“Listen to your father; without him you would not exist. When your mother is old, show her your appreciation.” Proverbs 23:22

And we are trying to listen to our parents. We are trying to appreciate them and honor them. Dementia and Alzheimer’s make caring for them so very difficult. And it makes these last days we share with them very stressful. I kept thinking my parents would always be there. But they will not be. “None of us is guaranteed our next breath” (Thank you, Abouna Justin, for the quote). We all should be prepared to “meet our maker.” I’m not sure what state my parents’ faith is in, but that is not my business. I will share with them as I able to, from the place in which I find myself spiritually, and try to meet them where they are. However, what I am tasked with in the immediate future is respecting my parents for who they are and what they have done for me in my life, and ensuring their comfort as they experience the end of their days. I want them to know they are loved and appreciated. I want to keep them fed and warm and comfortable, and occasionally share a laugh together.

And I am doing this while still parenting a teenager; while being a grandma to 5 gorgeous grand babies, and still trying to enjoy the move to a new home. In a few days, my sister-in-law will arrive in their motorhome with 9 of their 10 children. I am looking forward to it so very much. But at the same time, I realized this is my last free Saturday. Because after this, I will have company at my home, and then I will be flying to get my mom and moving her in with me. My life is going to completely change. So is hers.

But I want to embrace it all with joy and hope and a love of God, sharing that love with others. Some days I know I will want to crawl back into bed and hide. But I won’t be allowed to do that. I will be guiding my teen towards adulthood, my grandchildren into childhood, and my mom and dad to “meeting their maker.” And in my head, I keep singing that Disney song from the Lion King….

Circle Of Life
From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the Sun
There’s more to be seen than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
Some say eat or be eaten
Some say live and let live
But all are agreed as they join the stampede
You should never take more than you give
In the circle of life
It’s the wheel of fortune
It’s the leap of faith
It’s the band of hope
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life
Some of us fall by the wayside
And some of us soar to the stars
And some of us sail through our troubles
And some have to live with the scars
There’s far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the Sun rolling high through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round
In the circle of life
It’s the wheel of fortune
It’s the leap of faith
It’s the band of hope
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life
It’s the wheel of fortune
It’s the leap of faith
It’s the band of hope
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life
On the path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life.
And we are all spiraling along on our own circle of life. Things happen, days pass, the world keeps spinning on its axis. As each day morphs into night and we face another day spent, I hope we reflect on how we have moved through our own circle of life that day. How we have embraced these responsibilities we have been given, and how we celebrate all the joys we have experienced. Life is a blessing. Life is to be cherished. Each day of it. As I was struggling with anger towards my husband recently (cleaning out a garage is NEVER fun) I kept telling myself how grateful I was for our many blessings, and how incredibly blessed we were to have all this stuff we needed to deal with and put into its proper setting and place. The opposite – being homeless and having nothing – would indeed be frightening. And as I have learned through keeping a gratitude journal, there is something in every day and in every thing to be grateful for. Truly. So, I am grateful for this latest spin on the circle of my life. My Lord is with me every step of this life. I am grateful and I am blessed.

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“You shall rise before the gray headed…”

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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!]

dont-panic

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

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world…”

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I am sort of all over the place today. My hubby is off on a business trip again. He is gone 2 weeks of every month. Lately he has chosen to take them back-to-back so he has more of a steady time at home. The house felt sort of empty this morning. Getting old is weird. Hormones are all over the place. Squirrel. My hair is gray. I am trying new products to tame the frizzes. I tried the method where you wash just with conditioner. Not pretty. Tried for a week and could not stand it. Discovered my hair needs keratin. Who knew? Conditioning today. We got 18″ of snow the past 3 days. We are using either our wood stove or floor heating and it makes the air so dry. And my hair flies all over the place. Lovely when you add wool scarves and sweaters. Not. See? All over the place.

I just reconnected with a friend from High School. She and I were so close, for so long. I am not sure why we stopped being in touch. Perhaps me getting married and having kids and she was seriously in school and having a career…and we moved away from one another, too. But it is so good to get connected via Facebook, and to relaunch our relationship. I was so excited!! It gave me a spring in my step today.

So I blow dried my hair and it is still so fly-away-ish. Had to re-apply the leave-in conditioner. We will see how this formulation works for me. Gray hair is so picky.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

My hubby and I have been dealing with issues regarding our parish and the practicing of the faith we have come to love (and were so well instructed in, by an amazing priest and many friends – priests and monks among them). And it has caused a little friction. Nothing like damaging to our relationship, but in our 34 years together, our faith journey has always been a joint one. Perhaps friction is not the right term. It’s more like there was a pea in our mattress and we just were not comfortable. We always walked together in faith. Our journey has amused many, and confused even more! And over the past 6 months or so, we have sorted of marched to a different drummer. And that is never good. I was always cautioned to not marry outside of my faith practices because people who are “un-equally yoked” do not work out. And I experienced it once, in a long term relationship. I was even engaged to him. He was Jewish. (Reform, not Orthodox, or it probably would never have happened in the first place). But eventually, especially after having developed such an amazing relationship with his rabbi and knowing I was firmly a Christian woman, his cultural adherence to many Jewish traditions, and me not fitting in well with his family, caused me to call things off. He was a great person and I did not wish him ill. I just realized we could never work. His rabbi and I remained friends, up until his death, often meeting for coffee and chats, long after my relationship had waned. I knew I needed a good, strong, Christian man in my life and was wise enough to call the wedding off. And when I met my husband, he lit up my life. And the more I got to know him, the more I wanted his faith. I wanted that relationship he had with God. I used to watch him pray, and while kneeling next to him, prayed that I could be like that. He has been good for me. I often tell him that he saved me from my worst self. He dragged me into a more pious life and I loved it. Over the past 6 or more months, that has waned. And I admitted to him that I miss it. At this same time, my husband realized our relationship with our faith practices needed to change. We spoke and realized we felt the same way about things. About some pretty important things. Whew. A good talk is sometimes all you need to realign your northern star – in my case, that is my piety and sense of faith permeating everything; my relationship to Christ and His Church.

 

prayer-family

I have taught my kids that it is better to be that lone person, standing for what is right, rather than going with the majority. I believe that to be so in pretty much everything. You can apply it to your chosen career – be the best you can be at whatever it is you do, even if you are not a part of the crowd. In politics, for me, I rarely follow what the majority is calling for. I am conservative – socially, financially, spiritually, and pro life. Period. It permeates even the voting booth. In my faith, I prefer historically connected, profound, and deeply rooted worship. Throw in beeswax candles and icons, and I am there! I was raised next door to Russians, whose parents immigrated from Russia. They had such an interesting spin on life. From the father of the family, I learned to fence, using rapiers from the Royal Court in Russia. I learned to drink Russian tea made in a Samovar. And I learned about Russian tales and foods, traditions and history. I fell in love with Russia, reading everything I could find on it. The old, the traditional, the historically connected has always grabbed me. As an adult, I found myself learning all about my faith at a secular university, funnily enough. I converted to Catholicism as an adult. Coincidentally, about this time, I met my husband. (When I was dating my Jewish boyfriend, I was Geneva Presbyterian – until I converted to Catholicism at age 27). Over our 32 years of marriage, as we have journeyed through a very “orthodox” Catholic life, we discovered the Eastern Catholic Church. It was then that I truly began to breathe with both lungs. I was hooked. We moved over to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which is culturally Arabic, but Byzantine/Greek in worship style. My husband became a Deacon, after attending the Melkite seminary. We made life-long friends we dearly miss, during this time period. I literally fell in love with Church. I was there 2-4 days every week. I helped with our homeless kitchen and soon found myself transporting donated food weekly in my suburban, dragging my homeschooled kids with me. I loved working in the kitchen with all the Arab ladies. We had so much fun. And they taught me Arabic traditions, histories, foods, clothing styles, and how they raised their kids and the many faith traditions they held precious. When we moved to Alaska, we discovered there was no Melkite Church up here. We have been adapting. Our youngest son found a youth group he loves, at the local Roman Catholic parish. We support him in attending their “young men’s bible studies” and trips, and youth group every week. (He is well-known in the local parish and usually brings up the gifts on Sundays at Mass. He’s quite the popular teenager. We joke that he knows more people in Alaska than any of the rest of us does). We attend there as a family and it has been good. It is not our beloved Eastern tradition, but it is Church.

Kneeling Prayer.Orthodox Church

 

 

We’ve adapted to this culture up here. (It’s cold and white everywhere these days, because we have so much snow!!) We have become sort of bland. Ha-Ha! And I got pulled away from the practice of what I love, into a rather generic sort of Christian expression. Even in these posts, I was more inclusive, even of the photos I would use to illustrate my posts. I have stopped explaining about my faith practices, letting people just assume I am a generic “Christian” woman. Which I am, but I realized that I have been compromising myself. It is not all of who I truly am. I cannot please the public; I cannot continue to “pose” as something I am not. And I was caving into the pressures I had warned my kids about all these years. I was not being true to who I really am. I am an Eastern-rite Catholic woman. I love the smell of incense. I love the Divine Liturgy. I love chant. Not Gregorian, but old world, eastern chant. I love icons. I love being in a church where you can scent the incense from a previous Liturgy, and light the beeswax candles and be transported to a holier place; a place of oneness with God. It eases my soul. And even if I am “all over the place” and a tad bit scatterbrained today, I am also more at ease because I have realized these things about myself. And it comforts me.

06-valaam-monastery

I realize that many of you do not worship this way, nor understand why people would. Our democratic ideals have permeated our styles of worship, and that is okay, if it sits well with you. I have always been a history-oriented person. I majored in Anthropology and minored in Biblical Archeology. History – church – faith. It has alway been a part of who I am. When I walked the parapets of a castle in Wales as a 16-year-old, I felt those walls speak to me. I would run my hands down them, marveling at how ancient they were and how connected to that antiquity I felt. I was walking the lands of my ancestors and I felt truly at home and very welcome, in among all the artifacts and tapestries, old walls and artwork. Walking through Churches and Cathedrals while we visited England, I constantly had a backache because I spent the entire time bent over, looking at all the engravings on the stones. I took so many rubbings. I felt rooted. I could really breathe at some of these places. It is the same for me in the way I choose to worship. I love tradition and the fact that I can historically trace my Church back to the Apostles. We have songs that are so old, there is no written record of them, just references to them by the Church Fathers, talking about how old they were back in the Apostolic days. Those of us who are Melkite like to tease our Roman/Latin Rite friends that we had St. Peter before they did, because he established the Church in the east before he meandered his way to Rome (wink-wink). And so I have decided that I am not going to hide who I am any longer. I am not going to water things down. I am not going to represent an American Jesus for the palpability of my newer friends. (And those in my business world). I believe in Jesus Christ and I do that in communion with them. However, I also believe in the traditions that brought Protestantism its lifeblood. We had the traditions long before they were put into a book – the Bible – the same one we all read, before all those pesky books were removed out of it. And we were an oral people – sharing our faith and our traditions with others through the practices passed on to us from the Apostles themselves. This is not a haughty or conceited viewpoint, nor is it meant to put people off. But it is the Church I choose to worship in; it is the tradition which gives my lungs breath. It is part of who I am.

apostolic-tradition

[By the way, my hair feels amazing right now. The blow drying has cooled and it feels like silk. Still gray, but not so much frizziness. Maybe this stuff is working!?!?! Keratin – who knew??]

And so my friends, from here on out, I will be sharing honestly about who I am. I will share through an Eastern lens, through the faith I practice. I am ecumenical because I believe we all hold the same God in our hearts, but I won’t apologize or hide that I prefer icons and a Jesus prayer, Divine Liturgy and incense, the iconostasis and beeswax candles, confession in front of an Icon of Christ the Pantocrator, and cantors with no musical accompaniment, to pretty much all the rest of it. It just fits me and I will no longer apologize nor hide it from you. It is part of what makes me, me. And it is part of who I am when I communicate with all of you, on this blog. I hope you will continue to read, if you do. I am still who I am! It’s just me going back to the me I was a few years ago.

May the Lord grant you many blessed years.

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“And even when I am old and gray….”

“And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come.” Psalm 71:18

Have you ever just felt “blah”? I feel yucky. And in some ways I’m also excited. Life can be so weird sometimes. I don’t think it’s hormones! Ha-Ha. Most of those are asleep these days!

Jans 60th Cake

Yesterday, I turned 60. Now, I don’t think it’s old, or that I am old, in particular. I am feeling sort of cocky about it, actually. Like now perhaps people will somehow treat me as more mature, or wise? Even though I thought it was supposed to happen at 30, then at 40, and then even at 50! I am hopeful it may someday take hold! Ha-Ha!

I think I am depressed because my 90-year-old dad was going to be with me as I celebrated this milestone, but it just did not work out that way. I am relieved and sad, at the same time. I am relieved because he was bringing someone with him I have never met, something I realized after they could not come, had made me very uncomfortable. I am sad because my dad is 90 and this was the first time I would have seen him in 10 years, and he has never met my daughter-in-law or his great-grandchildren. He has only seen our youngest son once or twice. (Our son really has no memory of him, other than he has a beard). So I am sad he is missing out on that. And I am sad I will not have that father-daughter time with him. We have not had time like that in the 32 years I have been married and it would have been nice. And I think I am flat-out bummed because I had not realized how much it meant to me, to have him visit one, last, time, and for my birthday, too.

JerusalemCross

The cross above is called the Jerusalem Cross, or the Crusader’s Cross, or the Templar’s Cross. They might deviate a little, but it is basically this representation. The central cross represents Christ, and the four smaller crosses represent the Four Gospel Writer’s – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There are other descriptions, but this one is the one most historians view as accurate. Historically, in Egypt and Northern Africa, people would have a small, Coptic style cross tattooed on their inner wrist, to symbolize to others that they were Christian, living in a highly Muslim world.

Coptic.colored cross.

Some of the more stylized versions of the Coptic Cross highly resemble the Crusader’s Cross. The smaller versions, usually in black, are tattooed on the wrist area, as a quick way to identify oneself to other Christians in modern times as well as in ancient days. In Coptic tradition, youth often wait until they are at the “age of reason” or their late teens to have their tattoos done. It is still popular in Egypt, even now, and among modern Coptics living in the USA.

The reason I shared all of that, is because I wanted to get a tattoo of a Crusader’s cross, on my wrist, about the size of a nickel, for my 60th Birthday! One friend thinks all tattoos are disgusting and had no interest in hearing my reasons or looking at my ideas…none of it. All tattoos are bad. Period. Other people say to go for it because you are who you are, you have control over what you do with your body, and why not? Others say I’m too old, my skin is too old, etc. Some of my kids think it’s pretty cool and are encouraging me to get one, but I think that is something more popular among the younger set. My parents would freak out if I got a tattoo…in their era only people in prisons or sailors had tattoos! But, even worse than that, I also wanted to add some purple to my gray hair! Ha-Ha! Just because. My hubby says to go for all of it, and just have some fun. It doesn’t bother him.

“Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” Proverbs 16:31

I know that sometimes people hit a certain age and have that dreaded “mid-life crisis.” I don’t think this is a crisis, but rather an awakening. This is my last year having a homeschooled child. The journey I began in 1992 with homeschooling our children will be completed, with our last child graduating high school. And I will have my days to myself. And as my husband said, “You need to find something to do or you will go nuts.” I think he is also concerned that I will drive him nuts! Ha-Ha! And to get all that going, while turning 60, I thought a visit with my dad, a tattoo, and some purple highlights would get things off to a roaring start. And then, poof, all the air went out of my balloon!

deflated balloon

And so I am working on the positives from this. There is no visit, so the pressures of hosting people in our home is gone. I can take the rest of this weekend to prepare for the first day of school on Monday. I got a nice haircut, taking off 2 1/2 inches and no one noticed, which means it was a great cut and just looks better. No purple, but hey, the 60 days aren’t over, yet. And no tattoo, but I am not giving up. My sister told me a story of a friend who turned 60 and decided she was going to celebrate for 60 days. And that is my plan. Maybe I don’t have the purple, the tattoo, or the visit, but these 60 days are not over, yet! The Lord gives us what we need, when we need it. He had other plans for my birthday and the ways I will celebrate it.

Gods plan for our life

I will rest in His plans for my life, listening to His gentle whisper as I make my plans, hoping I make them in coordination with His will for my life. God will sustain me, He will carry me, He will rescue me – from myself! God is so good. And there is just so much on the horizon that sometimes I think these first 60 years were preparing me for what lays in front of me. I am excited to begin a new path, embracing new friends and new ideas, still learning and growing and becoming. Things did not work out the way in which I had imagined them for this particular day, but there were so many blessings nonetheless! I had my grandchildren, who practiced with their mom, sing Happy Birthday to me as I blew out my candles, and then we feasted on some pretty amazing cake! I have a future job and career ahead of me, and for the past two days, I have actually seen the sunshine! In Alaska as fall settles in, that is quite something! And so I will move on to tomorrow, smiling and thinking of where I want that purple streak in my hair and what size and color I want that tattoo!

life plans gods plans

“…let it go, let it go…”

Frozen

Unless you are completely separated from children, or live in a country without Disney movies, those words above connotate a certain reaction. For most of us with, at least, grandchildren, we know those words are from a Disney movie called, “Frozen.” And many of us wish it would hurry up and just be gone! But when it comes to our children, not so much.

We are down to our last child living at home. And he does not consider himself a child, but rather, a young adult. My middle child reminded me that both he and his older brother are married men, with children of their own (which is precisely why I know about that Frozen movie) and that his brother will be 30 in October. I responded with, “Thanks.” Ha-Ha! This past week, Cinderella came out on DVD. Some movies are meant to be seen in a theater, whereas some can wait for the DVD release (cannot wait for the new Star Wars – definitely a theater movie!). I took my teenager, along with some friends, to see Cinderella in 3-D IMAX. There were just two boys in our adventure, and they were both more excited for the candy/popcorn and the 3-D glasses than the movie, but the other mom and I loved it. To me, it was so worth it to go to the theater. I loved that movie. And I bought it the day it came out. Why? It made me feel good. Her dress (the blue one) was so gorgeous. The backstory of her parents and family – and their love for one another! I loved the special effects with the mice and lizards. Her fairy godmother was hilarious. The scene when the king dies, but he and his son have that “needed” conversation about love. I loved that movie. There were some meaningful and poignant moments in it, which balanced the lovey-dovey parts boys would naturally hate. And this past Friday night, I made my two men watch it with me over dinner. My husband loved it. Yay! Mom win! It was not a war movie, or a sports movie, or a disaster/end-of-the-world, fantasy epic. That’s a win in a house of men. (My dog and cat are the only other females in my house). My teen sat next to me and as the movie ended, he said, “Please tell me you are not crying about Cinderella.” I, of course, was! Ha-Ha! Love a happy ending! (And that dress!!!).

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But also this weekend, something epic happened. My youngest son had his first date – as in a car with a girl – to a movie – date. And this mom freaked out a little bit. It was just another step in the letting go process of parenting. And those steps can hurt sometimes, especially when you know it is the last time you have to experience a “first date.” As a homeschooling mom, it was nothing at all like the last time I taught Geometry! For that, I did the happy dance! I taught Geometry to three kids, and I had to suffer through it myself. Ms. Fogler. I swear she hated me, and hated teaching, and hated Geometry. It did nothing for my math career. So for me, the last time through Geometry was not a sad thing. This year, I am going through my last year of Algebra II and I must say I am preparing my happy dance. Way ahead of time, I know, but nonetheless, I am preparing. I am not a math person (Cathy, I love you and am so proud of you for having a PhD in Math… someone has to do that, but it is just not me!). There are things we go through as parents that we are not sad about not having to do again (give birth, change diapers, clean up barf, potty train… it is quite a list and this is just part of it). But there are some things that are monstrously difficult to wade through, over and over again. And the last time is especially momentous. The First Date fits the bill on that one.

In this day and age of rampant sex everywhere, wading through courting/dating is a heavy responsibility. And it is nothing to be taken lightly, nor in my opinion, is it a subject to be discussed in school. This is a family decision. And even though I have raised several, each son is different in how they feel about it and how they choose to experience it. Both of my older sons dated sporadically. They had more friends who were girls than girlfriends. Which is fine by me. And they both knew the moment they met their wives and they were done dating anyone else. And I tried so hard to instill in my boys a love of women in the sense of respecting and loving me, and the model for all women, the Theotokos; the Mother of God.

I always have insisted the boys treat each girl in their company as someone’s future wife and mother. Would they have wanted me to be treated the way they are treating that girl? Would they have wanted their wives to be treated that way? The mother of their children? Friends of theirs who were female – did they appreciate how their friends were being treated by other boys? How did it make them feel? How was the Mother of God treated? From Scripture, we know that some in her home village kept their distance because she was pregnant out of wedlock; they actually shunned her. Joseph took her as his wife to protect her, and to honor her, and because an ANGEL, a real ANGEL, appeared to him and instructed him to do so. He knew that GOD wanted him to be with Mary, and he never doubted it, for a moment. And the ANGELS continued to care for the Holy Family, once again instructing Joseph to flee when the Christ Child was in danger. He trusted God with his decision to marry Mary. I want my sons to trust God in their decision making processes, as well.

360 Rest on the Flight into Egypt 1879 Oil Painting by Luc-Olivier Merson

I love this painting and have used it in posts before. It shows Mary and Christ resting on the Sphinx, with Joseph on the ground, as a guard. “The Flight Into Egypt.”  I love so much about this painting. The stillness and peace within that vast desert is conveyed through color and lack of light, except from Christ, Himself. I love that both Mary and Joseph slumber in peace, even with the Divine Light still glowing brightly.  That is what I have hoped for all my children, that they can rest in the Divine Light of Christ.

Letting go a little at a time begins to happen just after birth when we, as mothers, have to let someone else hold our child, who we have kept safe within our womb for the past nine months (or so). And we continue to let go, in steps, often quite literally, as our children grow and walk away. I remember letting my eldest walk into a parochial school kindergarten. I knew the nuns were there and his teacher was amazing. I had complete trust he would be safe, but I still cried – my son ran into class, never looking back. Yeah, that’s typical of my almost-30-year old! Running towards his future! I distinctly remember my chat with our middle son as he prepared to attend school for the first time. (Ironically it was a class with Cathy, who I mentioned above. She was his math teacher and eventually became a dear friend). And after I dropped him off, I cried. He was off to a high school, and not with me. My life has been a series of moments of letting go. Death in our family, friends who have died, and friends along the way we have lost contact with, and my children beginning to have a life separate from mine. They are making memories of which I share no part. It has been hard in many ways, and yet seems right in so many others. As our children merge their childhoods into adulthood, letting go becomes more severe in the sense that the steps are larger. This past summer, our youngest flew across the country to a summer camp – alone. He had to change planes in 4 major airports, and then catch a bus for the camp itself. Last year he attended the same camp, but with a friend. This year he was alone. I was a wreck. Once the camp confirmed he was there, I was finally able to breathe. It was a long journey, for us both. When our eldest went off to war, he took part of me with him. I never slept very well until he was on American soil, once and for all. He doesn’t realize it, but I shed the same sort of tears when he left for basic training as I did when he walked into kindergarten. Dropping my middle son off at college, thousands of miles from home was devastating and exciting, all mixed together. And as each child takes their momentous steps away from home, we all die a little. We mourn their babyhood, and we rejoice at their maturity. Seeing my sons parent their own children is an indescribable joy and part of this whole parenting and letting go process. Parenting is not for wimps or fraidy-cats. This is serious stuff. And it doesn’t stop, even when they are married with children of their own.  I recall my grandfather telling my dad, on his 60th birthday, “Well, son, I guess I can stop worrying about you now.” We all sort of laughed, but as I get closer to 60 myself, I totally understand my grandpa’s statement. My grandfather was 86 at the time, and I think I can see myself worried over my children another 20 years or so!

So, today as I chatted with my son about his date, we laughed and we were both happy. I think he felt good about himself. I know he was proud he paid for it all out of his hoarding abilities. (That kid always has more money on him than I do!). He introduced us to his date and we all chatted a little last night. It was good. They first attended youth group at Church together, which I think is a great place/way to meet someone and get to know them. My husband and I share a strong faith and I know it has been the glue for many years, in our family. I am learning to let go – just like the song admonishes me. My older kids tease me that it’s okay and he will be fine, etc. I know that. But that last one out of the nest is rough. I am looking forward to our empty nest time, though, as we have never known marriage without children (yes, honeymoon baby!) and we have lots of places we want to go and see. So life is getting more exciting, even as we hit our golden years. I hope my kids know I never intentionally held them back, but rather, held their hands until they let mine go.

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“…when things unforeseen occur…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

after the rain