“..to banquet with angels…”

Lent is really here. Wow. In the West, tomorrow is the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday. I have friends visiting Venice, Italy right now and the costumes for Fat Tuesday are actually beautiful!! So many places really do Fat Tuesday in a large way!! (Which is today). Tomorrow, I am sending my youngest son off to a job site about 5 hours north of us, until the last week of April. I am going to miss that kid. He is funny, and is always so happy. We love having him around. So for his send-off I am making boneless ribs in my Instant Pot. If you do not have an Instant Pot, well, you could do it just fine in a crock pot. But I love the variety and convenience of my Instant Pot. Ribs come out amazing. Seriously amazing.

I bought the smaller one for myself and my girlfriend bought me the larger one (Black Friday sales!!!). Why do I need the larger one? Leftovers! LOL! When it is just my husband and myself, the smaller one is fine. What I love about the Instant Pot is you can sauté and prep in the same pot used to cook in the Instant Pot electronic shell. Less to wash. I put it all in the dishwasher, except for the large, outer pot with the electronics. But the inner pot, the lid, and the gasket for the lid all go into the dishwasher. Clean up is amazing! You can see in the photo above, there is a slight difference between the 6 and 8 quart size (I know, 2 quarts, but I am giving you a visual aid here). Soups and stews are incredible in the IP. I made this wonderful chicken dish with chicken breasts you sauté in the pan, deglaze it, place the chicken on the trivet, and add spices and broth and off you go! For the rest of it, you added potatoes and onions partway through the cooking. It was so good. So, as I type this, ribs are thawing on the stove top (I sit my frozen stuff there because I have a puppy. Sigh. He is so tall he can reach anything, except the very back of the stovetop!) and my son is gathering his supplies and washing some clothes; packing up his truck with his tools and things he will need (like his X-Box, games, and movies) and winter gear. Where he is going it is averaging about -1 or so, with night time temps into the the -28 range. Part of the fun of living and working in the Arctic Circle!!

My one-year-old Standard Poodle, Kolbe. He is so tall, he can literally eat off our dining table, the counters in the kitchen, the bathroom counters, the tops of our dressers, as well as a sundry list of other places. He is so smart, he figured out how to open our laundry hamper and sift through it for my husband’s socks. So now I have to place another laundry basket on top of it, upside down, to lock down the hamper lid. His breeder just had another litter of full sibling puppies, and for a brief second, I was tempted. Thankfully my sanity returned and I chose not to go for another one. He is the smartest dog we have ever owned. He does not shed, nor smell like a dog, even soaking wet. He gets wet a lot. He is the best guard dog and also wants to please. He loves training. Agility is coming this summer. I am excited for it. But he does hamper how I prep for dinners. And the Instant Pot he leaves alone. LOL. Thank goodness. Almost time to pop in some ribs!!! Fat Tuesday!!

This Lenten season, we are already fasting from so much, in the foods aspect, as part of our efforts to become healthier. And as I have shared over past posts, I think that giving up coffee or chocolate is fine; walking away from social media is great. It is a sacrifice for many that is really hard. I truly get that. But I have also learned that adding a discipline to my routine can also be a wonderful Lenten tool. I read more. I pray more. I dive into my journaling and prayer companion. I add more that is spiritually uplifting and challenging to my life. I attend more services that are provided during Lent. And hopefully, these added things can become a good habit to incorporate into my life, long after Pascha has come and gone. I know that reading the Church Fathers, the Saints, even some modern theological writings, puts me into a Lenten frame of mind. Availing ourselves of modern technology and listening to Podcasts is a wonderful way to incorporate more spiritually uplifting and focusing works into our lives. Think of the time spent commuting – switch from music on the radio to something like Patristic Nectar’s podcasts, or Father Andrew Stephen Damick’s podcasts, or Father Barnabas Powell, or one of the many wonderful podcasts offered through Ancient Faith Radio. Giving up food is just a part of what it means to prepare during Lent.

I find that saying goodbye to some foods in my diet, to control the portions I do consume, and to be mindful of my plate, helps me develop more of a laser focus on what is important in this life. We cannot afford, for our personal salvific process, to be concerned with what others do for Lent. If someone shares that they gave up caffeine, support them. Those headaches when you choose to be rid of caffeine are no joke! Offer prayers for those who you know are struggling during Lent. Pray for a transformative Lent for others. Sometimes Pascha arrives and we are ho-hum. Sometimes it just becomes another long service we get through. Sometimes it is not even a different or special time for us. My mom, the last time we took her to Church, had no idea where we were, who Jesus was, or had any sort of relationship on a conscious level, to God. And it broke my heart. She has Alzheimer’s and my prayer for her is that her heart is right with God, even if her mind is failing her. For so many people we know, their minds cloud the purity of their hearts. And we cannot judge the quality of someone else’s Lent. Our culture has become so hedonistic, that the idea of giving something up is pretty foreign to people. So if they make any effort towards growth at all, it is time to celebrate for and with them. And always, keep our Christian brethren in prayer, holding one another up in these days of trials. And most especially during Lent.

When we fast it enhances our experiences. And when we end our fast and we begin to feast, it is the most incredible thing you will experience. I recall one year in particular. The boys teased me almost daily, “Is that tofu again?” We followed every dietary fasting requirement we were given. And trust me, in the Eastern Churches, fasting is serious business. And it is for each and every of the 40 days of Lent, not just Wednesday and Friday. So this particular year, we prepared for Holy Saturday. We helped clean the Church, we cooked meat dishes galore. Our priest said he would personally throw any vegetable he saw into the trash! Ha-Ha. The scents coming from the hall as we gathered in the Church were driving us all mad!! We use lots of incense in Church, and most especially on Holy Saturday at midnight. It is so much we have to open windows to breathe. We all love it, though, because our hair and clothes all smell so wonderfully “Churchy” afterwards! The scent of the angels! And this one year, one of the men snuck out early and bought up dozens and dozens of In and Out hamburgers. He had made arrangements with the local location and they had pre-made them for him. When he put those in the hall, we all knew exactly what was waiting for us. And trust me, it was the most amazing feast. Everyone was joyously sharing the Resurrection, with hugs and cracking of eggs, and toasting and eating and singing and dancing. Our son, who is leaving tomorrow and is now 21 years old, was a small child at the time. I think he was about 3 or 4. He was sleeping soundly next to our table, lying on a pile of blankets and jackets. We celebrated until after 3:00 am! Glorious feasting after a long, 40-days of fasting and prayers and almsgiving. And we had grown so much over each of those 40 days. Each day brought its trial and each of them added together, brought us to the magnificent feast of Pascha. Happy Lent, my friends!

“…and I am now standing at your gates, Jerusalem.”

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Every once in awhile (I am not a theologian, so don’t know the exact occurrence) the eastern and western worlds join together for Lent. Today marks Ash Wednesday, when the western Christians join the eastern Christians and Orthodox, who began Lent on Monday. And it is so joyful to walk together during this season of preparation and a cleansing of our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies as we prepare to walk with Christ to Calvary and weep, and then celebrate with Him His Divine, and glorious, Resurrection.

This year I am doing a new Lenten Study and I am so excited. (It is by http://www.orthodoxmom.com and I highly recommend her blog and her Facebook page, too). I am not in the least artsy, as those who know me well will attest to. But this year, I am keeping a notebook and journals. One is a journal about the Psalms, and another is called the “Gratitude Journal.” And each day’s assignment offers us a time to reflect upon our readings and the things we are grateful for (it is a directed reflection). The first three days have been staggering for me, to say the least. The author of the study has carefully weaved our Scripture readings together and I have already learned so much in such a short time (which is why I was compelled to post).

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Lent is a time when we reflect, we pray, and we fast. And through these processes, we hope to come to a better place in our walk with Christ. It is a time when we try to still that chaos that is the world, and spend time in quiet reflection and prayer. In the Scriptures (Matthew 17:19-21), Christ admonishes the Apostles for their lack of faith in trying to exorcise demons:

“Then the disciples came to Jesus privately, and said, “Why weren’t we able to cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your unbelief. For most certainly I tell you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. But this kind doesn’t go out except by prayer and fasting.”

There are times when simple faith is not enough to move the mountains we face, nor exorcise the demons in our lives. We need to pray – and fast. And that is an integral part of Lent. We deny ourselves all this instant gratification. Of course there are many who also admonish that if you Fast from food, but gossip or slander someone, how are you a good Christian? How is that fasting from the demons inside us all? Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Envy, Anger, Pride, and Sloth are characterized as the 7 Deadly Sins. What can we do to eradicate them from our lives? How can we lessen the impact they have upon our souls? The Roman Catholic Church teaches us the Capital Virtues, which counteract each of these sins. They are: Chastity, Generosity, Temperance, Brotherly Love, Meekness, Humility, Diligence. How do we get these virtues? We pray. We starve the enemy of our flesh by denying it the thing it wants. Sloth and Gluttony, I have said many times, sit on either shoulder for me. How do I starve them? I set an alarm clock, I make a list, and I tackle my daily duties with zealous abandon, fighting sloth! This year, I took Facebook off my phone. I am trying to distance myself from social media. It can become a crutch and every bit a sickness, like an addiction. It sucks your time and adds to your sloth. What can you be accomplishing if you spend hours on a computer, reading things that are not necessary, nor edifying, but gauged to our interests so they suck us in? What desire am I feeding? How many sites do I need to go to? How many ways can I distract myself from my life? And how can I combat that? I sometimes have to help my lesser self (or that bad demon on my shoulder) to become my better self (the angel on the other shoulder) by denying myself – on purpose. Gluttony? Well, fasting sure helps with that. We are returning to Whole30 and who knew there was a Whole30 support group for those to use during Lent? So excited to find that! We have to work with what we know to be true about ourselves, in order to help ourselves. It’s why I took Facebook off my phone, along with lots of apps and groups. I make it harder for myself to get to it – like putting that bag of Oreos on top of the fridge, behind the cookbooks, making it harder for me to indulge myself. And to be honest, this year for Lent, there are no cookies in the house to begin with. I know Gluttony all too well. It is one of the many demons I constantly and consistently struggle with. And it is one of the ones I desire most to conquer this Lenten fasting period. I need to control my desire for food and replace it for a desire that will benefit my soul.

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Lent is our eternal struggle condensed into just 40 days. But the Church, in her wisdom, gives us this time every year. We are not expected to become Saints overnight. I love that about my faith. I try, sincerely, to make the right choices day in and day out. Some days I get it pretty good and can lay my head on my pillow with a clear conscious. Some nights, not so much. “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” is often recited as I finally get to sleep.

During my reading for this Lent, I read an article about forgiveness. In the Eastern and Orthodox Churches, we begin Lent on Forgiveness Sunday. On this day (the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday) we actually make lines around the Church and each parishioner approaches each other parishioner, asking for and giving, forgiveness. I can honestly say that the first time I participated in this, I wept as I made my way around the Church. How humbling and how beautiful. But when we think about forgiveness, what is it? In this article by Metropolitan Anthony of Sorozh (+2003)  in the Orthodox Heritage Vol 05, Issue 2, February 2007, he says, “Forgiveness begins at the moment when, realizing the frailty of others as I realize mine, the need of others for help, for mercy, and for protection, I am prepared together with them to bear the burden of their weakness, their frailty or their sinfulness. Forgiveness begins at the moment when I take it upon myself to put up with others, without waiting for them to change, to put up with them as they are in order to make lighter their burden and to make it possible for them to eventually change.” He goes on later to say, “Every one of us, side by side with them, have people who are difficult to bear, who are a cause of suffering, of misery or of anger; we can undo this anger and outgrow this misery if we make our task, the task of our life, our business, to carry their burden together with them, to be the person who, wounded and offended, and rejected, will turn to God and say, ‘Lord, forgive, because I bear no grudge, I want to become and remain solid with this person in his frailty and his sinfulness. I will not stand in judgement against him, and I am not yet capable of doing this. You do this for me: do not endorse my judgement, do not endorse the condemnation I rashly have pronounced, do not stand by me in my anger. Stand by the person who has done wrong, because he, because she needs help, forgiveness and healing, for that very reason.'” forgiveness

And so we begin Lent by learning to forgive. Truly forgive. This quote above stunned me into silence. It caused me to rethink what I know about forgiving others. Our Psalm readings were full of the forgiveness from God. And I realized I was actually excited about Lent, and that I was preparing for this Lent to be one of change for me. I was getting a notebook and making dividers; I even got stickers and colored pens! I bought a new journal and yesterday, I began writing things about the Psalms. And I was happy – happy about a task of cleaning my heart and soul and becoming more in tune with God. Because I know I can only become better through this process. As I eagerly began to read the Psalms, I read, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ And now I am standing within your gates, Jerusalem.” (Pslam 123). And reading that, I smiled. I had been looking forward to this journey, and now I was on the doorstep. And we are all fully into Lent, as of today.

I am apprehensive (as change is always hard) and exultant at the prospect at becoming a better me. God is not done with me, yet. And I know He is not done with any of us, either. Thanks be to God for this opportunity. Blessed and Holy Lent, everyone.

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