“…the kindness I sought…”

Today is one of those days when this saying came springing itself into my mind. Some days, all we can do is pray. Have you ever had the feeling that you are standing next to a damn that is about to give way? Or near a complex set of dominoes someone made into a design, and they are about to all tumble? Or rocks, just starting their landslide, which you know you need to get out of the way from?  I am feeling that pressure more and more as each day passes by. When will it start? When will that little pebble holding the damn have enough pressure to give way, and the wall of water will come raging down the ravine in my life?

This past winter, the state of California saw more water than it has in years. The deserts are gloriously green. The pastures are blooming. But the damns are not doing so well. Apparently, every 100 years or so, California gets an abundance of water. And this was that year, according to some pundits commenting on it. I recall growing up in California and we always had enough water. I have memories of Saturday mornings with the smell of fresh cut lawns, the sounds of mowers in the distance, and the sounds of the sprinklers all popping up and spreading moisture over those hungry, grassy, front yards, coming though open windows – with no screens. Ah, the joy of those mornings. (Until the 70s when we learned about rationing gas, and water. Not sure why they coincided, but they did). And now the damns that have needed upgrading and repair are desperately trying to hold back this “100 years” of water.

I can hardly wait until Spring is well and truly here. I long for these mountain vistas and having our windows open; the smells and sounds of springtime in a mountainous region pouring into our stuffing, winterized houses! And trust me, living where I do, Spring and the joy it brings is a real thing! And it is Holy Week, meaning Easter/Pascha is sneaking right up on us. And in the back of my mind, I struggle with this impending doom; a sense that all the dominoes are about ready to fall.

And so on a day like today, I am trying to surround myself in prayer. Because “I called to the Lord with my mouth; praise was upon my tongue….But God did hear and listened to my voice in prayer. Blessed be God, who did not refuse me the kindness I sought in prayer.” Psalm 66:17-20 And I also read today, “Blessed be the Lord day by day; God, our salvation, who carries us.” Psalm 68:20  I know the Lord holds my heart in His hands. That God has what is best for me always in His heart. I trust God completely. And so to ease this sense of things beginning to happen (that will pick up the pace a tad bit) I cling to these Psalms, and to the Scriptures. Today, I read about the Washing of the Disciples’ Feet in the book of John, Chapter 13, verses 1-17. In this reading, I grasped onto some sentences that I had not noticed before: “Not all of you are clean” and “Amen, Amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master…” and the one that really stood out for me was, “I have given you a model to follow.”

This model is not just one of service to others, which it is mostly used to illustrate. For me, I saw it as a total way of going through life. We truly need to serve others; no slave is greater than his master. But we also need, at least to me, to see this model for more than just Thursday’s service during Holy Week. I need to work on following the model Christ has left for me – in all things. And so when I am stressed and worried over dominoes crashing in my life, or that damn breaking and my life being flooded in so many ways, I must always, always, look to Christ as my model.

Christ accepted, willing, the Cup from His Father. He knew what was coming; the pain, the heartbreak of being betrayed. He willingly accepted His Father’s Will for His life. That is the model He gave us to follow. And so, with the things in my life seeming so insignificant in light of Christ’s sacrifice for me, the very least I can do is to model my life on his example and to accept the Cup offered to me. And God will get me through it. All of it. Because He promised me that He would never leave me, ever.

Advertisements

The Work of Our Hands…

I’ve been reading some great blogs lately, as well as some yummy novels. I love to read. It keeps me grounded and peaceful.  And I am loving my Young Living Essential Oils. I apply “Joy,” “Peace & Calming,” and “Stress Away” almost daily and just enter this zone of zen and peace. It is awesome. Before I work out I add “En Er Gee” to my liver and along my spinal cord. It keeps me in my workout, with energy to spare. One of the trainers at the gym calls me her “Zen Lady” and asks to come and stand by me each time I am there (I work out 5 days a week, at least).  I love that she senses my peace, and enjoys the scent of the oils.  And in the past few days, I am getting excited for, and enjoying, the onset of spring. You can feel it in the air. Even the bugs are out! (Stupid mosquitos). We are planning our garden and already have the wood for it. (Raised beds work best here). We got a couple of starter berry plants and have great plans for what we’ll grow this year. My pantry is almost devoid of food, with my son eating the last of his Top Ramen, I think. We are trying to get out of the habit of packaged foods! And now, our refrigerator is full of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with some healthy carbs and lots of fresh, lean meats and fish. We are changing our lives and it feels pretty good.

Last night we went to dinner with some dear friends at this amazing restaurant, located on the 20th floor of a hotel in downtown. The view was stupendous. I could not stop looking out, gazing at the awesomeness of where we live. The bay and all the inlets were beautiful, with the tide slowly easing out. The snow-capped mountains out another window just made the view perfect. My husband and I want to return when summer is in full swing and green is everywhere. The view in each season would be amazing, I am sure! I’m going to add a photo below of the view. I hope you like it, too!

CrowsNest2015

We are feeling very blessed lately and it is a good feeling. We are still walking carefully and listening to God and His Word for our lives. But I think He’s been speaking and perhaps we weren’t listening as we thought we were. I say that because I find myself living in an absolutely amazing location, surrounded by evidence of the Providence of God every day as I gaze out at the sea or onto the majestic mountains. And I find myself among some friends who I believe will remain friends for years to come. I feel like I am finally home. I miss my life in SoCal, somewhat. I certainly miss my kids and grandkids who live there, my mom, incredible sister and brother, but not the lifestyle. I miss some of my Church family there. But lots of them moved away, too. I miss WA and the glorious weather and the terrain, the beauty of both spring and fall. But I know this is where I am supposed to be. We are settling in here and making a life for ourselves and the blessings are beginning to flow. I think we were looking back to where we had come, without fully embracing where we are. And we certainly weren’t looking forward, nor planning for our Happy-Ever-After being here. But now I know God has been guiding us, and making our path for us. We just didn’t realize it. God is so good to us, even when we don’t see it or realize it.

I know God blesses the work of our hands and the devotion we give to our labors. I have always felt that God blessed work because Christ demonstrated it Himself, being a master carpenter. (Opus Dei was begun specifically to honor our work and to help us focus on devoting each moment of our work to the good of God). You have to apply your hands, the sweat of your brow, and your mind to become good at something. Christ gave 100% of himself to being a carpenter until He was called by God to begin His ministry. Can you imagine living in the town with Christ, prior to His ministry? What an example of exemplary work and work ethnic He must have shared with those around Him. Work is a good thing. And I believe we all have a lot of work to do.

Today I watched a video about leaders and leadership. It was an interesting video of a man, dancing shirtless on a hillside, and trying to get other people to dance with him. The setting looks like a summer concert in the park, on a hillside. This dancer gets one to dance with him, then two, and finally a crowd joins him. In the background you can hear someone saying, “How did he do that?” He gathered a crowd around him and they were all dancing with him, with just his enthusiasm and joy in dancing to entice others to become one with him. I thought of Christ and how He gathered His Apostles, with His love and joy.  He then told them, “Go out and baptize all the nations.” What a job description! The Apostles fearlessly did just that, spreading the Gospel into each and every corner of the world. And in the video, the shirtless guy dancing is called the nut; the shirtless nut. Can you imagine how nutty the ancient world thought the Apostles were? As nutty as they were, they did not deviate from the simple message of the Gospel, and they changed the whole world. And yet, even now, we are called to do the same. Are we the nut, dancing on the hillside, getting others to join us, for the pure “joy of the dance”? Are we calling others to Christ? I think we, personally, are being blessed now because we are slowly gaining what the Oola Guys call Oola Balance. We are getting all the 7 F’s of Oola in balance (Faith, Family, Friends, Fitness, Finance, Field, and Fun. I’ve talked about the Oola life in previous posts). More importantly, as we build the “F” of “Faith,” we are also building community. A community of like-minded people who truly love God and want to share His message with others. If we think about it, 12 men changed the world. Can you imagine our world if each of us who profess Christ actually did something about it? If we stood up and said “no” when it needed to be said? If we voted our conscience and our faith in every election (even small, local ones)? If we helped our neighbor, even if we dislike our neighbor, when they needed it? In cities around the country, there is death and destruction, rioting and lawlessness. An athlete opined on his FB page today about the violence and that the only way change can truly take place is if we change ourselves, through returning to a faith-based culture, and if each of us shares the love of Christ with every person we meet. Legislating change just becomes more laws on the books, with a culture becoming more and more hedonistic by the day. How do we change? It starts in our own backyard, in our own families. A simple smile, an assist to someone in a grocery line, letting a car get in front of you on the highway, inviting someone to attend Church with you, offering childcare to a worn out mom, bringing meals and comfort to the shut-ins, visiting the weak and the sick. We can all affect change and it can be very easy. The work of our hands, the sweat of our brow, the concentration and dedication in our minds and hearts… God has always dignified work and blessed those who work. Let’s work for the Kingdom of God, right now, here in our midst, for as Scripture tells us, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

“To everything there is a season…”

Blessed SeraphimI was reminded again this week of the fact that life passes away.  We lost an old friend of ours and at the Divine Liturgy last night, we all prayed for the repose of his soul. And I found myself weeping…just weeping over the loss of a friend, yes, but the loss for his wife and children, and grandchildren.  They will never have him again in their life.  And it overwhelmed me.

Earlier in the day I was working on arranging for my mom to come and visit us. It is a 5-hour plane ride (non-stop, thank goodness) and I have to plan far in advance, to be sure all the arrangements are made, because my mom has Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  She gets confused very easily, and being in an airport will overwhelm her.  My step-sister, who has become my friend over the past few years, lives very near my mom and does so much for her.  We were discussing how odd it is to make the same sort of arrangements for her, that we make for an unescorted minor flying across the country.  I will be doing the same thing very soon for my 15-year-old son, who will be attending summer camp on the east coast.  Every detail has to be looked at and gone over.  It is frightening, actually, to have my mom (and soon my son) flying pretty far, all alone.  But she needs to see her great-grandchildren, her grandchildren, and her children. We are family and we need to stay connected.  With Alzheimer’s and Dementia, time becomes the important factor in all of this, because one day soon she will not know any of us.  Another one of those life-cycles exerting itself.

Yesterday was also the first birthday of my oldest granddaughter.  What a joy she is in our lives.  And she was so very happy with her little cupcake yesterday – as she was wearing a goodly portion of it!! The joy on her face was enough to bring tears to your eyes.  I thank all the brainiacs out there who invented video and Face Time and Skype; it makes us feel so close to each other and not the 1000s of miles apart that we really are. Knowing that I will be seeing her, and her soon-to-be-born little sister, made it all the more poignant.  Today, I was on the phone with my sister-in-law who shared she is expecting baby #10 in October, and I was just marveling at the gift of life all around me.  My friend who recently died was the father of 14 children, and grandfather to something like 5 or 7 children (I have actually lost count!).

handsLife is just such a blessing.  And it is a cycle.  Old and new.  Comings and goings. Cycling, always cycling through. All the tripe sayings they have out there are somehow showing themselves to all have a grain of truth in them.  Dontcha hate that? Ha-Ha.  “To everything there is a season,” as it says in the book of Ecclesiastes.  And as I age and head closer and closer towards my final destination, I am finding that there are, indeed, seasons.

My friend who passed was from the season in our lives when we were all having babies.  We were homeschooling our kids; we attended Church together; we shared parenting and marriage, financial and other woes with each other.  We supported one another through those rough phases all young marrieds go through, in addition to some wonderful bottles of wine and steaks cooked to perfection.  I have such clear memories of summer days spent under the stars, contemplating our lives.  Wonderful memories filled with so much laughter.

My grandma used to tell me, “Well, you can’t put old heads on young shoulders.” I used to laugh at her many adages, and trust me, she had volumes and volumes of them!  But she was right. There are things I can see from where I am standing, that I cannot really communicate to my children’s generation.  Many times it is because they just don’t want to hear it from me, but mostly it is because they know what they are doing for them is right (haven’t we all been there??).  And I acknowledge that and I respect that, very much.  It was not often afforded to my husband and myself and so I want to be sure my kids know I respect their choices; I just wish I could give them some of my wisdom. But I also know the deepest wisdom is gained through living life, not being given some adages to ponder.  We have to live for those tripe sayings to mean something.  As St. Seraphim said above, we are given choices.  We can choose to be of this world and outside of God, or we can choose for Whom our heart hungers, which is God, the God of life.  Everything eventually passes away.

I saw a funny meme today about books:

Read something goodIt is one of my guilty pleasures – I would rather be reading than pretty much anything else. (Especially if I can drink a nice glass of wine or nibble on something chocolate at the same time! Heaven!).  I often think that for me, loosing my sight would be the most horrible thing. Because of missing the faces of my loved ones, yes, but I would no longer be able to lose myself in a book.  And what we read, what we contemplate, becomes a portion of who we are.  I love paranormal books and stories of good versus evil.  Love all the witches and spells, potions and demons and the heroes that defeat them. Always makes me feel good.  I have often mused why I love this genre so much, when I was always reading historical novels in my younger years.  And I realized that for me, it is my way of getting in the fight.  It is my way of confronting the evil in the world, and always choosing to be a “good guy.”  Why is that? Because I know, deep in my bones, that this world does truly pass away and only God remains….everything passes away.

Some day, all that will be left of me will be a pile of bones in a grave, and the legacy of genetics and memories I leave for my family. I pray that their lives will have been better because I was a part of them. I pray that everyone I touched was left with a positive feeling in their hearts when they think of me.  I know there are those who I hurt in my wild and rambunctious days.  I cannot go back and undo what I have already done.

byiO4laAnd this saying keeps me focused on what is ahead.  This cycle of life we are living keeps moving. We choose to participate or sit it out. What a waste to spend life angry, sitting on the sidelines pouting.  Or mourning those who have gone before us, while missing the blessings of new life in front of us.  Perhaps it is because I am older and life is a little quieter, but I am seeing God’s hand in so many more things than I ever have before. I know He is present and active in my life and the lives around me.  And when I start seeing these things over and over again, I feel so blessed.  To know something so clearly is so peaceful, and it brings such contentedness. I may not control it all; I may need to still buckle up and gird my loins – all of that may still hold true.  But I also know that “God’s got this.”  How totally cool is that??

Miracle baby toesBlessings to all my fellow miracles out there, who touch the miracle of life each day, by living and choosing life through the Grace of God.  And my continued to prayers for those who perhaps are not as certain of God’s presence in your life, or the love He has for you – I’m becoming certain enough for both of us.

 

“From an infant into an adult…”

PreciousJewelsLast night a dear friend asked me to accompany her to the local hospital’s NICU ward.  For those of you who have never been to one, or know what that acronym stands for, it is a little slice of heaven where gifted doctors and nurses care for those least able to care for themselves, our newborns and preemies.  (Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit). My friend and her husband are foster parents and we were visiting with the newborn they will soon be bringing home.  She was there to outfit him with a car seat small enough to hold and protect him, and attend a class for parents on germs.  I opted out of the class and made my way to the waiting area or, “family room,” to wait for her to finish the class.  While in the “family room” reading the newspaper, I met a man who was there from South Carolina, visiting his newborn twin granddaughters.  The babies each weighed a pound.  He shared photos of them with me, showing him holding one of the girls.  She completely fit in the palm of his hand.  I cried.  I cried for the miracle of that photo.  When I was birthing my babies, and loosing so many of them, a baby that size would not have survived.  Science has changed so much in the past 30 years, especially in the care of premature babies.

When we were finally able to go and actually see the baby, we first had to de-contaminate ourselves.  That process was interesting!  Once we finally got on the baby’s floor, it was so quiet!  We walked into that room and when I saw that little isolette with that tiny baby in it, tears just rolled down my face.  That little man weighed barely 5 pounds and was already more than 2 months old.  The interesting thing is that he was not due for another 4 weeks, yet.  It was wonderful to meet the nurses caring for these little babies. They love what they do.  They have a heart for these most vulnerable among us, and they are kind, gentle, and loving to all of them.

Hand on baby's backMy friend was able to change the baby’s diapers and then settle in to feed him a bottle.  I sat next to her, and I started to quietly weep.  I have lost babies that size.  I have mourned the loss of my babies, and I think because of that, I just felt so connected to this little guy.  When he smiled, my heart just melted.  Here he was, still supposed to be tucked safely inside his mommy, holding my finger and smiling at me.  What a miracle of life, and modern medicine.  And my heart started to race when I realized – it is still legal pretty much anywhere in our country, to abort a baby this size.  My friend looks at me and says, “Don’t you start crying, because I will, too.” And we both smiled at this little gift of life from God.  How could anyone hurt a baby this tiny?  He was no lump of tissue; he was no “inconvenience” in the life of his mother.  He was born far, far too soon; at least his birth mother chose life for him.

Baby holding fingerEach of us has been vulnerable in our lives. Many of us still are.  But holding that little baby in my scrubbed and itching arms brought me back to the times when I needed the most care, when I was the most vulnerable, and I was thankful for the people around me, who cared for me.  Each day is a miracle because we woke up.  Father Justin Rose, a dear friend and our former pastor, has a saying and it is, “You are not guaranteed your next breath.”  That quote always brings me up short, because my days are definitely getting shorter. I’m no longer that crazy, young woman or little girl. I’m a wife, mother, sister, daughter, grandmother, mother-in-law, friend. But there are many things I no longer am…I am no longer someone’s grand daughter, because that generation has all been laid to rest and I’m certainly no longer a girl, or a teenager. I am still a daughter, but not for many more years.  Those things that I was, I will never be again.  And there are not many other things I will become, as I edge nearer and nearer to my last breath.  I read an article written by a woman who cares for the dying and in it she spoke to the 5 things you regret when you die:  Working too much; not living the life we want, but living what others want for us; wishing you had been able to express your feelings; staying in touch with friends; and letting yourself be happier (http://www.lifebuzz.com/5-regrets/).  The list seems simple enough, and yet, how many of us do these 5 things?

Miracle baby toesLast night, holding that little man in my arms, I thought of all the things in life I have not done, and I am pretty happy with the things I have done.  I try to live as regret-free as I can. I wish I had pursued the things I wanted, more than what my parents and others wanted for me (like choosing the wrong major in college, again and again!!). I think I should have taken the time to write the “great novel” or something along those lines. I realize, as I gain wisdom, how truly little I know.  Learning should never stop.  I am grateful for the love of my family and close friends, and I am extremely grateful for the gift of my faith. I know, without any regrets or doubts, that I am living the life of faith God intended for me.  I am content.  And I have realized that I can still be surprised at things, I can still learn things, and I can still love new people.  It is amazing, our capacity for love. I try to be open to the new things I see in life, the new experiences, the new life buzzing around me.  The oncoming Spring is bringing with it a sort of excitement.  The dark of winter is slowly being replaced by days of 12+ hours of sunshine. The snow is melting – I actually saw grass this morning! The world is turning and new life is all around us.  Lent is an amazing time of reflection and coming out of Lent is a time we run smack-dab into the promise of eternal life.  The Cross is born by Christ for us, and we all add to the weight of that Cross.  We all hoist our own cross on our shoulders and trudge through the winter to the Spring, and the promise of eternity.

Elder Paisios.2Seeing and appreciating the fragility of new life and how we all enter the world that way, reminded me that eventually, we all leave life in the same way – dependent on others for our care, perhaps even the very air we breathe.  We leave the world a shriveled vestige of what we once were. Isn’t it so interesting to think that we come in this world dependent on others and leave the same way? I know some are taken rapidly, without need for palliative or any other sort of care.  But most of us just sort of fade.  And as I look closer at the sunset, and realize that my days are truly numbered, I pray to look forward to it with peace in my heart.  I pray that nothing was left untried that I truly wanted to do and that I loved the best I could, loving everyone around me.

Infant BaptismThrough the grace of our Baptism, Chrismation, and reception of the Holy Communion, God is with us.  He is also there to comfort us with sacramental anointing when we feel weak and vulnerable.  This Lent, I am remembering my own vulnerability, praying for those among us who are completely vulnerable and weak, and daring to open my heart to all of God’s children.

Feeling a little vulnerable today in light of the miracles I witnessed yesterday.  Definitely humbled by those miracles and the working of God in that hospital and the dedicated staff seeing to those babies.  God’s blessings often overwhelm me with the sublime beauty of it all.  Blessed Lent.

St.Barsanuphius

 

“Behold, I am making all things new…”

handsAnd He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:5)

I had a nice chat with my mom today. She is 83 and lives in a retirement facility in Southern California.  I always get, “It’s so pretty here. The sky is so blue and not a cloud in the sky! It’s going to be a gorgeous day today.”  I am loosing my mom a little more each day; she has Alzheimer’s and the progression is inevitable.  Sometimes we have a fruitful conversation and we don’t repeat for, perhaps, 10 minutes.  And then it’s back to, “It’s so pretty here. The sky is so blue…”  Today she kept saying, “It doesn’t matter where you go, you pay a price for where you live” at every opportunity she could wedge it in.  She gets on kicks like that and we just have to talk it all the way out, so she can move on.  She told me at least three times that she was getting dressed for lunch.  And, “Well, I could have it worse. It’s a pretty nice place. But of course, you pay a price for where you live, you know.”  Ha-Ha.  I love her so much.  At least she is happy and seems content.  Gradually, as with all Alzheimer patients, you just stop thinking about what you forget and it eventually becomes lost in a haze forever.  Even now, as my mom is at lunch with her friends, she does not recall we spoke today. It is a horrible disease.

And as God is good and would do something for my happiness, I no sooner hung up with my mom than my daughter-in-law came by for a drop-in visit with my grandchildren.  It made my day.  And as I sat holding my 4-month-old grand daughter, I reveled in the marvelous relationship building with both her and my daughter-in-law. (Actually, I am blessed with two amazing women who married my sons.  They could not have found better mates! I feel like I now have two daughters, but more importantly, two friends).  And as I held my grand daughter and watched her giggles, drools, and smiles, I fell in love all over again. I thought of the wonderful thread of lives, all the generations, in fruition in my grand daughter.  “And I make all things new.”  God re-energizes our family each time it grows and expands.  And each time I am presented with a grandchild, my heart expands again, re-energizing me and filling me with love.

I told my mom this morning that I think I was born to be a grandmother.  This particular time of my life, right now, and in the coming years, are my best.  I love some of the early years when my boys were young and we lived on a dairy farm.  Those days are precious to me, and I look on them as my “good old days.”  It was carefree in a way I haven’t had since.  All that taken into consideration, I think I have grown to be a better person over the years and am disposed to my grandchildren much better because of the times gone by.  Of course, I still have a 15-year-old at home, so I am also still raising a young man, and that helps me relate to my older sons and their wives in a way I never thought I would have.  It is a difference and it’s like we’re becoming friends, and I love it!

“For everything there is a season…” Ecclesiastes 3 has so much wisdom to share.  We all have times in our lives where certain things are appropriate.  We grow to fill the time we occupy.  For example, one of my mom’s favorite sayings is, “Children are for the young.”  I didn’t fully appreciate that until I grew into my late 50s. And now I have patience and time for children, but even more so, I have boundless patience and time for my grandchildren.  I know I am blessed!

“…a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
(Ecc 3: 2)

Tulips in snowIn our lives, the cycles move…and they don’t stop because we would like them to.  They keep on moving; that clock keeps ticking.  I like to explain it as a “generational shift.”  One day you look around your life and realize you are now your mother; she is now your grandmother, and your children are now you.  Your place and perspective have changed; you moved up a rung.  And it feels odd sometimes, because you feel like a teenager in your head, but when you look in the mirror, the gray hair and wrinkles remind you that you so are not.  (Even if you still secretly feel like you’re still “cool” and can rock it! Ha-Ha!!).

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;” (Ecc 3:11-12)

As I struggle through Great Lent this week, I keep my eye focused on the prize: my eternity. God and His Church gives me this time every year to stop and re-focus my energies and my daily life onto my eternity.  It is a time for reflection, for prayer, for penance, and for almsgiving.  For me, almsgiving has always been something more of the heart than of the wallet.  Some of the most satisfying days I have ever enjoyed were shopping at the local food bank and buying food to make for our homeless and needy population, who surrounded our parish in SoCal.  I would go to the local foodbank and fill my suburban to the brim and load up my two boys still at home, and off we would head to the parish.  I would set them up with a table and chairs to do their schoolwork (homeschooling mom here) and then I would head to the kitchen. I loved the afternoons of chopping, slicing, and dicing with the other ladies of our parish.  We had such a great time.  And that type of almsgiving, to me, is just so satisfying.  We were making a difference in our community.  I miss those days.  And during Lent, the people who came to be fed knew we fasted, and they loved how we made fasting food that tasted good!  They often stayed to listen to Evening Prayers (Vespers) we had after we had cleaned up.  The candles, the incense, drew them in and gave them a respite from the ugliness out there.

We can all struggle through Lent, or we can be joyous about it, while we struggle. Remember the admonishment in Scripture?  Matthew 6: 16-18 tells us:  “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

What screws us upWe are all called to make something of this time of fasting.  I have been shown so many wonderful things.  I have seen my blessings in the lives of the family we have gathered around us, and those we hold dear in our hearts who live far away.  I have been blessed with friends; some who I have loved for decades, and some new ones, too.  I have been taken to a land that has gotten under my skin and a place that I don’t see me ever leaving. I am not even anxious to vacation away from it, as there is still so much to see and experience.  My faith has been widened to allow for “other” and “different” to be accepted and even welcomed.  This Pascha will be my first one celebrating with Slavonic traditions and I am so excited!  The baskets, the covers, the red eggs…I am really looking forward to it and am loving all the prep for it!  One thing that is hitting me very strongly this Lent, and it is a great truth I am learning, well worth the “look-see” time of the fast, is this:

St Nikon of OptinaI am here, I am still me.  My zip code is really different than last Lent.  My entire life is upside down.  The view is drastically changed, as well as the environment I find myself in.  I left all that was familiar, and so many relationships.  I miss my friends, but I have also been taught the value of friendship and who are my true friends.  As my mom said today, “It doesn’t matter where you go, you pay a price for where you live.”  She is so right-on (‘Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom.’ Job 32:7) but I should not be surprised. Lots of people in my mom’s life chose to ignore her for her intelligence (she was usually eclipsed by someone else around her) but she always had wise things to say, if you but sat and listened to her.  Her tongue was sharp, as was her mother’s before her, but once she aged, she imparted more wisdom than vinegar!  And now I find myself listening to her today and thinking on her wise words to me.  She misses me because I am so far away, but she understands my need to go.  She left New Zealand to come to America with my dad; she knows what it is like to leave all you know for the unknown, and how to make a life where you are, still retaining who you are, while remaining open to new things.

For this Lent, one of the biggest lessons to me is that things are not what I had in my head; I am where I am and guess what? I brought baggage with me.  And now I am being shown all these blessings and learning the baggage is far less important to me, as I have opened myself to growth.  I am finding a peace that I never realized I lacked.  God is good, so good, if we just sit still and allow His presence to be the most important thing in our lives, allowing Him room to do His great work in us. I am still learning and I am more than halfway “home.”

“Behold, I am making all things new.”  (Rev 21:5)

Blessed Lent.

KeepCalm.Pascha

“In all things give thanks.” 1Thess 5:18

DidacheSo I had all these awesome plans for blessing our house.  I wrote a post for this blog about it.  As I ended that post, I mentioned ‘chasing elusive dust bunnies.”  Well, as I was reaching down to grab one by its ears, I heard a “pop” in my back and felt searing pain.  Oh boy. House blessing not happening!

I was able to get into a new Chiropractor my son is seeing, and that poor guy!  The first time he meets me, I am literally crying and screaming whenever he touches me.  We take x-rays, we massage, we do all these weird things I had never experienced before. This went on for about 2 hours and I was relaxing and actually pain-free!  Then he tilted the table so I could stand, and wowser! The pain was so intense I cried and cried, started to shake, and could not hold myself up.  I was literally sinking to the floor, if my husband and the doctor had not held me up.  They put a large “cinch” or “truss” around my waist, gave me an ice pack, and sent me on my way to the ER.  There are some things even a Chiropractor cannot handle…and me and my back last night was one of those things.

Off we went to ER.  Did I mention this was in a snowstorm (well, for here it was being called a “light dusting” of 1-2 inches)? The ER doctor had a completely different diagnosis than the Chiropractor, but their treatments were exactly the same…bed rest, laying as flat as possible, for the next 2-3 days.  Right.  As you can tell, I am not laying flat.  Been as flat as I could be in my recliner, for hours upon hours.  Standing is fine. Sitting is its own kind of hell.  Ice packs, heating pads, pain meds.  And I cannot move without something tweaking and hurting.

But I am giving thanks.  I had someone acknowledge my long, long struggle with back issues.  There are reasons for the intermittent issues I have with my back and trunk muscles (I felt vindicated for all my episodes and times of extreme pain; the times I could not work, let alone even move.  My husband said he always believed me, but to have a doctor confirm it and x-rays show it, made me feel justified somehow).  And I see options ahead of me.  This should have been dealt with years ago, but I put it off (not a big fan of doctors!).  I usually only see a doctor for an issue – not a very good preventative maintenance person.  (At least where my health is concerned). Through the pain, the way ahead seems clearer, somehow, like God wanted this to happen so I could just get on with it, and deal with it.

As I was in agony, I was able to pray.  I was able to surrender to what may lie ahead for me.  And I clung to my family.  My husband held my hand and tried to make light of it.  His concern and his love were obvious to me.  And I felt loved, from my family and my friends who I knew and know are praying for me.  My kids are kicking in and helping out with some things for my youngest son…driving him here and there in the falling snow; dropping off uniforms for CAP this weekend; dropping off my RXs, making us dinner…wow, I am blessed!

So I will give thanks…thanks that I have found a doctor in a new town.  Thanks that I am getting some medical intervention that I need.  Thankful my kids are close by and are wonderfully attentive.  And thankful for some down time.  Painful downtime, but I am still.  Picking up, once again, some favorite books but most especially, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives,” by Elder Thaddeus.  As the Chiropractor was helping me into the car last night (in snowy weather) he kept telling me to think positive thoughts, and to breathe.  I wonder if he’s read Elder Thaddeus, too?

390px-OrthodoxCross(black,contoured)

“In the name of the Father…”

Cross sunlight rocksIn making the sign of the cross, believe and constantly remember that your sins are nailed to the cross.+ St. John of Kronstadt +

I was attending the Crowning (blessing their civil marriage of some 9 years) of some friends, who had invited lots of different friends to witness their committment. I ended up sitting behind the groom’s mom (as I was asked to do), in order to help corral some of the kids, and next to a friend of hers I had met at a birthday party earlier in the year.  In addition, her friend had her two children with her; her son was about 10 and her daughter was 4 years old.  Her daughter ended up on my lap most of the ceremony, and I spent most of the time leaning over, explaining a Byzantine Crowning Ceremony to these Protestant guests.  And the kids had so many questions about what they were seeing and hearing for the first time.  I loved every moment of it.

One of the things I noticed, especially when I began explaining it to someone who had no previous experience in a Byzantine Church, was how often we make the Sign of the Cross in any Byzantine or Eastern Rite Liturgy.  The young boy sitting next to his mom, leaning over her towards me, kept asking me what I was doing.  I had to explain that we believe that whenever we hear the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we make the Sign of the Cross. Whenever we hear the word, “Trinity,” we also make the same Sign of the Cross.  He asked me why.  And I thought about it, realizing mom and daughter were also listening, and I replied that I did it to remind myself of Christ’s sacrifice for me, and that He had died on the Cross for me, taking my sins upon Himself. And to remind me also that God is Father, God is Son, and God is Holy Spirit – Three in One – the Holy Trinity.  He saw my husband, who was assisting at the Crowning as a deacon, make the Sign of the Cross across his lips once or twice, and asked me why he “did it then.” I explained that he had made a mistake in the words he was saying, or the prayer he was praying, and signing his lips with the Cross was a way to ask for forgiveness for the mistake, and to seek a blessing from Christ for his efforts, and to protect him from making the mistake again.  The little boy asked me, “You can do that?”  I was surprised and answered, “We do it as often as we feel the need to do it.”  I also told him that God appreciates us turning to Him on the Cross and seeking His aid in everything we do.  We also make the Sign of the Cross as a protection against any evil, or bad things, we see or feel around us.  Sometimes we do it to remind ourselves that God is ever and always present around us.

My husband signs the cross on my forehead before he leaves for work, as I groggily kiss him goodbye and tell him I love him. I don’t think my day starts as well without his loving blessing.  We bless our homes this time of year in the Eastern Churches.  The priest comes, and in times past, he pokes into every nook and cranny, praying and sprinkling holy water, carrying incense.  (Talk about deep cleaning before someone comes to visit!!). I think it is wonderful that our parish priests come to the home of each and every parishioner, at least once a year, to bless our homes.  I love knowing my house is blessed.  I sleep better in a house that has been blessed.  Our priest has not blessed our home yet, but I have.  I always have Holy Water on hand!  There’s also candles and incense in our home, accompanying our icons, statues, and Holy artwork.  This past Sunday we celebrated the Presentation in the Temple of Christ, and the meeting of St. Simeon and the Prophetess, Anna.  As part of the celebration, we were all given lit candles, to remind us that Christ is our light.  We light candles at home, to keep the light of Christ in our homes. We light candles and burn incense when we pray, when we need comfort, when we need to know Christ is here with us. It gives us comfort, as well as reminds us that He is with us always, in all things.

Icon Corner.candlesAnd I thought a lot about making the Sign of the Cross.  I do it all the time, without even thinking about it. I bless my day, cooking, my kids, any project I propose to do. It especially helps me when the chores I dislike are due to be completed (the dreaded laundry or bathroom cleaning!!). It comes as easily as breath.  And I wear a holy object every day.  A Byzantine cross, usually, but I have a selection.  My favorite is a beat-up silver St. Olga cross I bought for myself in Los Angeles, years ago.  It used to have blue inlay, but that has long since worn off.  I love the feel of it around my neck, and reach for it often, when in distress. Most days I also wear a prayer rope, to remind myself to keep praying, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  I say it over and over again.

IncensorThe little girl on my lap was pointing away to the area behind the Holy Doors.  She kept asking me, “What’s that? What’s that?”  I was naming off all sorts of things (icon, altar, fans, cross, Holy Bible…) but nothing was the right thing.  Then I noticed the incensor swinging its way back and forth, occasionally visible from the right side, behind the Holy Doors.  “Are you asking me about the smoke?”  “Yes! Are we on fire?”  Ha-Ha!  “No,” I assured her, we are not on fire.  That is called an incensor.”  She looked so confused. I asked her to close her eyes and to breathe in deeply.  She was so cute, as she squished her eyes shut and took quite a loud, deep breath. “Oooo, what is that smell?”  I asked her if it smelled good to her and she told me she loved that smell.  I then told her to watch the smoke, as it rose above the altar and made its way to the Icon of Christ above us.  She was so adorable as she moved her head and strained to watch the incense.  I told her we love to cleanse the Church of the everyday smells (she, of course, asked about what smells.  That lead to a whole other discussion about hot dogs and coffee – her questions – and lead to her question of, “How much longer is this? I’m starving!!” Kids!). But back to the incense. I explained that incense reminds us that there are angels all around us, that our prayers rise with theirs to God, and that our prayers smell sweet to God.  She loved that explanation.  And I loved that a little child, stopping me long enough to notice all those little details of our worship, caused me to not forget the whys of what we do.

There were lots of other questions about altar boys, what they were carrying, why we hold the Bible up and why we decorate it, why we bow our heads, why we pray the Lord’s Prayer more than one time, and what the priest and deacon were up to (consecration).  The young boy was especially impressed that women don’t go up there, but just boys and men.  He smiled pretty big to his mom!  I explained about communion and the mom quietly asked her daughter, “Remember when we get the little cups at Church? What is that for?”  She answered, “Jesus’ blood.” And then she asked her daughter, “And what are the little wafers we eat for, that we take out of the plate?” “Hmmm”….as she squished up her face and looked dramatically to the ceiling…”I know this. I know this….”  Her mom said, “Jesus’ bod…” And she smiled and yelled, “It’s Jesus’ body!!!”  The little one was so happy she remembered.  I told them they could come with me and receive a blessing if they wanted to, that the priest would place his hand on their heads and say a prayer for them. Well, that little child was not letting go of my hand for anything!  It was so beautiful…their entire family went up with me and received a blessing from our priest during communion and it felt so nice to have them walk with me, holding that little 4-year-old’s hand!

Holy Gifts up closeWhy do we keep all these symbols around us?  What is the purpose?  Why should we?  I think I have shared above some of the reasons, but like the family I sat with at the Crowning of our friends, there are always lots of questions of whys and wherefores, even among all of us who are of one of the many Eastern Churches, or Catholic, or Orthodox.  None of our Churches does it the same way; they just don’t.  I have been at enough of a variety of liturgies that I can attest to it.  And the Protestants are different than any of us!  There was a comment on a Facebook wall that said something to the effect of “Why don’t we all just become one, Eastern Church, then unite with Rome?”  And it is just so hard for me to even fathom that. Yes, we all want to be united in our faith, but our ways of doing things are just a tad different.  My son commented yesterday that automated driving, where you get into a car and give it your destination and it takes you where you want to go, will never happen.  He said it won’t because we are too independent and don’t want to give up our freedom that much.  I tend to agree with him.  It’s why carpooling is just not what it could be.  Or why more people don’t support mass-transit.  We are a group of individuals…and keeping our sense of self is so important to us.  God granted us free will.  We express ourselves to our God in our own ways…that’s why there are so many Churches “in communion with Rome,” and it’s also why there are so many denominations of Protestants around the world…that darned old free will.  We hate being told what to do, or worse, how to do it! Ha-Ha!

Personally, having been on a wild journey of faith my whole life, I appreciate the differences.  I love the differences. I respect the differences.  I think God loves variety; He created variety.  Not all the earth looks the same; plants come in an infinite variety, as do the species of animals, and mankind is an endless spectrum of varieties.  I think it makes God smile.  I would not expect a Latin Rite Catholic from say, Iowa or Arizona, to understand the worship of the little Ukrainian Catholic parish we found in Washington, where the Liturgy is only in Ukrainian.  Nor would I expect a little babushka from the heart of Orthodox Russia to understand the Liturgy of the Melkites, who hail from the Middle East and celebrate most of their Liturgy in Arabic.  And I would not expect a Protestant from a mega-Church in SoCal to understand the Byzantine Liturgy we celebrate up in Alaska.  We can all appreciate the differences, but we can also look to our sameness.  We all worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  The Roman Catholic may make the Sign of the Cross backwards to the rest of the Eastern world, but we still see it is the Sign of the Cross, and we can argue which side to start on, or we can just smile that we all make the Sign of the Cross.  Although, our Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ do not practice making the Sign of the Cross (or most of the other examples from our worship I cited in this post) we can still pray for them and they for us.

light in monastery windowThe little boy and girl I shared a slice of Byzantine faith with, I tried to leave with positive memories of an afternoon at a Byzantine Church where they saw a Bible decorated with gems in a golden case, held up for all to see and venerate, explaining how we love the Word of God; that the wonderful “holy smoke” they smelled will be a warm memory of the enticing smells of an Eastern Church; that the fans emblazoned with images of angels with six wings will remain with them; the stories in the many icons will warm them some day; the kindness of our community and the blessing of our priest will one day be an impetus to join us again, or at the very least, to pray for us.  Perhaps if we all share our love of our traditions, the differences will be swallowed up by the warmth of the love of them, and only the things we have in common will be remembered.  And as I made the Sign of the Cross with those children, it renewed within me my own dedication to sharing what I believe with others.  I also have some more children to pray to God for…to help entice their guardian angels into keeping that loving memory of an afternoon encircled by “holy smoke” and crowns on the heads of their friends alive for them as they make their way in the world.

St John of Kronstadt.4,jpg