“Bethlehem, make ready, for Eden has been opened for all…”

whole30onWell, we made it. All 30 days. Today is, in fact, day 31 and we have chosen to keep on going. When you have made poor dietary choices for so long, it sometimes takes your body longer to adapt to new energy sources and to adjust to eating clean food. It has been hard for us. There are detoxing things like headaches and grumpiness, as well as lethargy and plain old feeling tired. Most people experience that right off. For us, we have just started feeling those effects of clean eating. So we opted to keep this up until at least the 21st of November. Our oldest son has been out of town (in the Arctic Circle, in fact) on a long distance job site and returns about then. So we thought it would give us a good target date.

One of the things about changing so drastically is the fear of falling back into poor choices and being “food lazy.” To me, “food lazy” is hitting the drive through on your way home, or ordering pizza, or eating pre-mixed/frozen foods on those nights when you just don’t want to face the stove again. For me, my go-to then is bacon and eggs! Ha-Ha! And I am also afraid I will go back to the easy recipes I have been boring my family with for the past 32 years, that are not compliant. I truly want to put my “sugar dragon” in its cave, never to see it again. So I am avoiding all sweets for now. I am good with no bread or noodles or rice. Don’t really miss it. Sugar is in everything – try reading a label. It shocked me. So much of our “convenience” foods contain sugar as one of the first ingredients. And if push comes to shove, isn’t homemade always better than boxed?

One of the things that doing this has done for me is that it has focused me on being healthy. It also showed me that my success or failure is one bite, one day, at a time. I am the one who controls what goes into my mouth. I can choose good, healthy foods, or I can plop in an Oreo. Trust me, Oreos are truly like crack! So addictive. I know. It is one of my weaknesses. And I am working, daily, on better choices. An interesting thing about that is it makes you think about other times you make choices.

sparkling-trees-snow

As someone who literally lives near the North Pole, once it snows, we all get sort of “Christmas-y.” It’s not shocking for us, on snowy Halloweens, to have Christmas lights already up and on. Nor is it odd for kids to wear snowsuits under their costumes on Halloween. This year our pumpkins literally froze on our front porch. And promptly thawed and crumpled on a day we had sunshine and 40-degree temperatures (what a mess that day was) just before Halloween! And for us, we are becoming pickier at what we choose to watch and have in our home. And I am going to confess that television right now sort of stinks. The news is horrible, the political garbage is just demeaning and depressing, and the violence abhors me. We spent the morning the other day, standing and waiting for the cavalcade of a deceased police officer to drive by, on his way home to Fairbanks. We all spoke to one another and shared tears for the young father of four who was slain, doing his job. And so our choices as to what we bring in our home have also changed. We have opted for different news sources and for programming – here is the big confession – we are watching the Hallmark Channels’ “Countdown to Christmas” every night! Ha-Ha! They now have two channels – one is for the romantic, “happily ever after” sort of stories, whereas the other is for more dramatic story telling. To be honest, I can’t really tell the difference. Our TiVo is programmed so we don’t miss a single one! Why are we doing Christmas when Thanksgiving hasn’t even arrived, yet? Well, it’s truly that part I took from Whole30 about “one bite, one day, at a time” and transferring it to our entertainment.

advent

If you have never read the book, “Ben Hur,” I highly encourage you to do so. It will enrich you beyond what you can think. Truly. It is the single most read book outside of the Bible in the world. It is how many people were introduced to Christ. And in the book it describes where Mary and Joseph were…the stable, and the process of finding a place to stay. The time and era of when Christ was born. It was messy and crowded and in a town. It was hot and dusty. There were people on the roads and everyone was trying to get to where they needed to be for the census. And the census took a long time. There were only 1-2 people counting everyone in each town. And there were no computers to tally things. No printers or iPhones to record information. It was by hand and it was time consuming and frustrating for everyone. The stable was not off on some mystical hillside, all by itself. It was a common place for travelers to leave their animals, near the city gates. Don’t forget Joseph was returning to his birthplace. He was related to many people who lived there, and all the others making their way to Bethlehem. Advent. That is the time we prepare for the coming of Christ as the Babe…as the God Who chose to become Man to save us all, coming as the weakest of us, an infant. And it is the time to get our houses in order. We begin Advent soon. So why not start by moving towards our “Manger scene” and getting our houses in order?

mary-and-joseph-walking-camel

For us, that means getting ourselves on this Whole30 regime so that it becomes habit, so that it remains, among all the Holiday temptations. We have to make our way through a miasma of things getting in our way, just as Joseph had to guide Mary to his home in Bethlehem. It is nowhere near the same importance, don’t think I am equating it at all. But it descriptive of a journey. We are all on a journey. Ours began with food, but it is making its way felt in so many other areas. What a blessing, choosing to do Whole30 has become!

“Today the Virgin is on her way to the cave where she will give birth to the Eternal Word of God in an ineffable manner. Rejoice, therefore, O universe, when you hear this news, and glorify with the angels and the shepherds Him who shall appear as a newborn Babe, being God from all eternity.”

This is what is sung in the Melkite Church from the Nativity Fast on November 15th, through Christmas Eve, December 24th. It reminds us that Mary is making her way to give birth…but also, “Bethlehem, make ready, for Eden has been opened for all; Ephrata be alert, for the Tree of Life has blossomed forth from the Virgin in the cave. Her womb has become a spiritual paradise wherein the divine Fruit was planted- and if we eat of it, we shall live and not die like Adam. Christ is coming forth to bring back to life the likeness that was lost in the beginning.” We are all Bethlehem…we are all preparing to welcome Christ into our homes and into our lives on Christmas Day. What a better way than to clean our homes and our bodies and prepare to receive Him!

All of the above first paragraphs can also be taken in context of our faith. We mostly make poor choices throughout our lives. We are given opportunities to “eat clean” over and over again by a loving and forgiving God. Each time we stumble, He lovingly assists us to get back up and keep going. The choices we make each day affect our eternity in more ways than one. Each bite I take, each time I choose to be a couch potato, affects how long I have with my loved ones. Each prayer I don’t say, each religious service I duck out of, affects my eternity. Each time God calls and I ignore that in favor of “food lazy” (i.e. not wanting to go to Church or opting not to pray) affects my relationship with Him. He knows our hearts and He often places choices in our paths in order to help us grow. I have grown a lot over the past 30 days, but I don’t think the program had that in mind! To me, that’s totally a win-win! I have learned about healthy food choices and making good choices is affecting my other choices. How awesome is that?!?

cave-manger-scene

On December 24th, we sing, “Christ is born to renew the likeness that had been lost of old.” Quite often Christ comes so that we can put off the old, and adorn the new. But He also wants us to reclaim what has been lost over time, over habit, over poor choices. I want to truly prepare for this Christmas by making good choices all around. For my health, my relationships, my business, my family, my God. And so we will Whole30 on until we begin to prepare, in earnest on the start of the Nativity Fast, for the coming of the Christ Child.

 

The Gift of Life…

On Friday, a friend shared a video that was posted on The Blaze website about a mother and her reaction to her prematurely-born son, and their journey of life. He was born 3 1/2 months early and weighed barely a pound.  When she held him for the first time, she wept.  I am sure it was with joy,  but also with sorrow/trepidation at the journey that lay before them.  The video was put together by her husband, for her birthday, and it detailed their journey through the NICU, the day they brought their son home, and it continued up through his first birthday.  And I have to admit, I wept.  No, I cried.  I really, really cried.  Watching that little heart beat right through the skin of his chest just unraveled me.  I have not had the best success when it comes to bearing children.  My husband and I have suffered through 7 miscarriages in our marriage and it is hard for most people to even understand what that means.  Many of our family and friends don’t even know I’ve had that many losses.  It got to the point of just keeping quiet when my mother said to me once, “Why do you keep having babies?  You have a son; just be happy with that.”  She did not understand my desire to birth lots of kids.  My parents are both only children.  And my parents came here from New Zealand.  Think about that for a moment.  I have no aunts, uncles, or cousins.  My dad’s parents eventually moved to the USA to be near him and their grandchildren.  My parents had me and my brother and opted to not have any more children.  My dad always joked and said, “We had one of each; any more would have been repeats.”  Our holiday dinners consisted of six people.  My parents, grandparents, and my brother and me.  Pretty quiet, tame, and boringly British.  I longed for the chaos of a large family.  We had good family friends who were Greek.  Now there was a fun family!!  They only had two daughters themselves, but man oh man, where there ever cousins, aunts, uncles, 2nd and 3rd cousins, etc.  I loved holidays at their house. I learned to roll grape leaves and make Wedding Cookies as a young girl.  I loved being in the kitchen with all the ladies, the noise, and the wonderful foods cooking.  My quiet, staid, British heritage always seems dry and boring to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love British food; I was raised on it, and I love being British and am proud of my heritage, but I always longed to be a part of a large family.

When I met my husband, he rocked my world.  To start with, he was pretty cute!  And a man of deep faith, and it was like a moth to the flame!  I was immediately drawn to his faith life; I wanted that for myself.  And then he had 3 siblings, his dad was the oldest of 10 kids, his mom the eldest of 3 kids, and they were Volga River Russians!  On both sides! How exotic!  My first holiday with them, I was freaked out.  There were going to be 17 people at the dinner table and I was a nervous wreck.  How would I remember all their names?  Which kids went with which set of parents?  My future husband thought to calm me by saying, “Don’t worry! This is my mom’s side; there aren’t very many of them!!”  Ha-Ha-Ha!  It was one of the most fun Christmases ever.  I learned about snow and I taught them to love snow all over again. My father-in-law was tickled by the fact that I noticed how the snow sounded under my feet – crunch crunch crunch!  He never forgot that.  I met several of my father-in-law’s siblings and while we stopped alongside the road to chat with an aunt,  I saw my first snowflake, too.  I always thought when we cut them out of paper at school it was all make-believe.  I didn’t know snow flakes really looked like that (California girl!!).

fallen-star.img_assist_custom-600x400My husband and I married on December 29th, almost 29 years ago.  I loved winter and wanted a Christmas or New Year’s Wedding and got as close as I could.  We had no snow on our wedding day, but it snowed the day after and kept snowing for about a week.  We were married in Colorado with all his myriad family in attendance.  People asked me if I was nervous to walk down the aisle and I truly wasn’t, as I only knew about 20 people there!  Hardly anyone from my side because there were just the six of us, and my grandparents were too old to travel, which cut down considerably my side. My parents had divorced and remarried by this time, and my brother brought his fiancee, so I did have 6 family members there.  My in-laws were so nice; they reminded me that St. Thomas More was set up as a sort of round church with no center aisle, so it wouldn’t look lop-sided and they would have the ushers just seat people in the center area.  I could save face! Ha-Ha!  It was an incredible, candle-lit wedding and from the moment we said “I do” my husband and I were open to the possibility of life.  We wanted children as soon as God would give them to us.  I conceived almost right away.  Our oldest son was baptized on our 1-year anniversary and each of our children has since been baptized on that same date (makes it very easy to remember!!).  Our oldest was born 5-weeks prematurely, and I should have guessed pregnancy would not be easy for me.  I lost 4 more babies before conceiving our second son, who was born 4 years after our oldest.  After his birth, I suffered three more miscarriages and God just stopped allowing me to conceive at all. We adopted our youngest son 15 years ago this month.  In about 15 days, actually!  What a blessing he has been to our family.

While watching that video, I was brought back, once again, to the fragility of human life.  I commented to my friend that maybe if science would have been more advanced all those years ago, I would have 7 more children in my life.  But then again, perhaps my “quiver” would have been full much sooner, and the joy of my youngest son would not have happened.  God knows the reason; He opens the womb and He closes the womb.  I thank God for the gift of my sons, and for all the babies I did not get to hold and love.  I think that loving through death made me stronger. It made me more sensitive to the gift of life. I met a very dear friend many, many years ago.  It was a casual meeting. She was pregnant at the time.  We struck up some wonderful conversations, but it was nothing too serious or deep.  Then she lost her baby.  I thought to call her and offer my comfort, as I knew deeply and personally her pain.  Our friendship grew from that day into something I will always treasure. Our children became friends and my husband and I are the godparents to the beautiful daughter she welcomed the very next year, after her loss.  Death bonded us together in ways no one understands.  And it also made us fiercely protective of these fragile lives of the unborn.

I know some people are fiercely protective of the right to choose.  I get that. But for me, I feel that it is a mis-construed ideology that has caused that fierceness to develop in our culture.  When we choose to engage in behavior that can produce a life, we need to take responsibility at the point we are choosing that behavior.  It is like saying that spoons make us fat; guns kill people; cars kill people…we don’t get rid of the spoon, we stop eating so much.  It is called self-control.  We don’t kill the product of our choice of behavior, we welcome that child and we change our behavior.  There are so many who cannot have children; we bear those children conceived in “error” and we allow them to be adopted. I have personal experience with adoption and it is an incredible blessing.  The right to kill another human being is wrong.  Pope John Paul II said that in a “just society” we have the right to execute people.  But our society is so far from just.  There are loop-holes, exceptions, corruption…our world is in a mess.  God is the ultimate judge, not me.  Incarceration is a completely different topic from this post, so I will not delve into it here.  I am lamenting, rather, the right to choose to kill a child.  An innocent life.  It is not the mother’s body…it is a baby in there.  It is not an organ, or her tissue.  The heart is struggling to beat, the little hands and feet are working their magic. Random tissue doesn’t have brain waves.  It is a child.  And I believe that even if we cannot afford a child, or have the life-long desire to commit to another human being (parenting is for life…it’s one of the little things people don’t tell you when you become a parent.  You just cannot turn it off even when they are parents, themselves!!) we can allow that child to have life, outside of our life, by allowing them to be adopted. It is the loving, best option.  Be chaste to your state in life.

And as I watched the video that morning, watching that little boy grow and smile, and the adoration on the face of that mother, my heart just swelled with love for my sons and for the babies I longed to hold but whose souls I know are safe in God’s care.  In this season when we celebrate the Birth of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, I offer a prayer for all our unborn babies, to come safely into this world.

This is the Christmas Kontakion, or the Kontakion of the Preparation, we sing in Church from now until Christmas Day.  I offer this as a prayer, through the story of Mary preparing to give birth to God the Son, for all our sons and daughters, and those still to come:

“Today the Virgin is on her way to the cave where she will give birth to the Eternal Word of God in an ineffable manner. Rejoice, therefore, O universe, when you hear this news, and glorify with the angels and the shepherds Him who shall appear as a newborn Babe, being God from all eternity.”

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