“To everything there is a season…”

Christmas Ornaments

Well, we did it. We put our tree up. Normally, it’s up on Black Friday. This year, I was feeling sort of bah-hum-bug-ish and did’t feel motivated to decorate. But now, I am glad we did. Sometimes we need to force ourselves to do things we may not want to, and we may even like how things turn out.

Saturday, my husband and I had a date. We went to this “door buster” sale that said it started at 7:00am. I was up and showering at 6:30, while my husband enjoyed some coffee. Off we went, expecting crowds, and me with wet hair, in the snow. We arrived to a pretty much empty lot. I was worried I got the dates wrong, checked my phone and my coupons, but I was right. We entered and remarked to the many employees, who were wearing their ugly Christmas sweaters, that we were lucky no one else arrived early. They had been expecting crowds, too. And for those of you who are men and can relate, my husband was able to relax with so few people around; shopping is not his thing. We try to spend at least one day each Christmas, just the two of us, shopping for the family. I refer to it as our Mr. and Mrs. Claus day. Last year we videod a message for our grandchildren who live out of state, while we shopped. It’s usually a good time and Saturday was no exception. We felt blessed. We had hot coffee, coupons, there were indeed “door buster” sales, and there were no crowds! And the bonus? We were home, unloaded, and sipping more coffee by 10:30am – done with our annual Christmas shopping and watching a huge snow storm!! (Which ended up lasting all of about 1 hour!) Whoot-whoot!

Christmas sales. jpg

It’s nice to set a goal, get moving, and accomplish something. And it’s nice when things sort of come together. I am working at being healthier in my approach to expectations. I know that God expects me to always do my best, especially when it comes to my faith and family. But sometimes my expectations are pretty out of whack with reality. It leads to depression and disappointment. Up here, we have so few hours of daylight during the winter, that depression is a reality. They have “happy lights” they sell at all the local stores. But one of the best things about winter and Christmas and decorating, is the lights. We have this tradition of lighting the inside, as well as the outside, of our homes – and by lighting, I mean a lot of lights!! We try to get the outside up before the first snow/freeze and the interior ones usually stay up until almost Easter or Pascha. And this year we have lots of interior lights, which just makes me smile. Most are mixed colors, some are red, and our tree is all white. So I am glad my family pressed me into decorating. It does feel good.

I am also an avid Christmas song person. My cell phone even has a Christmas ring tone. I love some of the songs that an a cappella group, Pentatonix, does. They have done an amazing job of “Mary, did you know?” If you want a treat, google them! They are worth it. We played Christmas songs off our various iPods and phones while we hung lights and decorated our tree. It was good. To add to the environment, it was snowing like crazy. Perfect!

window.tree.snow

One of the most wonderful things about being Byzantine is that through our Vespers and other prayers, as well as our Liturgical songs, we are never left surprised by the holiday or feast day approaching. The Nativity Fast is one of those things that helps us prepare for the Christ Child. I think that sharing this with others make the season so much more alive. We often skip the prep and go straight to the event. But the journey is the most important part. A pastor spoke at a funeral and the gist of what he said was when you see the dates on the death announcement, remember our lives are lived in the dash marks (like 1945-1995). And how do we fill that space? For each holiday, each season, how do we fill our days? My expectations, as I said above, make movement sometimes difficult. We freeze out of fear of doing it wrong. Within the gentle movement of the liturgical year, we are brought forward for each feast. More than likely, we fast prior to the feast. It is the Church’s way of preparing us. We sacrifice our stomach’s demands, the demands of self, and bring our reality into line, focusing on the feast. Like dragging my feet about decorating, I realized I was becoming a reluctant participant in this glorious preparation of the Nativity Feast (aka Christmas Day) because I am worried about doing it wrong. What if I neglect prayers? Proper fasting? What about all the gifts for all our family and friends? When do we see whom? What do I serve for dinner? Who goes to which home, which day/night? So many things to juggle around these high-pressure holidays.

Nativity icon

We are all called … very few come. There are some amazing things about the Nativity of Christ that get lost in all the red and green, lights and tinsel, gifts and cooking. “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.” (Kontakion of the Preparation). We’re missing the point of all this stress, all this hoopla. And I am as guilty as the next stressed-out parent! Historically, in the quiet of the desert, the Theotokos (Mother of God) was making her way, on a donkey, escorted by Joseph, her espoused husband to the land of Joseph’s birth, Bethlehem. I do not think they were concerned with anything other than finding shelter so She could give birth to the Son of God.

desert.bethlehem

How can I help myself, my friends, my family prepare for the celebration of the Birth of Christ? It is hard when many we are close to do not attend Church, and Christmas is all about Santa Claus, not even St. Nicholas. Some children I am very close to do not even know who Jesus is, let alone that Christmas is when we celebrate His birthday. And I had an “ah-ha” moment. The “ah-ha” was this: keep it simple! For Thanksgiving, I reverted to paper – plates, napkins, tablecloth, utensils, etc. I had people bring dishes to share. I simplified everything and we had a wonderful day. But since that is a secular holiday, how do we infuse Christ into this, a Holy Day, a Feast Day celebration? I am thinking, that in addition to simple, we need to share what we believe. We need to invite people to come to services at our churches with us. We need to send cards that reflect what we believe. Our priest has been talking to us (repeatedly) about Christmas cards. His point was that text messages and emails are nothing but steam, or smoke, or keystrokes. But a card? A card you can hold in your hand? A card with a personal note is like letting someone know you thought of them; that they were important enough for you to spend the time and effort to think of them, and bring them in, with you, to this joyous holiday, to that cave as we share this journey through the desert to Bethlehem.

Christmasdinner

Around our communities, our friends, our families, our tables we should share who we are and what we believe. We need to put our actions where our faith is. Too often we cave to the media’s interpretation of who we are, what our country is like, what Christmas is all about. Schools are telling teachers, parents, and students that they can no longer say “Merry Christmas” but must refrain. No mention even of Santa Claus. There will be no Christmas vacation; it’s now Winter Break. Happy Holidays, so we don’t offend anyone. Instead, let’s be the Christ Child, simple, quiet, unassuming, yet firmly who we are. Let’s invite others to share our faith walk. Let’s simplify Christmas in the gift giving and instead “do” for others. Make dates, have dinners together, park days, hikes. Shovel a neighbor’s driveway; help elderly people by singing Christmas Carols to them. Call old friends. Mend fences that need to be mended. Be present. Be loving. Above all, put self last and other first. Forgive without expectation. Love expecting no love in return. Give until you have nothing left to give. Often, even if we are reluctant to participate, or feel afraid of failing, we need to commit to being a part of this world we live in. But instead of being of the world, be in the world, but be a person of God. Sometimes, in this life, we are the only Jesus people will ever know. I know that I am reconfirming my determination to take deep breaths, reaffirm my determination to love others, and to positively share this faith I proclaim. I am going to be present when the Christ Child comes to us, and I am going to invite everyone to share in His Birthday.

“Today the virgin, gives birth to the incomprehensible One;
and the earth offers a cave to the unapproachable One;
Angels and shepherds glorify Him;
the Wisemen journey with a star;
since for our sakes is born the ETERNAL GOD, as a little Child.”

Christ is Born

“Be kind to one another…”

be kind

That quote is from the book of Ephesians, in the Bible. The above art is by Ramon Lo. It felt right, somehow. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Eph 4:32  I chose the art because even though it has these lovely swirls in it, I also saw it as being said in the midst of explosions. And quite rightly so, in the wake of all the violence we saw this weekend. Unfortunately, it was not just in Paris, but also in Beruit, Kenya, Lebanon… on and on it goes. The common thread? ISIS. Muslims.

I read the most fantastic article today. It appealed to me because it was full of history. I think it should be mandatory! “Christianity & Islam: Are We at War?” by Father Mitch Pacwa SJ (shared online by http://www.stmarkbeaman.org). It was full of information and perspective. I highly recommend it. I learned so much. And it fed my desire to write this all out.

I was chastised for putting up a meme on Facebook recently, by a friend. It made me think, and I am still thinking, and pondering the comment. The meme was posted by a site called, “Dysfunctional Vets.” Dysfunctional Vets Meme

I don’t particularly like violence. I abhor war, because I know up close and personal what being at war can do to a person. So I do not advocate violence. But as a country, a culture, a world, how do we stop a violent people? A people whose agenda requires them to obliterate their enemy? If one of theirs comes to know Christ and coverts, it is required that they be killed, and all those who allowed them to covert be killed. They do not consider Christians or Jews to be “of the book.” The article I mentioned above does a fantastic job of explaining all of the differences in the sects within the Muslim belief system. It is also very important to know that the Muslim faith has no “governing board,” no “ultimate authority” on what you have to believe and what you don’t. It is up to each independent believer to decide for themselves. So when they spout, “We are not a violent religion,” what they are saying is the particular Imam they follow, and the particular verses they believe in, do not espouse violence. But at least half of those who follow Mohammed are violent. And that is who is bombing, beheading, raping, killing, stealing, destroying… throughout the world. So how do we thwart this violence? Because I am fairly certain they will not stop until all of those who are not “of the book” are removed. And they do not believe in living side-by-side. They do not espouse co-existing. It is their way or death. And if you think they will allow a country to be Christian, to attend Christian Churches, have Christian artwork, books (including the Bible) under Muslim Sharia Law, you are kidding yourself. Ask someone in Syria… ask why they are fleeing by the millions.

The Syrian refugees who are trying to escape, the families ravaged by war, the Christians who flee because they know to stay means execution – those are the refugees I would help. Those are the people I would welcome. But has anyone looked at who is coming in?Have you watched in Germany? Switzerland? France? Have you seen the demographics of the refugees storming the borders in Europe? If you can peek through the political correctness and main-stream-media hype, you will see the vast majority are men and boys. Now, sit back and ask yourself why that is. I am not suggesting they are all militant jihadists. (But that does bear pondering over). What I am suggesting is that they do not bring their wives or daughters because women don’t count for much in their culture. They take care of their goats better than their daughters. A wife is disposable, tradable, and definitely replaceable. From what was once a matriarchal society to what the Islamic countries have now become, insofar as the rights of women and girls, it makes you sick to your stomach (especially to me, because I am a woman and a Christian).

In one town in Germany, home to about 100 people, they’ve had 1000s of refugees arrive.(Here’s one link: http://www.wnd.com/2015/10/german-town-of-100-must-take-1000-syrian-migrants/). It’s wreaking havoc as people across Europe try to deal with all these refugees. And Obama wants us to do the same here. And frankly, it scares me. We can barely manage to care for our own. We have homeless veterans who are not cared for. We have the mentally ill who are left to roam the streets. Runaway teens, drug users, the homeless for whom we do not care. We have joblessness already. How are we expected to take in more people, with no discernible job skills, into our already-broken and overloaded system? As a former welfare office manager, I can attest to how we are not ready to care for refugees. We can’t care for the people born here, or already living here. And we are a country that keeps raising its debt ceiling, printing worthless money, and hasn’t had a balanced budget in recent memory. I only wish the government would allow us citizens to balance our private debts and checkbook like they do!! This is a country that devalues human life so much, it is perfectly legal to kill unborn and recently-born children. How are we to care for these refugees? Who will care for them? Will you? Your church?Will you willingly house them? Feed them? Clothe them? What about that disabled veteran who fought for us over in the Middle East, who has to live on the streets or in shelters? Are you caring for him? If not, how can you expect to care for the hundreds of thousands of refugees Obama wants to allow in? Is your city, your town, your neighborhood ready?

“Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4: 4-6

I know my friend was surprised by the meme about violence. Because I am generally a Philippians 4 person. I really am. But historically, we have battled with these sorts of zealots before. Many times. As the parent of a veteran, my hackles rise when I am expected to bring in people to care for, when we don’t care for our vets, let alone people who have no discernible skill sets or ways to support themselves. There is so much deeply imbedded in how we divvy out our benefits; costs and Federal requirements no one has a clue about. Did you know that if a certain percentage of the population speaks a specific language, and English is not the primary language spoken in the home, the state requires that all documentation be provided in their own language? That each public entity serving that populace must hire workers who speak that language and are part of that demographic? That banks, landowners who rent, service agencies (even car dealerships, etc) have all documentation available in that language? And it is based on the most current census numbers. Except when the Federal Government sends in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Arabic-only speaking countries. Do you realize the expense incurred for having to translate everything into the various Arabic dialects? And having to hire Arab speakers at all government agencies? Banks? Doctor’s offices? Hospitals? On and on the burden goes.

No, I do not advocate violence. I truly do not. But quite often it is the sole way evil can be stopped. We’ve done it before. Read history. And do the other half of the Muslim believers, those who are bombing places like Paris, expect an outcome wherein they take over? Well, yes; yes they do. They actually think that by bombing, breeding, and otherwise infiltrating the Western World, they will take it over and the Muslim belief system and Sharia Law will rule the world. How do we thwart that, and stop it in its tracks? (Read some history on Vlad the Impaler).

I'll see you

I tend towards being a prepper, and even though we haven’t prepped much, we still believe the ideas are pretty good. Living where we do, it makes lots of sense just from a natural disaster point of view, let alone civil and/or international unrest. It may be necessary with weather, earthquakes, and now violence. And I do favor open-carry laws, and definitely defend the 2nd Amendment. I do not believe we need a national registry for gun owners, or that the government should come and take our weapons from us (look what happened in Paris, a gun-free zone). And I heartily support our troops who are serving and all those who have served before. (Thank you for your service). I do not want to harm the already-harmed refugee families fleeing the enemy – Islam in its ugliest forms. Most especially Christians fleeing from Islamic terrorism. But how do we fix this? Our country’s landscape will forever be changed with this many refugees coming in, all at once. It will no longer be Apple Pie and the American Way. It just won’t be able to remain what we all have loved.

151116-eiffel-tower-red-white-blue-1240p_6eac43f24b6e3c7448aef4c6cfb525a9.nbcnews-fp-1200-800

This weekend, I watched the TV coverage of the Paris attacks and I wept. Why? Because this world is nothing like the world I was born into, or even what it was 15-20 years ago. I cried because I lived through VietNam. The entire saga of the Middle East, historically, and in my time, the Hostage Crisis during the 1972 Olympics clear through to when Operation Desert Storm began in earnest, up to and including lives lost this week. We have a long history in the Middle East. They are against every thing we believe in and stand for. And I cried this weekend because I realized my 16-year-old was too young to remember 9/11 – this was his first view of an Islamic attack on a free people. He only watches YouTube videos from 9/11. I cried because I have no certainty for his future without bloodshed. And when I thought of my little grandbabies, I wept even more. What is the world we will leave to them? What will the world become, my country become, in the next 5-10 years? Will we recover from Obama? We will stop this modern Horde? Can we bring this world, this country, our culture back? I am doubtful. Historically, they were referred to as the Muslim Horde clear back to 710 AD.  [There’s a great article I tried to cite, but for some reason it didn’t let me.  The link is this: http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/medieval/articles/muslimhorde.aspx  The article was written by Robert C. Daniels (I recommend it highly, too!)]. Hordes tended to come “en masse” and obliterate their enemies. It has been repeated over and over again, throughout history, back to Mohammed himself (570 AD – 632 AD).

view-overlooking-helena

I still think we need to be a Christian people and that we desperately need to cling to the tenets of our faith. But we also need to be prepared to defend our faith, our freedoms, our culture, our way of life. Because if the sects of the Muslim faith who are perpetrating all these atrocities are allowed to continue unchecked, this world, as you and I know it, will no longer exist. Yes, pray for France, for Paris. But also pray for Beruit, Kenya, Lebanon, the entire Middle East… and our free world. Because I firmly believe these people “of the book” are determined that all those of us not “of the book” need to be exterminated. I don’t see a peaceful option out of this. I am so tired of the nice guys being trampled upon. But to my faith, I hungrily cling, as a man in a parched desert seeks water, “O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Psalm 63:1

heart-inspiration-life-love-peace-favim-com-223945