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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Kneeling Prayer.Orthodox Church

 

 

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

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

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

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

May the Lord grant you many blessed years.

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“…if you live in the fear of man…”

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So so much in my head…swimming around. We have so much on our plates, but that is cool. It keeps us moving and motivated! Ha-Ha! We attended a class on house buying. Those of you who know us also know we’ve owned homes before. What’s cool is that if you have not owned in the past three years, you are considered a “first time home buyer.” Which is so very cool. And in Alaska, they have so many loan products for you, waiting to assist you in buying a home here. Our second night is tonight, so my brain will probably explode. Again. So much information!!

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And in addition, we have decisions coming up that are important, life-changing ones. We are preparing to care for my mom, who has Alzheimer’s. So we are looking into a larger residence, in preparation to have her live with us. We need to decide where the best place will be for us to live. We have so many factors to take into consideration. And when you have a huge decision to make, what do you do? Well, you start by taking a deep breath and praying about it. And I mean seriously praying, in light of Gospel principles…

“Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope…”

Lord, We come before You and place our deepest and heartfelt desires at Your feet. We have a decision to make and we want it to be in Your best interest, according to Your will and plans for our life. We pray for guidance for the best choices in life, through all the blessings You bestow, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

When I prepare to make a huge decision that will affect not only me, but my entire family, I completely place it in God’s hands. I am just not qualified to make these decisions, based on solely my own judgement. And isn’t it really what our faith is? We trust in the Lord to guide our steps. Every step we take is either a step towards God, or a step away from Him. And I want to walk in the path He has selected for me, for my best welfare. Quite often, in the face of a heavy decision, we are faced with a multitude of choices, among a multitude of opinions and advice. It is often hard to single out the Word of God for us.

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When you are placing yourself in God’s hands, these large decisions, even if there is a multitudinous cacophony around you, can be realized in the quiet peace of being in the presence of God. I liken it to being in a crowd and feeling alone. Most of us know what that is like. Even though we are in a crowded room, we often feel alone, even lonely. And sometimes, we are able to block out all the other sounds, but our own hearts; our own breaths. That is what it is like, coming into the presence of our Creator. But truly, we are always in the presence of God. And when we listen for the stillness amongst the chaos, we can find His peace, and His answer to our prayers. I have quite often heard that if it is from God, it will happen; it will flow; it will be easy, simple. Most decisions that are fraught with chaos are those we make, taking full responsibility for them, without input from God.

I was asked recently how I handle these decisions and the stress. I can tell you this past Christmas was one of our worst. We were lonely. We did not celebrate; not really. It was pretty in that it was a white Christmas and our parish had some wonderful ice sculptures and Nativity pieces, and our older children and grandchildren tended Mass with us (the kids were the highlight of the evening!!). But we were missing something. I realized that we were missing the Godly element in Christmas. And it makes it sort of hollow and empty. It’s not for us to receive gifts, it is for us to receive the Christ Child in our hearts and in our lives. And this missing element caused a lot of unknown-origin-stress, so much so that I had severe heart palpatations that lasted for 5 days. It was un-nerving in the sense that it wore me out and it was painful – my chest began to ache. I had been diagnosed with this a few years ago, and it is not life-threatening, but it is bothersome. But it was my stress, coming out in my body. Not good, my friends, not good. But why? Because I was doing things without God, without sincere, deep prayer. I also did not fast this year. Bad, bad, bad. Fasting precedes feasting – the one is hollow without the other. And so to answer my friend, I told her that I needed to pray and when I found peace, I knew God was in the answer, and not man; not me. Joyce Meyer, an evangelist and author, wrote an entire article entitled, “Following Peace to Make the Right Decisions (here is the link: http://www.joycemeyer,org) and in her article she says:

“Colossians 3:15 clearly tells us how. It says, And let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts [deciding and settling with finality all questions that arise in your minds]…. “If you follow God’s leadership, you will have peace, joy and righteousness.” If you follow God’s leadership, you will have peace, joy, righteousness, and you’ll bear good fruit. What you won’t be is confused and frustrated. God never leads us to busy ourselves so much that we’re stressed out all the time and have no joy. And He won’t try to confuse your mind—that’s the enemy’s job. To find where your peace lies, simply ask yourself: Is there a scripture that applies to my situation? What does the Word say I should do? For example, if there’s something you want to buy but you don’t have enough in your bank account to buy it, it’s probably best to wait because God doesn’t want us to be in debt (see Romans 13:8). Many times, God’s Word sounds a lot like common sense. I encourage you to let the peace in your heart decide with finality every question that arises in your mind.”

And I believe that; I truly do. She also talks about seeking guidance from friends: “The Bible does say there’s safety in a multitude of counselors (see Proverbs 11:14). But you could ask 10 different people about your situation and end up with 10 different answers. One thing you should ask yourself is, Am I seeking wise counsel? A lot of times, we end up asking people who don’t even know what they’re doing. Or they may have a selfish motive. Keep this in mind: True counseling leads you to God; it doesn’t try to run your life.”

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And so we will take in all this information we are being given about home buying. We will listen to those with wisdom and a Godly outlook. We will listen and pay attention to those who have done this and come out ahead. We will listen to the experts in the field, but also place a mantle of Godly wisdom and prayer over the whole thing. We cannot expect to be guardians of more if we are not wise guardians of what we have now. We cannot expect God’s blessing on our decisions if we do not seek His wisdom in choosing. We cannot expect an easy life, either. My grandma used to say that my husband and I were going straight to heaven because of all the things that seem to happen to us. And in a way, I loved that she said that. Each time you try to approach life in the arms of God, the evil one tries to interfere and take you down. Evil is lurking just outside our line of sight, waiting to help take us down. And so we need to be wise in the ways of God, and simple. The more complex and chaotic, the easier it is for evil to enter into the mix. God comes in the quiet and stillness of our hearts and true Peace is ours, and our decisions are blessed, when He enters into the picture. The name of the game is to persevere in faith towards God, not towards man and the many obstacles placed in our way by the wiles of this world.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

As Joyce Meyer says in her article:  “If you feel something strongly in your heart, you’ve prayed about it and it goes along with Scripture, then follow your heart. If you feel led to make a decision that others don’t like, you shouldn’t have to give an unreasonable amount of explanation for what you feel led to do. Maybe you don’t know why—you just sense that’s just what you’re supposed to do. God has a plan, and you are part of that plan, but you won’t live it if you live with the fear of man. What do you think God is saying to you? What are you sensing from God? Ultimately, you need to take responsibility for making the decision that brings peace to your heart. If you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. But being true to what God has put on your heart is the key to your happiness.”

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“Lord, wrap your arms around those hurting today…”

In a roundabout way, I want to address the election, but on the other hand, I want to steer clear! Conundrum! Weather on! We are all in this together.

2 Chronicles 7:14 – “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

I attended an evening of prayer and worship that was hosted at a movie theater, and was hosted by Kirk Cameron, of TV fame. I spent over two hours with other people, listening to Christian leaders talk about our country, where it was, and where it could go. We sang, we prayed, we listened. It was an amazing evening. And it was very worth my time. Being staunchly pro-life, I use that as my chalk line. As most of you know, that is an issue I do not, and will not, budge on. That being said, I could not vote the Democratic ticket. But neither am I a good Republican. I am too conservative for either, and find myself leaning more towards a Constitutionalist, rather than an Independent, although that is what I am officially called. But this time, I was in that “drain the swamp” mode and wanted a clean slate, from top to bottom. I don’t think either side truly represents me, nor the people of this country. Both sides are corrupt, with the exception of a few. But I also felt that it was time for a bull-dog business person to clean things up; to look at our country with a business eye. I certainly am not allowed to operate my household budget like D.C. has done with the Federal Budget. Oh my. How can you donate millions for war or earthquake relief when you cannot pay your own country’s debts? When you cannot pay for the basic necessities of your people? Why send billions overseas when there are needs at home? I do not advocate isolationism, although I am thinking that we live in a glass house and should not be throwing stones. We are not the world’s babysitter. We do, however, affect the entire world by how we manage our own affairs.

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I’m not sure if this was the hand of God, or if the silent majority woke up and wasn’t going to stay at home any longer. The working man, who shoulders the majority of the burden of financing this country, decided that complacency wasn’t working any longer. That most of us were tired of political correctness. We were tired of paying more for everything and having something like 90 million out of work. And having so many of those even stop trying to get a job. Or the fact that Obamacare does not work and it is costing more than we have. It is cheaper in some cases to take the IRS fine than it is to pay those premiums! Or that we have had Common Core foisted upon us, and if the recent days of rioting by college students, and even high school students, is any indication, it is not working. We have been subjected to more than 40 years of the ideology of socialism and communism slowly seeping into our thought processes, that we did not even notice. Until this election cycle. Until Wikileaks. Until the media was shown to have lied to the people and been a part of this vast manipulation of our thoughts and actions. I do know that we were offered, time after time, the option to pray with others for our nation. We were offered olive branches from conservatives, across the aisle, only to have them slapped out of their hands. There is no camaraderie between the political elites and those of us who actually pay their salaries. They forgot who their bosses were – the American people. And we rose up and chose an alternate route. There are those who will say, but without the Electoral College, the other side would have won. But you know, watching all those polling places and the thousands of complaints about voter fraud, I’m going to err on the side of caution. I do not think the popular vote landed where they say it did. I think more votes will come in and need to be added. It takes months for the final count to be tallied. And I believe in our process. I believe in the Electoral College system. It truly works. Thanks be to God that New York or California cannot dictate to me, an Alaskan, what I can or cannot do. The time for the popular vote to count, for President, is in the caucuses and primaries. It is when we choose who will represent us. The popular vote only counts down ticket for federal and local representatives and issues we face, locally. We are not a democracy! We are a Democratic Republic. We select representatives who vote for us, who represent us in Washington. I wish people understood the process, because if they did, I don’t think they’d be rioting and burning the flag.

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Sort of off-topic, but really not, is the issue today I stumbled across. Make up. Yes, cosmetics. Why do young women spend so much time, effort, and money on make up? They do it when their skin is at its best. Why cover that up? Why not be who you really are? You don’t wear it as a girl; I don’t bother with it as an older woman. What is the point? Well, it is to present our best self for the selection process. Not just for a mate. But we do it for jobs, for our friends, for peer pressure. We pretend to be who we are not. Red hair? Green hair? Covering our gray? Colored contact lenses to change our natural eye color. Then there is plastic surgery and tooth replacements. We wear wigs. We get “human hair” extensions. We pluck, we wax, we color. Why? Why not just celebrate who we are? I have a friend who always wears at least mascara. We became friends our freshman year in high school. I never saw her without make-up until college. It was un-nerving. She looked so innocent and young and beautiful, but she still doesn’t think so. Even at 60, she always has a full face of make-up. And then there is chemical enhancement. We are too nervous to be ourselves, so we take a drink to relax around others. We smoke pot. We drop pills. Anything to improve who we are and what we are doing. I think our country just learned what it is like to rip off the wig, the make-up, the false picture that was painted for us by stump speeches and op ed pieces and false data. The country has been laid bare and I don’t know about you, but it’s un-nerving and this is far more than mascara. We are a mess, my friends. Truly a mess.

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This image is a few years old, but it meant a lot to me. Priests walking with the cross in amongst rioting in eastern Europe. Trying to bring sense to the situation; to bring the peace of Christ to a people who were starving for it and did not even realize it. What is America starving for?

I think we are starving for a place where we feel safe. Where each person is appreciated for their unique gifts they bring to the world. Where we can care for those among us who cannot care for themselves. Where we can offer a fair day’s wage for work. Where we can return dignity and love to places filled with gun shots and hatred, drugs and gangs. Where we can know the preciousness of each life, from a natural conception to a natural death. Where we can work with our hands and produce goods we can be proud of. Did you know that we, as a country, spend more on imports than on exports? We had $189 billion in exports as of September 2016. We had $225 billion in imports for that same period. So we bought more foreign goods than we sold to other countries. Again. Why? Well, it’s cheaper to produce products out of country than in. The costs to do business are so high here. Ask a small business owner. Ask them about Obamacare costs, and unemployment insurance, and minimum wage costs. We need to get back to some basics in our country.

When I was a kid, we went to school at 9 am and were out again at 3 pm. No longer. Kids go in about 7:30am (some places earlier) and some do not get home until 5 pm or later. Our local high school does lunch at 10:30 am. Lunch! Weird. Recess? Short. About 2 a day for 15 minutes each. Not enough to still wiggles in kids. So we medicate them. Yeah. Been there; done that. Had a child drool through two years of school until I just said no and brought them home. We are producing children who are not able to think for themselves, nor are they able to function in the cutthroat world of business. When you get a trophy for just showing up, it is hard when the real world tells you no. Look at our city streets the last couple of days. Millennials were finally told no. And they did not take it well.

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When it comes to the elected officials, they will not affect how our children are raised. That is our job. How our children perceive the world is on us. Our families need prayer now more than ever. Our country needs prayer more than ever. If I saw a video on TV of college students rioting, and saw my child burning our flag and marching shouting the profanities they are shouting, I would weep at my own failure. Why would I think my child would react that way? Being upset about how things turn out is a part of life. Rioting takes this into another realm of unhealthy reactions. I wept when my candidates were defeated over the past two election cycles, but I did not burn my flag. I love my country; I just increased my prayers for her livelihood and safety. I did not threaten to leave (and not follow through on my threats) but I chose to stay and work to make things better. My children learn by my example, by the example of the adults in their lives. I share stories of heroes from history and scripture. I share stories of the martyrs for the faith; of those who gave their all so I am safe in my bed at night. I allow them to witness and experience dissent, but I never allow disrespect nor outright violence against others. I remember once when our eldest son was playing high school baseball. He got so angry at a poor at-bat that he threw the bat. His own coach kicked him out of the game. He told him that he needed to have respect for his teammates, for the game itself, the equipment he was given to use, the officials and their calls, and for himself. The error was his own fault. It was a wise lesson. It affected more than my son – everyone there saw and heard his discipline (he also realized that football, rugby, and ice hockey fit his personality much better). But he also learned to control his reaction to things. It’s something our hedonistic society has not taught our youth. And with so many parents partaking of the “me” generation, they think providing them with stuff and working, rather than being a parent first, is developing their children. It is not. Ask a teacher. We need to get back to family-first and times solely spent with our children. We need to reinstitute reasonable curfews and keep kids at home, rather than wandering the streets. We need to bring our faith back into our families. If you have not prayed for or with your children, or left the Church long ago, God is open-armed and waiting. Praying is nothing more than directing your thoughts to God. He is always listening.

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We’re in a storm. That is evident. But we can be at peace. We can choose to be at peace. Each morning, when we rise, we choose how our attitudes will be. Start with a grateful heart (you woke up! That’s a plus!) and then move throughout your day, just saying thank you for the little graces thrown your way (the guy who lets you meld on the highway; the coworker who says good morning and means it; the short line at the grocery store; a parking place not too far away in a snow storm; a safe journey home at the end of the day; the family and home you have waiting for you). We can choose to become a part of the solution, or we can remain outside, and a part of the problems we are all facing. We have choices. I would say that America chose on Tuesday. How you choose to proceed is up to you. Choose wisely.

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“…God will have the last word.”

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I really should be doing something else. But my heart has been heavy for months now. I have piles of laundry and the dust boulders have slaughtered the dust bunnies (so sad). My kitchen overwhelms me right now. But I know I have got this. Or I will get to it. I am confident in that. So I am allowing myself time to heal. Not sure what to heal from, but it sort of feels like coming out of a cocoon. The funny thing is that snow is almost here. Which is odd because most people feel that pull from winter to bust out and celebrate the sunshine, etc. I have always been a little odd. So I feel like I am putting off summer, and everything from it, and waiting desperately for the quiet and peace of snow…pretty lights…fires in the wood stove…the scents of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am so looking forward to it.

alaskan-snow-cabin

Some people say that there are things afoot that will happen this winter. There are all sorts of conspiracies out there. And some point to some sort of energy crisis, not accidental but on purpose, that wreaks havoc on the world. One of those blasts that stops all computers and cars and engines. Or perhaps Russia will get angry enough about Syria and send some bombs our way. Or perhaps there will be an uprising because of all the civic unrest in our cities over so many subjects. This presidential election has certainly been one of disgust in the caliber of those running. Dirt is flying all over the place. It is becoming more of a dirt-flinging contest than a “this is what I will do for you as your next President” conversation. Underlying all of that are the problems with the parties being disgusted with their own candidates. I will not judge. Are there things in my past I regret? Are there vocabulary words I wish I had not bandied about? Hey, I was in a sorority and a little sister at a fraternity. I know some pretty saucy drinking songs. That is not something to brag about. It is something to repent over. Have I made poor choices in my life, before becoming a wife and mother? You bet I have. Thanks be to God, He is there, helping me up each time I fall. Repentance is between the repentant and the forgiver. It is not for public consumption. And I cannot not, nor will I, judge another’s words or behaviors from decades ago. There is plenty of dirt flying around both camps that take care of that for me. But all of this weighs heavily on my heart. I feel like this is a precursor to much more to come.

candles-church

“Woe to the shepherd who misled and scattered the flock of my pasture, says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people: You have scattered the my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply. I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the Lord.” Jeremiah 23: 1-4

I cling to Scriptures like this when I get all depressed about our world and our country, even our church or local faith communities. And I realize that there are much greater things going on than we can see, from our little perspective. We sit in our homes, our cars, our churches, at our jobs, and we make huge proclamations about the world and life. When those in power make a decision, we decry their idiocy. I do it, too. Sometimes when the Pope makes a statement, I actually cringe. But I don’t sit where he sits. When some dignitary makes a weird statement, I try not to argue back at the TV. I’m in a little town in Alaska. How can I judge the world-wide stage from some little backwater place?

God, however, has the ultimate view. He sees it all, from the inception of the world (“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” Genesis 1:3) to its bitter end (“Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with Me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Revelations 22:13). And I know He is keeping an eye out for us all. He promised so much to those who believe. He said to Peter (and to us), “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on the earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”… (Matthew 16:18-19). He has set his guard around His Church and not even Hell can destroy it. Some people believe there is evil in this world and it is afoot and doing its best to bring about total chaos, the total rejection of religion, and even a one-world-government. Some even say that a certain Democratic candidate has it in for the Jewish, Evangelical, and Catholic Churches in particular, which are seen as the enemy. Why? Because we stand for the basic biblical principles this nation was founded on, in the words of our founders (please take a minute to read this. It is crucial we all know what we are up against):

Declaration of Independence:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

At times it is okay to say “enough is enough” and to clean house and get a fresh start. Sort of like me, with my piles of laundry and dust boulders in my hallway. Sometimes it is okay to just say “enough” and start again, renewed with vitality and strength and purpose, because we are just tired. Tired of how it is and where it is going. Our country is getting to that point where we need to just start over. Not abolish what was established by our Founders; not at all. We need to get back to that foundational culture. We’ve swerved so far out of our lane, we’re close to crashing into others. (Like Russia, or the various  powers of the Middle Eastern terrorists, ISIS, and others who would see this country forever altered). I am not in fear for our Church. No country, no ideology, no government, will change our beliefs. The Church survived years under the communists in Russia and is once again thriving. It survived because mothers and grandmothers kept praying and teaching their children – they would not bow to communism in their homes. On the surface, yes, they capitulated so they could have shelter and food on the tables for their families. But in the night, behind darkened windows, they shared the Truth of God with their children. And now the faith has once again seen the light of day, it is flourishing. In the USA, at present, a certain candidate thinks there is power in going against the Catholic Church by getting subversives in there. That is such wrong thinking. It is the ROMAN Catholic Church…not the American Catholic Church. If that person wants to change the Church in America, then they would have to visit the Vatican. It isn’t happening, regardless of what those 3% of dissenters want. If they want change, they can find it in a different Church. Evangelicals are also not going anywhere. They hold fast to the Truths found in Scripture. The Right-to-Life, ProFamily stances on marriage, sexual Identity issues…they hold to the Biblical principles on all these issues, as does the Catholic Church. We are united in defending these principles. How do you think Target is doing with their bathroom stance and the boycott? Christians are starting to wake up and realize that they are in the majority. We can do this. We can take our country back, and return it to the country we all love. And we can clean the House and Senate, even our local legislators can be changed. This vote is pivotal. The Supreme Court will forever be changed this election cycle. Think about it.

snowbridge

And so it is almost winter. Things are happening. Yes, things are moving at a breakneck speed. Some of it is really, really ugly. Some of it is tolerable. Some of it is just a plain joke. And some of it is disgusting. However, change is always hard. It is always requires some sort of sacrifice. It always demands we hunker down and push through whatever it is that is causing us to sink, or whatever it is we need to rise above. I read a blog post recently, and I have searched and searched for it and I can’t find it again. But that post stuck with me. One of the sentiments the author shared was that in our world, in our country, at this moment, we don’t need more of the same. We don’t need another lapdog who takes food from the hands of those with the most tasty power. What we need now is an attack dog that will not take no for an answer, and who will get the job done. An idiom often quoted is that the right person comes along when they are needed most. Was Winston Churchill a pleasant man? By most eyewitness accounts, he was not. He spoke harshly and used profane language, had a wandering eye, and loved his drinks. But was he right for the world during World War II? He certainly was. Another man is General Patton. His antics are legendary, as is his temper. There are countless stories about him, in the field of war and in the arena of politics. He really did not like politicians. He would not suffer idiots or do-nothings. His vulgar language and some of his habits made the news worldwide. But was he the right man to lead our troops in World War II? He certainly proved that. If we look at pivotal moments in history, we, as a culture, were not guided by limp or weak people. And sycophants who bow to foreign leaders, and do not stand in their presence in defense of our country, cannot be tolerated at this moment in our history. In the past, we were guided by guard dogs, who were intent on protecting our way of life. And that is what we need now. America needs strength in leadership so this world will know that we are strong. We have to repair our feckless image on the international stage. We also have to work to become a solid people once again, to love one another regardless. To put away our petty differences and celebrate our unique place in this world. We need to re-establish the America I grew up in, where we did not lock our doors, or worry when the kids were out after dark. We need to get back to that idyllic time when life was safe. I have no blinders on my eyes, but I know there is better than what we have, and where we seem to be headed, should we choose the wrong path.

worship

We need to get back to worshipping and loving God, and loving one another. This election is sticky…all of us are cringing about some part of it. But in the long run, if we honestly face where we have come from and what is looming in our future, for a free people, we need to unite behind one of these proposed leaders. [Side bar: I cannot, in good conscience, support anyone who is not pro-life. It is my line in the sand. Can’t get past that. For me, it determines character. To take innocent life so easily frightens me. It is callous and selfish. It is not about a woman’s right to choose. It is about allowing that human being who has been shown to have a beating heart at 16 days, to live. If it is not convenient for you, you should have thought about that before engaging in the type of behavior wherein the outcome is pregnancy. There is no excuse for abortion – ever. Go ahead and line up your data on saving the mother for me. There is none. As the mother of 9 children and only two of them breathing, talk to me about high risk pregnancy. Nothing you can tell me will change my mind.] Only one of them can be our president. I would suggest reading the Scriptures, reading the Church Fathers on some of these issues, consulting with your clergy, and praying about it. Each of us has their part to play in the outcome in November. The life of our country as we know it, and our world, depends on our participation. We need to do some house cleaning…

I am now going to attack my dust bunnies and laundry piles…

dustbunnies This and that…woman-on-laundry-pile

 

“…do it alone, person-to-person.”

Saint_Innocent_Orthodox_Cathedral_Anchorage_Alaska

This is Saint Innocent’s, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Anchorage. There have been some amazing stories about the influences here in Alaska from the Russian Orthodox Church. There are gorgeous onion domes all over this state. We just celebrated the wonderful, “Seward’s Folly” anniversary in March. The United States paid Russia $7.2 million in 1868.

Holy Assumption_Kenai_Church

The oldest Orthodox Church is Holy Assumption in Kenai, pictured above. It was built in 1840. I love that! And it is still in use today. We have so much to thank the Russian Missionaries for, here in Alaska. The combined Orthodox and Native cultures are such a blessing here. I love learning new things and have thought of learning a native language…just not sure which one I would choose, as there are over 20 of them to learn!

Alaskan Native Map

Our Alaskan heritage is rich, in both culture, foods, and also in faith. There are so many differing faiths in such a relatively un-populated state. There are more than 36 denominations of Christian churches in Alaska, which include the Orthodox. But there is no list that contains other faiths, such as Jewish or Muslim. The variation is amazing, considering this state only has about 600,000 year-round residents in 663,300 square miles. The population density, if it were to be placed in Manhattan, would have 14 people living there. Ha-Ha! Conversely, if Alaska had the same population density of Manhattan, then there would be 40,843,544,807 people in Alaska. Or approximately 5.8 times the current population of the entire world. It is fascinating to me that a state as large as Alaska, with as few people as we have, expresses itself so diversely. We have the top three most diverse high schools in the entire NATION. It is really interesting.

StAndrewsEagleRiver

Why bring this up? Well, we have started attending (fairly regularly) a parish, pictured above, very close to home. And yesterday, as I looked around the Church, I noticed this diversity. It was not only in race, but in gender and age, too. There were several families with handicapped children of various ages. There was this one couple where the husband struggled with his wife’s wheelchair, commenting to us, “Thank goodness the way back to the car is downhill!” One of the men helping to organize the upcoming Mass asked our son to assist in bringing up the gifts (something he’s been asked to do more than once before). And as they walked in with the gifts, I noted the diversity of those walking up. Two boys, two girls. One hispanic, one black, one white, one native. How cool was that?

And so we worship as a family…all of us gathered under that roof. We knelt as one body, in worship of Our Lord. The Russian Missionaries came to this land, not able to communicate with the native peoples living here, and yet they brought many to the Church. Our local parish offers us anonymity and yet allows us to share and be a part of something larger than ourselves. We come together, sharing a common faith, sharing at a common table. We come so very damaged, in search of the Divine Physician. Our souls ache with all the disparity and violence in this life, seeking a commonality with like-minded believers. We struggle, each of us, with our personal salvation. Each of us, when it comes right down to that last breath, have a personal salvation we need to work out. Each of us approaches our Lord a little differently, and He is there for each of us, in our differences and in our likenesses. But He encourages us to seek one another, to share in our life of faith. He encourages community, because “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” (John Donne).

Racial hands prayer

When we chose to adopt outside of our race, we knew many on both sides of the issue would have problems with it. Most who did, had the problems because they were (1) unfamiliar with interracial adoption, or (2) had never interacted with someone of another race on such an intimate level before, or (3) were afraid it would not last and the child would be rejected because of the interracial communion within a family, or even (4) could not imagine one race wanting a child of a different race. Of course, for us, it was all unfounded. I love the son of my heart like I love my sons of my flesh. I forget he is of another race, because he is just my son. He shared that all this “Black Lives Matter” thing is messing with his mojo. He said people are afraid to talk to him, thinking he’ll get upset or something. And he says it is hurting the mixing of races, which is something he has never had a problem with until recently. He also told me, “Mom, we really are not different races. We are just the human race. The rest is just dressing.” We talked about how under the skin, we all look the same. All our parts are in the same place; surgeons don’t learn different procedures for different races. So why is there still so much separation? Anger? Hatred? Distrust?

Mother Theresa

It’s funny that the organizations that purport to want racial equality are the very ones who are inciting unrest and violence. They are not fomenting peace when it is so desperately needed. They are not protecting the “least of these,” but rather further the disintegration of the society they are supposedly trying to save. When the Russian missionaries came to Alaska, they did not wait for someone to tell them what to do. They saw a need and they fulfilled it. Mother Theresa was like that. She did not wait for the government to act. She took children off the streets and cared for them. She took people no one else would touch, and washed their wounds and fed them, giving them her undivided love and attention. She did not care who they were, what their creed was, or where they came from. She cared for everyone equally. The communities that are the most downtrodden have the most violence. There is the most unrest where there is the least work. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” was a saying derived from Scripture: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idle lips are his mouthpiece. An evil man sows strife; gossip separates the best of friends.  Wickedness loves company—and leads others into sin.” Proverbs 16:27-29. Perhaps we need to encourage all that brain power that goes into organizing protests, into organizing their communities. Perhaps organizing clean ups or job fairs or child care options. Helping each other out of the conditions they are in, and making them better. Mother Theresa established her missions in the poorest areas of the world, and started by just picking up a broom.

Broom

We all need to stop pointing fingers, as I sort of was above, and put our shoulders to the wheel, as they say, and doggedly pursue peace and love throughout our communities. We cannot wait for leadership to show the way. We need to reach out, quite literally, to the people who live next door. I ashamedly met my next door neighbors this weekend. We have lived next to them for over three years, but quite honestly never see them. They had a garage sale and we went over, introduced ourselves, and purchased a couple of goodies from them. What a shame we wasted all this time, because we enjoyed them so much. It’s wasted because they are putting their house up for sale, and will soon thereafter move away. What could we have had, these past three years, had we met them sooner? We had an amazing soup kitchen, homeless program at our old parish. We were told it could not be done. So many in our own church told us it could not be done. It has been going on every week for over 10 years now, reaching out to the people who live around that little mission church, feeding them, bringing them in from the rain, counseling them, and being a presence in that very poor neighborhood.  It has to happen, one person at a time, one prayer at a time, one choice at a time. We cannot wait for directions on how to do this, we all just need to reach out…one soul at a time. Person-to-person.

one person at a time

“expecting different results…”

 

Fireweed lake

(Fireweed blooming in Alaska)

I adore the summertime weather up here. Yesterday, it was actually 98-degrees about 4:00 pm.  For this part of Alaska, that is just over-the-top-hot! I was melting. It’s so hard to explain to those who have not travelled or lived this far north, but the sun is very different. When it is on you, you definitely feel it. And the sun is not in the place I would expect it to be when I look up, having lived south most of my life, at the times I look for it. 9:30-10:00 pm look much like 2:00 pm back in Southern California. It is still weird to wear sunglasses at 11:00 pm.

 

Midnight sun AK

(Midnight sun in AK)

Today I have been puttering in my yard. It amazes me how fast things grow with all this sunshine. We have just experienced a week of gloomy, rainy weather and the grass got so tall. The amazing thing, too, is that after we have no rain for a day or two, our plants are falling over, dying. So today I have been pulling off the dead leaves and flowers and soaking everything. My basil was so pretty about a week ago, but today its’ amazing purple blooms were just sagging and I thought I might have lost it. But I pruned away and soaked it, then put it in a sunnier spot, and after the past few hours of sun-worship, it looks amazing. Whew. And I sit here, after playing with our vegetables, in a completely different outfit, with hair dripping wet. Me and the hose had an altercation. It did not want to stay where I wanted it to, pointing where I wanted it to point, watering what I wanted it to water! We argued, it soaked me, but I finally balanced it so it is watering almost our entire raised bed vegetable garden.

yard sprinkler

(My 1950s era sprinkler head!)

I was determined to win! It is an old fashioned way to spray water on your garden, but you know what? It works amazingly well. There is something to be said for the old and true ways of doing things. Our ancestors spent eons thinking this stuff up and we are constantly trying to “improve” on their ideas, when sometimes the original was amazing and perfect, and still works the best.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, 2and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20. This quote is also known as the “Great Commission” wherein Christ instructs His Apostles to take what He has taught them, and to teach others. And to make disciples of “all” nations. This was the original request Christ made to his Apostles, and they in turn have requested that we, too, do the same. It dates back to Biblical times and it is still true today, perhaps even more so.

Runner-Bean-Flowers

(Pole beans in bloom)

As I played with our pole beans, which are flowering and reaching for places to climb, I wove them along the wires my husband strung around our garden for them. I had to be extremely gentle with them, as when they are in this phase of growing, they are so fragile. And I thought of me and how I have guided my children, in all their growth-phases and when they were their most fragile, and their strongest. And I know, deep in my soul, that my heart was in the right place. I want to spend eternity surrounded by the Grace of God, and being with family and friends who also chose to follow Christ and His Word in our lives. However, if I am being honest, I know there have been opportunities where I have missed sharing my faith, and where I have perhaps not lead my children as well as I could have. And it weighs on me.

Success sharing faith

Just now, I had to go back outside to move the sprinkler so I could get the end row of our vegetables. I argued with that darn sprinkler, but I got it to water just the plants I wanted it to water. I got a little wet, but I approached it smarter this time! The plants back there are the ones who also see the least sunshine during our long days. But I am determined, that through working with them, weeding, watering, and paying attention to their needs, that I will reap a harvest. This is just such a perfect analogy for our struggles in life, and with those who we love who do not walk the same path we walk. We can look around us and see those who we know are struggling to survive in this crazy world. Some get no light given to them at all, walking through life in relative darkness. Some are not tended to regularly, nor do they receive adequate watering. But having struggled with my sprinkler of choice (my chosen faith expression) I know sort of how the sprinkler works, what I can expect from it, and how to approach it to make it work the best for my garden. We who claim to have faith in Christ all know this. We struggle, we wrestle, we sometimes get soaking wet and have to change and start over. But we learn and know more or less what to expect.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.

This quote is broadly credited as having been said by Albert Einstein. And the man would have experienced this in his quest for scientific knowledge! Today it aptly applied to my struggle with my sprinkler. I could not approach it as I had at first, or nothing would be watered but me! My hair is still wet and it helps remind me of failing, but learning from that failure, and not repeating it. I have tried and failed, but got back up again over and over again in the past 31 years of parenting. Raising children, and witnessing our faith to them, is more about how we live our lives, rather than memorizing religious dogma or facts. Don’t get me wrong, we used the Baltimore Catechism with our kids. However, I truly believe that our children are sponges. They soak up everything about our lives as a family, while growing up. They see how we treat them and their siblings, and how my husband and I treat each other. They see how we interact with others. Right now, one of our adult children and family have neighbors with lots of children. These neighbor kids are constantly looking over the fence or coming over, and they are parroting things that are obviously being said by their parents. These neighbor children have asked my adult children if they are Catholic, and then asked why they don’t go to church. And that’s from their 8-year-old! They question and say things that are not from a child’s mind. Their parents purport to be very strong in their faith, and they homeschool, and they attend Church very regularly – all the hallmarks of good kids. But what they are teaching their children by their actions and their words are completely undoing all that homeschooling and church-going. And it is a horrible example to my family, who struggle mightily with everything to do with faith, most especially those who act all holy and perfect, but are far from it. It does nothing but make my adult kids less likely to pursue church attendance, nor to teach their own children about the faith.

neighbor fence

I have learned, over the years, that approach and first impressions are so very important. If we crash and burn when trying to share our faith with others, well, we need to get back in there and repeat, repeat, repeat. We cannot give up or stop, but we can repeat in a myriad of ways, too. I leaned today how to maneuver my hose so that I could control water flow, and the position of that darned sprinkler. I had to get soaking wet, first, though. But in the end, the Lord controls the harvest. I have to eventually trust in Him to touch the souls of those I lead to Him. My children are making adult choices these days. I can no longer claim responsibility for their choices. They are on their own in this world, and before God. The majority have children of their own they are raising. Our youngest is almost 18 and is starting to make choices – he is planning his future and making decisions about his career path, as well as friends and socializing opportunities. Yes, sometimes I am a nervous wreck. But that being said, I have also shared my faith with him by living it out in front of him. I have struggled and he has witnessed that struggle and we have talked about it at length. He shares his view on things and so I am really loosening up on those motherly apron-strings. I pray that I have shared what he needs to hear and see and learn with him, before he goes out among the wolves of this world. But all I can do, as a parent, is pray. “God has got this!” as Mark Hart the Bible Geek would say.

Chipmonks

We jokingly say in our family that the eldest plowed the road, the middle one paved it, and the youngest is just skating on through. Those can be seen as stages in how we learn, as well. Sometimes we struggle, but hopefully we grow and learn. We may, in the middle of life, back slide and slip up, but getting back on track and cruising along again is a good thing. We learned a lot from raising our kids. We got wet so often…we moved that sprinkler over and over again….we had to keep moving it and re-arranging it as the years went by. But now, we have a garden that is reaping an amazing harvest of wonderful grandchildren we adore, we have some pretty awesome adult kids, and the future is still ahead of us.  We are blessed, but we are not sitting back and just allowing the weeds to take over – even if our children are adults. We still wrestle with that sprinkler! We live our faith, we strive to be good examples, and we constantly pray and nurture those we love. God has blessed our efforts and we pray our family tree keeps growing, resting in the love of God.

family gathering

“…She uses prayer.”

“Oola – a life that is balanced and growing in all the key areas of health and well-being. It can be a noun or a verb. It can be a definition or a feeling. It can be as complex as a life growing and balanced in fitness, finance, family, field, faith, friends, and fun (the 7 F’s of Oola), or as simple as a sunset, a quiet book on the beach, or a special moment with a child. It is a place we all shoot for in life. The feeling we experience as we celebrate our successes along the way. In short, Oola is cool.”

Glenallen drive2

That is from the Chapter One intro to a book I adore, entitled, “Oola, Find Balance in an Unbalanced World” by Dave Braun and Troy Amdahl. They are pretty amazing. There is a Facebook page, a website. They do personal coaching. They are on the top best sellers’ lists and have gone international. If you want to do yourself a favor, get this book. Get in touch with the Oola lifestyle and you will not be sorry. I would say that it would enhance your life. It has mine. You can purchase the book on Amazon and on their website and they are always having specials. (If you click on any of the statement above, it will take you to their website; I think).

I love my faith and I love my family, and my life. But sometimes we get out of whack. Sometimes one area or another becomes heavier than normal and it can throw you completely for a spin. It happens regularly and some would say, “That’s just a part of life.” And they would be right. But for some people, it is hard to bounce back and find that balance again. Our world is a pretty demanding place. Finding our little section of the world and making it all work can sometimes be beyond our abilities, alone. And so we reach out. We also, at times, have to let go. And that is what I am dealing with – letting go of some things and people, and embracing through reaching out, a new life.

I know that community is something we need. We cannot live as an island (“No man is an island, entire of itself.” John Donne). We need people to make us human. There are those who shun humanity in search of a higher plane of existence with God – hermits of various denominations. They are called to that purpose. Those who choose to enter monasteries and live a life of silent service and prayer to God – they pray for each of us, believers or not. And, “We can be sure that there is no such thing as a superfluous or useless prayer. No prayer is lost,” (Sept. 12, 2012; Pope Benedict). I do believe that we cannot worship in a vaccum, either. Some people say they have faith and do not need to go to Church. But few of those people live a life of faith, of prayer and sacrifice to others. “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:38-40.

Having said all of that, my faith was rocked. Not my faith in God! Thanks be to God! My faith in others. In being treated honestly, and fairly. And after listening to an awesome podcast/video yesterday, it sort of hit home for me. I listened to Victoria Pavlatos and she has a Facebook page. She posted a podcast/video entitled, “Life in the Fishbowl.” She is the wife of an Orthodox priest and together they have 9 children. (She is an amazing photographer and her business is Tori Ava Photography – check out her website. She is amazing! There should be an imbedded link on the next word). She commented about what it was like to be the wife of a priest and how the scrutiny is pretty tough. She lives with constant comments about her children’s attire, their behavior, and expectations by their parishioners. I wish she lived closer to me!! Her words touched my heart so much. She asked that their community pray for her husband and for her family, before they judge them. Because when you are in front of anyone, be it a corporation, a group, a club, or the Church, everyone looks to you. And at you. And at your family members. We are not perfected, yet. We just chose to serve our communities in a very visible way. And some people are nastily vocal when we do not live up to their expectations of us. And some will say, “You chose that. It is part of the position.” Again, that is also true. However, you can still be wounded and hurt and sometimes it is enough to cause you to pause. And sometimes it is even enough to want to be done with the whole thing, and to walk away and let go of all of it.

I have often heard that the Church is not for the well, that it is a hospital for the sick.

St.John C hospital

We all seek to reach that wonderful state of oneness with God we call, “Theosis,” in the east. It is when your heart is full of God and you feel the world fall away. That state is something to work towards, and each time we fall and get back up, seeking forgiveness, we are that much closer to God. Every once in awhile we are thunderstruck at the actions or words of others, in their judgement of us and we cannot seem to get past it. It is not that I have not forgiven people; I truly have. But I also know how they think, their processes, and I know what they think. Especially of me. And so I come to a point of not wanting to bang my head against that same wall, over and over again.

russian orthodox church 03

When I walk into an Eastern Church, I am literally dumbstruck. Speech becomes impossible and I always whisper, if I even say a word. The incredible artwork, the incense, the icons, the candles…it overwhelms your senses. If you have never been in one, it will seem overwhelming and beyond comprehension. Sometimes it is almost impossible to imagine attending services there, because it seems so foreign. For the western mentality, and what we are used to in our architecture, it is vastly different. But I find immense peace inside an Eastern Church. I love just standing before an icon, lighting a wonderfully-scented beeswax candle, and offering up prayers. The “smells and bells” get me every time. I could go into the whys of icons versus statues, but that is a history lesson for another time. Let me just say, my personal space where I type this has a very large (and I mean about 2 feet tall; okay, I measured – 27″) statue of St. Rita, my patron saint above me, on the top of my desk. There are smaller statues for each of our children, of their patron saints, on the top of our bookcases. But behind me, there are numerous icons (one for each of our children and some festal icons, too). I appreciate both. So I wanted that to be clear. However, after migrating east, I do not think I could return to the western style of worship. Which leaves me in a conundrum of where to go. For now? I am not going, at all.

prayer

For now, through spiritual direction, I am praying. I am reading. I am meditating. I am receiving spiritual direction online in a formal program. My faith life is not dead. But right now, it is not communal or corporate, either, and I miss that. I am working through what I am going to do, and I am still uncertain. And that is where “Oola” has helped me greatly. I need, I survive, with balance in my life. When one thing is out of line, it can throw everything else off. I have learned that there are these areas in our lives that we need to place a laser focus on and they are called the 7 Areas of the Oola Life. And I am focusing on them, as best I can. They are, “Faith, family, friends, fitness, finance, field, and fun.” And as I focus on an area, it tends to highlight another area and I work over there for a bit. It is like learning to juggle 7 plates in the air (read the Oola book!!) and I am getting better at choosing not only my plates, but how I stand when I am balancing.

beautiful woman

For me, prayer is essential. Without prayers, our souls slowly die off, in the sense that we lose our connection to God. It hampers our ability to give to others. And through prayers, and others reaching out to me, I have found an alternate expression of my love and faith and have been stretching a little bit. It has bent over, and weighed in on, and affected, both “field” and “finance,” enhanced with some wonderful new, “friends.” And all of those things run into “family” and I am now having to deal with “fun”! Through these new experiences, I have had so many hours of laughter and fun. This weekend, I am taking a road trip over some pretty high mountains, with a friend. I am ridiculously excited. And we have 6+ hours to gab to our hearts’ content (without our husbands sighing at us and being bored). The top photo is actually the road we will be driving! Gorgeous! Through my friendships developing, along with field (career) and finance, my fitness is once again coming to the forefront. I am working, once again, on being fit and healthy. For me, but for my family, finance, field, friendship, and fun! It is all interconnected. How cool is that? So very Oola. I must say that my dad’s quote from 40+ years ago comes to my mind, “Out of adversity comes opportunity.” I was adversely affected and it caused my attention to change focus, and opportunities are arising. I am blessed.

Climacus prayer

I will continue to seek Theosis and a greater union with my God. I will ceaselessly pray. I will contemplate where I belong in this huge world in which we reside. But I am doing it with a freer heart, and one that is becoming more and more “balanced, in an unbalanced world.”  God has blessed me; thank you, Lord. And, thank you, Oola Guys!

oola quote

“Memory eternal…”

Joe smiling

This is my father-in-law, Joe. He passed into his eternal rest four years ago today. As Eastern Catholics, when we recall someone or remark upon their deaths, we say to others, “Memory Eternal.” One wonderful explanation comes from Scripture itself. As we read in St. Luke’s Gospel, the thief asked: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”  And in answer, in satisfaction of his wish, his wish to be remembered, the Lord witnesses: “I say to you, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.”  In other words, “to be remembered” by the Lord is the same thing as “to be in Paradise.”  “To be in Paradise” is to be in eternal memory and, consequently, to have eternal existence and therefore an eternal memory of God. (Orthodox Christianity.net). I love that explanation. But there are many others, too.

This is also posted on Orthodox Christianity.net: “The Jewish equivalent of “memory eternal” would be zikhrono/ah li-vrakha (“may his/her memory be unto blessing”). Heretics, apostates or evil doers are never mentioned by name after they are gone. If they are referred to, a mock name is used instead (I guess that explains why some call Our Lord “Yoshke”). Also, on Purim when the Scroll of Esther is read, noise is made to blot out the name of Haman, the enemy of Israel. With us, this happens when the Synodikon is read on Orthodoxy Sunday: people call out Memory Eternal thrice to acclaim Saints and righteous Emperors and thrice Anathema for heretics and enemies of the Church. When one really wanted to punish an enemy, they would kill everyone in his household, so that nobody would perpetrate his memory/pray for him. Cf. 1 Samuel 25:22 “So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.”

That explanation is a little extreme, but I love the ties to our Jewish roots in theology. And more is found in other scripture references, too.  Proverbs 10:7 “The name of the righteous is used in blessings, but the name of the wicked will rot.” Psalm 112:6 “Surely he shall not be moved for ever: the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.”  And from the book of Isaiah (Iz 49:13-15) “Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.”Joe BryceIn the Eastern Churches, we don’t have a funeral “Mass.” We have a memorial service. And this is the last portion of that service:

The Dismissal

Priest: “Glory to You, O God, our hope, glory to You. May Christ our true God, who rose from the dead and as immortal King has authority over the living and the dead, have mercy on us and save us, through the intercessions of his spotless and holy Mother; of the holy, glorious, and praiseworthy Apostles; of our venerable and God‑bearing Fathers; of the holy and glorious forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; of his holy and righteous friend Lazaros, who lay in the grave four days; and of all the saints; establish the soul of His servant Joseph, departed from us, in the dwelling place of the saints; give rest to him in the bosom of Abraham and number him among the righteous.

People: Amen.

Priest: May your memory be eternal, dear brother, for you are worthy of blessedness and everlasting memory.”

I love how we are asking for a place among all the saints, a place of rest among the righteous. We are remembering the person who walked among us, and we are asking that God “remember” him, too. On that same site, Orthodox Christian.net, this is said,

To remember – to have memory of in the western world is to THINK and RECALL an individual.

To remember – to have memory of in the Eastern Church it is to RE-MEMBER – to pull that person, that part of the body, and RE-MEMBER – REJOIN that body part back into the Body of Christ.

So to say, Memory Eternal is saying “May he/she FOREVER be a MEMBER – A PART OF THE BODY OF CHRIST.”

And I truly ask that whenever I say, “Memory Eternal.” May that person forever be with us. We have the Church in 3 states – the Church Militant, here on earth, the Church Triumphant in Heaven, and the Church Suffering or Waiting (that would be those in Purgatory, should you accept that teaching). But we are all One Body in Christ. It is why we feel we can confidently ask the Saints to pray for us – they are part of the Body of Christ in the Church Triumphant. And we can continue to pray for those who have gone before us, asking for their memories to be eternal, for them to reside with God in Paradise.

Joe Kyle Ron

And this leads to what I’ve been musing over. What would I like to be remembered for? My kindness to others? My temper? My sarcastic wit? My smile? My faith and love of God? I pray my children, and those who know me well, would have an amalgam of memories of me, that would form the whole person, imperfect as I am, for them to cling to after I am gone. But am I also that thief, hanging next to Our Lord, asking to be remembered? Well, yes I am. I have committed sins. I  have great need of forgiveness and repentance.

I read a great blog today by Father Barnabas Powell over on Ancient Faith Blogs entitled, “We deceive ourselves – Faith Encouraged.” In it he says,

“If I am so blind to my need for forgiveness and repentance, I will continue to be at the mercy of my passions. I will continue to be ruled by my spiritual poverty and I will miss the healing power of the spiritual medicine offered to me by God in Christ. But, if I come to myself, as the Prodigal did when he was working feeding the hogs on a farm, and he remembered that the servants in his father’s house were well fed and cared for, I will begin the admittedly difficult journey back to the Father’s House.”

He goes on to say: “Once I see that I am only lying to myself and escape this delusion through honest confession, I am finally free to see myself as I really am: A person who needs God’s mercy and grace. How powerful the trick of the evil one is when he cons me into believing that God won’t accept me because of my mistakes! I allow shame and pride to build a wall of delusion between me and the very love that will set me free. God already knows me better than I know myself. He sees all my weaknesses and mistakes and He loves me still. He, like the Prodigal’s father, stands at the end of the road every day looking for me to return home to His warm embrace. He does not shame me. I shame myself by foolishly wallowing in my ego!”

And he then says, “Today, are you willing to abandon the lie that you are OK? Are you willing to look into your own heart, without shame, and be honest in your need for God’s mercy and grace? Are you finally willing to travel the Lenten wisdom of prayer, fasting, and repentance to see your loving Father throw His arms around your neck and welcome you home and forgive all? Such spiritual treasures await the honest and humble man. All the love and forgiveness you will ever need is as close as your willingness to abandon the delusion of your own heart and embrace the invitation to be Orthodox on Purpose!”

I take great comfort in that. I know that God forgives me and when it is my time to “be remembered” among the saints, I can take my place. But I need to be honest about who I am, and that this constant journey is a process of picking myself up and starting over – and over again. It is not being intimated into admitting I am far from perfect and that God has so much left to do in me; it is an acceptance of my true sinful self and a reconciliation with the real me and God. I also need to remember that we are not guaranteed our next breath. Am I ready to be remembered right now? Am I in that place that gives me comfort, knowing if today is my last, that I am ready for eternal remembrance? My father-in-law was a good man. He worked so hard and he loved his family fiercely. He and I butt heads quite a lot. I wish I was the woman I am today, back when he was breathing his last. I think we would have liked one another more (I think he would have enjoyed me more). His death came so rapidly that most of us were truly unprepared for it. It is a blessing in that he did not suffer for too long, but he did suffer. His entire family suffered along with him. The last moments he and I shared were awkward and deeply sad, but I can sincerely add my prayers to everyone who says, “Memory Eternal,” and I can beg for his repose among the righteous. God knows my heart and he knows the relationship I shared with Joe. Joe and I loved one another, in sometimes an argumentative way, but we wanted the same thing for our family. Disagreements in families are commonplace. But I also know that saying, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” is a wise saying. Time is not something we can count on – there is a finality to this life. Let us all strive to forgive one another and treat one another with loving kindness always and foremost.

Memory eternal, Joe; memory eternal. “…give rest to him in the bosom of Abraham and number him among the righteous.”

Joe Mary

“…more precious than gold.”

believesinHim

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. John 11:25-26

I am comfortable in my faith. I am not swayed this way or that way. I stand firmly in the promises from God. I am often asked if I know the bible. I usually laugh inside a little bit. My minor in college was Biblical Archeology. We did not study Scripture for memorizational purposes. We studied the Bible in order to verify archeological proofs of the existence of landmarks and relics which back up all the words contained in the Bible. And for me, even though I was undertaking this study at a secular university, I was still touched deeply by the proofs I was able see in front of me. But belief does not require us to touch proofs – faith!

faith.chemistry

It is also the exact opposite – believing what is not there, not tangible. Our faith in the Word of God is an amazing thing. In the Eastern Churches, we stand in the Presence of God. When the Word is processed in, we sing and we stand. We elaborately decorate the Holy Book, containing the Word. We incense it; we hold it aloft; we kiss it; we venerate it. We believe God is just as Present in His Word as He is in the Eucharistic Presence. We also believe He is Present in His Church: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Matthew 18:20.  So when we hear the Word proclaimed during our Liturgies, joined as a community, we believe God is Present. We cannot see Him, but we believe Him to be with us.

And one of the things I love about being a faithful Christian is sharing the many and varied ways God makes Himself known to His people. I know He shares His Truth with millions around the world – we just celebrate it a little differently. We believe in the inherent truths contained in the Bible that was established through the Council of Nicaea in 325AD. At this Council the basic Canon of Scripture was codified and the world had the Bible. We were given the Word as it remains (for the most part) today. And we have faith in things unseen.

Kindles.books

So much of what we argue about in our religious discussions are pretty much opinion, not doctrine or dogma. Why is that? Very few people actually study what they believe or why they believe it. They prefer the “cliff notes” and get the “gist” and go from there. I cannot even tell you how many times I am asked by those near and dear to me, for me to tell them a plot line or explain something to them because, shock of all shocks, I am a reader. I LOVE TO READ. Anyone who knows me knows that I am forever involved in some sort of reading schedule, immersed in a story or plot of some sort. And I am that way about learning anything. I dive in with both feet until my curiosity is satiated and my knowledge has grown. I own it. I don’t rely on others to spout it for me. I make my information my own; I take responsibility for what I am diving into.

In my previous posts, I mentioned the transitory and also superficial nature of modern relationships and the effects social media has had on them. This applies to our faith as well. Many people just sit in the pew. They are spoon-fed their religion. Their faith is pretty superficial because it relies solely on others to give it to them. They know, however, if you make subtle changes on Sunday. Ever walk into a place you go to regularly and just know something is off? Well, if you try and make subtle changes to Liturgy, watch out! Just because it’s always been done that way, it must be the “right way.” Heaven forbid someone who has studied and learned tries to offer their expertise and experience to help the liturgical experience be more authentic. That’s when those who seemingly have these superficial ideas about what you’re supposed to be doing go all out – protesting and complaining. At least they are involved – at that point. And let’s face it – no one likes their apple cart upset.

upset apple cart

Well, I love apple pie and I’d love to take all those upset apples and make a pie. Not this time. Those who choose to complain the loudest get the most notice. Ha-Ha. But as I started this post with quotes from the Bible about our faith, our faith is there for us to rely on. And I am grateful beyond words for my Spiritual Fathers (most of whom live very far away) who lovingly guide me, even when others are questioning my faith. Christ made us promises, too. And I believe His promises more than I believe the words of men (and/or women) whom I can no longer trust. My Spiritual Fathers, I trust. Their words to me, I trust. And late at night when I toss and turn and worry over these things, their words, along side the Word of Christ, give me peace and joy in my heart.

“…and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” 1Peter 3:17

faithprecious

“Words left unsaid…”

Wordsleftunsaid

And that, my friends, is why I blog! I have had several incidents happen to me and I have been mulling these things over in my head. The words are screaming in my head, so here goes:

A faithful friend

The past few weeks have been transformative for me. And my journey is not over. I have been involved in a leadership training course (along with significant time management training) and have evolved as a person so much. I have made fundamental changes to my life. I have altered habits I have had for years and years. I have changed how I manage my time. And I have been evaluating the circles of friends I have, who surround me like ripples in the water from a thrown pebble. Every once in awhile, it is healthy to re-evaluate who gets the lion’s share of our time. And in addition, who gets the emotional energy required to maintain these circles of relationships.

When you think about it, you are involved with all sorts of people, from disparate backgrounds and situations. We have work friends, neighbors, church friends, friends we have had since kindergarten, high school friends, college friends, friends we have as a couple, friends we made while single. Friends come from all the journeys we have been on in our lives. And some of them we keep, some we have lost, some we have discarded.

Seat at table

I’ve spoken to not allowing everyone to have a seat at your table in previous posts, and I am so firmly entrenched in that process – letting go. Sometimes it is hard to let those go who are toxic to you, but I know that energy/emotion vampires are just not healthy for me. I have learned that there are people out there who smile and shake your hand, but who are not your friend. And to be honest, that is fine. Not everyone we meet is meant to be a friend. Many are meant to solely be an acquaintance; someone who passes through but whose soul does not take root with yours. In a way, that realization is rather freeing.

Forgive.LesBrown

And now I am working on letting go – and that includes my disappointments and unfulfilled expectations, my heartache and feelings of being let down. But I have learned that forgiving others when they let you down allows you to heal and move on. I know not everyone I meet is my friend, nor meant to stay, as I said above. And I know that I am not perfected – God still has a great work left to do in me. Because of this immense transformation and learning curve I am on, I realize that working on myself takes much effort. And I may let other things slide while I engage in this work of bettering myself and growing. But I cannot become who God wants me to be, sitting on my couch, hiding behind my books and feeling sorry about myself. I cannot get better physically, or spiritually, or emotionally by waiting on…well, waiting on what?

I am so happy and excited to be taking myself in hand and working on all these myriad issues I have. It is a good work. In the meantime, people in my life either support me and what I am doing, or they do not. If they do not, they will no longer be included in my circle. That “block” button on Facebook will be getting a workout in the near future. Don’t judge me for that comment. There comes a time in our lives when we need to cull those we allow close to us. Some of the people who have taken root in our lives are not healthy for us; they are not “life giving” but rather drain you. In addition to that, my time on social media is declining and it is a good thing. I am reading good things. I heard a great quote, “Don’t fill your head with another person’s trash.” Ponder that for a moment. That is the written word – in books, movies, music, news outlets, and all forms of media. Whose trash are we letting in? For one thing, I have disavowed politics. It makes me too angry and an uglier version of myself. It is gone from my electronics. Just flat out gone. I have no clue what is going on right now and it is a peaceful thing. I removed all my gaming platforms. Stupid way to be a sucker of my time – it can literally suck hours away I will never get back. Done. And I am evaluating my reading material. This is the hard one! I belong to so many book clubs and read such a variety of literature. My bible is getting a workout, and that is a great thing!

During this time of personal renewal and growth in this leadership/time management class, I am also embarking on a study with a couple of friends. We are using this amazing book entitled, “The Holistic Christian Woman.” (The author is Cynthia Damaskos, CHC. I purchased it through Ancient Faith Publishing, but it is also available on Amazon). Here’s a little taste: “Even being concerned about people’s real or perceived perception of you and your life can be subliminally stunting your joy. Are you afraid to be yourself? Are you afraid to be different from what people expect, in a culture of excess and cookie cutter expectations? These perceptions can lead you to say “yes” to too many requests, or “no” to many changes that should be made. For me, these were also self-imposed boulders that were also blocking my way.  There may be a big boulder that you need to move before all the rocks fall into place.”  And that’s just the intro! I am only 2 weeks into that book and I am fundamentally different. It is flabbergasting to me that I can be so affected in my 50s by two disparate things, coordinating together so flawlessly. Through our faith, we know there are no coincidences, just occurrences that God has construed for our good. I am so blessed.

Livingforothers

So I am moving forward and through this movement, I am finding that I cannot stay how I am, where I am, or who I am. It just does not work any longer. For me, or for my family. It is wonderful to undergo these sorts of things with the full support of your spouse. He is reaping the benefits of my learning curve and my becoming a better me. We are both starting to move some boulders, allowing the rocks to fall into place. We are seeking our joy in places that are new for us, and we are happy. Growth is a wonderful experience.

One of the things I just cannot tolerate any longer are those who purport to be friends but who fundamentally are not on the same page I am on. One area of belief is the equality of all people.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” —The Declaration of Independence

This is a fundamental view of Americans. We are all equal. Women have the vote! African Americans can sit on the same buses and drink out of the same water fountains, attend the same schools, work at any job they choose, and marry anyone they choose! All races have the same rights! We do not allow discrimination based on age, race, religion, creed – these areas are sacrosanct. That word means that this thing we hold, this belief, is so sacred, it cannot be altered or interfered with. It is inviolable! (That means it cannot be infringed upon). But there are still people out there, that when it gets right down to the nitty-gritty of life, do not believe everyone is equal. They just do not accept it. And I will pray their souls are opened to the Grace of belief, and of truly loving their fellow man. We are all created in the image of God. All of us. Not just some of us. And some of the change I am going through is being less tolerant of those who are intolerant, if that makes sense. They just don’t need a seat at my table. “If you can change, everything will change for you.” That was in a speech by Jim Rohn, a wonderful speaker. I am changing and I am affecting change in those around me.

KeepSilence

Even though I am thinning the circles around me in some ways, I am keeping a Holy Silence. I am giving these things to God, Who is far more equipped to handle them than I am. I am still such a work-in-process that I cannot really judge others. I can feel the pain of their poor choices in words and attitudes, and I can feel the pain of disappointment. Those are valid things. And I can wallow in it. I can. It is perfectly acceptable to wallow sometimes. But what exactly does it get me? What am I waiting for? Apologies that won’t ever come? Growth and change from people so entrenched in their ways of thinking, they are walking back and forth in ditches so high they cannot see out of them? No. I am moving onward and I am turning inward, working towards a better self, a stronger self.

Strongwoman

Life throws us curve balls now and then, but life also throws us opportunities. And I have been given one that I was not ready for a year ago. But I am now. And it feels like I am re-awakening to that “other” woman I was, before I stayed home. I am not saying that being a stay-at-home-mom, a homeschooling mom, was a bad thing. It was my vocation and I loved every moment of it (and I miss the days when we lived on farms and I had muddy boys in muddy boots, messing up my kitchen floors). But I started to hide. I was not out and about, affecting my community. I was not growing as a woman, outside of my growth as a married woman and mother of faith. My faith has been my saving glory in this life. I am so blessed. But I also know I have so far to go. And I am now moving. I am in motion. I am reading; I am learning; I am growing. I hope everyone comes along for the ride, but I am already noticing the circles growing thinner. And that is perfectly okay.

Processofchange