“…children are a heritage from the Lord…”

Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court. Psalm 127:3-5

Family can mean so many, many different things. Some of us, me for example, have very small families. My parents immigrated to the USA. Both of them are only children. So I have no aunts, uncles, or cousins. And I have just 1 brother. Any other relatives I have are living in other countries. My paternal grandparents came to the USA, because they did not want to be away from their only son. So for me, 6 people at the table was big. I married into a large family. My father-in-law was the eldest of 10 siblings. My mother-in-law is the eldest of 3 siblings. They are all “Germans from Russia” or “Volga Russians” and they all married within their culture. Until me. Our wedding  was filled with literally hundreds of people I did not know, and may have only seen that one time.

When we got married, we wanted a large family. We decided on 6 kids. Well, biology and God chose to make that number 2 and then we adopted, which brought us to 3 boys. My oldest son has two kids (although I think they may be thinking more might be fun) and our middle son has three girls (and we think there will be more!!). Our youngest is not married yet, so we will see on him. My sister-in-law, however, decided to keep up with her paternal grandmother (Grandma Kaiser) and is the mother of 10 children. They are vacationing with us with 9 of their 10. It has been so exhausting but has brought so much joy and laughter. I will miss them terribly when they leave. And when they leave, I leave for 10 days! LOL! Our lives are insanely crazy right now, but as my head hits the pillow each night I am so grateful for these many moments with family.

When you live so far apart, relationships have to be re-established and sometimes there can be mis-communication and missed opportunities for healthy communication. It is a tightrope and/or a tap dance. But if you work at it, you can enjoy such a wonderfully full life.

Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates. (Proverbs 31: 28-31)

The crown of marriage (quite literally in Byzantine/Orthodox weddings) is our families. Some of us have to adopt to have a family; some of us have friends who become our families. However you gain a family, it is what we pivot our lives around.

In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence,
and his children will have a refuge. (Proverbs 14:26)

I truly feel that when we surround ourselves with the love of God and instill this love in our families, we are doubly blessed. But oftentimes we worship differently and this causes issues, too. In order to keep the peace we sometimes have to be silent. And being a silent witness to your beliefs can challenge even the greatest theologians. And above all, we need love. And love translates to some of the most sublime moments we will ever experience in our lives. This week, we have had some of the most precious moments in our lives, so far. And it is through “smushing” all this family together around a single table; into a motorhome and SUV and trudging through rain and wind and enjoy the beauty of where we live, that we are forging a stronger family. We are blessed.

 

 

 

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“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

“and guard you from the evil one.”

snowfall-4465Today is one of those days when it’s great to get out of the house, but then, it’s even better to be indoors!  It’s in the 18-19 degree range, with blowing snow and ice.  My youngest son is on day one of an Arctic Survival Camping trip about 200 miles north of us.  Up there, they are expecting in the 10″ – 20″ range of snow.  At our neck of the woods, we expect in the 1″ – 2″ range! So I was thinking about him as our glass door banged against the front door as the wind battered it.  I sure would not want to be in a tent in this! Of course, I am nowhere near 15 years old and filled with excitement of living off the land, male bonding, and all that sort of thing.  If I camp, I need a camper or trailer; better yet, a hotel room…no more tents for this grandma!

Anyway, I have been mulling over a bunch of thoughts in my head and they all sort of relate.  Which is weird, but cool at the same time, because I know God has a lesson in there for me.  A friend was given a baby boy to foster this week.  He is so adorable, I just wanted to cuddle him and kiss and hug him. He has the cutest smile, ever.  And he reminded me of my grand daughter, as they are just a couple of weeks apart in age.  He was removed from his birth home because of abuse.  As I l gazed on him in the Church Hall during coffee hour on Sunday, I had tears running down my face, and I grabbed the sides of his car seat and gave that little man my best smiles and coos, because I was weeping for so many reasons. (1) His age is so close to my grand daughter and I have to admit, I have a serious love affair with that little baby girl going on.  Grandma fell hard for her.  (2) I hurt because of his situation and then (3) I got so angry at his situation that it made me cry more.  I just hugged my friend and told her how happy I was he found a home where he will be cuddled and loved on 24/7!  And (5) I was taken back, in my mind, to a horrible time in my life, a few years ago.  So many things were going on.  But to sum it up, we were going through a short-sale on our house, my husband was out of work, our youngest son was having difficulty in school (as in a totally, and completely, untenable situation), my work situation was not good (governmental layoffs), and I got selected to be on a felony child abuse jury.  It was a long case. It was an ugly case. I tried, and tried, during jury selection to get myself out of it, but for some reason, both sides wanted me on that jury. (One main reason is that I was a government employee at that time, and as such, I get paid full salary regardless of where I show up to work.  Jury duty for government employees is considered another day at the office. Ugh.)  I was instantly taken back to those horrible photos and testimonies.  I was instantly feeling my stomach just clench in anger and frustration. Another aspect that made it so horrible for me is that the child who was “feloniously” abused looked exactly, as in “could be related to,” my  youngest son.  I would go home at night, unable to talk about it, and just weep.  My husband would hold me and I would just cry my eyes out, only to fall into a fitful sleep, and be required to get up and repeat it for another day (for weeks on end).  I thought I had put it behind me.  But meeting that precious little boy yesterday brought the memories swooping in, and I found myself unable to stop thinking about it.  And I am obviously still thinking about it.

jesus-with-children-0408“Keep me safe, LORD, from the hands of the wicked; protect me from the violent..” Psalm 140:4.

This morning my daughter-in-law asked me to go to breakfast, and since I am home alone this week, I jumped at the chance.  Off we went to iHop.  I had some amazing crepes, buckets of coffee (daylight savings time is just so stupid…) and sat across from her sitting with my two grandies, and me, just watching it all and loving every moment.  She and I talked about my memories, and about my friend who took in this little baby.  We both got teary-eyed at the thought of someone hurting such a little guy.  And as I gazed at my grandies, I got such a fierce sense of protectiveness.  I don’t know what I would do if anyone hurt any of them, in any way.

God calls us to protect those who cannot protect themselves.  And He also calls us to love our enemies.  As I sat on that jury, looking at a father who had abused his child so severely, I tried to love him; I really did.  And I prayed to God to help me handle that situation.  What draws a parent to harm their child?  I know kids and crying are no fun, but I just could not ever abuse a child.  I’d put myself in a time-out before I could hurt a child. And as I tried to love this abuser, I knew “beyond a shadow of a doubt” he was guilty and voted to convict. I could not help him any more but by putting him where he could no longer harm anyone else.

After this trial, things disintegrated in my life to such a degree I found myself taking anti-depressants and took a leave of absence from my job.  I drove my middle son to college and drove home (across 4 states over about 18 hours) listening to a Mercy Me CD a friend had given me (thank you, Raghada) and just prayed. I prayed about my life, about the situation of my son and his schooling, my job, our living situation (by this time we had to vacate our home and move to a rental, but my husband had a new job – a bright spot).  I spent those hours with the windows all down, singing at the top of my lungs (trust me, it was good I was alone and in the vast desert for that part of it) and I realized that my life was disordered.  That was it – I was in disarray in so many areas.  And a calm clarity came to me, as I stared at my Jerusalem cross hanging from the rear-view window.  God needed me at home. My son needed me at home. My husband wanted me at home. My brief foray into the working world had come to a close.

“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.”  (Mark 10: 13-16)

I needed to focus on a childlike approach to God, as well as to not hinder my children and keep them from God.  For my youngest son, the same one who is off on an Arctic Survival adventure this week, I needed to bring him home and help him myself.  My first duty is to be a faithful child of God; my second is to be a wife and mother.  Both my husband, and my sons, needed me at home.  My husband liked my paycheck, but he hated me working. Our lives run so much smoother with me at home.  And so I went back into homeschooling (we are now doing HS!!!) and keeping the home fires burning.  And as a stay-at-home wife and mother, I have a real sensitivity to protecting these helpless little ones.  They can be infants, they can be 10, they can be teenagers, but we need to bring our children to a safe haven and to “hinder them not” in their discovery of their faith.

Elder SiluanI still struggle with seeing little children abused and my anger about their situation and the adults who perpetrate these crimes against children is something I wrestle with (as became so obvious to me yesterday).  But I do know that we are all here to bring our children to God.  We are here to be sure they are safe.  We are here to give them a firm place, a foundation, to grow into healthy, Christian adults.  We are perhaps not here to tame this world, but to work out some of the kinks and make it not such a horribly rough place to be, and to raise the next generation, who can work at softening the edges of the evil one, who definitely holds sway over so many.  I know I feel protective of these little ones I see in the arm of friends who put themselves out there for them, and I love that there are families willing to share with the hurting children in our world.  But I also know I am here to keep an eye on my own family, my own children and grandchildren, making sure they are safe and free to grow up and love the God I know is here, protecting me.

“I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)

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