“..to banquet with angels…”

Lent is really here. Wow. In the West, tomorrow is the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday. I have friends visiting Venice, Italy right now and the costumes for Fat Tuesday are actually beautiful!! So many places really do Fat Tuesday in a large way!! (Which is today). Tomorrow, I am sending my youngest son off to a job site about 5 hours north of us, until the last week of April. I am going to miss that kid. He is funny, and is always so happy. We love having him around. So for his send-off I am making boneless ribs in my Instant Pot. If you do not have an Instant Pot, well, you could do it just fine in a crock pot. But I love the variety and convenience of my Instant Pot. Ribs come out amazing. Seriously amazing.

I bought the smaller one for myself and my girlfriend bought me the larger one (Black Friday sales!!!). Why do I need the larger one? Leftovers! LOL! When it is just my husband and myself, the smaller one is fine. What I love about the Instant Pot is you can sauté and prep in the same pot used to cook in the Instant Pot electronic shell. Less to wash. I put it all in the dishwasher, except for the large, outer pot with the electronics. But the inner pot, the lid, and the gasket for the lid all go into the dishwasher. Clean up is amazing! You can see in the photo above, there is a slight difference between the 6 and 8 quart size (I know, 2 quarts, but I am giving you a visual aid here). Soups and stews are incredible in the IP. I made this wonderful chicken dish with chicken breasts you sauté in the pan, deglaze it, place the chicken on the trivet, and add spices and broth and off you go! For the rest of it, you added potatoes and onions partway through the cooking. It was so good. So, as I type this, ribs are thawing on the stove top (I sit my frozen stuff there because I have a puppy. Sigh. He is so tall he can reach anything, except the very back of the stovetop!) and my son is gathering his supplies and washing some clothes; packing up his truck with his tools and things he will need (like his X-Box, games, and movies) and winter gear. Where he is going it is averaging about -1 or so, with night time temps into the the -28 range. Part of the fun of living and working in the Arctic Circle!!

My one-year-old Standard Poodle, Kolbe. He is so tall, he can literally eat off our dining table, the counters in the kitchen, the bathroom counters, the tops of our dressers, as well as a sundry list of other places. He is so smart, he figured out how to open our laundry hamper and sift through it for my husband’s socks. So now I have to place another laundry basket on top of it, upside down, to lock down the hamper lid. His breeder just had another litter of full sibling puppies, and for a brief second, I was tempted. Thankfully my sanity returned and I chose not to go for another one. He is the smartest dog we have ever owned. He does not shed, nor smell like a dog, even soaking wet. He gets wet a lot. He is the best guard dog and also wants to please. He loves training. Agility is coming this summer. I am excited for it. But he does hamper how I prep for dinners. And the Instant Pot he leaves alone. LOL. Thank goodness. Almost time to pop in some ribs!!! Fat Tuesday!!

This Lenten season, we are already fasting from so much, in the foods aspect, as part of our efforts to become healthier. And as I have shared over past posts, I think that giving up coffee or chocolate is fine; walking away from social media is great. It is a sacrifice for many that is really hard. I truly get that. But I have also learned that adding a discipline to my routine can also be a wonderful Lenten tool. I read more. I pray more. I dive into my journaling and prayer companion. I add more that is spiritually uplifting and challenging to my life. I attend more services that are provided during Lent. And hopefully, these added things can become a good habit to incorporate into my life, long after Pascha has come and gone. I know that reading the Church Fathers, the Saints, even some modern theological writings, puts me into a Lenten frame of mind. Availing ourselves of modern technology and listening to Podcasts is a wonderful way to incorporate more spiritually uplifting and focusing works into our lives. Think of the time spent commuting – switch from music on the radio to something like Patristic Nectar’s podcasts, or Father Andrew Stephen Damick’s podcasts, or Father Barnabas Powell, or one of the many wonderful podcasts offered through Ancient Faith Radio. Giving up food is just a part of what it means to prepare during Lent.

I find that saying goodbye to some foods in my diet, to control the portions I do consume, and to be mindful of my plate, helps me develop more of a laser focus on what is important in this life. We cannot afford, for our personal salvific process, to be concerned with what others do for Lent. If someone shares that they gave up caffeine, support them. Those headaches when you choose to be rid of caffeine are no joke! Offer prayers for those who you know are struggling during Lent. Pray for a transformative Lent for others. Sometimes Pascha arrives and we are ho-hum. Sometimes it just becomes another long service we get through. Sometimes it is not even a different or special time for us. My mom, the last time we took her to Church, had no idea where we were, who Jesus was, or had any sort of relationship on a conscious level, to God. And it broke my heart. She has Alzheimer’s and my prayer for her is that her heart is right with God, even if her mind is failing her. For so many people we know, their minds cloud the purity of their hearts. And we cannot judge the quality of someone else’s Lent. Our culture has become so hedonistic, that the idea of giving something up is pretty foreign to people. So if they make any effort towards growth at all, it is time to celebrate for and with them. And always, keep our Christian brethren in prayer, holding one another up in these days of trials. And most especially during Lent.

When we fast it enhances our experiences. And when we end our fast and we begin to feast, it is the most incredible thing you will experience. I recall one year in particular. The boys teased me almost daily, “Is that tofu again?” We followed every dietary fasting requirement we were given. And trust me, in the Eastern Churches, fasting is serious business. And it is for each and every of the 40 days of Lent, not just Wednesday and Friday. So this particular year, we prepared for Holy Saturday. We helped clean the Church, we cooked meat dishes galore. Our priest said he would personally throw any vegetable he saw into the trash! Ha-Ha. The scents coming from the hall as we gathered in the Church were driving us all mad!! We use lots of incense in Church, and most especially on Holy Saturday at midnight. It is so much we have to open windows to breathe. We all love it, though, because our hair and clothes all smell so wonderfully “Churchy” afterwards! The scent of the angels! And this one year, one of the men snuck out early and bought up dozens and dozens of In and Out hamburgers. He had made arrangements with the local location and they had pre-made them for him. When he put those in the hall, we all knew exactly what was waiting for us. And trust me, it was the most amazing feast. Everyone was joyously sharing the Resurrection, with hugs and cracking of eggs, and toasting and eating and singing and dancing. Our son, who is leaving tomorrow and is now 21 years old, was a small child at the time. I think he was about 3 or 4. He was sleeping soundly next to our table, lying on a pile of blankets and jackets. We celebrated until after 3:00 am! Glorious feasting after a long, 40-days of fasting and prayers and almsgiving. And we had grown so much over each of those 40 days. Each day brought its trial and each of them added together, brought us to the magnificent feast of Pascha. Happy Lent, my friends!

“..your Father, who sees what is hidden…”

“Sacrifice and offering you do not want; but ears open to obedience you gave me. Holocausts and sin-offerings you do not require; so I said, “Here I am; your commands for me are written in the scroll. To do your will is my delight; my God, your law is in my heart.”” That is from Psalm 40, verses 7-9 in my New American Bible (2007).

As I read this during my prayer time today, I realized that I am a wanderer. We all are. Like someone roaming in the desert, as the Jewish people did for 40 years (there’s that number 40 again) searching for the Promised Land. We all try and fill ourselves with things of this world, thinking we will be satisfied. But nothing, absolutely nothing, can fill that hole in our souls like God. And today, as I prayed and read and journaled, I realized something profound. All God asks of us is an ear to listen to His commands for our lives. He just asks us to listen. Just listen.

As we raise our children, we begin young (hopefully) to teach them how to sit still. I can still hear myself admonishing my sons, “Would you just sit still and listen???” And hopefully they come to learn how to enjoy moments of stillness and silence. I have a very close friend who is a teacher. She had been teaching older kids for a few years and decided to return to teaching kindergarten. One of our first conversations after her change of grade levels this year was pretty funny. She kept telling me how exhausted she was and then she said, “Oh my goodness!! It’s like herding cats!!” And I just laughed. I know what it is like when I have just two of my grandchildren (both under 5) over here, and I try to get them to sit with me for a bit of quiet time. Ha-Ha! Not gonna happen. (Unless they happen to want to cuddle, then I just bask in the moment). Recently my oldest grandchild and I had a slight disagreement when he informed me that I had been “breaking the rules” when I wore my shoes inside their house. Long story short, I explained why I had mine on; however, I wanted him to just listen to me and he would not stop telling me I was in trouble and a rule-breaker. I held up my hand (signaling “stop”) and told him to just think on what I had been telling him for a moment (my reasons for having my shoes on). He kept trying to speak, and I kept holding up my hand. I’m sure you can just imagine the scene in your head – a grandma and a 5-year-old having a lively discussion! The expression on his face was hilarious, as his mind juggled “thinking” and “being quiet,” at the same time. Eventually he realized that at that moment, that it was okay we had our shoes on. And I also shared with him that I was glad he understood there were rules in his home, and that he needed to obey, as do we all. And that I was proud of him for finally listening, and being quiet.

Don’t we all struggle with being silent and listening, while learning at the same time? My youngest son loves to plug in and listen to his music while he studies, with those darn earplugs in his ears. It is so loud that I can hear it when I am in the room with him. He would wear them 24/7 if he could!  I just cannot read or learn that way. But for him, it somehow settles his mind so he can think. And sometimes things that “distract” us can actually be instructive, and bring us closer to what it is we need to hear. The world and all its chaos can be that thing that brings us closer to God. It has for me. I was able to see it as an entirety, and not as separate things. I chose to unplug from much of the noise around me.

The book of Matthew today was our Scripture reading and it was so perfect. Matthew 6: 16-18: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father, who is hidden; and your Father, who sees what is hidden, will repay you.”

We often want others to know and acknowledge our efforts at fasting and keeping other traditions in our faith life. As silly as it may seem, this can be seen in other aspects of our lives, as well. For example, who doesn’t want everyone in the world to see and acknowledge our new driver’s license? Or to share accomplishments like passing a course we were taking or graduation from schools? “Did you see what I did?” We want others to acknowledge us; to be proud of us. And that can be a distraction. The Lord asks us to work at our holiness with Him, and in secret. No one needs to know how we are changing, spiritually, or exactly what it is we are working on (“I gave up coffee for Lent and it is killing me” or “I gave up TV this Lent – what is happening on Chicago Fire?” “I spent three hours at Vespers last night; I am so tired!!” or worse, “I didn’t see you at Stations this week; why weren’t you there?”). Quite often our Spiritual Fathers or our Priest/Pastor may give us spiritual instruction – that is for our edification only. We need to do the work to become closer to God, but do it in quiet solitude. We should not complain that we can’t join friends for drinks, or food, and good times during Lent, either. A wise clerical friend of mine (you know who you are!!) once told me that we are also bound by the “laws of hospitality.” If a friend invites you over for dinner, or shows up at your home with foods that are not compliant with the fast, do you eat them? Or do you complain that you are fasting and cannot enjoy a meal with them? My wise friend insists that, no, we need to enjoy the hospitality of others, extending to them the art of friendship. The Lord will see what is hidden, in our hearts, and will know our mindsets. It does not mean, however, that we party every night and just say, “I’m keeping the law of hospitality,” either. We need to make our best effort to keep the Fast in our own way each Lent; but nonetheless, we can still be hospitable and kind to others. We smile, we wash our faces and “anoint our hair” even though we are fasting and spending more time in prayer than what may be our normal routine. “..your Father, who sees what is hidden…”

And I have found that, this Lent in particular, I am enjoying the separation from distractions even more than I thought I would. I never could study like my son, in headphones or with noise. I did my best studying at a library, surrounded by books and quiet. At my quiet time in the mornings, I am so excited to read more and learn more, that I have no other distractions! Now, don’t get me wrong – I approach it sort of backwards! Usually, I get up and have my coffee, catch up on social media (I am only checking in once a day, if I can limit it to that) and then I have a second cup of coffee while I enjoy the daily press briefings from Sean Spicer. I know it is weird, but it gets my day going and I love how he does his press briefings!! By that time, my son has left to catch the bus and I make my way to my office, in silence, TV off/social media put away for the day. I am ready to truly start my day. It is profoundly effective for me to shut myself away in the stillness of my home. And I am also discovering I would much rather do this every day than go back and forth on social media. I realized that I am not missing a whole lot. And I may just continue to use my phone as a phone, and not have social media run/control my life. I miss some things, yes, but I sure am gaining an awful lot, too. Detoxing from anything is hard, and this is no exception.

And today, as I entered my little office and opened the drapes for the morning sunshine to sweep over my desk, and when I saw the Psalms and the Scripture from Matthew, I was so happy. I realize that this Lent, I am happy. Honestly happy, with a slight tendency to giggle and enjoy my days. I am not wearing “sackcloth and ashes,” and I am prayerfully aware that I am in a good mood. I am in week 2 of Lent and I can feel that my life is being redirected in a good way! I love that I am once again tying myself to my spiritual roots and it is invigorating me. It is making me come alive. One other thing that has begun to really help with this is our weather. I find it so interesting that the Church, in all its wisdom, ordained that we have Lent when we do….as we are emerging from the cloister of those many dark and wintry days, as we are beginning to “see the light.” We have had some extremely cold days – it was -10 again this morning – but the sunshine has been spectacular. The icicles on our house are shrinking (as my son happily pointed out to me today – I am challenging him to not knock them off so we can see how long they get) as the days alternate between sunny and sunny/windy. But for me, this is the first winter when the glorious days of sun have really affected me. I happily pop my vitamin D every day, but seeing the sun itself is glorious. (It also shows all the places I need to clean. Which goes hand-in-hand with my “40 bags in 40 days” cleaning spree! God is so good!). I am not over-sharing, I hope, with this Lenten experience, because there is just oh, so  much more, that I am learning and discovering. But I also share to inspire! I know my Lord sees what is hidden, and that just makes my joy even bigger!

So for me and my experience this year, I’m all about digging in to this Lent. I am loving it so much! Reading, learning, quietly praying, and always giving gratitude for my many blessings. Let us all clean our homes and our hearts, and prepare for the upcoming rough days of Holy Week, when we somberly walk with our Lord through to His tortuous death. But let us also be ready to open the windows, let the spring sun shine in through our clean windows, and celebrate His Glorious Resurrection!

 

“…cleanse me from my unknown faults…”

Today I am feeling lighter. Even though it’s Great Lent and we are more reflective, I am thrilled at our progress with the “40 Bags in 40 Days” project. The idea is to take any sized bag and start purging things to give to the needy. Today I did our two bathrooms. I mean, how many types of hair conditioner or deodorant do we really need? How many hair brushes or hand towels? I got a bag of stuff to throw away, and a bag of things to give away, from those two rooms. [I will not give my cast-off products that are expired or just not very good to the needy or homeless. To me, that seems insulting on top of already needing help. When I do gift bags to the needy/homeless, I purchase new products in travel-sizes]. Yesterday, my husband and I spent about an hour and we purged our bedroom. We did our dresser and night stands, and our closet. I haven’t gotten under the bed, yet, but that is coming up. (Our home is very tiny and we use every place imaginable to store things, including under our beds)!  We got 5 bags of clothing to give away. We laughed that we have only lived in Alaska for 4 years and we got rid of things from living in CA and WA that we thought we would wear up here. Ha-Ha. We had no idea.

Our world is so crammed full of noise, chaos, and so much stuff. We are overfed, over-dressed, and over-stimulated. Paring down can do your psyche so much good. It is as if a burden is lifted. Turning off the TV and spending the day without that noise is pretty incredible. One of the things we are trying is to spend 1 evening per week with no electricity. What a lack of artificial light and stimulation does to the mind! You can think. You can relax and settle into the calmness of an evening with family or friends. You can play board games or craft (my goal is to someday master knitting/crocheting). And as you slow down, you can relax and get a better night’s rest.

And after reflecting on today’s readings, and keeping up with our Lenten practices, it makes me humble and a little quieter. “…cleanse me from my unknown faults..” (Psalm 19:15) truly struck me because I think I know myself, but perhaps there are cracks and crevices in my soul that I have hidden from myself. But nothing is hidden from God. Cleaning out our things, slowing down and stopping the use of electricity for just one evening a week, journaling on all of these things, has caused me to stop and reflect on who I am, who I purport to be, and what sort of witness I am for God. “Who may go up to the mountains of the Lord? Who can stand in His Holy Place? The clean of hand and pure of heart, who are not devoted to idols, who have not sworn falsely…” (Psalm 24:3-4).

I thank God the Church provides us with this time each and every year to re-orient our lives towards to God. It also gives me the chance to really dig into WHO I am. And with pretty much everyone I know, there is always room for improvement. I read some quotes today that really hit me. St. Paisios the Athonite said, “With fasting, man reveals his choices” and St. Basil the Great said, “By fasting it is possible both to be delivered from future evils and to enjoy the good things to come. We fell into disease through sin; let us receive healing through repentance, which is not fruitful without fasting.” And with the processes we put in place this Lent, we are learning where our choices truly lie, and how we have the time this Great Lent to rectify the diseases we received through sin. One great remark was made that actually made me stop and think. “Fasting has been in practice for the people of God since the Old Testament. It was the first law, the only law given to Adam and Eve.” Ponder that for a moment. It was the only law given to them; they rejected it and were expelled from the garden. Just that one thing. St. Tikhom of Zadonsk says, “Let thy mind fast from vain thoughts; let thy memory fast from remembering evil; let thy will fast from evil desire; let thine ears fast from vile songs and slanderous whispers; let thy tongue fast from slander, condemnation, blasphemy, falsehood, deception, foul language, and every idle and rotten word; let thy hands fast from killing and stealing another’s goods; let thy legs fast from going to evil deeds. Turn away from evil and do good.”

May the Lord bless your Great Lent and help you to choose to become the person you truly want to be. Don’t be afraid to hit your knees and allow the Lord to quietly come to you, as you reflect on His words for your life. I am looking forward each morning to the time I spend in quiet reflection on the words of God and His saints. I am being filled with the things that the Lord truly wants us to fill up on, while lessening the hold this insane world has on me. Fasting from so many things, including foods, is lightening my soul and gladdening my heart. Blessed Lent, my friends; Blessed Lent.

“…and I am now standing at your gates, Jerusalem.”

purplelentwords

Every once in awhile (I am not a theologian, so don’t know the exact occurrence) the eastern and western worlds join together for Lent. Today marks Ash Wednesday, when the western Christians join the eastern Christians and Orthodox, who began Lent on Monday. And it is so joyful to walk together during this season of preparation and a cleansing of our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies as we prepare to walk with Christ to Calvary and weep, and then celebrate with Him His Divine, and glorious, Resurrection.

This year I am doing a new Lenten Study and I am so excited. (It is by http://www.orthodoxmom.com and I highly recommend her blog and her Facebook page, too). I am not in the least artsy, as those who know me well will attest to. But this year, I am keeping a notebook and journals. One is a journal about the Psalms, and another is called the “Gratitude Journal.” And each day’s assignment offers us a time to reflect upon our readings and the things we are grateful for (it is a directed reflection). The first three days have been staggering for me, to say the least. The author of the study has carefully weaved our Scripture readings together and I have already learned so much in such a short time (which is why I was compelled to post).

prayerandfasting

Lent is a time when we reflect, we pray, and we fast. And through these processes, we hope to come to a better place in our walk with Christ. It is a time when we try to still that chaos that is the world, and spend time in quiet reflection and prayer. In the Scriptures (Matthew 17:19-21), Christ admonishes the Apostles for their lack of faith in trying to exorcise demons:

“Then the disciples came to Jesus privately, and said, “Why weren’t we able to cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your unbelief. For most certainly I tell you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. But this kind doesn’t go out except by prayer and fasting.”

There are times when simple faith is not enough to move the mountains we face, nor exorcise the demons in our lives. We need to pray – and fast. And that is an integral part of Lent. We deny ourselves all this instant gratification. Of course there are many who also admonish that if you Fast from food, but gossip or slander someone, how are you a good Christian? How is that fasting from the demons inside us all? Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Envy, Anger, Pride, and Sloth are characterized as the 7 Deadly Sins. What can we do to eradicate them from our lives? How can we lessen the impact they have upon our souls? The Roman Catholic Church teaches us the Capital Virtues, which counteract each of these sins. They are: Chastity, Generosity, Temperance, Brotherly Love, Meekness, Humility, Diligence. How do we get these virtues? We pray. We starve the enemy of our flesh by denying it the thing it wants. Sloth and Gluttony, I have said many times, sit on either shoulder for me. How do I starve them? I set an alarm clock, I make a list, and I tackle my daily duties with zealous abandon, fighting sloth! This year, I took Facebook off my phone. I am trying to distance myself from social media. It can become a crutch and every bit a sickness, like an addiction. It sucks your time and adds to your sloth. What can you be accomplishing if you spend hours on a computer, reading things that are not necessary, nor edifying, but gauged to our interests so they suck us in? What desire am I feeding? How many sites do I need to go to? How many ways can I distract myself from my life? And how can I combat that? I sometimes have to help my lesser self (or that bad demon on my shoulder) to become my better self (the angel on the other shoulder) by denying myself – on purpose. Gluttony? Well, fasting sure helps with that. We are returning to Whole30 and who knew there was a Whole30 support group for those to use during Lent? So excited to find that! We have to work with what we know to be true about ourselves, in order to help ourselves. It’s why I took Facebook off my phone, along with lots of apps and groups. I make it harder for myself to get to it – like putting that bag of Oreos on top of the fridge, behind the cookbooks, making it harder for me to indulge myself. And to be honest, this year for Lent, there are no cookies in the house to begin with. I know Gluttony all too well. It is one of the many demons I constantly and consistently struggle with. And it is one of the ones I desire most to conquer this Lenten fasting period. I need to control my desire for food and replace it for a desire that will benefit my soul.

devilangelonshoulder

Lent is our eternal struggle condensed into just 40 days. But the Church, in her wisdom, gives us this time every year. We are not expected to become Saints overnight. I love that about my faith. I try, sincerely, to make the right choices day in and day out. Some days I get it pretty good and can lay my head on my pillow with a clear conscious. Some nights, not so much. “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” is often recited as I finally get to sleep.

During my reading for this Lent, I read an article about forgiveness. In the Eastern and Orthodox Churches, we begin Lent on Forgiveness Sunday. On this day (the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday) we actually make lines around the Church and each parishioner approaches each other parishioner, asking for and giving, forgiveness. I can honestly say that the first time I participated in this, I wept as I made my way around the Church. How humbling and how beautiful. But when we think about forgiveness, what is it? In this article by Metropolitan Anthony of Sorozh (+2003)  in the Orthodox Heritage Vol 05, Issue 2, February 2007, he says, “Forgiveness begins at the moment when, realizing the frailty of others as I realize mine, the need of others for help, for mercy, and for protection, I am prepared together with them to bear the burden of their weakness, their frailty or their sinfulness. Forgiveness begins at the moment when I take it upon myself to put up with others, without waiting for them to change, to put up with them as they are in order to make lighter their burden and to make it possible for them to eventually change.” He goes on later to say, “Every one of us, side by side with them, have people who are difficult to bear, who are a cause of suffering, of misery or of anger; we can undo this anger and outgrow this misery if we make our task, the task of our life, our business, to carry their burden together with them, to be the person who, wounded and offended, and rejected, will turn to God and say, ‘Lord, forgive, because I bear no grudge, I want to become and remain solid with this person in his frailty and his sinfulness. I will not stand in judgement against him, and I am not yet capable of doing this. You do this for me: do not endorse my judgement, do not endorse the condemnation I rashly have pronounced, do not stand by me in my anger. Stand by the person who has done wrong, because he, because she needs help, forgiveness and healing, for that very reason.'” forgiveness

And so we begin Lent by learning to forgive. Truly forgive. This quote above stunned me into silence. It caused me to rethink what I know about forgiving others. Our Psalm readings were full of the forgiveness from God. And I realized I was actually excited about Lent, and that I was preparing for this Lent to be one of change for me. I was getting a notebook and making dividers; I even got stickers and colored pens! I bought a new journal and yesterday, I began writing things about the Psalms. And I was happy – happy about a task of cleaning my heart and soul and becoming more in tune with God. Because I know I can only become better through this process. As I eagerly began to read the Psalms, I read, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ And now I am standing within your gates, Jerusalem.” (Pslam 123). And reading that, I smiled. I had been looking forward to this journey, and now I was on the doorstep. And we are all fully into Lent, as of today.

I am apprehensive (as change is always hard) and exultant at the prospect at becoming a better me. God is not done with me, yet. And I know He is not done with any of us, either. Thanks be to God for this opportunity. Blessed and Holy Lent, everyone.

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“…nor any other created thing…”

addiction

I am seeing more and more addictions, of many types. And I read something yesterday that brought it home. It was in a novel by Victoria Dannon and the character replies to a demon that he is not an addict and this demon, who is trying to extract payment on a debt says to him, as he laughs at him, that basically, he does not care what you are addicted to, addiction is addiction, whether it is to alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping, plastic surgery…you get the idea. And the demon laughs as the man realizes that his addiction is just that, an addiction. He actually had no idea he was living his life around his addiction. In the storyline, his particular poison was horse racing. And he was willing to risk even his life, to continue betting.

I have seen comments from addicts who say they are not addicted to a particular thing (alcohol, drugs, porn) but rather are running from, or trying to turn off from, life. And that, to me, is sad. We are repressing our inner thoughts by an activity. I know many of us have developed an addictive relationship to social media…Facebook is worth billions of dollars. How? They do not give me a product, but they allow me to communicate with people I would not normally see. I joined to stay in touch with my kids all over the world (literally) and some friends who had moved away. It has become a life-line to many relationships and I have made wonderful friends through Facebook. But what is social media costing us all? Have you actually looked around at restaurants recently? Everyone is on their phones! People are not communicating with that warm body sitting next to them. They are preferring that alternate reality of social media. People text to break up. Don’t even bother to see the person in real life, real time, but send a text. People declare they are “in a relationship” and yet they never see one another. It is totally online. It is just one of the ways we are losing our humanity to technology.

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There are many other addictions and some of them are far more costly. Do we surround ourselves with stuff to cushion us from the world? What is it about accumulating each thing we collect? I have seen women who have more shoes than I thought possible. I have seen men with tools that take over their garages so they cannot park in them. I have seen women collect cooking utensils – how many strainers do we need? (Okay, I have 3…) But why do we spend money on all this stuff, until we are busting out of our homes, when we complain about being broke? How can we spend on stuff and have no savings? How can we wear all those shoes? Ugh. How much make-up or plastic surgery does one woman need? How many cars are enough for some men? Collecting is one thing, whereas hoarding is quite another. And many of these addictions/obsessions are shielding us from a host of other things.

It is not the stuff itself that people need. It reminds me of a scene from a cartoon movie my kids used to watch (they watched it so much I knew the dialogue by heart!) where this bug cannot stop heading into one of those zappers that has a bright light to attract them. One character says, “Don’t go into the light” and the other responds, “But it’s so beautiful!” And that bug is then zapped. We always laugh at that and have used that line (“But it is so beautiful”) often to express our concern for people who go toward something that is not good for them. In the movie, “Percy Jackson, The Lightning Thief” they find themselves in Las Vegas at this “Lotus” hotel. They lose days in this hotel, because there are no windows or clocks (typical for casinos) and they are fed these Lotus Flowers, which drug them. They finally snap out of it and leave. How many days have I gone through, not remembering what I accomplish? Do I numb my mind with thoughtless activities like cruising social  media or watching endless TV programs or movies? Do I thoughtlessly eat? Do I mindlessly read junk? How do we “snap out of it”????

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We are an inherently spiritual being. Each of us. We are created in the image and likeness of our Creator. We long for that intimate love relationship with the God of all Creation. And we all have this “God Hole” that we try to fill with things. Sometimes the world is a cruel place and humans are cruel to one another, creating individuals who are damaged and seek relief through drugs, alcohol, overeating, shopping, and other behaviors. All the while, people are trying to fill this gaping hole inside each of us. You cannot own enough shoes to fill that. You cannot buy enough leggings or tools or toys for yourself or your children, and expect to find fulfillment and contentment. You cannot drink enough alcohol to fill this wound, this hole, that only God can fill. And it saddens me greatly. Because I am just as guilty as many, in that I acquire things and have behaviors that are not, arguably, the things and behaviors of a Godly woman, wife, and mother. Because quite often, I lack the fortitude to persevere in my faith walk. It is much easier to plop on the couch with a cup of coffee and an Oreo in my hand, and check Facebook, than it is to accomplish something meaningful, like prayer. Or comforting a friend or loved one. Or doing the duties I have acquired from my station in life – a housewife and homeschooling mother. Being lazy is much easier than being accomplished, but the rewards are definitely not the same.

I read an article this morning about why millennials don’t go to Church and how the American Church is losing people faster than they are gaining them. The article spoke to all the ways the American Church could act, to attract these young people. And as I read the article, several things struck me. It was not about any of the mainstream Churches in America. It certainly was not about the Eastern Catholic or Orthodox Churches. Much of what they were proposing Churches do, most of the mainstream Churches offer already. One of the complaints is that the American Churches need to adapt to the world around them. I took great offense at that. I love my Church specifically because it has NOT changed. I see lots of young people in there every week. I am seeing more women dress more modestly and even wear veils. They prefer that their faith remains steadfast, strong, and unchangeable. It offers them comfort in a crazy world. It helps them fight their addictions by remaining the same – unmovable, unchangeable, and steadfast. “And on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18 This is where millennials, and whoever is hurting in this world, needs to come to be filled with God. It is a place for the broken, the hurting, the sinners.

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It is not easy to fight addictions. At all. There are attractions, tempting us almost 24/7 into sin and deviant behavior. We make almost hourly choices towards good or towards evil. And with Great Lent soon upon us, it is the perfect time to slow down and focus on these many addictions, and to seek God’s Grace to help us fight them. To help us overcome them by filling our empty lives and hearts with Him, instead of stuff.

One great suggestion given to me was to do the “40 bags over 40 days” purging project. Definitely doing that this year. The timing is perfect for our family. Another suggestion I saw was to spend 1 day per week with no electricity in the evenings. Instead you light candles and read, pray, play games together. But nothing you do can be supplied by electricity. The author of the blog about it noticed some immediate benefits.

(Here is the link to the article:

http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jennifer-fulwiler/8-reasons-to-turn-out-the-lights-during-lent#.WK3C5oWG7FI.facebook)

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Here in the wintry north, sunset comes early. But I still think this could be a valuable Lenten aid, in that it quiets our lives. It calms us down. It helps set a mood, a tone, in our home of quiet reflection. As one who reads by Kindle at night, going to bed without reading will be weird, but maybe it is time I took a break from that habit. We would have to turn off our phones (agh! We’d have to talk to one another!). And there would be no TV or computer. My son does his Spanish totally online, so I would have to be sure he’s on top of his lessons before we unplug! My Instant Pot dinners would have to be completed on time. No late night laundry panics. We would just sit in the candle light and be together as a family. I think this may assist us with some of our addictive behaviors.

Please consider slowing down and coming more into the Presence of God. Rededicate yourself to becoming closer to He Who created the world. Closer to He Who commands the seas and sets the sun on its rounds every day; Who holds the stars in His hands. He is so much greater than anything we try to substitute for Him.

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

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Slaying our dragons…one day at a time.

lifeishard-godisgood

There are so many times I just *sigh* and think, “God is good.” And there are those days when I think, “Life is just so hard.” Luckily, I believe God has got this in balance. He balances our days and give us hope for those days to come.

Don’t get me wrong, I am no saint. I am not holier, nor more sinful, than the next mom driving to the grocery store. I am just me. And somedays I feel the joy in my heart of God – He resides there and I know it; I sing as I drive to the grocery store. I sing as I load the dishwasher. I sing as I carry another load to the washing machine. Why? Well, the alternative would be that I have no money to buy food; no one to buy food for. Or perhaps I have no dishes to unload because I have no family to eat with, or a place to eat my meals, or plates to eat them on. I have to wash the clothing, because I have clothing. So many blessings in amongst the sighs of life’s trials.

Today I was reminded that Lent is almost here. I read a post I had written a few years ago on this date and it brought me up short. I have nowhere near the spiritual experience going on now that I had then. And I am a little sad about that. But I also know I am surrounded by blessings. And there are many things I can do, in order to get more out of Lent.

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I posted this on my Facebook page today. I had a friend respond that she is not Catholic but it still sounds like a good idea. And I realized that so many people approach our seasons without any preparation. We see things in the stores and say, “Oh. Look at all the green. Saint Patrick’s Day is coming.” Or we see all the cute Easter decor and realize that Easter and Spring are right around the corner. I will tell you, that living in a snow state that is seeing a ton of snowfall and cold temps (today it was -5 this morning!) it is hard to even wrap your mind around the fact that Spring is coming. My Merry Christmas sign is frozen in place and we cannot even see the top of the flag part. So to see Spring in the stores and cute Easter eggs on display, it is hard to prepare for that, let alone Lent. For me, this approach of purging every day for 40 days is perfectly timed. I am busting out of our little house. We all need to purge (meaning the three of us who live here). So for me, giving up my clutter and over-abundance in clothing and, well, all our stuff, is a wonderful idea.

In the light of the Church’s seasons, we always fast before we feast. And if you have not experienced that, I feel bad for you. It changes everything – especially how you look at holidays. It’s like always attending banquets and formal events, you get inured to it. They mean nothing. It’s one of the reasons I hated “Kindergarten Graduation.” Or formal graduation from Elementary/Primary school, another for Junior High/Middle school, and then finally, High School. So many kids think HS graduation is no biggie. Half of them don’t show up. For college, barely 25% participate in walking for that diploma. It becomes something not worth the effort. If you do not understand the affluence you experience daily, you will come to stop appreciating it.

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Fasting from food, without a change of heart, is worthless – it’s just a diet. Instead of giving up chocolate, give up yelling at your mom or dad. Instead of spending money at McDonald’s, drop those dollars in the collection box at a homeless shelter. Instead of being envious of someone and disliking them for their success, why not have a coffee with them and get to know them? Instead of hating someone who disagrees with you (and there are so many issues we can disagree about) perhaps spend some time with them, exchanging ideas about something else. I have many dear friends who I disagree about politics with, but who are close to my heart and very loved. I have so many friends who are Protestant, or Orthodox, or Jewish, or many other styles/types of worship traditions, and we meld together beautifully. It’s like this amazing, colorful tapestry.

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One year many years ago, when we first discovered the eastern Churches, specifically the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, we experienced true fasting for the first time. I have never eaten so much tofu in my life. I have never been so sick of salads, ever. Melkites are sticklers for the rules of fasting; however, our priests and Bishop would always tell us, “Do what you can do. And each time we have a fasting period, try adding something else you can do.” They never expected us to keep the full fast, as most monastics do. (The full fast is no meat, dairy, wine, or olive oil for all 40+ days of Great Lent). But we tried the full fast that first year, and it was when all our kids still lived at home. The kids protested when they saw tofu again, and cringed at that next salad or bean dish.But we persevered for the entirety of Great Lent. (And below is a favorite fasting recipe of mine, that I enjoy year-round. It is called Majedra. You can add meat to it when you are not fasting. Google the recipe. Divine!).

majedra

In the Melkite tradition, Easter is celebrated on Holy Saturday, starting at about 10pm and lasting until well after 2:00am. There are prayers, singing, processions, and all sorts of tears and laughter. And the incense? Oh my word! We used to have to open the side doors and let that Holy Smoke out! Ha-Ha-Ha! A good Melkite Easter Vigil and Liturgy is something I wish everyone could experience. It is a sensory experience I will forever treasure. Each year, one of our parishioners would make a deal with a local hamburger place (In and Out Burger) and would leave Liturgy just before the end, to pick up a stack of burgers for our Priest. And when those arrived, we could smell them over all the incense in that Church. Because we had fasted every, single, day of the 40 days of Great Lent; not a morsel of meat crossed our lips; not a sip of wine; not a drop of Olive Oil. And not one bit of dairy. But after the Liturgy, we all paraded to the Hall and boy oh boy, did we Feast! I have never experienced such an incredible thing in my life. Our youngest was asleep on the floor that first time, but our older sons were devouring everything meat they could. Our pastor used to say, “This is the one feast day when no vegetables are allowed!” Ha-Ha.

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We had denied ourselves and it made the eating and feasting, and sharing with one another, such an amazing experience. It heightened our experience of Easter. We wept with Christ as He denied His very life for us. And we celebrated when He rose again, and showed each of us the Paradise that awaits us, all of us who believe. Each time the Church requests we Fast, we try to comply, because it makes the Feast afterwards incredible. It makes that “Holy Day” aka “Holiday” that much richer. Christmas is an incredible experience when you have fasted from before Thanksgiving, which is called the Apostle’s Fast, for those 40 days before celebrating the Birth of Christ. (Most American pastors allow feasting on Thanksgiving Day, here in the States).

So, to deny yourself allows you to appreciate what you have. What you have gathered to yourself. When we have over-indulged and allowed ourselves to be gluttonous about life, we do not appreciate the intricacies, or the inherent but tiny blessings in all aspects of our lives. Trust me, to live with a leaner closet and sparser walls, fewer items in your pantry, and a clean or orderly home and garage, does much to help you appreciate what is contained within it. For me this Great Lent, I am going to focus on a learner life. In all aspects of it. I have already begun by containing my social networking presence. I have left groups and stopped watching things like programs that do not enhance the best of me, but rather feed the worst that is in me. I have stopped communicating with lots of people who do nothing more than make my blood boil. I now pray for them instead. But I no longer expose myself to them. Sometimes things, situations, and people do not enhance our lives. They do not make us better people. They feed the worst that is in us and in order to be our best selves, we sometimes have to cut people, situations, and things out of our lives.

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We all have our dragons that need to be slain. When my husband and I started Whole30, we both had Sugar Dragons that needed slaying. Some people have issues with alcohol, and some will say that is also a Sugar Dragon. Carbohydrates are also like sugar for some metabolisms. And some of us have dragons that interfere with our healthy interactions with others. We have issues that are perhaps mental or psychological. We all have things that need to be plucked from our lives, in order for us to live a better life. And Great Lent is offered by the Church every year, as a time for us to focus on our dragons. This year, orderliness and cleanliness, less clutter and junk in my life, is going to be my focus. How lean can I make my life? How can I be simpler? It has such huge ramifications. And right now, I am going to start by bringing a large, black, plastic bag into my room and tackling my dresser. It is a start. I will pick up my sword daily, starting again, for these 40+ days, to slay the clutter/gluttony dragon that is part of my life. I thank God He gives us this time every year, to rededicate ourselves to becoming better at this thing we call life, preparing us for eternity with the God who created even the stars.

“Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars; the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing.” Isaiah 40:26

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“…stand your ground courageously…”

Fried Chicken

Today I am dealing with more stomach issues. I hate when nothing seems to be helping. And then I realized that I made and ate fried chicken in celebration of National Fried Chicken Day. The family loved it. I guess my tummy did not. I am working on a smaller and smaller range of foods that do not upset my stomach. Earlier this year, I went through a great book called, “The Holistic Christian Woman” (you can get it at Ancient Faith publishers) by Cynthia Damaskos, and throughout this book, I looked closely at my lifestyle and my food choices. And how we treat ourselves; this “Temple of God” that we have been gifted, relates to so many things. We dove right in with “First Things First” and this quote:

“…giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  2 Peter 5:1-8

This was the springboard for this book, this look into ourselves. And into how we treat our bodies, our minds, our souls. And I discovered other ways of looking at food. And then the study ended, and I fell back into old habits. Boy oh boy – the lure of the familiar and the less-challenging!

Tummy ache

However, I have been struggling through something painful and consuming. My body, my system, is telling me that these same old pathways, the wide/easy ways, no longer work for me. Every time I decide to partake of the familiar, I realize my body is just saying “no”!! I really cannot do fast food. I will pay for days with stomach upset. And I really need to eat simply and clean. I need to avoid the “dirty dozen” of veggies/fruits and eat more of the “clean fifteen” instead. I need to avoid fatty recipes. Don’t get me wrong, fats are not bad. It’s which types of fats you use and how you use them. I prefer coconut oil and almond oil, occasionally adding pure olive oil or organic butter. I have to steer away from commercial-grade, generic “vegetable” oil, because it is just not worth it. And is why I am in such pain today. You see, I used generic vegetable oil to fry that chicken, because I did not want to “waste” my olive or almond oil. And so now I am paying for that decision in a very painful way.

I am a miserable failure when it comes to staying with something new, in most cases. I have committed, however, to using as pure ingredients as I can – I use Young Living Essential Oils and their entire product line – only. I have been able to lead a much simpler, cleaner life since being introduced to them a year ago. I have slowly but surely cleaned out from under my sink in the kitchen and bathrooms, replacing all the chemicals there for simpler cleaners made of simple, holistic ingredients (Young Living has an amazing line of products for your homes). I am amazed at how much better they are than all the different products I thought I needed to keep a clean house. I also use their Vitality Oils line in my cooking. It is amazing what one drop of Basil Essential Oil will do to a pot of spaghetti sauce made from scratch, using only fresh ingredients! I use simpler recipes, most of the time, and try to avoid the old standards. I juice when I think of it. (Love my juicer!!) I make my Bullet-proof coffee almost daily (1 cup of coffee, 1 tablespoon each of organic local honey, coconut oil, and organic butter – add them all together in your NutriBullet blender). It is yummy, believe it or not!! I do oil pulling (a teaspoon of coconut oil on a spoon – put it into your mouth and allow the oil to melt. Swish it in your mouth like mouthwash for 10 minutes. Spit into trash – not sink!) and my gums are happier and my teeth whiter. I will occasionally even brush my teeth with coconut oil. I have added supplements to my diet. Again, I use exclusively Young Living products. Their Ninjxa Red is an amazing antioxidant drink – 4 ounces daily. I also add other products to promote good health like Super B (vitamins) and Mindwise, which is full of all the supplements to keep our minds sharp. So many things.

Supplments

But then I eat foods I know do not support this lifestyle and I feel very, very ill. It is starting to scare me because when I deviate, thinking I can eat like I did at 20 years old, I react almost immediately and it makes me so ill. Today is a day of feeling frightened at how sick I feel after eating 2 dinners, two days in a row, that are not good for me. My body is in revolt. And I cannot help but think of cancer. My maternal grandmother died of stomach cancer…her polyps just took over. My mom had breast cancer and my brother had testicular and bladder cancer. So there is cancer in my family. And I am brought back to my Holistic Christian Woman book. Again. Such a treasure. From the last chapter entitled, “Self Control: – “Self control: it’s something we’re sure we don’t have enough of; we’re convinced the person next to us had more of it; and we wish we could buy it in a bottle.” And this quote from St. Thalassios the Libyan, “If you wish to be in control of your soul and body, forestall the passions by rooting out their causes.” And then she says, ” Let me put all this in a good news-bad news formula: the bad news is, we’re going to tempted and fail. The good news is, when we fall we can get back up. The best news is: God will forgive us, will never leave us, and if we want Him to, He will faithfully work with us! God is with us!” In order to get to the root of our problems, like my problems, the first step in exercising self-control is to examine ourselves. We journaled through this book and I learned so much. Today I am re-reading my journal. The author moves into areas we can control, through examining ourselves. One of the biggies is eating! Duh! Seems so simple, but is so hard because of the emotions tied to it. We need to control snacking and portion control. We need to work at stress management. For me, I get stressed when I don’t feel well and I don’t feel well when I allow my food choices to lapse from my better judgement. I am working on forgiving myself for these lapses in judgement, because I am doing so well in so many other areas. St. John Climacus says, “Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly, the angel who guards you will honor your patience.” [Truly, this book is worth your time and effort reading. It is a life-changing, life-altering, necessary read. The author is also on Facebook, as is this book. Please check it out!!]

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And that is where I am at today…fighting the fear, learning from more poor choices, and getting back up and persevering through this. God is not done with me quite yet. And I am determined to overcome this…success takes work. Doggedly pursuing things. “Self-control does not fall from the sky; rather, it is something that through grace we work with God to exercise.”  Elder Ieronymos of Aegina reminds us, “The evil one cannot comprehend the joy we receive from the spiritual life; for this reason he is jealous of us, he envies us and sets traps for us, and we become grieved and we fall. We must struggle, because without struggles we do not obtain virtues.” And we need faith to persevere and push through days when all we want to do is pull the covers over our heads. And so I turn, once again, to “think-pray-act.” Prayer, conferencing with my God. God is with us!

Icon screen praying

Is it really Monday?

Minion Monday Quote

My grandma liked to say, “You can’t put a old head on young shoulders.” She had so many great sayings that got me through the early years of parenting. I could not help but think of this as my teen and I struggled with homeschooling today, a Monday.

And today, well, today is “such a Monday.” We had Daylight Savings time kick in yesterday, and when you get an hour stolen from you, it takes days to get yourself right again. I am not sure why this is so, but I think the days are past when we even need to have Daylight Savings time. Several states opt out; other countries think we’re nuts; most people I know think it’s stupid, too. Our state legislature was discussing it and I even think something may have actually made it to the voting stage, but once again, the government wheels grind ever so slowly. Which annoys me most particularly, on the type of Monday where I just want to crawl back into bed. But that is not what this post is about.

Today I struggle with ideas regarding authority. And I blog because I find it a wonderful way to sort my thoughts out, and have a chat with myself. And if I annoy you with this particular post today, chalk it up as a particularly nasty Monday!  Because, today I struggle with authority in so many areas within my life and living circumstances, so even on a Monday like today, I still need to sort things out. For example, today I had a chat with my father, who is 88 years old. He has always been an authority figure in my life; I have always respected him and honored his decrees in my life. As I have aged, our relationship has tweaked itself a little bit. I am no longer a youth under his direct authority, but he tries to reenact that sort of dance between us now and then. Today we had a chat that I would like to think friends would have, although some mention of the disparity in our ages came up (he loves to say how young I am, but at 58, I’m not feeling it! Ha-Ha!). We sorted through some things, and as we said our goodbyes, I was smiling. The smile was because we communicated today – he didn’t pontificate and I listen – we talked to each other. It was sublime in its simplicity. The authoritative relationship I had with him has changed. Sometimes aging does that to you; sometimes you just get older.

My teen and I had a little difference in opinion today regarding the work accomplished over the past two weeks. I was explaining how he holds his future in his hands. What he becomes tomorrow is predicated on what he learns today. I cannot give him a career. He has to gain that for himself. And our world has to have some sort of measuring stick. For most professions, it is a certain skill set you have to obtain, either through a hands-on sort of training, or book learning, or a combination of both. No one simply decides they want to be a neurosurgeon and they hand you gloves and a scalpel. It requires years of dedicated study, practice, and you have to perform with a certain amount of competency in order to practice on people. There are lots of jobs that are like that; many career paths take years and years. And there is always a governing authority in regards to careers. It may be someone in an HR capacity who allows an application to get through; a resume review that someone feels says the right thing and it gets passed to the person hiring; it could be an entrance exam for a college or trade school; it could be passing exams to graduate from high school so you can begin your journey towards a career. Again, an authority figure determines who passes and who fails; who moves on and who remains behind.  He doesn’t like me very much today.  The joys of parenting.

Orthodox Protest.Ukraine

I saw this meme posted on Facebook today. I commented that I thought it was amusing that we would show a picture of the Ukrainian Orthodox protesting in Ukraine, and caption it with a saying by the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. First of all, I mean no disrespect to the people who put this together, the Pope of Rome, or the people in the picture. I just found it amusing. My amusement was not appreciated. Once again, I was struck with the issue of authority. I am certainly not denigrating the comment the Pope of Rome made; the sentiment is wonderful. It is especially wonderful during Lent, as we approach the week of suffering wherein we remember in detail Christ’s hours on the Cross for each of us. It is also appropriate for the events pictured. Nor am I not cognizant of the world-wide implications of the actions of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, as well as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, during these tense days in Ukraine. I was struck by the stance against governmental authority in light of the Gospel Message of Christ.

We hear, almost daily, of the atrocities being committed by ISIS against Christians in the MIddle East. If you do not hear it daily, it is because your are not tuned in to what is happening there. You are not aware of the very real possibility of an entire ethnic group being removed from the lands they have inhabited for generations upon generations, as Christians. The atrocities are being committed against men, women, and children. They are not only killing men who can fight against them; they are killing women and children so no one else grows up to fight them. In those situations, who has the authority of life over death? ISIS believes it has supreme authority, given by Allah, through the Koran. But who has the ultimate authority?  God.

In the Muslim faith, they recognize and acknowledge God. They call him Allah, but they believe it is the God of Moses and Abraham, the God of the Jewish people, and of those who follow Christ.  They do not acknowledge the right of people to believe in these other faiths, but they believe it is the same God. They just believe their version of God is correct and the rest of us are wrong.  Which is where they derive their authority from.  We, as Christians, believe God has given us authority when we trample the rights of those who disagree with us, and go to war in the name of our God.  It is hard to hear those sorts of things, but we Christians have been doing it since the time of the Apostles.

Jihad.crusade

See why I struggle with authority? There are instances all through history where different factions have acted against one another, both believing they were correct, both believing God was on their side. Who wins? Or rather, who loses? In the case of ISIS, a complete ethnicity may lose it all – their homeland, their lives.

We had to choose to play with the current administration this year in regards to healthcare. We chose not to play. We use an alternative to standard insurance, and we went with a cooperative, religious approach (that was approved by the Obamacare writers as a valid alternative). We choose to educate our kids at home, and have done so since the 1990s. We are now facing being complacent and allowing something to take place in regards to our son’s education (something the current state/local government recently snuck in on us) or to standing up to the authority the school district has over us. Do we comply? Do we acknowledge their authority over what my son learns? Do we allow their data mining of our son to begin and the recording of said data to follow him through to his career choices? Or do we stop playing?  Sometimes I hate being the grownup. And that is another issue today with authority.  Mondays can be so cursed. Ha-Ha!

Today, I just wanted my teenager to take responsibility for his actions, and to accept my authority over him, as his mom and home educator.  I don’t want to slay dragons. I don’t want to overturn governments.  I just want schoolwork to be completed. Today, well, today I was able to fast and feel good about it, obeying the authority the Church has over me in decreeing fasting during Lent. I believe in the precepts of the Church, and so fasting is not a burden for me. It is sometimes hard to make work, but not a burden. And I accept the authority Christ gave His Church over me, as a believer in Him. I don’t buck it; I don’t complain about it. Sometimes I do question aspects of it, but I usually accept it. I am not what you would call a “cafeteria Christian.” I accept the whole of it, even if I do not understand it.

Authority is such an interesting concept/construct in our lives. When we are young, everyone is in authority over us. We buck it; we protest it (heck, I lived through the 60s and flower power! Far out! Cool!), but eventually we become it.  How freaky is that?  Eventually, we all go through that generational shift where we realize we are our parents and our kids are us! This government we have? It’s all on me. It’s my generation who is the authority in the world. And what a mess we have. What a mess.  It’s not just stupid Daylight Savings time. We have people beheading people; burning children alive in cages. We have millions of unborn slaughtered every day. We have millions of people starving all over the world while tons of food is thrown away, wasted, daily. We have people dying of illnesses in the Third World that have been eradicated here. We have thousands of acres of fallow land because our government is controlling agriculture and the amount of food available for harvest, when we could feed the world – and still have grain to store against famine (just ask a farmer).  Who has authority over us and why?  When can we say “no” to this authority and make changes for the good?  Boy oh boy my head is spinning today.  Maybe I do just need to call “uncle” and ask for a “do-over.”

Fast.Chrysostom

Oh no! It’s Friday! Fish sticks!

fish-sticks

I have to admit that for years, when I even thought of fasting, I thought of fish sticks. I grew up in Southern California and the public schools always served them on Fridays. Being raised Protestant, I had no idea why they only had them on Fridays. I liked them. I remember seeing those Gorton Fisherman commercials, too. I never connected why they would show up at the time of year they did, but I use to sing along.  Occasionally my mom would even serve them!

Flash forward 40+ years and here I am, a Byzantine Catholic who fasts. My kids cut out a comic strip for me and hung it on our refrigerator, not saying a word. The gist of the cartoon is one of the sons is poking the Thanksgiving turkey and the mom dead-pan answers, “No, it’s not tofu.”  My boys thought that was hilarious. At one point in time, my family thought I was taking fasting to the extreme. They dreaded anything tofu! They often referred to it as “mystery meat” and during Lent made a game out of guessing if it was “real food” or a tofu concoction. I don’t regret diving in with both feet. I was given some amazing recipes and I will still serve them, even when it is not a fasting period. Diving in also gave me time to realize my talent level with cooking and preparing fasting foods, define my limitations and the limitations of my family’s desire to try new things, and I lost the fear of fasting.

Why do I mention fear? I think it is because we all fear something we are not used to. When I shop, if I see a deal on “pretend” meats, I pick them up and put them in the freezer. You would be amazed at how many times I serve chicken strips on a salad and the family eats it up, only asking if it was tofu after they are done. And more often than not, it was tofu! I can fast all year long without stressing about it, without focusing on the cheeseburgers I am missing. (We actually found a brand of pretend burgers that we like, so it’s no longer an issue). We need not fear fasting but embrace what fasting really means to us.

Have you ever met someone who is totally cranky during Lent, moaning about this or that they have given up? Or complaining loudly that they can’t eat something because they are FASTING? And I did caps on purpose. It almost seems like a shout, when the complaints are non-stop. But let’s examine it in the USA. The Bishops in the Roman Church and many of our eastern brethren (Ruthenian, for example) have relaxed fasting rules so much, you pretty much don’t find it too much of a hardship. They ask you to restrain from full meals on Wednesday and Friday, and when you do eat, to refrain from meat. Every year there are internet discussions about what is permittable under the fasting rules. But the relaxed fasting expectations laid out by these Bishops are not the total picture of fasting. Bring on the fish sticks every Friday, but enjoy them with mac ‘n’ cheese, mashed potatoes, salad with ranch, rolls with butter, soda (“but no chocolate, I gave up chocolate”). Not much of a hardship, is it? We had a friend who used to stop daily at a market and get gourmet water in the largest bottle he could buy, and a loaf of freshly baked bread. He would eat that and drink that all day and feel like he was fasting. He was, in essence, but I think he missed the point. Anyone can eat bread and drink water all day if you eat gourmet bread and drink gourmet water. That is not what the Bishops of the West, nor most of the Eastern Bishops, would like people to do. They offer their guidelines as just that – guidelines to help you achieve a minimal participation in Lenten fasting traditions. Not to be haughty, but to offer another example, lots of Roman Catholics, and most Eastern Catholics, fast like that every Wednesday and Friday all year long. When Lent rolls around, they increase the discipline.

For us in the Melkite tradition, we are encouraged to attempt to keep the full fast. For that, you abstain from all meat, fish, dairy, olive oil, and wine. But that is keeping the strict fast, because the expectation is that you do that for the full 40 days… not just Wednesdays and Fridays. Our Bishops encourage us to participate as much as we can. The same norms apply to those who cannot fast due to age/health, or other reasons. For example, in an area where fish is the main diet, how do you fast from fish? Up here in Alaska, our diets are more narrow due to availability and expense. In the remote villages, fresh fruits and vegetables are very expensive and hard to come by. People eat mostly fish and game, supplementing with frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. We garden and “put up” what we can grow ourselves, but nonetheless, it is a different problem here. So the Church encourages us to do what we can.

We need to look at fasting as an opportunity to take stock of how we feed ourselves, our desires. Our culture has become so hedonistic. It has become a culture of “I want it and I want it now.” How often do parents buy their children a toy in the store to keep them quiet, rather than instilling the discipline of proper behavior, because it’s easier at the moment? How many parents do not attend evening services during the week, and often miss Divine Liturgy, because their children are not behaving, rather than bring them and give their children an opportunity to learn to be still and to appreciate other environments? How many parishes make those same parents feel comfortable and safe enough that they know they and their children are always welcome, even on bad-behavior days? How often do we stop and wait in a long line because we are craving a latte? Trust me, here in Alaska, there are coffee vendors on every corner and I have been fighting a craving for a “Venti Breve Latte, two shots, one Splenda.”  I have literally been thinking about the taste during the day, and avoiding it because for me, it is an example of my gluttonous nature and hedonistic desires (I want it and I want it NOW!). In addition to that, a Venti Breve Latte has 700 calories in just 20 ounces. And this is all a part of fasting. God is giving us this opportunity to rein in all our passions, including our deep attachment to the pleasures we get from food and drink.

Fasting is something to embrace. It means we pay attention to the bites of food and sips of drink we put in our mouths. We make a very conscious effort to control how much and what we eat and drink. But that is just the food portion. What about fasting from the portions of our nature that are not so God-like? Nasty behavior we automatically turn to, out of habit, when someone cuts us off while driving? What about talking behind the backs of others? Slandering others? Not giving others the benefit of the doubt about their behavior before ASS-U-M-Ing they are in the wrong? Just embracing silence (not watching TV, listening to the radio, going online all the time, texting ad nauseam)? Reading more, praying more, attending Church more often?

True Fasting. St. Basil

Fasting is just so much more than fish sticks on Fridays. And I don’t want to be afraid, ever, of embracing or trying more. I know books that beckon to me, and I know each Lent I peek inside and learn something new. I know prayers that long to be said, and I recite them, feeling better as I do. I know there are foods in my pantry and drinks available at Starbucks, but I know that by ignoring them/fighting that craving and instead focusing on my walk with God, my fasting will be something I can do all year long, but with renewed vigor during Great Lent. And as I fight the urge, even right now, to get that Venti Breve Latte, I will instead reach for my glass of water with Lemon Oil in it. At least this time, I am victorious. We have a long way to go until Pascha, when we celebrate Christ’s victory over death. Let’s do this together, one day, one prayer, at a time. Blessed Lent.

KeepCalm.Pascha

“Pressed down, shaken together, and running over…”

So, as I posted before, “What do we do with it?”  I am still trying to share as much as I can of what I am given; especially with my faith.    When we move around in life, we have the opportunity to learn from our environment and the people we meet.  We can choose to disregard these opportunities, or we can embrace them.

bumpers I came up with a theory for myself years ago and it is based on the old-fashioned pinball machines.  (I guess that sort of dates me!). There was this awesome pinball machine at a pizza place our sons’ soccer teams always went to for parties, etc.  It was an outer space-oriented game and I could actually play it. Once the games started getting more computerized, I lost my touch! Ha-Ha! Anyway, the point is that we are like those silver-toned balls in the machines.  We are launched into life and we bang into people and places along our way.  Some of these interactions score big points, others we would prefer to have avoided.  They are hazards or bumpers!  Occasionally, we get to start over, if we are lucky, and still amass our points.  But regardless of how we are launched each time, we keep on banging into all sorts of different hazards and blessings.

attackmars2 Once we get to a certain age, we sort of feel like we’ve got the hang of this thing called “life.” We make decisions and choose things in life based on our understanding of where we fit in all of this. Sometimes our choices look stupid or erroneous to those around us, and we often do make mistakes.  One of the things that has become more clear as time has moved along is that these choices we make are solely ours.  We cannot blame how we were launched, how many tries we got at this, or who launched us.  Basically, we are responsible for our own misery or happiness.  We cannot continue to blame others and to rest on paltry excuses.

pinball_machineI believe the idea is to gain perspective, like looking at this pinball game from the perspective of the player, where we can see the whole board.  Peter Kreeft, in his oft-quoted book about heaven, tells us that God is like a master writer.  And a writer knows the story in his head; he knows the beginning, middle, and the end; he has created a timeline.  The goal in life is to stand outside the “Timeline” with the Author of Life, looking at our individual timelines.  We will understand fully, when we stand with God.  (ref 1Cor 13: 12). And He is the master-player, knowing all the players and options, knowing which hazards to avoid.  Sort of like that song, “Pinball Wizard” – “He ain’t got no distractions;  Can’t hear those buzzers and bells…”

And that is where faith and our prayer life come into play for us. We rely on God and try to “listen” to his promptings in our lives. Sometimes it is hard to hear Him because, unfortunately (and to carry this theme even further – sorry, I couldn’t help it!) we hear and see all “those buzzers and bells” in life.  And for most of us, we don’t realize how much noise there is, between our hearts and God. We get distracted!

Candles.littlephotoQuite often we need the quiet, the silence, the alone-time to re-connect to God. He is waiting for us, ever-patient, ever-understanding, ever-on our side.  We are the ones wandering all over the place.  Like I said above, moving around in life can be a positive, growth experience, sort of thing. Or it can be something that hinders us. It is all a matter of choice and free will.  I am discovering through this Lenten period of reflection, that I have brought lots of things with me, emotionally, psychologically, and theologically, from all the places and people I have run into through my life. It has created within me the fabric of my “prejudice” – the place from which I view life.  We all have it.  We all make decisions based on our own worldview or prejudice.  And it colors my world – and sometimes not for the better.  When our own worldview becomes too entrenched, we are unable to learn.  We feel conflict unless people have our exact, same, viewpoint. And trust me, with the myriad of options in life, not to mention the endless combinations inherent in genetic make-up, there is no exact match to any of us – it is part of the beauty of creation! Individuals, each with free will, trying to get along.  And each of us trying to make our way through this life, to our eternities.  I am praying my eternity is one shared with God.

Kneeling Prayer.Orthodox ChurchTo carry this pinball thing as far as I probably can, God allows us to fail.  We bang into one too many hazards and are relegated to start over.  What an incredible gift that is!  Do we all realize how incredible it is that Our Lord offers us the same thing He asks of us?  “Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18: 21-22). Each and every time we fall and get up again, it is as if the Lord has said to each of us:

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. “Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

      “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6: 27-35)

Can you imagine if those words were applied to each of us, by God?  Do we judge? Oh, pretty much all the time!  Do we love those who hate us? Not so much.  Do we expect nothing in return when we give?  Most times, no, we don’t.  And what does that say about us? About me?  That I have so much work to do on my salvific journey!  Thanks be to God for Lent.  Thanks be to God that the Church gives me this time every year, every year, to realize that I have fallen again and that I need to raise myself up, to be more in the likeness of God. And each time I realize this, it is as if that little ball on the pinball board hit a flapper – something that hurls me back into the game, just a little bit wiser!  Just a little bit less prejudiced because I have (hopefully) grown.  Isn’t God and His Church just so amazing?  We think we are such intellectuals when we have the Church and the Church Fathers, who have gone before us perhaps 1,000s of years ago, and they’ve already laid this all out for us. From Ecclesiastes, Chapter 14, verses 11-12:

 “What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.”

My continued prayers that this Lenten period be one of growth and prosperity in seeking a closer relationship with God.  I am blessed and I appreciate this time each year so much.  For me, the trick is to keep moving forward, keep learning, and to not repeat old patterns once the Great Fast has completed itself.  Fasting is a time for quiet reflection, and not just a time when we leave food habits aside, but a time when we take on new, and better, traits worthy of a child of God.  Blessed Lent!

KeepCalm.Pascha