“…Outdo one another in showing honor.”

Proverbs 12:26 The godly give good advice to their friends; the wicked lead them astray.

Proverbs 20:6 Many will say they are loyal friends, but who can find one who is truly reliable?

Romans 12:10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

Ephesians 4:29-32 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Colossians 3:12-14 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

CS Lewis: “The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.”

CS Lewis: “Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a good fire?”

Can you guess my theme? LOL. Friendship. Friendships are precious. I can honestly count on my hand, friends who I know would come running if I needed them. Even though I live 1000s of miles away, they would do their best to get to my side. I know that. Those are the deeply treasured humans in my life. And I have lots of casual friends. People we hang out with because we have something in common. When that common thing goes away, so does the friendship. It took me decades to not be hurt by that. Friends are made to come and go; to be there for the time they need to be. We learn from them, and they learn from us, and then we let them go. The hurt is when you are “let go” all of a sudden and it is over something that has nothing to do with why you became friends in the first place. And there is where the hurt lays today.

Today I realized a lot of people have “unfriended” or “unfollowed” me on various social platforms because of my beliefs. And for that, I am sorry. Most of us came together because of our faith, but our politics drove an irreparable wedge between us. And that makes me very sad. I don’t care about what law people want enacted, what politician they back, or how they vote. I care about their souls. I care about the person who is spending time with me. I honestly do not judge. I have very dear friends (ones in that inner circle who would run to my aid if I needed it) who are divergently opposed to my views, politically. But we have maintained a close relationship for more than 25 years. We joke that we all have to vote each election, so we can cancel each other out! LOL. And I love their hearts and their souls and I trust them with my life. But not my vote. LOL.

And that is not being harsh or callous. I would not want someone to hang on, if they dread each encounter, out of some sense of duty or habit. We all deserve the best from one another, and if someone feels I am not the best for them, then I would prefer they go. But I rarely give up on someone, unless they sever ties and walk away. And then I chew on it; I review all the pieces; I smile at the many laughs and enjoyable moments; and then I work on letting go. Letting the relationship just die of its own accord. But I mourn. I do.

But I cannot help but feel these days are calling for us to remain strong in our faith, to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2) and to stay on the front lines, in defense of freedom and what we know to be right. And this book of 1 Thessalonians, which Paul wrote to the community at Thessaloniki, brought me such comfort. This is Chapter 5 in its entirety and I think it describes life right now. I hope you will read it.

1 Thessalonians 5

“Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. Brothers and sisters, pray for us. Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” 

We will lose friends along the way because we are strident in our beliefs and we feel that we cannot compromise our firm belief in our country, in our republic, and in the basic truths of right and wrong. I do not think these days it is anymore about left or right, conservative or liberal, democrat or republican, but it is very much about good vs evil, and the very salvation of our land and our people. Without freedom, we have nothing. Without law, we have anarchy. Those who prey upon the weak or the unknowing, they need to be held accountable. We are unified in our trust of God; I just wish we could all be unified against evil. Against tyranny in all its forms. Against loss of personal freedoms. But I cling to hope and I know, still, that God wins. Always.

 

 

“An empty place in her heart…”

candles-church

I think I have been in some sort of a deep freeze. My house is a total disaster. My laundry has piled up. I think I stopped “House-wifing” for some reason. I stopped pursuing things. It happened in like, September? Nah…maybe August. Not sure. Sort of a malaise came over me. I can attribute it to several things. I don’t choose to elaborate too much, but things that were steady and a regular part of my life, no longer are. People who I thought were my friends, no longer are. My son and his family are in CA and I miss them terribly. They had a new baby in November and I desperately want to hold her and just bask in all that newborn scent and sound. It is hard seeing photos and videos when I want to hold those babies and hug my kids. My youngest son is now a senior in High School and all these years of homeschooling are coming to a rapid close – he graduates in May. What will my days be like now? I started homeschooling in 1992! My eldest son took a job far away in August, right around my 60th birthday, and I desperately missed him. And I think I sunk into a depressed state. I am married to the most wonderful man. He has not said much. He’s scrambled for clean clothes when he’s traveling. He reaches across the piles when we are getting things off the table. He doesn’t complain when dishes pile up. He doesn’t mention the dust bunnies that have become Tasmanian devils. My office? Oh my word. A complete disaster.

emptyplaceinherheart

What I have gone through is almost the opposite of the above, however, the sentiment is true. Instead of clean, I disappear into words. I read. A lot. As in hours a day. But I think, through lots of great vitamin D, some prayer, and talking with the right people, I am emerging. Not like a butterfly – I am still basically me. And I don’t think I’m fully with it, yet. But I can acknowledge there’s been a cloud in my life, and I can start to see the sun peeking through. It is almost as if I have been grieving. Not someone who has passed away, but grieving the loss of the familiar, the commonplace in my life, and some relationships in my life.

“The five stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief.”

When things in your life drastically change, you need to allow yourself to adjust. And I think that’s what I have been doing. When one door closes, we need to be able to see that next one opening for us. And sometimes, at least for me, that other door is hard to find. My hubby and I talked about it and we ventured out into a different area of our community – we stretched outside of our comfort zone. And guess what? We’re meeting new people and stepping into a new world. And we are making friends. Some that we have an inkling about, that we may stay close to for years to come. They may not know that, yet, but we’re thinking we may have found people we can invest time in, and become friends. The fun part is that they are not normally where we would find friends, and that makes it even better.

friends-dinner

Today I chose to start taking back my house. I babysat my grandkids and when my granddaughter started to draw art in the dust on my TV stand, I realized it was time. So I cleaned my kitchen and dining room; I put things away; I started a load of laundry; and I made plans for tomorrow’s clean up process. It’s time to awaken from this slumber or malaise and reclaim my place. It’s time to move on and start this last half of my journey. I say “last half” because, well, I’m no spring chicken, but I am hoping for another 30 years or so. At least. So that would be the last 1/3, but half sounds so much better! Ha-Ha!

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The Lord is always there. Patiently waiting for us to look up from whatever it is we have allowed ourselves to be distracted by (I have more than 700 books on my Kindle Paperwhite. Yeah. I get distracted). And I also think that our minds work, even when we are not purposely thinking about something. I have been working out things in my mind, deep in my heart, these past few months, in order to move forward. I have resettled my dreams and realigned my wants and desires. Change can be organic and simple, or it can be painful and bruising. I think this has been a bruising, painful sort, so much so that I retreated into myself and my books, ignoring the everyday, mundane aspects of life. My poor family.

In life, we are given a very few friends. We are given many, many acquaintances. Sometimes we confuse the two. We lean on people who are not prepared, or equipped, for us to depend upon. We make assumptions that sometimes we should not make. I have blogged about this before, but I truly have about 6 people (not including my family) who I know would come and hold my hand as I take my last breath. And that is truly a blessed life. We just don’t connect in our hearts with too many people. We have activities that we do in common, we go to places in common, we may even have similar basic beliefs. And all those things provide us with opportunities to develop comrades-in-arms. They give us a framework within which we can grow and become who God meant us to be. However, very few of those comrades are connected to our hearts and souls. Very few. Often, when we let people in, we assume they will treasure our efforts to share; that they will value what we offer them – which is our inner self. But so few people are prepared for that sort of commitment. In our fast-paced, automatic world, deep and lasting friendships are becoming more and more rare. So I cling to the ones I have had for decades; I treasure them and hold them dear in my heart. I reach out to new ones, and someday they, too, may take a place in my heart. I am always open to God’s blessings in my life. But I also have learned, and am still learning, that people come and they go. And they do not always have my best interest at heart.

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.” George Washington

Proverbs 16:28 “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.”

truefriends

So today I begin anew. I may fail again tomorrow. But I know that I am somehow awake today, whereas I don’t think I have been awake much recently. And through getting all this out on my blog, it makes it real; concrete. Sometimes God allows us to sink a bit; to flounder a little; to seek Him more when we “come out of  it.” He also placed some amazing people in my life that can reel me back in, with saying very little. And that means more than they will probably realize. And there are those who, when I ask them to pray for me, I know they are. Thanks be to God for the many blessings in my life. I leave you with this – I totally “mommed” out today. I made hot muffins for my son for breakfast, before he had to catch the bus to school. And that is a great start!!!

muffins

 

Stop having a love affair with the couch….ouch!!!

Palmer June 2016

One of the best things about living in a large state that is sparsely populated is that you get to meet some of the most interesting people, and see some amazing sights. This is a photo of a small town in Alaska by the name of Palmer. This was taken facing east, from the Pavilion in their downtown area. Downtown area. Full of traffic. Yeah, right! This is still something I am getting used to – a different definition of “downtown.” The wind was blowing (typical for that area) and we were attending their Master Gardener’s Annual Spring Plant Sale. My hubby and I had a date for the afternoon. We had so much fun talking to the gardeners and learning about what plants grow in what zones (how different it is from our last home in WA state, or before that in sunny SoCal).  One character was named Rex and he commented that his wife is the brains, he just lifts heavy stuff! I liked him immediately and after talking to him, we got two red raspberries for our yard, and one for our son’s yard. I love fresh berries!  We also purchased an Alaskan Tundra Honeyberry plant. If you love blueberries, you will love honeyberries!

Alaskan Tundra Honey Berry Plant

It is so interesting to learn new ways of doing old things, like planting, and harvesting. It is also great to stretch your taste buds now and then. I have come to adore Halibut. I can honestly say that cold water fish are a delicacy I had never really known, until I sampled fresh, Alaskan fish. I have developed a love of Halibut, even though I find the fish themselves to be gross. And it does not help they are bottom-feeders and have both eyes on one side of their heads. Ugh. But man oh man, when my daughter-in-law batters and fries that with some broccoli and cauliflower (also battered and fried) with her home-made honey-mustard sauce (I don’t like honey mustard anything, but I adore her sauce) and we sit down to feast with a locally brewed craft beer, it doesn’t get much better than that! Alaskan summers at their best! Thank goodness for fishing charters because at $30/lb in the stores, you don’t want to waste a morsel!

Fried Halibut

Another of my favorite things about summers in Alaska is the wildlife and the fishing (my hubby could fish daily, if he could figure out how to make it work!!! Ha-Ha). We have had black bears stroll down our block; we’ve already seen a mamma moose have a calf at the local Lowe’s parking lot; and the long days of sunshine. The wildlife, yes, is amazing, but so are the many gorgeous views of green everywhere! There is simply no better place, in my mind, than Alaska in the summertime. It is stunning. Flowers and wild berries, trees of so many shades of green. And if you have a hankering for water, well, we have over 1 million lakes! There is water everywhere! We live across the street from a creek and less than a mile from a river, and less than 5 miles from two lakes. The area below is less than 10 minutes from my house.

Eagle River Nature Center

I can get in my car and drive 10 minutes, and just 10 miles, up the road and gaze at this. I am blessed beyond my wildest dreams to call this place home. And I readily share it. This year, we are expecting quite a few guests, some of whom will be back-to-back. The furniture stores seriously have these sales around Memorial Day where they promote “guest sleeping options” with sales on blow-up mattresses, futons, fold-out couches, Murphy beds, bunk beds…you name it. So many people have Alaska on their bucket list and I am more than happy to show them around our beautiful state. Below is a photo of the local Reindeer Farm. You can go there and pet them, feed them, and look at all the babies. It is such fun! I firmly believe everyone should visit here at least once in their lifetimes. You will not regret it. Promise!

Reindeer Farm.2016

There are upsides to a small community; there are downsides. This state is the largest in the union (sorry Texas) and has one of the smallest populations. We are rated 47th in population, while being #1 in size. And that is good, but also hard. We have hamlets (villages) of people across the state, but many are accessible only by plane or boat. My son recently worked on an island for two weeks, accessible by boat or plane. They flew in, but their food/supplies had to be barged in. The island is inhabited by seagulls, sea lions, and puffins. No people. That is not uncommon in a state like Alaska. The fact of the matter is that it is a hard place to live in. It is nothing like the home we had in WA – on the 14th green of a golf course. In CA, we lived in a variety of places, even on farms. But there was no wild. But it was hard to find true wilderness in such a heavily populated state. There was no real weather danger, either. There were stores 10 minutes away. We have stores within 10 minutes here as well, but oftentimes the weather is too severe to get to them. This life is not for everyone. I get that. I still love it.

monkimage

The same thing goes for how we choose to worship. My daughter-in-law described it to a neighbor by saying that we preferred a more “European” sort of Church. I guess that is true. But it is a little more than that. We love our Melkite faith. It is a different expression of Christianity. It is a much smaller community than say Roman Catholic or Pentecostal Christians. We are fewer in number and the form of worship is so very old and has not changed, nor adapted to more modern ideas of worship, making it as not well spread or known as others. (It is also historically an Arabic Church, from the Middle East). But the essence of it, and the root of it, is rich and full of our beloved Scriptures. In the early years of the Church, only the Holy Men of the Church could even read. To read was not something the common man could do. And that is one of the reasons the Icons in the Church became integral to people’s faith. They told stories of scenes from the Bible, and shared the lives of the Saints who went before us. And I love to share it with others. We have icons all over our home, and at times, it makes people uncomfortable because it is so different. It is like some of the road blocks I experience when sharing Essential Oils with people. They smell good, yes they do. However, their origins are ancient and the use of them is older than recorded history. But it makes some people uncomfortable, because it is different and people think it is a fad, or the latest thing. And it requires you to think differently about common practices in our homes and in our lives.

young-living-eos

When you have a treasure, you want to hoard it. Protect it. Savor it. Like Rumplestiltskin and his golden thread. But there comes a time when you have to open the doors and share. There are so many instances when the small communities we all belong to become warped and sick, and doors need to be opened, the air refreshed and new blood needs to be allowed in. And then there are times when you need to move on, to experience a new treasure; opening your minds, hearts, and souls to something that is “other” to your norm. Like making a bucket list of places to see. And for me, I am wanting to share. My home, my faith, my oils, my life. Is it scary to share? It is!

dog on sofa closeup_26205

I’ve been challenged lately to stop having a love affair with my couch. Now, realistically, I’m not in love with my couch. It’s okay, but not my dream couch. But I love being at home. I do. I have been a stay-at-home mom for most of my 31+ years of marriage. I have also homeschooled all our kids (our oldest son is 30). I am at home a lot. And I like it there. I got comfortable being at home. I am, by nature, gregarious. But as I have aged and been at home, I have discovered I like being alone a lot, too. More and more I enjoy the quiet of living in a more rural environment with the sounds of the winds in the trees all I can hear. Or being inside on a blustery, and very snowy day, with just the crackling of our wood stove to listen to. And to share what I want to share with others, well, that means I have to leave my house. I have to operate outside of my comfort zone. I also have to step outside of the small community I have developed for myself and stretch my social skills muscles. And it makes me uncomfortable…

get uncomfortable

There are groups that I need to get away from and out of, and that is also taxing. I am developing new contacts and learning to turn on those social muscles more. But I have to tell you, living where I do, it is sooooooooo easy to become isolated. So easy to see no one except my family on a daily basis. However, there is so much I want to share with others. I want to share this state with friends who have never ventured this far. I want to share my faith with those who have questions, or perhaps do not understand my Byzantine mindset. We are growing our vegetables from seeds in a raised bed garden! I would love to share that journey with people. And I very much want to share my healthier lifestyle since I have discovered Essential Oils and the many products I use, based on Essential Oils and the science behind them. I live pretty much a chemical-free life in what I use to clean my home, my dishes, my clothing, my teeth, my face, my body, my hair…all because of Essential Oils. Why would I not want to share all of this? Because it makes both me, and the person I am sharing it with, uncomfortable. Look, I don’t want to make money off anyone. I truly do not. So for the oils part, I just want to share how it has impacted my life for the better and how I have incorporated them into every aspect of my life. As for my faith, that, too, makes many people uncomfortable. I do not want to take your faith from you, nor do I expect you to “come over” to my way of thinking. It is just fun to share information and history and styles of worship. It’s fun to share new ways of doing old things…even eating freshly grown vegetables out of your own garden. The lotion you use – I make my own, using Essential Oils! Would you like to learn how? It’s time…I need to start…

comfort zone

Would you care to join me?

 

 

 

Finding my Joy….

Sometimes you are traveling along a road, and you can see clearly ahead of you. You know exactly where you are going. You planned it and you had everything you needed. And then God hits you with a 2 x 4! He slams that doorway so fast, you are literally knocked down.

closeddoors

And that is when He is telling you to seek your Joy elsewhere. And it can take your breath away. You had presumed and assumed so much about what was going to be. What your expectations were. What you had worked towards. What your heart told you that you were called to pursue. Except that God had to show you in a concrete way that your idea, your expectations, your dreams, were not His dreams for you.

The plans I have for you

And so it has become for me. I had an idea of what my future was, where my Joy was to be found. But God had other ideas for me. His plans are far greater and far above what I could even imagine for myself. And He is calling me to pull myself out of this place I was in, to place before me new avenues. New people. New places. Things to discover where I will be better fulfilled and find more, and consistent, Joy. And even though I really hate this trite saying, it does fit: “It’s time to think outside of the box.”  We all place ourselves in a comfortable box. We know the edges of our box. We know where the top will be, and we know where we began, or the bottom of our box. We are in our safety zone. But the Lord calls us to stretch. He wants us to become the best of our potential. And so I am in the process of throwing out my box and being free enough to see that I have so much more available to me; and so much more that I am capable of.

Livingforothers

And I appreciate that oftentimes we get so caught up in pushing forward, pushing ourselves into places we were not meant to be (because it fit into our idea of where we were headed) that we could not be our best self. We could not flourish. We could not find our true Joy, because we were not walking in the Will of God, but were exerting our will into this life. God granted us all free will and it is one of the hardest things to control. To subsume our Will to His Will for us. Subsume is a great word in itself. Knowing that something is being absorbed into something else wholly and perfectly. When we connect with the Will of God in such a way that we are in perfect concert. Somehow you know the decisions you are making are the right ones. He speaks in a whisper and we hear Him.

Godspurpose

And so my pathway has altered greatly. My days and weeks have been changed. My conversations have changed. The things I put into my mouth are changing. The things I use on my body and in my home are changing. The people I associate with are changing. But I am not despondent – I am excited. I am looking forward, in obedience to God’s purposes for me, and I am starting to enjoy this new adventure; this is a process and a journey. I am still learning, still growing and I am not looking back, missing what was or what I thought I was supposed to be doing, but solely moving forward, finding my Joy in new and unexpected places. I am blessed.

finding joygraphic

“Blessed beyond measure…”

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“If they stumble, the first will lift up his friend—but woe to anyone who is alone when he falls and there is no one to help him get up.” Ecclesiastes 4:10

The worth of a friend cannot always be measured in tangible ways. At times, we just know they are there, hanging out on the side of the stage, in the wings. But if we need them, they are there. Sometimes we do not live close to our friends. Back in the day, I could go weeks without talking to a friend. We did not need this constant texting thingy going 24/7 like so many teens do today. We invested ourselves in our friends. We spent time face-to-face. We talked. We listened. We grew together. Sometimes we meet someone and they immediately fill a space in our souls. We know God meant for them to be a permanent fixture in our lives. We don’t need to text or talk every day. We know we are bonded.

I have found, as I have aged, that the texture of relationships is undergoing a profound change. When I was younger, we took time to get to know people. We would give up our evenings to spend time chatting, shopping, walking…just doing something together. When I was in college, my bestie (who I still count as a dear friend) and I would walk across campus in our dance outfits (I was so brave then) and sit in the hallways before class, just passing the time and getting to know one another more deeply. The funny part was that we had not known one another before college. We met, realized we had almost all our classes together, and we bonded. Deeply. That was, wow, 41 years ago. Our lives have gone in so many opposite directions since then. We shared dating, marriages, births, deaths, divorces, relocations…and even though she is thousands of miles away, I could call her and she would be there for me. In a heartbeat.  These days, it seems like everything we do is instantaneous. We want it and we want it now. There is no overt or obvious time spent in quiet conversation. People text. They send voice messages. They send selfies. But where is the time spent on sharing ourselves?

Sliderule

My dad commented some time ago about his grand daughter. He was asking her a question and she told him to hang on a second and she would “Google” it. He, being almost 90, was confused. She explained that everything you need to know is on your phone. You can look up anything. She doesn’t need to read a book, she can “Google” the answer. He is still blown away by that. She looks things up for him all the time. He cannot get over the processing ability of an iPhone. He said back when he was working to put a man in space (he worked on many space projects with NASA) that most engineers carried slide rules. He said when people first started using calculators, their whole process began to change. And I would have to agree. We have let technology rule our lives. We have become impersonal and techno-centric. We are loosing the ability to just sit and chat with another person, fully engaged with the conversation, without whipping out our phones.

slideRule5

And sometimes we just don’t want to put forth the effort to get to know people in this transient culture we are becoming. We listen, haphazardly, to gossip and we form instananeous opinions based on data we have acquired, without having to do the work to acquire it. Ever hear the expression, “standing on the shoulders of giants”? (“We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.” John of Salisbury 1159). I think that we, as a culture, are becoming sort of voyeuristic in that we presume and assume much, without actually learning or doing it ourselves. When my husband would struggle with an engineering principle or formula in college, his sister would say to him, “Don’t try to solve it. Just use it. It is a tool. Others have spent decades figuring it out. Trust that it works and just use it.” Used to drive him nuts, because he wanted to get to the beginning, to fully understand it. But most of us are content to just use something as a tool, not concerning ourselves where or why it works. When the IT guys would come to fix my computer, they would try to explain it, while I worked on something else, waiting for my computer. I finally told one of them that I did not care what was wrong. I did not want to know how he was making it work. His degree was in computer science, mine was not. I was an end-user. Just make it work when I turn it on! LOL!

Relationships are fragile. It is what we have that is supposed to be lasting. We develop friendship in order to find stability in an ever-changing world. We find friends who become our place of refuge, our rock, when the tides come and go. Those who blithely throw friendships to the winds, in the face of malicious gossip and communication misunderstandings, are becoming ‘end-users’ – they don’t care how you built it, they just want to use it while it’s working. And then, when it no longer works or becomes obsolete, they replace it with a newer model. The poetry about friends is ancient, amazing, and heart-wrenching. The stories of amazing friendships buoy us up and keep us afloat in turbulent waters. All of us can think of a special moment shared with a close friend. It may have happened 30 years ago, or happened yesterday. It warms our heart and makes our lives more joyful.

I have discovered that some friendships are based on false commitment. Some friendships are relationships based on commonality of purpose. We make friends because our kids are on the same little league team. When the season is over, we don’t see them. Until sign-ups the following season. We are friends because we are engaged in a common activity. But when we look deeper, we have nothing else in common and drift apart. Those sorts of friendships are bonds that are meant to be of a short duration. They fulfill a need for a time, but are not meant to be people we share our entire lives with. Those people are special, and they are very, very few.

Friends.ballet

And I am grateful. I have found true friends along the journey. Friends I have shared puberty and discovering make-up and high heels, and boys, with. Friends I have shared college and all those experiences with. And friends I have met in my career path, and through my marriage. Some of them will be with me always. But most will not be. I think that if I “can count on one hand, my true friends,” then I will be blessed beyond measure! God is good. And I know I am blessed when I can talk to a friend after a long stretch of time, and know that my friend has “got my back,” and totally gets me, without having to explain a thing.

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“To everything there is a season…”

Blessed SeraphimI was reminded again this week of the fact that life passes away.  We lost an old friend of ours and at the Divine Liturgy last night, we all prayed for the repose of his soul. And I found myself weeping…just weeping over the loss of a friend, yes, but the loss for his wife and children, and grandchildren.  They will never have him again in their life.  And it overwhelmed me.

Earlier in the day I was working on arranging for my mom to come and visit us. It is a 5-hour plane ride (non-stop, thank goodness) and I have to plan far in advance, to be sure all the arrangements are made, because my mom has Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  She gets confused very easily, and being in an airport will overwhelm her.  My step-sister, who has become my friend over the past few years, lives very near my mom and does so much for her.  We were discussing how odd it is to make the same sort of arrangements for her, that we make for an unescorted minor flying across the country.  I will be doing the same thing very soon for my 15-year-old son, who will be attending summer camp on the east coast.  Every detail has to be looked at and gone over.  It is frightening, actually, to have my mom (and soon my son) flying pretty far, all alone.  But she needs to see her great-grandchildren, her grandchildren, and her children. We are family and we need to stay connected.  With Alzheimer’s and Dementia, time becomes the important factor in all of this, because one day soon she will not know any of us.  Another one of those life-cycles exerting itself.

Yesterday was also the first birthday of my oldest granddaughter.  What a joy she is in our lives.  And she was so very happy with her little cupcake yesterday – as she was wearing a goodly portion of it!! The joy on her face was enough to bring tears to your eyes.  I thank all the brainiacs out there who invented video and Face Time and Skype; it makes us feel so close to each other and not the 1000s of miles apart that we really are. Knowing that I will be seeing her, and her soon-to-be-born little sister, made it all the more poignant.  Today, I was on the phone with my sister-in-law who shared she is expecting baby #10 in October, and I was just marveling at the gift of life all around me.  My friend who recently died was the father of 14 children, and grandfather to something like 5 or 7 children (I have actually lost count!).

handsLife is just such a blessing.  And it is a cycle.  Old and new.  Comings and goings. Cycling, always cycling through. All the tripe sayings they have out there are somehow showing themselves to all have a grain of truth in them.  Dontcha hate that? Ha-Ha.  “To everything there is a season,” as it says in the book of Ecclesiastes.  And as I age and head closer and closer towards my final destination, I am finding that there are, indeed, seasons.

My friend who passed was from the season in our lives when we were all having babies.  We were homeschooling our kids; we attended Church together; we shared parenting and marriage, financial and other woes with each other.  We supported one another through those rough phases all young marrieds go through, in addition to some wonderful bottles of wine and steaks cooked to perfection.  I have such clear memories of summer days spent under the stars, contemplating our lives.  Wonderful memories filled with so much laughter.

My grandma used to tell me, “Well, you can’t put old heads on young shoulders.” I used to laugh at her many adages, and trust me, she had volumes and volumes of them!  But she was right. There are things I can see from where I am standing, that I cannot really communicate to my children’s generation.  Many times it is because they just don’t want to hear it from me, but mostly it is because they know what they are doing for them is right (haven’t we all been there??).  And I acknowledge that and I respect that, very much.  It was not often afforded to my husband and myself and so I want to be sure my kids know I respect their choices; I just wish I could give them some of my wisdom. But I also know the deepest wisdom is gained through living life, not being given some adages to ponder.  We have to live for those tripe sayings to mean something.  As St. Seraphim said above, we are given choices.  We can choose to be of this world and outside of God, or we can choose for Whom our heart hungers, which is God, the God of life.  Everything eventually passes away.

I saw a funny meme today about books:

Read something goodIt is one of my guilty pleasures – I would rather be reading than pretty much anything else. (Especially if I can drink a nice glass of wine or nibble on something chocolate at the same time! Heaven!).  I often think that for me, loosing my sight would be the most horrible thing. Because of missing the faces of my loved ones, yes, but I would no longer be able to lose myself in a book.  And what we read, what we contemplate, becomes a portion of who we are.  I love paranormal books and stories of good versus evil.  Love all the witches and spells, potions and demons and the heroes that defeat them. Always makes me feel good.  I have often mused why I love this genre so much, when I was always reading historical novels in my younger years.  And I realized that for me, it is my way of getting in the fight.  It is my way of confronting the evil in the world, and always choosing to be a “good guy.”  Why is that? Because I know, deep in my bones, that this world does truly pass away and only God remains….everything passes away.

Some day, all that will be left of me will be a pile of bones in a grave, and the legacy of genetics and memories I leave for my family. I pray that their lives will have been better because I was a part of them. I pray that everyone I touched was left with a positive feeling in their hearts when they think of me.  I know there are those who I hurt in my wild and rambunctious days.  I cannot go back and undo what I have already done.

byiO4laAnd this saying keeps me focused on what is ahead.  This cycle of life we are living keeps moving. We choose to participate or sit it out. What a waste to spend life angry, sitting on the sidelines pouting.  Or mourning those who have gone before us, while missing the blessings of new life in front of us.  Perhaps it is because I am older and life is a little quieter, but I am seeing God’s hand in so many more things than I ever have before. I know He is present and active in my life and the lives around me.  And when I start seeing these things over and over again, I feel so blessed.  To know something so clearly is so peaceful, and it brings such contentedness. I may not control it all; I may need to still buckle up and gird my loins – all of that may still hold true.  But I also know that “God’s got this.”  How totally cool is that??

Miracle baby toesBlessings to all my fellow miracles out there, who touch the miracle of life each day, by living and choosing life through the Grace of God.  And my continued to prayers for those who perhaps are not as certain of God’s presence in your life, or the love He has for you – I’m becoming certain enough for both of us.

 

“Here are my wounds; here is my sore…”

I’m not perfect; certainly not even close to being perfect in pretty much any category.  I’m the biggest sinner I know.  It is part of our make-up; our sinful nature. I trip all the time. I trip daily.  But I do get back up. I do try.  And I believe that when we are hit by something, are tripped up, we need to address it and work to make it better.  And I’ve been pondering this subject all day…well, actually since Easter.

I read this article about forgiveness today that a friend shared. (Look at the link here: http://www.cuppacocoa.com/a-better-way-to-say-sorry/). The article spoke to how a teacher in a classroom setting worked on getting her students to forgive one another. And I really liked what she said (and wish I had of thought of this when my kids were young!).  There are 4 parts to trying to mend a relationship and they are:

1. I’m sorry for…

2. This is wrong because….

3. In the future I will….

4. Will you forgive me?

And as she spoke about how it had worked with her 4th graders (average about 9 years old) I thought about a relationship I have that needs mending.  Could I use this in an adult setting?

220px-Jerusalem_cross.svgI have this burgundy, leather-bound little book I carry with me at all times and it is called, “Holy Things for the Holy!” and it was published in 2006 by the Eparchy of Newton (Melkite).  There is a gorgeous Jerusalem cross on the cover (like the one above). This book has the Canons and Prayers for Holy Communion, Repentance, and Holy Confession.  Archbishop Cyril wrote a wonderful introduction to it and in it he said, “Before this awesome, Heavenly Presence, we cannot but be aware of our littleness, our unworthiness, and our sinfulness.” He goes on to say, “For the Christian, repentance is a way of life – a continual heartfelt turning toward God in love and, at the same time, a mindful turning away from sin and self-centeredness in humility.”  We can approach the Mystery of Confession to Our Lord in the same way that we seek forgiveness from a friend on the playground; it is truly that simple.  In the back of the book there is a section on the Mystery of Confession and it quotes St. John Climacus: “Uncover and show your wounds to this physician and putting shame underfoot say, ‘Here are my wounds, here is my sore, here is the fruit of my weakness. None but I am responsible; it is indeed I who am to blame.'”

In keeping with the idea of the article and with the information I continue to find in my little book, it somehow makes it easier to seek forgiveness and to heal a breach in a relationship, when we take the whole of it onto ourselves. It seems so little in comparison to the weight of the Cross which Our Lord carried for us.  It is hard to swallow our pride and to take the whole of the blame for something onto ourselves, and to just seek forgiveness.  To let ourselves be completely at fault goes against our interior need to protect ourselves.  I believe that being right is something that makes us feel our armor is strong and in the right places – we all seem to erect these imaginary fences where we stand behind, ready to defend ourselves. Even in marriage it is often difficult to lay open all the weakness, in fear of someone getting that close to us.

Psalm 91-11And so I thought I would begin applying these 4 steps towards repairing relationships that need it.  I have a sense of who I am talking to, but I might have hurt people and be unaware of it, which is almost worse.

I’m sorry for my actions or lack of action, or perhaps my use of words that has caused you pain. If I have harmed you through my words or actions, or inaction, I am truly sorry.  There are people in our lives that no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we give, it isn’t right nor is it ever enough.  Do we keep on giving? Do we keep on trying?  Sometimes there are people who just drain us and we try to meet their needs but always seem to be lacking in some way.  In those situations, we know that it is not totally our fault. It can be this person needs someone “more” in their lives.  Perhaps we are not the right person to meet their needs.  But it does not mean we stop and we do not try; that we do not seek to help them, even if it is in too small of a way to really make an impact.

This is wrong because I need to be there for you; I need to be the best person I can be for you.  It is wrong to turn someone away, to ignore them, or to treat their issues or pain lightly.  I have this scenario in my imagination that can best be described as a woman standing in a crowd of people, and there is this annoying gnat irritating her by flying around her face, and she is constantly swatting at it, while ignoring it at the same time.  If we put ourselves in this situation, that gnat can be a person trying to get our attention; someone trying to fit into a social setting (or business setting) who just wants to be a part of whatever it is we are doing.  For whatever reason it may be, we are trying to deflect them and ignore them, hoping they will just bother someone else.  And that is so desperately wrong.  I recently encountered a situation of what I call “discriminatory behavior.” In my situation, there was someone being excluded and treated differently than the rest of the group.  That is making someone feel like an outsider, or not good enough (by whatever stick is being used to measure them) to join more fully into the group.  That is discrimination by any other name.  How often do we find ourselves excluding someone because they just don’t quite “measure up”?  Measure up to what?  Our standards? Our expectations?  Well, I am certainly not one of the “in crowd.” I’m a middle-aged (man, I hate admitting that), overweight, gray-haired woman.  What makes me think I can exclude anyone?  I am also the wife of an ordained Deacon.  How could I exclude any of our flock? Any of our faithful?  It is wrong; it is hurtful; and it is certainly not Christian. And this is just wrong.

Fisheyeview.churchinterior.russiaIn the future, I envision a church where we are all welcome, regardless of the measurements anyone can use or devise. I envision a society where no one ever feels excluded.  To that end I will endeavor, in the future, to contribute to those visions by how I behave. In the future I will endeavor to include those who feel marginalized and those I may have inadvertently made feel apart or separate from the life I am living. In the future, I will work to become more cognizant of those who feel this way now, working to ease that pain in their lives.

Church.Savior of Spilled Blood. RussiaIn most Orthodox and many Eastern Catholic Churches, there are no pews.  In the fish-eye photo (two above) taken of an Orthodox Church in Russia, one can see the wide open spaces. In the above photo of the Church of Our Savior Spilled Blood, also in Russia, you can plainly see there are no pews.  In Medieval times, no Churches had pews.  When Royalty wanted to not “mix with the masses” they had boxes constructed where they could stand, apart from the “rest,” in their little fenced-off areas.  Once the Royals felt they were supposed to have their own space in churches and were too weary to stand for the long prayer services, pews were introduced, still with little fences around them.  If you attend Church in a Church of England parish in England, there are boxes and pews all over the place.  Usually the names of the people to whom the boxes belong have their names on them. Churches are arranged a little differently in Church of England parishes.  (Episcopal churches in the USA have boxed pews in the ones considered to be “High Church” wherein the traditional masses are said. The lower churches do not have boxes, but still have pews). In many Protestant churches, especially those in early America, we also have boxed pews. Methodist and United Methodists use boxed pews in some of their older churches.  It isn’t as common as it once was.

386920_371544942914698_1360739825_nIf we did not have pews, we would stand shoulder-to-shoulder in Church.  The Orthodox have some mighty long services (Easter Vigil can be 4 hours or more) and everyone is standing.  In some Eastern Catholic churches, we have chairs instead of pews and people can opt to sit if they need to, but many prefer to stand the entire Divine Liturgy.  There are some postures that are proper for certain times during Liturgy, and some that are not.  We do not genuflect except during Lent.  We do not kneel in eastern Churches; it just is not part of our charism.  Standing is pretty much a proper posture almost all the time in Eastern and Orthodox Churches.  Children are free to wander around and witness Church up close and personal.  I would love to see our parish return to the days of no pews.  By standing next to one another and supporting one another, you are brought closer. In the future, I would love to stand with you, worshiping Our Lord.

boys in church(There’s a great Facebook page called “Children in Orthodox Churches” and I took this photo from their page. These kids are just so cute!).

And now that I have come to the fourth step, in seeking to repair a relationship, I ask forgiveness.  If I have offended you in any way, please forgive me. The same way I seek forgiveness from an earthly friend, I always seek forgiveness from Our Lord each and every time I fail; each time I trip and fall all over my best intentions, I scrape off the dirt and seek to start again.  It is one of the beautiful things about being a Christian.  This process of forgiveness is continual.  Rather than just one moment and ZAP – I am clean forever! As St. John Climacus said,  “Uncover and show your wounds to this physician and putting shame underfoot say, ‘Here are my wounds, here is my sore, here is the fruit of my weakness. None but I am responsible; it is indeed I who am to blame.'” I believe God is a loving and generous God and walks with us on our journey of theosis, and He is there, lifting us up after each fall from grace.  No, salvation is not something I earn, but it is something I seek continuously.  And forgiveness is something I strive for, here on earth from my friends and family, but it is also something I seek continually in the eyes of God.  Standing shoulder to shoulder with my fellow believers, I seek to praise God, to worship Him, and to be working towards my ultimate state of Grace…being with Him in Heaven, forever forgiven.

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“The rest really doesn’t matter.”

My “take away” from my day yesterday was my status on my FB page this morning:

“God, family, and friends are what make the world go ’round.  So blessed to have them. The rest doesn’t really matter.”

I had quite a day. First of all, I was reluctant to post my feelings about being Eastern Catholic, for fear of offending anyone.  Some of the comments, made publicly as well as privately, have engendered good conversations.  Those I had hoped would not take offense, did not, and for that I am grateful.  I also believe that by exposing some of my feelings about the process of becoming a Byzantine Catholic, it was helpful and reflective of the journey of many others.  And that is one of the main reasons I started this blog in the first place.

Kneeling Prayer.Orthodox ChurchFriends that I had prayed were friends, still are!  So God is good.  I also was concerned, as one of my fellow bloggers pointed out, that I would confuse non-Catholics or Catholics who had wandered away from the Church. Perhaps I did add to their confusion.  For that, I do apologize.  But it planted a seed for me, too.  Why do Protestants and many Catholics (cradle or convert) not know the history of this amazing faith we all share?  When I was in college, my brain was so excited at all the enormously new facts I was learning.  It’s funny to think how cocky you are when you are a High School Senior, knowing everything! It’s not until you to start to truly learn, that you realize how little you know. Your world is so small while in high school, many times being bordered by the confines of where you live and where you can drive. I remember going to drive on a freeway that had not been completed or open to the public, yet. They allowed Driver’s Ed programs to practice on it.  We practiced getting on and off the freeway, and changing lanes, slowing and speeding up. It was neat because there were no other cars on the road, except for us.  But what took me by surprise were all the other neighborhoods and shopping areas and schools I had not realized were even there! The elevated roadway showed me areas I had not seen any of, before then.  I did not know how small my world was.  Interestingly enough, that freeway became a major thoroughfare and I used it constantly while attending college, and well into adulthood.  And in college, my world view grew and expanded. My knowledge of history just exploded.  And as I got into my minor of Biblical Archeology, I wondered why the entire world was NOT Catholic.  It made perfect sense to me that the Catholic Church was the Church established by Christ through Peter…every Protestant sect could trace its origins to it.  And then I discovered the eastern world.  It is not something we are typically taught, as we are a western country, fully embracing western philosophy and thought.  When I discovered that the Catholic Church was all over the world, I was mesmerized.  But when I learned there were 22 other Churches aligned with the Roman Church, I was stunned.  Why did we not know this growing up? Why were we not taught the glorious history of Constantinople?  Why did we not know more about the Crusades and what really happened?  Why were we, as a country, and as a culture, in the dark?

Icons.lamp When Christ gave His great commission, did we think they would not do as He instructed?

“But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28: 16-20

And as I delved deeper, I discovered this treasury of faith that just enveloped me.  I did not throw off western ideology, per se.  I just embraced eastern thoughts, philosophy, theology, and practices in place of it. I found that it suits me and my personality so much better. But I live and deal with western thought and philosophy all around me, all day long. I operate in a western culture and live a western life.  I prefer to worship, however, in an eastern way.

cropped-incensor.jpgThere are some fun sayings that have become part of the lexicon of our speech. One of them is, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”  And I think about this often as it applies to our expressions of faith.  St. Peter stopped along his way towards Rome in the east.  He stopped long enough to establish a Church there.  We Melkites like to joke that we had Peter first!  But the Church he left us in the middle east is a Church that reflects the life of the nascent Church and the environment in which it grew up.  It is primarily Greek in orientation, and its Liturgy is that of St. John Chrysostom.  It was where the term,”Christian” was first used. The tones used in the Divine Liturgy of the Melkites are so ancient that when they were first written down, no one knew where they originated, they had been used for so long.  And when you hear someone who can sing the tones properly, intone the Divine Liturgy, it is as one commenter said, “Like being in Heaven.” It is Divine.  It is hard to explain if you have not experienced it yourself, but it is very different from the tones used in Gregorian chant, for example. The tempo and sounds are vastly different.  Not to mention the incredible infusion of beeswax candles and incense, adding to a total religious experience.  And I just happen to love the eastern style more. It harkens back, for me, to the ancient Church.  Not the early Church of Rome, but further back, into antiquity.

250px-Colosseum_in_Rome,_Italy_-_April_2007After Peter left the east, he journeyed to Rome.  And, as he and each of the Apostles did, taught the people where they were, to bring them to an understanding of Christ and His words, to facilitate conversion.  In Rome, society was structured, ordered, precise, militarily-oriented in ranks, so to speak.  And the Church grew up around that.  (Think of confessionals…boxes.  Roman culture had people in specific places, or boxes.  Their roles in culture were specific and immutable). The early Roman Catholics were renowned for how they loved each other, and shared all they had with each other. This was a foreign idea to a culture with castes (boxes) from which people did not leave. Born a slave, born a bread maker, born a soldier – die the same way. In the early Christian community, they changed that when they said (in Colossians 3: 11) “…a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

The cult of Christ grew up in an era of conflict and Christianity was a bastion of peace in amongst warring nations.  Even now, Christianity finds itself among warring nations.  And one of the cradles of the faith, Syria, finds itself being purged of its Christians.  Just today a new article came out stating that something like 1.5 million have escaped but another 4 million are in refugee status!  But that 150,000 have been killed in the past three years!  (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10737682/Syria-civil-war-kills-over-150000-people-in-three-years.html)  Do we not see what is happening?

Icon wallI love being Melkite. I love being Melkite Greek Catholic.  Yes, it is one Church standing, with another 21 Churches, alongside and in union with, the Church of Rome.  But I am not Roman Catholic. My blood still bleeds red, my friends. I love my fellow Christians, and my fellow Catholics.  My expression is, however, decidedly Melkite Greek Catholic – it feeds my soul.  I have been shunned by many I thought were friends, accusing me of leaving “the Church.”  I realize their ignorance of this amazing Church is what caused them to behave the way they did.  Catholic is a term that loosely means, “universal.”  If people only realized how universal the Church as a whole really was, they would stand in awe, inside any “Catholic”, sui juris Church.  Our separated brethren in the Orthodox world have not been subject as much to some of the westernization of our sui juris Churches.  And I take great comfort in the spiritual treasures there, reading all I can from the Holy Fathers.  One of my favorites is Elder Thaddeus and his work entitled, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” and others are St. John of Kronstadt and St. John of the Ladder (St. John Climacus, whose feast we celebrated this past Sunday).  These Church Fathers and writers have enhanced my life immeasurably over the past few years and I treasure their wisdom and their words in my life.  And they are decidedly not western in thought or approach, and I feel greatly blessed by their eastern insight and philosophy.

StMarkCathAlexLike a person who commented about my embracing the Melkites said, “it is almost like when you walk into a Muslim (or Coptic – St. Mark’s in photo above) temple – you remove your shoes.”  That is pretty much what describes my immersion in the faith of the east. I am immersed in it and I love it so, and I really appreciate how my faith has grown because of it.  I am saddened that my total immersion has some questioning my choices and my sanity, but that is okay, too.  It also does not mean there is no merit in other faith expressions.  Frankly, if someone is attending Church at all in this culture, I am thrilled! Be fed where you can.  My father and my siblings are NOT Catholic, and I don’t think they understand it, either.  And that is okay, too. (Other than the fact that they think I am “married to the bride of satan” and going to hell part).  That being said, I somehow know in my heart that if they could but step into the many eastern Churches I have experienced, the overwhelming presence of God would affect them, too. (Below is a fisheye – camera view of a Russian Church).

Fisheyeview.churchinterior.russiaSo the term, “my take away,” is a neo-pop-psychology term meaning, “what I got out of it.” Yesterday was a test, and a testimony, to the power of faith, of God working in my life. It also demonstrated that none of us are immune from the uncertainty in life. We pray, we try to live as best we can, and occasionally life will throw you a curve ball.  Yesterday was a curve ball, in another area of my life.  I was able to stand my ground and defend my family and those I care about. I was not in the least intimated, and I was praying, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” the entire time.  It was good in that God presented me with a situation, I chose not to back down, and I felt the courage to speak truth in a room of lies and lying people.  And I felt pretty beat up by the whole experience (I have for some time).  But after dropping by some friends’ home, and then speaking with friends and family today, I am feeling how God is so good in my life. He has placed people in it who add to it and help build it up when it feels like the edges are folding in on me.  I was able, and have been able, to express myself regarding my faith through this blog and through some wonderful conversations.  It gives me strength to do what I need to do to ensure my family and friends are taken care of, taking comfort in their love and the love of God. And even with all the ugly going on around me, I know God has blessed me, truly blessed me.  Because, as I opened with,  “God, family, and friends are what make the world go ’round.  So blessed to have them. The rest doesn’t really matter.”

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“Remember those who led you…”

f01d51451266a8a4dc5d8f3e9314a2c2One of the very best things about joining a large organization, is discovery. Who else is there, what their roles are, what the basic structures of the organization are, where things are done, how they are done – the local customs, so to speak.  When I was in college, I went through sorority rush.  This was quite a number of years ago, and so the things in the news about hazing were not really practiced, in the sense that when I was there, it was all about fun, afternoon teas, and belonging.  The sorority rush pattern was such that you were given a schedule of houses to visit, in what order, and at what time; also what attire was appropriate, etc.  After the first day, the sororities choose who to invite back a second time.  Each time you are invited back, you get a little bit more of a glimpse into other members, who they are and why they chose that particular house or chapter, what the sorority’s “theme” is (some have members who are all science majors, or PE majors, or teaching-oriented, which is the one I eventually chose) and the requirements and expectations of membership.  Eventually, you stop being asked back by some of the chapters, or it is narrowed down by natural selection to one or two houses.  Then there is the final night where you are invited to join a particular sorority and from those invites, you choose which house you want to belong to.  As long as it is mutual, you begin life as a pledge.  Once your pledging semester is over, you are initiated.  And once you are an initiated, full member, you are a member for life, and your daughters and granddaughters are called “legacies” and are given preference when they opt to go through sorority rush (or not!).  That was close to 40 years ago and I have friends I am still close to, who were in my sorority all those years ago.  We were in each other’s weddings, became godmothers to each other’s children, and now share (some of us anyway) grand-parenting tales and photos. That was a secular experience…however, we can use it to debate/discuss our religious experiences, too.

Icon wallI was raised, basically, a Protestant. My parents just attended churches where their friends or business associates attended.  It wasn’t really a matter of faith or conviction, but more of a community experience.  We went from Church to Church, never really putting down roots.  As a young woman on my own, I somehow found the Geneva Presbyterian Church. I would drive quite a long way to attend services there.  My grandparents lived nearby and it became a habit – church and then a visit with them.  It was my minor in college that really grabbed me – Biblical Archeology. I began to share what I had been taught and started to give lectures at women’s bible studies in the evenings, all over So Cal (it was word-of-mouth and I was usually invited to speak in the evenings).  I was sharing an archeology series at a local Presbyterian Church when I noted that across the parking lot were people my age (young adults) having a very good time. I took in my surroundings: the group was made up of wives and mothers, and grandmothers,  all quite a bit older than I was and I felt very alone.  After my presentation, I wandered over to see what the young adults next door were up to.  I knew it was a church, but I discovered it was a Catholic church and they were a young adult group! I attended my first mass, all by myself, sitting way in the back and boy,  was I hooked. It was almost like a “love at first site” sort of thing.  My historical and archeological knowledge was alive, right in front of me.  I soon thought to myself, “Why isn’t everyone Catholic?”  But it took me the better part of two years to formally join the Church.  During that time, I met and became engaged to my husband, and we married 8 months after I was welcomed into the Catholic Church on Easter Sunday, all those many years ago.  That particular Easter changed my life, and it is continuing to change it, even now.

170px-Richter_window_Cologne_CathedralIf you compare the concept of sorority rush with RCIA, they are almost the same. It was a time of mutual discovery; a time of questions and answers, much like the ones I asked going through Rush, except during RCIA I learned to pray, and I mean really pray. You can look at organized religion just like you look at any large organization, using the same parameters I outlined above.  The key difference is God.  He is acting in our lives to bring us home.  Now, some would argue that joining a club is nothing like joining a church.  Somewhat true, on a theological level.  But on a social level, it is exactly the same.  Who does what around here? What is the expected attire? What time do I show up (when are the “good” masses?)?  Where do I fit in?  All of these questions are the same when applied to organizations…religious, social, business, professional.  Joining something is allowing yourself to be sucked into a larger entity than just “self.” The key difference is that religion focuses on God at its core, its center, its reason for existence, and the chief work of the Church is prayer.  Whether you join or not, worship will still take place, but the call was strong and I became a Roman Catholic, and remained so for more than 20 years.

Priest cutting holy breadGod called both my husband and myself many years ago when we discovered the Eastern Churches, specifically the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.  The Melkites originated in the Middle East (basically Antioch) and are pretty Orthodox in their theology and outlook, although maintain a communion with the Roman Catholic Church.  Per Wikipedia:

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church (Arabic: كنيسة الروم الملكيين الكاثوليك‎, Kanīsat ar-Rūm al-Malakiyyīn al-Kāṯūlīk) is an Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the Holy See as part of the worldwide Catholic Church. The Melkites,  Byzantine Rite Catholics of mixed Eastern Mediterranean and Greek origin, trace their history to the early Christians of Antioch, Turkey, of the 1st century AD, where Christianity was introduced by St. Peter.  The Melkite Church has a high degree of ethnic homogeneity and the church’s origins lie in the Near East, but Melkite Greek Catholics are present throughout the world due to migration. Outside of the Near East, the Melkite Church has also grown through inter-marriage with, and the conversion of, people of various ethnic heritages. At present there is a worldwide membership of approximately 1.6 million. The Melkite Catholic Church’s Byzantine roots and liturgical practices are rooted in those of Eastern Orthodoxy, while the Church has maintained communion with the Catholic Church in Rome since a split from the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch in 1729.

When we first became officially a part of the Melkite Church, many of our western friends thought we had “left the faith.”  It caused a lot of heartache and misunderstanding with many of our friends, and even family members.  We had been active for many years in our Catholic homeschooling community and also the greater Catholic intellectual community, and so many of our friends disregard us because of this change. It made us sad because we learned so very much by becoming part of an Eastern Church.  We learned how truly worldwide and universal the Church is – it is not just Roman Catholic, but oh, so much more.  The richness of our faith brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes.  God has provided.

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'” (Matthew 28: 19-20)

This is often called the “Great Commission” of Christ, when He asked that the faith be shared around the world, and He promised to be with us “always.”  And He is with His church, in all its many guises.  What is truly sad is many people just do not accept that.  Many people still believe we are outside the “true” or “real” Church Christ founded.  A little known fact is St. Peter founded the Church at Antioch before he got to Rome.  We like to tease the Roman Catholics that we Melkites had St. Peter first! Ha-Ha!

LastDL12(Deacon Joseph and Father Justin Rose)

My husband has felt called to ministry most of his life. He applied to the priestly seminary as a teen, but put it off.  He then applied to become a Deacon in the Roman church when our children were quite young.  They told him to come back when our kids were grown.  As we migrated to the Melkite Church, we both discussed the deaconate with our parish priest and we started, both of us, to meet with him and to learn more about the Melkite way, and expectations, and the requirements.  Much like I had in my sorority rush days!  We asked the parish to discern his worthiness, and when they all consented, he started on his 4-year seminary experience. We kept in touch with our Roman Catholic friends, and in fact, my middle son became re-acquainted with his now-wife about this time, and her family came to my husband’s ordination (We had met many years ago through a mutual, Catholic, homeschooling family). Many of our Catholic homeschooling friends joined us for my husband’s ordination.

There have been so many interesting things that came from his ordination.  A closer walk with God and His Church, a deeper religious life than we ever experienced (ask my kids about adopting the Melkite rules for Lent and Fasting and those first, few, rough Lents!) but at the same time, a loss of many close friends, due to a misconstrued knowledge of their own Church.  Several friends who attended my husband’s ordination (by Bishop Cyril Bustros) asked us where the nearest Catholic Church was so they could have “real” communion and meet their “Sunday” obligation.  Now mind you, he was ordained by a Bishop, there were numerous priests (an Archmandrite or two, which is the eastern equivalent to a Roman Catholic Monseigneur), monks from our local Monastery (http://hrmonline.org/ We miss you!!) and assorted deacons in attendance, so much so that the Holy Place could not hold them all.  There were so many varied and beautiful vestments there, I felt very under-dressed and far out-shined!  In spite of all of that, friends did not feel they had been to a “real mass” nor had they received “real communion” even after witnessing a Bishop laying his hands on my husband, with all the other priests, deacons, and monks surrounding him.  An Eastern Church, Melkite Greek Catholic Church, was not “real” enough.  I was stymied.

Looking back on that day makes me sort of sad.  I have learned so much and a big thing I learned is that God created His Church to be one, big tent!  We have lots of churches (rites) all united around the one faith, in communion with one another, with the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, as the First Among Equals. The sacraments are the same (we refer to them as mysteries, but they are THE SAME, although in the east the order in which they are received is a little different). We teach from the same Bible, celebrate the same sacrifice (although a tiny difference is that most of the east uses leavened bread)…still, we are all brethren.  Even today, many in the west do not accept the differences.  It is sort of like America insisting everyone around the world adopting their form of democratic/republic-styled government, with no regard for the history or culture of the people they are insisting “convert.”

Ukrainian Monks.war God is calling us to where we each need to be, but don’t sell God short.  He has expressions that may seem odd or “foreign” to us; those of us raised with a western mindset and education. But God cannot be contained in our box or our comfort zone.  He is out there, working in the lives of people in so many ways; God is working for the good of all people.  The outlook we have for those slightly different than we are can be helpful or hurtful.  We’ve all been praying for the people in Ukraine.  We’ve all seen the priests praying between the crowds of protestors and the police (as pictured above).  Those priests are Ukrainian Greek Catholic (or Orthodox) and most are married men.  They are Christian, but celebrate a little differently than we do.  They are not Roman Catholic priests and there was a lot of controversy online about the fact that they are priests and yes, they are married.  It is not common in the Roman tradition to have married priests, but in the 22 other traditions in communion with Rome, and in the Orthodox churches, it is the norm.  They are different than what we find here in the USA, but they are all a part of the family of God, and of His Church.

If I celebrate Lent a little differently, or wear a cross that looks a little different, it is not because I am not a Christian.  I just choose to express my faith and worship in a slightly different way.  But it is valid. It is licit.  It is the same Christ crucified. My prayer is that we can all be one, holy, catholic and apostolic – and mean it.

“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 18: 8-9)

Byzantine CrossI was encouraged to pen this by someone who was interested in how I got here, why I got here, and some reflections on issues of my journey.  Thanks; it was good to look back and think on it.  I know I have grown immeasurably since first walking into a Catholic Church of my own volition about 30 years ago.  And I know God is still working on me. God has worked some miracles in relationships with people who don’t get where I am worshiping now, nor understand fully that the Eastern Catholic churches all belong and are all part of one, big, family of God.  I pray that with all the talk of ecumenism, that they will realize we are all brethren. I am just so blessed to have discovered that other lung Pope John Paul II spoke of.  I feel I am breathing more fully than I ever was.

Blessed Lent.

“In the name of the Father…”

Cross sunlight rocksIn making the sign of the cross, believe and constantly remember that your sins are nailed to the cross.+ St. John of Kronstadt +

I was attending the Crowning (blessing their civil marriage of some 9 years) of some friends, who had invited lots of different friends to witness their committment. I ended up sitting behind the groom’s mom (as I was asked to do), in order to help corral some of the kids, and next to a friend of hers I had met at a birthday party earlier in the year.  In addition, her friend had her two children with her; her son was about 10 and her daughter was 4 years old.  Her daughter ended up on my lap most of the ceremony, and I spent most of the time leaning over, explaining a Byzantine Crowning Ceremony to these Protestant guests.  And the kids had so many questions about what they were seeing and hearing for the first time.  I loved every moment of it.

One of the things I noticed, especially when I began explaining it to someone who had no previous experience in a Byzantine Church, was how often we make the Sign of the Cross in any Byzantine or Eastern Rite Liturgy.  The young boy sitting next to his mom, leaning over her towards me, kept asking me what I was doing.  I had to explain that we believe that whenever we hear the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we make the Sign of the Cross. Whenever we hear the word, “Trinity,” we also make the same Sign of the Cross.  He asked me why.  And I thought about it, realizing mom and daughter were also listening, and I replied that I did it to remind myself of Christ’s sacrifice for me, and that He had died on the Cross for me, taking my sins upon Himself. And to remind me also that God is Father, God is Son, and God is Holy Spirit – Three in One – the Holy Trinity.  He saw my husband, who was assisting at the Crowning as a deacon, make the Sign of the Cross across his lips once or twice, and asked me why he “did it then.” I explained that he had made a mistake in the words he was saying, or the prayer he was praying, and signing his lips with the Cross was a way to ask for forgiveness for the mistake, and to seek a blessing from Christ for his efforts, and to protect him from making the mistake again.  The little boy asked me, “You can do that?”  I was surprised and answered, “We do it as often as we feel the need to do it.”  I also told him that God appreciates us turning to Him on the Cross and seeking His aid in everything we do.  We also make the Sign of the Cross as a protection against any evil, or bad things, we see or feel around us.  Sometimes we do it to remind ourselves that God is ever and always present around us.

My husband signs the cross on my forehead before he leaves for work, as I groggily kiss him goodbye and tell him I love him. I don’t think my day starts as well without his loving blessing.  We bless our homes this time of year in the Eastern Churches.  The priest comes, and in times past, he pokes into every nook and cranny, praying and sprinkling holy water, carrying incense.  (Talk about deep cleaning before someone comes to visit!!). I think it is wonderful that our parish priests come to the home of each and every parishioner, at least once a year, to bless our homes.  I love knowing my house is blessed.  I sleep better in a house that has been blessed.  Our priest has not blessed our home yet, but I have.  I always have Holy Water on hand!  There’s also candles and incense in our home, accompanying our icons, statues, and Holy artwork.  This past Sunday we celebrated the Presentation in the Temple of Christ, and the meeting of St. Simeon and the Prophetess, Anna.  As part of the celebration, we were all given lit candles, to remind us that Christ is our light.  We light candles at home, to keep the light of Christ in our homes. We light candles and burn incense when we pray, when we need comfort, when we need to know Christ is here with us. It gives us comfort, as well as reminds us that He is with us always, in all things.

Icon Corner.candlesAnd I thought a lot about making the Sign of the Cross.  I do it all the time, without even thinking about it. I bless my day, cooking, my kids, any project I propose to do. It especially helps me when the chores I dislike are due to be completed (the dreaded laundry or bathroom cleaning!!). It comes as easily as breath.  And I wear a holy object every day.  A Byzantine cross, usually, but I have a selection.  My favorite is a beat-up silver St. Olga cross I bought for myself in Los Angeles, years ago.  It used to have blue inlay, but that has long since worn off.  I love the feel of it around my neck, and reach for it often, when in distress. Most days I also wear a prayer rope, to remind myself to keep praying, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  I say it over and over again.

IncensorThe little girl on my lap was pointing away to the area behind the Holy Doors.  She kept asking me, “What’s that? What’s that?”  I was naming off all sorts of things (icon, altar, fans, cross, Holy Bible…) but nothing was the right thing.  Then I noticed the incensor swinging its way back and forth, occasionally visible from the right side, behind the Holy Doors.  “Are you asking me about the smoke?”  “Yes! Are we on fire?”  Ha-Ha!  “No,” I assured her, we are not on fire.  That is called an incensor.”  She looked so confused. I asked her to close her eyes and to breathe in deeply.  She was so cute, as she squished her eyes shut and took quite a loud, deep breath. “Oooo, what is that smell?”  I asked her if it smelled good to her and she told me she loved that smell.  I then told her to watch the smoke, as it rose above the altar and made its way to the Icon of Christ above us.  She was so adorable as she moved her head and strained to watch the incense.  I told her we love to cleanse the Church of the everyday smells (she, of course, asked about what smells.  That lead to a whole other discussion about hot dogs and coffee – her questions – and lead to her question of, “How much longer is this? I’m starving!!” Kids!). But back to the incense. I explained that incense reminds us that there are angels all around us, that our prayers rise with theirs to God, and that our prayers smell sweet to God.  She loved that explanation.  And I loved that a little child, stopping me long enough to notice all those little details of our worship, caused me to not forget the whys of what we do.

There were lots of other questions about altar boys, what they were carrying, why we hold the Bible up and why we decorate it, why we bow our heads, why we pray the Lord’s Prayer more than one time, and what the priest and deacon were up to (consecration).  The young boy was especially impressed that women don’t go up there, but just boys and men.  He smiled pretty big to his mom!  I explained about communion and the mom quietly asked her daughter, “Remember when we get the little cups at Church? What is that for?”  She answered, “Jesus’ blood.” And then she asked her daughter, “And what are the little wafers we eat for, that we take out of the plate?” “Hmmm”….as she squished up her face and looked dramatically to the ceiling…”I know this. I know this….”  Her mom said, “Jesus’ bod…” And she smiled and yelled, “It’s Jesus’ body!!!”  The little one was so happy she remembered.  I told them they could come with me and receive a blessing if they wanted to, that the priest would place his hand on their heads and say a prayer for them. Well, that little child was not letting go of my hand for anything!  It was so beautiful…their entire family went up with me and received a blessing from our priest during communion and it felt so nice to have them walk with me, holding that little 4-year-old’s hand!

Holy Gifts up closeWhy do we keep all these symbols around us?  What is the purpose?  Why should we?  I think I have shared above some of the reasons, but like the family I sat with at the Crowning of our friends, there are always lots of questions of whys and wherefores, even among all of us who are of one of the many Eastern Churches, or Catholic, or Orthodox.  None of our Churches does it the same way; they just don’t.  I have been at enough of a variety of liturgies that I can attest to it.  And the Protestants are different than any of us!  There was a comment on a Facebook wall that said something to the effect of “Why don’t we all just become one, Eastern Church, then unite with Rome?”  And it is just so hard for me to even fathom that. Yes, we all want to be united in our faith, but our ways of doing things are just a tad different.  My son commented yesterday that automated driving, where you get into a car and give it your destination and it takes you where you want to go, will never happen.  He said it won’t because we are too independent and don’t want to give up our freedom that much.  I tend to agree with him.  It’s why carpooling is just not what it could be.  Or why more people don’t support mass-transit.  We are a group of individuals…and keeping our sense of self is so important to us.  God granted us free will.  We express ourselves to our God in our own ways…that’s why there are so many Churches “in communion with Rome,” and it’s also why there are so many denominations of Protestants around the world…that darned old free will.  We hate being told what to do, or worse, how to do it! Ha-Ha!

Personally, having been on a wild journey of faith my whole life, I appreciate the differences.  I love the differences. I respect the differences.  I think God loves variety; He created variety.  Not all the earth looks the same; plants come in an infinite variety, as do the species of animals, and mankind is an endless spectrum of varieties.  I think it makes God smile.  I would not expect a Latin Rite Catholic from say, Iowa or Arizona, to understand the worship of the little Ukrainian Catholic parish we found in Washington, where the Liturgy is only in Ukrainian.  Nor would I expect a little babushka from the heart of Orthodox Russia to understand the Liturgy of the Melkites, who hail from the Middle East and celebrate most of their Liturgy in Arabic.  And I would not expect a Protestant from a mega-Church in SoCal to understand the Byzantine Liturgy we celebrate up in Alaska.  We can all appreciate the differences, but we can also look to our sameness.  We all worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  The Roman Catholic may make the Sign of the Cross backwards to the rest of the Eastern world, but we still see it is the Sign of the Cross, and we can argue which side to start on, or we can just smile that we all make the Sign of the Cross.  Although, our Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ do not practice making the Sign of the Cross (or most of the other examples from our worship I cited in this post) we can still pray for them and they for us.

light in monastery windowThe little boy and girl I shared a slice of Byzantine faith with, I tried to leave with positive memories of an afternoon at a Byzantine Church where they saw a Bible decorated with gems in a golden case, held up for all to see and venerate, explaining how we love the Word of God; that the wonderful “holy smoke” they smelled will be a warm memory of the enticing smells of an Eastern Church; that the fans emblazoned with images of angels with six wings will remain with them; the stories in the many icons will warm them some day; the kindness of our community and the blessing of our priest will one day be an impetus to join us again, or at the very least, to pray for us.  Perhaps if we all share our love of our traditions, the differences will be swallowed up by the warmth of the love of them, and only the things we have in common will be remembered.  And as I made the Sign of the Cross with those children, it renewed within me my own dedication to sharing what I believe with others.  I also have some more children to pray to God for…to help entice their guardian angels into keeping that loving memory of an afternoon encircled by “holy smoke” and crowns on the heads of their friends alive for them as they make their way in the world.

St John of Kronstadt.4,jpg