“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.

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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.

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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.”

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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!!!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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…

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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?

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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.

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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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