“…the kindness I sought…”

Today is one of those days when this saying came springing itself into my mind. Some days, all we can do is pray. Have you ever had the feeling that you are standing next to a damn that is about to give way? Or near a complex set of dominoes someone made into a design, and they are about to all tumble? Or rocks, just starting their landslide, which you know you need to get out of the way from?  I am feeling that pressure more and more as each day passes by. When will it start? When will that little pebble holding the damn have enough pressure to give way, and the wall of water will come raging down the ravine in my life?

This past winter, the state of California saw more water than it has in years. The deserts are gloriously green. The pastures are blooming. But the damns are not doing so well. Apparently, every 100 years or so, California gets an abundance of water. And this was that year, according to some pundits commenting on it. I recall growing up in California and we always had enough water. I have memories of Saturday mornings with the smell of fresh cut lawns, the sounds of mowers in the distance, and the sounds of the sprinklers all popping up and spreading moisture over those hungry, grassy, front yards, coming though open windows – with no screens. Ah, the joy of those mornings. (Until the 70s when we learned about rationing gas, and water. Not sure why they coincided, but they did). And now the damns that have needed upgrading and repair are desperately trying to hold back this “100 years” of water.

I can hardly wait until Spring is well and truly here. I long for these mountain vistas and having our windows open; the smells and sounds of springtime in a mountainous region pouring into our stuffing, winterized houses! And trust me, living where I do, Spring and the joy it brings is a real thing! And it is Holy Week, meaning Easter/Pascha is sneaking right up on us. And in the back of my mind, I struggle with this impending doom; a sense that all the dominoes are about ready to fall.

And so on a day like today, I am trying to surround myself in prayer. Because “I called to the Lord with my mouth; praise was upon my tongue….But God did hear and listened to my voice in prayer. Blessed be God, who did not refuse me the kindness I sought in prayer.” Psalm 66:17-20 And I also read today, “Blessed be the Lord day by day; God, our salvation, who carries us.” Psalm 68:20  I know the Lord holds my heart in His hands. That God has what is best for me always in His heart. I trust God completely. And so to ease this sense of things beginning to happen (that will pick up the pace a tad bit) I cling to these Psalms, and to the Scriptures. Today, I read about the Washing of the Disciples’ Feet in the book of John, Chapter 13, verses 1-17. In this reading, I grasped onto some sentences that I had not noticed before: “Not all of you are clean” and “Amen, Amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master…” and the one that really stood out for me was, “I have given you a model to follow.”

This model is not just one of service to others, which it is mostly used to illustrate. For me, I saw it as a total way of going through life. We truly need to serve others; no slave is greater than his master. But we also need, at least to me, to see this model for more than just Thursday’s service during Holy Week. I need to work on following the model Christ has left for me – in all things. And so when I am stressed and worried over dominoes crashing in my life, or that damn breaking and my life being flooded in so many ways, I must always, always, look to Christ as my model.

Christ accepted, willing, the Cup from His Father. He knew what was coming; the pain, the heartbreak of being betrayed. He willingly accepted His Father’s Will for His life. That is the model He gave us to follow. And so, with the things in my life seeming so insignificant in light of Christ’s sacrifice for me, the very least I can do is to model my life on his example and to accept the Cup offered to me. And God will get me through it. All of it. Because He promised me that He would never leave me, ever.

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“We’re all just walking each other home.”

It has been quite the Friday. And it’s just 1:00pm!! LOL! This week has been full of things that I have faced and conquered. Today was no different. And I know that the Lord is working on me. Wow. I sort of feel spoiled and special. And yet, I feel badly that I am one of His “problem children” that He has to help me so very often.

“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, you keep my head high.” (Psalm 3:4)

“Know that the Lord works wonders for the faithful; the Lord hears when I cry out.” (Psalm 4:4)

“The Lord has heard my weeping, the Lord heard my prayer; the Lord takes up my plea.” (Psalm 6:10-11)

“A shield before me is God, who saves the honest heart.” (Psalm 7:11)

“O Lord, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth.” (Psalm 8:10)

How can you not feel the protection, care, and love from God when reading the Psalms? There are so many words contained in the Holy Scriptures that give my heart peace and make me feel safe. And I find myself reading these words again and again, seeing them differently each time I read them. These words hold a special meaning each time, too. I see something differently, through the eyes of faith. What a blessing.

What has been amazing to me is that, as I highlight and make notes in my Bible. I use different colors each time I go through the Holy Scriptures and I even notate the dates I read different portions, so I can see where my head was at. And now that I am going through this Lenten Study, I can see how much I have grown and how I can dig deeper into God’s Word for me. It is truly a blessing. And please do not be troubled by me writing and highlighting in my Bible. I know for many that seems sacrilegious, but it is not. I have Bibles that are precious and have no mark upon them. And then I have “study” Bibles that I write in, in order to edify my experiences. I hope that helps, in case you panicked. Ha-Ha!

In my Gratitude Journal today, the prompt was to address, and pray about, a habit you need to break. And I think that if I was not keeping up with this study and trying to immerse myself in God’s Word every day, I would not have been able to write as easily as I did, nor would I have so easily recognized the habit that needed addressing. Because God speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures, we can easily be shown where we stand in light of those very Words. And boy oh boy…bad habits are something we know we have; facing them can be a completely different thing. Most especially if we want to truly be rid of them! And today, I found solace in being able to quickly identify and seek prayerful help for my bad habit that I would like to correct. Laziness. I said it. I am basically a lazy, slothful person. Now, when I say that, I am referring to housekeeping. Ugh. I really dislike keeping a house. I  much prefer research and reading and writing. But that can be selfish, too. I need to get out of my own way and be proactive at being a better housewife. And amazingly enough, it was quick and easy for me to identify! I knew it the moment I read the prompt.

The Scriptures can guide us in everything we seek from them. Even my laziness when it comes to housework. How could I not want to cure myself of this horrible habit? And so, to prayer I turned. And today, my prayer was, “Grant me the presence of mind thwart my worst self in favor of my better self. Help me to throw off this sense of ennui that has enveloped me. Have mercy on me and help me to work towards my own Theosis. Help me, Lord, help me. Amen.”

It amazes me how things are becoming clearer and clearer. After my study, I was directed to read the story of St. Mary of Egypt. I highly recommend it. Her feast day is this Sunday, in the Eastern Churches. I learned so much about facing our faults and being humble, by reading her story. She is a beacon in this crazy world, of a woman who acknowledged her sin before God (and the Blessed Mother). She chose to deprive herself of all the comforts of life and live her days, alone, in the desert, subsisting on herbs for more than 47 years to atone for her sinful lifestyle. Alone. And naked, after her clothing literally dissolved off her body through years of living outdoors in the desert. I feel so humbled by her life. We have all become so soft. and she is quite an example for us to learn from. If you have not read her story, there are several short versions you can locate online. It will be worth your time, effort, and prayerful reading.

“Praise be to God in His angels and His saints”!

I continue to hold you all in my heart, constantly praying for all of us; and I humbly ask for your prayers, as well. Great Lent is growing to a close and my prayer is that we have all journeyed towards “home” in our faith; that we have made steps in our own, personal, Theosis.

I saw a great quote today, “We’re all just walking each other home.” (Ram Dass). I am enjoying this journey so very much and the fact that so many of us are making this same journey, together. Blessed Lent.

 

 

“..it is not yet prayer.”

Have you ever been told that you need to provide more quiet time, so your child does not get “over stimulated”?  Mondays were always the worst day of the week for me. Especially when our kids were younger. Mondays were the day after the weekends. And every Monday morning I have ever had with my kids was always “melt down Monday.” My kids were done. They needed sleep, quiet, time outdoors just digging in the dirt, and this momma needed some quiet time, too. Our house always looked the worse for the wear on Mondays. And I realized it was because our weekends were spent running all over the place, basically just checking in at home to sleep, change clothes, and run out and “do” until we collapsed on Sunday nights.

Well, this grandma is overstimulated. I am raw today. This weekend was insanely busy for us. We went to a meeting with lots of new people on Friday evening, a banquet that we volunteered to help with on Saturday, breakfast with our kids/grandkids Sunday morning (followed by a new Disney movie, so we were there until after 2pm), preparing for the husband’s business trip today (laundry, etc), Church Sunday evening, and dinner was late after Church last night – 9:30pm. My poor husband had an early flight out this morning – 4:30am. Ugh. He is tired! And I am strung out and raw. Sometimes, even though I do love being with people, I prefer being at home. Quietly at home. With my husband and a good book, a nice fire crackling in the wood stove, and my dog sitting next to me. Maybe a glass of Scotch next to me, or a cup of tea, or both! Ha-Ha!

Today’s journaling exercise for Lent was to list 30 interesting things about yourself. It was so hard. And I realized some things. I prefer being at home. Pretty much a homebody. I prefer the company of my husband, most of all, and our family and close friends. I don’t need to go out and party or do a lot. In my younger days, I was in a sorority. I worked at a TGIF restaurant, waitressing and bartending – talk about a lot of people! I have partied until I am not really interested in that anymore. I have had the days of kid’s sports and that commitment, keeping us running all week long. And I adore seeing mountains with snow on them over the beach any day of the week (sorry, Mary!! Ha-Ha!). I realized I am a cold climate person. And I have come to learn that I like silence. I really, really, do. I prefer it to music or noise, of any kind, at all. Who would have thought? (Not my parents when I was 16!!).

Our reading today was about how we pray. And I learned some things about myself. I realize that I love the Lenten season above any other season. I love these protracted times of reflection and lessons, of reading Scripture and learning how to pray more often and more fruitfully. I love learning how to be more simple, more quiet, more reflective, more in tune with God. Some quotes by St. Theophan the Recluse really touched my heart today, in a profound way. “Prayer itself is the piercing of our hearts by pious feelings towards God, one after another – feelings of humility, submission, gratitude, doxology, forgiveness, heart-felt prostration, brokenness, conformity to the Will of God, etc.” “When these feelings are present, our praying is prayer, and when they are absent, it is not yet prayer.” And it spoke to me about the quality of my prayer life. Do I prepare my space, my mind, my heart, before I pray? Do I jump back up and rejoin the world once I have completed my prayers? Do I allow those wonderful feelings to follow me out into my day? One of his suggestions was to “focus your thoughts, casting off from them all earthly activities and objects. Then call to mind the One to Whom you are praying, Who He is and who you are, as you begin this prayerful petition to Him.” How often do we center ourselves, detaching our minds from the world, and wholely giving ourselves over to this connection with God? I have spent many years, in many different ways, trying to accomplish this feat. And often I have come up against a sort of roadblock to what I feel is a successful time of prayer. And St. Theophan said this, “..stop, do not read further, but stand with attention and feeling in that place, and use the prayer in that place and the feelings engendered by it to feed your soul.” And I felt that I had learned something valuable. Quite often we read scripture and we only retain a word or two, perhaps a phrase, but the entire reading is off, floating out of our minds. Or when we read the words of philosophers or the Church Fathers, we retain such a small bit of it, and we feel like we have failed. But today I learned that it is not a failure, but it is precisely what I was intended to receive from that exercise. My soul was touched and I felt buoyed by reading that tract of writing, from whomever, and was able to retain what was pertinent to me and my soul.

As I read the Psalms today, a verse here and there struck me. For example, “…God is on my side. God, I praise your promise; in You I trust, I do not fear. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 56:10-12) and then “My soul rests in God alone, from Whom comes my salvation. God alone is my rock and salvation, my secure height; I shall never fall.” (Psalm 62:2-3). And I was touched, in light of my experiences and our current political climate, by this: “..they bless with their mouths, but they inwardly curse.” (Psalm 62:5) . And that last is just a portion of a phrase.

I was able to take these moments from Scripture and feel them in my heart. I stopped and recorded them, so as to keep them close to me. I believe St. Theophan was right when he said, “All praying leaves prayer in the soul – continual prayer in this manner gives it root, and patience in this work establishes a prayerful spirit. May God grant this to you by the prayers of our All-pure Lady, the Theotokos.”

Sometimes our resolve to live peacefully gets dashed upon the rocks of reality. My weekend totally invaded my space, and used up any of the “social” energy I had within me. Don’t misunderstand; I totally enjoyed my time out and spent much of it laughing (especially at the cross-eyed and mounted Mountain Lion they were trying to auction off) with friends. But, I wore my psyche out. And, more than usual, I was looking forward to my prayer time today. As our Sunday wound down, things got worse and worse. Our drive-through experience at 9:00pm on a Sunday night? Well, we waited 20 minutes in a line we were stuck in; our food finally arrived and off we went only to spill the drink in my new car as we pulled into our driveway, and the bags broke as we exited the car, with burgers flying into the snow…even the last bag split as we made our way inside. It was an exhausting end to a very “peopley” weekend. Thanks be to God for silence, quiet, and prayer time to rejuvenate my mind and soul. And as we laid our heads upon our pillows, we both apologized for the misplaced anger we had towards one another, and just rested. I recited the Jesus Prayer over and over, as I drifted off. And I knew my husband would be tiredly flying off to his commitments across the state, and I would be blessed to spend my morning with God, in prayer. My husband has blessed my soul in so many ways, but chiefly among them, is the ability to be at home. Thanks be to God for these priceless moments and opportunities to pray, for generosity of faith of my husband, and for this wonderful season of Lent, lately realized as my favorite time of the year.

Blessed Lent

“…and He shall sustain you;”

For it is not an enemy that reviled me—that I could bear—
Not a foe who viewed me with contempt,
from that I could hide.
But it was you, my other self,
my comrade and friend,
You, whose company I enjoyed,
at whose side I walked
in the house of God.

That is from Psalm 55:13-15. And it was just a small portion of my readings today. But this series of comments from the Psalmist really hit me. It is the lament of a betrayal by someone the writer was intimately friends with. I think that those who we walk in a common faith with, have a certain place in our hearts that is special, and reserved for them in a special way. We tend to trust those we pray with, those we “walk in procession in the house of God,” in a special way. And when those people turn out not to be what they presented themselves as, that presents a special ache in our hearts. However, the Psalmist also says, “God will never allow the righteous to stumble.”(Psalm 55:23)

I took great comfort from this. It is not a matter of one winning and one losing. It is, rather, a protection for both. Because as I read this, I came to see that through my continued prayers and time spent with just God, and His Word, I have been able to control my anger more and more. I journaled about the fact that I am not normally an angry person. I do get frustrated, and that can lead quite easily to anger. But when I have felt betrayal, I have reacted in anger, out of a deep, deep hurt. But God does not allow us to stumble. He will protect us from our worst selves. And he has done that for me. Even when I have felt that betrayal from those closest to me, I have been truly able to let it go. I have quite literally felt the anger, and the pressure of that emotion on my body, leave me. I felt lighter, and so much peace. Our journaling prompt today was to think on how we let our anger go. And I honestly have been able to let things go so much easier, relying on the mercy of God and His Providence over my life, rather than those old patterns of knee-jerk reactions. God has been kind to me. And my continuing growth through this process can only lead to even better outcomes. I love this quote by Saint Seraphim, “Acquire a peaceful spirit and thousands around you will be saved.”

I read this article today about the 5-Second Rule for making decisions and choices…which is not about picking food up off the floor before the germs invade. Rather, it is giving yourself a 5-second delay/review period before making a decision, saying something, reacting in some way to input you are receiving. And after that 5-seconds, you are to do something, say something, react, and be physical in your reaction. That 5-second break is sometimes all we need to stop ourselves from making a poor decision. And it is sometimes the small review period we need to make the right decision. Sadie Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, spoke to how using this is helping her navigate growing up in a world where poor choices are rampant and much easier to make. She was pretty articulate in how this method has helped her be a better person, and make better choices. Well for me, I did not realize that I had actually started doing that, too. In those 5 Seconds, I have been silently saying the Jesus Prayer, when these things happen to me. And it is working! I am finding myself becoming more patient, quieter, and much happier.

“God will never allow the righteous to stumble.” If I truly want God to be in charge of my life, He will not allow me to stumble. All He asks is that we listen. Just listen. There was this popular country song entitled, “Jesus, take the wheel,” wherein the woman is lamenting her life and crying…she was driving home to visit her parents for Christmas and it was snowing, her small baby sleeping in the back seat. She was not paying attention and hit a sheet of ice, coming to rest in a snow bank. And that’s when she asked Jesus to “take the wheel,” because she was regretting the “road she was on” and asked Him to just “take the wheel, take it from me.” And I am thankful I did not need to careen off the road on a sheet of ice (well, okay, the hubby and I recently experienced life in a snowbank, after trying to stop suddenly on an icy road, so I know how she feels) but it did not take that sort of 2 x 4 to my head to make me stop the road I was on. Instead, the Church gave me Great Lent. It caused me to stop, to think, to pray, to re-evaluate, to re-order my priorities. We are so blessed we are given this “annual review period” to get our lives back on track.

Continued prayers and blessings for an amazing Lent this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“The struggle ends when gratitude begins.” (N.D. Walsch)

Today I am learning to focus first, and most importantly, on my many blessings in this life, and to express my gratitude to God. The image above is the actual style of the Gratitude Journal I am using ( you can get it from http://www.maydesigns.com/m/gratitude) and I really love it. It is simple, colorful, and is for 40 days…the perfect Lenten tool.  If you are thinking of journaling at all, please check them out. They have all sorts of simple, and so pretty, journal ideas and styles. They were inexpensive and I love how you can customize your designs (inside/outside/monogram, etc). I get nothing for recommending them; a friend recommended them to me and I am so happy with the product I received, I thought I would share them with my readers. (It is an integral part of the Lenten study I am participating in with http://www.orthodoxmom.com). These journals will become, for me, a legacy of my journey this Lent, and each year that I can participate in this. What a blessing this has become for me! If you wish to, you can join us!! Lent is not over, yet!

As I progress through my journaling, most especially my “gratitude” journal, I am brought up short again and again at how disfigured my thinking has been. Disordered. The priorities so very skewed. I keep thinking about all the things that weigh me down. There are many – we all have them! Sometimes we cannot sleep because we worry so very much. Or if we do sleep, we don’t sleep well or deeply. We do not sleep to where we awake restored, or refreshed, bounding out of bed and ready to conquer this day.

My husband is an engineer. His specific training is mechanical, although he works as an energy engineer. When he is faced with a problem, especially something to do with his work or job, he does not stop thinking about it until he solves it. This can take days or weeks. And at times, I can tell he is not really “present,” but is working on his issue. He’s woken in the night with a solution once or twice. Over the past 32+ years of being with him, I am in awe about how dogged he is in seeking a solution for issues. But sometimes his mind works against him, in that he cannot “let it go” in order to rest. He will approach any problem this way! Even how we were going to construct our raised bed gardens last Spring kept him from sleeping well! Some of us just cannot rest until we have the answers we seek. But I am learning and discovering a better way.

Now that I am doing a directed Lenten study program, and I am slowly walking through the Psalms and the Scriptures in light of Lent, I am seeing how much there is to be grateful for. There is always, always, something we can be thankful for, even in the midst of turmoil. The problem with me is that I have been putting the problem, the issues, before everything else. I haven’t been able to see all the blessings, because the troubles have blocked my vision; my heart. And it has left me depressed and not aware of the glory that surrounds me in the simplicity of my days.

It is hard to explain how much peace I am finding as I journal my gratitude, my desires, and read the Psalms and Scriptures. Sometimes I cannot see how they are related, but when I step back and ponder the readings, things start to click. Today I read, “Wait a little, and the wicked will be no more; look for them and they will not be there. But the poor will possess the land; will delight in great prosperity.” (Psalm 37:10-11) and then I read, “Better the poverty of the just than the great wealth of the wicked.” (Psalm 37:16)  And then, “The mouths of the just utter wisdom; their tongues speak what is right. God’s teaching is in their hearts; their steps do not falter (Psalm 37:30-31).  And one more that said, “Observe the honest, mark the upright; those at peace with God have a future, but all sinners will be destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off.” (Psalm 37: 37-38).

I think God is letting me know through the Psalmists that I am to struggle to find the right path; the path that God destined for me. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart”. (Jeremiah 29:11-13) God blesses us as we work towards Him and His plan for our lives. And I truly believe that we can alter how we approach this working out of our salvation; that we can grow and become more than we currently are.

What I think I have been doing wrong, is that I have been so concerned with keeping the rule of the fast in the past, of being holier than I am the rest of the year, of making sure I attended all the right celebrations and prayers at Church, that I was missing all the blessings I received from God through my fasting and prayers! By looking to my gratitude first, I can plainly see the blessings I have, and continually pray for the things that I feel I need to pray for, and about. But when you put gratitude first, your prayers, your days, and your nights, become very different.

And my prayer for this Lenten journey I am on is to continue to seek the positive in my life and to be grateful, first. To seek God and His blessings on my life, and to rest in His promises. And my prayer is that each of you who reads this will discover that gratitude can lead us to a much happier, and closer, walk with God…during Lent and each day of our lives. Think of all the wonderful blessings the Lord is showering down upon each of us, this very day. Each day we can rest in the many blessings from God, and each day we can work on lessening the concerns and the fears, trusting in God alone. I am praying for a better night’s sleep for everyone. And every day when we rise, refreshed from our night of peace and rest, may our day be a better day, where we are accomplishing the things that are laid before us, in a spirit of Gratitude. So thankful!

“…cleanse me from my unknown faults…”

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

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

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

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

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