“Open your mouth for the mute…”

I am constantly amazed how people can say one thing, purport to be one thing, and yet are completely different. When the “real’ person comes out, it can be so shocking. We have been experiencing this over the past few years, over and over again. I just wish people would be exactly who they are. I know so many people who change their faces, even their voices, depending on their audience – they have a work self, a homebody, a person for their spouse, and another type for their friends. That must get confusing. I have always been the same, regardless of my audience. I suppose that can be good, or bad.

I’ve always been told to put on clean underwear in case you’re in an accident. So I do. (My mom should be proud I still do that! I almost hear her when I am dressing! LOL!)  I can wear clothing appropriate for situations. And as I have gotten older, I choose comfort over style most of the time. But that does not mean I change the person I am, nor the values I believe in. It just means I dress appropriately for the occasion.

There are people in our larger faith community who dress a certain way, wear their hair a certain way, and always wear a symbol of faith on their person. For them, it symbolizes their modesty and simplicity, and their beliefs. (My sons referred to it as my “Little House on the Prairie” days! LOL!) However, many of these same Christian families do not allow their children to interact with “public school children,” nor do they allow them to play sports on public league teams, or have friends outside of their strict faith circle.  Some do not allow their children to interact with anyone who does not attend their same church. But we are exhorted in the scriptures to live in this world and to deal with others. We cannot learn, being hidden away. “My child, if sinners entice you, turn your back on them!” (Proverbs 1:10)  It is biblically, and scripturally, incorrect. We are not called to be separated from our neighbors, but rather we are called to participate and be the “light” and the “salt” in this world.  The godly are called to be as bold as lions (Proverbs 28:1) There are so many instances where we are asked by Our Lord to involve ourselves in our communities and neighborhoods, for the good of everyone.

We are not instructed to alienate or shame, either. When parents are teaching their elementary-aged children to speak to adults/neighbors like the “Inquisition,” there is a problem. Pre-teen children should not be telling their neighbor adults that they are going to hell because they do not attend a particular church. That is learned at home. When adults act like they reside on a higher plane because of their religious beliefs, they are not being Christ to others, or when they act superior because of their careers and income levels, they are not being Christ to others. When they wear crosses on their chests or the back windows of their cars, but yell, shout, and belittle their neighbors, they are being a false witness to the faith. When they don’t like something their neighbors are doing, and threaten law suits, or offer monetary rewards to make it go away, they are being dishonest and are actually being a briber. And that is not a Christian act. At all.

When we act a certain way in front of our children, we are teaching them. They watch our bodily actions and they listen to our words, and they pay attention to how we treat others. And unfortunately, quite often the adage, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” ends up falling far short. Children are great imitators. They will act and speak just like their parents. If you want to know everything there is to know about a family, talk to their 10-12 year-old. You will know it all. So people ought not to fool themselves into thinking they are making a certain impression in a community. Their false-face is there for all to see. And when they parade through their parishes, the hypocrisy is unnerving.

“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)

The Lord asks us, so many times, to care for others. For those who cannot care for themselves. I have thought about this a lot lately. What does it mean that someone cannot care for themselves? Quite often we look to the easy example of the poor, the handicapped, the elderly, and the pre-born baby. But as I thought of this, caring for ourselves can often be beyond some of us. We simply don’t know how. And caring for myself means I make sure I have food and shelter; I help myself become more skilled at what I do; I work constantly to grow in wisdom and love. But what if I can’t really do that? What if I am hurting inside and cannot help myself? What if I have never been taught the love of Christ and His forgiveness, and all I am exposed to and see is my neighbor? What if I am one of those who cannot care for myself, one of the needy? What if my neighbor, who says they are a wonderful homeschooling, Catholic, Christian family, is my only exposure to those things? Then my neighbor becomes my school. I learn from watching you, and from interacting with you, just as your children do. What it is to be those things, I learn from watching you. And when you belittle others and exclude the neighbors because they don’t “measure” properly, what sort of example are you? You are a false one. And you are causing people to stumble. Some of those people are your own children. And I am angry. I admit it. I am royally, beyond the pale, mad.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)

I am angry because you are being this poor example to my children and grandchildren. You are turning them away from Church. You are turning them away from learning to be good neighbors. They are becoming exclusionary because it is safer that way. When they let you in, or allow you to come closer, you hurt them, again. They are not excluding your children, because this was not caused by them, but they are no longer happy to see them walk up the driveway. They no longer really want your children teaching and interacting with their children. Why? Your children tell them everything you say in your home. They know how you really feel. They share freely what your opinion of my children and grandchildren really is. And this is just wrong. So very wrong. And you are hurting others. You are hurting my family.

When we will be honest with one another? When will we learn to grow and become better people? Just because you want things to be a certain way, does not make them that way. What is, well, it just is. Some things we can affect a change on; others we have to accept. Wisdom is knowing the difference. Temper tantrums, in front of the children and the entire cul-de-sac, cannot change what is. Shame on you. Shame.

I am struggling to not go barging in to situations that are not about me. Being a parent does not stop when they leave your roof. You are always going to be protective of your kids. When my oldest son went into the Army, in my mind, all I could see was my 5-week preemie. In my head, he was not well over 6-feet tall, but barely old enough to be born. And even though my kids are all adults now, I still worry about them. And when others array themselves against them, this mom goes all “shield maiden” on them! (I love the Viking stories and lore surrounding Shield Maidens. They were so awesome!). It is also like being a mother-bear…watch out!

The Christian in me longs for peace. I long to be able to share with these people the error of their ways, in a godly, Christian way. But I have been the victim of these sorts of Christians for more than 25 years. And it pretty much follows a pattern. It is ugly, it is predictable and I am thankful beyond thankful that I was able to extricate myself and my family from that environment and be more of a presence in this world. But I never lost my faith, nor my values, nor myself. Dante says, “The darkest places of hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in a time of crisis.” He is telling us we are not to abandon the world when it needs us the most. We need to insert ourselves into everyday life, as Christians, bearing a true witness of the love of God. If we are to be that “light” and “salt” in this world, we cannot bear false witness. We will lead others to hell. Proverbs instructs us to be people of character, above bribes, and to be honest in dealing with everyone. It is laced all through the Book. Because, “If the godly give in to the wicked, it’s like polluting a fountain or muddying a spring.” (Proverbs 25:26)  We cannot become like the world. And we cannot sit back and allow evil to muddy our springs. Sometimes we have to speak up…or in my case, vent!

“So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

And how are we doing? Have we truly accepted the Word of God for our own lives, thereby being an honest witness of a believer? Is this posturing? Make believe? Are we charlatans? Or are we modern-day Pharisees, praying on the street corner for all to see??

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:5)

I am done venting. I am retiring to my chair where I can drink a cup of tea, and cuddle with my cat, enjoying our spring mix of rain and snow. And I will pray for these people, to be honestly who they are, to be kind before all else, as well as to be a Godly witness and not a false one.

I feel like I went off the rails a little bit in this post. Maybe I did. But sometimes I just want to shout it from the rooftops: ENOUGH! STOP!  And so, proverbially speaking, I have done that. Back to normal, now!

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“…but the greatest of these is love.”

Clinging, clinging, clinging. The world is all about loss today. It seems like things happen in 3’s, as they say, so I am holding on.

It amazes me how we ignore the needs of some portions of our community. And that is not a judgmental statement. Not at all. Unless you are exposed to the need, quite often we don’t know it even exists. I am not all that familiar with things outside of my experiential life. There are some things I know about that seem random, but it is because somewhere along the line I was exposed to it. And I learned. But we all go along in life, noting what we need to note to survive our days, and pretty much ignoring the rest of it. Because of time.

My major in college was Anthropology. We study what was, about a culture, and what is. We study the remains of older cultures through Archeology. And if we are blunt about it, archeologists are the world’s dumpster-divers. We dig through trash left behind by cultures that faded away, or moved on. Today, dumpster diving is sadly a way of life for many of our indigent and poor. But something else that is happening is that we are becoming a throw-away society. A transient population. Ever moved? Trust me when I say, I have. Too many times that I am almost embarrassed by it. But with moving, you learn to get rid of stuff. We had an enormous garage sale prior to relocating. I sold literally boxes of paperback books (it turned out the buyer owned a used book store! LOL!) and all sorts of outdated toys and tools, and a myriad of other supplies I no longer needed; oh, and furnishings; tons of “furnishings” (love that broad-base descriptor). It amazes me what people will and will not buy. We are moving again. This weekend we made our first dump run and a run to the Salvation Army. We are, once again, purging. We realize we need less of this stuff we have somehow accumulated. Heck, I have boxes I have not unpacked from our last move, four years ago! LOL! And furniture we have never used, and it looks like we won’t need it again, that has been in our shed for 4 years, too! And we have to get rid of our “stuff.”

But what about the other, more precious things, we have in our lives? We warehouse people. We find it too hard to care for them, so we warehouse them. They call them “nursing homes,” or “memory care facilities,” or “senior centers,” and “long term care facilities.” There is pretty much a name for whatever/whomever we are housing. But when you try to keep family members home with you, what help is there? It is hard to come by. Most medical professionals don’t even know what is out there. How sad. You have to work in some branch of social services to appreciate what is out there, that can assist you. We don’t have to experience loss several times when it comes to our elderly or infirm (the first loss is when you separate them from you by warehousing them; the second loss is when they pass away). But it amazes me how few people acknowledge the needs of our elderly population. We are now living longer. There is going to be a shortage of professionals to deal with our senior population, and we are going to see, increasingly, situations where multiple generations are once again living together. We need to stop and think about how we are educating our children, and what they are being taught. Compassion? Caring attitude? Serving attitude? Do they know how to put others first?

Today is the Feast Day of St. Joseph the Worker. My husband took him as his patron when he was ordained, and this icon was magically placed on the cake I had made for him, by an amazing baker. It was created from rice paper and edible inks. I still marvel at it. What a talent. St. Joseph is such an incredible role model for us all. He epitomized the ideals of selfless service. He married the Theotokos, Mother of God, knowing She was carrying the Son of God. And he put his life into the service of Mary and Jesus. He was a background saint…not much detail is known of him. But he taught his Son, Jesus, the skill of a master carpenter. Jesus worked until he was 30 years old, as a carpenter. He took care of the needs of his community, quietly working with wood. In those days, the skill set to work in wood was special. Things were made to last, to be passed on from one generation to the next. It was not Ikea furniture. And Joseph excelled at it.

Today, I was recently informed, we have the generation of kids who register at Ikea and Target. They are mobile and they are not particularly drawn to the old, the antique. It has to be something pretty special for today’s young adults to appreciate it. We have become this “throw-away,” transient, people. Look at me! I have moved so many times in my life, it is ridiculous. This next house? I am fondly calling it my “casket” house – because that is how I want to move out of it – in my casket. I am done moving. I am tired of the transience in my life. I want to stick to a place and stay there.

My parents, my mother-in-law, are all aging. They require care. They require someone to take care of them in their home. And they require a lot of care. Coordinating that, organizing that, and implementing a plan is taxing on those left to care for our elderly. Today I spent hours on the phone and internet trying to coordinate, from clear across the country, care for my dad. Only because I have been involved in social services did I know what terms to use, and how to search, for help. They had no clue. Never thought they would have to ever look for it, either. It was completely outside of their experiential lives. I had previously cared for my elderly grandmother and had waded through these waters before, as well as working in the social services world. So terms were familiar and google did it’s thing, and I connected. But how many others have no clue where to even begin?

I began with this post saying how I was clinging…I am. To my sanity. Today is the end of homeschooling for me. Senior grades are due. A phase in my life is over. My youngest child will graduate later this month. That’s 25 years of the homeschooling lifestyle I will no longer have. And it is a mixed bag of emotions for me. And I dealt with my dad. And tomorrow, we have to euthanize our 15-year-old dog who is snoring right now at my feet. It seems like life and death are circling around me and it makes me agitated. I need a good laugh. I need a good night out with friends, who will make me smile. I need a good hug from a granddaughter or grandson. I need to smell a newborn and hold a wiggling baby, to ensure myself that life indeed goes on. I’d love to cuddle a puppy, you know?

Mr. Chet has been my buddy for the past 15 years. I remember the day we picked him out of his litter; and the day we brought him home, six weeks later. He’s never been a simple dog to own, but most terrier breeds are not simple. Miniature Schnauzers can be particularly stubborn and constantly take the lead of their own mindset, rarely listening to their owners. They are trainable, but you have to really work at it. And they are funny, too. Chet has provided many hours of laughter. He will cuddle when I ask him, but he is content off by himself, on a soft surface of some sort. That photo of him is when he was sitting on top of the back of our couch, in the sun, on a blanket. He always chose his spots, regardless of the dog beds available. He is also a runaway! He has kept us on our toes for 15 years. He is also not the smartest dog in the bunch. But it has become increasingly obvious that he no longer enjoys a quality of life. He sleeps constantly and enjoys very little. He is always lost, wandering around the house. He has little pep, exhibiting interest in mostly breakfast and little else. And so we are preparing to say goodbye to our little buddy…and my heart is breaking. Death is just so final with our animals. Thanks be to God we have eternity to look forward to.

With all the aging and dying in my life right now, my advice would be to get all the snuggles you can with whom/what you love. If your furry friend wants a snuggle, let them. If your son wants to give you a hug, take it. If a friend needs a long chat, chat. If your mom needs you to help her out, help her out. Time is marching on, whether we realize it or not and our days are numbered. And the quality of our days definitely wanes as we age. So be good to those you love. Hold on to them; enjoy the unexpected moments of their company, and bask in your shared love and relationship. God knows how things will work out, each day, for the good of us all. Cling to love like it is a cliff, connecting you to this world. It is all we really have. And we ought not to throw that away, like old books at garage sales.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.               1 Cor 13:13

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

Palmer June 2016

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

Alaskan Tundra Honey Berry Plant

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

Fried Halibut

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

Eagle River Nature Center

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

Reindeer Farm.2016

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

monkimage

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

young-living-eos

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

dog on sofa closeup_26205

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

get uncomfortable

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

comfort zone

Would you care to join me?

 

 

 

“…who is truly reliable?”

Everybody friend

I have been pondering this subject a lot lately. I have been forced to think about it over several months, through several occurrences and conversations. And it has been an instructive adventure, to be sure.

Over the course of more than 30 years of marriage, my husband and I have had a myriad of “friends.” We have friends we brought with us to our initial dating relationship. I have friends from elementary school with whom I still correspond. My husband has one particular friend from his childhood who still means the world to him, even though they have not lived near one another in over 35 years. We have made friends as a couple over the years, as well as made friends as individual adults through life experiences. I am friends with an old boss, a couple of friends made through our dairy life, and my husband has many friends throughout the USA because of work and through his diaconate program and training. There are some people who you will be close to throughout your life. And then there are those who do not stay with you. And that is where I am at, on this fine, rainy, and very fall day in Alaska.

 “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24

We have come to realize that “friend” is a term that is used very loosely. With the advent of Facebook, you can add friends at the push of a button, and you can also “unfriend” someone just as simply. People often brag about how many Facebook friends they have, and I have heard of some people who have a thousand or more! That’s is almost inconceivable. Last night, our grandson was jumping up and down in front of our window, and so excited because “his friends” were coming over. We had to explain that they were friends of grandma’s and grandpa’s, and also friends of his daddy. He then yelled, as he continued to jump up and down, “Daddy’s friends are here. I see them!” (He’s 3 years old). Friends mean so much to people, and quite often it is our friends who save us from drowning in our lives.


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

As our children grow, friends come to mean something very much to them. Our youngest son is in high school and friends are quite the topic in his life. And as teenagers, we know how up and down moods can be, and how very fickle friendships can also be. I’ve seen teens be “besties” for a month or two, and then become total anathema towards one another the next month. And it causes such anguish in their lives. If we are honest, it can also cause anguish in the lives of adults. There are those we have been friends with for years and years, and the next thing you know, they are no longer a part of your life. This has happened to me quite often over the past 5 years of moving around. And because I have experienced it recently, and my son has also been subject to “drama” within his circle of friends, it caused me to write this out, to help myself get a handle on it.

I truly believe God places people in our paths at certain times, and for a specific amount of time, for our edification and for our education, as well as for our presence in their lives. But not perhaps to stay for a lifetime. Letting go is one of the hardest lessons in this process towards maturity, and hopefully, wisdom. I believe that my maturity – not just aging – has been deeply affected by the people placed along the pathways of my life. And for all those experiences and relationships, good and bad, I am profoundly grateful. Because of these people and experiences, I have come to know myself; and I am getting more and more comfortable with myself. Different influences by different people brought me to be who I now am. And I am a daughter of God; a child of the Most High. And I am blessed. We all are blessed. I have a few bumps and bruises; even some scars. But the Lord has brought me to this day, and for that I am eternally grateful.

As we have grown older, and our children have aged and moved out on their own, our friendships have changed. We had groups of friends we hung out with when we were all dating. Some went on to get married, as we did, but some did not. Hanging with single friends while married is not conducive to staying married, so many of those relationships fell away. As our children grew, we gathered friends with kids the same ages and with similar interests. As schooling started for our children, we garnered an entire group of friends surrounding our homeschooling and parish activities. We still have many of them, now sharing grand-parenting together. But most of them have fallen off. Our interests changed and we moved away. Convenience is a huge factor in maintaining relationships.  It is very hard to maintain deep friendships while living so far away from one another. There is no daily interaction; no morning coffee or park days. And I miss that very much,

I realized that people I thought were friends were not. They were people we engaged in the same activities with. Once we were “geographically undersirable,” our relationships flitted away. I thought this past year was a good example of that – Christmas cards. In past years, we received stacks of cards. This year, I checked to see who sent cards. Very, very few of the people I considered friends. And it made me sad. As I have aged, my circle of friends outside of family has shrunk. And I am completely okay with that; truly I am.

This summer, in fact just a few weeks ago, we visited our son and his family in our old stomping grounds. We saw very few friends. Some people were a little hurt we did not see them, or make the effort to see them. But I thought about it, and a very close friend also verbalized this: When you work and have just a short amount of vacation time/money to spend on travel each year,  and your children live thousands of miles away, you have limited time to see family – and our family is priority #1 for us! And so my circle has become quite small and exclusive. We stayed with a family, our youngest son’s godparents, for a couple of nights when we first flew into town. I had the best time. We dined with them and another couple and I was content – I was happy. We saw another family while connecting our teen up with some friends and he spent a couple of nights with them. It was great to reconnect. We also interacted with some other friends who happen to own a gathering place of sorts where other friends met up with us and we had the best evening! However, we spent the majority of our time with our son and his family. It was where I wanted to be – holding on to each moment I could, making memories with my grandchildren. I hugged and cuddled as much as I possibly could. And my smaller group of friends totally understands this; most of them live it, too.

“Don’t befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.” Proverbs 22:24–25

I have tried to explain these different aspects of friendship to my youngest son. I have often told him that people who are in your life should make you a better man. Friends should bring out the best and enrich our lives. They should not drag you down, nor make you a lesser person. There are so many pressures on teens; we’ve all experienced that. Who in our group of teens were an occasion of sin for us? Who pushed us to break the Commandments of God, the rules of our parents, and even the law (for me it was under-age drinking)? Are they friends in the best sense of the word? Do they pray with us, and for us?  Do they gossip about us behind our backs, or do they discourage evil words? Do they encourage our faith and stand beside us as we try to fight the tide in our culture? Do they lead us to that wide, simple pathway to evil? Or do they hold us up as we traverse that narrow road of righteousness and truth? And with all the pressures in each age that young people face, how are we as parents helping our children? Do we encourage the right relationships and help them navigate the teen years with Christ as the Head of our Families?

“Whoever loves a pure heart and gracious speech will have the king as a friend.” Proverbs 22:11

This has been an arduous practice in discernment for me. It has been painful, this process of letting go. But I also have learned that I am blessed beyond measure by the people I have in my life. I am making new friends, people who “hang around you and laugh with you.” They may not be “friend” in the truest essence of the word. But I am okay with that, too. Because I know who my friends are. I have held them and wept with them as we have parted. They have shared life and death with me. They have held me up as I have tripped. They have comforted me and brought me joy and laughter. And as I recently read, “Friendship has to be an exchange. It cannot be a one way street; that’s self sacrifice. As someone recently told me “if someone wants to be a part of your life they will make the effort to be in it, so don’t reserve a place in your heart for someone who doesn’t make the effort to stay”. Harsh? A little, yes. But ultimately, the Lord of All places people in our lives when they are needed to be there. Or perhaps when we need to be in their lives. When they don’t stay, we need to let go and be thankful for the enrichment that experience gave us. I know I am rich; I have my faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And, I have the love of my life beside me, an incredible family I love more than life itself, and a handful of people I can honestly call, “friend.” I am so very blessed.

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” John 15:13–15 

“and guard you from the evil one.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Infant Baptism

“Today – it’s my favorite day!”

Christmas living room

I am taking down Christmas today and it is making me sad. I am sort of avoiding it, actually.  I love Christmas.  I love the whole season.  I re-read the cards we received, made notes of new addresses, saved photos, and then tossed them.  As I did, I prayed for everyone who remembered us with cards, everyone we sent cards to, and everyone we know that we no longer stay in touch with.  I try to do that with our decorations, too.  I pray as I put them away for another year.  To me, Santa is so much more than a guy in a red suit. He embodies the Saint himself, St. Nicholas of Myra.  And the lessons from St. Nicholas are supposed to stay with us all the year long, as well as the lessons we gain from the Birth of Our Savior. We are blessed to attend St. Nicolas of Myra parish, so the icon of St. Nicholas, and one of his relics, is always with us.  He was a Bishop and he loved the poor and he loved his community.  Those are attributes we should keep in mind more than just in December each year.

I love being Byzantine because our Vespers, our Orthros, and our prayers keep our calendar busy, as well as all the wonderful feasts throughout our liturgical year.  There is a term called, “Ordinary Time” for the days between the preparation of the Feasts on our calendar.  People often get this confused and think it means that our time is “ordinary,” as in mundane or rote.  Not at all! The term relates to the order of the days, and the way in which we count them.  As in numerals or ordinals; it has nothing to do with the character of the days, but rather the ways in which we keep track of the days between feasts.  So as you take down Christmas and feel like your home is just “ordinary” until the next feast (for most of America that would be Easter) take a moment to think about that.  We are counting, or keeping track of our days, until we fast and feast!

BVM Laundry

I read a great blog on FB today about the art of housekeeping.  In the article, the author talks about the mundane – laundry, chasing dust bunnies, folding clothes, picking up toys, cooking meal after meal.  Sometimes in the eyes of the world, those of us who stay home and keep a house have nothing to do.  We are the dross, the extra, of our culture because we are not gainfully supporting it by working outside of our homes.  We have a boring routine and our lives are the same, day in and day out.  I have SO much to say on that, but I want to share just a couple of thoughts.

My life truly began when I was married 29 years ago.  We conceived our first child soon after we were married and he was born just 10 months after our wedding. I really do not know what it is like to be married without children around me, without being a part of a family.  But I feel like I truly found myself as a wife and mother.  I feel like the life I led up until marriage and motherhood was all preparation.  My father used to question how I could be satisfied being at home. He thought I was wasting my intellect and my time.  And I have always felt sad for him because he thought that way.  Each moment, each experience I had in life, every tid-bit I learned up until I was a wife and mother, was just preparation for my true vocation in life. I have the intellectual chops to have become pretty much anything I had wanted to.  I changed my major so many times in college, and was there so long, they used to ask my if my student ID number was legit, because it was so ancient (true story).  I never managed to be able to complete an area of study, because my intellect would be drawn to something else and off I would go, changing my major again.  And I learned so many odd, fun facts, that I know a lot about quite a few subject areas, but have mastered none of them.  (The old adage, “Jack of all trades, master of none” totally applies to me!!).  And I learned that all of that knowledge was gained to impart to my children.  To share with them as they were growing and learning. I would not trade a moment in a career with the moment I saw a concept click in the mind of one of my sons.  I know why teachers teach and why they love sharing knowledge. It is just so magnified when you teach your own child.  And my father thought my time would be better spent becoming something (he wanted me to be a doctor) and did not understand how I could stay at home every day.  I loved, and quite often miss, the chaos of having your children at home all day and teaching them everything they need to become adults.  My older sons attended high school, but my youngest is staying home for high school and I am so glad.  Time is racing by and there will come a day not too distant, when I will be alone all day long.  (Hopefully I will have grand children that need some babysitting!!).  But my days as a homeschooling wife and mother are the most precious thing I have, and can share about my life.  It is my vocation, to be married and a mother, and I would not trade away a moment of that “mundane” for a boardroom, the hectic racing out of the house each day to be on time to yet another meeting, the long evenings when homework came after a crazy commute home and dinner being prepared on the fly, while throwing in a load of laundry.  I am a wife and mother who stays at home, and I am so very blessed.

The other things I must face, in reflecting on the article I read, is that mound of laundry, the piles of papers I need to organize in my “office,” (I used quotes because my office is a mess and really can’t be called an ‘office;’ it’s more like a paper-storage area!) the endless dust bunnies moving around the corners of my hallway, the stupid stain I can’t seem to get out of the corner of my shower, the windows that need washing, the dishes that need to be put away, the dinner that needs to be planned.  All of these things are a part of my every day.  (And in addition to those mundane things, I also assist my youngest son in gaining knowledge through homeschooling). Each day I need to pull up my socks and charge into it.  And for some reason, I just could not find the motivation.  Until I read that article.  The author reminded me that the home is truly where our hearts are. She reflected that she had such fond memories of the sameness of her grandmother’s home. She would feel sad if furniture had been moved, or wallpaper had changed.  And I thought about that.  I loved the smell of my great-grandma’s house and the ticking of the clock on her mantle, the cherry tomatoes growing in the backyard, and the same tablecloth always on her dining room table.  I loved the smell of my grandmother’s house (the daughter of my great-grandma) and knew where every, single thing was in that house. She never kept us out of any cupboard or drawer as kids.  She even had a drawer of chewing gum and mints, but we had to ask to get into that one. I fondly remember the clothes wringer sitting next to her modern washer. I loved watching her wring the clothes out. Then she would pile them in her laundry basket and we would walk past her famous “Johnny Weismuller” swimming pool (he played Tarzan on the old TV show and afterward designed swimming pools) and out to the far back yard, where we would use wooden clothes pins to hang the laundry. The sound of her laundry cart is one of the sounds I will always miss.  Her mother’s mantle clock I loved? I own it and love the sound, still. I loved the sameness of their homes.  I loved that I could snuggle down in that same “eiderdown” comforter when I spent the night there.  I loved helping her cook and clean, and I use many of her pots and pans still, as well as a couple of her dishtowels!  And I thought of all of that today, and I realized I need to put that same love into trudging out through the ice on my front porch to move a load of laundry into the dryer. I need to apply that same love to chasing stains and dust bunnies, and finally organizing my “office,” because those are ways I express myself and my love for my family.

I have started to keep some “sameness” in our home for our grandchildren. My oldest grandson practically runs to the drawer I save for him in the kitchen, with all my plastic baking tools in it. He also has this box of wood samples my husband played with as a child, that were given to him by his grandfather.  He also knows what cupboards he can’t go into, but he still tries.  My sons are floored I allow him to play in the pots and pans and even encourage drum-playing with them.  Ha-Ha!  I’m the grandma now, not the mom, and I can enjoy the noise for the joy that shows on my grandson’s face.  But more importantly, I am sharing my love for him through banging on pots and pans, that drawer always having my cooking things in it, the same table, the same blankets thrown over the back of the couch…this is how I share my love with the next generation.  We rock and sing together; we cuddle and I am praying these times will become his memories of his time with his grandma.  My little grand daughter is only a couple of months old, but I talk to her about the fun times we will have baking cookies and making cakes…girlie-stuff! My husband is planning on sharing his love of woodworking with his grandchildren. These are all ways we share our love with our family.

cow walking down road

We used to live on a dairy when our sons were pre-school aged.  The dairy was not convenient to get to, and if you did not know how to get to it, you would not have known it was even there.  It was behind a horse ranch, down a long, dirt road.  But we used to get all sorts of visitors.  Friends would come to just sit and gaze out the kitchen window.  Once, a friend and I were drinking some tea and happened to notice a cow walking down our dirt road.  We did a double-take.  Someone had left a gate open and the cows were out! A quick call to the milking barn and there were milkers chasing them down our road.  What an afternoon!  But our home was never empty.  I loved those days.  I learned to cook from scratch and always had something cooking. I used to can fruits, vegetables, make my own jams, and at least two loaves of bread a day.  The smells were welcoming.  For Christmas, I got a “Sentsy” candle holder from my daughter-in-law.  Yesterday I burned some vanilla wax in it.  My husband told me he hated that scent because he kept looking for sugar cookies! Ha-Ha!  The scents of our home, as well as the things we have around us, say “Welcome” to our friends.  And I am re-learning that.  Today’s article has helped me re-focus after 29 years of doing this.  I had become complacent and jaded.  But now, along with our new liturgical year, I am setting goals for myself. I am going to attack my vocation as a wife and mother, and renew my dedication to it.  Sometimes we all need a kick-start in life and this article really has been good for me. I hope that if you read this, it will help you get yourselves motivated for this wonderful opportunity we have – today!  There’s a great cartoon of Winnie-the-Poo and Rabbit.  Rabbit asks, “What day is it?”  And Poo answers, “It’s today, my favorite day.”  And so today, my favorite day, I am tackling taking down Christmas and I put a citrus/mango scent in my “Sentsy” candle to rev things up a bit, even if it is still all ice and snow outside!

oranment storage

Theophany is the Holy Day we just celebrated.  In that special holiday, we commemorate Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan.  We also remember Saint John the Forerunner, who Baptized Our Lord.  And baptism ties in so perfectly to my post today on keeping a home.  Chasing the stains, the dust bunnies, and the laundry all have to do with keeping ourselves and our homes clean – as in washing.  I love the photo I used above of a piece of art depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, doing laundry while the Christ Child played at Her feet.  We need to constantly be on guard to ward off the evil one, and one way we can do that is to keep order about us.  We can “clean house” in our homes, and in our hearts, every day.  I can opt to just close the door on the chaos that is my office, or I can face whatever demon is keeping me from diving in there and cleaning it up, organizing it, and keeping it that way.  What do we not want to face when we allow the dust bunnies to win?  When we pile the laundry and dishes?  When  we allow our homes to reflect the chaos that lives in our hearts and minds?  How do we find the peace, the clarity of mind, and the simple joys of keeping a home?  I think we find it in the seasons of faith we live in.  Today I have to face that Christmas and all the things that go along with it are well and truly over.  We closed out the season, liturgically, by the feast of Theophany.  This feast is often discussed as the feast when God chose to acknowledge His Son by speaking and the Holy Spirit coming as a dove to rest above Christ.  It is when God declared, “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” (Matthew 17:5).

Theophany

So we have our faith showing us God in His Son, being cleansed of, not His sins, but our sins, in the Jordan River.  He submitted to being baptized to show each of us that we need to be cleansed, over and over again.  Yes, we are baptized and our lives become Christ’s.  But over and over again, we allow the world to get us grimy and stained, we are tripped up and we fall. We need to seek forgiveness and cleansing each time we fall.  And as a housewife, I can apply that to my home. I keep a constant vigil over my family.  I keep constant prayer for them as they go about their lives each day. I show glory to God in applying myself to my vocation – I school my son and I keep a clean, tidy house (well, I try!!).  God is smiling as we apply ourselves and learn His many lessons for us.  As I see the mess in my office, I reminded of my soul and the need I have to clean it out, air it out, and straighten it up.  And it makes me look forward through these ordinal days, until we welcome the Great Fast. 

Today? It’s my favorite day!

Home office