“…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.

“…can go with a stream…”

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.                 Martin Luther King.

This is just such an ugly day in America. There have been so many ugly days. And it seems to be escalating. It makes my heart just sick.

Our family has had an interesting history in America. My parents immigrated here in the 1950s. They were met with extreme prejudice by shopkeepers and others they had to interact with. They put their money in Bank of America because they thought that was the bank for all Americans. They tried to buy their goods at local shops. They collected “Green Stamps” and joined local civic organizations, trying to assimilate. They even attended American churches, so they could learn how “they did it.” My mom watched soap operas, trying to learn American culture. They were repeatedly turned away from retail establishments like the butcher shop, because they could not be understood. My mom was told to come back when she could speak “English.”  The funny part? My parents are from New Zealand.

My in-laws are from Russia. They are called “Germans from Russia” because they are Germans who were brought to Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great, who was German, and wanted to bring Russia into the more modern age. She brought skilled workers to Russia, to share their expertise with her new country. My husband springs from these “Volga River Russians.” When they came to America, to escape communism, they settled in the farmlands of Kansas and Colorado. It resembled their homeland. They developed communities and built churches, but they were not allowed into the “white” areas of these towns. They could only attend schools and churches they built themselves. They were not particularly welcome. During WWII when German distrust was at its highest in the USA, our last name was definitely a hinderance to them. My father-in-law had stories of his youth that made me just shake my head. He was going through all of that in the heartland of the USA at the same time my parents were trying to assimilate on the west coast. Just a bit prior to my lifetime.

I have friends who were “Creole” and escaped the South because they were not welcome in either community – black or white. They relocated to the melting pot of Southern California, where there is pretty much representation from every country on earth. They were strong Catholics and became well-known in local Catholic circles. They brought their deep faith, nurtured in the Deep South, to Southern California. Their mom told me they escaped the South because she could not sit on the same bus or eat at the same restaurants that she could in SoCal. She said it was easier to “pass” in California, but that in the South she had a rough time of it. She said in SoCal she could just be a woman…not hyphenated by black or white. This was very much in my lifetime. *Shaking head* *Sad face*

blackwhitehands

Fast forward 18 years ago and we adopted a child outside our race. Last night, as news of Dallas was shared around the dinner table, I laughed as my very pale grand daughter cuddled with her favorite uncle, many shades darker. I asked her if she loved her uncle and she squeezed his neck and covered him with kisses, saying over and over, “My uncle, my uncle…will you jump on the trampoline with me?” Pure bliss and love and no thought to color.

As a mixed race family, my joke has always been, “I can never have a bad hair day, because people always notice us.” And it is true. I have been hassled by both communities. But truthfully, prejudice is a learned behavior. It is introduced to children. As Webster defines it (it can be both a noun and a verb):

prej·u·dice
ˈprejədəs
noun

preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.

verb

give rise to prejudice in (someone); make biased.

My parents raised me in a very mixed race area. I attended inner-city schools wherein I was in the minority. We lived through the Watts riots, up close and personal. My best friend was black and I often stayed with her family, attending Church with them where I was the sole white person for miles around. I was set upon and beat up in the 8th grade because I liked a Mexican boy (oh, the memories of Armando!!) that a black girl also liked. She set her “gang” on me when I had my legs in casts (my knees were a problem as a girl). My little 4’11” mom saw a pile of girls with chunks of hair flying and dove in, not knowing I was on the bottom! Mom to the rescue. Later, my younger brother was attacked by her younger brother. We decided to sell and move out. We relocated to a very white area, with a few Mexicans thrown in, and I was in culture shock. Seriously. I missed my multi-cultural life and my friends who were black. Several made the trek out to see me, taking busses to get there. But it was too hard to maintain a friendship being so far and having no means to get to each other.

God gave me this opportunity, I believe, so that I do not see color. When I look at my youngest son, I just see my son. When we were in the adoption process, the social worker asked us if we were prepared to raise a good black man. My husband’s response was, “No; I am prepared to raise a good man.” We have never differentiated between our children. And my son never realized he was different until a kid in 4th grade said to him, “Dude, your dad is white. I saw your mom. Dude, you are adopted.” My son’s response, “What’s adopted mean?” He had no idea he was different. He always said he was chocolate and we are peach. He said that when he gets a cut, he has skin like me…peach. And when I get a cut, I get scabs that are brown like him. He also commented that our feet and hands match. He’s hanging out right now with his best friend, who is strawberry blonde, blue-eyed, and freckled. They don’t see color first, either.

love your enemies

The only way we are going to free our country from becoming something none of us recognize, is to love everyone. And trust me, I know it is hard. I find it difficult to love everyone. I have practiced selective elimination of people from my life who are toxic. I get that not everyone can be tolerated. And I don’t espouse blind love, either. We need to keep our eyes open, yes. But we also need to not judge people, prejudicially. How can you hate someone who is different, just because they are different?

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”…Genesis 1:27

God created every creature that roams the earth. Everything. Everyone. No, I do not agree with some creeds and beliefs. I do not. But I believe that God will reach each person in the best way they can be reached. I do not believe that because they have not been “saved” nor ever heard the “Word of God,” that they will be eternally damned. That’s the anthropologist in me! But it is also the Mercy of God. I cannot be friends with everyone. Some people just rub me wrong. And I am sure I rub others the wrong way, too. God did not intend for this world to be perfect; that is for the perfection of Heaven, in an eternity of Grace with God. But on this world and in this life, we are called to love others, even those who persecute us. We are called to allow others to make their choices in how they believe, where they live, how they act, what they eat, what they wear, who they marry, what career they choose, etc. Which is pretty much what freedom is all about and why so many come here. So many come here to have a better life, or to escape persecution. Some were brought here, generations upon generations ago, against their will and have lived here for 100s of years, assimilating as best they can, into our American melting pot.

jesus prayer 2

The only way we can affect true change in America is to change ourselves. We cannot expect our government to change for us. We cannot expect our neighbor to change for us. The change has to start in my heart and my soul, in my relationship to God and those around me. It would create a ripple, reaching all the corners of our world. We cannot always go out and fix the world at large, when our backyard is a mess. I really hate it when people criticize how people keep their house, when they are secret hoarders or something. My opinion is that we have to stop criticizing our neighbor and get out a mirror and affect change in ourselves. I am a poor sinner. A poor sinner. And I fall to my knees every, single, day! The choice I make is to seek my Maker, and get back up again. Each and every Christian needs to examine themselves and then reach out, refreshed in the Spirit of God, to their neighbor, one heart at a time. And we have to stop being dead in the political world, the marketplace, the schools, the neighborhoods. Enough is enough.

logjams

“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” – G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 1925

“…When you enter the land that the Lord has promised…”

back porchWell, we are here.  We arrived 1 week ago today.  The social media blackout that accompanied our move was not all that bad; I learned to live without the internet and my cell phone.  It has given me time to ponder and muse over the various experiences and people we met, as we made our way to Alaska; the Last Frontier.  We’ve taken a leap of faith coming here, going off to find ourselves and a life we hope for.  We missed being among family and it is so good to know my son and his family are about a mile away; we can actually walk to one another’s homes.  We’ve enjoyed meals, cups of coffee, pizza, and just being with each other since we arrived.  What a joy to have my grandson discover grandma’s pots and pans! What a racket he makes, but what joy it brings to me.  His smile and his laughter light up my life.  Grandchildren are truly a blessing in our older years; God is smiling on us!

Our journey here was an arduous one.  The AlCan Highway, or Alaskan Highway, is a treacherous drive and not for the unprepared or feint of heart!  (If you try it, use Milepost Magazine and do it during warm weather!!). We often drove for hours without seeing another vehicle or sign of life, other than the vast forests we were driving through, on roads covered in feet of snow and ice.  I think this old California girl did pretty good, driving 2400+ miles on some of the roughest roads she’s ever experienced!  My 14-year-old glanced up now and then from his X-Box to enjoy the scenery, but was totally oblivious to the dangers around us (which was actually a good thing).  We had Bison cross the highway in front of us and walk alongside us…what a sight! They are massively huge and their shoulders came well above the top of my windshield.  We saw Red Fox scatter across the roadway and into the treeline as they saw us approach; saw Bald Eagles fighting Ravens over a kill; and saw Moose, casually walking through a small town we happened upon.  It was humbling, to be sure.  This is a land where nature is still very much in charge.  We have not tamed the northern Canadian wilderness, nor most of Alaska.  It is un-nerving and exciting, all mixed together.  And it is exhausting!  This Grandma is pooped out!

When we happened upon the Canadian border crossing, so much of what we thought we knew and what we believed was radically challenged.  It was a 5+ hour ordeal (the whole process of crossing into Canada) that I would not wish upon anyone.  And from that experience I learned so very much.  We have mindsets we have developed through our experience of life and the world we live in; the mores and values of the country we are raised in.  We learn lessons that are given to us by our environment and our perspective is developed from our collective histories, as well as the input we receive at the knee of our parents.  I come from a family of immigrants. And I was taught to love America and the ideals espoused here.  I think many in other cultures, especially our Canadian neighbors, dislike Americans because they think that we think that Canada is just an extension of the USA.  They are ‘so much like us’ that we ASSUME our cultures are the same.  They are not.  The basic freedoms we take for granted are not extended to us when we cross an international border.  We have NO rights and are at the mercy of the Country we are visiting.  I learned that the hard way.  Aspects of being an American were totally wiped away at that border crossing.  I won’t go into detail because this is not the forum for that, but just know our freedom was challenged and my world was turned upside down.  It worked out, as we were finally allowed into Canada and through Canada to Alaska.  We met many wonderful Canadians along the way and they made the experience at the border lessen in its severity a little bit, but I cannot fully express to you the joy and relaxation I felt at driving over that line in Alaska!!  God Bless America.

A portion of that experience is, however, germane to my blog and I wanted to post about it.  As things were spiraling out of control at the immigration office in Canada, I sat with my head between my knees (partially because I thought I was going to pass out or throw up or both) and I prayed.  I pleaded with Our Lord; I asked for the intercession of St. Joseph, the foster-father of Our Lord, and patron of families.  I asked the Lord for His Presence in that place. I asked for the softening of the hearts of the people around us, and those dealing with us.  I prayed the Jesus Prayer over and over again, throwing in a few Hail Marys along the way.  The Lord’s Prayer was recited over and over again, becoming more and more real to me.  And I found myself so lost in prayer, the world around me disappeared. I was completely transported and I found God, sitting in a detaining area at the Canada border. He was with me and He pressed down His peace upon my fluttering heart, and I KNEW, totally KNEW, everything would be okay.  And I believe that the place I found within my heart is that place of the soul, the place where Our Lord dwells, and where my heart is at peace.  And He dwells there at ALL times and through ALL things.  I truly discovered the reality of that, sitting there, hoping I did not pass out or throw up.  I learned a lesson that my faith in God is the thing that flutters, but God does not.  I come close to Him at times, and at times I find myself not as close to Him.  It is all within ME…He is constant.  He is always there; my pains, my trials, my woes…those are all MINE.

Bible well read

I listened to a CD recording a dear friend of mine has been asking me to listen to for a couple of years now, this morning. My husband and I listened to it together.  We prayed and we wept together. It was a sublime moment in our marriage. This CD summed up this realization that I came to, that God is always present in our lives.  The theme of the talk on the CD was that God is testing us, but His tests are given to us after He has thoroughly prepared us  (“I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD. They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope.”  Jer 29:11) and that His tests are open book (our thorough knowledge of the Bible) with our tutor (the Holy Spirit) whispering in our ears the answers.  His goal is for us to pass these tests and through the passing of them, we have our test-imony.  I love that.  We are tested each and every day, but only after He has thoroughly prepared us.  We were tested in our national beliefs and we came to appreciate what we have here in the USA.  We were tested in our faith and the peace that came from deep prayer was amazing.  We are being tested right now, because our pathway is so unclear and we have no idea what tomorrow will bring.  But God did promise us a “future filled with hope” and one that is filled with “peace and not disaster.”  All He asks of us is to be faithful to His word and His promises.  We are the ones dancing around the May Pole; He is standing upright and firm and is present in all days, in all ways, with His children.  Thanks be to God.

Didache

“You are light when all is dark.”

candle holy crossSometimes when we are troubled or need to focus our thoughts, it has been said we need a “focal,” like a lit candle in front of a cross or perhaps an Icon, gently lit by candles.  I find that candles and dimly lit rooms helps me to calm my mind and allows me to focus my thoughts on what I need to chat with God about.  Elder Thaddeus tells us that prayer should be like talking to our Parent, our Father, in a very personal way.  God knows our thoughts, so trying to gel them into something coherent is not necessary for God to understand our coming to Him in prayer, but it helps us to focus our issues and perhaps even to whittle them down to something tangible.  For me, I often find myself rattled over things like budgeting for things that are coming up, and trying to manage our household in a thrifty way, to secure our future.  More often than not, when I actually dive into a spread sheet, things are much simpler and not as horrid as I thought.  Numbers arranged in pluses and minuses is somehow easier to manage than my imagining it! Our minds are powerful things that can carry us off into waters we needn’t necessarily be wading into.  Which is why my Lenten reading is more important than ever for my peace of mind!

Abba AgathonAs I was waiting for a friend last night (we try to meet about monthly while I wait for my son at his CAP meeting) I was enjoying a nice cup of Hazelnut Latte (easy on the hazelnut) and reading Elder Thaddeus.  His book is great in that you read it in sections, and within those sections are numbered items he is relating to that topic. It is almost like a tabletop book you can easily pick up, except that the content is pretty “heavy” at times.  Earlier in the day I was waiting at the DMV while we got my son an ID card and one of the workers called out to me, “What are you reading?”  I did not realize, at first, he was speaking to me, but when I looked around me, he continued, “Yeah, you; you’re the only one in here with a book.”  When I told him the title (again, Elder Thaddeus), he shrugged it off, more interested in why I was reading a book instead of using a “Nook” or “Kindle.”  He has no use for books, so my reasoning did not interest him in the least.  I tried to explain that I love books and love the process of reading from one.  I feel so much more connected to the toils of the author and the words contained inside the pages, if I am holding the book.  My son has a funny habit of smelling a book before he buys it.  He insists that if it does not feel right in his hands or smell right, it won’t be a good read.  I have met many others who feel the exact same way!  And I am clinging to the process of reading a book from a book, rather than an electronic reader.  I just do not want to switch over.  The content of Elder Thaddeus’ book would seem to agree with me, in that he is always cautioning us, in all things, to be simpler and quieter.  Therefore, using an electronic device to read that seems somehow wrong to the intent of the book.

This morning I am all a-twitter over our immediate future and am praying almost non-stop, “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  The “Jesus Prayer,” or “Prayer of the Heart,” is an ancient way of connecting to our Lord.  As I drove across town to the CAP meeting last night, I had the radio turned off and used my fingers on the wheel to tap out each time I prayed that prayer.  What I do is start by offering the prayer for a particular intention, and then just keep praying.  I know God is listening and is pleased by the words I am using, but much, much more is occurring while I pray.  I found that last night, as I was driving and praying, I was also thinking about what I was praying about.  It was an amazing thing.  I actually could still feel myself tapping out the prayer each time I said it, with my fingers, and I also knew I was driving and that I was talking to God on a completely different level.  The traffic did not stress me out; I was able to answer my son when he asked me questions from the back seat (where he was, of course, watching a movie on the DVD player); I was also able to continue praying.  My mind was settled and my heart was clear – and it was amazing.  I did not allow the distractions of the world to stop me from continuing my prayer.  Elder Thaddeus says “Because God is everywhere, the fallen spirits cannot do what they want.  They can harm us mostly through other people. We can protect ourselves from them only with the power of God. Man has been given great strength, and if only we could concentrate our thoughts in prayer, the fallen spirits would not be able to harm us or do anything contrary to the Will of God.  Where there is prayer, the fallen spirits have no power.”  I know that God allows distraction and temptation in our lives in order to strengthen us, and it is amazing to witness inside your heart, the power of that prayer to overcome the distractions in life.

St. Ambrose of Milan2