“…whenever you face trials…”

The weeks seem to race past us. Days become a blur. And every once in awhile, we stop, look around, and get confused. What day is it? What was I going to get accomplished today? Some days I am so tired and I cannot figure out why. I think stress is taking its toll.

I know I am not the best when it comes to managing issues. I prefer to ignore them until I have to deal with them. Putting your head in the sand truly helps no one – especially yourself. We always hear about people being afraid of something and then when they experience that fearful thing, comment something like, “It wasn’t all that bad. I don’t know what I was afraid of.” And truthfully, you sleep better once you tackle that thing you are avoiding.

For me, there are just so many plates I am juggling right now. And the pots are boiling over. And I dropped the ball…again. Sometimes it is just more than one person can focus on. I feel like I should just fall down in a blob of crying messiness. But somehow, when I think I will collapse, I just feel empty. Like a great silence. I can feel my heart racing. I know my blood pressure is raised because I can feel it in my ears and at the top of my head. And yet, I feel still and silent. And that sort of scares me.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Inside my heart, and sometimes actually in my right mind, I know this verse. I know the Lord is with me, and what I face is NOTHING compared to those 3 hours spent on the Cross for me. NOTHING is compared to that sacrifice. And so I started thinking of other promises from God, as I could hear my heart beating in my ears:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

Just reading these verses calms my heartbeat and restores a lovely pattern of inhaling and exhaling that is not one of stress. And as I calm down, once more I recall one of my favorite Psalms:
“When hard pressed, I cried to the LORD; he brought me into a spacious place.
The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” Psalm 118: 5-6
It is hard to stress too much, when we truly believe in the promises God has given us in his Word, and through our Traditions. God has placed Himself here for us. We can visit Him in
our hearts and minds, and we can join others in rejoicing when we attend Church as a community of believers. It is so nice to know that there is a place I can go where I am welcome and I can pray with others. We can also seek asylum in the friendships we develop around us. We can share our stressors and sometimes just talking about them really helps.
Sometimes we are just called to juggle things for awhile. The Lord is setting the pieces in place and when it is time, everything will settle in. I know that. I do. Reminding myself of that is the hard part. Reminding myself that the Lord is in charge, and not mere mortal man, gives me great comfort. It is a practice I need to hone! LOL!  And as I look at facts, figures, and my calendar, I sometimes let the issues of mortals cloud my peace; they interrupt my sense of the holy. And that is a man-made construct, of which I am guilty. I need to embrace that emptiness and that silence I find when I stop to contemplate my stressors, because what I have come to see is that the silence is the peace of God and the faith of God in my life. He is allowing me to calm my heart rate and my breathing, and grasp the fact that He has all of this. Truly all of it. I write this to remind myself. And if I can help give others hope and a sense of security by sharing this crazy journey, that is an extra blessing.
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“All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you.”

“Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, and hath not sat in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the Law of the Lord and in His Law will he exercise himself day and night.” Psalm 1:1-2

As many of you now realize, I began reading the Psalms in earnest during Lent. I have never approached the Psalms in an organized, nor directed, manner. And it quite literally has changed my life. I purchased a Psalter so that I can immerse myself in them daily. The Psalter contains all the Psalms, as well as some directed prayers you recite before and after you read the Psalms. I have to say that I am overwhelmed by the graces that have befallen me by immersing myself in Scripture over Lent. I have learned more than I ever expected. About myself, about my faith, and about how I want to conduct my life. It is probably one of the most profound Lents I have ever had. And I feel so blessed by this experience, I want to shout about it from the rooftops. Well, at my age, I will shout about it from my desk and on this laptop. I did learn something! Ha-Ha-Ha!

“Knowing well my own ignorance, I fall down before Thee and pray, begging Thy help, O Lord, direct my mind, and make my heart steadfast, that I grow not weary because of the words that my lips read, but that I be gladdened with the understanding of what is read and myself prepared for the doing of the good works which I learn, and I say. Enlightened by good deeds, may I become a citizen of the land which is at Thy right hand, with all of Thine elect….”

The above is just a portion of the prayers uttered before contemplating on the Psalms for that day. Each group of Psalms for the day is called a Kathisma and you read one per day, followed by prayers and silence afterwards. There are bits and pieces of the last prayer that seem to stay with me: ..“Have mercy on me, who am darkened by sinful thoughts, and lift up my mind which is choked by the thorns of laziness and the tares of recalcitrance…Remember O Lord, in Thy mercy, my parents and all my relatives, and brethren, and friends and neighbors…have mercy on me and save me, a sinner, for Thou art good and lovest mankind. Amen.”

I love delving into these words that hold so much promise for our peace of mind. Monks in various orders, Catholic and Orthodox, recite these Psalms daily, along with all the prayers. It comforts me to know there is praying going on, for our benefit, around the entire world. And that there are those dedicated to just that, storming the gates of heaven on behalf of all of us. And I love that I can add my voice to that continuous song of prayer. Even if I pray at a different time each day, there is someone else, somewhere in the world, echoing the same words. And that is so awesome to me.

Some people prefer to go off on their own, using their own words and sentiments when they pray. Believe me, I storm heaven on my own, too. Sometimes I even rage against the things I see or hear about. But I love coming “home” to the peace and calm of prayers that have been uttered for thousands of years, now. The stories contained in the Psalms are not different from the experiences I have had, in this modern age. And that is what struck me the most. Humanity has not really evolved all that much. Our issues are pretty much the same. Yes, we have technology. Yes, we have different forms of payments and all that sort of modernity. Yes, we have weapons of mass destruction. We have grown in what tools we have at our fingertips, but our “humanity,” our “human nature,” that part is pretty much the same. David weeps when friends die. The community wails when the Temple is destroyed. There is moaning over friendships gone bad and betrayals. There is joy in love and marriage, family and children. There is joy in crops and rain and plenty, just as there is fear in times of want and war. It is all contained in 150 Psalms. And I was able to read through them, twice, during Lent. In just 40 short days, I was transported and transformed. I understand Scripture so much better, reading the Psalms.

I was watching this movie with my son last night called “13 Hours” about the debacle in Benghazi. It is a heart-wrenching and stressful movie that leaves you stripped and wounded, crying along with the characters in the story. What is worse, is it is all true. And at the end, they show you the actual people who were involved. “All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells are within you.” That quote is from the character, “Boon” and is from the scene above. And it was said more than once in the movie. It made me stop and think…this morning I am still pondering that quote. When you are under attack and there is seemingly no respite coming, no one is coming to your defense, you can feel very, very alone. And when Boon said that, he was contemplating not surviving. And when I think of it, I think of David, who wrote so much of what he felt, in the Psalms. He shared how much he suffered, and how much he rejoiced, in all those verses. I think Boon would have found solace in the Psalms, sitting on that rooftop, waiting for the next assault on the compound.

“Oppose, Lord, those who oppose me; war upon those who make war upon me. Take up the shield and buckler; rise up in my defense. Brandish lance and battle ax against my pursuers. Say to my heart, “I am your salvation.” Let those who seek my life be put to shame and disgrace. Let those who plot evil against me be turned back and confounded. Make them like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them on….let ruin overtake them unawares; let the snare they have set catch them; let them fall into the pit they have dug…”  Psalm 35: 1-8

There is God everywhere. The thought of heaven and hell is our constant struggle. The words spoken by Boon are what we all struggle with. I am so very blessed I have been able to dive, head first, into the Psalms to find encouragement and solace. And reading them has made the rest of the Scriptures jump into life and make so much sense, especially the New Testament and things the Lord said and did. In light of the Psalms, so much makes sense to me.

The Psalter has been with us for thousands of years. We also have a full set of the Psalms in our Bibles. I had so much fun this Lent, highlighting Psalms that struck me, and making notes. I kept, and am still keeping, an illustrated journal with Psalms in it that are important to me, along with comments and colorful stickers and other fun things. Trust me, it is a work in progress because I am not artsy at all (ask my artsy daughters-in-law or friends who know me well). But I have found that reading, and re-reading these words brings me comfort and I continue to learn. Perhaps delving into one book (which, for an avid reader like me, sounds really weird) for the rest of my life will cause me to become a better woman. “O Lord, direct my mind, and make my heart steadfast, that I grow not weary because of the words that my lips read, but that I be gladdened with the understanding of what is read and myself prepared for the doing of the good works which I learn, and I say.”

My advice? Words of wisdom? Give it a try. You may be surprised at the treasure that lays there, just waiting for you to discover. And you may find grace upon grace waiting for you, as you ponder the words of God and His servant, David. And if you have an urge to journal or make this experience an even deeper one, try that, too. My husband about came unglued when I drew in my Bible…I just highlighted and made some notes in the very tiny margins. So I ordered a journaling Bible, like the one below. In my opinion, this is the modern age of the Illuminated Psalter. We can each be like the Monks who used to copy their illuminated manuscripts by hand, all the while praying what they wrote and drew on their manuscripts. We can illumine our own experiences as we delve into these words, which have illuminated the world for centuries. I encourage you to try this, to read the Bible and especially the Psalms, every day. It will make your world sparkle. Promise.

“..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!

 

“…He predestined us to adoption…”

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A few days ago, we attended a funeral for our friends’ child, who passed away last week. His story is a sad, but beautiful, one. And their celebration of his life, and how he had enlarged their hearts, is so emotional. The homily was beautiful.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:3-14)

The priest talked to us about being “adopted sons of God” and afterwards we chatted. He told me that historically, during Christ’s lifetime, an adoption was done for adults, in order to secure inheritance. If a couple had no children, they would adopt an adult and that adult would become their heir. The adopted child had, in fact, far more rights than a child born to the family. And an adopted child could not be “set aside,” as some parents do to their own “flesh and blood” child. And so in Scripture, calling someone your adopted son held far more meaning than just giving them your last name. They became your heirs…heirs to your kingdom. And that is what happened to each of us, when we were baptized into the family of God. We became His adopted sons and daughters, and He cannot set us aside. In the book of Isaiah – 49th chapter, where he says “Before I was born, the Lord called me.” (verse 1) he also says, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” (verses 15 & 16) The writer is speaking about Israel and its people. However, we can easily see where the New Testament writers incorporate this sentiment into their preaching in the days of Christ, in order that we would know His deep love for us.

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In the concrete world in which we live, there is so much chatter about abortion. And as a woman who dearly wanted a large family, and has lost too many infants to miscarriage, I know the ache so many women feel who cannot bear their own child. I know that my heart is large enough to take other women’s babies, and love them as my own. I have fostered babies. And I have adopted outside of my race, but very much in my heart. My youngest child came to us within a few hours of being born. I even was able to breastfeed for a little while (until hunger took over supply!). That child is no different to the two I successfully birthed, or the seven I lost along the way. My heart knew there was room for someone who needed our family. And we readily took that baby, with no forethought or foreboding, just with excitement and love. We opened our hearts, our arms, and our lives and 18 years later, I can honestly say I am more in love than the moment I first laid eyes on that 4-hour-old newborn.

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The thought of losing a child pretty much drops me to my knees. Knowing someday, I will pass from this life, I am comforted by the fact that my sons are a loving family, even without their dad or me. They bonded ridiculously well and do not see color or difference in one another. Praise be to God. So all this hoopla about abortion and the right to choose really gets to me. Choose what? To kill your unborn child? There is no empirical evidence that in this day and age of scientific discovery and finesse, that the mother’s life would ever be in enough danger that you would have to kill her unborn child, in order for her to survive. Please, find me a case where that was true. A doctor who is trying to save a life will not take another one to do it. And there is no need. As for rape or incest, why kill the innocent product (child) and add to the pain? Why take a life because you were violated? I have had the pleasure of knowing a woman who was brutally raped. She became pregnant. And through the grace of God and a great family, she raised that baby. What an incredibly loved child it is, too. She does not cringe when gazing at her child; she beams with pride. That child is now a college graduate and is doing amazing things. And to think others told her to “get rid of it.” Thankfully, God also had her heart and her ear, and she chose life for that baby.

Adoption is hungered for all over this country. And adoptive families are somehow so very blessed in this life. We have learned to stretch in ways we never knew we could. Adopting outside your race, or to adopt a child with disabilities, invites comments and stares, and unsolicited advice. It also involves challenges that families who do not adopt or foster ever really understand. We decided to roll with it and have had some humorous encounters, which were meant to somehow shame us or something. But the Lord put this child in our lives because we needed to see with new eyes, I think. We needed to know that love has no skin color, no disability. Love just is.

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I had to write this because there has been so much anger out there, thrown at us on a daily basis. The rioting is beyond ridiculous. To think that you have to parade around in hats and costumes representing female body parts, in order to express your rights, is unfathomable to me. Is there no modesty or shame? Sometime their vocabulary truly insults and embarrasses me. And what they don’t realize, it is embarrassing them, too. The mindset that says my body trumps someone else’s, who is so vulnerable, blows my mind. I have lived through Roe V Wade and I have seen the fallout. My senior year in High School, it became law. And the change in our culture has been incredible. And not in a good way. My freshman year in college, I had student health coverage (back then, as soon as you were 18 you had to get your own insurance). I went to the heath center for a sinus infection and walked out with birth control pills and a diaphragm, just in case I wanted “extra protection.” I survived free love, and sex-drugs-and rock & roll, and lived to tell about it, with my brain cells intact (thanks be to God). And with no diseases or accidents along the way (accidents as in driving when I should not have been). I have lived with roommates who had so many abortions I lost count. I have seen friends get pregnant and chose to keep their babies. I have friends who got pregnant and gave their children up for adoption. And I have friends, like me, who have lost babies due to miscarriage. Life is just so very fragile. But in every single case, it was a child. Not a lump of cells. It was not a puppy. It was not a goldfish. It was a baby. One of my roommates kept her pregnancy sonograms for each abortion and I would hear her cry at night. She knew they were babies.

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“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:13-16

As I looked at the little urn at our friend’s child’s funeral, I kept thinking about what the priest said about being the “adopted sons of God,” and I felt a surge of love in my heart. It was for all the children rescued and adopted. It was for this family, who selflessly took in this little boy and loved him so very well, even on the day of his funeral. It was for our family and how we have grown as people because the Lord brought a special child into our lives. No child needs to die. Not one. Yes, we would have had millions more children in our world; just in the USA alone we average more than 1.2 million abortions a year. And it would have stretched our communities and our homes. But no child is unwanted. No child is not worth that increased burden on our culture. Our homes ache for these babies. Our culture is darker because we have killed them. But God will forgive us. He always forgives those who seek His forgiveness. Our country can turn this trend around. We can be healed as a people.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5: 21-24

I ask all of you, if I have wronged you in any way, please forgive me. Let’s work on loving first, and judging second. Let’s work on dealing with those who upset us, in love and prayer and acceptance. There’s a saying that goes, “Treat other people with politeness, even those who are rude to you, not because they are nice, but because you are.” If we all did this, our world would be a much kinder place. Kindness will win, in the end. In the meantime, try to spread it. Pray for those who are in situations where they are considering abortion…let them know we, the people around them, are here for them. Donate time, treasure, and your talents to the pro life movement. Offer to work at a life center, or to hold babies in the NICU, born with no one to love them. Become a foster parent, and take in those drug babies who will be placed in forever homes soon, or work with foster agencies to help families who do foster. Every little thing we can do will help save a life. If we show that we mean we are pro life and not just pro birth, the world will change. God will change it, through us.

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Respect for life from a natural conception to a natural death.

 

 

Finding my Joy….

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

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

The plans I have for you

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

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

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

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“…My own personal flurry…”

The Easter prep is fully underway, and we are striving for a peaceful Easter.  Somehow I think it will be elusive this year.  There are so many little “peas in the mattress” of our lives right now that I am not sure how we will smoothly sail into Easter Sunday.  So I am burying myself in the preparatory portion of it.

St. Dimitri of RostovOnce in awhile (it seems to me) we need to regress to the simplest things.  We need to do away with the dross and the extras floating around us.  Sort of like one of those sensory deprivation tanks – we need to silence the chaos and we need to stop looking at the negative, and we need to focus ourselves on Christ.  For example, this week is called Holy Week for a reason.  We are preparing ourselves to welcome the Bridegroom.  It is the week of the ultimate sacrifice for each of us, death on a Cross.  And so I cling to the words of St. Dimitri of Rostov above and place myself with the Angelic Host, and I am praying, constantly praying, and I am clawing my way back to that peaceful place of Pascha prep!

Hand prayer incenseHave you ever experienced the sort of frustration where you shake inside? Where perhaps you are drawn to tears, but it’s not sad tears? They are tears of frustration and anger?  Well, I have.  Several times over the past week. I don’t think it’s good for my blood pressure or longevity!  Sometimes there are situations and people in our lives that make our stress levels just climb.  There are people who bring drama and chaos with them, because it is just how they operate.  And I seem blessed to have many of them a part of my life.  (Another occasion for prayer!).  Remember Pig Pen in the Peanuts cartoons?  He carried his own cloud of dirt around with him?  That can be a bad thing – like the stress and chaos and drama that just accompanies certain people.  Another way to approach it is like the snowman character in Frozen, Olaf. Princess Elsa makes him his own little snow cloud, his own personal “flurry,” so he can survive in summer – have you seen that? Olaf and his own personal snow flurry….

250px-Ownpersonalflurry!This character was so loveable.  He just wanted to experience summer, because he had never seen it.  He was so thankful that Elsa, through her snow magic, created a little snow flurry to accompany him wherever he went.  I was thinking about this (I have two grandchildren who both adore this movie – yes, we own a copy so they can watch it whenever they are here! And no, I will not expound on nor attach an audio file of any version of “Let it Go.” You are welcome). Olaf is happy that he can exist to see the flowers and the sunshine and not melt.  He is always smiling and laughing and looking for the good in everything around him.  Even though it is a cloud over his head, it is a cloud that keeps him alive, so it is a happy little flurry and a happy little snowman, Olaf.

Why can’t this be how we all operate? Even though it is a cloud that accompanies Olaf, it is a joyous one, because it keeps him alive.  Our cloud is the joy we find in Christ, in the Holy Spirit who enervates our very lives.  In the Melkite Church (and most of Byzantine worship) we have this amazing ceremony mid-day on Holy Saturday. It is about the “New Light.”  We light our new Easter Candle, which we will use the rest of the year; this is the beginning of our new Liturgical year. The first, tentative announcements about the Resurrection are made. I love thinking about the women who went to the Tomb early in the day and found the guards asleep and the Tomb empty.  It was very early in the morning; the towns around the Tomb, and the people in them, still slept.  The women ran back to tell the Apostles what they saw and heard.  They spoke to an “angel” and saw an empty Tomb, the cloth laying in a heap. Those are the first whispers that Christ has risen..that He is not in the Tomb.  That Liturgy is so beautiful.   It is the early Light of the Truth of Christ’s Resurrection that is being shared, one voice at a time, with the Apostles.

Hand cupped candleWe can carry this Light with us; we can choose to share the Light of Christ with others; we all carry our own personal flurry of goodness, peace, love, and light with us. Or we can hide our Light under our bushel basket of anger, frustration, hate, prejudice – all the negativity swirling around us.  We can choose how our world is, around each of us, by the way in which we approach our lives.  Elder Thaddeus, in his book entitled, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, ” tells us:

“Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture.  If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind then that is what our life is like.  If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.”  He further shares that “everything, both good and evil, comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become reality…when we labor in the fields of the Lord, we create harmony.  Divine harmony, peace, and quiet spread everywhere.”  He then tells us what the opposite things can do to us: “However, when we breed negative thoughts, that is a great evil.  Where there is evil in us, we radiate it among our family members and wherever we go.  So you see, we can be very good or very evil. If that’s the way it is, it is certainly better to choose good!  Destructive thoughts destroy the stillness within, and then we have no peace.” (Page 63).

250px-OlafsvenfrozendisneyLittle Olaf is just a simple example of how we often choose to be sad that our lives are so limited.  He was going to melt and his life would be over as soon as Spring came to their Kingdom.  Or, once he had his own personal flurry, he chose to relish the moments, smelling flowers and playing with his buddy, Sven, the reindeer.  We have our own personal flurry we can carry with us everywhere and in every circumstance, the Holy Spirit.  We have God.  We can choose to put our faith aside, to relegate God and our life of faith to only an hour on a Sunday, and relish in the angry moments, loosing our heads over them, so to speak.

250px-OlafrearanfeChrist calls us to our better selves, not our lesser selves. My prayer for the rest of this Holy Week is to embrace the better self Christ is calling me to be.  I will endeavor to be the wife, friend, sister, daughter, mother, grandmother, mother-in-law – all the roles of who I am called to be – to my utmost, not my least.  I will prepare to walk with My Lord down that horribly painful road to Cavalry, where He sacrificed Himself for me.  With my own personal flurry surrounding me – the Holy Spirit – I will walk to that empty Tomb with the women, quietly seeking He Who is Risen.

Tomb of Jesus Christ Jerusalem

“What do we do with it?”

IMG_5362We had the most wonderful time yesterday.  We have friends who we have known since we were all much younger and their eldest son was married yesterday. Boy, what a great wedding.  The thing that set it apart was the simplistic sincerity in each detail.  There were few of us (about 50 or 60) in a large parish church that was not overly decorated and the decorations they did use were all hand-made.  The clothes worn by the attendants were simple and tasteful (the girls wore cowboy boots, as did the bride) and the ceremony was simple, the readings perfect for them, and the singing was wonderful (the sister of the groom did a phenomenal job!).  Father’s homily was really good and you could tell he spent some time with the couple. We laughed with his stories and we just felt blessed to be there. The light coming in through the casement windows cast a surreal look over it all and I just sat there and smiled; I couldn’t help myself!

IMG_5358It is fun to see our friend’s children grow up and become husbands and wives, and eventually, parents. It was another example of the continuity of life.  A couple found each other on their first day of college and 5 years later, they are married.  They knew from that first day and never wavered in their love or commitment to one another. I am such a sap for a good love story!

This couple gave me confidence in our young people! They chose to keep things very simple and they made so much of what they shared with us. The most amazing was their flowers – all made of paper! They had to let me see them up close to believe they were paper!  So wonderful.  They also took the time to learn to dance and their first dance had us all in tears.  It was just such a beautiful way for them to start their marriage. One of the groom’s brothers played his Ukelele and serenaded his brother and mother for their dance – not a dry eye in the place! (Somewhere Over the Rainbow!! The same version as in the movie, 50 First Dates!).  Even their centerpieces were crafted by the family and it helped to make it so personal and tight – like a community of families had come together to worship and celebrate together. It felt like a glimpse into another realm.

1069393_737670656253509_1832234864_n“Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved!”                    St. Seraphim of Sarov.

And for me, it just became so clear.  We were surrounded by all these people who had one thought – to support and love this couple who were starting out together.  They all shared it with one mind; it was almost palatable.   For the record, there were quite a few people I had never met before, most of whom had come to our area specifically for the wedding.  So these people came together, as one, without knowing each other, but with one heart and one goal in mind – this young couple. It shows just how much we can affect those around us.  I love that quote above.  Imagine if we all acquired this sense of deep-seated peace, where we know, to our marrow, that regardless of our behavior, regardless of our doubts, regardless of our words or action, God’s got our back? Or as Mark Hart the Bible Geek likes to say, “God’s got this”!!!

Fr. Stephen Freeman said, “Each of us (certainly in our Baptism and Chrismation) have been given the grace of God for our salvation – that is to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit and to conform us to the image of God in Christ. The question is what do we do with it?”  And in his article, “What St. Seraphim Meant,” he goes on to quote the Saint again:

You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives.”

He tells us that we simply cannot be too kind.  It is a stark reminder that the world around us is NOT a kind place.  Yesterday we shared a beautiful day with people all around us that were sincerely joyous. There were guests present who had flown in from as far away as New York.  They could not get over the beauty of the place in which we live.  They were overwhelmed by what we see, and are privileged to see, everyday. They kept rushing outside to take photos as the sun made its play on the snow and trees.  As the sun began to set, the colors and light on the mountains were overwhelmingly beautiful. The environment made their joy even greater! Everyone in that small lodge was there, laughing, feasting, dancing, and celebrating. You could not help but smile at people you did not even know.  I wanted, so much, to bottle that up and share it with everyone I see, day after day, after day.

1972401_737024466318128_1850487592_nAs Fr. Stephen said, we are all given this grace, but “what do we do with it?” Yesterday I was shown that we share it.  We certainly do not hide our light under a bushel basket, but rather we place our light on a candle stand, where it can light the whole room (Matthew 5:15).  And isn’t that part of the Great Command from Christ, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)?  

Through Grace we are given glimpses into heaven; glimpses into what eternity can, and should be.  One of the readings they chose yesterday, in which love was explained (1Cor13) has this phrase that I treasure, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” (1Cor 13:12).  This line promises me everything will come, in its time. I have had these moments of complete clarity, but they have been fleeting, coming in spurts, with no regularity to them.  As I progress on this road of salvation, or Theosis, God allows my glimpses to be more clear, regular, and far more enticing. It seems like the more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know, and the more you want to learn.  Our process of salvation occurs over our lifetime.  We struggle, we fall, but we get back up and we keep on trudging forward.  And that is the beauty of this Divine Grace we have been given…we have the strength, the fortitude, and the resolve, to get back up again! We keep growing and learning through God’s Grace acting in us, and on us.  And that same Grace drives us to love more fully, and to want to share this love with those around us.

This Lent is becoming more fortuitous the longer it goes on.  It’s wonderful that God allows such a simple thing like a Thursday-afternoon, sunshine-filled, lovely wedding to become a lesson in my salvation.  And a glimpse into what being a part of the Heavenly Kingdom will be like.  We’ll be laughing, feasting, dancing, and celebrating together, filled with the joy of Christ in our hearts.

Blessed Lent.

Holy Season of Lent