Sensory and informational overload, God and a fern…

I know, another photo of the beauty up here. But I can’t help it! This weekend we were privileged to tour a national park and it was so amazing. The couple we shared it with made the weekend even better. But, sometimes I get overwhelmed with input. You know how sometimes you can just get sensory and mental overload? I got that. My brain was blurring what I was seeing. Too much nature over too long of a time. LOL. It sounds awful, doesn’t it? That I saw too much beauty and my brain shut down? Sadly enough, it did. Perhaps if I lived in a completely different area, it would seem different or fresh. But it quickly became “more of the same.” Yes, it is stunning and amazing and beautiful. But when you drive in a bus for 8 hours in a national park, your brain starts to rebel a little bit. I had to fight to not take a nap!

Have you ever felt overloaded with information? I know that my kids have complained about it while studying for exams, and I recall the feeling in college, too. You actually look forward to the test, in some perverse way, to spout all that information you have been cramming inside your head, just to get some relief. When you study for the test, cramming just gives that information temporary residence. Once you take the test and spew it all out, most of us retain very little of it. And I was worried about that this weekend. I was seeing so much beauty and nature, I was concerned I would not (a) appreciate it to its fullest, or (b) retain my memories.

Sometimes when we are around something too much, we forget the beauty and the incredible part it plays in our lives. Sometimes we even forget we live among beautiful things, because we have had it all our lives. I’m going out on a limb here, but sometimes it reminds me of former smokers or drinkers, who love to talk about how life is better now, while you sip that glass of wine. Or, worse yet, converts. To whatever it is you already belong to, a convert’s joy and fervor almost drives you away. Ha-Ha. Unfortunately, I am a former smoker and a convert. So I have been teased and teased again for my excitement and fervor.

This weekend, I met some people traveling by cruise ship, who were bussed and took the train to where we were visiting. We had a nice chat. One lady was from Los Angeles and the other had retired to Tennessee. They meet at this hotel each year and go on cruises together, with this national park as their starting point. Their perspective on the state I live in was interesting. They love looking at it, but “could never live here.” Too much sun in summer, and not enough in winter. Although they did say they loved the long, summer days and mild temperatures, the winters scared them.

And I found myself listening in my head to all the things I had heard and seen this weekend, and some thoughts came to me. It made me sad that others loved where I lived, but “could never live here.” How often do we become lax and cynical about our faith, because it has always been there? For those of us who are new and discovering our faith (I’ve been learning and discovering for over 30 years now) we seem to notice all the little details and nuances, because we are learning. When it becomes old hat or repetitive, we need to take a look inside. Just like I was dismissing all the grandeur around me this weekend. I had to mentally slap myself in order to amp up my excitement and joy over what I was experiencing. I also knew I was cramming a lot of information into my little brain, and I desperately did not want to lose any of it. I quickly did a photo album on my FB page, to share with others, and I am posting photos here, as well as thinking about all of it. I am hoping it will stick!!

Some of us are suited to small, intimate gatherings and crowds just don’t cut it for us. We can relate one-on-one, but could never speak in front of a crowd. Sometimes we get what is called “over stimulated” and cannot wait for quieter, simpler interactions. I spent 8 hours on a tour bus peopled with complete strangers, with a wide range of personalities and excitement levels, not to mention traditions, cultures, and even languages. It was a good experience for me, but I could not wait to get back to the quiet of our little car and just the 4 of us in our party. I felt so full of voices and sounds and sights…I needed quiet. So off to our hotel rooms we went, to rest up before dinner. We had some down time and then enjoyed a patio dinner before rushing inside to avoid the rainstorm! What a memorable trip with some really fun traveling companions!

Do you ever attend Church at a new place? Like when you are on vacation? And you don’t fit in, or you stand out, because you are different? We stopped at this little town on our way home and went to the most amazing little place, the “Roadhouse.” What a great experience we had. It is a family-style restaurant and hostel for people who are going to scale the large mountain we had just visited. The place is not fancy in any way. And I loved it. They had chairs and benches, lots of old photos and flags, telling the stories of people who had scaled the mountain, and those who had lost their lives attempting their climb. I enjoyed the best Mushroom/Swiss Quiche I have ever tasted. They are not afraid of mushrooms! And we all tasted some raspberry/rhubarb wine that was divine. I even brought home some hand-made cinnamon rolls we had for breakfast this morning. It is a place I will gladly return to again. But did I fit in? Not really. In some ways, yes I did. But one of the funny things is that I truly didn’t care. I just took it all in and found enjoyment where I was. We ran into people we know, whose daughter lives in a small town in Northern California, where dairies are around every turn in the road, and we know people in common. How random and how perfect for our weekend!

How often do we become “sensory blind” and not notice what is around us? How often do we miss little joys like a fantastic mushroom quiche served in a building that has been there since the 1800s? How often do we miss the nuances of life because we have become inured to them and don’t notice?

This can happen in our faith life, too. Every once in awhile I have an amazing experience where God physically and emotionally touches me, and makes me know He is truly here with me, in person. But for the majority of time, I trust. I have faith that He is here. I don’t worry about finding Him at each liturgy I attend. Some people look and if they do not see Him or “feel” Him, they leave. They want an “authentic” experience each and every weekend. And sometimes looking so hard overloads their input….like I experienced this weekend at the national park. We have to be conscious of our surroundings at all times, looking for the gentle whisper of God everywhere. I experienced that this weekend, imbuing myself with nature and the grandeur in which I live, learning to appreciate this all over again. Each and every time we pray, we read Scripture, or we attend Liturgy, we need to renew ourselves and our faith. And quite often, we will find something unexpected, like a fern growing so far north…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

“..it is not yet prayer.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed Lent

“..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!

 

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

Palmer June 2016

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

Alaskan Tundra Honey Berry Plant

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

Fried Halibut

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

Eagle River Nature Center

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

Reindeer Farm.2016

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

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

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?

 

 

 

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Aurora.1Sometimes the world can seem so vast. There is so much that we are not truly familiar with. And yet, we make judgement calls about the world all the time. Judges, meting out justice from the bench, are supposed to be using their knowledge of the law, and making a judgement based on the law. They are not supposed to make their own laws, but rather uphold the ones we have on the books. They spend years learning laws, learning ways to defend the law, or the person accused of breaking the law. Some people are called to be prosecutors, some defenders. It is a pretty black/white thing, taken in its pristine form. But, as with much of life, there seems to be ambiguity inherent with our law system. And opinion; one cannot forget opinion. Trust me; I have one, which is why I blog. I share my opinion, my thoughts, with those of you who are interested enough to actually read them.

Today I was confronted with attitude. From several different sources. I love that I was blessed to haphazardly find my way to Anthropology from my start as a pre-law major, morphing into history, and finally finding archeology. I learned to have a broader perspective about things, and I also learned to appreciate differences. To actually look for, and explore differences. I try to not accept things on the basis of the cover. I was accused of judging young ladies one of my sons was dating, simply by their clothing, tattoos, and wildly colored hair. And I admitted that I was prejudiced – in my head, a “normal” girl didn’t present herself that way. I was so wrong. I also have learned that there are so many things that are not truly known to me, or by me. The world is, quite honestly, more complex and varied than we think. There is such a variety in the way in which we approach things. There is such a variety in how God presents His world to us.

moon sky mountains

I was raised and lived in pretty much a 100-square mile area in Southern California. I know traffic. I know smog. I know crowds. I know the beach, the mountains, the desert. I can tell you how to get somewhere and the relative amount of time it will take you to get there. Malls – I know all the good malls in Southern California. I know where to get deals on pretty much anything. The good towns, the places to avoid, the amusement park deals. Parades and major league sports venues. SoCal is full of all of that, and more. I just never realized there was something more out there. I mean, who knew what seasons really were? I never understood the whole Fall/Autumn thing until we lived in Washington. Oh my goodness. Fall is glorious in the Pacific Northwest. I also found out I could plant and grow, successfully, my own tulips. I had no idea there were so many types of tulips. I did not get gourds (why do we carve pumpkins and devour pumpkin pies??) until I lived where they grow them. I never liked asparagus, either, until I could buy it fresh, for less than $1 a bunch and cook it in so many ways (I mean, garlic and butter pretty much makes shoe leather edible). Another experience was living in a snow state. It is a wet state (parts are considered rain forest) but it is also a snow state. I learned to drive roads that are almost verticle on all-weather tires in ice, and also learned to maneuver around all sorts of road construction in pretty awful weather. I LOVED it! And then we decided to have the adventure of a lifetime (while we were still young enough to do it successfully) and relocate out of the contiguous United States, to the very far north. I can honestly say it has lived up to my expectations, and outdone them in so very many ways. This land is something that I never expected, and something I will take the rest of my life learning about and appreciating.

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One of the things I have learned is that I DO NOT KNOW EVERYTHING. (Hope those close to me, who know me well, didn’t just have mini-strokes, or heart attacks at that declaration!). And I love to experience new things. I am so interested in everything. I try to expose my mind to new things all the time. I try to not be closed off or to place walls between myself and new discoveries, knowing there is just a vast amount of knowledge I do not have. I’d like to chip away at acquiring more, the rest of my life. I want to constantly embrace new things and fill my mind, and my soul, with all the things I can learn. I am trying to leave words that hamper this desire out of my vocabulary (never, can’t, won’t, no). And I am working on not pre-juding people, situations, or even places and/or experiences.

I get frustrated when people say things like, “I would never…” or “I can never do…” when they have never ventured, never tried, never gone there (insofar as experiences). It is like a judge, who has the law before him, making a decision based on an opinion gained by reading the newspaper. We may think we have all the information we need, we may have dipped our toes in the water, but the ocean is not the beach. Saying all that, I KNOW I could never jump out of a plane. I can barely manage flying in one, let alone stepping out of one. My son used to do it for a living and told me, years afterwards, that he hated jumping, but got a kick out of landing, successfully. Adrenaline rush, etc. Not me. I am a scaredy-pants, just like my elusive cat, Rosie. So I do understand not taking certain risks, or do life-endangering antics, for the kick of it. And I do not judge those who are able to entertain those ideas, and even to act upon them. So, for the sake of my musings here, I am discounting that section of participants.

From the Book of Wisdom 7:21-25 (Douay-Rheims):

“And all such things as are hid and not foreseen, I have learned: for wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me. For in her is the spirit of understanding: holy, one, manifold, subtile, eloquent, active, undefiled, sure, sweet, loving that which is good, quick, which nothing hindereth, beneficent, gentle, kind, steadfast, assured, secure, having all power, overseeing all things, and containing all spirits, intelligible, pure, subtile. For wisdom is more active than all active things: and reacheth everywhere by reason of her purity. For she is a vapour of the power of God, and a certain pure emanation of the glory of the almighty God: and therefore no defiled thing cometh into her.”

I believe we all need to learn as much as we can. I don’t want to just grow older. I am praying that I also grow in wisdom. We need to make bucket lists and check those awesome experiences off, as we do them! I think we need to be brave, to embrace those roads less traveled and to not fear the new, the untried, the unfamiliar. Yes, there is danger around every corner. Sometimes there are no guarantees.

Looking back

I am the biggest chicken insofar as trying much that is new. I have the same clothes I have worn for the past ten years. I re-read the same books, over again, two or three times. I listen to music I listened to in high school. But about three years ago, as I was speeding down this very deserted highway (in a foreign country no less) at around 75 mph, on all-weather tires, on about a foot of ice and snow, I thought, “What are we doing?” My husband was trying to follow me, as I saw him through my rearview mirror, reaching out to manually wipe the accumulating ice and snow off his windshield. He was doing whatever he needed to do to stay wtih me. How blessed was I? Of course, he was also yelling into our walkie-talkie, telling me to “Slow down, woman!”  Ha-Ha. Good times. I doubt quite often the choices we have made. We plunge into things, thinking we’ve corned the market on all the possibilities. We try to really think things through, but inevitably, something comes out of left field that we had never expected. We got snow the week after we moved here – in June! I discovered icicles on my house and fell in love with them. (Now I totally understand icicles on Christmas trees, and those Christmas lights for your house that mimic real icicles!). What a bonus! I learned how to take out laundry in sub-zero temps. I can now cook moose and it tastes good! I can manage a sweater as my only cover in 20-degree weather. I have learned to make Ukrainian dishes for the different feast days. Me?! I am British, as in pot roasts and pots of tea! Ha-Ha!! I learned how to make Pascha cheese, in panty hose, in my shower (trust me – it really works!). But I am learning, still. I am experiencing new things. Still. I am trying to remove “no, can’t never” from my vocabulary. I am trying to not prejudge something I have no honest, direct, knowledge of. Please, let’s keep one another in prayer over the pursuit of Wisdom. Over the experience of the new, the unknown. The Lord has given this immense land to discover, filled with unknown adventures and a myriad of different people, traditions, and faiths. Let us approach these differences with an eye to this immense knowledge, and wisdom, of God. And let us at least try, one step at a time…

Babysteps

“…lift up our hands and bless him.”

baby-feet13Today is the first of May.  Spring is really here!  There is a small patch of snow under our front window, trying to hang on.  But I think the grass will win…we have a whole week of sunshine predicted!!

Yesterday was an awesome day.  I had the car…so that is a huge thing for me! I was all over town, having been to three places, before 9:00am! Whoopee!  And then we got texts from our middle son, which totally made our day.  His wife is expecting baby #2 and it is a GIRL!!!!  Having raised three sons (well, #3 is almost done), I love having little girls around. It just melts my grandma heart.  I love all things girly – except on me! Ha-Ha!  I love the little outfits, the socks, the cute and frilly undies that cover their diapers, the shoes, the BOWS!!  They never had bows like this when I was a kid.  My mom used to use Caro’s syrup to glue a ribbon on my head so people knew I was a girl – I was pretty much bald until I was 2 or so!!  The two granddaughters I have so far have such different hair…one is looking a sandy blonde (leaning towards brunette) while the other is a strawberry blonde (leaning towards outright red!!).  Both of their smiles just take my breath away; they melt my heart (I know I keep saying that).  I absolutely adore my grandkids. My grandson, being two and the oldest grandchild, occupies a special place in my heart, too.  He was the first and he opened the floodgates of my heart when he was born.  Who knew??  I think I was created to be a grandma. It is the best thing – ever!!!  (I think the meme below applies to grandmas is such a special way…)

PreciousJewelsYesterday was also a day when I just could not stop crying.  I got some news that a friend we were close to many years ago passed away from cancer.  It devastated me and my husband, too.  We have such fond memories of their family and some great times spent with them.  And I have been praying for his soul and for his family.

HolyOilCandle.HolyBookAnd there have been some other things going on and I am trying to juggle all of them.  I usually fall back on what I know and I rely upon – my faith – to help me make sense of things.  I try to listen to others, and to see where perhaps they are coming from or to understand why they would communicate in the way they do.  But sometimes I feel like people already have a response in their head; it’s almost like a previously written and prepared litany they have to get out, that comes out in spurts between what I am trying to say.  They aren’t really listening at all, which becomes obvious by their responses. I pray that I am not like that; I really do.  If I could glean anything from what I have learned, observed, and been taught it is that each life is precious. Each person has a divine right to be here, and as such, they deserve our attention.  In an earlier post, I spoke about leaving people out of our lives, and not paying attention to what people are saying is exclusionary.  I pray, pray, pray that I do not do that to anyone.

Intent to replyI majored in Anthropology at a major University. I received an amazing education.  I minored in Biblical Archeology.  What an eye-opener that minor was!  Through that education, I came to look at the world a little differently. I am not set in my ways as some assume.  I love learning about new cultures, ways of doing things, and traditions.  One of the most annoying things about us converts to other faiths is that we come at them from an adult perspective.  We come to our faith with our eyes open, having experienced some of life, already.  We are exploring, digging, learning about this new thing we have found.  You know how annoying former smokers are? Or people who were fat and are now thin?  People who used to be couch potatoes but are now marathon runners?  People who were liberal but are now conservative? (Or, egad, the opposite??)  All of those things are annoying to those who were born and raised in it.  Why?  I think it is because those born into it are somewhat complacent about it.  They take much for granted.  But another issue is that when people who are born into it, stop learning about it.  Whatever “it” may be.  In the area of religion, I came to my faith after quite a few stops along the way. I have been baptized more times than is even sane, and have experienced worship for some time as a Protestant (and a few versions of that, too!), Mormon, Jewish (Reformed), Roman Catholic, and now Melkite Greek Catholic.  And all of that was accomplished in just 50 some years.  I have been Melkite well over 10 years now, pushing towards 15.  And I am still learning.

Don't compareI endeavor to make sense of the patterns shown to me of this life. And I try, really try, to give people the benefit of a doubt.  Sometimes people try my patience and I loose my cool.  On Facebook today, a young person challenged me, in a very rude and obstreperous way, and I lost my cool.  I have learned to remove myself from the string when things like that happen, but I allowed this kid to get under my skin.  Why?  Because I have all these other battles I’m dealing with and this kid was an annoying gnat flying around my face. I just could not be bothered with the comments any longer.  And I find that is, as I said to a new friend, “my bad.”  I need to be more tolerant because faith is not about who “wins” or who is “right.” Salvation is each of us, reaching out to help our fellow sojourners to God.  It is not being first across the finish line or being able to turn around from some higher place, sneer and say, “Neener-neener, I was right!”  How many of us will absolutely not give in to someone simply because we don’t want to hear the comment, “I was right?” And quite often we allow people who are raging at us, or persecuting us for what we say or believe, or who completely disagree with us, get under our skin.

“Bless them that persecute you.’ If our enemy cannot put up with us any longer and takes to cursing us, our immediate reaction must be to lift up our hands and bless him. Our enemies are the blessed of the Lord. Their curse can do us no harm. May their poverty be enriched with all the riches of God, with the blessing of Him whom they seek to oppose in vain. We are ready to endure their curses so long as they redound to their blessing.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

And I strive for this; I really do.  And so even though battles wage here and there in my life, I do endeavor to shrug them off and replace them with love and blessing.  It is difficult some days, and today I tripped, yet again.  God is just so good and teaches me from my knees, where I have fallen before those who hurt me. I did not raise my hands in blessing today; I should have. I chose to react and for that I seek God’s forgiveness.

But then again, God blesses us in so many disparate areas of our lives.  I lost a friend yesterday, but I found out I am blessed with another granddaughter.  One of my oldest son’s friends and co-workers was hurt very badly yesterday, but today he texted my son from the ICU and said, “I’m going to make it.” What a blessing.  I worked on an issue that I thought had become a lost cause, but was encouraged enough later in the day, to be very hopeful.  These “givings;” these “taking away”…they balance our lives; they give us character and strength; they motivate us to keep going, keep learning, to keep our journey of Theosis pointed in the right direction – towards Him Who saves us.

Elder PaosiosAs of this afternoon I have already faced some demons in my life and in my little neck of the woods. I also dealt very poorly with a particular young man, but out of that experience, I sought forgiveness and I grew another step in learning patience to raise my hands in blessing when someone opposes me.  This morning, lolling its way into this afternoon, has produced some awesomeness of its own! I have had very productive talks with two different sons about a variety of subjects, thrown in a couple of loads of laundry, worked on some issues with friends, and if I can just produce an evening meal, I will feel really blessed!!

God is working in me today and I rejoice in God my savior.