“…the kindness I sought…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“…wait patiently for Him to act…”

May their memories be eternal. The bombing of Churches in Egypt and the Middle East on Palm Sunday makes reflections on my Lenten journey seem so superfluous; silly in some ways; and almost disrespectful in others. It is certainly sobering and makes most of us stop and take into account what we are doing and what is important to us, in our daily lives.

This past week has been pretty stressful, personally, dealing with the health of my parents and my mother-in-law, as well as trying to find housing solutions. I don’t know about you, but purposely going into debt scares me. Taking on a home loan after not having one for a few years is pretty intimidating. The bankers have been wonderful to deal with, and apparently we are a good “risk” for them, but still, the idea of a lot of debt at my age is a little scary. And then to see these images of death and bloodshed on Palm Sunday, it made me draw up short and just stop the nonsense for a few minutes. The least we can do is pray for the lives lost and their families. It is just so horrific. The shooting of 60 Tomahawk missiles into Syria set me on edge to begin with; I do not want World War III. I don’t. I am a mother of a veteran. One son is enough, trust me.

When my dad was talking to me from the hospital ICU, he sounded so far away and so very vulnerable. My dad has always prided himself on his physical strength. His handshake could always crush another person’s hand, and he always shook your hand in a strong way; his hugs could steal your breath away. Even in his 70s. But now, at 90, with Parkinson’s and Dementia stealing much of his daily life from him, he was still able to tell me how amazed everyone at the hospital was with his overall strength. And he took much comfort in that. And pride. And he always joked that he never exercised, not since his 20s, and he never understood the craze. He did power walking and rode a bicycle, but nothing more. And he’s always been so very strong. It is hard for the strong to allow themselves to become weak; to allow others to care for them is hard; to acknowledge their weakness is even more difficult.

I believe that we are seeing a time in our world where the strengths we have come to rely upon are being challenged, in a world-wide, political realm, but also personally. And this is Holy Week, too. God has timing that is beyond our comprehension and beyond our expectations. I know that the people at the parish church in Tanta had no idea that Palm Sunday was their last day on earth. They had gone to Church to celebrate Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, knowing that in the next 3 days He would be condemned to death….”Crucify Him” the crowds would chant after yelling “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” a mere three days earlier. And these Coptic Christians, who are now martyrs for the faith, were chanting, “Hosanna” as their lives were taken. 43 lives taken and 100s injured in an act of terrorism against innocent Christians. Our world is careening out of control in the sense that things are not as they were, and I wonder where we are headed. My dad, personally, is having to surrender control over his life and well-being. He has to allow others to care for him. He has to trust others will have his best interests at heart. Who do we trust to do that for us on a local, national, and international level? Who has my best interest at heart?

I have learned over this Lenten journey that God is in control. Always. We see life taken away and we wonder why; we question things like this bombing in Egypt; we wonder where God is in all of this. But I honestly believe His hand is in it all. Every moment of it. Sometimes the souls He brings home to Him, He wants with Him in Paradise. We mourn the lives lost, yes, because of the horror of how they were taken and the loss we experience when those we love are taken. But I try to remember the promises God has made. It is hard on those of us still here – those He has taken are still singing “Hosanna in the highest,” only with Heaven’s choir. We are angry at the violent way in which they were taken. But mostly we grieve for ourselves. Because we are still here. Learning to trust God in all things? That, my friend, is the journey. Always trusting. Always.

God is looking at the entire timeline. We are standing in our own little section of eternity. (Teeny-tiny little space we each occupy during our lifetimes). He sees eternity from its inception until He comes again and makes all things whole. I place my trust in His wisdom and love for me. I let my frustration and fear, sadness and expectations, completely go. Once you allow God to rule in all areas – truly all of them – you are free. It is a constant struggle to release our control and hand it to God. A daily struggle. But the rewards are eternal. If we think about the control we exert on our environment on a daily basis, handing all of that over to God is intimidating and frightening. We argue over who has control of the TV remote; who is driving which car; whose choice it is for the meal we will eat or where we go that day; even which house to live in or what Church we attend. Handing over complete control to God in a culture of “control freaks” is an intimidating task, and one that is impossible without prayer and complete trust in God. It’s something we all need to focus on, moment by moment. Trust, and allow God to “take the wheel.” (from Carrie Underwood’s song, “Take the Wheel”). During Holy week, we need to focus on our journey, and walk with Christ on His journey this week, humbly asking Him to give us hearts to see the way.

I pray that our Holy Week be ever fruitful and we each allow God to “make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 2:5-6) God is in control and He truly has our best interests at heart. We cannot allow ourselves to overly trust in human choices and decisions. Things go awry daily. Missiles are shot at the wrong target; people say stupid things; poor choices are made. In amongst all of that, God is silently, quietly, waiting for us all to listen to Him.

Blessed Holy Week. For those lives lost in these bombings – our Coptic Christian brothers and sisters – may their memories be eternal.

“blessed is she who believed…”

It seems like almost daily I find challenges coming at me. And with this Lenten journey I am on, I find that the Lord loves coincidences to teach me. He uses these sublime instances to show me that He is in charge and, indeed, is present. I have said before that I sometimes need 2×4’s to get me to notice things. And sometimes that is because I need to just stop. To just be. To just rest in the moment. Sometimes a deep breath can go a long way in settling your mind.

I am of the age where my parents are not doing so well. Neither is my mother-in-law. I have friends with cancer. I have friends with hearing aids! I even have discussions on….shh…bladder issues. (You know…Depends, etc).  My friend from High School and I were laughing about how our conversations have changed in the past 40+ years of our friendship…we used to talk about boys and our periods and PE class, who got a car, what was happening on Friday night, how so-and-so broke up but she has a hickey, who asked us out, what new record album we got…no longer. Our conversations often take on dark subjects – friends who have died; our own battles with illnesses; parents dying or ill; troubles with our children, and even troubles with our grandchildren. And we talk about the weather. Who does that? Ha-Ha! We do! She is in sunny Southern California and is seeing Spring; whereas I am in Alaska and we just got 10″ or so of snow over the past couple of days. It’s so funny when we think about it.

And as I face this uncertain future, clinging to what was makes absolutely no sense. It is done and over with. How we proceed from today is what is important. And each time I sink into a depressive afternoon, or become sort of despondent, I find myself re-connecting to God through this directed Lenten Study. And I feel blessed all over again. I skipped all my reading and journaling yesterday, as I was caught up in the drama with family. And I do not mean that in a snarky way…as all those sayings about drama go. No, I mean it sincerely. It is a time of dramatic decisions and changes for me. Not silliness or craziness, but actually really dramatic things. Moving. Buying a house. Making decisions for my mom. Taking on huge responsibilities in caring for ill family members, all the while launching our youngest son out of high school and into the world. And some days, I let it overwhelm me. So today, I chose to catch up and do two days of my Lenten Study in one. And the Lord does not disappoint! The reading for yesterday in the New Testament was Luke 1:26-56, also known as the Annunciation. What verses got to me?Of course, this is referring to the Blessed Mother, the Theotokos, the “Mother of my Lord (Luke 1:43). The Virgin Mary. And I am in no way comparing myself to her. I am, however, clinging to the promises from God, to all of us. And reading this made my heart sing, and leap with joy. Because God keeps all His promises. All of them. We are the ones who bounce to His lap and then also run in the opposite direction, like a child at play. And each time I allow myself to wallow or get cranky (and let’s be honest, have my little temper tantrums that things are not going right and my day might totally suck) the Lord allows me to once again cling to His promises. To climb into His lap, as it were, and find comfort and support. Just like children do to their parents.

This prayer was always one of my favorite prayers. I would imagine myself nestled safely within the heart of Christ, peeking out from behind His Wounds. Now don’t get all creepy on me…it’s not morbid or icky, or bloody and stinky in the sense of His humanity…it is more spiritual and holy; more esoteric and applicable to our growth in faith. The fact that Christ was Wounded for me, and just me, makes my heart swell with love for Him. He suffered for each one of us. Personally. His promise to protect those who love Him makes me feel safe. In my directed reading of the Psalms today, I read “Lord, what are mortals that you notice them; human beings, that you take thought of them? They are but a breath; their days are like a passing shadow.” (Ps 144:3-4) And then I read, “May there be no breach in the walls, no exile, no outcry in our streets.” (Ps 144:14). And then, “The Lord supports all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.” (Ps 145:14). And my comfort level just increased. The Lord allows me to peek out at the world, protected by His wounds for me, and allows “no breach in the walls” of my soul. And in 1Corinthians 11 I read, “If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgement; but since we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.” (1Cor 11:31-32) And so I take these moments of doubt as the discipline of the Lord. Because He allows me to witness firsthand my weakness and lack of fortitude without my faith. I journaled today that “I feel growth in my heart and a sense of peace in letting go and getting out of God’s way – He needs room to make these things happen (for me). Having total trust is also quite freeing.” I feel so blessed that I am tried and grow each and every day during Lent. It has become quite the journey for me. I am so blessed. Sometimes we need to re-open wounds or weak spots, in order to allow them to heal and become stronger.

There is a process of repairing pottery in Japan called “kintsugi.” What they do is repair broken pottery with a lacquer that contains gold, or silver, or often platinum. What this does is treat the breaking as part of the history of the object and in a way, honoring that brokenness with a beautiful repair job, often making it more glorious than the original pottery. And if we think about it, I do believe that God allows our brokenness to become a thing of beauty, if we but allow Him to repair it. The Japanese philosophy of “wabi-sabi” is an embracing of the flawed or imperfect. It is incorporated into the philosophy of “mushin,” which means a sort of mindlessness, but is more of a detachment from the moment and acceptance of constantly changing conditions (Most who practice Japanese martial arts use this technique). “The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware, too, is subject.” (Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics).

I know the Lord will see through all our flaws, our cracks, our meltdowns, and repair us with something finer than gold – He repairs us with His complete love. All we have to do is accept it.

“…you are the witnesses of these things…”

Today I sat and reviewed the past two weeks of Lent. Hard to believe it has been 15 days already! I re-read my Gratitude Journal. It is amazing how my words have changed, and yet my prayers are still directed towards the same goals! My goals? “To rekindle and return to the life I led that was far more faithful in the past. To be more simple and quiet. Being centered on God’s word, and to wean myself off social media.” Those were taken right out of my journal. I find it interesting that this Lent has been so instructive, and at the same time, has kept me striving to become better and better, in pursuit of the goals I set for Great Lent 15 days ago.

The impact of giving things up, for me, has been to add so many other, and far more fruitful, habits. It is nice to have a silent home most of the day. It is nice to not worry about the most recent posting or status of someone on Facebook. Guess what? Millions and millions of people exist quite happily with no social media accounts. Funnily enough, people who make their money on social media usually do not use it for themselves, and severely limit it for their own children. I wonder what they know? Perhaps they understand that those platforms greatly invade our privacy, and that too much interaction on media platforms is not healthy for our minds or our psyches.

“…you are the witnesses of these things…” Luke 24: 46-48

We see so much happening around us. We hear so much. There is sometimes just too much input. We need to take a break, away from the world. I love that Spring is approaching and we can slowly see the sun more often and longer, and that the skies are an incredible shade of blue. Soon, plants will begin emerging (it may take awhile up here – we have over 7-feet of snow on our front yard!) and birds will be singing. I envision times with family, away from the crowds. I cannot wait to hang out with my husband while he chases those elusive salmon. And I sit with him, as he struggles with his gear, on the quiet of a river bank. I am in the quiet of nature and am often overwhelmed by the beauty around me. I can be there in mere minutes, from where I live, and not hear another human or any sound that is not from nature. And it fills my soul.

I know that I am growing and that this Lenten study is helping me to grow. I am relying on my morning prayer time to center my days, rather than the latest status or posting on social media. I am reading the Bible every day. I am ingesting the Word of God for His people and am learning more and more. I am feeling a warmth and love, a buoyancy in my heart, that I did not have before this. Reading the Psalms every day has lifted my spirit more than I ever thought it would. And I feel blessed. So very blessed.

Sometimes we can allow depression to get the better of us. I know I have. It is my first full winter in Alaska, when sunshine was not seen for months, and we have had weeks and weeks of daily snowfall. I never fully understood the effect of darkness on the psyche. I happily chew my Vitamin D3s every day, but I can assure you, being able to open your drapes and see sunlight is amazing for your mind! But I allowed depression to affect my daily routine. I became despondent in the fact that I was not hopeless, but in the definition of despondent, I do believe I lacked courage. Courage to face the things that were/are lacking in myself. Things that need to go, or things that need to be added. Lent is a blessed time we are given to allow us to dig in and make these changes. I know that for me, even in my “gratitude” journal, I have been able to note the things that need to go, or things that need to be faced and dealt with. I am still nowhere near where I should be. But I faced these things. I wrote them down. I decorated the pages! And I am chipping away at my many and myriad faults, trying to become a healthy and worthwhile Child of God. I know nothing I can do will make me worthy; my faith is a gift. My works do not guarantee a spot on the winning team, but I also know that works done with heaven in mind, and with salvation in mind for those I am working with or for, is loved by God. He appreciates our efforts. He loves our struggle. Read the Book of Job. That details struggles most of us could never imagine. But God rewards perseverance. He loves a heart that gives itself to Him alone. And I am learning more and more as I age, and as I persevere, that God’s choices for us are not the world’s choice for us.

Being “woken up” during Lent, to further work at our faith life, is such a blessing. We, as Christians, are not perfect; only forgiven. And it is a further blessing that each time we fall, the angels themselves are there to help us up again: “For God command His angels to guard all your ways. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” (Psalm 91:11-12) I know my guardian angel has his hands so very full. But I also know that I can rest and trust in the Word of God for my life. And I am finding such a deep peace, even rest, residing in His Word for me. I may be depressed and have worries; we all have them, but I also know that God has totally surrounded me with His angels and His saints, protecting me. And sometimes, He protects me from myself. Which is probably where I need the most help. I know that turning off, and turning away from, the world, has helped immeasurably. God is so good; He brought this Lenten Study to my attention and in a moment, had me push all the right keys so I could be a part of it. His blessings sometimes blow me away!!

And on this, St. Patrick’s Day, may you always be blessed with faith, friends, and family!

“..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!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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