“Behold, I am making all things new…”

handsAnd He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:5)

I had a nice chat with my mom today. She is 83 and lives in a retirement facility in Southern California.  I always get, “It’s so pretty here. The sky is so blue and not a cloud in the sky! It’s going to be a gorgeous day today.”  I am loosing my mom a little more each day; she has Alzheimer’s and the progression is inevitable.  Sometimes we have a fruitful conversation and we don’t repeat for, perhaps, 10 minutes.  And then it’s back to, “It’s so pretty here. The sky is so blue…”  Today she kept saying, “It doesn’t matter where you go, you pay a price for where you live” at every opportunity she could wedge it in.  She gets on kicks like that and we just have to talk it all the way out, so she can move on.  She told me at least three times that she was getting dressed for lunch.  And, “Well, I could have it worse. It’s a pretty nice place. But of course, you pay a price for where you live, you know.”  Ha-Ha.  I love her so much.  At least she is happy and seems content.  Gradually, as with all Alzheimer patients, you just stop thinking about what you forget and it eventually becomes lost in a haze forever.  Even now, as my mom is at lunch with her friends, she does not recall we spoke today. It is a horrible disease.

And as God is good and would do something for my happiness, I no sooner hung up with my mom than my daughter-in-law came by for a drop-in visit with my grandchildren.  It made my day.  And as I sat holding my 4-month-old grand daughter, I reveled in the marvelous relationship building with both her and my daughter-in-law. (Actually, I am blessed with two amazing women who married my sons.  They could not have found better mates! I feel like I now have two daughters, but more importantly, two friends).  And as I held my grand daughter and watched her giggles, drools, and smiles, I fell in love all over again. I thought of the wonderful thread of lives, all the generations, in fruition in my grand daughter.  “And I make all things new.”  God re-energizes our family each time it grows and expands.  And each time I am presented with a grandchild, my heart expands again, re-energizing me and filling me with love.

I told my mom this morning that I think I was born to be a grandmother.  This particular time of my life, right now, and in the coming years, are my best.  I love some of the early years when my boys were young and we lived on a dairy farm.  Those days are precious to me, and I look on them as my “good old days.”  It was carefree in a way I haven’t had since.  All that taken into consideration, I think I have grown to be a better person over the years and am disposed to my grandchildren much better because of the times gone by.  Of course, I still have a 15-year-old at home, so I am also still raising a young man, and that helps me relate to my older sons and their wives in a way I never thought I would have.  It is a difference and it’s like we’re becoming friends, and I love it!

“For everything there is a season…” Ecclesiastes 3 has so much wisdom to share.  We all have times in our lives where certain things are appropriate.  We grow to fill the time we occupy.  For example, one of my mom’s favorite sayings is, “Children are for the young.”  I didn’t fully appreciate that until I grew into my late 50s. And now I have patience and time for children, but even more so, I have boundless patience and time for my grandchildren.  I know I am blessed!

“…a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
(Ecc 3: 2)

Tulips in snowIn our lives, the cycles move…and they don’t stop because we would like them to.  They keep on moving; that clock keeps ticking.  I like to explain it as a “generational shift.”  One day you look around your life and realize you are now your mother; she is now your grandmother, and your children are now you.  Your place and perspective have changed; you moved up a rung.  And it feels odd sometimes, because you feel like a teenager in your head, but when you look in the mirror, the gray hair and wrinkles remind you that you so are not.  (Even if you still secretly feel like you’re still “cool” and can rock it! Ha-Ha!!).

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;” (Ecc 3:11-12)

As I struggle through Great Lent this week, I keep my eye focused on the prize: my eternity. God and His Church gives me this time every year to stop and re-focus my energies and my daily life onto my eternity.  It is a time for reflection, for prayer, for penance, and for almsgiving.  For me, almsgiving has always been something more of the heart than of the wallet.  Some of the most satisfying days I have ever enjoyed were shopping at the local food bank and buying food to make for our homeless and needy population, who surrounded our parish in SoCal.  I would go to the local foodbank and fill my suburban to the brim and load up my two boys still at home, and off we would head to the parish.  I would set them up with a table and chairs to do their schoolwork (homeschooling mom here) and then I would head to the kitchen. I loved the afternoons of chopping, slicing, and dicing with the other ladies of our parish.  We had such a great time.  And that type of almsgiving, to me, is just so satisfying.  We were making a difference in our community.  I miss those days.  And during Lent, the people who came to be fed knew we fasted, and they loved how we made fasting food that tasted good!  They often stayed to listen to Evening Prayers (Vespers) we had after we had cleaned up.  The candles, the incense, drew them in and gave them a respite from the ugliness out there.

We can all struggle through Lent, or we can be joyous about it, while we struggle. Remember the admonishment in Scripture?  Matthew 6: 16-18 tells us:  “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

What screws us upWe are all called to make something of this time of fasting.  I have been shown so many wonderful things.  I have seen my blessings in the lives of the family we have gathered around us, and those we hold dear in our hearts who live far away.  I have been blessed with friends; some who I have loved for decades, and some new ones, too.  I have been taken to a land that has gotten under my skin and a place that I don’t see me ever leaving. I am not even anxious to vacation away from it, as there is still so much to see and experience.  My faith has been widened to allow for “other” and “different” to be accepted and even welcomed.  This Pascha will be my first one celebrating with Slavonic traditions and I am so excited!  The baskets, the covers, the red eggs…I am really looking forward to it and am loving all the prep for it!  One thing that is hitting me very strongly this Lent, and it is a great truth I am learning, well worth the “look-see” time of the fast, is this:

St Nikon of OptinaI am here, I am still me.  My zip code is really different than last Lent.  My entire life is upside down.  The view is drastically changed, as well as the environment I find myself in.  I left all that was familiar, and so many relationships.  I miss my friends, but I have also been taught the value of friendship and who are my true friends.  As my mom said today, “It doesn’t matter where you go, you pay a price for where you live.”  She is so right-on (‘Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom.’ Job 32:7) but I should not be surprised. Lots of people in my mom’s life chose to ignore her for her intelligence (she was usually eclipsed by someone else around her) but she always had wise things to say, if you but sat and listened to her.  Her tongue was sharp, as was her mother’s before her, but once she aged, she imparted more wisdom than vinegar!  And now I find myself listening to her today and thinking on her wise words to me.  She misses me because I am so far away, but she understands my need to go.  She left New Zealand to come to America with my dad; she knows what it is like to leave all you know for the unknown, and how to make a life where you are, still retaining who you are, while remaining open to new things.

For this Lent, one of the biggest lessons to me is that things are not what I had in my head; I am where I am and guess what? I brought baggage with me.  And now I am being shown all these blessings and learning the baggage is far less important to me, as I have opened myself to growth.  I am finding a peace that I never realized I lacked.  God is good, so good, if we just sit still and allow His presence to be the most important thing in our lives, allowing Him room to do His great work in us. I am still learning and I am more than halfway “home.”

“Behold, I am making all things new.”  (Rev 21:5)

Blessed Lent.

KeepCalm.Pascha

“Up to seven times?”

pink-vase-sponge-niphates-digitalis-04608This is called a “Pink Vase” sponge.  Isn’t it beautiful?  I have been thinking about sponges all day.  Why? Come with me as I work this all out….

Today’s reading at Liturgy was about friends; about some friends who helped their paralytic friend seek Jesus.  Father Michael gave a wonderful homily about friends and how we help our friends find Christ.  And he also spoke about our faith, do we love God 100% today, or maybe just 50%?  Because the man in the Gospel reading was healed because Christ could see, in his face, that he believed, 100%, in Christ.  100%…all the time.  And it was so weird because I had been thinking about friends and family, and how we share our faith with them.

Sometimes we are in the midst of life and we forget why we are where we are.  We forget that we should always have an intention.  When I go to Church, I bow and cross myself; I walk to the back and obtain some beeswax candles; I then deposit my stuff in a pew, and take my candles to the icons in front of the Church and I say prayers. But Fr. Michael challenged us last week to always attend Liturgy with an intention.  I have never done that, in all my years of attending Church. I just always went to celebrate with my community, and to pray.  But I never thought of an intention.  Today, I asked for my intention, while thinking about being a sponge.  Being a sponge for all the stuff in life that gets in the way of us living our lives.  The “flotsam” and “jetsam” of living.  I prayed I can soak up what comes my way; absorb it so it stops with me; but most importantly, to not spit back something similar to what was spit at me by life.

Sponge-by-PieriaThere are so many types of sponges.  The one above is a common kitchen sponge.  It has a side to soak things up, and another side to scrub with.  Father talked today about being sponges when it comes to our faith.  Perhaps we have questions about our faith and we don’t understand.  Like when to sit and when to stand; why we do what we do.  And so, we dip a dry sponge in once; we understand a little bit.  We dip it again and again, and eventually it becomes saturated – we understand.  But we need to not just “know” what we absorb about God, we need to believe it, too.  And his analogy was perfect for me today.  Because taking what we know, making it our belief, and then living that; that is the rough stuff.  How can I really say I believe I need to love my enemies, when I get upset by the actions of others?  How can I say I forgive others, feel good about receiving communion with a clean heart and intention, when I am still not talking to my brother?  How can I hold grudges and still be, still live as, an authentic Christian?

tethya-aurantia-orange-puffball-sponge-14015This is an orange sponge.  I think that the differences in sponges tells us how we need to forgive in all sorts of ways.  The kitchen sponge has a side to soak up and rub, and the other side scrubs.  Sometimes people hurt me and I try to soak it all up.  Maybe I need to “scrub” that experience a little bit; maybe removing the sting of their actions or words, and grow from it, being sure the pain is only absorbed, and not spewed back out at others.  That, for me, is the hardest part.  Taking it in is pretty easy, making it become inert and not hurtful, that’s the hard part.

“Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Matthew 18: 21-22

I have posted before about the “God Closet” and having all these boxes labeled with our issues we’ve asked God to take from us, because they are just too hard for us to handle alone. There is a very salvific thing that happens when we learn to believe 100%, to truly give something over to God’s care, and to allow His soaking of it all up to no longer cause us pain.  I honestly gave my issues to God and I felt, physically, the pressure be taken off my shoulders.  And I know there is a lesson here for me, about being a sponge, and taking in all this head knowledge about my faith, but then I also need to absorb it and make it part of who I am.

honeycombThat is a honeycomb sponge.  You can tell this topic really hit me because I delved into sponges online today!  I have decided that being a sponge is faceted.  There is the kind of sponge that is personal and takes in things in a religious way. Then there is the kind of sponge that absorbs the grime in life and locks it away.  Look at the millions of possibilities with that honeycomb sponge! There is an infinite variety of places to hide the grime. I don’t want to squeeze it and let it all flow back out. The trick is to sanitize it somehow; remove the grime and re-use it, over and over again.  When someone hurts me, I absorb the shock of that; I turn the other cheek even if it is seventy times seven times.  And I allow God to take the brunt of it – honestly and truly giving these issues over to Him.  And then I can be free to be an infinite sponge to those who need to lash out. Perhaps they know no other way to be; they have never been shown God or His type of love.  This is not an eros love, or even an agape love.  The love I bear others is my filial love – the love of friendship.  And I can befriend anyone, even those who are perhaps ugly to us; those people we try to avoid.  We all have them in our lives.  With God teaching us how to accept them (being a sponge) but not become like them, and to love them as He loves them, using Him to help us love them, we can become a person who can believe 100% of the time, 100% of Christ, and really live it.

Thanks be to God for a great homily today, for God giving me wonderful priests in my life who have helped me grow.  And for the gift of faith. It is not a stagnate, one time only gift, but it is something we are working on together, me and God.  This is my process of theosis, and it is my goal to learn to be more sponge-like in the many facets of my life.  As we continue through Lent, I pray to come closer to God, to living my faith 100% of the time, because I believe 100% of the time.  The weight is already lighter.