“…but a kind word cheers it up.”

Boy, did this speak to me today. It was raining this morning. Dismal. Gray. Yucky sort of dark morning. A coffee morning, for sure. And I know that Spring has supposedly arrived. We laugh up here because there are MOUNDS of snow all over town, which probably won’t melt down until June or July. There is a mound on the side of an old firehouse, just down the street from me. Spring. Ha! It is still too cold to plant your starters or flowers. Some people have braved hanging baskets already. Not me. We are moving in a few weeks, so I am waiting to see what gorgeous perennials pop up in my yard. I am told there is a rose hedge and daffodils, and a few tulips. Cannot wait to see that. But today is gloomy. They say you need to get through the rain, to have the sunshine. “May showers bring June flowers”?? Ha-Ha.

And as I sat and drank my coffee in the dripping-rain-sounding, very gray and dismal morning, I turned on the TV. Big. Mistake. I have been consciously keeping it off. And today I dove back in. Stupid me. I changed what I watch, considerably. I watch mostly the Hallmark channel, or specific shows I record. And I recently began a series on DVD my son got me hooked on, but that we watch together (Ok, we binge-watch it!). But for the most part, the TV is off during the day. I like it that way. Over the past year, I also changed where I get my news. I switched it to an all-news channel that has no pundits who try to tell me what I just heard, or opine and/or yell at viewers. I am tired of the vitriol. The channel I watch reports from all over the world and in under 1 hour, I am up-to-date. And in that 1-hour today, the darkness crept in. A lot of it.

“The woman named Folly is brash. She is ignorant and doesn’t know it….she calls out to men going by, “Come in with me,” she says….But little do they know that the dead are there. Her guests are in the depths of the grave.” Proverbs 9:13-18

And I realized that by watching and listening to all this horrific news, because that is the majority of it, I was allowing the darkness to have a hold over me. I was depressed and sad. So I left the room and dove back into the Proverbs. And the above quote is what struck me. Hard. And then I remembered what St. Porphyrios said at the top of this post: “Do not fight to expel the darkness from the chamber of your soul. Open a tiny aperture for light to enter, and the darkness will disappear.”

As Rick Mallory, the photographer and blogger captured in the above photograph, Spring is a mixture of snow, rain, and burgeoning flowers. They are trying to erupt from their winter slumber, reaching towards the elusive sunshine. And that is an apt description for us all. We need to be constantly reaching for the light, to dispel the darkness. And I am desperately clinging, some days more than others, to the promises of my faith; the light in my life. And this light I hold within often struggles with the images and sounds of this world, which tries to drag us down. As a social experiment, I dismissed most newsfeed from my life. I took news apps and social media apps off of my iPhone. (I did keep the Angry Birds and Bejeweled games. My grandkids love playing Angry Birds with me on my phone). I changed up my wallpapers and now have spring flowers all over my laptop and iPhone, both, on all screens. I dismissed notifications from my life. I get text messages and notices of emails, but other than that, my phone is a phone. (What a concept, huh???). The freedom has helped my electronics operate a lot more efficiently (Facebook kills battery life, as do lots of platforms. Now they are gone, my phone can easily last 24 hours..unless I am at those Birds or Jewels!!). And the result? My happiness level got increasingly better. I was suffering from fewer sleepless nights. I was stressing far less. Do I advocate the ostrich method of burying your head in the sand? I don’t. Part of learning from scripture is to take what we have learned and directly apply it to our lives. Proverbs exhorts us to be present in the marketplace and to be involved. So I intend to keep staying current, but I think saturating yourself in it, day in and day out, takes a toll on your psyche and soul. I opted out and when I dipped my toe back into the media water, I immediately felt a difference.

So I think I will stay out of that mess. For now. Maybe forever. I much prefer the walk pictured above, which is 10 miles from my front door. I much prefer hearing the water waft past me, the eagles who fly above, and the salmon spawning, to media and newsfeed chaos. Life is so short. We never walk this way again. I continue to pray for the country, to listen when necessary, but focus on my walk with God, and my husband, and my family. If you can unplug, I highly recommend it. I recall that when I was a teenager, my dad would hand me a dime when I went out with my friends, to ensure I could call home if I needed to. On a pay phone. No cell phones. I didn’t talk to people 24/7, with tweeting my every move or logging into a social platform all day long. I could go weeks without seeing friends and we were still friends! (Imagine that!). Friends I still have 40-or more years later. We invested quality time developing relationships, in person, not online. We got news when we got news…maybe nightly at the dinner hour? Radio in the car? But not like it is now. Summer is coming and I cannot wait to be outdoors. I will have my essential oil recipe for mosquitos (which works so well!!), my Kindle will be charged, and I will be ready to accompany my husband as he chases those salmon, at whichever river he chooses to conquer. And as I got up from this screen to let the dog outside, I saw that the sun had raised her head high above the sky, dispelling the darkness. What a joy seeing that was! I wish for you some of the same.

“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” Proverbs 12:25

Quiet Extrovert….

know ourselves

Today I took a personality test. It is free and online. (16personalities.com). What an eye-opener. I do think it is the first time I have participated in one of these where I felt like I was accurately and succinctly described. It sort of threw me for a loop. Today became a benchmark day for me, because I learned so much about myself. Well, I know myself, but someone who doesn’t know me accurately put into words what I think about myself. And that can be a tad bit unsettling.

Most people presume that I am an extrovert because I am a good talker. Ha-Ha. I love to chat. For hours on end. And I have an ability to strike up a conversation pretty much anywhere I am. However, I can be superficial about it, too. I can talk weather, or sports, or social media garbage all day long. And then I can leave it at that. And although I can participate in society at that level, anything more can leave me completely exhausted. Emotionally exhausted. When I feel like I can connect to someone on a deeper level, I will extend my emotional feelers and delve into deeper subjects. But that doesn’t happen too often. As I have aged, it happens less and less.

ereader

I am an avid e-reader. I will read a traditional book off and on, but my Kindle Paperwhite goes with me everywhere. If I have a spare moment, I am reading on it. I take it to bed every night and read until my eyelids have gravel in them and it is hard to focus. I prefer, more and more, books to social situations. I prefer a certain genre and through this personality test, I understand why I love the genre I love. I have found that I can go entire days, if no one else is home, without sounds coming through iTunes or the TV. I can be silent. I can tap-tap-tap on my laptop (which I love so much. It’s a new MacBook…with a delicious purple cover – thanks to my DIL!) and that can be the only sounds in my home, aside from my snoring dogs. But I am still communicating, like now, only it is still being a “quiet extrovert.”

Another thing that this test showed me was what is important to me insofar as relationships and career/workplace needs go. I realized that I blog about issues important to me. And most often, there is a spiritual connection. Spirituality and morality are the most important attributes I seek in friendships and workplace environments. Boy, I wish I would have learned this sooner in life. I had it in me, but this test laid it all out so nice and concisely. My nature is to be diplomatic when I can, but I also will not compromise my beliefs. I am always seeking authenticity from others – quality trumps quantity every time.

blcoked on social media

Why do I address this? Well, today several things happened. Someone got through a “block” I had for one of my social media accounts and somehow was able to put a call through to me. And it took me by surprise. My safety net has a rip in it somewhere. So my sense of quiet and alone was attacked and I found out I really don’t like that. And secondly, I learned why so much of what is going on in the world insofar as violence and this ugly, ugly election process truly bothers me. Why I prefer ignorance about some of it. The process for delegates to the convention? Who knew all that? Who knew votes could be disregarded? Who knew prominent party members could opt out of the convention? Who knew there could be so much disregard for human life that simply shooting police officers purely because they are police officers is seen, by some people, as a viable option to fix their situations???? And I realized this bothers me because deeply rooted within my personality, I have a need to contribute to humanity on a personal level, all the while valuing honest, integrity, and morality above all else. Where are those attributes in this political climate or in the culture of violence we see out there even today? And it hurts me, on such a deep level. It is almost like I am realizing I am too soft in some ways, to deal with it. Which I also realized today is another reason why I prefer my Kindle time to socializing, more and more.

kindness

I think that just a little kindness is needed. I posted yesterday about touching people, one soul at a time, one person at a time, just person-to-person. We need, I believe, to shut down all this noisiness and spend some time thinking about our neighbors. Our neighbors who may not exhibit kindness to us, but to whom we need to always be kind. This can be quite literally the person next door to us, but it can also be the idiot who cuts us off on the highway and who we realize needs way more driving experience. It can mean the clerk who is rude to us, or a waiter who messes up our order. It can be some jerk on the TV we see who obviously needs some attention or care. We need to show kindness to “the least of these” –

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed.’ Matthew 25:40

I do not want to be separated from the love of God, ever. Some theologians say that hell is not some hot place with demons attacking you, but rather it is the knowledge that God has removed Himself from you, and the absence of the love of God for eternity is what hell truly is. To come to that point in your personal salvific story line to realize there is a God, and that you did not believe nor accept Him, and He has removed Himself from you for eternity. Wow.  We come to many realizations in our lives, and my continued prayer for others is that they will come to acknowledge God in their lives and accept His will for them. I do not want anyone to be without, or stand outside of the love of God. And I see that lacking kindness towards others (we need to always struggle to be kind to everyone), to be fearful for your own safety, and to want to retreat away from others is sort of something that leads to a further decay of our culture. Those of us who recognize the shortcomings around us are the only ones who can affect a positive change. We sometimes have to fight our inner selves in order to help our society. Yes, I might have to pay attention to this ugly election thing we have going here, where no one tells me what they can do for me, but they sure can tell me what the other guy cannot do! I have to keep myself current in order to be a participant in the process, although I would love honesty and forthrightness within our political climate. As for the violence, I think that will only change when we fundamentally change how we all view the sanctity of all human life. When we can so easily abort the unborn or kill the sick and dying, people will not value one another. When we extend kindness to others, with no expectation of recompense or deservedness, but purely to be kind, we teach them that they have value – that their lives matter – that all lives truly matter.

sanctity of life

One of the traits this test showed me was that I need to feel like I am constantly improving myself, and am inspiring others, convincing others to passionately and altruistically improve the world around them, on a personal level. And to me, that means I need to touch someone positively each and every day, to be sure I am contributing. Right now, I am blogging, and hoping to share with more than one person, so perhaps they will be inspired to reach out, too. I have comforted another person today, and that makes my heart sing. I am trying to make it a personal goal to touch one other life, each and every day. Together, we can reorient this culture before it becomes so warped, no one would recognize it. Together we can grasp one another’s hands and literally pull each other towards a better tomorrow. Yes, I am a quiet extrovert, but even I can affect change.

Flag people

 

“God had planned something better for us” Hebrews 11:40

Orthordox Church.interiorThere is a synergy at work in the world, and sometimes I just marvel at it.  There are times when meeting new people, or just hanging with people you know, that some other odd connection pops up.  It makes the world seem smaller, and less daunting, somehow.

I saw a posting on Facebook today where all these people were opining and it was so fun to see disparate people, who I know do not know one another, chat and yet, I know both of them.  It was pretty neat because they live on opposite sides of the country, and still found common ground, and I was able to witness that.  I had nothing to do with it, either, I just happened upon it.  I think that is so awesome.

I was reading about some guy on a reality show tweeting something that people found offensive.  He made a couple of statements about how the “US is a great place to live, but you need to know there is a lot more out there.”  And with all that is going on in Ukraine, with Russia, and our part in Afghanistan, with Britain giving its input, and stories out of South America, stories of things happening in Africa, it does seem like the world is smaller these days.  When my kids were traveling from Hawaii back to Alaska, we were talking about the long flight (with a 4-month old and 2-year old, and a husband on crutches, it was LONG) between the two places.  But imagine going on “vacation” where you had to travel by boat?  From Alaska to Hawaii?  Days and weeks, not hours.  When my parents immigrated to the USA, they came via steamer from New Zealand.  It took weeks and weeks. And I remember as a child, we had to schedule, in advance, a phone call with my grandparents in New Zealand, to talk on Christmas Day, from California.  There was only one cable linking the two places, and phone calls were very limited.  We only spoke briefly, and rarely, to my grandparents.  They received some news, fashion, and the latest technology usually a year or two behind us.  We were separated by an ocean.  Much the same was happening to my husband’s family still living in Russia, and with his family here. The only conversation allowed was by letter, and that was spotty, at best.  Technology has changed all of that.  We are now smaller, and closer, and more quickly connected than ever before.

Wireless CommunicationI’m not, technically, Orthodox, although we call ourselves, “Orthodox In Communion With Rome,” but I had to share that photo!  There has been all sorts of communication going on, otherworldly, and worldly, for thousands of years.  And every once in awhile, God allows us a little glimpse of His handiwork.  And today, seeing disparate friends communicate through Facebook, neither knowing that either of them knows me, was a peek of how awesome Our God truly is.  He gave me a little smile, caused by a little glimpse into how He is working, constantly, in our lives, even when we don’t have the hard and fast physical evidence in front of us to “prove it.”

We are now completing our first full week of Lent.  And God continues to move across His landscape.  I’ve seen some amazing sunrises lately, and I’ve seen some beautiful sites in our little world up here.  I’ve gazed into the face of my adorable grand daughter, and seen a priceless smile as she gains my eyes and recognizes me.  My grandson’s unfiltered laughter just makes my heart sing.  Watching my granddaughter on a video on my phone (she lives far away) smiling and laughing into a toy phone (that’s my girl!!).  These are precious moments captured for me, that show the goodness we have in our lives…and the overabundance of Grace working in them.  There is so much to be grateful for, and difficulty (all on our side) of receiving that gift from God seems ridiculously easy…just faith in God.  So simple. So uncomplicated.  And yet we buck conformity to religion all the time.  God left us His will in His Apostles, and His Tradition was exercised in His Church for 100s of years before we even had a Bible.  We trust in all of it because trust is part of believing.  The Book of Hebrews, chapter 11, talks about the faith: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1) It goes on and on, telling us what we believe is based on faith and trust in God.  So many examples from Abel and Abraham, to Isaac and Moses – the faith we were given goes back 1000s of years, to the beginning of time, itself.

In her wisdom, the Church has asked us to focus these 40 days on our faith.  Today I saw that faith revealed in such simple ways.  It is amazing what you see when you take the time to focus.

Blessings on our continued Lenten journey….

Easter Bunny....

“Please forgive me…”

Holy Season of LentForgiveness Sunday was yesterday; today is Clean Monday. In many traditions, these next three days of the Lenten Fast are among the strictest.  We try, during the first three days of Lent (in the Orthodox tradition) to take nothing before Vespers on Wednesday but water.  Well, I am just not that good.  My blood sugar would go all catty-wampus (as my grandma would say) and I would pass out or something.  It is not that I am unwilling, but the flesh is very weak! We are trying some new ideas with fasting this year and we are excited.  It is so fun to learn all of the many aspects of universality our Church has to offer.  Learning new ways of doing things and new traditions from other countries.  I love it – it adds immeasurably to my faith.

At Forgiveness Sunday yesterday, we had a wonderful parish experience.  We had Divine Liturgy, and then a wonderful pot luck meal together, followed by Forgiveness Vespers.  It is our first Byzantine experience, as we are Melkite, which is an eastern-rite Church, but with a decidedly Middle Eastern flair to it.  Our parish here is Ruthenian, and culturally eastern European.  During the Vespers itself, much was sung and prayed about forgiveness, and it was nice; contemplative at times, too. But the most touching aspect of it came at the end. Our Priest stood up there in front of the Holy Doors, asking us to forgive him, and through him, all the clergy. He mentioned several times that people often think clergy are angels.  He laughed and said, “I am no angel!”  And then he asked us to remember that none of us are angels!  He then had each person in the parish approach him and asked them to forgive him, and they asked him to forgive them.  They received the oil of Mirovanije and and then took their place next to him, forming a line around the inside of the church.  Each person, in turn, asked each person for forgiveness. I cannot properly do justice to what a moving experience this was for both my husband and myself.

anointing1I love the tradition of mirovanije and how wonderful it feels (and it usually smells good, too!) to be blessed and to share that blessing with forgiveness. It was so very moving.  Unfortunately for me, I was plagued with back problems yesterday…too much sitting on hard chairs, I guess.  After sitting through Divine Liturgy, then having the pot luck and then Vespers, my back had just had it (it was my second attempt at going outside the house since I hurt my back two weeks ago).  So I received the oil and blessing, exchanged forgiveness with Fr. Michael, and promptly went back to my spot.  By this time, I was actually weeping.  It was a combination of forgiveness, pain, and the fear my back was as bad as it was two weeks ago.  But as I sort of laid on my side in the pew, so many people came to me, wanting to exchange forgiveness.  They got out of line and came to me, hugging me and asking for forgiveness. I cannot even tell you how humbling and beautifully freeing it was.  Of course, being the mushy person I am, I cried all the more!

40 Days logoAs we take this journey together during Lent, I wanted to share once again how beautiful and freeing forgiveness can be.  And that we truly make no progress with the fasting, the praying, the attendance at prayers, if we have rancor, hatred, anger…any of those ugly, festering, emotions…deep in our soul.  Lent becomes meaningless, really, if we do not approach it with a clean heart; a heart ready and willing to be open to God working in our lives.

As Orthowiki defines it: Liturgically, Clean Monday—and thus Great Lent itself—begins on the preceding (Sunday) night,at a special service called Forgiveness Vespers, which culminates with the Ceremony of Mutual Forgiveness, at which all present will bow down before one another and ask forgiveness. In this way, the faithful begin Great Lent with a clean conscience, with forgiveness, and with renewed Christian love. The entire first week of Great Lent is often referred to as “Clean Week,” and it is customary to go to confession during this week, and to clean the house thoroughly (or to have it clean before the beginning of the Fast).

The theme of Clean Monday is set by the Old Testament reading appointed to be read at the Sixth Hour on this day (Isaiah 1:1-20), which says in part:

Wash yourselves and ye shall be clean; put away the wicked ways from your souls before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well. Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, consider the fatherless, and plead for the widow. Come then, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, I will make them white as wool (v. 16-18).”

So today, being Clean Monday, I am trying to get my home together.  Working carefully, and trying to prepare to enter fully into Lent.  It truly makes the entire “Spring Cleaning” philosophy completely different for me.  First, I learned about the desire to clean my home with the increase in daylight and, second, the impending blessing of our home (in the process of cleaning for the priest to come, I injured my back) and now with the start of Lent, yet another reason to “Spring Clean”!  Isn’t God and His Church awesome??  So many reasons to do what comes naturally.

I just wanted to share a short post on Forgiveness Vespers and what an incredible start it gave me for Lent. I will be fasting from media and noise this Lent, so postings will be sparse.  May your Lenten period prepare you for an incredible Pascha and may God bless you each of these wonderful 40 days!

Lenten Candle Stand Gold