“…on the path unwinding…”

The world is spinning and we are all hanging on, while it tumbles in space. And every once in awhile, it seems like there is a “hitch in the get along” and things go askew. We all have those days where we want to just crawl back into bed and hit the rewind button. I had several of those days recently. Thankfully, not back-to-back, or I would be nutsy….certifiable.

 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

I was talking with my hubby, who has also been very stressed out lately, and I told him that if he continues to carry everyone’s burdens on his shoulders, he will be crushed with the weight of it. He said he knew that, but then asked me, “How do you stop caring?” And he is right. We both tend to worry too much about things and people and situations we really don’t control. We take on the burdens of others because it is just part of our nature. And sometimes it can weigh you down. A lot. And those are the days we want to stay in bed, hiding under the blankets, and just not deal with it.

As we age, we forget everyone else is aging, too. Sometimes it hits you when a friend’s kid all of a sudden is older and doing adult things, and you still think of them as a little child. Those years when my kids were young seemed to drag, but as they hit high school, life began to race by us. And somehow I related to my parents and other family members the same way – I forgot that as we aged, they aged, too. After speaking with my mom this morning, I was relating how my youngest son’s girlfriend’s grandma is my age. Ha-Ha. And my mom said she remembers turning my age 20+ years ago. And I stopped and realized she is 87 years old. I remember my great-grandma being 87. I remember my great-grandpa, at 90, saying he was just flat-out tired and dying a few days later. My dad (his grandson) is pushing 91 years old. My dad has Parkinson’s dementia, Alzheimer’s, and a host of other ailments. My step-sister (stepmom’s daughter) and I had a two hour discussion about our parents (they have been married more than 35 years now) and how their aging is not going well. I remember babysitting her when she was in junior high school. People thought her younger sister was my daughter. And now we are discussing our parents’ death wishes and we realized they probably won’t last the year. When did all this happen? When did she become a grandma, too?? I am used to the fact that I am older, but when did everyone else get older?

“Listen to your father; without him you would not exist. When your mother is old, show her your appreciation.” Proverbs 23:22

And we are trying to listen to our parents. We are trying to appreciate them and honor them. Dementia and Alzheimer’s make caring for them so very difficult. And it makes these last days we share with them very stressful. I kept thinking my parents would always be there. But they will not be. “None of us is guaranteed our next breath” (Thank you, Abouna Justin, for the quote). We all should be prepared to “meet our maker.” I’m not sure what state my parents’ faith is in, but that is not my business. I will share with them as I able to, from the place in which I find myself spiritually, and try to meet them where they are. However, what I am tasked with in the immediate future is respecting my parents for who they are and what they have done for me in my life, and ensuring their comfort as they experience the end of their days. I want them to know they are loved and appreciated. I want to keep them fed and warm and comfortable, and occasionally share a laugh together.

And I am doing this while still parenting a teenager; while being a grandma to 5 gorgeous grand babies, and still trying to enjoy the move to a new home. In a few days, my sister-in-law will arrive in their motorhome with 9 of their 10 children. I am looking forward to it so very much. But at the same time, I realized this is my last free Saturday. Because after this, I will have company at my home, and then I will be flying to get my mom and moving her in with me. My life is going to completely change. So is hers.

But I want to embrace it all with joy and hope and a love of God, sharing that love with others. Some days I know I will want to crawl back into bed and hide. But I won’t be allowed to do that. I will be guiding my teen towards adulthood, my grandchildren into childhood, and my mom and dad to “meeting their maker.” And in my head, I keep singing that Disney song from the Lion King….

Circle Of Life
From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the Sun
There’s more to be seen than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
Some say eat or be eaten
Some say live and let live
But all are agreed as they join the stampede
You should never take more than you give
In the circle of life
It’s the wheel of fortune
It’s the leap of faith
It’s the band of hope
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life
Some of us fall by the wayside
And some of us soar to the stars
And some of us sail through our troubles
And some have to live with the scars
There’s far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the Sun rolling high through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round
In the circle of life
It’s the wheel of fortune
It’s the leap of faith
It’s the band of hope
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life
It’s the wheel of fortune
It’s the leap of faith
It’s the band of hope
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life
On the path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life.
And we are all spiraling along on our own circle of life. Things happen, days pass, the world keeps spinning on its axis. As each day morphs into night and we face another day spent, I hope we reflect on how we have moved through our own circle of life that day. How we have embraced these responsibilities we have been given, and how we celebrate all the joys we have experienced. Life is a blessing. Life is to be cherished. Each day of it. As I was struggling with anger towards my husband recently (cleaning out a garage is NEVER fun) I kept telling myself how grateful I was for our many blessings, and how incredibly blessed we were to have all this stuff we needed to deal with and put into its proper setting and place. The opposite – being homeless and having nothing – would indeed be frightening. And as I have learned through keeping a gratitude journal, there is something in every day and in every thing to be grateful for. Truly. So, I am grateful for this latest spin on the circle of my life. My Lord is with me every step of this life. I am grateful and I am blessed.

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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…

“..and they rejoiced with her.”

I have been struggling with anxiety recently. We stand on the cusp of some major changes in our lives, and I am one of those people whose brains somehow shift into overdrive the moment my head hits the pillow. And the night before last was the worst. I think I slept maybe 2 solid hours the entire time I was in bed. And I woke yesterday so exhausted. But the one thing that I did do a lot of was, I prayed.

I was told this saying above about not being able to sleep, many years ago. And I have tried to apply that. And so, during my wakefulness, I prayed like crazy for all the people who have been asking for prayers. And I even added some who I knew could use the extra help. A friend of mine, who had suffered a few years ago, told me that she could tell when people were praying for her, because she felt a sense of relief each time the praying would begin. I have always wanted to be that sensitive to the prayers of others, and oftentimes I do believe I can feel that sense of calm, in the midst of the craziness, and then I know people are praying.

My Lenten study has been amazingly right on the nose almost daily. It is like God wrote it just for me. The reading of the Psalms has, quite literally, changed my life. And using a Gratitude Journal has changed the way I look at things. The day before  my night of sleeplessness, our writing prompt had been, “A habit you need to break.” For me, it is SLOTH. Basically, laziness. And I completely addressed that, right away. But the other thing is to always balance that by what we are grateful for. I had a friend who was ill and that friendship came into question; that our friendship was pivotal in my life. I realized it is a friendship that my life would be empty without. We do not see one another often, but like I said in my earlier post, I realized she is one of my anchors in life. And I am forever grateful for her. And I loved being able to balance my need for correction with gratitude for an important person in my life.

And one of the techniques I applied while I was unable to sleep was that I vowed to hand everything over to God. Literally, my life. My family. My future. Our future. My worries. The outcomes. Because our directed journaling the next day was, “Prayer for patience,” I actually laughed when I read it. Timeliness. God is always waiting. Always. And as I could not sleep, I prayed the Jesus Prayer over and over again, giving my sleeplessness to Him, to work for His greater good. In among the many Jesus Prayers, I added a decade or two of the Rosary. As one Mother to another, I know the Theotokos can relate to worry. My situation in no way compares to Hers, but I know She waits to offer us Her comforts. I always think of the Passion of the Christ movie, where Mary lays on the ground, and She can feel her Son in the prisons below Her. My heart breaks every time, because I know that connection intimately. And so I sought the comfort of Mary, in my sleepless struggles.

And through that long night, I felt immeasurable comfort. I was actively assisting in bringing Christ to others, through my prayers. God needed my prayers and I happily offered them. The readings for that day in the Psalms also drew a chuckle from me, at their timeliness:

“I trust in your faithfulness. Grant my heart joy in your help, that I may sing of the Lord, “How good our God has been to me.”” (Psalm 13:6)

Keep me safe, O God; in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord, you are my only God.'” (Psalm 16:1-2)

“I bless the Lord who counsels me; even at night my heart exorts me. I keep the Lord always before me, with the Lord at my right, I shall never be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure.” (Psalm 16:7-9)

And for my Psalm journal, I found an amazing journaling sticker (yes, they make stickers for journaling) that says, “TODAY – Be an encourager” – and another that says, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” And in my gratitude journal I added stickers that say, “But first, God,” and “God bless this hot mess.” Ha-Ha!  It amazes me continually how all these disparate things just seamlessly come together to make my Lenten Journey this year so very fruitful.

“Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown His great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.” Luke 1:58

Even though I realized that Scripture was referring to the birth of St. John the Forerunner, I rejoiced in the fact that Our Lord has blessed me during this Lenten Journey. That this study has reignited a faith long dormant. And that re-confirming my dedication to doing the Will of God for my life, has strengthened me beyond anything in recent memory. This joy that Elizabeth experienced at the birth of John was shared by her family and friends. Her husband lost his speech because he did not fully believe what was told to him, but at the birth of his son, his speech returned and he praised God. I like to think that I lost my voice a little bit, too, along the way. But I have rediscovered it and my dedication to sharing what counts in my life with those of you who actually read this has returned. Throwing off the world in social media, in a way, helped me to focus on this blessing of faith, regenerated. Lent is such a gift to each of us, that we need to grab hold to it and wring it out for every blessing contained within it.

And one of the many miracles coming out of a sleepless night is the gift of the answering of prayers. The Lord is always, always there. And He is just waiting for us to acknowledge His presence in our lives, and the many promises He made that He is waiting to fulfill for every soul who approaches Him.

“FOR THIS IS THE CHALICE OF MY BLOOD,
THE BLOOD OF THE NEW AND ETERNAL COVENANT,
WHICH WILL BE POURED OUT FOR YOU AND FOR MANY
FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS.

DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME.” (Breviary, Eucharistic Prayer III)

Not all of us feel inclined to come to the Altar. And I get that; I do. I continue to pray for the many who decline to approach God, feeling they have no need of Him or his succor – His aid in times of distress and hardship. I know many who feel that to be a Christian of any stripe is to be weak. And I will continue to pray for them. Because I have been shown, without doubt, the strength of God in my life. I am so blessed.

May your Lent continue to bring you closer to Our Lord. Blessed Lent.

“Because of your little faith.”

It’s like banging my head on the wall..why do I insist on going my own way? It always, always, is much harder. Ugh. I started out my day taking a couple of phone calls, and then diving into a headache-inducing paperwork snafu and dealing with all sorts of other annoying tidbits (in and of themselves not huge, but together, my own mountain). But I did not start out in prayer, nor in grounding myself in the Word of God. I tried to just carry on and “git-er-done” all on my own. The result? Headache, stress, rushing around trying to accomplish a myriad of small tasks, and then rushing out the door and collapsing in stress in my car.

Some days I just cannot get it together. And then I realized that those are the days I think I can accomplish everything by myself. I don’t seek prayers from people; I don’t actually ask for help; and I never even think to open my Bible or pray. How is it we can rely so heavily on our faith, and then forget to use it??

Last night I attended a talk from a retired police officer about the legal use of force. He was speaking to a group of women who all belong to this wonderful organization for women shooters. (https://thewellarmedwoman.com) Last night, I listened as this officer talked to us about armed intruders. He was saying that when we challenge an intruder with phrases like, “Stop. Don’t move a muscle or I will shoot you” we have to command them, not meekly ask them. And he also said we need lots of hours with our weapons, making sure they are in perfect condition and ready to fire; that we spend hours upon hours at the range, getting comfortable with our weapons, and that we develop muscle memory with our weapon. Then he suggested we wear them (as our conceal carry permits allow) and go about our lives, with a smile on our faces. We are aware of our surroundings, we are armed and know how to protect ourselves, and we can enjoy life – and he said, “Smile.” And it made me think.

I have been working my weapon – my faith. I have become familiar with it, developing my “muscle memory.” I have taken care of it. And I command it when I speak of it, to intruders. Right? Well, it seems to me that when I need to depend on the stores I have built up inside of me, I fall flat. I totally revert to panic mode. Which, in the case of an intruder intending to commit bodily harm, would not bode well for a successful outcome, for me. Reacting, through muscle memory, is how our faith should work. If I were to be cast on an island, by myself, what would I do? I would not have my bible or my study to do; my journals would not be with me…what would I depend on?

There are many stories and many people diverge greatly on their acceptance of these stories, but for an example, the Apostle John (and let’s not argue if it is him, John the Elder, etc) is exiled to the Island of Patmos. Patmos means “my killing” and it is believed to be a sterile island in the Aegean Sea. It was common practice for the Romans to banish from their lands people who disagreed with them. We also know they were very fond of crucifixion as a form of punishment. The story goes that while on the Island of Patmos, St. John penned the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelations. It is agreed that this was around 95AD. On that island of banishment, John did not wallow at being on a sterile island (not much grew there; very little flora or fauna) but instead, He listened to God and he wrote the inspired words of God, and shared it with the world. The book of Revelation. Wow. Me? I more than likely would have died.

“When they came to the crowd a man approached, knelt down before him,
and said, “Lord, have pity on my son, for he is a lunatic and suffers severely; often he falls into fire, and often into water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Jesus said in reply, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him here to me.” Jesus rebuked him and the demon came out of him, and from that hour the boy was cured. Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17: 14-20).

And today, in the light of my dismal trust and poor faith yesterday, I realize that I do have faith. I do. Because I realized that I was wrong in trusting only in myself. I sought prayer from friends and many offered more in the way of help, as well. I performed a task that I did not wish to do, but was able to do it with a thought and prayer of thanksgiving. In my gratitude journal I wrote, “I am releasing my wants and melding them to the wants and needs of my family and the desires for me that God has in store for me.” That is the start of great faith…trusting in the small things. Because truly, my tasks for the day were small things. There were many of them, but they were small. And God is blessing us, over and over again. Truly blessing us. Sometimes we do not see the blessing, because it is clouded by our wants and desires. I know that I need to subsume my desires and wants, and allow God to direct my steps and my future. Because without Him, I wander, I lose faith, and I panic. How silly of me. He is always here, waiting for me. Always.

 

“Clock confusion…”

I have discovered that the older I get, I prefer solitude. I have seen some hilarious posts about needing caffeine to even be human. And I can relate to that, some days. I find myself gearing up to interact with others. Although I am, by nature, a social person, I find it so draining these days. I much prefer one-on-one with a close friend, or a small social setting. Large malls, big parties, noisy places just drain me.

Making things worse this year was Daylight Savings time. It messed me up more than I realized, nor thought it would. I don’t recall ever being this messed up. I struggled with getting up and going to bed at the right time. Last night, it was bright daylight at 7:00PM. And today is the first day of Spring. Oh joy. Up here, that just means the sun is up. There are no flowers, yet. Instead, we are dealing with melting snow compounded by dirt on the roads, mushy interactions, and melting/refreezing almost nightly. It is a mess. But at least we have sunshine. I have lived up here four years and this is the first year I wanted Spring and warmth to be here. I want to put on capris and wear flip-flops, and open my windows. It was so cold I slept with socks on last night – and two extra blankets – even with the heater on. It was zero when I went to bed. Spring. Someone forgot to tell Alaska. Today it is bright and sunny – the skies are gorgeous – and all of 20 degrees.

This week I went to a “journal” “CLASS” being held at a local craft store. It was anything but a class. It was basically a product display. But I enjoyed the conversation with the woman tasked with “teaching” the class. She was their crochet and quilting instructor. Had no idea what journaling even was. (*sigh*) So I went into town and explored another craft store. And from there, after being accosted by crafting mothers, dragging uncooperative children, I made my way to grocery shop. When I got home, I realized I had “peopled” enough for one day. Our youngest son was gone hunting and snow-machining, so it was just the two of us. So nice to have a quiet evening. I made a nice meal and even used my Instant Pot (hubby wants to be sure I am using it!) and made a cheesecake.

We sat, very comfortable, cozy from the cold night, watching a movie and being at home. I need to center myself some days and it helps to just be at home. I know I need to reach deep sometimes and center myself, so I am better at being “human” and interacting with others.

For me, as I read that list I mentioned a few posts ago about 50 interesting things about myself, I came to realize I am more an introvert than I used to be. I know that deep within myself, where God and the Holy Spirit resides, that I need to center myself on His Word for my life, and to hold fast to my family, home, and hearth. I deeply desire peace and contentment and to be able to be centered enough to project that out, to those I meet along my way. On Saturday,  along with the jostling I experienced in several stores, with harried parents trying to contain their kids, and coming to terms with the fact that all my prep and driving around for a “class” that didn’t happen, I was able to return to my home and find that peace and contentment. It is usually in the most obvious place – right in front of our noses!

 

“..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!