“..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!

 

“…cleanse me from my unknown faults…”

Today I am feeling lighter. Even though it’s Great Lent and we are more reflective, I am thrilled at our progress with the “40 Bags in 40 Days” project. The idea is to take any sized bag and start purging things to give to the needy. Today I did our two bathrooms. I mean, how many types of hair conditioner or deodorant do we really need? How many hair brushes or hand towels? I got a bag of stuff to throw away, and a bag of things to give away, from those two rooms. [I will not give my cast-off products that are expired or just not very good to the needy or homeless. To me, that seems insulting on top of already needing help. When I do gift bags to the needy/homeless, I purchase new products in travel-sizes]. Yesterday, my husband and I spent about an hour and we purged our bedroom. We did our dresser and night stands, and our closet. I haven’t gotten under the bed, yet, but that is coming up. (Our home is very tiny and we use every place imaginable to store things, including under our beds)!  We got 5 bags of clothing to give away. We laughed that we have only lived in Alaska for 4 years and we got rid of things from living in CA and WA that we thought we would wear up here. Ha-Ha. We had no idea.

Our world is so crammed full of noise, chaos, and so much stuff. We are overfed, over-dressed, and over-stimulated. Paring down can do your psyche so much good. It is as if a burden is lifted. Turning off the TV and spending the day without that noise is pretty incredible. One of the things we are trying is to spend 1 evening per week with no electricity. What a lack of artificial light and stimulation does to the mind! You can think. You can relax and settle into the calmness of an evening with family or friends. You can play board games or craft (my goal is to someday master knitting/crocheting). And as you slow down, you can relax and get a better night’s rest.

And after reflecting on today’s readings, and keeping up with our Lenten practices, it makes me humble and a little quieter. “…cleanse me from my unknown faults..” (Psalm 19:15) truly struck me because I think I know myself, but perhaps there are cracks and crevices in my soul that I have hidden from myself. But nothing is hidden from God. Cleaning out our things, slowing down and stopping the use of electricity for just one evening a week, journaling on all of these things, has caused me to stop and reflect on who I am, who I purport to be, and what sort of witness I am for God. “Who may go up to the mountains of the Lord? Who can stand in His Holy Place? The clean of hand and pure of heart, who are not devoted to idols, who have not sworn falsely…” (Psalm 24:3-4).

I thank God the Church provides us with this time each and every year to re-orient our lives towards to God. It also gives me the chance to really dig into WHO I am. And with pretty much everyone I know, there is always room for improvement. I read some quotes today that really hit me. St. Paisios the Athonite said, “With fasting, man reveals his choices” and St. Basil the Great said, “By fasting it is possible both to be delivered from future evils and to enjoy the good things to come. We fell into disease through sin; let us receive healing through repentance, which is not fruitful without fasting.” And with the processes we put in place this Lent, we are learning where our choices truly lie, and how we have the time this Great Lent to rectify the diseases we received through sin. One great remark was made that actually made me stop and think. “Fasting has been in practice for the people of God since the Old Testament. It was the first law, the only law given to Adam and Eve.” Ponder that for a moment. It was the only law given to them; they rejected it and were expelled from the garden. Just that one thing. St. Tikhom of Zadonsk says, “Let thy mind fast from vain thoughts; let thy memory fast from remembering evil; let thy will fast from evil desire; let thine ears fast from vile songs and slanderous whispers; let thy tongue fast from slander, condemnation, blasphemy, falsehood, deception, foul language, and every idle and rotten word; let thy hands fast from killing and stealing another’s goods; let thy legs fast from going to evil deeds. Turn away from evil and do good.”

May the Lord bless your Great Lent and help you to choose to become the person you truly want to be. Don’t be afraid to hit your knees and allow the Lord to quietly come to you, as you reflect on His words for your life. I am looking forward each morning to the time I spend in quiet reflection on the words of God and His saints. I am being filled with the things that the Lord truly wants us to fill up on, while lessening the hold this insane world has on me. Fasting from so many things, including foods, is lightening my soul and gladdening my heart. Blessed Lent, my friends; Blessed Lent.

“…nor any other created thing…”

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I am seeing more and more addictions, of many types. And I read something yesterday that brought it home. It was in a novel by Victoria Dannon and the character replies to a demon that he is not an addict and this demon, who is trying to extract payment on a debt says to him, as he laughs at him, that basically, he does not care what you are addicted to, addiction is addiction, whether it is to alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping, plastic surgery…you get the idea. And the demon laughs as the man realizes that his addiction is just that, an addiction. He actually had no idea he was living his life around his addiction. In the storyline, his particular poison was horse racing. And he was willing to risk even his life, to continue betting.

I have seen comments from addicts who say they are not addicted to a particular thing (alcohol, drugs, porn) but rather are running from, or trying to turn off from, life. And that, to me, is sad. We are repressing our inner thoughts by an activity. I know many of us have developed an addictive relationship to social media…Facebook is worth billions of dollars. How? They do not give me a product, but they allow me to communicate with people I would not normally see. I joined to stay in touch with my kids all over the world (literally) and some friends who had moved away. It has become a life-line to many relationships and I have made wonderful friends through Facebook. But what is social media costing us all? Have you actually looked around at restaurants recently? Everyone is on their phones! People are not communicating with that warm body sitting next to them. They are preferring that alternate reality of social media. People text to break up. Don’t even bother to see the person in real life, real time, but send a text. People declare they are “in a relationship” and yet they never see one another. It is totally online. It is just one of the ways we are losing our humanity to technology.

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There are many other addictions and some of them are far more costly. Do we surround ourselves with stuff to cushion us from the world? What is it about accumulating each thing we collect? I have seen women who have more shoes than I thought possible. I have seen men with tools that take over their garages so they cannot park in them. I have seen women collect cooking utensils – how many strainers do we need? (Okay, I have 3…) But why do we spend money on all this stuff, until we are busting out of our homes, when we complain about being broke? How can we spend on stuff and have no savings? How can we wear all those shoes? Ugh. How much make-up or plastic surgery does one woman need? How many cars are enough for some men? Collecting is one thing, whereas hoarding is quite another. And many of these addictions/obsessions are shielding us from a host of other things.

It is not the stuff itself that people need. It reminds me of a scene from a cartoon movie my kids used to watch (they watched it so much I knew the dialogue by heart!) where this bug cannot stop heading into one of those zappers that has a bright light to attract them. One character says, “Don’t go into the light” and the other responds, “But it’s so beautiful!” And that bug is then zapped. We always laugh at that and have used that line (“But it is so beautiful”) often to express our concern for people who go toward something that is not good for them. In the movie, “Percy Jackson, The Lightning Thief” they find themselves in Las Vegas at this “Lotus” hotel. They lose days in this hotel, because there are no windows or clocks (typical for casinos) and they are fed these Lotus Flowers, which drug them. They finally snap out of it and leave. How many days have I gone through, not remembering what I accomplish? Do I numb my mind with thoughtless activities like cruising social  media or watching endless TV programs or movies? Do I thoughtlessly eat? Do I mindlessly read junk? How do we “snap out of it”????

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We are an inherently spiritual being. Each of us. We are created in the image and likeness of our Creator. We long for that intimate love relationship with the God of all Creation. And we all have this “God Hole” that we try to fill with things. Sometimes the world is a cruel place and humans are cruel to one another, creating individuals who are damaged and seek relief through drugs, alcohol, overeating, shopping, and other behaviors. All the while, people are trying to fill this gaping hole inside each of us. You cannot own enough shoes to fill that. You cannot buy enough leggings or tools or toys for yourself or your children, and expect to find fulfillment and contentment. You cannot drink enough alcohol to fill this wound, this hole, that only God can fill. And it saddens me greatly. Because I am just as guilty as many, in that I acquire things and have behaviors that are not, arguably, the things and behaviors of a Godly woman, wife, and mother. Because quite often, I lack the fortitude to persevere in my faith walk. It is much easier to plop on the couch with a cup of coffee and an Oreo in my hand, and check Facebook, than it is to accomplish something meaningful, like prayer. Or comforting a friend or loved one. Or doing the duties I have acquired from my station in life – a housewife and homeschooling mother. Being lazy is much easier than being accomplished, but the rewards are definitely not the same.

I read an article this morning about why millennials don’t go to Church and how the American Church is losing people faster than they are gaining them. The article spoke to all the ways the American Church could act, to attract these young people. And as I read the article, several things struck me. It was not about any of the mainstream Churches in America. It certainly was not about the Eastern Catholic or Orthodox Churches. Much of what they were proposing Churches do, most of the mainstream Churches offer already. One of the complaints is that the American Churches need to adapt to the world around them. I took great offense at that. I love my Church specifically because it has NOT changed. I see lots of young people in there every week. I am seeing more women dress more modestly and even wear veils. They prefer that their faith remains steadfast, strong, and unchangeable. It offers them comfort in a crazy world. It helps them fight their addictions by remaining the same – unmovable, unchangeable, and steadfast. “And on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18 This is where millennials, and whoever is hurting in this world, needs to come to be filled with God. It is a place for the broken, the hurting, the sinners.

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It is not easy to fight addictions. At all. There are attractions, tempting us almost 24/7 into sin and deviant behavior. We make almost hourly choices towards good or towards evil. And with Great Lent soon upon us, it is the perfect time to slow down and focus on these many addictions, and to seek God’s Grace to help us fight them. To help us overcome them by filling our empty lives and hearts with Him, instead of stuff.

One great suggestion given to me was to do the “40 bags over 40 days” purging project. Definitely doing that this year. The timing is perfect for our family. Another suggestion I saw was to spend 1 day per week with no electricity in the evenings. Instead you light candles and read, pray, play games together. But nothing you do can be supplied by electricity. The author of the blog about it noticed some immediate benefits.

(Here is the link to the article:

http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jennifer-fulwiler/8-reasons-to-turn-out-the-lights-during-lent#.WK3C5oWG7FI.facebook)

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Here in the wintry north, sunset comes early. But I still think this could be a valuable Lenten aid, in that it quiets our lives. It calms us down. It helps set a mood, a tone, in our home of quiet reflection. As one who reads by Kindle at night, going to bed without reading will be weird, but maybe it is time I took a break from that habit. We would have to turn off our phones (agh! We’d have to talk to one another!). And there would be no TV or computer. My son does his Spanish totally online, so I would have to be sure he’s on top of his lessons before we unplug! My Instant Pot dinners would have to be completed on time. No late night laundry panics. We would just sit in the candle light and be together as a family. I think this may assist us with some of our addictive behaviors.

Please consider slowing down and coming more into the Presence of God. Rededicate yourself to becoming closer to He Who created the world. Closer to He Who commands the seas and sets the sun on its rounds every day; Who holds the stars in His hands. He is so much greater than anything we try to substitute for Him.

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

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