Technology, Yoga Pants, and God

Blogging has become something of a chore of late. WordPress (who I blog through) is changing how you blog, and my computer is not playing nice. It is old and although it doesn’t seem to me that it’s so old that I need to replace it, it’s so old that I need to replace it. I have a MacBook and I love it. But its operating system is so ancient, I cannot upgrade. My keyboard is starting to stick and more often than not, spaces are not where they should be, or keystrokes are flat out missing.  Some keys have no letters on them any longer; others fly off when I type. So, I get frustrated. I had this amazing post all ready to go last week and each time I saved it, it deleted it. So frustrated. I am trying again, using the new format. Another new factoid for you – did you know that double spacing between sentences is no longer required? The typesetting abilities of computers space each letter, according to its need, so we no longer have to leave big spaces between sentences. If you do, your typing will look all off-kilter. I often have to go back and re-space things.  Another frustration! Ha-Ha!

So here I am, musing over many things today. Let’s just say, I have little, annoying “peas in my mattress.” For me, when something keeps popping into my head, it means I have to deal with it or I don’t get restful sleep or good days of accomplishments. One thing for me is the whole area of education, Common Core, standardized testing. Ugh. We opted out of testing this year. It took some courage, but we decided it was not in the best interest of our family. So we did not play. In addition to that, I discovered that our homeschool program requires participation in statewide, national standardized testing (aka Common Core) and will not compromise (as in allowing other tests or not testing at all). So now I am feverishly looking for schooling alternatives for our son. He only has two years left!!! And here I was, thinking we could cruise through the next two years! Unfortunately, because dollars yell louder than parental rights, Common Core is becoming required in all districts who take federal funding (and all programs who taking funding, homeschool or brick-and-mortar schools). Add to that the ACT/SAT are now CC aligned, and recently, even the GED became CC aligned. You can’t get away from it. But I am certainly going to try. It infuriated me, when I learned the details of CC and the annual testing. What the government wants to do with our personal data (I am not fooling myself; I know there really isn’t much personal privacy any more) makes me so angry, I am just not going to play their game as long as I can. Today I have been researching independent programs that do not take funding and do not test, and are not CC curriculum, either. The list is not that long. How sad. Moving to the “Last Frontier” is life saving in the sense that there are a lot of independent thinkers here. I was able to connect up with a few and will be attending a statewide conference this next weekend. Vendors will be there, so I can look at actual curriculum and decide what we are going to do.  Constitutional attorneys will be speaking. Legislation will be discussed. Good opportunity to learn about our options. Check that off my “pea in the mattress” list.

I finally filed my taxes on Saturday. Yes, I was avoiding it. I learned a valuable lesson – again. I need to trust more. I need to pray more. I need to realize the sky is not falling. It was a piece of cake. I sat there after e-filing my return and just sighed. We are even getting a small refund. Yay! Better than owing! Another check on my list.

As some of you know, we started working out and watching what we eat. We are overhauling our lives. We joined a health club and my husband even engaged a personal trainer for me, for just 1/2 hour a week. It does help. The other help is that we are doing this with our son and his wife, too. My husband, our married son, and our teenage son all meet at 5:00 AM, five days a week, Monday – Friday, and workout together. It’s funny, because there is not a lot of chatting going on, but being together just makes it better. My husband loves watching our sons interact and he is enjoying the “guy time” with his sons. My daughter-in-law and I work out in the afternoons together. Our health club offers free childcare, but she leaves the kids with my son when he gets home from work. They get time with Daddy each afternoon, and my DIL and I get girl time. Once again, not too much chatter going on, but we’re together and I love it. I miss her when we go separately due to scheduling conflicts (not much conflict at 5:00 AM!!).  Along with working out has come some realizations for me.

When you are not your best self, you can fall into habits that are not promoting a good life for you. Somehow, over the past 30 years, I became a couch potato. I am not sure how it happened, but it did. I’ve never been overly athletic, but I could hike and camp and fish. Now, taking a long walk hurts. It was one of the motivating factors to lose weight and get in shape. (Along with wanting to be there for my grandchildren). There is just so much to do outside here, that I wanted to be able to do it all and not be hindered by my lack of physical shape. I also realized that when someone is overweight, we don’t really see ourselves. I look down and think, “This looks good. I look okay today.” And then I see a photo and realize that I did not look great. I was fooling myself. When I look in a full length mirror, I see the truth of how I have let myself go. I am reminded of the Scripture passage from Corinthians, “We see darkly as in a mirror.”  Well, I actually looked and what I saw surprised me. I did not honestly realize what a large person I had become, because I don’t feel that way inside. I am the same as when I wore a size 8 and weighed 115 pounds. But that is not my reality. My trainer brought this to my forefront of thinking, having me work out in a mirrored weight room. You can’t get away from yourself. It was not on purpose for him; it is natural because most weight rooms are designed that way. I don’t think he even realized it was an issue for me. He also asked me why I did not wear work out clothes. I told him I could not find any my size. He told me to look harder. I have been working out in sweats. Let me tell you, working out being overweight creates enough sweat without adding to it by wearing “sweat pants.” I don’t need any extra help sweating. I wanted to find better shoes for both my son and myself, and so I went shopping with my daughter-in-law, my son, towing our adorable grandchildren with us. I had a sale coupon sent to me by my favorite deal app, “RetailMeNot” and so we headed out to Sports Authority (who had also sent me a coupon). I found shoes! Yay!  But, I also found work out gear specifically for heavy people. Imagine that! I had been looking at my local retailers and online, but honestly did not think Sports Authority would have work out clothes for me. I bought a pair of work out pants, or Yoga Pants, as they are called. I was nervous, but excited.

I got home and tried on my new shoes (which are neon green and blue – Go Seahawks!) and my Yoga pants, which are black. My teenager laughed at me when he saw my new outfit. I guess I shocked him, as I usually dress very conservatively and am mostly, “covered up.” I cried. And then we hugged. And then I went and sat down and prayed about it. Should I wear these Yoga pants in public? Euww… would I gross people out?Could I do this and be okay? And I realized a bunch of things about myself. God loves me. He loves me fat, skinny, sick, or healthy. He loves me as a sinner or in a state of grace. He flat out loves me. Regardless. No strings. No attachments. He loves me. He certainly doesn’t care if I wear sweats or Yoga pants; He is happy I am taking care of myself. But I don’t really love myself. I am disappointed in me and now that I really see me, I am sort of embarrassed. My sloth and gluttony are there for everyone to see. And wearing Yoga pants is truly no big deal. Everyone around me has been seeing me as I am for years – I’m the one who is just catching up. And because I realized I am joining the game pretty late, it spurred me on to keep at it. We’ve been taking the weekends off from working out and I can honestly say I miss it. And trust me, that is quite something for me to say. I showed up for my session with my trainer in my Yoga pants and shoes. I also wore my hair in a tight bun, exposing my white hair – ha-ha! But he greeted me warmly and we worked out for 45 minutes. Two ladies came by to ask me where I got my shoes (how funny is that? More Seahawks fans than you think up here!) and I was not embarrassed walking around the gym, mirrors and all. I am there. I am sweating this out, but I am present. And I am proud of myself for finally allowing myself to really look in a mirror. God taught me something about humility and unconditional love. All these years of being overweight, I still made friends; I was always welcomed into women’s groups and homeschooling groups. I stayed married to my best friend (who tells me all the time how beautiful I am. I love that man so much). And my Lord and My God loves me, even on my worst days or ugliest moments.

God never stops keeping us company; He patiently waits for us. He loves my frustrated pecking on this darn computer, and whispers thoughts to me to actually share with others. He walks with me as I deal with governmental over-reach and decisions for our youngest son and his future. He is there as we struggle through homeschooling and being a family. He encourages me to meet my debts and walks with me as I try to offer to Caesar what is Caesar’s (taxes). And God wants me to live a full, and long, life. So He is walking with me at the weight room and on the elliptical. He is in my daughter-in-law’s smiles and her high-fives when I get past my newest goal. He is in my husband as he texts me happy faces as I am working out. He is in our teenager as he scrounges for goodies in the cupboards and only finds healthy foods to eat, and eats it without grumbling. He is in my oldest son, hugging me and telling me how proud he is of me finally taking my health into my own hands. He is with me in the affirmations from our son who lives out of state. He is with me in my brother, calling out of the blue to encourage me. And He is with me in all the friends who stand with me and pray for me, and with me, for success in these areas and so many others. I am so blessed.

There is just one more thing that is bugging me today. When we are resurrected with Christ, we get our best selves, right? So if this getting into shape thing kills me, maybe the effort will get me bonus points and I’ll resurrect as my 20-something self? I am tongue-in-cheek kidding, I hope you know! But think about it. What is our best self? Is it when we are kneeling in prayer, covered in grace by Our Lord? Is it as a 20-year old, who thinks they have that “tiger by the tail”? Is it when we cross that finish line in our first marathon in our late 20s? Is it when we show up to work out, bravely wearing work out gear? Is it when we help our brothers, friends, and especially, our enemies? Is it when we work for the glory and money and fame? Or is it when we feed the poor or visit the shut in? Is it when we share our successes and try to help others? I’ve been ruminating on this over and over again. We are called by God to always strive to be our best selves. But when will we know we’ve accomplished our best self? Is it one of those moments where we reminisce about the “good old days?” I have memories of especially close moments to God, when I have felt Him touching me. Can we peak and then slide down again? (Since we are human, I automatically think, yes, we can slide down again). And every so often, I am glimpsing what I can become and what I can be, for God. Not for me, but for God. Will He tell me when I have reached that moment of Theosis, or being “one with God”?

My body is God’s temple and it needs an overhaul and deep cleaning. Great Lent is over and we are in the light of the gift of Easter. How am I honoring that gift? His patience with me? I plan to pray; I plan to keep working out to become healthier. I plan to remind myself often that God stands with me; my guardian angel stands with me; all the saints who have gone before me, they also stand with me. My husband, children, and friends – we stand together in faith. We are all working out our journey to God and together, all of us, we are the Church. We hold each other up and in prayer and love. And together, we can conquer all of this, in the name of Christ, Who gave His life for us.

He is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

“God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

PubPharThis past Sunday (yesterday) was the Sunday we celebrate as “The Publican and the Pharisee.”  It begins our three week preparation for Great Lent. It is hard to believe all the fasting and all the preparation for Pascha are already upon us.  But let me tell you, I am excited for Great Lent! It is an opportunity to truly become simple in how we live, how we eat, and how we pray.  We pray more, we attend more services at Church (my favorite is Pre-Sanctified Liturgy. Absolute favorite part of Great Lent. Thank you, Fr. Justin Rose, for that!) and we watch every bite that enters our mouth. It is good for the discipline in our lives, for us to experience Great Lent.  I actually look forward to fasting.  If you could see all of me, I am sure you would find that laughable, because I am overweight.  But I also love silent retreats – by far my best retreat experiences have all occurred at a silent retreat. And since I blog, quite often rather prodigiously, most people find the thought of me being silent laughable.  It is truly a case where opposites do attract!!  I love Great Lent, and I love silence.  Who would ever have thought that???
Our priest, Fr. Michael, gave a wonderful homily this week on the issues brought up by this look at a publican and a pharisee.  Publicans were the tax collectors.  They were not liked by the general population, because they took their money – but quite often, they took more than what was really owed to the government, which is why they were usually very rich.  The Pharisees were seen as the upper echelon of the religious class. They could always be found near the Temple; they knew the law and they kept to the “letter of the law” very strictly.  One of the most famous quotes from this Sunday is “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’”  He is pictured in the Icon standing, with arms outstretched to God, in a place of honor, and prays to God, looking down on the Publican.  The Publican, however, shows us in the Icon that he thinks of himself as a sinner by entering and remaining in a low place, inconspicuous to fellow worshipers, and the famous quote about him in this reading is: “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’”  Christ then exhorts us all to repentance by saying, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Luke 18:9-14).  In the Icon, we can see images of how these two men leave the Temple.  The Pharisee is shown leaving the Temple unforgiven and still in need of repentance, whereas the Publican, who came to the Temple, knowing his sinful nature, is shown leaving the Temple, forgiven and exalted.  We are all expected to know our faith and to practice it to the best of our abilities, as the Pharisee.  And we are also expected to behave as the Publican; we enter the Temple and seek forgiveness, knowing how very much we need it.
One of the questions asked during Father’s homily was, “Who do you identify with more, the Publican or the Pharisee?”  And that question made me think.  So often, we preach to others, but we do not live what we preach.  How many of us tell people to fast, to keep Sundays holy, to pray, to keep a holy home, and yet we do not fulfill our own commands to others?  I know I fail miserably in so many areas.  And each Lent I pick myself back up and try it all over again. For me, Great Lent is the time I rededicate myself to my faith, sort of like New Year’s Eve, when people write lists of what they want to accomplish in their year.  For those of us who follow the Church’s calendar, Pascha is the start of our New Year.  Great Lent is when we think about how we want to practice our faith, share our faith, and live our faith.  We start from scratch, so to speak, when we limit food intake and extend prayer time and religious observances.  It is a time to reconsider how we will approach our next year.  I certainly never make resolutions that are life-long, because I know myself and know I am not strong enough to do that. I will let myself down.  So I only take little bites at this.  I resolve things that are doable, and not on some fantasy list.  Great Lent is my opportunity to be still, to listen more intently to what God is asking of me, and to begin to be the person HE wants me to be. I resolve every year to be a better person.  Honestly,  I can say that because I only take small bites, the changes I try to enact usually stick! And that feels pretty good. I am a far better person than I was in my 20s,40s, or even last year.  I believe Great Lent gives me this chance every year to opt to be better at the end of those 40+ days.  (When we add weekends, and exact starting and stopping times, Great Lent is really about 45 days or so).  For us in the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, and for the Orthodox, Great Lent is kept every day, not just Wednesdays and Fridays.  The Church gives us this entire week to eat what we like – even on Wednesday and Friday, to prepare us for Great Lent, and to share with us that the Church knows this next period of fasting and abstinence is a difficult one.  More and more as the years go by, many of my friends and I do not just “give up” something like coffee or chocolate.  We add things.  We pray more.  We volunteer our time in our communities.  We resolve to spend more time as a family.  We read more and watch TV less.  There are so many ways to keep Great Lent as a special time, rather than solely giving up things.
Fifth Sunday of LentPart of Great Lent is facing ourselves, as the Publican did.  We beat our chests and we ask for forgiveness. We see those dark places that are a part of who we have become and we strive to allow the Light of Christ to enter in.  We pray more, we seek God more fervently.  And I am excited to get started!!!  This Sunday gave us pause, gave us a moment with some words from Christ, and a homily from our priest, to stop a moment and ponder – are we more like the Publican or the Pharisee?  The Kontakion for the day tells us:

“Let us flee the proud speaking of the Pharisee and learn the humility of the Publican, and with groaning let us cry unto the Savior: Be merciful to us, for Thou alone art ready to forgive.”

How do others see me? To them, am I the Publican or the Pharisee?  God gives us this coming time of Great Lent to work this out for our salvation.  I am looking forward to this opportunity to once again get my “house in order.”

Kneeling Prayer.Orthodox Church“Mine eyes are weighed down by my transgressions, and I cannot lift them up and see the height of heaven. But receive me, Savior, in repentance as the Publican and have mercy on me.”  (Doxastikon of the Aposticha, Saturday Vespers).

“…which one to embrace…”

Sleep is becoming a rare commodity. I just cannot seem to shut down my mind for long.  We move this Saturday!  Today is my husband’s last day at work.  Things have been pending for months, so for it to all of a sudden be down to days, it is a little daunting.  Packing and purging are such a drudgery…everything aches. My head pounds as I have to sift through all these things we have accumulated, constantly asking myself if we need this or just want this particular item; can I throw it away or give it away and not need it or miss it later on?  It is interesting when you get down to some of the basics in life, how truly little you honestly do need.  I read this great Homily by Abbot Nicolas of Holy Resurrection Monastery today.  He gave it on Bright Monday and in it he addressed the issue of the western notion of “giving up” things during Lent and other times of fasting and abstinence.  And it struck me that I am slowly developing this attitude that while I am certainly giving up certain items that I have had for awhile in my life and in the life of my family, I am finding that instead of it being a sacrifice, it is more of getting into alignment with the person God is calling me to be.  Abbot Nicolas tells us that we are all called to these mystical experiences not just inside the Liturgy, but inside the life of all Christians.  We are becoming a part of the Trinity itself.  He further states, “Our vocation as mystics challenges us to be ascetics, to purge away everything in our nature that doesn’t support our deepest desire to be united to God. It is this ascetical dimension to our mysticism that makes the Byzantine “sense of mystery” so intensely practical.”  And this is where my purging to move has had not just a practical use (trust me, it all has to fit into a 20-foot truck) but also a spiritual, or mystical use.  When we pare away the dross of our lives and become a simpler, humbler people, we notice God working in our lives much easier.  There is so much noise and chaos in the world, and we surround ourselves with things that we hope bring us peace and quiet.  Sort of like wrapping a baby in swaddling – keeping them content and warm and baffled against the inputs of the world.  It is hard to go from a newborn, used to the quiet warmth of the womb, into the bright and noisy world.

Blessed Seraphim

Abbot Nicolas reminded me that we must live the Liturgy in our daily lives.  We must make room for God each and every day.  There is this great Facebook page that is called MonkRock and their motto is: You don’t have to be a monk to live like one!  I love that entire concept.  (They have a great web site called http://www.monkrock.com and offer lots of wonderful things for sale…support them if you can).  Abbot Nicolas said this about it, “There’s no competition here (shouldn’t be anyway!) between ceremony and charity, between social justice and moral living on one hand and sacramental ritual on the other. These are all stages on the same road, or movements in the same dance. Our Temple must be cleansed so we can worship. Our legs must be healed so we can walk into heaven on our own two feet. The Saints have power to work miracles, but not because there’s anything wrong with nature! Miracles show us what nature is already in process of becoming in the continuous and never-ending process of creation leading ultimately to the “New Heaven and the New Earth” of the Eschaton.”  For me, cleaning out my temple has had a practical side – I have pared down our things to just the barest of necessities.  There are so many things which can place artificial barriers between us and those we love, especially God.

I have a son who has attention deficit disorder.  I was initially poo-pooing the whole ADD thing in pop psychology and have fought for my son to not bear labels he can never be rid of, so I approach his disorder in a natural way and ordering our little world goes a long way in dealing with his ADD. Being a teenager brings its own set of issues, and throwing ADD and homeschooling into the mix creates a miasma of circumstantial issues.  Everything in its place and a place for everything has been my motto for all of our children.  With this child in particular, it has had a huge impact.  It is as simple as no Legos on the table when he is doing math.  He will rebuild that Lego creation over and over again, even if just in his mind, and get very few math problems accomplished.  This process of our move has proved extremely agitating for him. His new pet saying is, “My world has been turned upside down and I can’t find anything!!!” usually said dramatically with both hands on his head.  He stood in the door of his room, after his dresser was given away and said to me, “Mom, I just don’t know what to touch first.  Will you help me?” Music to a mother’s ear! Ha-Ha!  And so we tackled his room, piece by piece, and inch by inch.

Gods planI am like my son with his ADD when it comes to God.  So much gets in the way and my path is not clear at times; I often stand there, with both of my hands on my head, too. The world offers us noise and chaos…that is what the lord of this world does to distract us from the path we need to take.  We all have a certain amount, or tendency towards, ADD when it comes to our relationship with God.  How many of us are exhausted at Liturgy some days and can barely hide a yawn, but after Liturgy rush off to hike in the local hills?  How many things do we place between ourselves and an honest relationship with Our Lord?  Abbot Nicolas encouraged us to see that there is no real separation between Liturgy and life, but rather these are all stages on the same road, or movements in the same dance. And as I look about me, there is less and less of the stuff of this world to get between me and living my faith in my daily life.  And as I have been purging my things I have also been purging the stuff getting in the way of my spiritual life.  When I honestly look at most of the things I am packing, I could really drive off in my car with my family, our pets, and the clothes on our backs and I could start over with nothing at all.  I would miss the memorabilia I have collected over the years, but the important things in my life would be with me…my family and my faith.  My pathway towards eternity would certainly have less clutter to wade through!!  All this clutter is both worldly clutter insofar as noisiness, stuff, and bother, but it is also the clutter in my heart and mind that I must process through…a simpler mindset is a simpler path towards God and is a part of my process of Theosis.

Kaliningrad Oblast Russia