“…you are the witnesses of these things…”

Today I sat and reviewed the past two weeks of Lent. Hard to believe it has been 15 days already! I re-read my Gratitude Journal. It is amazing how my words have changed, and yet my prayers are still directed towards the same goals! My goals? “To rekindle and return to the life I led that was far more faithful in the past. To be more simple and quiet. Being centered on God’s word, and to wean myself off social media.” Those were taken right out of my journal. I find it interesting that this Lent has been so instructive, and at the same time, has kept me striving to become better and better, in pursuit of the goals I set for Great Lent 15 days ago.

The impact of giving things up, for me, has been to add so many other, and far more fruitful, habits. It is nice to have a silent home most of the day. It is nice to not worry about the most recent posting or status of someone on Facebook. Guess what? Millions and millions of people exist quite happily with no social media accounts. Funnily enough, people who make their money on social media usually do not use it for themselves, and severely limit it for their own children. I wonder what they know? Perhaps they understand that those platforms greatly invade our privacy, and that too much interaction on media platforms is not healthy for our minds or our psyches.

“…you are the witnesses of these things…” Luke 24: 46-48

We see so much happening around us. We hear so much. There is sometimes just too much input. We need to take a break, away from the world. I love that Spring is approaching and we can slowly see the sun more often and longer, and that the skies are an incredible shade of blue. Soon, plants will begin emerging (it may take awhile up here – we have over 7-feet of snow on our front yard!) and birds will be singing. I envision times with family, away from the crowds. I cannot wait to hang out with my husband while he chases those elusive salmon. And I sit with him, as he struggles with his gear, on the quiet of a river bank. I am in the quiet of nature and am often overwhelmed by the beauty around me. I can be there in mere minutes, from where I live, and not hear another human or any sound that is not from nature. And it fills my soul.

I know that I am growing and that this Lenten study is helping me to grow. I am relying on my morning prayer time to center my days, rather than the latest status or posting on social media. I am reading the Bible every day. I am ingesting the Word of God for His people and am learning more and more. I am feeling a warmth and love, a buoyancy in my heart, that I did not have before this. Reading the Psalms every day has lifted my spirit more than I ever thought it would. And I feel blessed. So very blessed.

Sometimes we can allow depression to get the better of us. I know I have. It is my first full winter in Alaska, when sunshine was not seen for months, and we have had weeks and weeks of daily snowfall. I never fully understood the effect of darkness on the psyche. I happily chew my Vitamin D3s every day, but I can assure you, being able to open your drapes and see sunlight is amazing for your mind! But I allowed depression to affect my daily routine. I became despondent in the fact that I was not hopeless, but in the definition of despondent, I do believe I lacked courage. Courage to face the things that were/are lacking in myself. Things that need to go, or things that need to be added. Lent is a blessed time we are given to allow us to dig in and make these changes. I know that for me, even in my “gratitude” journal, I have been able to note the things that need to go, or things that need to be faced and dealt with. I am still nowhere near where I should be. But I faced these things. I wrote them down. I decorated the pages! And I am chipping away at my many and myriad faults, trying to become a healthy and worthwhile Child of God. I know nothing I can do will make me worthy; my faith is a gift. My works do not guarantee a spot on the winning team, but I also know that works done with heaven in mind, and with salvation in mind for those I am working with or for, is loved by God. He appreciates our efforts. He loves our struggle. Read the Book of Job. That details struggles most of us could never imagine. But God rewards perseverance. He loves a heart that gives itself to Him alone. And I am learning more and more as I age, and as I persevere, that God’s choices for us are not the world’s choice for us.

Being “woken up” during Lent, to further work at our faith life, is such a blessing. We, as Christians, are not perfect; only forgiven. And it is a further blessing that each time we fall, the angels themselves are there to help us up again: “For God command His angels to guard all your ways. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” (Psalm 91:11-12) I know my guardian angel has his hands so very full. But I also know that I can rest and trust in the Word of God for my life. And I am finding such a deep peace, even rest, residing in His Word for me. I may be depressed and have worries; we all have them, but I also know that God has totally surrounded me with His angels and His saints, protecting me. And sometimes, He protects me from myself. Which is probably where I need the most help. I know that turning off, and turning away from, the world, has helped immeasurably. God is so good; He brought this Lenten Study to my attention and in a moment, had me push all the right keys so I could be a part of it. His blessings sometimes blow me away!!

And on this, St. Patrick’s Day, may you always be blessed with faith, friends, and family!

“…and He shall sustain you;”

For it is not an enemy that reviled me—that I could bear—
Not a foe who viewed me with contempt,
from that I could hide.
But it was you, my other self,
my comrade and friend,
You, whose company I enjoyed,
at whose side I walked
in the house of God.

That is from Psalm 55:13-15. And it was just a small portion of my readings today. But this series of comments from the Psalmist really hit me. It is the lament of a betrayal by someone the writer was intimately friends with. I think that those who we walk in a common faith with, have a certain place in our hearts that is special, and reserved for them in a special way. We tend to trust those we pray with, those we “walk in procession in the house of God,” in a special way. And when those people turn out not to be what they presented themselves as, that presents a special ache in our hearts. However, the Psalmist also says, “God will never allow the righteous to stumble.”(Psalm 55:23)

I took great comfort from this. It is not a matter of one winning and one losing. It is, rather, a protection for both. Because as I read this, I came to see that through my continued prayers and time spent with just God, and His Word, I have been able to control my anger more and more. I journaled about the fact that I am not normally an angry person. I do get frustrated, and that can lead quite easily to anger. But when I have felt betrayal, I have reacted in anger, out of a deep, deep hurt. But God does not allow us to stumble. He will protect us from our worst selves. And he has done that for me. Even when I have felt that betrayal from those closest to me, I have been truly able to let it go. I have quite literally felt the anger, and the pressure of that emotion on my body, leave me. I felt lighter, and so much peace. Our journaling prompt today was to think on how we let our anger go. And I honestly have been able to let things go so much easier, relying on the mercy of God and His Providence over my life, rather than those old patterns of knee-jerk reactions. God has been kind to me. And my continuing growth through this process can only lead to even better outcomes. I love this quote by Saint Seraphim, “Acquire a peaceful spirit and thousands around you will be saved.”

I read this article today about the 5-Second Rule for making decisions and choices…which is not about picking food up off the floor before the germs invade. Rather, it is giving yourself a 5-second delay/review period before making a decision, saying something, reacting in some way to input you are receiving. And after that 5-seconds, you are to do something, say something, react, and be physical in your reaction. That 5-second break is sometimes all we need to stop ourselves from making a poor decision. And it is sometimes the small review period we need to make the right decision. Sadie Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, spoke to how using this is helping her navigate growing up in a world where poor choices are rampant and much easier to make. She was pretty articulate in how this method has helped her be a better person, and make better choices. Well for me, I did not realize that I had actually started doing that, too. In those 5 Seconds, I have been silently saying the Jesus Prayer, when these things happen to me. And it is working! I am finding myself becoming more patient, quieter, and much happier.

“God will never allow the righteous to stumble.” If I truly want God to be in charge of my life, He will not allow me to stumble. All He asks is that we listen. Just listen. There was this popular country song entitled, “Jesus, take the wheel,” wherein the woman is lamenting her life and crying…she was driving home to visit her parents for Christmas and it was snowing, her small baby sleeping in the back seat. She was not paying attention and hit a sheet of ice, coming to rest in a snow bank. And that’s when she asked Jesus to “take the wheel,” because she was regretting the “road she was on” and asked Him to just “take the wheel, take it from me.” And I am thankful I did not need to careen off the road on a sheet of ice (well, okay, the hubby and I recently experienced life in a snowbank, after trying to stop suddenly on an icy road, so I know how she feels) but it did not take that sort of 2 x 4 to my head to make me stop the road I was on. Instead, the Church gave me Great Lent. It caused me to stop, to think, to pray, to re-evaluate, to re-order my priorities. We are so blessed we are given this “annual review period” to get our lives back on track.

Continued prayers and blessings for an amazing Lent this year.

“…and I am now standing at your gates, Jerusalem.”

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Every once in awhile (I am not a theologian, so don’t know the exact occurrence) the eastern and western worlds join together for Lent. Today marks Ash Wednesday, when the western Christians join the eastern Christians and Orthodox, who began Lent on Monday. And it is so joyful to walk together during this season of preparation and a cleansing of our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies as we prepare to walk with Christ to Calvary and weep, and then celebrate with Him His Divine, and glorious, Resurrection.

This year I am doing a new Lenten Study and I am so excited. (It is by http://www.orthodoxmom.com and I highly recommend her blog and her Facebook page, too). I am not in the least artsy, as those who know me well will attest to. But this year, I am keeping a notebook and journals. One is a journal about the Psalms, and another is called the “Gratitude Journal.” And each day’s assignment offers us a time to reflect upon our readings and the things we are grateful for (it is a directed reflection). The first three days have been staggering for me, to say the least. The author of the study has carefully weaved our Scripture readings together and I have already learned so much in such a short time (which is why I was compelled to post).

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Lent is a time when we reflect, we pray, and we fast. And through these processes, we hope to come to a better place in our walk with Christ. It is a time when we try to still that chaos that is the world, and spend time in quiet reflection and prayer. In the Scriptures (Matthew 17:19-21), Christ admonishes the Apostles for their lack of faith in trying to exorcise demons:

“Then the disciples came to Jesus privately, and said, “Why weren’t we able to cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your unbelief. For most certainly I tell you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. But this kind doesn’t go out except by prayer and fasting.”

There are times when simple faith is not enough to move the mountains we face, nor exorcise the demons in our lives. We need to pray – and fast. And that is an integral part of Lent. We deny ourselves all this instant gratification. Of course there are many who also admonish that if you Fast from food, but gossip or slander someone, how are you a good Christian? How is that fasting from the demons inside us all? Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Envy, Anger, Pride, and Sloth are characterized as the 7 Deadly Sins. What can we do to eradicate them from our lives? How can we lessen the impact they have upon our souls? The Roman Catholic Church teaches us the Capital Virtues, which counteract each of these sins. They are: Chastity, Generosity, Temperance, Brotherly Love, Meekness, Humility, Diligence. How do we get these virtues? We pray. We starve the enemy of our flesh by denying it the thing it wants. Sloth and Gluttony, I have said many times, sit on either shoulder for me. How do I starve them? I set an alarm clock, I make a list, and I tackle my daily duties with zealous abandon, fighting sloth! This year, I took Facebook off my phone. I am trying to distance myself from social media. It can become a crutch and every bit a sickness, like an addiction. It sucks your time and adds to your sloth. What can you be accomplishing if you spend hours on a computer, reading things that are not necessary, nor edifying, but gauged to our interests so they suck us in? What desire am I feeding? How many sites do I need to go to? How many ways can I distract myself from my life? And how can I combat that? I sometimes have to help my lesser self (or that bad demon on my shoulder) to become my better self (the angel on the other shoulder) by denying myself – on purpose. Gluttony? Well, fasting sure helps with that. We are returning to Whole30 and who knew there was a Whole30 support group for those to use during Lent? So excited to find that! We have to work with what we know to be true about ourselves, in order to help ourselves. It’s why I took Facebook off my phone, along with lots of apps and groups. I make it harder for myself to get to it – like putting that bag of Oreos on top of the fridge, behind the cookbooks, making it harder for me to indulge myself. And to be honest, this year for Lent, there are no cookies in the house to begin with. I know Gluttony all too well. It is one of the many demons I constantly and consistently struggle with. And it is one of the ones I desire most to conquer this Lenten fasting period. I need to control my desire for food and replace it for a desire that will benefit my soul.

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Lent is our eternal struggle condensed into just 40 days. But the Church, in her wisdom, gives us this time every year. We are not expected to become Saints overnight. I love that about my faith. I try, sincerely, to make the right choices day in and day out. Some days I get it pretty good and can lay my head on my pillow with a clear conscious. Some nights, not so much. “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” is often recited as I finally get to sleep.

During my reading for this Lent, I read an article about forgiveness. In the Eastern and Orthodox Churches, we begin Lent on Forgiveness Sunday. On this day (the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday) we actually make lines around the Church and each parishioner approaches each other parishioner, asking for and giving, forgiveness. I can honestly say that the first time I participated in this, I wept as I made my way around the Church. How humbling and how beautiful. But when we think about forgiveness, what is it? In this article by Metropolitan Anthony of Sorozh (+2003)  in the Orthodox Heritage Vol 05, Issue 2, February 2007, he says, “Forgiveness begins at the moment when, realizing the frailty of others as I realize mine, the need of others for help, for mercy, and for protection, I am prepared together with them to bear the burden of their weakness, their frailty or their sinfulness. Forgiveness begins at the moment when I take it upon myself to put up with others, without waiting for them to change, to put up with them as they are in order to make lighter their burden and to make it possible for them to eventually change.” He goes on later to say, “Every one of us, side by side with them, have people who are difficult to bear, who are a cause of suffering, of misery or of anger; we can undo this anger and outgrow this misery if we make our task, the task of our life, our business, to carry their burden together with them, to be the person who, wounded and offended, and rejected, will turn to God and say, ‘Lord, forgive, because I bear no grudge, I want to become and remain solid with this person in his frailty and his sinfulness. I will not stand in judgement against him, and I am not yet capable of doing this. You do this for me: do not endorse my judgement, do not endorse the condemnation I rashly have pronounced, do not stand by me in my anger. Stand by the person who has done wrong, because he, because she needs help, forgiveness and healing, for that very reason.'” forgiveness

And so we begin Lent by learning to forgive. Truly forgive. This quote above stunned me into silence. It caused me to rethink what I know about forgiving others. Our Psalm readings were full of the forgiveness from God. And I realized I was actually excited about Lent, and that I was preparing for this Lent to be one of change for me. I was getting a notebook and making dividers; I even got stickers and colored pens! I bought a new journal and yesterday, I began writing things about the Psalms. And I was happy – happy about a task of cleaning my heart and soul and becoming more in tune with God. Because I know I can only become better through this process. As I eagerly began to read the Psalms, I read, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ And now I am standing within your gates, Jerusalem.” (Pslam 123). And reading that, I smiled. I had been looking forward to this journey, and now I was on the doorstep. And we are all fully into Lent, as of today.

I am apprehensive (as change is always hard) and exultant at the prospect at becoming a better me. God is not done with me, yet. And I know He is not done with any of us, either. Thanks be to God for this opportunity. Blessed and Holy Lent, everyone.

my-path-meme

“…grant me to see my own sins…”

The readings at Mass last night were some of my favorites. They reminded us that God wants us to trust Him. That worrying cannot add a day to our lives. (Matthew 6:26). Our priest spoke about his early days, as a new driver. He was so concerned with staying in his lane, he would focus on the lines, often missing what was around him, and even what was in front of him.

pharisees

From this example, I readily laughed at all the times I, too, get so concerned about lines, that I am missing what is around me. Every year, I endeavor to keep all the rules of the Great Fast – during Great Lent. One great quote I love is an exchange between two people. One asked the other, “How do you plan to keep the fast?” And the other replied, “By paying attention to what is on my own plate.” Sometimes I get so concerned over thoughts like, “Am I doing this right?” “Am I fasting enough?” “Did I remember my prayers?” “Are my kids doing it right/enough/with the right attitude?” And somewhere in there, I am forgetting that I need to prepare my heart.

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Matthew 5:21-23

The Book of Matthew exhorts us to leave those Pharisaical ideals and be simpler. How can you fast and do prayers and make prostrations, when you are in a long-standing fight with your brother? Your friend? Your boss at work?

truefasting

This Great Lent, which for those of us who practice in the Eastern Catholic/Orthodox Churches, began today with “Clean Monday,” I am trying to pursue different sorts of Lenten practices. I am going to get rid of behaviors that are not good for me, and I am going to foment those that help me. The lines I follow will probably not look like your lines, as in Father’s story last night about driving.

comingtoastreetnearyou

Up here in Alaska, the lines in the roads are pretty much blurred, at best. We have snow. Then we have ice on top of snow, with some more snow on top of that, just to make driving more interesting. Last night we had some thawing, along with some amazing road plowing, and we could see the roads, and the lines. About 7:00am today, it started with icy-fog and crystals floating around. By 8:00 am, we had falling snow. It wasn’t even swirling; just falling straight down. It has been doing that for the past 4 hours. We have at least another inch or so on top of that morning ice fog. The lines are gone, again. So we make our own lines; our own lanes. And so it goes until Spring Thaw (which is looking more and more like May). You learn to ad-lib and be flexible while driving. And I am taking this analogy about snow driving without lines to my approach to Lent. I will be flexible and learning to adapt to new ways of looking at it; looking to my own plate, so to speak.

thingstofastfrom

I have had priests and spiritual fathers caution me over the years to try adding something, rather than giving something up. Yes, we should curtail our diets and definitely fully fast on specific days the Church requires, but generally, we should work at adding things to our lives that we normally leave out or ignore. How often do we spend time in silence, perhaps reading a book by one of the Early Church Fathers? How often do we sit in silent prayer, perhaps praying the Rosary or the Jesus Prayer? Have you read through the Psalms and made notes? One Orthodox writer I love suggests keeping a journal of everything we are grateful for. And also one on our readings of the Psalms and other spiritual works each Lent. It helps to journal, to see how we grow. Each year we can give up chocolate or sugar or coffee…we can abstain from foods, but what about behaviors? In the words above, there are ideas of things we can abstain from during Lent.

5thingsforlent

But what can we add, to make Lent more meaningful? Have we forgiven those who have wronged us? Have we sought forgiveness from those we have wronged? Do we repent for the evil in our lives and what we have done to add to it? Do we abstain from harmful music or movies or books? How can we develop a culture of true, Christian love for one another when we read “50 Shades of Gray” or go to those types of movies? How does a book like that generate so many sales? And it is just the first in a series. People laud it as a love story. Really? (The book sold 29 million print and 15 million digital copies in 2012. It topped the 2012 best-seller lists in the categories adult fiction and romance). What sort of love are we sharing with others? I’ve often blogged about that hole in our hearts that only God can fill. I believe this example shows us where people lack spirituality in their lives. For those of us who identify as Christians, how are we presenting ourselves to others? Do you know that today, you may be the only “Christ” people see – perhaps ever? Especially during Lent, we need to turn inward and focus on our personal relationship to our Spirituality and our core beliefs, so we can present ourselves to others.

“Ever the lawyer, Tertullian the apologist subscribed to the view that the best defense is a good offense. His treatises To the Gentiles and Apology directly attacked pagan beliefs and practices as superstitious and immoral, and argued that the Christian life as taught in Scripture and practiced in the church was morally superior. He imagined pagans looking at Christians and saying, “Look . . . how they love one another (for they themselves [pagans] hate one another); and how they are ready to die for each other (for they themselves are readier to kill each other).” (Tertullian, as quoted on the website, Christianhistoryinstitute.org)

Can you imagine if people knew we were Christian just by watching us? How we drive? How we shop? How we live in our homes? How we treat others in the workplace? In our families? And all the other interactions we have daily? How can we make Lent a time for us to reconnect to our base in our faith?

This year, for the first time in many years, I am going to participate with the Roman Church and try to attend some Lenten offerings at our local parish. I haven’t see the “Stations of the Cross” or prayed those prayers in decades, literally. I haven’t participated in a lot of things over the past few decades. I dearly, dearly miss our Liturgy of the PreSanctified Gifts. And I dearly miss our prostrations during the Prayer of St. Ephraim. I carry that prayer with me always. Our Eastern practices offer us so many opportunities to reflect and repent. Almost daily services, like Vespers, where we can pray the prayers of the Church with others who are working on their own salvation. Salvation is not an event; it is a process. And one that the Church offers us to work on over and over again. We are blessed with the words of the early Saints and Martyrs; those closer to the time when Christ walked the earth; simpler ages. I love the stories of St. Ephraim, the Syrian. And the writings and prayers he left us are priceless. “Lord and Master of my life…” is just a magical way to address God in prayer.

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I will always pray that prayer. This year, I will revisit some other prayers I have long ago treasured. It is beautiful to know our Church is truly universal and we can gain from all her rites and prayers, songs and chants, and places of worship. This year, I am praying for enlightenment and a different approach to life that will stay with me. And perhaps I will find my own lines in the snow. And perhaps I will look up and see what is right in front of me, keeping my eyes on my own plate and not the plate of others. I think that is a good start, here on Clean Monday.

“Action is worth nothing without prayer…”

Oh man oh man oh man….today I was assaulted with so many things that are near and dear to my heart. My mom, most of all. Alzheimer’s is just such a weird disease. It robs the person of their sense of self, in the moment. They have this vast memory for their distant past, but do not recall if they have eaten or showered recently. It robs you of meaningful conversations. I did not realize how dependent upon my mom I still am. I mean, I have been married for 32 years. I have not lived with my mom in about 40 years. We have lived in different states for much of my marriage. But the weird thing is that I have always known she was “there.” And that she was there for me. If I needed her, she would part the Red Sea herself to be at my side. My mom is tiny but she is a force of nature. A long time ago, many, many years ago, when we were living in the Los Angeles area, I liked a boy. His name was Armando. I was besotted. Totally. My first love. He used to walk me home and we’d sit on the front steps and just talk. I was 12 or 13. We never even held hands! Back then if you liked someone, you would dedicate songs to them on the local radio. When Armando dedicated a song to me, I thought I was in heaven! Well, this other girl in our school liked him, too. About this same time, I was playing flag football in our neighborhood with my brother and some buddies, and both of my knees “gave out on me.” Now remember, this was back when there were dress codes. Girls were not allowed to wear pants. Only dresses. And they had to be a specific length. No mini skits allowed. Anyway, I was taken to the hospital after our football game and was immediately casted on both legs, from my ankles to my hips. Both legs. Both of them. In dresses. At a desk or bench. Can you imagine? I was given a waiver to wear my gym shorts underneath. How nice of them. I also was on crutches. (Did I ever mention that I also had glasses and braces? Gee, not too much of a standout, was I??? And at the age when you want to melt into the scenery, too). As I made my way to the back gate, to meet my mom for a ride home after school one afternoon, this other girl decided she and her friends would beat me up. (Because I guess she would get rid of the competition and what guy doesn’t like you beating other girls up for him???). My mom arrived and saw a pile of girls beating someone. Not knowing I was at the bottom of that pile, my little 4’11” mom jumped in and started yanking girls off by their hair, yelling at them. At this time, a teacher came up to assist her. Imagine her surprise at finding me at the bottom, all bloody and bruised and in need of another hospital visit? The point is my mom had no idea it was me. She just knew someone needed help and she dove in. Armando and I didn’t have a chance after that. He was embarrassed and my parents had enough of LA and we put our house up for sale and moved to Orange County. (That same girl sent her little brother and his buddies after my brother a day or so later. It was just too much for my parents to deal with, so we moved away). But I will never forget my mom diving on top of all those girls (there were apparently 11 of them) and yanking them off a kid, not even knowing it was me, with her bare hands and her loud voice! She is a mama bear. And I love her for that. And I miss it. And now we are planning and arranging to have her come to live with us. It makes me sad. She will be here, but our conversations will be shallow. But I am banking on lots of hugs and her many comments, especially, “I love you, honey” from her. At least I will have HER. And I can’t think of a better way to show her how much I appreciate her having my back all these years, than by having hers, now, as she struggles with Alzheimer’s.

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And then today there was a post, chiding pro lifers who protest and pray outside abortion clinics. Basically, a man was saying that pro lifers need to come inside the clinics (like PP lets us inside them) and offer to support that mom, to pay her needs, and to adopt that child. Well, I responded, “Been there. Done that. A lot of us do. On a regular basis.” It made me angry. And the mother bear that I get from my mom came out in me. I desperately want to take in these babies. I would love to have them lined up in cribs in my home. But it is not feasible. (And I am now too old, per system requirements!!) We have done away with orphanages in this country. Instead, we have social services. Being a foster parent opened my eyes to all of that horrific-ness. I know social workers are over stressed with so many clients that they cannot do right by them all. I know the system is woefully inadequate. But I do not believe throwing money at it will help. We need to re-think how we do this. What’s wrong with lovingly operated orphanages where women could come to get prenatal care and even give birth, and then leave their babies so they could be adopted? I’d volunteer to help there. There has to be a way to reach more women who choose life for their children, but cannot parent them. I know so many families who would lovingly take a child to raise as their own. *sigh* Rant over.

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And today my hubby was subjected to so much turbulence on his flight to Juneau, he said it was the worst he’s ever experienced. I asked if he got sick and his reply was, “No. I was too scared. But I prayed a lot.” Isn’t that awesome? Me? I would have puked all over everyone. I barely fly in normal, clear weather. Yesterday, my oldest son showed me photos of where he’d been working, way up in the Arctic Circle. And then he showed me the  plane he flew home in. Absolutely not. Oh my word. So small. I need big, ginormous planes to feel safe. And my daughter-in-law’s parents are stuck and cannot get back up here, due to a storm hitting Seattle. My poor Seattle, to get 6″-12″ of snow in a day or two has closed them down. Their hilly streets are no match for that much snow. I do miss living there, but don’t miss the crazy driving on those hilly streets. One night I was at a stoplight in the pouring rain, so afraid of sliding down the hill as I tried to push my gas pedal, that in my head I kept hearing Cape Canaveral count downs…”Minus 60 seconds to launch…!!” I was that leaned back in my seat! I was shaking. Don’t miss that driving at all. And today we have sunshine but 10 degrees. Hoar frost all over everything, which makes the world sparkle. I love cold temps after the snow.

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And a friend was complaining that today was being “such a Monday.” I totally get that. Like I said, I was assaulted by so many things that were hitting my heart today. And some days are like that. Things fly at you from so many directions. My granddaughters, who live in SoCal, apparently discovered permanent markers that were hidden away. While mom and dad slept they painted the house, and themselves. The photos I received this morning were hilarious. I know I should not laugh, but that particular son of mine caused me to have poison control on speed dial. Life was so eventful with that particular child. And so it made me laugh that his daughters are following in his footsteps, complete with that little glimmer in their eyes. And it was another little crisis coming at me, as I scrambled for recipes using my essential oils, to help them clean that up (it’s lemon oil to the rescue, in case that ever comes up!). One of my friends is dealing with ill health of one of their pets. Another just had twin granddaughters. His daughter was a surrogate for his other daughter, who has had breast cancer and is unable to have children. I little miracle that made me smile today. After saying that, I won’t even go into the Super Bowl and that miasma of issues! But just to say that Mondays can sometimes undo us. And it can be joyous and laughter-filled, or total chaos. Sometimes those are just Mondays. When our children were small and we lived fairly quietly and isolated on a farm off a dirt road, I realized that Mondays were awful because it was fallout from busy weekends when we went into town and mingled with people. Soccer matches, or Church events, grocery shopping or visiting with friends. It was outside our normal pattern, and the day afterwards the kids were “out of sorts” and it made my Mondays stink. Truly. And as we get older, we get into habits. My mom remembers to eat because she does the same thing every morning – she walks to the cafe for coffee and chatter. Otherwise, if she just sat in her apartment, she would just sit. And forget to eat. And when her routine is disrupted, it can take a day or two for her to feel herself again. We are all like that. And right now, in our world, our lives are disrupted. It is not only Monday, it is pretty much becoming daily. Chaos and noise, busy-ness and business. We were not meant for this much humanity, rubbing up against one another constantly.

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Sometimes we need to unplug and just be quiet. No TV, no phones, no radios, no videos or video games. I can joyfully spend hours at home in silence, getting on with my day. My head can create enough turbulence in me just being me, and coming to terms with life. And with tensions so high in so many areas and for so many reasons, I like to dial it back a hair and just veg. Just be at home. Or perhaps coffee with a friend to chat. Or maybe stopping into a church for quiet prayer and reflection. “Holy Silence” is something I have learned along the way and I love embracing silence, being in communion with God. I can offer up all my toil for His use and His good ends. Offering our work for the Work of God and His Kingdom is a wonderfully humbling way to approach our days.

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“Silence is the door-keeper of the interior life.” (281) The Way by St. Josemaria Escriva

I love to think that doing little things, in silence, that benefit my family or my job, can be given to God and help to build my interior life with Him. On Mondays, when it all seems to go sideways, from the horrid commute (“Nothing’s wrong on the road today, it’s just Monday” – a quote on our local roadway page) to the craziness of our kids, and the failures we accomplish along the way…we can opt to reflect and to silently ask God for help and direction and peace.

“Action is worth nothing without prayer: prayer grows in value with sacrifice.” (81) The Way, by St. Josemaria Escriva.

“You say that you don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and once you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!’ rest assured that you have begun to do so.” (90) The Way, by St. Josemaria Escriva

womaninprayer

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Aurora.1Sometimes the world can seem so vast. There is so much that we are not truly familiar with. And yet, we make judgement calls about the world all the time. Judges, meting out justice from the bench, are supposed to be using their knowledge of the law, and making a judgement based on the law. They are not supposed to make their own laws, but rather uphold the ones we have on the books. They spend years learning laws, learning ways to defend the law, or the person accused of breaking the law. Some people are called to be prosecutors, some defenders. It is a pretty black/white thing, taken in its pristine form. But, as with much of life, there seems to be ambiguity inherent with our law system. And opinion; one cannot forget opinion. Trust me; I have one, which is why I blog. I share my opinion, my thoughts, with those of you who are interested enough to actually read them.

Today I was confronted with attitude. From several different sources. I love that I was blessed to haphazardly find my way to Anthropology from my start as a pre-law major, morphing into history, and finally finding archeology. I learned to have a broader perspective about things, and I also learned to appreciate differences. To actually look for, and explore differences. I try to not accept things on the basis of the cover. I was accused of judging young ladies one of my sons was dating, simply by their clothing, tattoos, and wildly colored hair. And I admitted that I was prejudiced – in my head, a “normal” girl didn’t present herself that way. I was so wrong. I also have learned that there are so many things that are not truly known to me, or by me. The world is, quite honestly, more complex and varied than we think. There is such a variety in the way in which we approach things. There is such a variety in how God presents His world to us.

moon sky mountains

I was raised and lived in pretty much a 100-square mile area in Southern California. I know traffic. I know smog. I know crowds. I know the beach, the mountains, the desert. I can tell you how to get somewhere and the relative amount of time it will take you to get there. Malls – I know all the good malls in Southern California. I know where to get deals on pretty much anything. The good towns, the places to avoid, the amusement park deals. Parades and major league sports venues. SoCal is full of all of that, and more. I just never realized there was something more out there. I mean, who knew what seasons really were? I never understood the whole Fall/Autumn thing until we lived in Washington. Oh my goodness. Fall is glorious in the Pacific Northwest. I also found out I could plant and grow, successfully, my own tulips. I had no idea there were so many types of tulips. I did not get gourds (why do we carve pumpkins and devour pumpkin pies??) until I lived where they grow them. I never liked asparagus, either, until I could buy it fresh, for less than $1 a bunch and cook it in so many ways (I mean, garlic and butter pretty much makes shoe leather edible). Another experience was living in a snow state. It is a wet state (parts are considered rain forest) but it is also a snow state. I learned to drive roads that are almost verticle on all-weather tires in ice, and also learned to maneuver around all sorts of road construction in pretty awful weather. I LOVED it! And then we decided to have the adventure of a lifetime (while we were still young enough to do it successfully) and relocate out of the contiguous United States, to the very far north. I can honestly say it has lived up to my expectations, and outdone them in so very many ways. This land is something that I never expected, and something I will take the rest of my life learning about and appreciating.

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One of the things I have learned is that I DO NOT KNOW EVERYTHING. (Hope those close to me, who know me well, didn’t just have mini-strokes, or heart attacks at that declaration!). And I love to experience new things. I am so interested in everything. I try to expose my mind to new things all the time. I try to not be closed off or to place walls between myself and new discoveries, knowing there is just a vast amount of knowledge I do not have. I’d like to chip away at acquiring more, the rest of my life. I want to constantly embrace new things and fill my mind, and my soul, with all the things I can learn. I am trying to leave words that hamper this desire out of my vocabulary (never, can’t, won’t, no). And I am working on not pre-juding people, situations, or even places and/or experiences.

I get frustrated when people say things like, “I would never…” or “I can never do…” when they have never ventured, never tried, never gone there (insofar as experiences). It is like a judge, who has the law before him, making a decision based on an opinion gained by reading the newspaper. We may think we have all the information we need, we may have dipped our toes in the water, but the ocean is not the beach. Saying all that, I KNOW I could never jump out of a plane. I can barely manage flying in one, let alone stepping out of one. My son used to do it for a living and told me, years afterwards, that he hated jumping, but got a kick out of landing, successfully. Adrenaline rush, etc. Not me. I am a scaredy-pants, just like my elusive cat, Rosie. So I do understand not taking certain risks, or do life-endangering antics, for the kick of it. And I do not judge those who are able to entertain those ideas, and even to act upon them. So, for the sake of my musings here, I am discounting that section of participants.

From the Book of Wisdom 7:21-25 (Douay-Rheims):

“And all such things as are hid and not foreseen, I have learned: for wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me. For in her is the spirit of understanding: holy, one, manifold, subtile, eloquent, active, undefiled, sure, sweet, loving that which is good, quick, which nothing hindereth, beneficent, gentle, kind, steadfast, assured, secure, having all power, overseeing all things, and containing all spirits, intelligible, pure, subtile. For wisdom is more active than all active things: and reacheth everywhere by reason of her purity. For she is a vapour of the power of God, and a certain pure emanation of the glory of the almighty God: and therefore no defiled thing cometh into her.”

I believe we all need to learn as much as we can. I don’t want to just grow older. I am praying that I also grow in wisdom. We need to make bucket lists and check those awesome experiences off, as we do them! I think we need to be brave, to embrace those roads less traveled and to not fear the new, the untried, the unfamiliar. Yes, there is danger around every corner. Sometimes there are no guarantees.

Looking back

I am the biggest chicken insofar as trying much that is new. I have the same clothes I have worn for the past ten years. I re-read the same books, over again, two or three times. I listen to music I listened to in high school. But about three years ago, as I was speeding down this very deserted highway (in a foreign country no less) at around 75 mph, on all-weather tires, on about a foot of ice and snow, I thought, “What are we doing?” My husband was trying to follow me, as I saw him through my rearview mirror, reaching out to manually wipe the accumulating ice and snow off his windshield. He was doing whatever he needed to do to stay wtih me. How blessed was I? Of course, he was also yelling into our walkie-talkie, telling me to “Slow down, woman!”  Ha-Ha. Good times. I doubt quite often the choices we have made. We plunge into things, thinking we’ve corned the market on all the possibilities. We try to really think things through, but inevitably, something comes out of left field that we had never expected. We got snow the week after we moved here – in June! I discovered icicles on my house and fell in love with them. (Now I totally understand icicles on Christmas trees, and those Christmas lights for your house that mimic real icicles!). What a bonus! I learned how to take out laundry in sub-zero temps. I can now cook moose and it tastes good! I can manage a sweater as my only cover in 20-degree weather. I have learned to make Ukrainian dishes for the different feast days. Me?! I am British, as in pot roasts and pots of tea! Ha-Ha!! I learned how to make Pascha cheese, in panty hose, in my shower (trust me – it really works!). But I am learning, still. I am experiencing new things. Still. I am trying to remove “no, can’t never” from my vocabulary. I am trying to not prejudge something I have no honest, direct, knowledge of. Please, let’s keep one another in prayer over the pursuit of Wisdom. Over the experience of the new, the unknown. The Lord has given this immense land to discover, filled with unknown adventures and a myriad of different people, traditions, and faiths. Let us approach these differences with an eye to this immense knowledge, and wisdom, of God. And let us at least try, one step at a time…

Babysteps

“To everything there is a season…”

Christmas Ornaments

Well, we did it. We put our tree up. Normally, it’s up on Black Friday. This year, I was feeling sort of bah-hum-bug-ish and did’t feel motivated to decorate. But now, I am glad we did. Sometimes we need to force ourselves to do things we may not want to, and we may even like how things turn out.

Saturday, my husband and I had a date. We went to this “door buster” sale that said it started at 7:00am. I was up and showering at 6:30, while my husband enjoyed some coffee. Off we went, expecting crowds, and me with wet hair, in the snow. We arrived to a pretty much empty lot. I was worried I got the dates wrong, checked my phone and my coupons, but I was right. We entered and remarked to the many employees, who were wearing their ugly Christmas sweaters, that we were lucky no one else arrived early. They had been expecting crowds, too. And for those of you who are men and can relate, my husband was able to relax with so few people around; shopping is not his thing. We try to spend at least one day each Christmas, just the two of us, shopping for the family. I refer to it as our Mr. and Mrs. Claus day. Last year we videod a message for our grandchildren who live out of state, while we shopped. It’s usually a good time and Saturday was no exception. We felt blessed. We had hot coffee, coupons, there were indeed “door buster” sales, and there were no crowds! And the bonus? We were home, unloaded, and sipping more coffee by 10:30am – done with our annual Christmas shopping and watching a huge snow storm!! (Which ended up lasting all of about 1 hour!) Whoot-whoot!

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It’s nice to set a goal, get moving, and accomplish something. And it’s nice when things sort of come together. I am working at being healthier in my approach to expectations. I know that God expects me to always do my best, especially when it comes to my faith and family. But sometimes my expectations are pretty out of whack with reality. It leads to depression and disappointment. Up here, we have so few hours of daylight during the winter, that depression is a reality. They have “happy lights” they sell at all the local stores. But one of the best things about winter and Christmas and decorating, is the lights. We have this tradition of lighting the inside, as well as the outside, of our homes – and by lighting, I mean a lot of lights!! We try to get the outside up before the first snow/freeze and the interior ones usually stay up until almost Easter or Pascha. And this year we have lots of interior lights, which just makes me smile. Most are mixed colors, some are red, and our tree is all white. So I am glad my family pressed me into decorating. It does feel good.

I am also an avid Christmas song person. My cell phone even has a Christmas ring tone. I love some of the songs that an a cappella group, Pentatonix, does. They have done an amazing job of “Mary, did you know?” If you want a treat, google them! They are worth it. We played Christmas songs off our various iPods and phones while we hung lights and decorated our tree. It was good. To add to the environment, it was snowing like crazy. Perfect!

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One of the most wonderful things about being Byzantine is that through our Vespers and other prayers, as well as our Liturgical songs, we are never left surprised by the holiday or feast day approaching. The Nativity Fast is one of those things that helps us prepare for the Christ Child. I think that sharing this with others make the season so much more alive. We often skip the prep and go straight to the event. But the journey is the most important part. A pastor spoke at a funeral and the gist of what he said was when you see the dates on the death announcement, remember our lives are lived in the dash marks (like 1945-1995). And how do we fill that space? For each holiday, each season, how do we fill our days? My expectations, as I said above, make movement sometimes difficult. We freeze out of fear of doing it wrong. Within the gentle movement of the liturgical year, we are brought forward for each feast. More than likely, we fast prior to the feast. It is the Church’s way of preparing us. We sacrifice our stomach’s demands, the demands of self, and bring our reality into line, focusing on the feast. Like dragging my feet about decorating, I realized I was becoming a reluctant participant in this glorious preparation of the Nativity Feast (aka Christmas Day) because I am worried about doing it wrong. What if I neglect prayers? Proper fasting? What about all the gifts for all our family and friends? When do we see whom? What do I serve for dinner? Who goes to which home, which day/night? So many things to juggle around these high-pressure holidays.

Nativity icon

We are all called … very few come. There are some amazing things about the Nativity of Christ that get lost in all the red and green, lights and tinsel, gifts and cooking. “Today the Virgin is on her way to the cave where she will give birth to the Eternal Word of God in an ineffable manner. Rejoice, therefore, O universe, when you hear this news, and glorify with the angels and the shepherds Him who shall appear as a newborn Babe, being God from all eternity.” (Kontakion of the Preparation). We’re missing the point of all this stress, all this hoopla. And I am as guilty as the next stressed-out parent! Historically, in the quiet of the desert, the Theotokos (Mother of God) was making her way, on a donkey, escorted by Joseph, her espoused husband to the land of Joseph’s birth, Bethlehem. I do not think they were concerned with anything other than finding shelter so She could give birth to the Son of God.

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How can I help myself, my friends, my family prepare for the celebration of the Birth of Christ? It is hard when many we are close to do not attend Church, and Christmas is all about Santa Claus, not even St. Nicholas. Some children I am very close to do not even know who Jesus is, let alone that Christmas is when we celebrate His birthday. And I had an “ah-ha” moment. The “ah-ha” was this: keep it simple! For Thanksgiving, I reverted to paper – plates, napkins, tablecloth, utensils, etc. I had people bring dishes to share. I simplified everything and we had a wonderful day. But since that is a secular holiday, how do we infuse Christ into this, a Holy Day, a Feast Day celebration? I am thinking, that in addition to simple, we need to share what we believe. We need to invite people to come to services at our churches with us. We need to send cards that reflect what we believe. Our priest has been talking to us (repeatedly) about Christmas cards. His point was that text messages and emails are nothing but steam, or smoke, or keystrokes. But a card? A card you can hold in your hand? A card with a personal note is like letting someone know you thought of them; that they were important enough for you to spend the time and effort to think of them, and bring them in, with you, to this joyous holiday, to that cave as we share this journey through the desert to Bethlehem.

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Around our communities, our friends, our families, our tables we should share who we are and what we believe. We need to put our actions where our faith is. Too often we cave to the media’s interpretation of who we are, what our country is like, what Christmas is all about. Schools are telling teachers, parents, and students that they can no longer say “Merry Christmas” but must refrain. No mention even of Santa Claus. There will be no Christmas vacation; it’s now Winter Break. Happy Holidays, so we don’t offend anyone. Instead, let’s be the Christ Child, simple, quiet, unassuming, yet firmly who we are. Let’s invite others to share our faith walk. Let’s simplify Christmas in the gift giving and instead “do” for others. Make dates, have dinners together, park days, hikes. Shovel a neighbor’s driveway; help elderly people by singing Christmas Carols to them. Call old friends. Mend fences that need to be mended. Be present. Be loving. Above all, put self last and other first. Forgive without expectation. Love expecting no love in return. Give until you have nothing left to give. Often, even if we are reluctant to participate, or feel afraid of failing, we need to commit to being a part of this world we live in. But instead of being of the world, be in the world, but be a person of God. Sometimes, in this life, we are the only Jesus people will ever know. I know that I am reconfirming my determination to take deep breaths, reaffirm my determination to love others, and to positively share this faith I proclaim. I am going to be present when the Christ Child comes to us, and I am going to invite everyone to share in His Birthday.

“Today the virgin, gives birth to the incomprehensible One;
and the earth offers a cave to the unapproachable One;
Angels and shepherds glorify Him;
the Wisemen journey with a star;
since for our sakes is born the ETERNAL GOD, as a little Child.”

Christ is Born