“…in Him all things are held together…”

My computer is being weird today…it’s probably my wifi…my computer is a pretty, purple Mac lap top and I love it…so it can’t be that! Ha-Ha!

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Purple is my new color and I find it everywhere. I got a tattoo on my 60th birthday of the Jerusalem Cross – purple.
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I joined a group that helps women be safe around guns, and work towards certification on our conceal-carry permits, as well as marksmanship. Everything about them is in purple. I recall the days when women would add this toner or something to their graying hair – it was purple! Ha-Ha! And then there is the “Red Hat” group that proposes wearing a red hat and purple clothes.

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I’m not onboard with purple and red, quite yet. My husband bought me a new hat, but it is purple – and I love it! I am not a hat person, per se, but when it was -23 outside, it sure did feel wonderful.

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I wish I could say that is me, but sadly, it is one of the gorgeous models for the Copper River Fleece company. But that is my hat! And the jacket is next in line. They call it “razzleberry” but I call it purple. Ha-Ha!

My point in all of this, is that we can see something all around us, and not realize it is there, everywhere, unless someone points it out, or it catches our eye.

“For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things held together.” Colossians 1:16-17

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Sometimes we cannot “see the forest for the trees” and we all get frustrated and angry. We want more than what we can see in front of us, or what we can even imagine for us. And I am like that in many ways. I sometimes cannot see another person’s point of view.

I attended a meeting last night which featured Glen Klinkhart, author of the book, “Finding Bethany.” (The book is on Kindle and Nook, as well as in paperback and is being considered for a movie). His talk was so good. And one of the things he spoke to was imposing ourselves on a situation. In the case of law enforcement, they are to be observers and discoverers, unbiased, and not imposing themselves onto a situation. He found it hard, at times, to not react as he does in his personal life, when addressing a victim or suspect, or when visiting a crime scene. And that spoke volumes to me. How often do we project what we are familiar with onto something else? Perhaps without proper thinking or researching? How often do we assume others need our verbose education in order for them to “see the light” of our argument about something? We often refer to it as prejudice. And prejudice is defined as:

noun

1. an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason. 2. any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable. 3. unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding an ethnic, racial, social, or religious group. 4. such attitudes considered collectively: The war against prejudice is never-ending. 5.damage or injury; detriment: a law that operated to the prejudice of the majority.

How often do we treat others with a sense of prejudice – we are pre-judging them based upon our own notions – before allowing them or their words to enter our lives? I know that when certain terms are used, certain nouns to describe groups of people, I have an almost automatic reaction, devoid of much reason. When you are learning to shoot a gun, for example, the instructors talk about “muscle memory.” Most athletes train endlessly for that automatic function in sports, using pure muscle memory, so they don’t have to stop to think about it. Firemen train endlessly so they grab a hose and put out a fire, without thinking about each step. Doctors can diagnose or prescribe based on knowing medicine, without having to research it, in particulars. I think diagnosticians are pretty amazing people – it’s as if they have en encyclopedia open in their minds all the time. And we are like that, as we deal with others and with life.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:3-11

If only we treated one another like this. The current political climate in America is rife with discord. I do believe much of it is created, to foment distrust of the government and its new President, as well as the new Executive Branch and its appointees. Things are being signed at a rate unheard of in politics, but common in the business world. People are used to committees and conferences and taking time after time after time, to come to consensus. This President is acting on campaign promises and so many people were not prepared for a man of action. Many say he is a horrible man, and point to his many marriages and infidelities as making him unfit for office. I find most of that hypocritical, at best. I do not hold myself competent enough, nor holy enough, to judge that about him. His salvation and his soul is just that, his. He is a baby Christian and has surrounded himself with people who are good people, and people whom he trusts to advise him in all matters, with a Christian influence. And this culture was just not ready for this. At all. We were not prepared for his election, nor for his action after he was elected President.

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There is a book entitled, “Who Moved the Cheese?” by Dr. Spencer Johnson. This book was required reading many years ago in corporate America. I wish more people would read it. It explains fairly simply and concisely how to deal with change. In your world, your workplace, and your life. It is a parable with 4 characters in it. They are, by name (and fairly self-descriptive ones) “Sniff, Scurry, Hem, and Haw.” There are so many ways we can react to change, most especially when it is major change. (Think of those names when you think about how you react to change). The ability to realize change is coming, and to adapt to it, to discover the “new cheese” and learning to enjoy it, is the heart of the book. Anticipating change is something very few people were doing this election cycle. Lots of us were holding our collective breath until the day Mr. Trump took office. And since that Friday, just two weeks ago, he hit the ground running. Many of us could, once again, breathe and celebrate. However, so many in our country have lost their cheese and have no clue to where to even start looking to find their new cheese. Instead, they are clinging to the old, decaying cheese, trying to vociferously get us all to go back to that old cheese. I, for one of millions, is not interested. But I know what it is like to have someone yank your cheese away, and to lose my way. For once, I am on board with all this change happening.

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I have been “unfriended” on social media and have been attacked because, not only do I embrace this change, I support it wholeheartedly. I guess being “unfriended” means they were not truly my friends, as friends love you regardless of who you vote for. Your politics are probably not what drew you to one another, but it can divide people. I do not think that our country could have lasted much longer in the way it was headed, and still be America. I listened to an amazing presentation today about immigration. It was sobering. It was frightening. (Just google immigration and gum balls…seriously. Be sure you listen to both parts – 1 and 2). And it made me think about all of this angst. Ugh. We have so much anger floating around. Very few people have long fuses any longer. And I can pretty much guarantee it is not going to get easier. If we don’t make big changes in our world, our world will make so many big changes to America, we will no longer be us. We just won’t be. And it is not that I cannot see the other points of view; I can. I’ve lived with them in the public arena for years and years. All these things that I was offended by or disgusted by, they are now learning that their cheese has been moved, too. And so, I work to help in my little world, I try to affect change in my town, my schools, my area of influence, to assist those who need help. If each of us focused on our own families, friends, and city, this world would become heaven on earth.

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21: 1-4

We can affect change, we can choose to see the things around us that we have been blind to before. We can usher in “a new heaven and a new earth” by being people of God and loving our neighbor, regardless of their politics. We can feed the homeless and aid those who need us – right here, in our own cities and neighborhoods. We can be the Christ that sometimes will be the only Christ people will ever see. How are you Christ to those you meet along your way, each day? Are you seeing things you did not notice before? Are you offering love, unconditionally, to those who persecute you and defile you, and utter all hatred against you? (Matthew 5:11). God is so good and so much more than our puny selves. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. (Phil 4:13).

I am filled with hope and joy for the first time in a long time. I am prayerfully confident Our God has His hands on all things and I trust Him implicitly. I do not expect our President to be my Savior…Christ is my God and my Savior. But I have hope and prayer, ever raising my voice and supplication to God.

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“They began to go away, one by one…”

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Many years ago, my then-teen-aged son admonished me for making snap judgements about a girl he was seeing. I did not think she dressed very well. She looked, to me, to be “easy,” to put it in words from my generation. And I have never forgotten that conversation. He will be 31 next month, he’s been married for 10 years this week, has a wonderful wife and two kids. And that admonition came to the forefront recently. Judging a book by its cover!

“But Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with His finger. When they continued to question Him, He straightened up and said to them, ‘Whoever is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.’” John 8:7

I have always loved that passage. Christ taught us in that moment that we are not all how we seem. If we take a moment to explore that passage, I think it is interesting to note that the Pharisees were trying to trip up Jesus, and he caught them at their own game, reflecting their accusations back on them!

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There is a saying that goes, “Remember that when you point at someone with one finger, three more are pointing back at you.” And lately, more than ever, I have noticed judging. From me, yes, and towards me, yes.

“When they continued to question Him, He straightened up and said to them, “Whoever is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.” And again He bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard this, they began to go away one by one, beginning with the older ones, until only Jesus was left, with the woman standing there.…” (John 8:8-10)

I find it interesting that when the “pebble meets the pavement” there is not much left. When people yell and shout, most often they are the ones with dirty hands. When I criticized the young woman my son was seeing, I now realize I was seeing me in her. When I was young, having parents from England and New Zealand made my teen years interesting. “Dungarees are for farm workers. You will not wear those kind of pants.” They were talking about jeans. Took me until my junior year to be allowed to wear them. I recall days of pants worn so low, I had to be careful my backside did not hang out (hip huggers! LOL!) and how my parents would not allow me to wear that style of pant with crop tops. At the time I thought they were being stuffy Brits, not used to American culture. But they were concerned for the image I was putting out there. And I just did not get it.

Image. Perceptions. All this relates for me, to the issue of tattoos. As I said in a previous post, I was considering getting one for my 60th birthday present to myself. And I got one! I will show you a photo later in this post. It did not hurt. It is healing nicely and looks amazing. But not everyone is pleased by my choice. I had someone tell me that I have “defiled the temple of the Lord.” This person was so upset, they could not continue our chat, getting off the phone with “I love you” and such, but still quite upset. Another person close to me said, “Welcome to the world of the stigma of having a tattoo.” And that really got me thinking. And since I now have one, I see tattoos everywhere. And I am noticing the stigma.

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Tattoos were what “merchant marines,” sailors, and military had. It was what bikers and prisoners had. Good girls did not have tattoos. They were a sign of loose morals in all areas of your life. Pierced ears! Wow! Those were only allowed after I was a teenager. And only one piercing per ear, and no dangling earrings. Those were what strippers and dancers wore. Coloring your hair? Well, we could use lemon juice or “Sun In” on our hair, but no dying your hair. Only old ladies dyed their hair, and it usually turned purple. And if you did dye your hair, no one was supposed to know it. And you never had roots (they call it “ombre” now!) because that meant you were not keeping up on your personal hygeine! Tacky!

Smoking is pretty much a social taboo these days. I used to smoke, as did my husband. When we were in high school, there were designated smoking areas! In high school! My husband took up smoking while he was active duty Navy because smokers got breaks! He had to stand in a painted circle by a trash can, but he got a break! I started smoking when I was around 21 or so.  As I melded into the workforce in the late 70s, I smoked because I was so stressed (accounting) and everyone in my office smoked. Later on, after I was married and our oldest kids were still not quite teens, I was smoking a cigarette one time outside our home and a neighbor’s daughter came up to me and said, “You smoke? But you go to Church!” That really made me stop and think about the image I was projecting. I haven’t had a cigarette in almost 20 years, partially because of her comment, which reflected her view of me. “Out of the mouths of babes,” as they say!

We look at styles, fashion, social trends and we see all sorts of things that were not permissible when we were younger, but seem okay now, and visa versa. I am not trying to justify my choices, at all, I am just noticing things because I am now forced to, because of those choices. For example, smoking is certainly one of those things we used to think was okay. Science finally caught up to our habits! Hairstyles…we go around and around with our son. In my youth, hair was long. Sometimes too long. Now it’s all over the map. But how we present ourselves still matters. And it is sad, because we are not often who people see when they look at us. Perceptions are so fascinating and I am as guilty as the next person of prejudging others based on the image they present to me, or their attitude in my presence. I still struggle with weird or too numerous piercings, but that is on me. And now I am seeing this stigma happen towards me. And it is for many reasons, not just my tattoo. Being a part of the aging population (so many people think my youngest son is my grandson because I do not cover my gray hair!!!!). Being overweight. My license plate that announces I am a grandma, and the looks while driving down the road. Preconceived notions are everywhere.

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And I get it about tattoos, I really do. “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD.” This is from Leviticus 19:28.  And it is the quote many Christians will whip out when confronting someone who has tattoos, or recently got one. The chapter quoted was in regards to the process for preparing the dead, “cuts in your body for the dead,” and reflected the pagan rituals around marking one’s skin to show to whom you had an allegiance. People would cut and tattoo themselves at the death of a loved one. Slaves were marked for their masters. They would also tattoo images that would be considered pagan, and the passage is warning those of Israel to not participate any longer in these pagan rituals. The same passage also forbids shaving your beard and other practices that are now commonplace. There are literally dozens of articles discussing this passage on the internet. An apologist, Jimmy Akins, writes, “There is no reason why one cannot color one’s skin, which is what tattooing amounts to. One can apply color to one’s skin by make-up (as is common among women), magic markers (as is common among children), press-on tattoos (as are common in Crackerjack boxes), or with real tattoos. The mere fact that the ink goes into the skin in the latter case does not create a fundamental moral difference.”

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And so what are we to do? Keep on judging one another? Selectively eliminating those we feel do not reflect well upon us from our circles of friends and family? As in pointing our fingers at others, while not seeing the three fingers pointing back at ourselves?  Remember that when the Pharisees were convicting the woman of adultery, that when Christ admonished them with, “Whoever is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her” that they all slowly walked away because they all had sins? We all have sins. Some of our sins are visible for all to see and comment on. Gluttony is visible on my body. My sin that I carry around in my grandma jeans and big shirts. And now I am adding a tattoo to that! Ha-Ha! I must be a glutton for punishment. Many Christian theologians caution against permanently marking your body because of the witness to others. It taints their opinion of you and perhaps you are not being the best witness of the faith. Which is interesting, because it is a reflection of our upbringing and prejudices that we have been taught. Trust me, when my oldest son accidentally showed me his first tattoo, I was not happy with it. It was a crown of thorns, and an ugly one. To which he said to me that the crown of thorns was indeed, ugly, because the Crucifixion was ugly. But, it reminded him of his faith, and he liked it. And now, my perceived witness to others is something I am grappling with, every day, now that I have gone ahead and permanently marked my body. I have to keep reiterating that it is permanent, because so many of those who know me are in such shock over this, and keep thinking I am pranking them. I am not pranking anyone. It is real. And here it is…

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When I went to get the tattoo, the tattoo artist had a long and wonderful conversation with both my husband and myself. Don, the tattoo artist, said that people will negatively comment, and some I have known a long time will not understand and be upset with me. He has experienced it for years (he had more tattoos on his body than I had ever seen on a person, in person. Seriously). And when I showed him the photo of my desired tattoo, he delightfully commented, “Oh, it’s a Jerusalem Cross! On my many pilgrimages to Israel, I saw a lot of them.” You could have knocked me over with a feather. Then he said, “Now I’m not a religious guy, but I’ve been to the Holy Land more than once, and if anyone gives you grief, use it as an opportunity to teach. Share with them the meaning of the cross. And quote them Revelations 19:16 – “He has a name written on his cloak and on his thighs, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” If it’s good enough for Jesus Christ when He comes again, I figure a tattoo is okay for me and you, too!”

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I feel good about my tattoo, because it is part of my journey to my faith. Not everyone understands why I would choose to do this at my age, but that is okay. I am a good person. I believe in the Lord, and I try valiantly not to lead a life of sinfulness. Occasionally I will fall. That is the beauty of our faith – it allows us to get back up again and work at becoming better than we were yesterday, more committed to living a life pleasing to the Lord. Each time I put my organic coconut oil and Young Living’s Melrose Essential Oil on my tattoo, I reflect on it. I see the central cross, symbolic of Christ. I see the four crosses in each corner, symbolizing the four Gospels. There are other interpretations, but I love that one the most. And it reminds me that this cross was created when the Church, when our entire Christian faith and very way of life was under attack. It is one of my favorite times in history to read about. The Medieval era was one of growth in learning and architecture, and exploration and discovery, of gallantry and knighthood, damsels in distress, and one of so many saints. Don’t get me wrong, I realize horrors were perpetrated on the innocent, on both sides. But I also see it as a time when the world was galvanized to stay strong in the faith and defend it, to the death. They defended it at home and on foreign soil, against incursions by those who would deny Christ and opt to wipe out His memory and those who would not forsake Christ. They were not looking for converts, but rather were focusing on conquering the western world. And I feel it is still a battle we all need to wage, one person at a time, one family at a time, and one neighborhood at a time, until we take this land, and our faith, back. And so I witness that on my wrist. And I will share all of that when asked why I did this, and why that particular Cross. It’s not for everyone. Not everyone will understand. But between me and the Lord, I am feeling excited, almost giddy, about my new tattoo.

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“…can go with a stream…”

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.                 Martin Luther King.

This is just such an ugly day in America. There have been so many ugly days. And it seems to be escalating. It makes my heart just sick.

Our family has had an interesting history in America. My parents immigrated here in the 1950s. They were met with extreme prejudice by shopkeepers and others they had to interact with. They put their money in Bank of America because they thought that was the bank for all Americans. They tried to buy their goods at local shops. They collected “Green Stamps” and joined local civic organizations, trying to assimilate. They even attended American churches, so they could learn how “they did it.” My mom watched soap operas, trying to learn American culture. They were repeatedly turned away from retail establishments like the butcher shop, because they could not be understood. My mom was told to come back when she could speak “English.”  The funny part? My parents are from New Zealand.

My in-laws are from Russia. They are called “Germans from Russia” because they are Germans who were brought to Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great, who was German, and wanted to bring Russia into the more modern age. She brought skilled workers to Russia, to share their expertise with her new country. My husband springs from these “Volga River Russians.” When they came to America, to escape communism, they settled in the farmlands of Kansas and Colorado. It resembled their homeland. They developed communities and built churches, but they were not allowed into the “white” areas of these towns. They could only attend schools and churches they built themselves. They were not particularly welcome. During WWII when German distrust was at its highest in the USA, our last name was definitely a hinderance to them. My father-in-law had stories of his youth that made me just shake my head. He was going through all of that in the heartland of the USA at the same time my parents were trying to assimilate on the west coast. Just a bit prior to my lifetime.

I have friends who were “Creole” and escaped the South because they were not welcome in either community – black or white. They relocated to the melting pot of Southern California, where there is pretty much representation from every country on earth. They were strong Catholics and became well-known in local Catholic circles. They brought their deep faith, nurtured in the Deep South, to Southern California. Their mom told me they escaped the South because she could not sit on the same bus or eat at the same restaurants that she could in SoCal. She said it was easier to “pass” in California, but that in the South she had a rough time of it. She said in SoCal she could just be a woman…not hyphenated by black or white. This was very much in my lifetime. *Shaking head* *Sad face*

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Fast forward 18 years ago and we adopted a child outside our race. Last night, as news of Dallas was shared around the dinner table, I laughed as my very pale grand daughter cuddled with her favorite uncle, many shades darker. I asked her if she loved her uncle and she squeezed his neck and covered him with kisses, saying over and over, “My uncle, my uncle…will you jump on the trampoline with me?” Pure bliss and love and no thought to color.

As a mixed race family, my joke has always been, “I can never have a bad hair day, because people always notice us.” And it is true. I have been hassled by both communities. But truthfully, prejudice is a learned behavior. It is introduced to children. As Webster defines it (it can be both a noun and a verb):

prej·u·dice
ˈprejədəs
noun

preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.

verb

give rise to prejudice in (someone); make biased.

My parents raised me in a very mixed race area. I attended inner-city schools wherein I was in the minority. We lived through the Watts riots, up close and personal. My best friend was black and I often stayed with her family, attending Church with them where I was the sole white person for miles around. I was set upon and beat up in the 8th grade because I liked a Mexican boy (oh, the memories of Armando!!) that a black girl also liked. She set her “gang” on me when I had my legs in casts (my knees were a problem as a girl). My little 4’11” mom saw a pile of girls with chunks of hair flying and dove in, not knowing I was on the bottom! Mom to the rescue. Later, my younger brother was attacked by her younger brother. We decided to sell and move out. We relocated to a very white area, with a few Mexicans thrown in, and I was in culture shock. Seriously. I missed my multi-cultural life and my friends who were black. Several made the trek out to see me, taking busses to get there. But it was too hard to maintain a friendship being so far and having no means to get to each other.

God gave me this opportunity, I believe, so that I do not see color. When I look at my youngest son, I just see my son. When we were in the adoption process, the social worker asked us if we were prepared to raise a good black man. My husband’s response was, “No; I am prepared to raise a good man.” We have never differentiated between our children. And my son never realized he was different until a kid in 4th grade said to him, “Dude, your dad is white. I saw your mom. Dude, you are adopted.” My son’s response, “What’s adopted mean?” He had no idea he was different. He always said he was chocolate and we are peach. He said that when he gets a cut, he has skin like me…peach. And when I get a cut, I get scabs that are brown like him. He also commented that our feet and hands match. He’s hanging out right now with his best friend, who is strawberry blonde, blue-eyed, and freckled. They don’t see color first, either.

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The only way we are going to free our country from becoming something none of us recognize, is to love everyone. And trust me, I know it is hard. I find it difficult to love everyone. I have practiced selective elimination of people from my life who are toxic. I get that not everyone can be tolerated. And I don’t espouse blind love, either. We need to keep our eyes open, yes. But we also need to not judge people, prejudicially. How can you hate someone who is different, just because they are different?

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”…Genesis 1:27

God created every creature that roams the earth. Everything. Everyone. No, I do not agree with some creeds and beliefs. I do not. But I believe that God will reach each person in the best way they can be reached. I do not believe that because they have not been “saved” nor ever heard the “Word of God,” that they will be eternally damned. That’s the anthropologist in me! But it is also the Mercy of God. I cannot be friends with everyone. Some people just rub me wrong. And I am sure I rub others the wrong way, too. God did not intend for this world to be perfect; that is for the perfection of Heaven, in an eternity of Grace with God. But on this world and in this life, we are called to love others, even those who persecute us. We are called to allow others to make their choices in how they believe, where they live, how they act, what they eat, what they wear, who they marry, what career they choose, etc. Which is pretty much what freedom is all about and why so many come here. So many come here to have a better life, or to escape persecution. Some were brought here, generations upon generations ago, against their will and have lived here for 100s of years, assimilating as best they can, into our American melting pot.

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The only way we can affect true change in America is to change ourselves. We cannot expect our government to change for us. We cannot expect our neighbor to change for us. The change has to start in my heart and my soul, in my relationship to God and those around me. It would create a ripple, reaching all the corners of our world. We cannot always go out and fix the world at large, when our backyard is a mess. I really hate it when people criticize how people keep their house, when they are secret hoarders or something. My opinion is that we have to stop criticizing our neighbor and get out a mirror and affect change in ourselves. I am a poor sinner. A poor sinner. And I fall to my knees every, single, day! The choice I make is to seek my Maker, and get back up again. Each and every Christian needs to examine themselves and then reach out, refreshed in the Spirit of God, to their neighbor, one heart at a time. And we have to stop being dead in the political world, the marketplace, the schools, the neighborhoods. Enough is enough.

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“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” – G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 1925

“Words left unsaid…”

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And that, my friends, is why I blog! I have had several incidents happen to me and I have been mulling these things over in my head. The words are screaming in my head, so here goes:

A faithful friend

The past few weeks have been transformative for me. And my journey is not over. I have been involved in a leadership training course (along with significant time management training) and have evolved as a person so much. I have made fundamental changes to my life. I have altered habits I have had for years and years. I have changed how I manage my time. And I have been evaluating the circles of friends I have, who surround me like ripples in the water from a thrown pebble. Every once in awhile, it is healthy to re-evaluate who gets the lion’s share of our time. And in addition, who gets the emotional energy required to maintain these circles of relationships.

When you think about it, you are involved with all sorts of people, from disparate backgrounds and situations. We have work friends, neighbors, church friends, friends we have had since kindergarten, high school friends, college friends, friends we have as a couple, friends we made while single. Friends come from all the journeys we have been on in our lives. And some of them we keep, some we have lost, some we have discarded.

Seat at table

I’ve spoken to not allowing everyone to have a seat at your table in previous posts, and I am so firmly entrenched in that process – letting go. Sometimes it is hard to let those go who are toxic to you, but I know that energy/emotion vampires are just not healthy for me. I have learned that there are people out there who smile and shake your hand, but who are not your friend. And to be honest, that is fine. Not everyone we meet is meant to be a friend. Many are meant to solely be an acquaintance; someone who passes through but whose soul does not take root with yours. In a way, that realization is rather freeing.

Forgive.LesBrown

And now I am working on letting go – and that includes my disappointments and unfulfilled expectations, my heartache and feelings of being let down. But I have learned that forgiving others when they let you down allows you to heal and move on. I know not everyone I meet is my friend, nor meant to stay, as I said above. And I know that I am not perfected – God still has a great work left to do in me. Because of this immense transformation and learning curve I am on, I realize that working on myself takes much effort. And I may let other things slide while I engage in this work of bettering myself and growing. But I cannot become who God wants me to be, sitting on my couch, hiding behind my books and feeling sorry about myself. I cannot get better physically, or spiritually, or emotionally by waiting on…well, waiting on what?

I am so happy and excited to be taking myself in hand and working on all these myriad issues I have. It is a good work. In the meantime, people in my life either support me and what I am doing, or they do not. If they do not, they will no longer be included in my circle. That “block” button on Facebook will be getting a workout in the near future. Don’t judge me for that comment. There comes a time in our lives when we need to cull those we allow close to us. Some of the people who have taken root in our lives are not healthy for us; they are not “life giving” but rather drain you. In addition to that, my time on social media is declining and it is a good thing. I am reading good things. I heard a great quote, “Don’t fill your head with another person’s trash.” Ponder that for a moment. That is the written word – in books, movies, music, news outlets, and all forms of media. Whose trash are we letting in? For one thing, I have disavowed politics. It makes me too angry and an uglier version of myself. It is gone from my electronics. Just flat out gone. I have no clue what is going on right now and it is a peaceful thing. I removed all my gaming platforms. Stupid way to be a sucker of my time – it can literally suck hours away I will never get back. Done. And I am evaluating my reading material. This is the hard one! I belong to so many book clubs and read such a variety of literature. My bible is getting a workout, and that is a great thing!

During this time of personal renewal and growth in this leadership/time management class, I am also embarking on a study with a couple of friends. We are using this amazing book entitled, “The Holistic Christian Woman.” (The author is Cynthia Damaskos, CHC. I purchased it through Ancient Faith Publishing, but it is also available on Amazon). Here’s a little taste: “Even being concerned about people’s real or perceived perception of you and your life can be subliminally stunting your joy. Are you afraid to be yourself? Are you afraid to be different from what people expect, in a culture of excess and cookie cutter expectations? These perceptions can lead you to say “yes” to too many requests, or “no” to many changes that should be made. For me, these were also self-imposed boulders that were also blocking my way.  There may be a big boulder that you need to move before all the rocks fall into place.”  And that’s just the intro! I am only 2 weeks into that book and I am fundamentally different. It is flabbergasting to me that I can be so affected in my 50s by two disparate things, coordinating together so flawlessly. Through our faith, we know there are no coincidences, just occurrences that God has construed for our good. I am so blessed.

Livingforothers

So I am moving forward and through this movement, I am finding that I cannot stay how I am, where I am, or who I am. It just does not work any longer. For me, or for my family. It is wonderful to undergo these sorts of things with the full support of your spouse. He is reaping the benefits of my learning curve and my becoming a better me. We are both starting to move some boulders, allowing the rocks to fall into place. We are seeking our joy in places that are new for us, and we are happy. Growth is a wonderful experience.

One of the things I just cannot tolerate any longer are those who purport to be friends but who fundamentally are not on the same page I am on. One area of belief is the equality of all people.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” —The Declaration of Independence

This is a fundamental view of Americans. We are all equal. Women have the vote! African Americans can sit on the same buses and drink out of the same water fountains, attend the same schools, work at any job they choose, and marry anyone they choose! All races have the same rights! We do not allow discrimination based on age, race, religion, creed – these areas are sacrosanct. That word means that this thing we hold, this belief, is so sacred, it cannot be altered or interfered with. It is inviolable! (That means it cannot be infringed upon). But there are still people out there, that when it gets right down to the nitty-gritty of life, do not believe everyone is equal. They just do not accept it. And I will pray their souls are opened to the Grace of belief, and of truly loving their fellow man. We are all created in the image of God. All of us. Not just some of us. And some of the change I am going through is being less tolerant of those who are intolerant, if that makes sense. They just don’t need a seat at my table. “If you can change, everything will change for you.” That was in a speech by Jim Rohn, a wonderful speaker. I am changing and I am affecting change in those around me.

KeepSilence

Even though I am thinning the circles around me in some ways, I am keeping a Holy Silence. I am giving these things to God, Who is far more equipped to handle them than I am. I am still such a work-in-process that I cannot really judge others. I can feel the pain of their poor choices in words and attitudes, and I can feel the pain of disappointment. Those are valid things. And I can wallow in it. I can. It is perfectly acceptable to wallow sometimes. But what exactly does it get me? What am I waiting for? Apologies that won’t ever come? Growth and change from people so entrenched in their ways of thinking, they are walking back and forth in ditches so high they cannot see out of them? No. I am moving onward and I am turning inward, working towards a better self, a stronger self.

Strongwoman

Life throws us curve balls now and then, but life also throws us opportunities. And I have been given one that I was not ready for a year ago. But I am now. And it feels like I am re-awakening to that “other” woman I was, before I stayed home. I am not saying that being a stay-at-home-mom, a homeschooling mom, was a bad thing. It was my vocation and I loved every moment of it (and I miss the days when we lived on farms and I had muddy boys in muddy boots, messing up my kitchen floors). But I started to hide. I was not out and about, affecting my community. I was not growing as a woman, outside of my growth as a married woman and mother of faith. My faith has been my saving glory in this life. I am so blessed. But I also know I have so far to go. And I am now moving. I am in motion. I am reading; I am learning; I am growing. I hope everyone comes along for the ride, but I am already noticing the circles growing thinner. And that is perfectly okay.

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“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

“…spiritual experience…”

As you read this, please remember the emotions I present it with. I do not, nor have I, sit in judgement on anyone. Rather, I poke away at the differences. I look under the rocks strewn around this world we live in, rather than accept the standard landscape. In this post, I am exploring my own experiences and exposures to the differences in life, as I have been exposed to them. I offer this post in that vein, and with love.

St. Nikolai

This summer has provided me with opportunities to worship with family, friends, and fellow parishioners, in a variety of circumstances. Certainly the environment we find ourselves in colors our world. It colors how we view so much, including the Divine. The old adage about nature/nurture comes to mind. As an Anthropology major in college, I feel I was blessed to learn about a variety of cultures, cultural norms, and expectations. The USA is a unique blending (remember being taught how we were a “melting pot” back in the old days?) of cultures, languages, and traditions. Quite often we want everyone to be the same because it is so much easier that way. I am often teased by family members and have a rejoinder I use regularly and it is, “You’re right! I wish everyone was like me because life would be so much easier that way.” Of course, in my life, I live variety on a daily basis. We are a mixed race family. When young, my son asked me why he was “chocolate” and I was “peach.” My response to him was (and I still believe this) is that God loves variety. He loves colors. Look at birds, dogs, cats, people – there are very few exactly the same. (Even when you buy your dog from a reputable breeder, there is no guarantee they will be the breed standard. Trust me. I know this from experience and Chet is now over 11 years old and still not the standard for his breed! HaHa!). The rainbow is God’s promise to us that He will not destroy the earth – and He gave us that promise in a glorious array of colors.  God appreciates the different, the “off the beaten path,” the “oddball,” the “square peg” that doesn’t quite fit. And I love that about life.  I love that saying, “Viva la difference!” And I am different, as well.

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In life, we are given a set of circumstances and environments where we grow. We have a certain set of parents, we live in a certain house, in a certain town, etc. Every sibling is unique. Our life experiences are unique. I am saying all of this because I noticed so many unique qualities to the varying worship services I attended this summer.  I was blessed to be exposed to many faiths before I was married. I have attended some Reform Jewish ceremonies, as well as some Orthodox Jewish ceremonies. I even attended what I lovingly referred to as “Let’s Be Jewish” classes with a rabbi many years ago. I studied Mormonism in junior and high school.  I studied various sects of Protestantism growing up, being baptized seven (7) times. Yes, 7! I attended Greek Orthodox marriage prep courses with a college roommate. I’ve explored options within Catholicism, going from a more modern, post-Vatican II experience, to a Tridentine sort of environment, to evangelical Catholicism and even some of the very expressive masses with Liturgical Dancing. I gravitated to the more traditional experiences within the Church and eschewed many of the modern changes to mass and to the interior of Catholic churches, as well as devotional changes and architecture changes. Our eldest son introduced us to an amazing Melkite priest who invited us to “Come and See” and we have never looked back.  We were blessed to be involved with a very strict/orthodox (as in right thinking) liturgical/spiritual instructional period before formally becoming Melkite Greek Catholic. And all of that has colored how I view my faith, and the way in which I choose to worship.

AfricanMigrantsBoatEuropeAerial-500x333As the news of this past week or so hit my internet newsfeeds, I cringed at the photos of people escaping Syria and ISIS.  I cringed because, in so many respects, this should not be happening. When Our Lord instructed His Disciples to go into all the nations, He meant what he said. And they were obedient, even unto death. My son took the confirmation name of John. When I asked which John, he told me, “The Apostle.” When I asked him why he chose him, his response was, “Because he was the only one who died of old age.”  And we all need to remember that the Apostles died for their faith. They went into a world of paganism and evil, preaching the Word of God. And they died to do it; being obedient to Christ cost them their very lives. Today in our world, Christians are once again giving their lives to live within their faith. ISIS is trying to undo a millennia of Christianity. And they are doing it by the sword.

Some Muslims are also escaping, along with Christians, from the Holy Lands. In the news this week, there have been stories that many trying to get into Germany are converting to Christianity in order to be welcomed. I don’t think it is a conversion of the heart, but rather a conversion of the head. They don’t want to live under ISIS, be they Christian or Muslim. And the world is watching. Many do not want to get involved, nor do they want more Syrians in their country. As a Melkite Greek Catholic, I have been blessed to meet, befriend, and worship alongside some amazing Arab Christians. People who brought just the clothes on their backs, to escape Sadam Hussein, among others. But the reason for this post is that I have read where so many countries are turning these refugees away. They are different. They dress differently. They speak a different language, eat different foods, and their worship (even if Christian) seems foreign as well. Different is often scary. But God celebrates the different! He loves the different.  As His Apostles converted people and established Christianity around the world (in the form of Catholicism) they did so where the people were. They did not change their culture, but adapted the worship of the faith to the country/culture they were in. Roman Catholicism reflects Roman culture when Peter arrived. The Roman Catholic practices evolved around the stricture/structure of Roman culture. The Melkite Church grew up in the Middle East and the Liturgies, while Greek in nature, use lots of Arabic terminology (the whys and wherefores are for another post) and call God, “Allah.” It is the Arabic word for God – it is not a strictly Muslim term. Many Americans wig out when they hear “Allah” from a person like me, especially when used in context about our Christian God. It is a shame more people are not open to, nor even exposed to, the history and truth about how our faith came to be. Christianity is a big tent – there is room for all sorts of diversity.

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The above photo is of the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan. This circulated on Facebook yesterday, but was featured in an article by the UK publication, the Telegraph, today. This is a refugee camp that has been there for YEARS; for GENERATIONS. One of the most precious things these refugees hold are keys they wear around their necks. The keys belong to the homes they were forced to leave. The keys are passed down to each generation – that is how long these refugees have been forced to live in these camps. This is not a new problem, but it is a growing one. Yes, they are different. Yes, it is something that is “across the ocean” from the USA. But this is in the Land of Christ. Thanks be to God for the magnanimity and generosity of the Jordanian Royal Family, who has extended refugee status all these years. There is less than 3% of Christians remaining in the Holy Land, the land of our faith.

I was blessed to worship at our Melkite parish on our vacation. It had been 5 1/2 years since we attended Divine Liturgy there. We missed it so much. We attended Mass at our son’s Roman Catholic parish, also while on vacation. It was nice to sit with my granddaughters and worship. So much has changed in the Roman liturgy, it was hard to know what to respond with, but the priest had a wonderful homily. We came home to our Ruthenian parish, where our priest is Ukrainian Greek Catholic, my husband (the deacon) is Melkite, and many of the parishioners are Eastern European (Polish, Russian, and Slavic in general). And I thought about my experiences and was in awe of how truly universal our church is. I mean, I prayed in Arabic, Latin, English, and listened to our priest speak Ukrainian, all within a 3 week period of time – and all within the Catholic Church. How awesome is that?

Different color skin, same souls.

I’ve posted about this issue of differences before. This recent sadness about the Syrian refugees brought it back into the forefront.  Why do we focus on how we are different? All this ugliness toward those who protect and serve our communities. The selling of baby parts by Planned Parenthood; the experimentation on not-dead-yet-babies. The atrocities around this country, and in our world are mounting.  Why? Because of the differences.  Because Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood because she was a follower of Hitler and a white supremacist, who believed anyone not white was less in some way. There are Protestants who believe we Catholics do not even worship the same God, for heaven’s sake, when the Catholic Church is who brought the faith to the world. There are more than 30,000 Protestant denominations around the world, most of which began in the USA. Why? Every time someone had a disagreement (or “protested”) against the Church, they started their own Church. Why? Why do people think because you are black, you think/behave a certain way? Why do people think because you are white, or brown, or tan, or whatever color, you will behave/believe a certain way? And that those differences are inherently wrong? Different is sometimes just different; not wrong.

apple colors

Did you know there are more than 7,500 varieties of apples grown worldwide, each with its own colors? Green? A little tart for me to bite into; I prefer a nice, red, Washington apple. But I like green ones to cook with! They make incredible apple pies. The secret, I discovered, to making the best homemade apple sauce was to cook a variety of apples all at once. The mixture gave the applesauce a lovely, complex flavor that my kids preferred over store-bought. We have variety all around us. We need to put the differences into the context of a reason to learn, to explore, to grow and embrace, rather than something that is set apart, set aside, ignored, and avoided. The Syrians will keep fleeing ISIS. If we are lucky, all our police and firemen will keep protecting us. People will keep intermarrying and having mixed race families. Languages will come to us and we can learn those, as well as new traditions. I love that my heritage is British, but I have learned to cook Russian dishes via my husband’s family, Arabic foods via my Melkite faith, and now I am embracing Polish and Ukrainian foods from my fellow Ruthenian parishioners.  I grew up eating traditional British fare as a child. I was exposed to Greek food growing up and attended Greek festivals as a child. I love learning new traditions and foods.  Why can we not all enjoy these differences, especially the ones in worship, without judging it to be less than what we are familiar with? When we will extend our hands in welcome and embrace something we are unfamiliar with?

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Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

“…yet He did not sin.”

Sail-Boat13I’ve had weeks when life just sails along and you really have to pinch yourself at how awesome that week has been.  And then there is this week.  Well, it’s not the polar opposite, but it ranks right up there with days I would prefer not to repeat, although it is ending pretty good.  I love spending fun, abrupt, and un-planned time with my kids and grandchildren, and last night was just that. Sort of helped wrap this week up with a bow, so to speak!

BowsWhen I see injustice, it is somehow wired in me to do something, if I can.  I also have this habit of not being easily intimidated.  I am not sure where I get this over-inflated sense of confidence from, because physically, I am so not in tip-top shape and someone could just push me and down I would go.  Which is another entirely different thought for a post!  However, when the hairs on the back of your neck go up and you feel deep in your bones that something is wrong, well, for me, I have to lash out at the perpetrator.

“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER’; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.”…” Matthew 21:12-13

tissot-the-merchants-chased-from-the-temple-746x471Jesus got mad.  Don’t forget, He was human in all things, save sin!  (“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.” Hebrews 4:15).  And some feel that righteous anger is just that – righteous.  This week I confronted someone who I felt was being unjust.  Because of that it has been intimated I was lying and embellishing the truth to fit my own agenda.  I find it laughable and ludicrous because obviously this person does not know me well.  This person also presents as a Christian; one who attends Church regularly.  But the metanoia, or change of heart (“to express that mighty change in mind, heart, and life wrought by the Spirit of God.” by Richard Trench in his work, “Synonyms of the New Testament”) does not seem to have really occurred.  And I am saddened by the whole thing.  Partially because I dislike getting that angry. I knew in my heart I was right and that I had truth on my side, but I still hate loosing my temper. And I have a profound sense of disappointment in learning someone is not up to the standards I had presumed they were.

When we see things that we know are inherently wrong, it is almost adding to the sinfulness to not do anything about it. In traditional, western, Catholic theology, there is the concept of the “sin of omission,” which is considered to be as evil as the sin of “commission,” when we actually do a sinful act.  Because, truthfully, not doing anything in the face of evil is as bad for us as committing evil, in regards to the stain on our souls.  And that is where I was stuck – in that proverbial position of the rock and that darned old hard place.  And so I stood up and railed against the wrongs I witnessed and was told about.  And it got ugly; I did not feel intimated and I never felt that I was going “off” on someone, but I truly did loose my temper.  I actually only had resolution in mind for those who had been wronged, but instead it has grown into a sense of protecting any others affected now or in the future. And that is why, I think, I got angry.  The injustice around me, but also that which could be perpetrated on others, in the future, if I stood aside and said or did nothing. And to top it off, I was also protecting family, and friends who mean the world to me.

Knowing that you have truth on your side makes railing against wrongs so much easier.  Another side incident occurred when I could demonstrate this to my son.  He and a friend each told their parents about some things that had happened.  When the parents discussed the incidents, it was found that the boys never wavered from what had taken place. And I told my son how wonderful it is to tell the truth, because you don’t have to remember stories, or worry about keeping things “straight,” because truth is truth and it is always the same. Lies get convoluted and twisted and become some difficult thing to transverse through, much like the maze of wiring below. (Shout out to my electrically-oriented friends and family!!)

Tangled wiringAnd now we have to move forward and make some changes. All change, in pretty much all areas, can cause pain.  It can be rough to go from one environment to another.  We experienced over the past year complete relocation, thousands of miles from our comfort zone.  We made a place for ourselves; we changed; and we are getting comfy, and feeling safe and loving a new sense of belonging.  And then something pretty ugly happens.  Now, we have to regroup once again!  But I know truth triumphs over all things; I know that anger is occasionally justified; and I know my heart is in the right place.

DidacheThere is a profound sense of who we are and what we stand for, that we develop as we age. Hopefully it is not a prejudicial point of view wherein you treat anyone who diverges from your point of view as evil, “other,” or inherently in the wrong.  According to the Miriam Online Dictionary, prejudice is defined as:

a (1) :  preconceived judgment or opinion (2) :  an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge; b :  an instance of such judgment or opinion;  c :  an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics

I was tasked with working for an EEO Unit within a Human Resources department in California a few years back.  I learned the legal treatment and definition of prejudice in all its glory and ugliness.  I think it colored my sense of right and wrong, and perhaps made me sensitive to prejudicial behavior.  Prejudice can come from many places and it can mean many things.  There are the most common forms based on color, creed, or gender.  But there are some others which seep into our lives that we do not even realize. In schoolyard sports, back in my day, it could mean being called last when choosing teams.  It can mean “not being seen” in the profoundest sense of the term by the society around you because you somehow do not “measure up.” There’s prejudice when we separate those who have difficulties from those who do not – as in mental or physical defect.  There is, however, a common one that makes me crazy and that is prejudicial treatment based on belonging to the “in crowd.”  Keeping others on the outside while developing a clique among a large group is wrong and hurtful. It can be based on unfamiliarity (“Who’s that kid over there?  He doesn’t belong here!”) or lack of exposure (“When did they move here?).  It can be based on preconceived notions (“I never knew a girl could run that fast”) that we have been handed down by our elders. There are many, many ways prejudice can enter our lives and we need to acknowledge it exists, and then we need to work on stamping it out.

Main_camporeeAnd so I took my stand and I made my statement and I sleep well at night. I have no problems defending against prejudice and we all should become aware of it.  I have started saying, in part to help me remember, “Different is just different. It is not better; it is not worse; it is not more, nor is it less. It is just different.”  Perhaps if we could apply this to all aspects of our lives, the world would spin a little smoother, and joy would be the emotion we experience more and more often.

“..an anchor for those who are tossed by waves…”

St.JohnChrysostom.PrayerToday I am seeking my anchor!  Often when my heart is hurting, I seek comfort in prayer. I light incense in the house, I look to my favorite icons, and I seek counsel from friends whose opinions I trust.  But I have to start my day on my knees (figuratively speaking).  And it is one of those days. The irony is that yesterday was a day for Gaga (the name my oldest grandson gave me) heaven! I babysat both my grandchildren for the entire day.  I was so thrilled. I got to play trucks with my two-year old grandson, and I got to coo at and cuddle with my 4-month old grand daughter. I even remembered all the words to, “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly”!!  That was my youngest son’s favorite song for me to sing to him while I rocked him to sleep for naps!  It was a great day…today, not so much.

Orthodox Notes.6There is an aspect to my life that some people do not understand. My parents did not really understand, and that is okay.  I always wanted a large family.  I came from a small one that spanned several oceans, and was scattered across three continents and was decidedly British in oh so many ways!  No aunts, no uncles, no cousins.  Which is completely the opposite experience of my husband! He comes from a very large, very close, ethnically-rich German-Russian family.  And both my husband and myself wanted a large family of our own.  We even tried to scare each other away while dating!  (I want six kids…how many do you want? Well, I want 8 kids! Ha-Ha!).  God had other plans for us.  From the very start, we had trouble conceiving and keeping our babies and have lost 7 children in various stages of miscarriage.  I longed for a full, noisy, messy, chaotic household and in answer to that, we became foster parents.  The training was intimidating, in and of itself. It makes you wonder how your natural children were still breathing and in one piece.  We prayed about fostering, and we worked on it, and finally we were licensed.  Fostering is a special thing. It is not for the faint-of-heart, nor for the unprepared.  We got our home ready, but it was our minds and hearts that were unprepared.  What were we unprepared for? This wash of completely unrequited love that just overflowed for these children left in our care. Most of their stories were sad beyond our experience.  For most, it was the first time they had ever experienced life in an intact family.  And they clung.  Boy oh boy, did they cling.  And to these kids, race was not even an issue.  I had care of two brothers once who called me, “Mommy” from the first moment I held them.  They were African American boys from the inner city. They arrived in the night, in footed-jammies and diapers, and that was it!  We lived in the suburbs, next to orange groves. They had no idea what oranges were.  They brought me one and said, “Mommy-mommy! Look! Orange balls that fell off that tree! Can we keep them?”  I had to show them that they were for eating.  They had never had a meal that was NOT in a paper sack until they lived with us.  The baby was used to drinking coca-cola out of his bottle.  For dinner one night, I accidentally cut up a slice of pizza for the baby and he had a fit! Screamed at me. He was used to the whole slice.  They both regressed into early infancy, wanting to be held and fed and diapered, rocked to sleep, and comforted; something common for most neglected and abused children.  They were soaking up all the cuddling, warmth, security, and love they never had as small babies.  And when they were wrenched from my arms, screaming, “Mommy, mommy, don’t let them take me!!” I about lost my mind from grief.  They were removed because the maternal grandparents saw us once, and saw we were white. From incarceration, the mother requested “no white families.”  It was so very sad.  In the area in which we lived, foster families of color were few and far between.  Fostering takes courage and fortitude, and learning to be an advocate for these kids.  We loved/hated it.  It messed with my older boys’ heads in that they fell in love with their new “siblings” only to have them taken away, and it was not something they wanted to repeat over and over again.  And so in the best interests of our family, we stopped fostering. We had been licensed for drug babies and small children and that darn phone rang and rang, with placement requests, for at least a year after we discontinued our licensing.

A couple of years later, through the grace of God and some amazing friends, we welcomed and fell in love with, and adopted our youngest son.  He was just a couple of hours old and in the hospital when I first met him, and when he was laid in my arms, the floodgates of love opened in my heart. He was mine…no one else would take him away. I cannot express the gamut of emotions that have come from having him in our family – for all of us.  Our older sons loved him so much, they insisted the three of them all be in the same room – late night crying of an infant and all.  The oldest of our sons took to sleeping with the baby when he was a toddler; they grew very close.  It was a beautiful thing to see. Our middle son had a few years with just he and our youngest at home (the older one had grown and left home) and they bonded something fierce.  It was so fun to see them together, the little one trailing after his brother.  And we have never looked back.  We never treated the son who was given to us differently than the sons we birthed.  He is ours as much as they are.

When we purposefully adopt a child, we become pretty darn protective of that child.  Even more so, I think, because they are adopted.  In our case, we are a different race than our youngest son, and it has always proved to be an issue.  The issue is for other people – not our family or close friends. Our older family members often questioned the wisdom of adopting outside of our race, but we never even thought about it.  I never think of it, until someone brings it to my attention.  A funny incident happened when my mom met him for the first time.  He was just 20 days old.  We brought him to Christmas Eve at my brother’s house.  I guess I had forgotten to mention his race when I was all bubbly and excited over the phone.  You “could have knocked her over with a feather” when she opened that blanket.  She said, “You forgot to mention he wasn’t white.”  And I looked at her, then at him, and said, “I totally forgot that part, I guess.”  We laughed but when you adopt, you just love. It doesn’t matter the gender or the race, it is a child who needs you. You just love.

DrBenCarson“You know, I was asked once by an NPR reporter why I don’t talk about race that often. And I said it’s because I’m a neurosurgeon. And she looked at me quite quizzically. And I said, ‘You see, when I take someone to the operating room and I peel down the scalp and take off the bone flap and open the dura, I’m operating on the thing that makes the person who they are.’ It’s not the covering that makes them who they are,” he said.

I love Dr. Ben Carson, and I love what he said above.  “It’s not the covering that makes them who they are.”  And I truly believe that. I have run into prejudice in all sorts of forms.  I personally have experienced it, and fairly recently, in fact.  Not to be too blunt about it, but I am an obese woman.  I could drop 100 pounds and still want to loose a little more.  (But I have a great personality! Ha-Ha!)  Seriously, I am heavy: I live with it each and every day.  And the world ignores overweight people; they generally don’t really see us.  I have experimented with hair color, length, style.  Only when I went from curly to straight, did people say anything.  And when I quit dyeing my hair and just decided to live with the gray, I only got a few comments (and they were mostly from people my age who are not ready to that, yet!)  For important events, I often wear make-up, and usually on Sundays, or when attending an important function.  No one ever notices.  No one notices when I plan and prepare and then wear a particular outfit that I think looks good.  People do not see me.  It is rather annoying and I long for the day of thinness to return.  But it annoys me, that to be noticed, I need to be thin.  “It’s not the covering that makes them who they are,” as Dr. Carson would say.  But in our culture, it very much is.  And that is a form of prejudice!

Which brings me to my need to cling to my anchor of prayer today. Our youngest, most precious, son is experiencing prejudice.  Now, sometimes you just can’t help stupid people; they are pretty much everywhere.  And I usually ignore prejudice born from ignorance and stupidity. When I get mad is when people purport to (1) be a Christian, (2) are in a position of leadership, (3) have the responsibility to be an example to young people.  Prejudice is most often one of race.  But prejudice exists in many forms.  My parents think I am going to hell because I am not a born-again Christian, who believes like they do and they are prejudiced against Catholicism.  Sad.  Other types are like what I experience being overweight. People can be downright rude about it.  It can also be about ability.  I have friends, and many who foster parent can relate to this, who have children who run the spectrum of FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) to extremely autistic, to pretty much everything in between.  There are children with special needs, who are not in wheelchairs or use crutches or canes, or who have amputated limbs, who operate pretty much like normal, until they are in certain situations (like formal state testing, for example).  They seem normal, so people do not expect issues with them and berate them for being  “slow” or “stupid.”  There are those who use such derogatory language around children, who soak it up like a sponge, that in turn learn to use it on other kids.  It is a big, ugly cycle.

Choose words wiselySo I am at this point of needing to deal with a situation that breaks my heart. We had such a great thing going for my son, and now it is all falling apart, and I am saddened.  For me, for those friends we dragged along to events that we all enjoyed, for family members who came with us, and the organization as a whole, because we are going to have to make big changes, and change is always hard.  We will walk away from this unless fundamental changes occur.  This is hard on everyone.  But how do you change people’s hearts, so that prejudice doesn’t become a part of who they are and how they operate in life?  And how do you keep it from affecting your own children? I start by praying for them. But I feel like I am against this mammoth thing.  *Deep breath here.*

And guess what? It’s still Lent!!!!  We have something like 25 days left.  And why did this all come to a head now? God placed it in this time and place for my benefit. Wow.  It’s pretty amazing.  Lent is an amazing time for all of us, and this Lent, He is asking me, leading me, to be a better person.

Lent is a timeSo I am examining and taking inventory.  Those little places inside my heart and my soul where I see strange lights seeping in need to be shored up.  Anger, frustration, frustration…all those negative things. Just 25-short days left in Lent!  (Remember when it began and we thought the end was so far off?). I need more reflection, more time, to fix myself so that when I do engage with others who have been cruel to my son, I can be fair.  I can be reasonable.  Because right now, I am not feeling so reasonable.  I am feeling protective.  It’s like I want to fill the moat with water, drop in some sharks, and pull up the drawbridge, keeping the world at bay.  But I know I need to bear witness to God’s love, even to those “who hate me.” In Matthew 5: 43-48, the Lord says this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

And so I wrestle with myself; I am doing a lot of deep breathing, and trying to relax. I return to my anchor among these waves of prejudice and poor example, and I drop to my knees and I pray. This affects my son’s future, it affects his now; it also affects every person involved, now and in the future.  And I know that I am not enough; I know I need God to handle this for me.  His wisdom, not mine. He must increase, so I must decrease. His words, not mine.  For God suffered prejudice on a Cross, for me.  Thanks be to God. Blessed Lent.

Cross.Sky.Hammer

“…you are true heirs of His promise.”

I’m all about planning for Pascha this year. I am excited for it. I got my basket (huge step) and my basket cover (gorgeous), my Ukrainian egg wraps, a recipe for dying eggs red (my last attempt went so-so), and a recipe for Pascha bread.  I am still looking at cheese recipes!  A friend is getting me authentic sausage from back east, too.  I am hoping to get it all together soon.  There is quite a list of what you traditionally fill your baskets with in the Russian/Slavic world!  I took down the last of our interior lights last night (well, okay, I directed the effort as my husband took them down!) and all of our Christmas stuff is gone; our windows look naked!  I laughed because we feel like spring is approaching, but we had a surprise snow storm this week that dumped 14″ on us in one night.  We have a lot of snow, with more coming in the next few days.  So that part of planning for Pascha is rather ironic!  Ha-Ha!

SnowMarch14.2014My kids tease me about my window “jellies.”  I have them for pretty much every holiday!  And I took down Christmas and up goes Easter!  And when we got that snowstorm on Friday, this shot through the front window just made me smile.  There is an old saying that goes something like, “Give God a laugh; tell Him your plans.”  Here I am planning for spring, dealing with temps in the 40s and slushy, mushy rain, running to Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, only to come out about an hour later to a snow storm and temps down around 24-degrees!  I couldn’t believe it!  The drive home was so not fun! But I remembered that saying and know that God is in charge!

So today, I found some recipes for dying the eggs red.  And I thought about an experience a year or two ago, when we were attending a Roman Church in WA at Easter. We took a basket of red eggs to share, as that had been our tradition from years past as Byzantine Catholics.  No one had seen red eggs before.  I laid them at the foot of the altar in a basket and people just stared at me.  (We always stood out – my husband is a Melkite deacon and always dressed for “Mass” in his Sticharion [outer tunic] and hat, called a skoufus. We do not melt into the crowd anyway!) I had told our priest I was going to do it and he thought it was an excellent idea and gave me permission beforehand.  At the donut and coffee hour afterwards, he silenced everyone and handed me a microphone, where I explained the tradition and we passed around eggs to everyone.  Luckily I had made enough!  But no one had ever heard the story, nor knew of the tradition. I had some elaborately decorated ones, too, in the Slavic tradition, and those were also foreign to the parish community.

red_eggs_166w_170hAnd it made me sad.  Sad because it seems like we’re becoming a beige country. And also sad because very few people are aware of other traditions other than those egg dying kits you buy in the grocery stores!  I have gone that route, with the little tablets, vinegar in bowls…the dye leaching into clothes and carpeting when you want to hide them.  Naturally dyed eggs don’t run! Wrapped eggs aren’t dyed! How easy is that?  And, there is so much more out there. The traditions and expressions of our faith are as diverse as the countries Christianity is found in.  And it is NOT beige!

Ukrainain Egg Wraps 3No one wants to celebrate our ethnic diversity, unless of course, it is a PC ethnicity.  Today there are articles abounding over the controversy of Heineken, Guinness, and Sam Adams beers pulling out of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York because the parade organizers decided long ago that the parade is to honor St. Patrick and no other banners, except those honoring the Saint, can be carried.  Some LGBT groups wanted to be included and wanted to carry their own banners. The organizers said they can walk in the parade, but the parade is about the Saint. Period. Which happens to be a 1st Amendment right! So, because the parade is not inclusive enough, the beer companies pulled their sponsorship.  The Catholic League is calling for a boycott of those brands.

St.Patrick.iconI wish everyone would go back to the days when we could all be proud of where we were from, to acknowledge and appreciate those differences, and share in celebrating them.  Today, around the world, everyone wears green and is Irish, just for a day.  What’s wrong with having fun with that and learning to like corned beef and cabbage (not my thing, I have to admit)?  The traditions that make up who we are as a nation, and who we are as a Church, are to be celebrated, not boycotted.  We need to savor and hold onto our cultures.  The world is becoming beige, as races and cultures intermarry and people immigrate (legally) from country to country.  It is sad that some people have to use these tools like Ancestry.com to find out where they come from.  Our ethnic parishes, as it becomes the third generation after the initial immigrants arrived, are finding their youth moving away and marrying outside their ethnicity and religious practices.  Beige.  It has never been a favorite color of mine. We celebrate where we come from, but are ever mindful of who we are in faith:

“For now that you have faith in Christ you are all sons of God. All of you who were baptized “into” Christ have put on the family likeness of Christ. Gone is the distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female—you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, you are true descendants of Abraham, you are true heirs of his promise.” (Gal 3:28-26) 

Entrance of the Tomb One of my favorite traditions in the Melkite Church’s celebration of Pascha is when we sing, “Christ is risen! He is truly risen!” or “Al Masiah Qaam! Haqqan Qaam! / Al Massihu Qam! Haqqan Qam!” or “Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!”.  And we greet each other with “Glory to His Resurrection on the Third Day! We glorify His Resurrection on the Third Day!”  It becomes so loud and boisterous inside that Church – poor neighbors!  The photo above is of everyone re-entering the Church under the empty Tomb of Christ.  The song that then gets everyone going is, “Christ is risen from the dead and by His death He has trampled upon death, and has given life to those who are in the tombs!”  Boy, you have never experienced a Pascha (Easter) Vigil until you have experienced the ones celebrated in our old parish!  The lamps are swinging, it’s after 1:00 a.m., everyone is tired and their voices are hoarse, but they sing it as loud as they can, and everyone is laughing and Fr. Justin is running up and down the aisles swinging that incense!  It has to be one of the most joyous experiences I have ever had.  Am I Arabic? Nope! Scots/English girl here.  But can I embrace the spiritual, cultural, and social customs of an ethnic parish? You bet I can! I relish in it.  Because to me, we are sharing what makes our Church truly universal.  And there is absolutely nothing to compare to the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, a midnight Easter Vigil, Fr. Justin’s exhausted enthusiasm, and the smell of MEAT cooking just yards away – a smell no incense can wipe out after 40 days of fasting; trust me on that.

So this year, our first year up here in Alaska, celebrating in a Byzantine parish, I am learning all new traditions.  And I am loving it.  Why? Because my world just expanded again.  I didn’t boycott because they don’t use Melkite chant or the Arabic and Greek languages, nor fast in exactly the same way.  I am, instead, learning some Slavonic and trying hard to wrap my head around some Russian.  I am not leaving one behind and embracing one in its place, I am adding to my religious experience; my repertoire, if you will.  This process of Theosis, or my salvation, is a long one. It will take my eternity!  God will take us on some wild rides in our journey, if we allow it to happen. I may not celebrate wearing all green today, nor will I be breaking my fast with corned beef, but I sure can support those who do.

Red easter egg.2The tradition of red eggs at Easter is explained above.  When two Christians greet one another at Easter, it is with an egg held in their hand (preferably hard boiled and colored/decorated!).  They clang eggs, symbolizing the opening of the Tomb, and they say to one another, “Christ is risen! He is truly risen!”  (The one whose egg does not break is considered the “winner” and goes on, cracking eggs with others in greeting until their egg is broken.  Then they eat that one and get another one!) I think sharing something with people that comes from another culture makes us better; it makes our faith more universal, or catholic.  And God came for all peoples, in all places, not just a select few. He came for me! And I am getting excited! Next try is dying eggs using yellow onion skins…I’ll let you know how they come out!!

Lent is a time