“The struggle ends when gratitude begins.” (N.D. Walsch)

Today I am learning to focus first, and most importantly, on my many blessings in this life, and to express my gratitude to God. The image above is the actual style of the Gratitude Journal I am using ( you can get it from http://www.maydesigns.com/m/gratitude) and I really love it. It is simple, colorful, and is for 40 days…the perfect Lenten tool.  If you are thinking of journaling at all, please check them out. They have all sorts of simple, and so pretty, journal ideas and styles. They were inexpensive and I love how you can customize your designs (inside/outside/monogram, etc). I get nothing for recommending them; a friend recommended them to me and I am so happy with the product I received, I thought I would share them with my readers. (It is an integral part of the Lenten study I am participating in with http://www.orthodoxmom.com). These journals will become, for me, a legacy of my journey this Lent, and each year that I can participate in this. What a blessing this has become for me! If you wish to, you can join us!! Lent is not over, yet!

As I progress through my journaling, most especially my “gratitude” journal, I am brought up short again and again at how disfigured my thinking has been. Disordered. The priorities so very skewed. I keep thinking about all the things that weigh me down. There are many – we all have them! Sometimes we cannot sleep because we worry so very much. Or if we do sleep, we don’t sleep well or deeply. We do not sleep to where we awake restored, or refreshed, bounding out of bed and ready to conquer this day.

My husband is an engineer. His specific training is mechanical, although he works as an energy engineer. When he is faced with a problem, especially something to do with his work or job, he does not stop thinking about it until he solves it. This can take days or weeks. And at times, I can tell he is not really “present,” but is working on his issue. He’s woken in the night with a solution once or twice. Over the past 32+ years of being with him, I am in awe about how dogged he is in seeking a solution for issues. But sometimes his mind works against him, in that he cannot “let it go” in order to rest. He will approach any problem this way! Even how we were going to construct our raised bed gardens last Spring kept him from sleeping well! Some of us just cannot rest until we have the answers we seek. But I am learning and discovering a better way.

Now that I am doing a directed Lenten study program, and I am slowly walking through the Psalms and the Scriptures in light of Lent, I am seeing how much there is to be grateful for. There is always, always, something we can be thankful for, even in the midst of turmoil. The problem with me is that I have been putting the problem, the issues, before everything else. I haven’t been able to see all the blessings, because the troubles have blocked my vision; my heart. And it has left me depressed and not aware of the glory that surrounds me in the simplicity of my days.

It is hard to explain how much peace I am finding as I journal my gratitude, my desires, and read the Psalms and Scriptures. Sometimes I cannot see how they are related, but when I step back and ponder the readings, things start to click. Today I read, “Wait a little, and the wicked will be no more; look for them and they will not be there. But the poor will possess the land; will delight in great prosperity.” (Psalm 37:10-11) and then I read, “Better the poverty of the just than the great wealth of the wicked.” (Psalm 37:16)  And then, “The mouths of the just utter wisdom; their tongues speak what is right. God’s teaching is in their hearts; their steps do not falter (Psalm 37:30-31).  And one more that said, “Observe the honest, mark the upright; those at peace with God have a future, but all sinners will be destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off.” (Psalm 37: 37-38).

I think God is letting me know through the Psalmists that I am to struggle to find the right path; the path that God destined for me. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart”. (Jeremiah 29:11-13) God blesses us as we work towards Him and His plan for our lives. And I truly believe that we can alter how we approach this working out of our salvation; that we can grow and become more than we currently are.

What I think I have been doing wrong, is that I have been so concerned with keeping the rule of the fast in the past, of being holier than I am the rest of the year, of making sure I attended all the right celebrations and prayers at Church, that I was missing all the blessings I received from God through my fasting and prayers! By looking to my gratitude first, I can plainly see the blessings I have, and continually pray for the things that I feel I need to pray for, and about. But when you put gratitude first, your prayers, your days, and your nights, become very different.

And my prayer for this Lenten journey I am on is to continue to seek the positive in my life and to be grateful, first. To seek God and His blessings on my life, and to rest in His promises. And my prayer is that each of you who reads this will discover that gratitude can lead us to a much happier, and closer, walk with God…during Lent and each day of our lives. Think of all the wonderful blessings the Lord is showering down upon each of us, this very day. Each day we can rest in the many blessings from God, and each day we can work on lessening the concerns and the fears, trusting in God alone. I am praying for a better night’s sleep for everyone. And every day when we rise, refreshed from our night of peace and rest, may our day be a better day, where we are accomplishing the things that are laid before us, in a spirit of Gratitude. So thankful!

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“expecting different results…”

 

Fireweed lake

(Fireweed blooming in Alaska)

I adore the summertime weather up here. Yesterday, it was actually 98-degrees about 4:00 pm.  For this part of Alaska, that is just over-the-top-hot! I was melting. It’s so hard to explain to those who have not travelled or lived this far north, but the sun is very different. When it is on you, you definitely feel it. And the sun is not in the place I would expect it to be when I look up, having lived south most of my life, at the times I look for it. 9:30-10:00 pm look much like 2:00 pm back in Southern California. It is still weird to wear sunglasses at 11:00 pm.

 

Midnight sun AK

(Midnight sun in AK)

Today I have been puttering in my yard. It amazes me how fast things grow with all this sunshine. We have just experienced a week of gloomy, rainy weather and the grass got so tall. The amazing thing, too, is that after we have no rain for a day or two, our plants are falling over, dying. So today I have been pulling off the dead leaves and flowers and soaking everything. My basil was so pretty about a week ago, but today its’ amazing purple blooms were just sagging and I thought I might have lost it. But I pruned away and soaked it, then put it in a sunnier spot, and after the past few hours of sun-worship, it looks amazing. Whew. And I sit here, after playing with our vegetables, in a completely different outfit, with hair dripping wet. Me and the hose had an altercation. It did not want to stay where I wanted it to, pointing where I wanted it to point, watering what I wanted it to water! We argued, it soaked me, but I finally balanced it so it is watering almost our entire raised bed vegetable garden.

yard sprinkler

(My 1950s era sprinkler head!)

I was determined to win! It is an old fashioned way to spray water on your garden, but you know what? It works amazingly well. There is something to be said for the old and true ways of doing things. Our ancestors spent eons thinking this stuff up and we are constantly trying to “improve” on their ideas, when sometimes the original was amazing and perfect, and still works the best.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, 2and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20. This quote is also known as the “Great Commission” wherein Christ instructs His Apostles to take what He has taught them, and to teach others. And to make disciples of “all” nations. This was the original request Christ made to his Apostles, and they in turn have requested that we, too, do the same. It dates back to Biblical times and it is still true today, perhaps even more so.

Runner-Bean-Flowers

(Pole beans in bloom)

As I played with our pole beans, which are flowering and reaching for places to climb, I wove them along the wires my husband strung around our garden for them. I had to be extremely gentle with them, as when they are in this phase of growing, they are so fragile. And I thought of me and how I have guided my children, in all their growth-phases and when they were their most fragile, and their strongest. And I know, deep in my soul, that my heart was in the right place. I want to spend eternity surrounded by the Grace of God, and being with family and friends who also chose to follow Christ and His Word in our lives. However, if I am being honest, I know there have been opportunities where I have missed sharing my faith, and where I have perhaps not lead my children as well as I could have. And it weighs on me.

Success sharing faith

Just now, I had to go back outside to move the sprinkler so I could get the end row of our vegetables. I argued with that darn sprinkler, but I got it to water just the plants I wanted it to water. I got a little wet, but I approached it smarter this time! The plants back there are the ones who also see the least sunshine during our long days. But I am determined, that through working with them, weeding, watering, and paying attention to their needs, that I will reap a harvest. This is just such a perfect analogy for our struggles in life, and with those who we love who do not walk the same path we walk. We can look around us and see those who we know are struggling to survive in this crazy world. Some get no light given to them at all, walking through life in relative darkness. Some are not tended to regularly, nor do they receive adequate watering. But having struggled with my sprinkler of choice (my chosen faith expression) I know sort of how the sprinkler works, what I can expect from it, and how to approach it to make it work the best for my garden. We who claim to have faith in Christ all know this. We struggle, we wrestle, we sometimes get soaking wet and have to change and start over. But we learn and know more or less what to expect.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.

This quote is broadly credited as having been said by Albert Einstein. And the man would have experienced this in his quest for scientific knowledge! Today it aptly applied to my struggle with my sprinkler. I could not approach it as I had at first, or nothing would be watered but me! My hair is still wet and it helps remind me of failing, but learning from that failure, and not repeating it. I have tried and failed, but got back up again over and over again in the past 31 years of parenting. Raising children, and witnessing our faith to them, is more about how we live our lives, rather than memorizing religious dogma or facts. Don’t get me wrong, we used the Baltimore Catechism with our kids. However, I truly believe that our children are sponges. They soak up everything about our lives as a family, while growing up. They see how we treat them and their siblings, and how my husband and I treat each other. They see how we interact with others. Right now, one of our adult children and family have neighbors with lots of children. These neighbor kids are constantly looking over the fence or coming over, and they are parroting things that are obviously being said by their parents. These neighbor children have asked my adult children if they are Catholic, and then asked why they don’t go to church. And that’s from their 8-year-old! They question and say things that are not from a child’s mind. Their parents purport to be very strong in their faith, and they homeschool, and they attend Church very regularly – all the hallmarks of good kids. But what they are teaching their children by their actions and their words are completely undoing all that homeschooling and church-going. And it is a horrible example to my family, who struggle mightily with everything to do with faith, most especially those who act all holy and perfect, but are far from it. It does nothing but make my adult kids less likely to pursue church attendance, nor to teach their own children about the faith.

neighbor fence

I have learned, over the years, that approach and first impressions are so very important. If we crash and burn when trying to share our faith with others, well, we need to get back in there and repeat, repeat, repeat. We cannot give up or stop, but we can repeat in a myriad of ways, too. I leaned today how to maneuver my hose so that I could control water flow, and the position of that darned sprinkler. I had to get soaking wet, first, though. But in the end, the Lord controls the harvest. I have to eventually trust in Him to touch the souls of those I lead to Him. My children are making adult choices these days. I can no longer claim responsibility for their choices. They are on their own in this world, and before God. The majority have children of their own they are raising. Our youngest is almost 18 and is starting to make choices – he is planning his future and making decisions about his career path, as well as friends and socializing opportunities. Yes, sometimes I am a nervous wreck. But that being said, I have also shared my faith with him by living it out in front of him. I have struggled and he has witnessed that struggle and we have talked about it at length. He shares his view on things and so I am really loosening up on those motherly apron-strings. I pray that I have shared what he needs to hear and see and learn with him, before he goes out among the wolves of this world. But all I can do, as a parent, is pray. “God has got this!” as Mark Hart the Bible Geek would say.

Chipmonks

We jokingly say in our family that the eldest plowed the road, the middle one paved it, and the youngest is just skating on through. Those can be seen as stages in how we learn, as well. Sometimes we struggle, but hopefully we grow and learn. We may, in the middle of life, back slide and slip up, but getting back on track and cruising along again is a good thing. We learned a lot from raising our kids. We got wet so often…we moved that sprinkler over and over again….we had to keep moving it and re-arranging it as the years went by. But now, we have a garden that is reaping an amazing harvest of wonderful grandchildren we adore, we have some pretty awesome adult kids, and the future is still ahead of us.  We are blessed, but we are not sitting back and just allowing the weeds to take over – even if our children are adults. We still wrestle with that sprinkler! We live our faith, we strive to be good examples, and we constantly pray and nurture those we love. God has blessed our efforts and we pray our family tree keeps growing, resting in the love of God.

family gathering

“…who is truly reliable?”

Everybody friend

I have been pondering this subject a lot lately. I have been forced to think about it over several months, through several occurrences and conversations. And it has been an instructive adventure, to be sure.

Over the course of more than 30 years of marriage, my husband and I have had a myriad of “friends.” We have friends we brought with us to our initial dating relationship. I have friends from elementary school with whom I still correspond. My husband has one particular friend from his childhood who still means the world to him, even though they have not lived near one another in over 35 years. We have made friends as a couple over the years, as well as made friends as individual adults through life experiences. I am friends with an old boss, a couple of friends made through our dairy life, and my husband has many friends throughout the USA because of work and through his diaconate program and training. There are some people who you will be close to throughout your life. And then there are those who do not stay with you. And that is where I am at, on this fine, rainy, and very fall day in Alaska.

 “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24

We have come to realize that “friend” is a term that is used very loosely. With the advent of Facebook, you can add friends at the push of a button, and you can also “unfriend” someone just as simply. People often brag about how many Facebook friends they have, and I have heard of some people who have a thousand or more! That’s is almost inconceivable. Last night, our grandson was jumping up and down in front of our window, and so excited because “his friends” were coming over. We had to explain that they were friends of grandma’s and grandpa’s, and also friends of his daddy. He then yelled, as he continued to jump up and down, “Daddy’s friends are here. I see them!” (He’s 3 years old). Friends mean so much to people, and quite often it is our friends who save us from drowning in our lives.


“Many will say they are loyal friends, but who can find one who is truly reliable?” Proverbs 20:6

As our children grow, friends come to mean something very much to them. Our youngest son is in high school and friends are quite the topic in his life. And as teenagers, we know how up and down moods can be, and how very fickle friendships can also be. I’ve seen teens be “besties” for a month or two, and then become total anathema towards one another the next month. And it causes such anguish in their lives. If we are honest, it can also cause anguish in the lives of adults. There are those we have been friends with for years and years, and the next thing you know, they are no longer a part of your life. This has happened to me quite often over the past 5 years of moving around. And because I have experienced it recently, and my son has also been subject to “drama” within his circle of friends, it caused me to write this out, to help myself get a handle on it.

I truly believe God places people in our paths at certain times, and for a specific amount of time, for our edification and for our education, as well as for our presence in their lives. But not perhaps to stay for a lifetime. Letting go is one of the hardest lessons in this process towards maturity, and hopefully, wisdom. I believe that my maturity – not just aging – has been deeply affected by the people placed along the pathways of my life. And for all those experiences and relationships, good and bad, I am profoundly grateful. Because of these people and experiences, I have come to know myself; and I am getting more and more comfortable with myself. Different influences by different people brought me to be who I now am. And I am a daughter of God; a child of the Most High. And I am blessed. We all are blessed. I have a few bumps and bruises; even some scars. But the Lord has brought me to this day, and for that I am eternally grateful.

As we have grown older, and our children have aged and moved out on their own, our friendships have changed. We had groups of friends we hung out with when we were all dating. Some went on to get married, as we did, but some did not. Hanging with single friends while married is not conducive to staying married, so many of those relationships fell away. As our children grew, we gathered friends with kids the same ages and with similar interests. As schooling started for our children, we garnered an entire group of friends surrounding our homeschooling and parish activities. We still have many of them, now sharing grand-parenting together. But most of them have fallen off. Our interests changed and we moved away. Convenience is a huge factor in maintaining relationships.  It is very hard to maintain deep friendships while living so far away from one another. There is no daily interaction; no morning coffee or park days. And I miss that very much,

I realized that people I thought were friends were not. They were people we engaged in the same activities with. Once we were “geographically undersirable,” our relationships flitted away. I thought this past year was a good example of that – Christmas cards. In past years, we received stacks of cards. This year, I checked to see who sent cards. Very, very few of the people I considered friends. And it made me sad. As I have aged, my circle of friends outside of family has shrunk. And I am completely okay with that; truly I am.

This summer, in fact just a few weeks ago, we visited our son and his family in our old stomping grounds. We saw very few friends. Some people were a little hurt we did not see them, or make the effort to see them. But I thought about it, and a very close friend also verbalized this: When you work and have just a short amount of vacation time/money to spend on travel each year,  and your children live thousands of miles away, you have limited time to see family – and our family is priority #1 for us! And so my circle has become quite small and exclusive. We stayed with a family, our youngest son’s godparents, for a couple of nights when we first flew into town. I had the best time. We dined with them and another couple and I was content – I was happy. We saw another family while connecting our teen up with some friends and he spent a couple of nights with them. It was great to reconnect. We also interacted with some other friends who happen to own a gathering place of sorts where other friends met up with us and we had the best evening! However, we spent the majority of our time with our son and his family. It was where I wanted to be – holding on to each moment I could, making memories with my grandchildren. I hugged and cuddled as much as I possibly could. And my smaller group of friends totally understands this; most of them live it, too.

“Don’t befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.” Proverbs 22:24–25

I have tried to explain these different aspects of friendship to my youngest son. I have often told him that people who are in your life should make you a better man. Friends should bring out the best and enrich our lives. They should not drag you down, nor make you a lesser person. There are so many pressures on teens; we’ve all experienced that. Who in our group of teens were an occasion of sin for us? Who pushed us to break the Commandments of God, the rules of our parents, and even the law (for me it was under-age drinking)? Are they friends in the best sense of the word? Do they pray with us, and for us?  Do they gossip about us behind our backs, or do they discourage evil words? Do they encourage our faith and stand beside us as we try to fight the tide in our culture? Do they lead us to that wide, simple pathway to evil? Or do they hold us up as we traverse that narrow road of righteousness and truth? And with all the pressures in each age that young people face, how are we as parents helping our children? Do we encourage the right relationships and help them navigate the teen years with Christ as the Head of our Families?

“Whoever loves a pure heart and gracious speech will have the king as a friend.” Proverbs 22:11

This has been an arduous practice in discernment for me. It has been painful, this process of letting go. But I also have learned that I am blessed beyond measure by the people I have in my life. I am making new friends, people who “hang around you and laugh with you.” They may not be “friend” in the truest essence of the word. But I am okay with that, too. Because I know who my friends are. I have held them and wept with them as we have parted. They have shared life and death with me. They have held me up as I have tripped. They have comforted me and brought me joy and laughter. And as I recently read, “Friendship has to be an exchange. It cannot be a one way street; that’s self sacrifice. As someone recently told me “if someone wants to be a part of your life they will make the effort to be in it, so don’t reserve a place in your heart for someone who doesn’t make the effort to stay”. Harsh? A little, yes. But ultimately, the Lord of All places people in our lives when they are needed to be there. Or perhaps when we need to be in their lives. When they don’t stay, we need to let go and be thankful for the enrichment that experience gave us. I know I am rich; I have my faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And, I have the love of my life beside me, an incredible family I love more than life itself, and a handful of people I can honestly call, “friend.” I am so very blessed.

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” John 15:13–15 

“How do they know?”

St Theophan the Recluse 2I was out and about today, running errands with my daughter-in-law and grandbabies.  Any chance I have of being with them, I jump at it.  It had snowed since last night and was still snowing, so I was happy to not be the driver!  As I waited for them, I read my emails, read the news online, and looked at my very pared-down Facebook wall.  I had gone through my FB newsfeed (which is sort of like reading all the articles of a newspaper,  except they change all the time, based on who’s been selected to view.) and I’ve really taken it down to just close family and friends, and only groups that have to do with my faith.  Yesterday, we had some “trolls” hit some of my favorite sites and there was lots of scurrying around, trying to block and/or remove them.  They were posting awful comments and pictures.  Anyway, it all got sorted out this morning and I was happy to be exchanging messages with a dear friend, when my daughter-in-law arrived.

We ran our errands and as we sat in my driveway catching our collective breaths, she asked me, “So, what is Lent, anyway?”  She has had some faith in her life, but still, her question took me aback.  Like I thought, I guess, it was a common understanding.  But as I raced through my mind on how to explain things to her, I recalled that before I was taught the Catholic faith and traditions, I had just known that they got crosses on their foreheads before Easter (and all the kids always wore them to school as a point of pride) and ate fish sticks a lot.  I really did not understand it, either.  So I shared some Bible stories with her – like how, after Moses led the Jewish people out into the desert, they wandered around for 40 years.  When Jesus went out into the desert to pray, and he was tempted by the devil, he fasted for 40 days out there.  I told her that 40 is a significant number in the history of our faith.  And because Jesus fasted for 40 days, the Church, in its wisdom thought we should, too (I kept it simple).  She asked why we could not eat meat.  I told her that I believed that first of all, Jesus gave His flesh for me on the Cross, so I refrain from taking flesh in honor of His sacrifice.  But it’s also about the richness of the foods we eat, and meat is rich in content and cost.  She said, but fish is a type of flesh, right?  (Smart girl!!).  I said that, yes, it is a type of flesh, too.  I explained how different traditions started all over the world, trying to keep the Fast and that especially in areas in northern climates, fish is allowed.  The eastern and the Orthodox allow fish without backbones to be eaten. (Yay for shrimp!).  But we also do not use olive oil during Lent. She asked why and I explained it was, in many parts of the world, a delicacy.  And for us all to be equal before God, none of us consume it.  Sort of equalizing the playing field.  It is the same for dairy…it is expensive and we try avoid it during the entire 40 days of Lent.  She asked why some people only fast on Fridays (and why is McDonald’s running all these fish sandwich commercials?  As my son told her, it’s Lent! Which is one of the reasons this conversation started) and some on a couple of days during the week, and why your church seems so strict?  Are we vegans?  I explained it all to her, using history and tradition, bringing in our beliefs and trying to remove the “mysterious” from it all.  It was a wonderful conversation and I was smiling my head off that she even asked (and praying more of these chats will be in our future)!!

St Theophane the RecluseI had been mulling over in my mind how confusing this could be from an outsider’s point of view. I told my daughter-in-law that Lent is not easy, but we continually ask God for His help.  She had said, “Don’t you give up stuff that you like, like Facebook or your computer, too? Or even chocolate? Is that the same as meat or can you just do that?”  It is all about the mechanics, that people have all the confusion….and so many conversations (and blog posts) and memes popping up.  The east and west approach Lent a little differently.  It is so hard to explain to someone who has only seen what Roman Catholics do, so have nothing else to base an observation on.  Being an Eastern Catholic is different than what is portrayed out there, which is usually just Roman Catholicism.  And that’s something that begs for clarification for those on the outside, looking in, and even for many on the inside who don’t know about all the different Churches and our differences, and ways we are the same.

After I had been home a little bit, I noticed I had a notification of a remark on a photo I had posted…it’s the top photo above.  It was from a young man on a page I belong to.  I thought about it – his question was, “How do they know?” which I chose for the title of this post.  How do we know?  When I was explaining things to my daughter-in-law, we talked about tradition…the kind that starts with a small “t” and I explained to her that those are ways we find to keep our faith.  For example, all the different fasting rules in all the varying churches in union with Rome – there are almost as many traditions as there are churches (22 in all).  There are differences in how we fast in different parts of this country, let alone around the world. Those are all little “t” traditions…they vary.  The big “T” Traditions do not change.  They have come to us from the Apostles.  They have come to us from a very vibrant church, in practices handed on long before the books of the Bible were even codified, in 250 AD or so.  (Give or take a few years depending on whose history you prefer).  Those Traditions are the Church itself.  We celebrate the same Traditions worldwide, regardless of which brand of Catholic (Christian) or Orthodox you are.  (An example would be Christmas as the celebration of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary.  Another would be Easter, a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ after three days of His death on a Cross…there are lots more).  These are the things received in Divine Revelation and they are immutable, the same forever, static and unchanging.  Once the last Apostle died, Divine Revelation stopped. Period.  Everything else is just (t)radition.  And it can (and does) change.

But how do we know?  Well, I gave a simple answer to the young man – Scripture.  It seems to help people unfamiliar with (T)radition and (t)radition if you use the Bible as the place where the buck stops, so to speak.  And in Scripture, much was said about fasting and prayer.  Much!  And Lent is all about fasting and prayer.  And to say that “if there is no fasting and prayer, there are demons” (to paraphrase) is to say pretty much what Christ Himself said in the Bible.  There are several verses to choose from, but the one I like is: “Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”  (Matthew 17:19-21) This is the only verse, I think, that talks about “except by prayer and fasting.”  The apostles could not get a demon out, and the Lord rebuked them, saying that their faith was weak, but that this particular type of demon required special attention, and preparation.  They needed to pray and fast before tackling it.

The point of Lent is to grow closer to God by shutting out everything that gets in between us and Him.  For many of us, food is an issue.  The Church asks us to control our passions and we are a gluttonous culture, and so we fast from foods.  For many of us, prayer is inconsistent and weak; the Church asks us to attend Pre-Sanctified Liturgy and Vespers, in addition to weekly Divine Liturgy.  For many of us, we don’t know a lot about our faith.  We are asked to read along with the Church by embracing spiritual reading of some kind.  Many spiritual directors will have you read the Scripture for each day, the schedule of which the Church gives us.  There are additional prayers at certain times of the day to go along with our reading. It does not take much effort, trust me.  A total of maybe 15 extra minutes a day, to grow closer to God and the work of His Church.  And how do we know this? Our Traditions instructed us, and our traditions help us carry them out.

Happy Ash Wednesday for my RC brethren (a small “t” tradition like the Mirovanije from Forgiveness Sunday I posted about this past Monday). And prayers for a blessed Lent for all of us, making our way to Pascha!

240px-Crossofashes

…is the final act of love.”

Writing is such a personal, intimate thing. Authors are usually people who look inward and create fantastic worlds for us, report on the world around us, or help us reach back into the past and see the world as it was.  I have always thought of blogs like having your personal diary open on your desk and other people stopping by and reading it.  Each post added to a blog is like turning the page in that diary.  I write because it’s sort of like something that needs to come out.  Some days I write a lot.  Sometimes I have gone, quite literally, months between posts.  Most often, I write to get something off my chest, or to express something that feels like I have a need to share with others or I will burst!  It’s like my cell phone.  (Bear with me a little here).  My iPhone is so complete, I usually only use my computer for doing this blog or paying bills (I know the arguments against that, but it is just so much simpler!).  All my information about family and friends is in my phone.  I lost my phone for a few hours last weekend in the snow.  A kindly stranger turned it into a customer service desk and I cannot tell you how relieved I was…because I realized it would take me FOREVER to get the information back that I had stored in my phone. It has so many neat apps on it and one of my favorites is Notepad. I use it ALL the time!  Well, if you ask me someone’s phone number, email address, or house address, I’d have to excuse myself while I looked it up on my phone. I don’t have to remember things like this anymore, because my phone does it for me.  And when I write, after it is written, I am usually over the issue and I forget about it.  I am also one of those types who gets angry (hard to believe, I know).  I may yell or speak harshly (ask my boys) but once I do, I move on. I don’t harbor grudges or stay mad at people.  I blow up and then it’s done.  I use my writing as a way, sometimes, to ease the pressure…sort of like the steam escaping a boiling teapot.  Once you release the steam, the pot settles down.  That’s me.

And so I am musing over something that is really bugging me.  I have noticed that I am loosing my ability at times, to think clearly and remember details. It worries me because my mom has dementia and Alzheimer’s. And I realize that I forget things all the time. People say to me, “Oh, you remember when we….?”  And honestly, many times I don’t.  I’m not sure if it is because my brain gets lazy, if I rely on my iPhone too much to remember for me (gasp!?! Reliance on technology!) or I just get distracted.  Am I not giving the moment the attention it deserves and so I cannot recall it later on?

Abba AseniosIn our world of chaos and noise, I often think that adding to this noisy chaos by blogging is not helping the situation.  Computer usage really draws us away from others.  Computers can, however, bring disparate people together – those who are geographically separated can connect and it eases that separation somewhat. I do try, however, to keep more silence than aimless chatter.  I try to steer away from adding to gossip or just the noise around us.  So does my memory loss have more to do with going through them and throwing out the ones that truly don’t matter? Is it important I remember the color dress I wore 10 years ago, or if it was raining or sunny at some event I attended?  Perhaps not.  Someone with Alzheimer’s will know those details, though.  A person with dementia can’t recall yesterday, let alone years ago.  A dementia patient has short term memory and that is about it.  Alzheimer patients cannot recall what a fork is for, or remember to eat, but they know incredible details about years past.  So I am leaning towards a sort of mental evolution, if you will allow that terminology. A pattern of memory losses and gains, I guess!

I am learning that God is never through with me.  He allows me to trip up and make mistakes over and over again, until His lesson gets ingrained in me.  All of us come from somewhere.  We all have pasts that perhaps are not worthy of remembering.  I have let go of many things from my teen years and young adulthood that do not speak well of me. I have been taught, and I have learned, over the years to adjust my vision to things that are not so much “of the world” and tend to the more philosophical and theological.

2Thessalonians3-3

I was recently helping my daughter-in-law to make a memory book for my mom.  I have been told these sorts of things help them to cling to their own history, and to see their lives in snapshots helps to keep them grounded.  As I was going through the 84 years of my mom’s life, I was drawn back to memories I thought I had lost.  I realized I had put them “on a shelf” and let them rest there.  But when I wanted to, I could recall all sorts of details (my poor daughter-in-law had to sit and listen to them with me for over 6 hours earlier this week!  God bless her!).  And I so enjoyed remembering my life as a young child and the things my brother and I did.  I could pull them off that shelf and remember, fully, all the wonderful times of my childhood.  The Lord is good; He has allowed me to live in His light, in His love, and has guarded me from the evil one.  He has healed many of my memories and has allowed many others to just fade away, all while helping me retain what is good and positive about my life.

St Tikhon 3This is the season where we prepare to welcome the Son of God as a Child.  We should get our “houses” in order in more ways than one.  Confession is good for us and helps us become clearer-headed and hearted, as we wind our way to Christmas.  If you do not believe in confession to a priest or cleric, it is certainly priceless to sit and contemplate before God all your sins and seek His forgiveness.  I personally feel incredible after a good and holy confession. And I believe it is more important to prepare our hearts than our homes.  Decorating for Christmas is so fun and I love it, as you would know if you have read my posts before. I love pretty much everything about Christmas.  But I also know that my spiritual preparation is more important than baking cookies and buying gifts.  Christ smiles at us when we are clear and free in our hearts and spirits after confession.

There is a wonderful Catholic theologian and author, Peter Kreeft, who I quote quite often.  In one of his many books, he spoke about Confession and told this wonderful story (which I will totally paraphrase):  When we face the judgement seat of Christ, we can picture ourselves standing there, before the Throne, with nothing but a couple of suitcases.  Christ will ask us what we have brought with us.  Our response will be, “Lord, I brought my sins with me.”  And He will tell us that when He forgave us our sins, it was as if they never happened.  He will go back into the timeline of our lives and pull those sinful acts or omissions out of our timeline and it will be as if they never existed.  We are the ones who need to forgive ourselves and to let our sinful pasts be just that; our past.  And this is what I think is happening to me and some of my memories – they are memories that are best forgotten because I was (and still am) a fearful sinner and I lug these sins, over which I have sought forgiveness time and again, with me wherever I go.  I need to let them go.  As I am maturing in my faith, and I find holes in my memory, I am learning to be okay with that.  I trust God and I know He is guiding me in the way I need to go.  He is allowing me to forget certain aspects of my past, in order for me to have a better future.

And so I post now and then.  I blog. I add to the cacophony of sounds around me by tapping away on my laptop.  And I allow issues to come and go and I try not to cling to those things I need to let go. I get out of God’s way and allow His healing to reach deep into my heart and rip out the things I need to let go of.  And I am finding my way to that peace that knows no understanding, that peace of God.  (Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7)

My prayer is for forgiveness from past sinful acts or omissions. If I have offended you in any way, please forgive me.  I extend my hand to you as a friend and a fellow journeyman on the road to Divine Eternity with God.  I pray for company on this journey and as I ponder the things in my life, I extend an offer to join me by reading this blog.  Let us not judge one another, but love each other as God intended us to love one another: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35).

ON Forgiveness